All posts by Mary Proffit Kimmel

Mary Proffit Kimmel teaches literature, Greek, and Latin and attends St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church.

A New Creation Flowing from the Side of Christ

In the Byzantine rite October 16 brought the feast of the centurion Longinus, who pierced the side of Christ and said, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”  His feast coincided with the feast of the fathers of the seventh ecumenical council, which condemned iconoclasm.  In response to Byzantine emperors stripping churches and smashing icons, the fathers proclaimed that icons enable us to place our faith in Christ.

Although the Jews did not use images in worship, they still knew God through human beings.  They believed the words of Genesis: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”  Man manifests God’s love to the rest of creation.  He serves as the cosmic priest who offers the creation back to God.  God entrusts us with the weighty task of caring for and showing compassion to creation.

As man reveals God to creation, so Christ reveals God to man.  The incarnation stands at the center of the revelation of God: Jesus Christ the real person, not just the theological idea.  This Jesus eschewed any form of violence against anyone.  He turned toward Jerusalem to suffer and to found a kingdom.

We put icons in our churches not only because they look pretty but also to remind us that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth.  The Lord is sitting by the Father in a human body, but he has not abandoned the world.  He has left His image and likeness with us.

Longinus the centurion crucified people for a living.  He knew and practiced the Roman’s brutal ways.  His superiors gave him the task of torturing and killing three criminals.  When he saw Jesus dead and pierced his side, he said, “This is the Son of God.”  What could have possessed him to make this claim?  Nothing he sees in Jesus suggests divinity.  He knows the beauty of the Roman gods and the glory of the Roman emperor.  He looks at Jesus and sees the weakness and suffering which he inflicted.  God chooses to reveal Himself to Longinus and to us in failure.  The crucifixion upends how we expect God to act.  Longinus unwittingly cooperates with God’s plan.  He realizes that a new creation is coming forth from Jesus’ side as Eve came from Adam’s.  Longinus understands for the first time that divinity manifests Himself in weakness.

In the midst of brutality and absurdity, where do we find the image of God?  In those whom God has called to share the table of the Lord with us.  Jesus instituted this table to call back in the excluded.  In this meal we see each other, people weak and powerless but an image of the Creator.  Like Longinus we gasp and say, “This truly is a son or daughter of God.”  When we care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, we reveal the power of God.

We image Christ for each other.  We reveal this when we go out to love and not to judge.  Then we become a new creation.

 

 

Father Daniel gave a homily containing these thoughts at Saint Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church.

Two Icons of Christ

In the Gospels we never see Jesus as an attendee at a funeral.  He attends festivals, weddings, and so many dinner parties that people consider him a drunkard.  In the Gospel for October 9, He accidentally encounters a funeral procession of the only son of a widowed mother.  They meet in the road, and death flees in the presence of Jesus, the source of life.

We attend funerals with tears and mourning.  In the Byzantine rite as the casket leaves the church, it meets the Gospel book, the primary icon of Christ in our midst.  Then the priest proclaims this Gospel.  He bangs the hand cross on the casket to symbolize the life of Christ not given in vain.  It reminds us that He has come to bring life to the world.

Although we are all wandering in our own private funeral processions to lonely graveyards, we meet a stranger in the street who knocks on our casket and reminds us to wake up.

When we become numb to the vulgarities, atrocities, and absurdities of the world, we need courage, hope, and wisdom, which we find in the life of our Lord.  The proclamation of the Gospel judges the world.  Christ comes first in humility as a child.  Christ comes second to judge the world through the Gospel of everlasting life.  Everything that falls short of mercy and compassion will pass away.  The obsceneness of the world hides the love in its midst.  We find the kingdom of heaven in the actions of peacemakers, where true power lies.

