Monday, August 17, 2009

Womb of the Whale

(Whether or not it was whale or just a large fish, I like the title.)

The prophet Jonah was sent to the people of the city of Nineveh to preach repentance. If they did not repent, then in "forty more days Nineveh [would] be overthrown." Initially, Jonah tried to run away from God by taking a boat from Joppa to Tarshish on the the Mediterranean Sea. A storm came up and the other men on the boat knew that Jonah had done something to anger his God. Jonah told them that if they would throw him overboard the sea would calm, and it did. God then sent a large fish (or the more poetic sounding whale) to swallow Jonah alive. Jonah spent three days in the whale and from the depths of the whale cried out to God.

From the belly of the fish Jonah said this prayer to the LORD, his God: Out of my distress I called to the LORD,and he answered me; From the midst of the nether world I cried for help, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood enveloped me; All your breakers and your billows passed over me. Then I said, "I am banished from your sight! Yet would I again look upon your holy temple." The waters swirled about me, threatening my life; the abyss enveloped me; seaweed clung about my head. Down I went to the roots of the mountains; the bars of the nether world were closing behind me forever, But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD, my God. When my soul fainted within me,I remembered the LORD; My prayer reached you in your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy. But I, with resounding praise,will sacrifice to you; What I have vowed I will pay: deliverance is from the LORD. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore" (Jonah 2:1-10).

Jonah tried to flee from God, but was unable. His punishment was to be shut up in the belly of a whale in the depths of the sea at the roots of the mountains. Even there though, God was present to him as he cried out in prayer. The psalmist in Psalm 139 says, "Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too. If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast" (Ps. 139:7-10). Jonah realized too late the terror of falling into the hands of the Living God. Yet he also realized the peace that only God can give. As so many of the psalms begin in distress and end in a sacrifice of praise to God, so to does Jonah's. Psalm 22 quoted by Christ on the Cross is a prime example of this; "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"

From out of the depths Jonah is reborn. "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth" (Ps. 139:13-15). Jonah comes forth from the whale reborn and ready to God's will. God did not abandon him. When Jonah turned to God in faith, God did not withhold his right hand, but he delivered him from the pit within the whale. "For you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful servant see the pit" (Ps 16:10).
Jonah is a type of Jesus. Jesus was in a boat with his disciples. A key difference is that Jesus always did the will of his Father who sent him.
"He got into a boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" He said to them, "Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?" Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?" (Mt. 8:23-27).

Jesus was not literally thrown overboard; he is rather revealed as Lord of the storm. However, his Incarnation in which he sank into the depths of our humanity by becoming a man in the depths of the womb of the Virgin Mary and his Passion and Death in which he was cast into the depths of our sins and swallowed by the gaping Jaws of Death show that Jonah is fulfilled in him.

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." He said to them in reply, "An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here" (Mt. 12: 38-41).

Jonah was cast out of the boat and the wind and the waves were calmed and the sailors made vows and sacrifices to the one true God. Jesus was bodily taken up on the cross and cast into the raging wind, rain, storm, and crashing waves of sin and death. Jonah was cast into sea and swallowed up by the mouth of a great fish. Jesus was cast into the sea of sin and death and was swallowed up by the jaws of death. From the depths of the whales womb Jonah's prayer rose up. He made his own De Profundis. "From out of the depths I cry unto you, Lord." (Ps. 130). From the depths of the earth, Jesus prayed to his Father. He broke open "the bars of the netherworld" and preached to the prisoners. He lead them into heaven breaking open those gates that had been shut to man since the fall, probably singing a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving much like Jonah's.

Jonah points to the Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is not left in the pit to know corruption. He is gloriously and bodily Resurrected. Death, sin, suffering, and destruction are not the end. There is a resurrection in which we will all be reborn: either to life everlasting or death everlasting. The Resurrection of Jesus is so important and central to our faith that Paul says that if it did not happen then everything we believe is in vain. The bars of the gates of hell were not enough to keep Jesus drug down into the pit. The wrappings of seaweed in Jonah's case and the wrappings of a burial shroud in the case of Jesus were not enough to hold back the hand of the Living God. In Jesus Christ, death itself is swallowed up and has no victory. We therefore have our faith and hope in him.

