26 December 2018

A Daily Act of Consecration to the Holy Family

+JMJ+

Holy Family of Nazareth, hear the prayers of a prodigal son. I have sinned before heaven and against you. Take me as one of your hired servants.


Chaste Heart of Joseph, I consecrate myself to thee! Like thee may I be chaste and stable. May my work be done with all due speed and diligence; ever be ordered only to the provision, safety, and advance of God's Kingdom, the Church. Bless my skills and talents that, like thee, I may ever use them to God's glory and not my own. By thy prayers, may my work be crowned with the virtues of fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Let me be neither greedy nor sloth; let not the noonday demon find me ready to make a mockery of God's labor or my own. Fix me in chastity in action, word, and thought.

Pray for me, St Joseph, together with thy Most Immaculate Spouse, that I may work out my salvation in fear and trembling; that having thee as my father and Mary as my mother, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.


Immaculate Heart of Mary, I consecrate myself to thee! Like thee may I be open to the will of God, ever trusting him without knowing the cost, and ever certain that what ever he has asked of me he will give me the grace to accomplish. May I never place myself between others and thy divine son save only to say "Do whatever he tells you" and like thee may I ever make intercession before God's throne especially for those in most need of his mercy. Cause me, by thy prayers, through pious devotion and faithful adherence to the divine precepts, to yield a fruitful harvest of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and all the other virtues.

Pray for me, Holy Mary, Mother of God, together with thy Most Chaste Spouse, that I may be constantly bringing forth the Word of God to the Joy of all the World; that having thee as my mother and Joseph as my father, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.


Sacred Heart of Jesus, I consecrate myself to thee! Hear the prayers of thy Most Immaculate Mother and thy Most Chaste Foster Father on my behalf. May the fount of mercy flowing from thy side wash me. Set up thy Cross in my soul. Nail my flesh to the fear of thee. Undo my slavery to my own reasonings. Take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, on fire with love for the world, and wounded with compassion for the weak and lost, especially for those whom daily thou sendest to me.

May I truly have Mary as my Mother and Joseph as my Father, and be thou, Jesus, my Brother, Saviour, and Friend; that in service to the Holy Family of Nazareth, I may live in stability, safety, and peace.

May thy Church be my only home, thy Word my only teacher, thy Cross my only guide, and thy Eucharist my only food. My Jesus, I trust in thee!

Dearest Jesus, after the example of the Chaste Heart of Joseph and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all of my plans, dreams, and intentions, all of my thoughts, words, and deeds, all of my joys and sufferings, my hopes and fears, all of my crosses and crowns of this day and all of my life, all for the intentions of thy Sacred heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, the remission of sins, the reparation of blasphemies, the reunion of all Christians, and the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope.

Amen.

25 December 2018

The Three Christmas Gospels


+JMJ+

There are three masses on Christmas. In fact this has been the case in the West since at least the 7th Century when Pope Gregory mentions it (see below). Each Mass has its own readings and its own prayers. Recently some friends and I, being Church Geeks, were comparing missals and became quite happy to note that these three masses, and their three readings, are transferred fully into the Novus Ordo. The Divine Office for this day (in the Extraordinary Form) is also in a special format, set up to wrap around these three masses.

Matins for Christmas precedes the Midnight Mass. This is a form that Byzantines would recognize: for them the Matins service is always part of the Sunday Morning (or Saturday Evening) rites. This Mass commemorates the Angels' singing. The Gospel stops at "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will to men." After the midnight Mass, Lauds is prayed. (This is not a separate service in the East where the Laudate Psalms are sung at the end of Matins.) The verses at Lauds ask the Shepherds (as they are coming in from the fields) what has happened. To commemorate the Shepherds at the Manger then, there is a Mass at dawn - when would normally be sung Lauds - and then a Mass after the third hour of the day when the office of Terce has been sung. This Mass, "of the Day", is the most-ancient of the three. At it the Gospel Reading is not from the Christmas Story. Rather it is the opening passage to St John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In the West the office of Matins often has assigned as a reading the Gospel for the day - especially on Sundays and Major Feasts. Then there is a Patristic commentary or homily on the passage. (This is one of my favourite qualities of the EF office.) This day is no exception - but because there are three Gospels, there are in Matins, three different commentaries:


St Luke 2:1-14 (The Midnight Gospel)

At that time : There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  And so on, and that which followeth.

