Advent Journal: Day 15

•December 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment


Jesus said to the crowds:
“To what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children who sit in the marketplaces and call to one another,
‘We piped you a tune, but you did not dance,
we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”                  Matthew 11:16-19

If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea.        Isaiah 47:17-19

Blessed is the man who walks not
in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat with scoffers;
But the law of the LORD is his delight.                        Psalm 1:1-2

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband.                     -St. Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”

What do we do with our lives, when we suffer injustice, and there is no recompense for it?  It is the obvious problem with that most wonderful of Psalms, the first in the Psalter:  “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but way the of the wicked shall perish.”  It is true that, according to our faith, they will get what they deserve in the next life.  But in this life, they don’t seem to suffer much at all.  The Book of Job is the standing rebuke to the idea that an overly literal understanding of the first Psalm.  And yet, it points to a not so obvious truth, that unpunished injustice obscures:  everyone suffers.  Yes, even the unjust who get to enjoy the fruits of their evils, even if not directly for their crimes.

Of course, in another sense, we await the punishment of those crimes; we await the return of Christ to judge us and them, those who have harmed us.  The first coming of Christ, which we celebrate in Advent, is something that presages this, as Irenaeus makes clear:  just as the primordial evil was committed by Eve under the influence of Satan, so Mary inaugurates our redemption at the influence of Gabriel.  It is the inevitable triumph of God, we proclaim, even though we experience it as something contingent, uncertain.  This is why we slough off God’s commandments, grant ourselves exemptions from being punished for our sins. After all, if God is waiting so long to come again, to judge us all for our sins, what harm is it if we indulge in this or that sin, since we do not mean to break all of God’s laws, just those that are convenient for us to break (in a small way, some venial sin, pornography, “safe sex,” something short of murder, basically)?

Christ calls this out for the bullshit that it is:  “we piped you a tune but you did not dance, we sang you a dirge but you did not mourn.”  We have created codes of etiquette for our selves, rituals of civility and sociability that substitute for truth.  Why?  Because when we have broken God’s covenant once, we do not stop there, but go on granting our selves exceptions.  So we have to invent something else to keep us from falling into emotional and moral chaos.  This, we call “civilization,” and its rules “civility,” or “politeness.” And as long as you sing along the same tune with everyone else, condemn what the world condemns, mourn what it mourns, you will suffer no trouble in this life.  But if you do not?  Then you are “possessed by a demon” and not fit for polite society.

Of course, there is more to it than this; but even what good there is in these things, if it is separated from God’s laws, can lead us astray.  And this is what the Gospel call us to, especially in this season of Advent:  to be watchful, to fast, to pray, to repent of our sins, and remember that the injustices we commit will not go unpunished forever.



Advent Journal: Day 14, John of the Cross

•December 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment


Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.

Saint Paul therefore urges the Ephesians not to grow weary in the midst of tribulations, but to be steadfast and rooted and grounded in love, so that they may know with all the saints the breadth, the length, the height and the depth – to know what is beyond knowledge, the love of Christ, so as to be filled with all the fullness of God.

The gate that gives entry into these riches of his wisdom is the cross; because it is a narrow gate, while many seek the joys that can be gained through it, it is given to few to desire to pass through it.       -St. John of the Cross, “A Spiritual Canticle”

“Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”                -Luke 14:25-33

We fall away when things get tough; that is our nature.  We seek comfort, and avoid pain.  We seek those things which give us energy, and reject those which demand it from us.  Those involved in team sports know the best way to train them is to make their strength and conditioning workouts in the off-season difficult to the point of exhaustion, even danger; the reason for this is twofold.  One is, obviously to stretch the body to its furthest limit, to build muscle, stamina, explosiveness, agility, or whatever other desire trait the trainer wishes to build up in the athlete.  But the other reason is that it is so difficult one cannot complete the workouts on their own; they need the help of teammates to push and console each other.  Thus it pushes the individual will to the limit but also bonds it with those who are willing to go through all of this.

There is a reason why St. Paul makes the comparison between training for athletics and the Christian life.  It is an apt parallel: our training for eternal life must consist in suffering, in bearing our cross so that we might profit from the One who bore the Cross.  St. John of the Cross understood what a deeply strange and paradoxical experience this is.  When we suffer, we always suffer alone:   Pascal says somewhere in the Pensees that when we die and are buried, it is our grave and our body alone that the grave digger will pile dirt upon, and not someone else’s.  And yet, to inherit this eternal life, we must come together from the thing that individuates us most, our suffering.  It is there, in the “thicket of suffering,” we come together first with God, who became Man in order to suffer for us, and then, our fellow sufferers in Christ, who are the primary means God has provided to sustain us in these our intolerable trials.  We come to know Christ through suffering ourselves and through sharing in the suffering of others together.