From the depths of our suffering we cry out to God. God hears our cries and does not abandon us to the pit; rather he transforms our circumstances to a womb of hope from which we are born anew and from which one day we will rise with him.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Feast of St Thomas the Apostle

St Thomas doubted when he heard that the Lord had been there while he was away. He had earlier said, "Let us go and die with the Lord" (Jn. 11-16). This echoed Peter's proclamation of never abandoning Jesus and his subsequent use of a sword to cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest who had come with Judas and the mob to take Jesus away. Now Thomas is in disillusionment and despair over Jesus being crucified. His resolve and faith have waned. He states his doubt as boldly as he stated his confidence in going to die with the Lord earlier. "I will not believe until I see the nail prints in his hands and feet and put my hand in his side" (Jn. 19:25).

Jesus came again the following week and this time Thomas' own words are used against him by the Lord Jesus. "Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (Jn. 19:27-29).

Thomas' faith is born anew from seeing the Risen Lord with his wounds now glorified. Thomas sees the womb of the Sacred Heart which has loved the Father in obedience and suffered, died and rose again for our salvation. The side of Christ is opened to him and his heart in turn is opened. Do not suppose this was a gentle thing. I think it was more as the prophet had said, "Rend your hearts not your garments" (Joel 2:13). The words of faith, "My Lord and My God," boiled and burst forth to the surface. A faith that was dead in him rose again with the same violence as the earth quake at the time of Jesus' death. Just as the chief priest rent his garments when Jesus said, "You shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with the hosts of the armies of heaven in glory;" so now Thomas rends his heart with the confession of faith "My Lord and My God."

Sometimes in life we cannot come to faith until the Lord has removed every last obstacle and excuse our doubt can hold onto. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Abraham warned that not even if one should come back from the dead would the rich man's brothers believe. Some have received extraordinary graces like St Thomas the Apostle and still do not believe.
Today is the First Friday of the month and therefore also dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Go to Mass and confess that Jesus is Lord and God with Thomas. Rend your hearts that your faith may be born anew. The pains of your labor of faith will soon be forgotten with the Joy of beholding your God anew (Jn. 16:21).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Womb of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Below are my reflections on the meaning of the symbolism of the Sacred Heart of Jesus image.

The Heart itself.

The heart is a universal symbol for love. "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (1 Jn. 4:15-16). God so loved world he gave His only Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

The heart as an organ pumps blood to every member of the body. So too the Sacred Heart of Jesus pumps His blood to each one of us especially when we receive Him in the Eucharist in a state of grace. The heart is life giving. One man died that we all might have life. This is the heart which literally poured out its blood and water on our behalf to give us eternal life.

The crown of thorns.

The crown of thorns around the head of Jesus was placed there by the soldiers as they struck him and mocked him saying, "All hail the King of the Jews." I don't have the source of this next quote, but Jesus is supposed to have said to Margaret Mary Alacoque that the soldiers gave him a crown of thorns on his head and his friends gave him the crown of thorn around his heart. The love of men has grown cold in the last days and the heart which has love all has not been loved in return. It has been hated, reviled, or just ignored.

The crown of thorns surrounding the Sacred Heart is also like a hedge of protection.
Satan asked God about Job, "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has" (Job 1:10)? In the book of Hosea, God put a spiritual hedge of thorns around Gomer. "Therefore, I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She shall chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, "I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now" (Hosea 2:6-7). There is also an opinion in Jewish rabbinical tradition that the bush from which God spoke to Moses was a thorn bush. (See the following article from the Jewish Encyclopedia.) The Law on Sinai was given forth from a thorn bush; the Law on Calvary was given forth from the heart of a man pierced with nails, spear, and thorns. He spoke the words earlier in John's Gospel, "I give you a new command: Love one another as I have loved you." He lived those words unto his death on the cross and his rising from the dead.

When we are in the Sacred Heart of the God who is love and He within us, we are protected from the fiery darts of the evil one. God allowed Satan to try Job with the loss of all of his possessions and family, even the loss of his health, but God did not allow Satan to take his life. "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13).

The Fire

The fire in the Sacred Heart is the fire of Divine Love. The fire from which God spoke to Moses burned but did not consume the thorn bush (Ex. 3:2). John the Baptist said of Christ, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Mt. 3:12). Again Paul writes:
"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames" (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Those who love Jesus are in his Sacred Heart and they are purified by him like gold that is tested in fire. Though we suffer loss of imperfect work built from inferior materials, we shall be saved in the end. I think that purgatory is within the Sacred Heart of Jesus figuratively and literally. Though the heart is a symbol, the love it symbolises is quite literal. Those who do not love Jesus will suffer the eternal loss of God's friendship. There is a consuming fire that goes before the Israelites and destroys their enemies. "For our God is a consuming fire" (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). Those who die without the fire of God's love in them are eternally punished by it.

