22 February 2019

Coming Clean on Sheep and Goats


I've heard this sermon so many times. I've preached this sermon at least once or twice.  I want to call bullshit. Or Sheepshit.

The text is Matthew 25:31–46 and you can click through to read the whole thing, although here are the preces: Jesus says at the Last Judgement God will divide us as a farmer does the sheep from the goats. The sheep will find out that they have often fed, clothed, and cared for Jesus. And they will say in all humility, No... we did not. And the goats will be told that they have never fed, clothed, or cared for Jesus. And they will say in self-justification, But we never had that chance: we would certainly have done so if you had shown up.

And then both will be told the punchline: when you did - or did not do - these things for the poor, the hungry, the homeless then you did - or did not do - these things for Jesus.

Then the sheep get in to heaven and the goats go someplace where heaven is not, and the story ends.

And the sermon we've all heard (and I've preached as well) goes something like this:

Jesus never asks either the sheep or the goats if they've kept any religious rules, if they've gone to mass, if they say their prayers, only if they have cared for the poor. Rules don't matter, so. But care for the poor, now... that matters.

However.... you miss the point if you don't realize we're not talking about pigs here.

Sheep and goats are both Kosher. They are both sacrificial animals. They - unlike pigs - follow all the rules.

Both of these animals are goodly, clean things. They are acceptable symbols for the religious folks.

The sheep however, follow through on the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
The goats fail to do so.

This scene from the last judgement takes place after the pigs have been sent away already... It is almost like Jesus saying to all the Good Children...(Realized here that my "Jesus Voice" sounds like Bishop Barron....)  "Oh, one last thing... you went to mass every day, you prayed every day, you never broke a commandment. Good. Good. All important, all needed...."

But, um...

Did you get the point?

You can't use this parable to say "there are no rules but care for the poor."

There are no generous pigs here.

But you can say "without a just love exercised to your neighbor, none of this other stuff matters."

Shabbat Shalom.

03 February 2019

Things that trip us up


In today's epistle, the Love Chapter from 1st Corinthians, Paul says:

If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Through several accidents of tradition and translation, some folks today say that all of Christianity can be boiled down to social justice issues. And, in a way, they may be right: for love of God and love of neighbor fulfills the law. They then get carried away, saying that doing social justice is all that is needed. And Paul says no. In fact in three phrases from Corinthians, boom, boom boom, Paul says:

If I know everything (aka smarts are all you need) but don't have love - it's useless.
If I preach all the theology but don't have love - it's useless
If I have given away everything to care for others but don't have love - it's useless.

For all the saints, all of these things - goods in and of themselves - must flow from love, or they are pointless. They are not good enough.

This is not "love" a warm gushy feeling, nor is it "love" a passionate doing. This is Agape. This is what St John says is God's very personal presence. God is Agape. Paul says it's possible to do all these things without God.

That's not good enough.

You can't do theology properly without kindness, patience, and a generosity of heart: Jesus is the Way - and so you need Jesus. You can't do wisdom or politics without forgiving others and forgetting wrongs done to you: you need to have the Truth to do these things and Jesus is the Truth. You can't do social justice without forgiveness and a rejoicing in the Truth. If you're walking the way, in relationship to truth, you can live the life - and Jesus is the Life. You need all three: Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life; Jesus, God's love most clearly expressed. Jesus makes possible to do in love for the healing of the world other things which - of themselves - cannot save us, can damn us with pride, can destroy our souls in pointless exhaustion and, irony of ironies, are needed to show that our faith is real.

But Jesus - Agape - comes first. For Jesus, only and always, is enough.

And having Jesus, all these other things will happen of themselves as the fruit of that presence.

Since Calvin, the growing idea that God's blessing is shown in material wealth as led to a corruption of Christian teaching that wealth alone, and the action we do with it, displays where we are in God's universe. The secular ideologies of Capitalism and Socialism are Scylla and Charybdis, destroying us with presence and absence of wealth and both without God. Paul says love. We put the cart before the horse if we fall for any of our secular banalities, each one equally demonic without Christ and neither fully true. It is possible to either to use in support of the Truth, but both will be modified, both will be repaired. We can argue forever which one is closer or further and one is condemned by the Church, but neither are the Church's. We cannot forget that.

So it is with any social justice issue: it's fine. But it's not the Church. If it can't be done with a love for the revealed Truths of Christ or a dancing in the Way of Christ, if it can't be lived in Christ's life, then it's a distraction in the least, or something far worse.

In our modern pride we often imagine that Jesus would most certainly do what we are doing. We imagine Jesus marching in any number of political marches of all sorts and conditions. Jesus always supports us and our point of view. It's easy to see this when we're looking at someone else: they have made Jesus in their own image.

Once I was a child, and thought as a child. But as an adult I put away childish things.

Jesus is actually quite real, active, and present. Discarding political, economic, and legal toys you may find that he is here to save you. And once that's accomplished, finally, he may have other work for you. He will get that first step done, however.

Once you finally learn to love him and to love like him (all the way to death on the cross), then likely he will in resurrection bring you others to love.

26 December 2018

A Daily Act of Consecration to the Holy Family


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.


25 December 2018

The Three Christmas Gospels


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


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


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.

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.

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!