The procession of the gifts in the Byzantine liturgy mirrors the procession of the Gospel.  After the Lord moves through the world, we move through the world.  Bread and wine represent hospitality.  When the Lord comes to us through His Gospel, we offer Him the gift of ourselves in return.  He has judged the world and found it wanting and empty, and He has decided to fill it with life.  We receive His mercy first as the down payment to the world.  We become living icons in the world by filling the void with compassion and love.  When we act as His icons, the Lord stands within us and knocks on the coffin of the world and calls it back to life.

 

These thoughts come from a homily by Father Daniel at St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas.

Under the Cloak of the Mother of God

The Protection of the Theotokos falls on October 1: “Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church, and with choirs of Saints She invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and Bishops venerate Her, Apostles and prophets rejoice together since for our sake She prays to the Eternal God!”

protection

This miraculous appearance of the Mother of God occurred in the mid-tenth century in Constantinople in the Blachernae church which preserves Her robe, veil, and part of Her belt.

On Sunday, October 1, during the All-Night Vigil, when the church was overflowing with those at prayer, the Fool-for-Christ St Andrew, at the fourth hour, lifted up his eyes towards the heavens and beheld our most Holy Lady Theotokos coming through the air, resplendent with heavenly light and surrounded by an assembly of the Saints.  St John the Baptist and the holy Apostle John the Theologian accompanied the Queen of Heaven.  On bended knees the Most Holy Virgin tearfully prayed for Christians for a long time.  Coming near the Bishop’s Throne, She continued Her prayer.

After completing Her prayer, She took Her veil and spread it over the people praying in church, protecting them from enemies both visible and invisible. The Most Holy Lady Theotokos shone with heavenly glory, and the protecting veil in Her hands gleamed more than the rays of the sun.  St Andrew gazed trembling at the miraculous vision, and he asked his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius standing beside him, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?”  Epiphanius answered, “I do see, holy Father, and I am in awe.”

The Ever-Blessed Mother of God implored the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all the people calling on His Most Holy Name and to respond speedily to Her intercession: “O Heavenly King, accept all those who pray to You and call on my name for help. Do not let them go away from my icon unheard.”

Sts. Andrew and Epiphanius merited to see the Mother of God at prayer and observed the Protecting Veil spread over the people shining with flashes of glory.  As long as the Most Holy Theotokos remained, they could see the Protecting Veil, but with Her departure it disappeared. Taking it with Her, She left behind the grace of Her visitation.

The Byzantine Christians needed the protective intercession of the Mother of God because of an attack by a large pagan Russian fleet.  The feast celebrates the divine destruction of the fleet which threatened Constantinople itself.  The Slavic Churches venerate this Feast with special devotion, a strange devotion because their people carried out the attack.  By celebrating this Feast, they celebrate their own defeat.  The Byzantine Saints Cyril and Methodius evangelized the Slavic nations.  Had the barbarians won against Constantinople, the faith may not have prospered in the Slavic countries.

A Russian book of the twelfth century records the establishment of the special Feast: “For when we heard, we realized how wondrous and merciful was the vision… and it transpired that Your holy Protection should not remain without festal celebration, O Ever-Blessed One!”

In the festal celebration of the Protection of the Mother of God, the Russian Church sings, “With the choirs of the Angels, O Sovereign Lady, with the venerable and glorious prophets, with the First-Ranked Apostles and with the Hieromartyrs and Hierarchs, pray for us sinners, glorifying the Feast of your Protection in the Russian Land.”

On the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos we implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven, “Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and venerating the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you.”

Moses and the Parable of the Talents

Tomorrow in the Byzantine rite is the feast day of Moses, God-seer and prophet.  The Gospel is Jesus parable about the talents.  In this parable the man who does nothing is cast out into utter darkness.  At the end there is a proclamation that to whoever has more will be given.  The man who buries his talent does not trust his master but fears him.