The Cross

The cross in the middle of the flames in his Sacred Heart is the suffering which we endure just as he endured suffering. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Lk. 9:23). He gave his life on the cross that we might live. The greatest good of our salvation was brought about through the greatest evil of deicide. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

If we are within his heart, though we suffer the cross with him, and we are burned by the fire of our trials in life, we are not consumed by them. We are protected as the three young men were protected in the furnace by the angel in the third chapter of the book of Daniel. We are purified as gold is tested in fire. We are safe and protected within the womb of his heart. We cling to the promise he gave that we will not be tempted beyond our endurance. He is always faithful to his promises.

There are 12 promises that he gave to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque listed below:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will give peace in their families.
3. I will console them in all their troubles.
4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
9. I will bless those places wherein the image of My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my Heart.
12. In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.

Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on us!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Womb of the Upper Room Part IV

The disciples were not orphaned. There is one who is quietly gathering them to the womb of the upper room. There is one who has never given up the Faith, Hope, and Love--the Divine Indwelling-- that has been with her since her Immaculate Conception. She is the mother hen in Jerusalem gathering her chicks. She is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit hovering as Gerard Manly Hopkins would say with "ahh bright wings!" Mary is the midwife of the Spirit helping the disciples prepare for their rebirth. All hope is dead (almost) and therefore seemingly lost...

She gathered them to the upper room once more to pray and fast for nine days for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The first novena of the Holy Spirit was facilitated by Mary who already was Church incarnate. Peter lead them and Mary guided him and the others. They prayed, fasted and waited on God to act.

Going back to Genesis 11, God had confused the language of the men of the world as punishment for the pride they showed trying to build a tower to heaven with which to challenge God or make themselves his equal. God scattered these men and their confused languages to the four corners of the earth. God made covenant with Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. He began to gather a people through whom would come the salvation of the world (Is. 40:5; Lk. 2:29-32; Jn 4:22 ). God sent the power of His Holy Spirit upon the waters of creation, upon the Ark of the covenant, upon the Temple of Solomon, upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and now upon the newly conceived Church.

The Holy Spirit descended in a great wind that shook the cenacle. The power came to rest over each one in the form of a visible flame. The waters of the upper room broke and the Apostles burst forth into the streets of Jerusalem praising the God of heaven and earth in the tongues of all the people's gathered there from the four corners of the earth. Now the Spirit of God gathers all peoples to Himself. No longer are those that believe scattered, confused and afraid. Rather, those who heard the good news, believed and were baptised received unity, knowledge and courage!

The Church is God's antidote to the sin and confusion of Babel. All the power of the Holy Spirit with the merits and graces of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of the Glorified Son of God, Jesus are contained within her. She dispenses the divine treasures to all her children. The life of faith is conceived in us by the power of the Holy Spirit and we are born in the womb of the baptistry to new life in Christ. We are fed with the manna from heaven in the Eucharist that nourishes us and sustains us on our journey. We are matured and built into the full stature of the man Jesus in confirmation. We are unbound and delivered from slavery to sin in the sacrament of reconciliation. We are given healing in the sacrament of anointing of the sick. We are called to leave father and mother and cleave to our spouse that we might be one as Christ and the Church are one and give more children to God from our union in the sacrament of marriage. We are called apart and ordered to the person of Christ to be priests to teach, govern and sanctify the Church. We call God Our Father and Jesus our Brother. Mary is our mother as well as the Church. She is the Church in glory interceding for us in the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness and knows how to pray for us in groanings that cannot be expressed by the human tongue (Rom 8:26).

Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem, qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per prophetas. Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

Happy Birthday Church and Thank you Holy Spirit!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Womb of Mercy

I come across masters of expression every once in a while and to paraphrase them does injustice. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis is one of these people. In his book, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Vol. 1, he comments on the fifth beatitude. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

"Having mercy at bottom means bestowing life. God is merciful by nature because he is the Creator by nature. This essential aspect of mercy has solid philological roots. Recall the particular way the Benedictus refers to God's mercy: per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri (Lk 2:78), which the older translations rendered literally as "by the bowels of the compassion of our God". One word for mercy in Hebrew is rachamim, which literally means the "viscera" occupying the abdominal region and , specifically the womb. Probably one reason for this is the feeling of compassion manifested physically in that area of the body. We say that our "heart skipped a beat" or our "insides turned over". In Spanish, something held to be very dear is said to be entranable, from entranas (one's "insides" or "entrails"). More profoundly this expression is metaphorically referring to God as a mother who has compassion on her children and feels it in that part of her body because it is there that she conceived them, bore them, and gave them birth. The act of having mercy may thus also be called the act of giving birth in the spirit...

