December 31, 2013

The Holy Mother of God

We celebrate today Mary, the Holy Mother of God. We celebrate the maternity of Mary not only as one of the mysteries of Christmas, but also because her vocation is ours as well.

Like Mary, we are are called to welcome the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and to "protect Christ in our lives"--as Pope Francis said during the Mass for the beginning of his Petrine ministry--in order to be able to bear him and his mission into the world and into history.

In this sense Mary is the prototype of the Church; what she has done historically we are called to do spiritually. In the words of Lumen gentium, Mary "is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come." (68)

It is the task of the Church, and of each of us as her members, to welcome the Word, to nourish and protect it, and to bear it and give witness to it in our relationships, in our projects, and in our world.

In this sense, God seeks our maternity. It is a virginal maternity because there is no earthly father, but only the Holy Spirit who conceives the Christian vocation within us as the presence of Christ.

God seeks us, as St. Francis greeted the Blessed Virgin Mary, as virgo ecclesia facta, 'the virgin made Church,' as a virginity ready to keep and hold the presence of Christ such that his presence might be born throughout the world.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

December 30, 2013

Meister Eckhart on the Humility of the Incarnation

Verse [1] 14: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
116. Note first the "flesh" here stands for man figuratively, according to Matthew's text, "No flesh would be saved" (Mt. 24:22), and "No flesh will be justified from the works of the law" (Rm. 3:20). The Evangelist preferred to say "The Word was made flesh," rather than man, to commend the goodness of God who assumed not only man's soul, but also his flesh. In this he strikes at the pride of all those who when asked about their relatives respond by pointing to one who holds an important position, but are silent about their own descent. When asked, they say they are nephews of such and such a bishop, prelate, dean or the like. There is the story of the mule who when asked who his father was answered that his uncle was a thoroughbred, but out of shame hid the fact that his father was an ass.
From his commentary on John, quoted from Edmund Colledge, OSA and Bernard McGinn, trans., Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, (Paulist, 1981, Classics of Western Spirituality series). The editors note that the story is from Aesop.

December 28, 2013

The Crown Sister Ida Gave Me

My departure from the novitiate of the Order of Friars Minor, Holy Name Province (New York), on Christmas Day 1995, quickly became one of the most significant events in my spiritual journey. The prayer and spiritual attitudes that came out of it served me well then and have continued to serve and form me as a Christian and as a religious. I am more grateful to God for few things, and remain grateful to my novice master for having the courage to let me go when it was the right thing for my vocation.

December 25, 2013


Christmas breathes into the world the Love that is the Blessed Trinity.

"And God said,....And it was so." (Genesis 1:6a, 7b)

Everything that is, everything that we know as some-thing and anyone we know as some-one, has its being from divine speech. God said, and it was so.

And today we learn that everything that is exists so that this same all-effective Word might be conceived by the Spirit-Love proceeding in full personality from that Word and the Unbegotten Source who speaks him, conceived as a historical human life in a little family, among a little people, in a little, out of the way place.

The Mystery to which all our human experience of love and knowledge points and tends--this Ground and Source that we clumsily call 'God'-- is revealed in a little child. His almighty-ness, his omnipotence begins to be revealed as not what we might think, a revelation Jesus Christ completes by his death on the Cross, the King of God's chosen reigning from a throne on which hands and feet cannot even be moved and from which this King could still less compel anyone to do anything by his authority and power.

But Christmas finds us revealed to ourselves as well. The fullness of the meaning of our creation in the divine image (Genesis 1:27) comes to light in the newborn Jesus Christ. We contemplate the mystery of his Nativity and we see God-with-us, born one of us, as each of us once was at the beginning of our earthly lives. But we realize that it is not the only-begotten Son of God who comes in our image but we who are created in his; in recognizing his humanity we see our own dignity as those born bearing the divine image. Each human life, from the first moment of its conception through all its joys and pains and loves and tragedies, is revealed in family resemblance to God himself, holding in itself, with all preciousness, something of the infinite divine dignity.