A Homily by St. Gregory the Pope
By God's mercy we are to say three Masses today.  Hence there is not much time left for preaching on this passage of the Gospel.  Nonetheless the Feast of the Lord's Birthday constraineth me to speak a few words.  I will begin at once by asking why this numbering for taxation took place at the Lord's Birth, and why all the world was enrolled?  Was it not to make us mindful that one had now appeared in the flesh who would enroll his elect in the book of life?  And note, on the other hand, how the Prophet saith of the reprobate : Let them be wiped out of the book of the living, and not be written among the righteous.  Note also that the Lord was born in Bethlehem, which same signifieth the House of Bread, and thus was meetly the birthplace of him who hath said : I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven.  The place, then, where our Lord was born was already called the House of Bread because therein was he to appear who would feed the souls of the the faithful unto life eternal.  Not in his Mother's house was he born, but away from home.  And this should make us mindful that our mortality, in which he was born, was not the home of him who is begotten of the Father before all worlds.

St Luke 2:15-20 (The Dawn Gospel)
At that time : The shepherds said one to another : Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.  And so on, and that which followeth.

A Homily by St. Ambrose the Bishop
Behold the beginning of the Church.  Christ is born, and the shepherds keep their watch.  Yea, they keep their watch like as becometh those who would gather together the scattered sheep of the Gentiles (which had hitherto lived like as brute beasts) and lead them into the fold of Christ, that they might need no longer to suffer the ravages of spiritual wolves in the night of this world's darkness.  How wide awake are those shepherds whom the Good Shepherd stirreth up.  Their flock is the people.  The night is the world.  For these shepherds are the Priests.  And perhaps that Angel, too, is a shepherd to whom in the Apocalypse is said : Be watchful and strengthen.  For God hath ordained to watch over his flock not Bishops only but Angels also.

St John 1:1-14 (The Morning Mass - "of the Day")
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And so on, and that which followeth.

A Homily by St. Augustine the Bishop
Lest ye consider what I have to say as worthless, which is the judgement ye so often pass upon the word of a man, ponder this : The Word was God!  Now perhaps some Arian unbeliever may have the audacity to say the Word of God was made, and is therefore a creature.  How can the Word of God be a creature, since by him all things were made, and he is thus the Creator?  If the Word of God be a creature, then there must be some other Word, not a creature, whereby he was made.  And what Word is that?  If thou sayest that it was by the word of the Word himself that he was made, I answer that God had no Word other than his one only-begotten Son.  But unless thou sayest it was by the Word's own word that the Word was made, thou art forced to confess that he by whom all creaturely things were made was not himself made at all, but is himself the uncreated Maker of everything that was made.  Wherefore, believe the Gospel.

There is also a longer Patristic passage that is really a heart-stirring joy to read. It pairs well with the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom.

A Homily from St Leo the Pope
Dearly beloved brethren, Unto us is born this day a Saviour. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad to day, for today is Life's Birthday; the Birthday of that Life, Which, for us dying creatures, taketh away the sting of death, and bringeth the bright promise of the eternal gladness hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse to partake in our rejoicing. All men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for, since our Lord, Who is the destroyer of sin and of death, findeth that all are bound under the condemnation, He is come to make all free. Rejoice, O thou that art holy, thou drawest nearer to thy crown! Rejoice, O thou that art sinful, thy Saviour offereth thee pardon! Rejoice also, O thou Gentile, God calleth thee to life! For the Son of God, when the fulness of the time was come, which had been fixed by the unsearchable counsel of God, took upon Him the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him Who made it, and so the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which hath been the field of his victory.