God calls us to be in the world and extension of his paternal and maternal activity, whereby he is ever bearing and giving birth. Ex utero matutini velut rorem genui te [From the womb of the morning like the dew have I begotten you] (Ps 109:4), says the Father to the Son and to all those who are born in the Son"(Merikakis, pp 197-8).

God also says, "Can a woman forget her sucking child,that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget,yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have carved you on the palms of my hands;your walls are continually before me" (Is 49:15-16). We have a God who is merciful to us and knows us from before our conception in the womb. We have a God who Himself became Mercy Incarnate in the Womb of the Virgin. John the Baptist "leapt for joy" in the womb of Elizabeth with the joy of receiving the Good News of the Mercy of God from Mary. God was so faithful to us that He wrote the law of love in our hearts of flesh even as He allowed us to write our names in the palms of His hands and soles of His feet with our sins and the nails of the Cross--the spear of Longinus writing our names in His most Sacred Heart in return for the law of love he writes in our hearts. The Anima Christi says, "Within your wounds hide me." I say, "Within your womb hide me."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Womb of the Upper Room: Part III

The disciples were locked in the upper room "for fear of the Jews." On the evening of that first day of the new creation Jesus, the New Adam came and stood in their midst saying, "Peace be with you." It is only after he shows them his hands and feet that they recognize him and rejoice. Fear, grief, sorrow and despair are replaced with trust, solace, joy and hope. In the Gospel of John the apostles are given the gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus breaths upon them.

"Jesus therefore said to them again, 'Peace be with you'. And when he had said this, he breathed upon them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain are retained'" (Jn. 20:21-23).

Adam, the first born of the new creation shares his breath with them. He breathes in their nostrils the new life of God which is eternal. They shall rise again with him on the last day to life everlasting. They receive a Spirit of power and charity and discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). Jesus stirs into flame the new life of the Holy Spirit within them. Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit by whom we have the Incarnation, the Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Thomas was not there and did not believe that the others had seen the Risen Jesus. He boldly proclaims that he will not believe unless he can put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus' hands and feet and his hand in Jesus' side. Eight days later Jesus stands before them again saying, "Peace be with you." He tells Thomas to put his fingers in his hands and feet and his hand in his side and to no longer persist in unbelief but to believe. Thomas says the immortal words of faith, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus then gives us words of faith to live by, "You have believed because you have seen me, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!" We believe because of the Spirit inspired witness of the Apostles: most of them witnessing in their own blood to Jesus Christ, Risen and Glorified as God's own Son.

Jesus tells us that when we pray we are to go to our room and pray to our Father who is in secret. "And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mt. 6:6). It is in the womb of your personal "upper room" where you must go, not out of fear, but with courage: the courage to call God "Father." The Father knows what we need even before we ask it and Jesus tells us therefore to ask with confidence. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus says that we are to knock and it will be opened unto us. He says that the Father will give us the Holy Spirit when we ask (Lk. 11:9-13).

God the Father and Jesus long to give us the gift of the new life in the Spirit that has overcome death.

"Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Jesus also said,
"If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him" (Mt. 14:23).

When we love Jesus with the Spirit with which he loves the Father, we cry out; not in slavery to sin and fear, but in a Spirit of freedom and adoption the most intimate name of God the Father, "Abba" (Rom. 8:15). This same Spirit also gives us the courage to say, "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit makes us partakers in the hidden inner life of the Trinity (2 Pt. 1:4).

Jesus is Risen! The Spirit and the Kingdom are within in us and upon us. In the womb of our upper room in secret we ask God, our Father, the most intimate desires of our hearts freely and without fear. God in turn shares with us every good thing, supping with us giving us some of the secret manna and calling us by a secret name known only to us that names us as God's beloved child (Rev 2:17).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Womb of the Upper Room: Part II

The disciples have all run away. Christ has been taken from them. Two that we know of followed him. The rest we presume are in shock and terror that the Light of the world has been taken from them. They are in utter darkness and confusion. He had predicted His passion, death and resurrection and they still do not understand. They don't see any hope in this tragedy.

The one who betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver has turned in horror to face the evil he has committed. He throws the silver pieces back to those who have given it to him. In utter despair he does not seek forgiveness. He condemns himself to death and hangs himself.