Moses is constantly thinking and doubting.  The people Moses is leading get angry.  Moses’s whole life has been dedicated to bringing them out of Egypt.  They almost kill him, and he is frustrated.  God commands Moses to speak to a rock and make water come out of it, but Moses strikes it.  Because of this Moses is not allowed to see the promised land.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people the law before they go into the promised land.  In the middle of giving the law, he tells a story about a time he asked God if he could go into the promised land.  God cut him off in mid-sentence and said no.  This is a private conversation between Moses and God, and it is rather embarrassing for Moses, but he chooses to share it with the entire people of Israel.

Moses digs down deep into his own heart from that experience.  He shares with the people that he is not afraid of God.  He speaks to God as one might speak to a friend.  He knows they are about to go into the promised land and likely will not keep the law.  Even when they make mistakes, they will still be able to stand before God and to speak.  A relationship with God is not easy because God is not easy.  He is a hard master who reaps where he does not sow and gathers where he does not scatter.

Moses asked to see the face of God, and God said no.  Moses asked to see the promised land, and God said no.  The icon for tomorrow is the Transfiguration, where Moses sees both these things in a way he did not expect.  When the Master came, he found a great interest of souls from his servant Moses.  Moses stands on the mountain as a reminder that it is always worth it to stand before the face of God.

 

 

These reflections are taken from a homily by Father Daniel Forsythe of St. Basil’s Byzantine Catholic Church.

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  This feast brings to our attention the prophet Elijah, who was one of the two prophets to perform the miracle of resurrection.  He raises the son of the widow of Zarephath.

The book of Jonah names him the son of Amittai, who is not mentioned elsewhere.  Who is he?  Who is his family?  He prays in the belly of the whale, “I cried to the Lord, and he heard me in my distress.”  The ancient rabbis believed Jonah was the son of the widow of Zarephath. that Elijah raised from the dead.  He describes being freed from the nether world before the Lord speaks to the fish and it vomits him upon the dry land.

If any city deserved just punishment from God, it was Nineveh, capital of Assyria.  The Ninevites perform an amazing fast which includes their animals and infants.  Jonah is angry that God forgives them.  The book ends with God asking Jonah, “Shouldn’t I save this people and also much cattle?”

Jonah, if he is the widow’s son as the rabbis believed, died in the course of a great famine.  God sent Elijah to a Sidonian (Zarephath belongs to Sidon), not a Jew.  What happens when you survive a terrible tragedy?  What is your purpose?  God gives Jonah a job, and he can’t bring himself to do it.  Why did Elijah bring Jonah back to life?  To live a life that bears witness to great mercy.  God is the only lover of mankind even in great trial.  Jonah was brought back from the dead so he could show great mercy and compassion.

The Eucharist is our resurrection, the widow’s little bit of meal and oil.  Elijah has been sent to us unexpectedly, not because we were clever enough to find the true faith.

On the other side of resurrection, we have to find a way to show mercy without begrudging it like Jonah.

Resurrection is traumatic.  The disciples are often full of fear, confusion, repentance, and tears after the Resurrection.  Some even doubt at the Ascension.

The Resurrection is not just a victory for our side against everyone else.  Jesus tells the Nazarenes, “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.”  When he says this, everyone wants to throw Him off a cliff.

We encounter the resurrected Lord in the Eucharist.  He gives it to you freely—rejoice!  And tremble.  You must forgive others and bear witness to His mercy and compassion.

 

These thoughts are taken from a homily by Father Daniel at St. Basil’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas, on July 20, 2016, Feast Day of Saint Elijah the Prophet.

July, Month of the Sacred Blood

The heart of Jesus has made this adorable Blood circulate in His limbs; wherefore, as on the feast of the Sacred Heart, the Gospel presents to our view the thrust of the lance which pierced the side of the Divine Crucified, blood and water gushing forth.  Thus become united the two testimonies which the Holy Ghost bore to the Messias, when he was baptized in the water of the Jordan and when He was baptized in blood on the cross.

 

Brethren, Christ being come, an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, neither by the blood of goats or of calves, but by His own blood, entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption.