When our Lord entered the field of battle against the devil, He did so with a great and wonderful fairness. Being Himself the Almighty, He laid aside His uncreated Majesty to fight with our cruel enemy in our weak flesh. He brought against him the very shape, the very nature of our mortality, yet without sin. His birth however was not a birth like other births for no other is born pure, nay, not the little child whose life endureth but a day on the earth. To His birth alone the throes of human passion had not contributed, in His alone no consequence of sin had had part. For His Mother was chosen a Virgin of the kingly lineage of David, and when she was to grow heavy with the sacred Child, her soul had already conceived Him before her body. She knew the counsel of God announced to her by the Angel, lest the unwonted events should alarm her. The future Mother of God knew what was to be wrought in her by the Holy Ghost, and that her modesty was absolutely safe.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Ghost: Who, for His great love wherewith He loved us, hath had mercy on us and, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, that in Him we might be a new creature, and a new workmanship. Let us then put off the old man with his deeds; and, having obtained a share in the Sonship of Christ, let us renounce the deeds of the flesh. Learn, O Christian, how great thou art, who hast been made partaker of the Divine nature, and fall not again by corrupt conversation into the beggarly elements above which thou art lifted. Remember Whose Body it is Whereof thou art made a member, and Who is its Head. Remember that it is He That hath delivered thee from the power of darkness and hath translated thee into God's light, and God's kingdom.
---

Agnósce, o Christiáne, dignitátem tuam: et divínæ consors factus natúræ...
Learn, O Christian, how great thou art, who hast been made partaker of the Divine nature...

Glory to God in the Highest!
Christ is Born!

24 December 2018

A Child's Christmas in Wurtsboro


IT BEGINS when, prompted by the Wurtsboro Village council and "borrowing" a truck from his employer, the electric company, my grandfather puts up the village lights. Driving slowly through town in a cherry picker, Grandpa puts up the aged white candles, the green wreaths, the red lighted garlands. Snow has fallen. Trees have been placed on stands in living rooms and decorated. Houses have been lighted. I take a trip into the evergreen forest in Wilsey Valley to bring back a huge bag of greenery. Lights and boughs spiral around my parents' house and drape off the stairs.

In mad anticipation my mother cooks, my grandmother cooks, my great grandmother cooks. Aunt Linda cooks. Aunt Marie cooks. Aunt Karen cooks. Families visit from hither and yon, and friends make more attempts to be friendlier than normal.

Timmy, the paper boy, spends longer in his daily stops. During his last monthly trip to punch our card and get things taken care of, he actually comes inside for a sip of hot cocoa and maybe yes, thank you, some cookies. In a few days he'll find a box of them along with a ten dollar bill and maybe some gloves in the paper box as he drops off our copy of the Times-Herald record. At the post office Mom spends far too much time chatting with Mr Olcott, the postmaster, and a trip to Jerry Gaubard's tiny Grocery Store can begin to take hours. The Greenwalds have decorated their drug store. The band stand in the village park is filled with pine and lights. The Canal Towne Emporium positively reeks - well out into the street - with scented candles, potpourri and cinnamon. The Old Valley, filled even in the feria times with Black Forest coo-coo clocks, covered steins and hand-carved picture frames is now decked out in Germanic Yuletide finery: nutcrackers and candle-lighted pyramids. Uncle Jimmy has tiny wreaths on the tables in the dinner.

The Emma C Chase Elementary School has their Christmas pageant: a chorus and a few holiday songs, maybe a poetry reading, then one hora danced to tzena-tzena as we explain the Festival of Lights. The Monticello Central Middle School has its Christmas Concert: a two part choir and a band. The Monticello Central High School has its Christmas Concert: a four part choir, a stage band and an orchestra plus a show-stopping all-out choral and orchestral finale. And now School has closed for Christmas Break. After weeks of build-up the day arrives.

Late in the day on Christmas Eve the menfolk vanish off to the firehouse. The women vanish off to the Methodist Church. The kids, hyper-excited, over-extended, exhausted, try to get a nap in: maybe if I sleep now, Santa will come now. But there is to be no such luck for no one is allowed to nap for too long on Christmas Eve.

At 6:30 PM everyone is off - in layers of coats and scarves and hats and gloves - to the firehouse for the village carol sing. The fire trucks have been moved outside, and we all stand around inside the Garage, the largest enclosed space in the village. We are a village of 900 souls gathered around an upright piano that is tuned once a year for this very event. Even in such a small town this is the only time when some of us will see each other. Old friends, not having seen each other since last Christmas Eve, greet each other with warm hugs. Children return from college and stand happily with their parents. Older children return with their own spouses, their own children. Forming huge continents floating in the sea of fellow villagers, they stand with their parents and grandparents, as now my own father stands with his wife and kids, next to his father and mother, his grandparents and six generations total - my sister having her own grandchildren now. My grandmother and my Aunt Marie, wife of the Fire Chief, serve doughnuts and coffee. My great grandmother smiles as her husband, the former chief, is greeted with honour by all.