News reaches them all of the horrors that happen to the Master. He is taken out and scourged, beaten, crowned with thorns, mocked, humiliated, rejected, made to carry the instrument of His death, crucified as one cursed to a tree, and He died as a God-forsaken criminal. After he is dead he is immolated on the end of a centurions lance and both blood and water pour forth.

The disciples are beginning to gather in the upper room in darkness, locking the door for fear of the Jewish leadership that handed over Jesus to death under the Romans. Only fear, sorrow, darkness, anguish, affliction, and despair seem to be present.

But somewhere...Mary the Mother who witnessed everything from the foot of the cross has found one of her "sons"(Jn. 19:26). Jesus her Only Son has given her the beloved disciple to be her son , and she has been given by Jesus as Mother to John and to all who would believe and do the will of the Heavenly Father (Mt. 12:50).

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans..." (Jn. 14:15-18).

Just as Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit by saying, "I will not leave you orphaned;" now He has already given His earthly Mother. Later He will give the Holy Spirit. For now it would seem Mary is the earthly model of the Divine "down payment" to be fulfilled at Pentecost (Eph. 1:14)..

The disciples were not orphaned. There is one who is quietly gathering them to the womb of the upper room. There is one who has never given up the Faith, Hope, and Love--the Divine Indwelling-- that has been with her since her Immaculate Conception. She is the mother hen in Jerusalem gathering her chicks. She is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit hovering as Gerard Manly Hopkins would say with "ahh bright wings!" Mary is the midwife of the Spirit helping the disciples prepare for their rebirth. All hope is dead (almost) and therefore seemingly lost...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Womb of the Upper Room: Part I

The twelve disciples all gathered with Jesus on the night before he died in the upper room. Jesus gave them the gift of Himself in the Eucharist. Paul recounts the event in 1 Cor:23-26:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

The disciples may have understood part of what he was saying since they would have heard Jesus speak of Himself as the Bread of Life before. However, they couldn't understand the full significance of what he was saying until after His passion, crucifixion and Resurrection.

Within the upper room, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brought forth the first bread and wine now blessed and transformed into his Body and Blood for all humanity to eat and drink of until He should come again in glory. The same thing happened over thirty years earlier when His mother Mary said, "Let it be done to me according to your word." The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us! Now the God who became Incarnate becomes
Impanate: becomes bread for the life of the world. Now the God who became Incarnate becomes Invinate: becomes new wine poured out for the life of the world.

Jesus told the disciples that He would not leave them orphaned and that behold He was with
them even unto the end of days. He promised the Holy Spirit, the Divine Shekinah which over shadows and conceives and brings forth the first fruits of Jesus in many different ways. In particular the Eucharist is one of the greatest ways that Jesus stays present among us.

Each time we gather in our local church for the Eucharist, the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to bless the gifts of bread and wine "that they may become for us the Body and Blood of Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ." We do this is in "remembrance" or in greek anamnesis. It is not the kind of remembering you do of your favorite vacation. It is the kind of remembering (in hebrew zakar) that was done by the people of Israel in Exodus whenever they celebrated the passover meal. They were to eat with their loins girded and staff in hand as one on a journey (Ex. 12:1-14). They were by their actions (and God's Divine once-for-all action) to make present that day of their flight from Egypt through the Red Sea into the Promised Land. God always remembers His Covenant and always keeps His part of the Covenant. In the Eucharist we have God the Son having come now as one of us making a Covenant with God the Father in His own Body and Blood that shall never be broken. God is always faithful to Himself. By the Power of the Holy Spirit the Lord has sworn an oath to Himself which He shall eternally be faithful to.

What is born from the Divine action of God on the Table of the first Eucharist is to be born in us when we receive Jesus in communion. His Body and Blood are truly present. We the body have remembered with the priest our spiritual head and we all partake of the same bread and wine. We are now all born into each other as One Body, One Blood, and One Spirit in Christ. What happens to the least of us, happens to the greatest of us. We are all equal in dignity and love in the eyes of God. What is born from the womb of this table is our eternal life together in Christ Jesus. No one is saved alone and no one is damned alone. Then let us be mindful of how we conduct ourselves that we might not be the cause of our brothers and sisters falling into sin.

