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.