The Dutch Reformed Pastor, the Rev Wing, invokes. Sally or Michael plays the piano and the familiar carols roll out of books that have not been reprinted since the 1970s - and are collected every year for re-use. They were donated by the local bank and they open, too easily, to a centerfold containing A Visit from St Nicholas. The community singing is interrupted twice by soloists: Aunt Betty sings O Holy Night. Nelson Hall sings, White Christmas. There is an irony in a scion of the only black family in town singing White Christmas. But no one seemed to notice - or at least talk about it.

The Methodist pastor, the Rev. Pinto, blesses. Then, spurred on by Uncle John, the Fire Chief, we begin to sing Jingle Bells. We sing loud and lustily - the younger children blasting it out. There is a sound from outside: the tocsin of bells and the claxon of horns and finally the scream of the sirens sliding up the doppler scale as a fire truck comes down the street from beyond the red light at the corner. We sing louder now as the garage doors roll up in joyous welcome and the kids stream out - herded to safety by parents and uniformed firemen. Santa Claus has come to us on our own candy apple red and white truck. When the kids draw near Santa usually greets them all by name - for he is their own uncle, or their neighbor or even my Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Tommy, seated on the side of the truck handing out small boxes of hard candies and cookies.

After a brief trip home to remove some layers and to add finer clothing, all depart again to their houses of worship. Aunt Marie and Mrs Semonite have decorated the Methodist Church. They have polished and dusted until, even in the pre-candle darkness, the wood shines and the brass cross seems to reflect the lights beyond. Pastor Pinto is in rare form this Christmas eve, as his three rural congregations come together in this one building to sing and pray. There is the Nativity Play, kids wearing too many towels and the latest baby born playing the starring role. And then candles are handed out and lit. The quiet, expectant darkness seems to take a musical quality. We sing now in awed reverence, Silent Night. And we walk into the cold to discover that it has begun to snow.

In the busy evening, somehow, Mom and Grandma have conspired to get some after-church coffee and snacks ready. The family rests a bit for a chat, gathered in Grandma's den around the woodstove. Kids get sleepy. Adults get conspiratorial. WALL radio, 1340AM begins to broadcast reports every quarter of an hour about where Santa's Sleigh has been spotted. WPIX begins its annual telecast of The Yule Log, the first ever virtual fireplace.

Children pass out. Parents hide them in cars, asleep next to presents that were also hidden with the neighbours or in some relative's garage. For the child it is only a short ride through the dream-filled snowy night until Christmas Morning. For the parents it may be a longer passage, a bit of a delay next to the tree assembling a bike or a stereo. For the older children it may be a bit of a pain, programming a new betamax for Mom or stumbling around in the dark wishing to be, again, a child who believed in Santa.

And then this Christmas day dawns - the snow has stopped during the night, but there, on the porch, and on the greenery wrapped around the pillars, there is just enough snow to look beautiful. The lights, ablaze even in the quiet sunlight of Christmas Morning, seem to shine out. The family gathers in the living room for presents. And then moves into the kitchen for a snack.

Turkey is stuffed, potatoes are peeled, yams are candied. In other houses of sundry relatives, slaw is made, salads are tossed, pies are baked. Sausage and cheese balls are laid out, on platters with beef stick and hot mustard. Olives are toothpicked and cheese is sliced near crackers. Candied fruit is dipped and the chocolates are powdered. Nuts are laid out in wooden baskets with pliers and picks. Wines and beers, sodas and sweet tea, mulled cider and hot cocoa cover the table. Guests arrived and the prepared foods are merged and arranged into a Christmas Feast. Grace is said, eggnog is whipped and chilled, turkey sliced, bellies stuffed, children served on card tables and 65 plates - the good china and then some - are all laid to rest in the dishwasher as 6 generations and sundry partake of the holiday table.

After dinner, children play Show and Tell with their holiday loot as Grandpa and I retire to the den and the roaring fire. We lock the doors behind us for a heart-to-heart over too much eggnog in the growing heat. Children pound on the door and we laugh. Mom comes and forces us to liberate ourselves for socialising. Aunt Sally and Uncle Ray depart, Grandma and Grandpa too, and so with relative after relative until only Mom is left in the too-hot kitchen, and Dad patrolling the darkened house for cups and plates. Or else lighting a fire in the barrel outside, a massive offering of wrapping paper and ribbons and shredded tissue and boxes.