May the Body and Blood of Christ bring us to everlasting Life!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Feast of the Annunciation

Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum! The words the world had longed for since the fall of creation. By the fiat of a humble maiden, permission was given to God to act in the world. Somewhere Augustine is attributed with saying that the God who created you without you will not save you without you. Saying yes to God is the simplest, humblest thing and that is why our pride finds it so difficult and we find no solace in doing our own will. Only in seeking the design from the master's hand do we get a sense of who we are and where we are going. May God hear Mary's prayer of obedience once more today on behalf of us all and may Jesus Christ be conceived in the wombs of our hearts that we may bear the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all fruits we give birth to when we say yes to God.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Aaron and Joseph: Priests to the Womb of the Tent of Meeting

In Numbers 16, a man named Korah and 250 people who were not descended from Aaron attempted to offer incense at the altar of the Lord.  They confronted Moses and Aaron saying that they too were holy and asking why should Moses and Aaron put themselves over everyone else.  Moses responded that the next day they would all bring their censers filled with burning coals and incense and offer it before the Lord along with Aaron and that the Lord would decide who was the holy one.   To make a long story short, the leaders of the group and their families are swallowed up by the earth and fire from heaven consumes the 250 others who were daring to offer incense at the Tent of the Meeting.  Numbers 17 continues the story.  

"The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, "It is you who have slain the LORD'S people." But while the community was deliberating against them, Moses and Aaron turned toward the meeting tent, and the cloud now covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the meeting tent, and the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Depart from this community, that I may consume them at once." But they fell prostrate.  Then Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer, put fire from the altar in it, lay incense on it, and bring it quickly to the community to make atonement for them; for wrath has come forth from the LORD and the blow is falling." Obeying the orders of Moses, Aaron took his censer and ran in among the community, where the blow was already falling on the people. Then, as he offered the incense and made atonement for the people, standing there between the living and the dead, the scourge was checked. Yet fourteen thousand seven hundred died from the scourge, in addition to those who died because of Korah.  When the scourge had been checked, Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the meeting tent.

The LORD now said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and get one staff from them for each ancestral house, twelve staffs in all, one from each of their tribal princes. Mark each man's name on his staff;and mark Aaron's name on Levi's staff, for the head of Levi's ancestral house shall also have a staff.  Then lay them down in the meeting tent, in front of the commandments, where I meet you.  There the staff of the man of my choice shall sprout. Thus will I suppress from my presence the Israelites' grumbling against you."So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and their princes gave him staffs, twelve in all, one from each tribal prince; and Aaron's staff was with them.Then Moses laid the staffs down before the LORD in the tent of the commandments. The next day, when Moses entered the tent, Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth not only shoots, but blossoms as well, and even bore ripe almonds! Moses thereupon brought out all the staffs from the LORD'S presence to the Israelites. After each prince identified his own staff and took it,the LORD said to Moses, "Put back Aaron's staff in front of the commandments, to be kept there as a warning to the rebellious, so that their grumbling may cease before me; if it does not, they will die." And Moses did as the LORD had commanded him.Then the Israelites cried out to Moses, "We are perishing; we are lost, we are all lost!  Every time anyone approaches the Dwelling of the LORD, he dies! Are we to perish to the last man?" 

God gives responsibility of the priesthood to Aaron and his sons alone, where the rest of the Levites may attend to the sanctuary.  Aaron and his direct descendants were to have charge of the altar and the sacred vessels used for sacrifice.  They would have no portion of the promised Land, but the Lord Himself would be their portion.  

In the The Apocryphal Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, the story is related that Mary had been living at the Temple with other young girls dedicated to the Lord since the age of three years. Her parents Joachim and Anna left her there to be educated.   God the Father thought of Mary as His "lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters"(Songs 2:2).  Mary turned fourteen years of age and the high priest announced that it was time for all girls of that age to return home and get married according to custom.   Mary had made a vow of perpetual virginity to God and told the high priest she could not  marry for this reason.  The high priest consulted with the other priests and they decided that the matter must be taken before the Mercy Seat of the Lord.  A voice was heard that said in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, "a man should be sought out to whom the virgin could be entrusted and espoused."

"But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD (Is 11:1-3).  

All of David's descendants who were eligible for marriage were summoned to bring forth their rods to the altar.  None of their staffs blossomed and the high priest found out from God in prayer that Joseph who was very old by this time had withheld his rod and had not come forth.  Joseph was summoned to bring his staff before the altar of the Lord and it blossomed and the Spirit of the Lord in the form a dove descended upon his staff and settled there.  Mary was obedient and became betrothed to Joseph.  She returned to her parents home in Nazareth and it is shortly thereafter that the Annunciation took place and the angel Gabriel calmed her fears and explained to her God's plan of salvation of which she was to be a significant agent. 