Nativity window, Sacred Heart Church, Yonkers, New York

December 22, 2013

His Birth, Our Rebirth

(This is the little homily I gave to the remnant of the brethren this morning.)

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about...his mother Mary...was found with child through the Holy Spirit." (Mt 1:18)

The Church was born in the same way, when the same Spirit filled the house where the apostles were gathered after the Ascension.

And every Sunday, even every day, the Church--we as Church--are regenerated right here by the Eucharist.

Just as God opened the side of Adam to form Eve, mother of all the living, so with the water and blood flowing from the side of Jesus--opened by our violence--all those brought back to life come to be fed.

This is the good news of our faith; in Christ crucified, God has transformed the violence of sin into the source of salvation. We, reborn in the same Christ conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, filled with the same Spirit, come to be washed and fed from the wounds of the Son become man. This is why we pray in today's Collect--the same prayer we pray three times a day in the Angelus--that the Passion and Cross of the Lord would bring us the glory of the Resurrection.

In these days, when we celebrate with joy the birth among us of the Son of God, we celebrate in the same way our regeneration in the Holy Spirit as the Church--the Body of Christ--as well as our daily and eucharistic rebirth, as John says, "not by water alone, but by water and blood." (1 Jn 5:6)

His conception in the womb of Mary is the dawn of our regeneration, his birth our rebirth.

December 8, 2013

Gaudens Gaudebo

I was relieved yesterday by the resolution of a liturgical dubium that had been troubling me. Everyone was acting as if today, December 8, was going to be the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when it seemed to me that it should be the Second Sunday of Advent. After all, consulting the 'table of liturgical days' in the front of your breviary or missal clearly reveals that a Sunday of Advent enjoys precedence over almost everything, including solemnities of Our Lady.

December 6, 2013

Angels of Light

More and more life takes the form of prayer; a path at once obscure and beautiful, dark but on which the next step is usually clear enough, a journey somehow both inward and forward, a drilling down into the heart that is at the same time an ascent into the Mystery.

There are temptations on the path, angels of light that offer an easy illumination, cheap and seductive. But these false illuminations only turn out to be the real darkness. And it is through this that I come to trust the darkness of the path as the true light.

December 2, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium: My Favorite Parts

I gave the weekend to reading Evangelii gaudium. Broad and unfailingly positive, it is exactly what it says it is, an 'Apostolic Exhortation.' It is a plea that the Church and all her members might become evangelical and missionary in everything. There is much that strikes; for example, the length of the section on homily preparation or how, when Francis speaks of the option for the poor, divine and ecclesial, he speaks first not of helping or even of justice, but of inclusion in society. I was especially grateful for sections that gave expression to certain concerns that have troubled me over the years, such as much of what Francis says about 'pastoral acedia.' (n. 81 ff.)

Given those things, as well as the important passages already reported in a widespread way, here are some of my favorite quotes:

December 1, 2013

The Flannery O'Connor Prayer Journal

I'm glad for the inspiration to read A Prayer Journal, W.A. Sessions' editing of a journal kept by Flannery O'Connor during 1946 and 1947 when she was a student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Certain insights struck me as very deep and have been coming back to me in meditation, which I usually take as a sign that the Holy Spirit means for me to pay attention to them:

"I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding us of God."

"I feel too mediocre now to suffer. If suffering came to me I would not even recognize it."

The following passage really resonated with my own experience of prayer and journaling:
I will always be staggering between Despair & Presumption, facing first one & then the other, deciding which makes me look the best, which fits most comfortably, most conveniently. I'll never take a large chunk of anything. I'll nibble nervously here & there. Fear of God is right; but God, it is not this nervousness [.] It is something huge, great, magnanimous. It must be a joy. Every virtue must be vigorous. Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives. Sin is large & stale. You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited. But perhaps that is too literary a statement--this musn't get insincere.
I'm not sure how to recommend the book; if you have ever struggled with prayer and yourself as a pray-er, or used journaling as a spiritual practice, I think you would probably appreciate it or at least enjoy it. The only thing is that it's almost too short to be worth paying for. So borrow a copy. I got mine on Kindle via the maternal economy.*

*Capuchin inside joke