Phone calls are made. My cousins Faith and Roger, our friends Steven, Marc and Jody, Michael and Michelle arrive and converge in the dining room again for some late night desserts - coffee and plum pudding or mincemeat pie - and a long night of gaming and reliving high school, of smoking and staving off the winter chill with fond memories made and shared.

Merry Christmas, we whisper in the darkness, saying our goodbyes softly so as not to wake my parents. Merry Christmas and much love.


In our small town of Wurtsboro, NY, the rituals of Christmas rarely changed when I was growing up, only the participants. Only in such a place could a writer compile a perfect Christmas Memory. In parts of this story I'm 11, in other parts 25 or 53... but the pattern was always the same. A lot of these folks have passed now; the old Firehouse, too. But the dance is always there in my mind, and I'm standing in the Firehouse waiting for Santa on the truck. I always hated the hard candy in the boxes tho...

The Christmas Proclamation

+JMJ+

This text gets read at Prime this morning in the Extraordinary Form of the Office. There is no Prime in the Little Office of Paul VI (let the Reader Understand), so it doesn't get read mostly, although it gets plopped in a la carte in where it might go sometimes.

December 25th anno Domini 2018 The 18th Day of Moon

In the year 5199th from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in the year 2957th from the flood, in the year 2015th from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510th from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses, in the year 1032th from the anointing of David as King, in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel, in the 194th Olympiad, in the 752nd from the foundation of the city of Rome, in the 42nd year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus, in the 6th age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace, Jesus Christ, Himself Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, being pleased to hallow the world by His most gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and when nine months were passed after His conception, (all kneel down) was born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem of Juda made Man, (sung loudly, in the the tone of the Passion) Our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh.


Octavo Kalendas Ianuarii Luna duodevicesima Anno 2018 Domini

Anno a creatióne mundi, quando in princípio Deus creávit cælum et terram, quinquiés millésimo centésimo nonagésimo nono; a dilúvio autem, anno bis millésimo nongentésimo quinquagésimo séptimo; a nativitáte Abrahæ, anno bis millésimo quintodécimo; a Móyse et egréssu pópuli Israel de Ægýpto, anno millésimo quingentésimo décimo; ab unctióne David in Regem, anno millésimo trigésimo secúndo; Hebdómada sexagésima quinta, iuxta Daniélis prophétiam; Olympíade centésima nonagésima quarta; ab urbe Roma cóndita, anno septingentésimo quinquagésimo secúndo; anno Impérii Octaviáni Augústi quadragésimo secúndo, toto Orbe in pace compósito, sexta mundi ætáte, Iesus Christus, ætérnus Deus æterníque Patris Fílius, mundum volens advéntu suo piíssimo consecráre, de Spíritu Sancto concéptus, novémque post conceptiónem decúrsis ménsibus (Hic vox elevatur, et omnes genua flectunt), in Béthlehem Iudæ náscitur ex María Vírgine factus Homo. (Hic autem in priori voce dicitur, et in tono passionis:) Natívitas Dómini nostri Iesu Christi secúndum carnem.


23 December 2018

O Virgin


+JMJ+

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.


This Antiphon, from the Use of Sarum, is common among Anglo-Catholics. I'm not sure but maybe it has come to the Anglican Use Catholics as well. It's not part of the traditional Roman use, but once upon a time there were other O Antiphons as well. The 6 or 7 we use are fine.

Let me make bold to offer a correction to the English of our accepted text here... not because it's wrong in the translation, but because I think, for brevity's sake, it misses the point. It may be singable, but that's not what I want to do just now.

Try this:

The Daughters of Jerusalem say:
"O Virgin of virgins,
how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee,
nor shall there be after."
And Our Blessed Lady responds:
"Daughters of Jerusalem,
why marvel ye at *me*?
Divine is the Mystery you discern."

That is what Our Lady does: she always points away from her self - to Christ. And she does so in the hymns of the Church as well, although common folklore can creep in and create a near goddess (as in the case with the Joy of All Who Sorrow icon, or the devotion to Our Lady Multiplier of Wheat) or a Perfect Mommy (as in some Latin and Mediterranean devotions). We can stretch it very far, though, before it breaks and, even in the most Mary-Centered moments, if we let her speak, she still points us towards her Divine Human Son.