Why?  For that which is demanded of us is to “renounce all our possessions.”  Who can do this on their own?  Who would do this willingly?  No, we need the external compulsion of love, of a binding to others who have wept like ourselves, that we may be ourselves, whether alone, or together.  Such is the bewildering power and mystery of our God.  O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum!

Guest Article: Dom Mark Kirby on Infirmity and Stability in Marriage and Monasticism

•December 15, 2017 • Comments Off on Guest Article: Dom Mark Kirby on Infirmity and Stability in Marriage and Monasticism

I share here a most wonderful reflection on the parallels between marriage and monasticism from the New Liturgical Movement.  I hope my reader(s) will profit by it. -Alypius


NLM is pleased once again to publish a reflection by Dom Mark Kirby, O.S.B., Prior of the Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration of Silver…

Source: Guest Article: Dom Mark Kirby on Infirmity and Stability in Marriage and Monasticism

Advent Journal: Day 13, St. Lucy’s Day

•December 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment


If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me!
Please put up with me.
For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God,
since I betrothed you to one husband
to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.             2 Corinthians 10:17-11:2

“The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”            Matthew 25:1-3

Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.                                                              Isaiah 40:25-31

You are one of God’s people, of God’s family, a virgin among virgins; you light up your grace of body with your splendour of soul. More than others you can be compared to the Church. When you are in your room, then, at night, think always on Christ, and wait for his coming at every moment.       St. Ambrose, On Virginity

The parable of the ten virgins tells us that we must be aware, be awake:  Christ ends his parable with an injunction to vigilance because, as he says elsewhere, “you know neither the day nor the hour” when the Judgment will come.  We must, then, have foresight to anticipate His return; in this season which we celebrate his coming to earth, this is a salutary reminder.  It is also fortuitous that the readings for Advent on this day coincide with the Feast of St. Lucy.  Sancta Lucia was, according to tradition, a young woman who suffered horrible tortures rather than be wed, and then resisted forced prostitution before being beheaded with a sword.  Modern history casts doubt on this narrative, for the simple fact that it repeats the many of the same details of other stories of virgin martyrs, such as St. Agatha and St. Agnes.  The name Lucia itself gives pause, since it means “light,” and the many stories associated with her as the patron of sight seem to confirm this.  And yet, it is so hard to believe?  If one could see that Christ was everything, that his Love was greater than a love of money, or sex, or even family or a husband, would we not all resist unto torture, and death?  We do not see; our judgment is clouded by sin, and the fear of death.  Both martyrs and virgins do as St. Ambrose bid them, they “wait upon Christ” as if nothing else existed.  In some depictions of St. Lucy, she is holding a plate with two eyeballs on it, depicting the story that her tormentors cut our her eyes.  A more perfect synergy with the Gospels could not be had:  “if your eye offends you, cut it out.”  The virgins and martyrs, who quite literally sacrifice the life in their bodies, though in different ways, see more than we see in everyday life; they see that Christ is worth giving up everything, and they go to him as the Wise Virgins, ready with their flasks of oil, as did St. Lucy (whatever may be the details of her life).  They are, in their virginity and their martyrdom, incarnations of His Advent, for they are able to attain their goal only by living in His grace.   In all this they are St. Paul said his Corinthians were, a “chaste virgin to Christ,” the spotless Bride as the Church is called to be.  Let us imitate St. Lucy in this, trusting in God to renew our strength as we await the final coming of the Lord.

Advent Journal: Day 12–Guadalupe

•December 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment


Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people,
and he will dwell among you,
and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.  -Zechariah 2:14-15

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”                   -Luke 1:47

He went up the hill and caught sight of a lady of unearthly grandeur whose clothing was as radiant as the sun. She said to him in words both gentle and courteous: “Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon and confide in me.”

–From the Report of Don Antonio Valeriano, on the appearance of the Blessed Virgin to Juan Diego