 

Christ is the high priest of heaven, giving a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.  His heavenly good exceeds all earthly goods.  He gives manna from heaven, bread having all sweetness within it.  The bread of angels has become the bread of man.

 

Ye are come to mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Testament, and to the sprinkling of blood, which speaketh better than that of Abel.

 

Abel the Just prefigures Christ, slain by envy.  His innocent blood cries out, rebuking the proud but giving grace to the humble.

 

Thou hast redeemed us, O Lord, in Thy blood, out of every tribe and tongue, and people and nation, and hast made us to our God a kingdom.

 

By His blood we are made clean.  The old sign of uncleanness has become the new sign of cleanness.  By death He trampled death, and to those in the tombs He granted life.

 

O almighty and everlasting God, who didst appoint Thine only-begotten Son the Redeemer of the world, and hast willed to be appeased by His blood; grant unto us, we beseech Thee, so to venerate with solemn worship the price of our redemption, and by its power be so defended against the evils of this life, that we may enjoy the fruit thereof forevermore in heaven.

 

We worship the price of our redemption.  We worship Christ, the lamb by which we have been reconciled, the priest through whom we have been reconciled, the temple in which we have been reconciled, and the God to whom we have been reconciled.

 

This is He that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ:  not by water only, but by water and blood.  There are three who give testimony in heaven:  the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.  And there are three that give testimony on earth:  the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one.

 

The Spirit gives life; the flesh is of no avail.  Unless you are born of water and Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  Christ undergoes a double baptism:  by water and blood.  We too undergo a double cleansing:  through Baptism and the Eucharist.  Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.

 

God hath graced us in His beloved Son:  in whom we have redemption through His blood.  The remission of sins, according to the riches of His grace, which hath superabounded in us.  Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption, which is in Christ Jesus.  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood.

 

The Upper Room, Calvary, and the Mass are one eternal moment.  We pray for the gifts to be borne by the hands of God’s holy angels to his throne room on high.  We are taken to where the apostles see the new and eternal covenant face to face.  There Mary and John are children of one father.

 

Alleluia, alleluia.  Worthy art Thou, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof:  because Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God in Thy blood.  Alleluia.  And the blood shall be to you for a sign:  and I shall see the blood and pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you.  Alleluia.

 

By the blood Christ merits to open the seals.  By the blood we merit to be passed over by the Angel of Death.

 

At that time, Jesus, when He had taken the vinegar, said:  It is consummated.  And bowing His head, He gave up the ghost.

 

Consummatum est.  Christ has married His Church.  As He gives Himself to the Father, He gives her to the Father as well, for she is in Him.  She is one body with the head, an oblation offered to God.

 

But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water.

 

So the Church is born from the side of Christ.  The new Eve takes her life from the new Adam.  Baptism and the Eucharist are the door of the Ark, whereby we enter and are preserved from death.

 

The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?

 

As Christ offers His body, blood, soul, and divinity to us, we offer our body, blood, soul, and humanity to Him.  He is a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.  We will one day be presented without spot or wrinkle, washed clean by His sacred blood.

Since Christ Our Passover Has Been Sacrificed

All you who have been baptized into Christ / Have put on Christ.

Saint Melito of Sardis writes, “In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die.”  Christ was in all the Old Testament types.  If we are in Christ by baptism, then we are in all the Old Testament types.  In Abel we were slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die.  Our pilgrimage, our suffering, our cross have meaning when we join them to Christ’s fasting, praying, sweating blood, and being scourged.

The Passion has brought about our atonement, our at-one-ment with Christ.  Through His passion and cross we hope to be brought to the joy of his resurrection.  He is “the priest through whom we have been reconciled, the sacrifice by which we have been reconciled, the temple in which we have been reconciled, the God with whom we have been reconciled” (Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe).  He is at once priest and sacrifice, God and temple.

Since Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith and the first fruits of the resurrection, our participation in his divine life comes about through His action.  His incarnation makes our salvation possible.  God loves us as He loves His own son.