Christmas is, of course, one of those moments. The Baby is easy to overlook while surrounded by all these adults. Mary is most evident: in the English mystery plays she even births the Child by herself while Joseph is out trying to find midwives. We can over-emphasise her place, to the point where, like the hymn, we seemingly mix the "mother and child" image into one of "Round yon Virgin".

The iconic tradition is to always show her with her Child - although some more recent icons show her alone. The Western tradition seems to emphasise her virginity over and above all things while the Eastern seems to emphasise her role as the Birth-Giver of God. But the hymn has it right: "Round yon virgin mother... and child" Her virginity is good, yes, but meaningless without her motherhood and the reverse is equally true. It is not what or who she is that is important but rather what and who she is in relation to Christ that is important. This is true of all of us: none of us is anything save in relation to Christ. And no human being (even those who deny it) is without this relationship. For Human Nature is one in all of us including the God-Man (or God-Baby) Jesus.

Christ is the only way God makes himself known - all truth about God comes through Christ, the Law of Moses, the visit of Angels to Abraham, and even, according to St Justin, the True teachings of Socrates, Plato and so on (the Truth of Lao Tzu, of the Hopi, of anyone) is there to the degree that Christ revealed it. Without that Truth revealed in Christ there is no truth at all. The same is true of our relationships, of our humanity. We become fully who we are only in Christ. Mary is who she is only because of Christ. I will, God willing, one day become who God Created me to be - but only because of Christ. No one can be fully human with out that - because therein we find the true source of our Humanity.

Mary does, in this antiphon, exactly what our ancient spiritual ancestors, the Martyrs, did: rejecting all honours, forfeiting even what is rightfully hers to say, "This is a divine mystery, I have no crown but Christ. Look at my Son." There, in her self-emptying which follows her Son's own self-emptying, we find the one thing that we, too, must do: we must pour ourselves out, give ourselves away to make Him more present in our lives and to our neighbours.

The only Christmas Present is Christ given through yourself to another.


----------------

This is the last meditation in the Advent Series. Advent is over, but we're not there yet. We have come to the cave, we now await only the miracle.

Apolytikion:
Be thou ready, Bethlehem, Eden hath opened unto all.
Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold,
the Tree of life hath blossomed forth
in the cave from the Holy Virgin.
Her womb hath proved a true spiritual Paradise,
wherein the divine and saving Tree is found,
and as we eat thereof we shall all live,
and shall not die as did Adam.
For Christ is born now
to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

Kontakion:
On this day the Virgin cometh to a cave
to give birth to God the Word ineffable,
Who was before all the ages.
Dance for joy, O earth,
on hearing the gladsome tidings;
with the Angels and the shepherds
now glorify Him Who is willing
to be gazed on as a young Child
Who before the ages is God.

I thank you for joining me on these meditations. A blessed Christmas - Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

22 December 2018

O Emmanuel

+JMJ+

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the one awaited by the gentiles, and their Savior: come to save us, Lord our God.
Once in royal Davids city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.

INCARNATION is always confusing.

Imagine yourself a devout and G-d-fearing man of the tribe of Judah, living in Roman-Occupied Israel, and wondering "How long, O L-rd, for ever?" You know the law, you know the prophets. When your family and community obligations allow, you go to the synagogue and pray. You make the annual trips to Jerusalem and offer sacrifice. You stand in the court of the Jews and see the glorious Levites and Cohanim offering their services before Ha Kadosh, Baruch Hu. And you know, in your heart, that He will come to save His people.

Outside your window one night a noisy crowd go past and, rising to investigate, you discover a group of shepherds. What news? Ma Khadosh, you ask. And you're told of strange and wonderful things: angels and the redemption of Israel. You follow along. Your mind fills with strange ideas - angelic armies and flowing robes of gold, the Kingdom of David restored and your own tribe in glory. Rome at bay, justice done. You begin a Burucha, thanking G-d that He has counted you worthy to see this day.

And what? A stable? A cave? A manger? A baby!

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Oy.

God with us: can anything be more surprising?