By 1531, the Reformation had proceeded apace; the break with Rome was imminent, and much of Germany was permanently lost to Protestantism.  Soon, parts of Scandinavia would join them.  Yet in the lands of the Aztecs, that land reeking of blood sacrifice and slaughter, there appeared the young girl of Judea to Juan Diego, a native Aztec.  Why would the Blessed Virgin appear in this way?  Even the Spanish bishop was skeptical.  Unlike the learned of Europe (and the Protestant leaders were that, if nothing else), this poor soul was raised on Aztec myths:  sun god, rain god, the cruelty and glory of nature draped in the guise of a heavenly court of sadistic kings and their courtiers.  He had been converted to Christian faith, but how much could Juan Diego know of it?  Did he understand the Trinity?  Or what the Incarnation meant?  Moreover, did he even realize that Mary the mother of Jesus had been of the Jewish race?  I do not know, but I suspect not. But then this shows that, however wonderful knowledge is (and we do, as children of God, possess genuine knowledge of Him), it is not knowledge that crowns the Christian life.  Rather, it is faith and humility, the same faith and humility that allowed Juan Diego to see Our Lady in his own kind.  For she came as, and she was, Mary, mother of Jesus, a 1st century Jewish woman; but to the eyes of the one who persevered in faith, despite its difficulty (the narrative above makes it clear he was not necessarily comfortable with her appearance), and so he saw her as the Aztec princess so famous from the image today. And from that image–I do not know, but I believe it to be true–he must have gained a spiritual insight into the Holy Trinity, that could give itself even to peasants without much social honor; insight into the Incarnation, that God would unite Himself to humanity in that manner; and insight into the nature of that most loving Jewish mother, who only asked that her followers might ask for her intercession, that they might come to know her Son through her love.  God is a worker of strange things, indeed.  And that I believe, and truly.  Amen.

Advent Journal: Day 9

•December 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment


Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.              -Isaiah 35:9-10

And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.”

Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,
“Who is this who speaks blasphemies?
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
“What are you thinking in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God.               Gospel of Luke 5:18-25

In days of Jesus, there was a widespread assumption that illness or debility was a result of sin.  When Jesus was healing the people, and his friends brought the paralyzed man to him by lowering him through the roof, Jesus famously said to him, “your sins are forgiven.”  He said this, the Gospel writers tell us, because of the great faith that he and his friends showed in doing whatever he could to come to Jesus, and seek healing from God.  If we want something from God, we must will it with all our hearts.  It must the right thing, the thing that he wants from us, and not our mere pleasure or passion.  But especially to be forgiven of our sins, to be washed from all the evil and mean things we have done, “things ill done and done to others’ harm” as the poet tells us.  It is our faith that seeks, it is our faith that God can work with to purify our hearts, and save our souls for everlasting life.  This scene of the Gospel is the antithesis of those passages where Christ can work no miracle because of the peoples’ unbelief.  And here, as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy, Jesus reveals himself to the people by bidding the paralyzed man to rise and go home–a sure sign of his divinity. And yet, his greatest mercy was to forgive those men their sins; yes, there in that primitive mindset which says that we always earn our misfortunes somehow, which we know to be false, God mysteriously allowed in their hearts a desire for repentance, which allowed them to be healed of theirs sins, even if the occasion of the man’s paralysis was in no way punishment for sin.  Thus does God use the calamities which befall us, and which we so often cause ourselves, to be an occasion to shower us with His mercy.  May we all be the like paralyzed man and his friends, who let nothing stop them from appealing to the mercy of the Son of God, who, if we believe, will be able to heal our infirmities, forgive us our sins, and crown us with the life of everlasting joy and peace.

Advent Journal: Day 8

•December 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

sermon of st. john the-baptist_bruegel the elder

Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.   -Isaiah 40:10-11

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.   2 Peter 3:8-14

“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”   Gospel of Mark 1:7-8

In the Scripture passages for today, the Gospel of Mark cites the prophet Isaiah, saying “make straight the paths of the Lord,” present John the Baptist as the one who proclaims the way of the Lord prophesied by Isaiah.  Years ago, I recall a pastor in a homily mention that it was a practice of ancient Near Eastern emperors to clear a highway before them as they entered a territory they had conquered.  Presumably, the ancient Israelites had a very direct experience of this:  both the Assyrians and the Babylonians carried them off into exile.  Thus, the image is one that depicts God as a triumphant king, perhaps an echo of how he was sometimes depicted in the more ancient Psalms, redolent of an ancient Canaanite war god.  But here, though violence is hinted at in St. Peter’s letter, is no promise of destruction, but renewal: renewal by baptism of the Holy Spirit, and transformation of a sinful world into a “new heaven and a new earth” where righteousness dwells, “where justice and peace shall kiss.”  The paths that the Lord makes straight runs through our minds, through our bodies, through our souls; we must make way, for the King is coming, or else he will level the mountains of our hearts, the monuments to our own righteousness that we build up every day in our selves.  Make way!  Make way for Him who will raise you up to a higher place than your own weak spirit ever could.  Make straight your path; let it lead you to Christ, to his everlasting love.  Deny Him nothing, since he gave you everything.  Let his justice purge you with the fires of repentance; accept the suffering that is yours, that on the day of judgement, when having burned away the last remnant of the old man, you may be able to see Him face, and weep for joy that you are at long last reunited with your heavenly Father.  For then, when his glory shall be revealed, there will be no more sorrow, no more suffering, and all paths will be made straight and will lead us evermore into his Love.

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