This theosis is made possible by the incarnation.  Tertullian calls the flesh the “hinge of salvation.”  As we offer our bodies a living sacrifice, God offers his flesh to us the in the Eucharist.  Saint Catherine of Sienna writes, “We image your divinity, but you image our humanity in that union of the two which you have worked in man.  You have veiled the Godhead in a cloud, in the clay of our humanity.”  The clay of Christ, His body, is the source of our hope.  Because He sits at the right hand of the Father as a divine person, we know that our frail flesh can enter heaven.

If the body of Christ in heaven assures us of our salvation, the body on Christ on earth is our sanctification.  J. R. R. Tolkien told his son, “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: The Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.”  All goodness flows from Christ as from an ocean.  All beauty looks to Him as its Maker.  All truth springs from Him as from a well of living water.

He is the fulfillment of all desire, the end of all our searching, our first cause and our final cause.  When Saint Augustine was baptized, he prayed, “Too late have I known Thee, O Thou Ancient Truth; too late have I found Thee, First and only Fair.”  We repent for the wasted time, the days of idleness, the years of complacency.  Yet He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

Saint Ambrose: “I ardently desire to have Him as my Savior whom I am unable to withstand as my judge.”  We face a paradox:  He Who is Justice is also Mercy.  The greatest love and greatest wrath spring from the same source:  the infinity of God’s goodness.  Struck to the heart with awe, we pray with Ignatius of Antioch: “Let our striving for your kingdom not fall short through selfishness or fear: may the universe be alive with the Spirit, and our homes be the pledge of a world redeemed.”  Our lives and homes image the world to come.  The Old Testament is the shadow, the New Testament the icon, and the eschaton the reality.  We know not yet what we shall be.

Through the liturgy we gain a foretaste of heaven while yet on earth.  Liturgy derives from the Greek for “public service.”  God has made our communal work acceptable to Him.  He has deigned to accept our offerings.  In the Divine Liturgy we pray, “through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior save us.”  Christ came through Mary, He comes through Mary, and He will come through Mary.  St. Louis de Montfort reads the story of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau as a Marian image.  He identifies Esau with the world, that sold its birthright for food and desires the approval of both God and man.  Esau works outside, pursuing the things of the world and not caring for his mother.  Isaac works inside and represents the contemplative, cultivating the interior life.  When Isaac tells Esau to kill game and make soup for him so his father can bless him, Rebekah overhears and tells Jacob to bring her two kids from the flock.  These two kids that we bring to Mother Mary are our body and our soul.  She skins them, mortifies them, and makes them acceptable for God.  Since Christ has given His body and soul for us through Mary, we offer our souls and bodies back to Him through the same vessel of mercy.

Joy in Solitude

For all eternity we will be with God, so we should accustom ourselves to his presence.  If we want to attain heaven, we must train our habits and our loves now.  If I love food more than God, how can I expect to enter heaven?  If I love human companionship more than divine communion, will I become a saint?

A. G. Sertillanges, a Dominican, writes, “Retirement is the laboratory of the sprit; interior solitude and silence are its two wings. All great works were prepared in the desert, including the redemption of the world.  The precursors, the followers, the Master Himself, all obeyed or have to obey one and the same law.  Prophets, apostles, preachers, martyrs, pioneers of knowledge, inspired artists in every art, ordinary men and the Man-God all pay tribute to loneliness, to the life of silence, to the night.”  Any word we say must be grounded in deep thought.  All action should spring from ardent prayer.  We must be slow to speak and quick to hear.

Silence should undergird speech.  Sertillanges observes, “Speech is weighty when one perceives silence beneath it, when it conceals and yet suggests a treasure behind the words, a treasure that it gives out little by little, as is fitting without haste and frivolous excitement.  Silence is the hidden content of the words that count.  What makes the worth of a soul is the abundance of what it does not express.”  If we strive to edify our neighbors, to counsel the doubtful, and to comfort the afflicted, we must choose our words carefully.  In the abundance of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.