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

It's about time to prepare the annual sermons about the homeless, poverty-ridden family from Nazareth and something about the poor and outcast and marginalised. Those are sermons for people who don't believe in the miracle of Emanuel. The Church offers a very different story: of Righteous Joseph chosen by the elders exactly because he was wealthy enough to care for the Holy Maiden and her Child, of a family that was not "homeless" or marginalised - but well connected to the Priestly tribes and families of Israel.

None of that is important however: it's the localised version of the Divine Institution known in the secular world as the Pax Romana. God prepared the Whole World to receive Himself. The Jews knew - but didn't guess - their time of preparation was over. The Romans did not know - but they were prepared anyway. The family from Nazareth had been prepared and knew the Truth.

For He is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

And yet, a baby?

It would have been easier, I think, if the whole world had seen that night not a baby but the Infant of Prague: bejeweled and enrobed, radiant lighting, and, of course, a crown and orb. No one could doubt then, the miracle that had happened. That would look like God. But Incarnation calls for God to empty Himself, to take the form of a servant - a man like each of us. Incarnation takes away from us our dreams about "what we know God must really be like." Incarnation - Revelation - God-With-Us requires us to say, "God is now not what I imagined, but what I see." Incarnation requires that we give up our dreams of what we are certain God "really is" and accept God as He offers Himself. God with us means we can no longer project onto Him all our idols and vainglorious "gods and goddesses". Rather we must take what we are given - or refuse Him outright. God is with us - even to the end of the age. It is we who must decide to walk away.

Incarnation means God is no longer in our little boxes. Incarnation does away with all the theology, all the philosophy that we might dream up and hold out as a model of God. Incarnation trims away the refuse and focuses all the dreams into one point, one here, one now.

There.

We must say yes or no.

But a baby? Coming into the world just like each of us - Eyes closed, sleeping, crying, looking slightly like Winston Churchill, rolling in hay and surrounded by beasts. This, surely, is not the Holy One of Israel, the Giver of the Law, the Sun of Righteousness, the King of Glory. This is only a baby.

Or is it?

We have all waited so long, and each of us prepared in God's own way, we are here. Gathered. Waiting.

Maranatha.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

O King


+JMJ+
O Rex Gentium,
et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis,
qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the Nations,
and the one they desired,
keystone,
who makes both peoples one,
come and save mankind,
whom you shaped from the mud.

There is this curious article by Philip Turner that showed up in First Things a few years ago and still surfaces every once in a while.

Like many such things it posits to tell "What is really wrong with the Episcopal Church" and launches into a rant about liberal theology. There is a radically new theology being taught in ECUSA, goes the line. It's the death knell of Christianity as we know it. There is the fully descriptive quote describing this theology:
The Episcopal sermon, at its most fulsome, begins with a statement to the effect that the incarnation is to be understood as merely a manifestation of divine love. From this starting point, several conclusions are drawn. The first is that God is love pure and simple. Thus, one is to see in Christ's death no judgment upon the human condition. Rather, one is to see an affirmation of creation and the persons we are. The life and death of Jesus reveal the fact that God accepts and affirms us. From this revelation, we can draw a further conclusion: God wants us to love one another, and such love requires of us both acceptance and affirmation of the other. From this point we can derive yet another: Accepting love requires a form of justice that is inclusive of all people, particularly those who in some way have been marginalized by oppressive social practice. The mission of the Church is, therefore, to see that those who have been rejected are included-for justice as inclusion defines public policy. The result is a practical equivalence between the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and a particular form of social justice.
But we need to see that quote with a backdrop of light cast by today's verse: Christ is the One "who makes both peoples one". Saint Paul's epistles are filled with this message of "both peoples one". In Christ all of us are made one. It really is a message of radical inclusion such as we have no human concept of how to manifest it.

I posit that the issue is not the theology but the disconnection of the theology from its roots, its wholeness: its Catholicity. To understand the message of radical inclusion, one must hear the Full Faith without the nihilism of the reformation that occluded so much of the Truth, or with the inclusion of the the material that leaks through the cracks caused by the wresting of otherwise faithful folks from the bosom of the our faithful Mother Church. It is a message of radical inclusion such as we have no human concept of how to manifest it - outside of the Church.