Tradition and Scripture tell us of the virgin birth of Jesus and how Joseph cared for and protected Mary in whom God and Man were joined inseparably for eternity.  Joseph served as a priest before the new "Tent of Meeting" between God and man.  The Shekinah of the Holy Spirit came down upon Joseph's staff as a sign that he alone had been chosen to serve at the altar of the Blessed Virgin's Womb.  His obedience to the will of God expressed to him in dreams by angels was a sweet fragrance that was an acceptable sacrifice before God in His new Holy of Holies.

The Tent of the Meeting contained the Word of God written on stone tablets that Moses received from God on Sinai.  Later when the Ark of the Covenant was built there would also be the staff of Aaron and the manna from heaven with which God fed them in the desert for forty years.  The womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary contained the Word of God written not on stone but in the literal Flesh of Jesus.  He was the blossom from the root of Jesse and the Bread of Life come down from Heaven through which God gave them every good thing.

Here within Mary was a temple not made by human hands.  In Hebrews 10 it says upon coming into the world (within Mary's womb) Jesus said to God, "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in.  Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'"  The author of Hebrews goes on to explain "By this "will," we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10).  

Just as Aaron served before the first tent of the meeting, Joseph served before the second tent of the meeting.  Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and was watched over by a just man who was also chaste and never had relations with Mary.  He treated this sacred vessel of the Lord with great reverence and respect and was always ready to obey the command of the Lord to protect Mary and the child Jesus.  

Aaron's staff bloomed almonds and signified the Lord's choice of his priesthood.  Joseph's staff bloomed a blossom which signified that he was God's choice to be the man entrusted with His beloved bride.  The blossom is depicted as a Lily in artwork probably because Jesus is prophetically called the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley in the Song of Solomon 2:1.     God, through Mary, came to us in a way that we no longer needed fear for our lives in approaching Him.  Jesus is the Mercy of God Incarnate.  From the Mercy seat of Mary's womb he began to offer Himself to God the Father on our behalf as a "once for all sacrifice".  
Mary's intercession helped bring about God with us.  She continues to intercede for us and helps us to approach the Lord in love and confidence.  She says, "Do whatever he tells you to do" (Jn 2:5).  

If any man wants to be a better husband, let him look to Saint Joseph's example for guidance. Actions speak louder than words.  The Scriptures only record what Joseph did.  They never tell what words he spoke.  Joseph listened to the Lord in prayer and promptly obeyed God's will.  As a husband I need to follow his example of being faithful leader of my wife and family and to always be faithful to the sacred duties I have been entrusted with.  

St Joseph, pray for us.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Womb of the Beatitudes: Solidarity

In reading the beatitudes in Matthew's Gospel, I have often come away puzzled as to how these actually fit into my everyday life. What does it mean to be meek or be poor in spirit or to be pure of heart? What do these things on a practical level mean for my life: my relationships with God, others, and myself? Lately I have thought on this more often. After remembering a way of reading the Scriptures that I learned at a retreat once, I have gleaned the beginning of understanding the beatitudes.

For example, in chapter 13 of 1st Corinthians where it says, "Love is patient, love is kind...", substitute the name of Jesus every time the word love occurs. You get, "Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind... ." It gives new meaning to the passage of Scripture. In doing the same thing with the Beatitudes, it helps get to the deeper meaning.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is poor in spirit. He was born in a stable surrounded by the beasts lodged their. He had no covetous desire for wealth and he lived simply. He had nowhere to lay his head and made himself poorer than the foxes and birds. When we identify with our brothers and sisters who have very little in the ways of money, possessions, education, or importance in society, then we identify ourselves with Jesus.

From all Eternity Jesus as God the Son is loved by and begotten by God the Father. In the internal life of the Trinity, God the Son completely impoverishes Himself in order to be filled and overflowed with every good thing from God the Father. In freely pouring Himself out in complete love and obedience to the Father he is given every bit of His Father's Kingdom and
Wealth of Love. The Holy Spirit is their way of relating and their exchange of Infinite Love. When the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church, He is called the first down payment or installment by Paul. ( Eph 1: 13-14). Jesus tells us if we who are part of an evil generation know how to give what is good to our children, how much more the Father will give us the Holy Spirit when we ask Him (Lk. 11:13).

Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.

Jesus was meek. He told us, "Come to me all you who labor and find life burdensome for I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt. 11:29). Jesus was silent before those who condemned him.
"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth" (Is 53:7). When he died he was cut off from the land of the living and he freely gave himself as a sin offering for our offenses. Because of this, God raised Him up and gave Him his portion with the great and gave Him the Name above every other name.