Fasting, prayer, and solitude form a chord of three strands not easily broken.  The Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness to remind us that this world is not our home.  Moses fasted for forty days and received the law.  John the Baptist went into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord and to call all men to repentance.  Jesus fasted in the wilderness to overcome the devil.

Let us shun earthly comforts, soft living, and physical pleasures if we wish to enter heaven.  A Jesuit prayer reads: “Remember, Christian soul, that thou hast this day, and every day of thy life:  God to glorify, / Jesus to imitate, / The Blessed Virgin and the Saints to invoke, / A soul to save, / A body to mortify, / Sins to expiate, / Virtues to acquire, / Hell to avoid, / Heaven to gain, / Eternity to prepare for, / Time to profit by, / Neighbors to edify, / The world to despise, / Devils to combat, / Passions to subdue, / Death perhaps to suffer, / And Judgment to undergo.”

Let us fight the battle because the reward is glory.  The Blessed Virgin told Saint Bernadette, “you will not have joy in this life but in the next.”  Let us look forward to eternal consolations, spurning Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises.  Remember the White Witch and Edmund.  She promised him Turkish delight but gave him slavery.

This is my Father’s world; / I walk a desert lone; / In a bush ablaze to my wond’ring gaze / God makes His glory known. / This is my Father’s world; / A wanderer I may roam. / Whate’er my lot, it matters not; / My heart is still at home.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving / And His courts with praise”: A Soul’s Journey into God

My conversion story begins on Palm Sunday, 1992.  My parents had me baptized and christened “Mary.”  My Mother in heaven was watching over me long before I knew.

G. K. Chesterton describes the first step of conversion as “discovering a new continent full of strange flowers and fantastic animals, which is at once wild and hospitable.”  After the attraction comes the denial, the kicking against the goads.  It is hard to admit the authority of the Church.  The haughty heart must learn to say, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.”  The person journeying into the Church must follow Mary’s example:  Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum / Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.

My journey into the Church came about through a deeper understanding of the Incarnation.  If God became man, then we should make icons of Him.  If God became man, then the Eucharist is real.

The Catholic Church preaches the fleshly nature of Christ.  St. John Damascene writes, “Now that [God] has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God . . . and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.”  In the Incarnation, God condescends to our senses.  He deigns to be touched, to be seen, to be heard, to be felt, to be tasted.

Reception of the Eucharist is the ultimate Act of Faith.  “Sight and touch and taste here fail. / Hearing only can be believed. / I trust what God’s own Son has said. / Truth from Truth is best received.”  He has the words of eternal life.  Where else are we to go?

When we offer our body, blood, soul, and humanity to God in the Eucharist, He offers in return His body, blood, soul, and divinity to us.  He wills that we imitate Him and become partakers in the divine nature.  We participate in the love of the Trinity.  God loves us as He loves His own Son.

Through Mary we learn how to love the Trinity as a daughter, as a mother, and as a spouse.  She is the Chalice that holds the Blood, the Tabernacle that holds the manna from heaven.  “Through her we may see him / Made sweeter, not made dim. / And her hand leaves his light / Sifted to suit our sight.”

I can only echo Blessed John Henry Newman and Saint Augustine to describe my conversion experience: “Too late have I known Thee, O Thou Ancient Truth; too late have I found Thee, First and only Fair.”

Anointing His Feet

If you do not forgive others, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you.  Jesus could have said this to the scribes and Pharisees accusing the woman caught in adultery.  Take the plank out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s.  This quip would work for them as well.  But instead he writes in the sand with his finger.  The Church fathers say he is writing each of their sins.  Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.  The only one who could condemn her is the perfect Man, Jesus, but he forgives her.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  But this forgiveness is purchased at the precious price of his blood.  In respect for this sacrifice, the woman goes and sins no more.