The quote ably describes a sermon I preached - I confess I was in error. But the error was not in telling a lie, the error was in not telling the full truth. The "Radical justice of Inclusion" is seen outside of the bonds of the Church's faith: yes we're all included, we're all invited to the Eucharistic Banquet of eternity, but the liberal Protestant often version misses the time and the place - imagining it's here and now, a kingdom of this world. The Conservative Protestant version often misses the dress code, and the reality that it is a party to which we are invited, not a funeral. There's a near Gnostic hatred of the flesh in the ultra-'reformed' traditions, puritanism, tee-totalism, "original sin" and other aspects of the West show it up. Fundamentalism in both its liberal and conservative forms ignores the truth of the Church...

There are sermons in the Fathers that offer much the same message: In Homily V on Ephesians, which touches on the "middle wall" passage, St John Chrysostom says,
What the middle wall of partition is, he interprets by saying, "the enmity having abolished in His flesh, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances."

Some indeed affirm that he means the wall of the Jews against the Greeks, because it did not allow the Jews to hold intercourse with the Greeks. To me, however, this does not seem to be the meaning, but rather that he calls "the enmity in the flesh," a middle wall, in that it is a common barrier, cutting us off alike from God. As the Prophet says, "Your iniquities separate between you and Me;" (Isa. lix: 2.) for that enmity which He had both against Jews and Gentiles was, as it were, a middle wall. And this, whilst the law existed, was not only not abolished, but rather was strengthened; "for the law," saith the Apostle, "worketh wrath." (Rom. iv: 15.) Just in the same way then as when he says in that passage, "the law worketh wrath," he does not ascribe the whole of this effect to the law itself, but it is to be understood, that it is because we have transgressed it; so also in this place he calls it a middle wall, because through being disobeyed it wrought enmity.

The law was a hedge, but this it was made for the sake of security, and for this reason was called "a hedge," to the intent that it might form an inclosure. For listen again to the Prophet, where he says, "I made a trench about it." (Isa. v: 2.) And again, "Thou hast broken down her fences, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her." (Ps. lxxx: 12.) Here therefore it means security and so again, "I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be trodden down." (Isa. v: 5.) And again, "He gave them the law for a defence." (Isa. viii: 20.) And again, "The Lord executeth righteous acts and made known His ways unto Israel." (Ps. ciii: 6, Ps. ciii: 7.)

It became, however, a middle wall, no longer establishing them in security, but cutting them off from God. Such then is the middle wall of partition formed out of the hedge. And to explain what this is, he subjoins, "the enmity in His flesh having abolished, the law of commandments."
St John, if we're not careful, can sound like the most liberal of post-modernists.

It's not in the content that ECUSA fails, but in the application. The truth of radical inclusion isn't a secular one one where we can willy nilly include everyone based on their exclusion in the secular world. More importantly the truth of radical inclusion is not morality-free. The truth of radical inclusions does not over-ride the radical truth of free will: we're all still free to make choices that put us further away from God rather than closer to Him. The Church shows us by God's revelation the choices that are to be made to bring us closer to Him. The Church shows us the complications arising from other choices.

But knowing the consequences is not the same as making the choices: which we each must do on his own. Christ is the One that all peoples have desired: but He also must be the one you, yourself desire. When one loves Christ one seeks purity, one seeks communion, one seeks fellowship: one comes to Christ seeking to be made into the image of Christ. One brings one's will to Christ seeking to conform that will to Christ.

The radical inclusion of the Gospel, and the radical mercy that God offers, terrifies people so much that on the liberal side they deny it by making it meaningless - they deny the changes that are made in the human heart included by God. When one has sat at their table long enough in their purely worldly party, one is horrified to find out one is not in the Church. On the conservative side they deny God's inclusions by doing away with it legalistically: setting so many hoops and obstacles that, having jumped them all (as if it were possible) one is horrified to find one has jumped out of the Church. They turn the most joyous thing ever into "God's difficult redemptive love" as Turner says. Sounds rather like a medical procedure, huh?

In the Church, however, God's radical inclusion is offered to us along with all the changes it requires of us and effects in us. The salvation that is offered to us, the theosis that happens in us, the change of mind required of us waits only our choices. God's radical inclusion is not a civil rights law, nor is it any kind of law at all. It is the revolution that changes nothing but the human heart: that makes us all one in God.

Of course, that last line about the mud... that's not a hint that God created us in any way. Certainly it means we all evolved from the slime.