In our afflictions God expands us and prepares us for the good things He wishes to give us. In Isaiah 54 the barren woman is told to expand her tents. "Enlarge the place of your tent;Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;Lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities." Through her sufferings she is preparing and is prepared for the coming fulfillment of the Lord's promises. She has hope. "Blessed is she who believed that the promises of the Lord to her would be fulfilled" (Luke 1:45). The wombs of our hearts are expanded so we can give birth to a larger portion of the "land" Jesus, our inheritance.
(also see Pope Benedict XVI's Saved in Hope #33)

Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Jesus wept. Jesus mourned Lazarus. He had great anguish over the death of his friend. He gave comfort to Martha even as he challenged her to have faith. "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Lk. 11:25-26). Do we believe this? Do I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God who is to come into the world? If I do believe, then through faith, I allow Jesus to move back the mountain of a stone that keeps me trapped in the death and decay of my sins. If I believe then he can command to sin and evil "Unbind him! Let him go!." If I believe... I shall be comforted. Out of this comfort, I can minister to the needs of others and give them the same solace as I have found in Jesus.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.

Jesus said that his food was to do the will of the Father who sent Him.
In John 6, Jesus says "I am the bread of life. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die." After the fall of humanity from grace, injustice came into the world and God chose to end it by transforming the greatest injustice deicide, into the greatest blessing. God sent His only begotten Son into the world to restore Justice. Through Jesus' Life, Death, and Resurrection we are reconciled to God and made righteous before Him. Jesus shares with us the Bread of Life made out of the bread of his sorrows. The Sacrifice of Calvary is one and the same with the Sacrifice of the Mass. Through Jesus' Body and Blood we are nourished as we grow in the womb of the Church our earthly mother. We are born from death into new life through our celebration of the Holy Sacraments.

Even though we are wounded by the effects of original sin, we still have a hunger and thirst for God who is our Justice and righteousness. We seek to do His will because it is Just and it feeds us. We still know when we suffer injustice, and we hunger and thirst for the restoral of our righteousness. Jesus says when we visit those in prison, that we do that unto him. We help to restore to them their dignity as a child of God that they have lost through committing crimes or by being unjustly imprisoned.

If we have to be purified in the after life in purgatory, it will be our penultimate destination before heaven. When we pray for the poor souls, we help them get closer to what they ultimately hunger and thirst for: union with God. In offering the Mass for the dead, we share with them the heavenly banquet of the Eucharist and we are one with them at the Lord's table. One day we will be finally born to eternal life and have our fill.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

"The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm" (Prov. 11:17).
Jesus told the parable of the the unmerciful servant where a man who was forgiven a great debt by his master was unmerciful to his fellow servant who owed a considerably less debt. The master hears of this and has the first servant handed over to the torturers in prison until he should pay back the entire debt. He tells us that that is how the Heavenly Father will deal with us unless we are merciful.

When you pray say: Our Father... forgives our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. God is good and demands our goodness in response to His. If you have hate in your heart against your brother or sister you are to go to them and settle the matter before making your offering at the altar (Mt. 5:24). This is why we have the penitential rite at Mass and we say the Lamb of God before receiving Holy Communion.

Jesus is the Divine Mercy. If we are merciful to one another then truly He lives in us and we live in Him and in turn we live in each other. We have solidarity with each other knowing that we too were once slaves in the land of Egypt.

Blessed are the pure of heart: for they shall see God.

Jesus was always in dialogue with His Father and always beheld the Beatific Vision. When sin separates us from God and when we can no longer see by faith Him whose image we are created in, we are blind to the will of God and cannot hear what he wants for us.

"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him" (1 Jn. 3:2-6).

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Jesus is our Peace with God. "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Through Jesus the Son , God the Father has reconciled all things in Heaven and on Earth to Himself, making peace through the blood of the cross (Col. 1:19). Through water and the Holy Spirit in baptism we are now children of God and we are given the vocation to be peacemakers. It is not our call to condemn people but to call them in charity to the truth of God's ways. Our hearts must always be big enough to forgive and we must always let the peace of Christ reign in our hearts.

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus suffered for our sake and gave his life that we might live. For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven. When we are reviled for Jesus' sake and when we identify with those who are persecuted, we are in solidarity with Jesus and His Body the Church. "When one member of the body suffers, the entire body suffers" (1 Cor. 12:26). I can't summarize this any better than Jesus does in Matthew 10:16-21.

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved."

I humbly submit this exposition on the Beatitudes in hopes that it will help you find solidarity with Our Lord and therefore with your brothers and sisters.