In the garden Satan acts both as tempter and accuser.  He seduces Adam and Eve into sin and then hurls their deeds back at them in the trial scene.  But the accuser of our brethren has been brought down.  Christ the Judge acts as pardoner.  Saint Ambrose prayed, “I would fear to draw near to you as my judge, but I seek you out as my Savior.”  We would perish in the fire of God’s justice, but he infuses us with grace.  The law brings death, but the spirit gives life.  We are not under the law but under grace.  But unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees you will by no means enter eternal life.  If you hate your brother, you have murdered him in your heart.  Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

Mankind is under the universal call to holiness, purgatory, sanctification.  At his baptism the Christian is told, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.  See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.  With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”  The baptismal robe is the wedding garment.  Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Such are the consequences of sullying the wedding garment.  This imperative to become holy drives home the importance of confession:  of patience, penance, prayer.

The woman caught in adultery is often identified with Mary Magdalene.  She is the only one called “The Penitent” in the Church’s liturgy.  Others receive the titles of “Apostle,” “Virgin,” “Confessor,” “Martyr,” “Bishop,” or “Doctor.”  Mary Magdalene is the patroness of the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, because she is the first to see Jesus after His Resurrection and to proclaim the good news.  Tradition says she even tried to convert the emperor.  She thought if she could only go to him, she could tell him what she saw.  He mocked the Christians for worshiping a dead man.  He called their religion as ridiculous as the egg sitting in front of Mary at the table turning red before his eyes.  The egg turned red, and Mary held it up.  From this tradition we derive Easter eggs.

Mary Magdalene is depicted in iconography not only with a red egg but also with an alabaster jar.  Pope Saint Gregory the Great remarks that she puts the very things she used for prostitution to the service of Christ.  The eyes she used to lure men become a fountain of tears.  The hair she used for seduction becomes a rag for His feet.  The lips she used to kiss her lovers now shower His holy feet with love.  The oil she used to anoint her customers now prepares Him for His burial.  She puts her gifts to the service of the body of Christ.  Rather than using her body as a weapon for the enemy, Satan, she gives beauty back to God, beauty’s Self and beauty’s Giver.

Temptation and Triumph

I am entering the Church this Easter with a motley crew of candidates in RCIA.  Hilda, an elderly black woman, hails from the Bronx and used to be Episcopalian.  Stephanie, a nurse who wears seven-inch heels, is so nervous about being a minute late to Mass.  She thinks they won’t let her in until she knows how to pray the Rosary.  Gentle and her daughter Grace wear veils and soak up the instruction eagerly.  Caroline, a sweet Southern Baptist, has been baptized twenty times, each time she renewed her faith and recommitted her life to Christ.  Our fearless leader Matt has six boys, Polycarp and Athanasius among them.

On Sundays, the RCIA class prays and meditates on the Gospel through Lectio Divina.  The First Sunday in Lent especially suits candidates and catechumens (now “the Elect,” having been approved by the Bishop).  Jesus, filled with the Spirit, has just been baptized.  He has undergone forty days of fasting.  Rather than wearying him, this abstinence has strengthened him.  He takes up self-denial as a weapon against the Prince of Darkness.

Satan whispers to God’s children to give in to their desires, to let gluttony, drunkenness, and lust rule them.  The tempter would have us believe that the pleasure is worth the price of growing farther from God.  He assures us, “You will not surely die.”  The devil wants us to believe that God is withholding goods from us.  Satan wants us to think that God does not want the best for us.

Some of the church fathers wrote that Satan did not know Jesus was the Son of God until he withstood the temptations.  They interpreted, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” as a real test of Jesus’ divinity.  He proves himself to be the Son of God, and Satan revisits him in Gethsemane to tempt him to cowardice and fear.

Christ’s victory gives us the courage to withstand the tempter.  Through this Gospel, God tells us, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.  I have baptized you—I will also strengthen you.  Resist the Prince of the Powers of the Air, and he will flee from you.”  Our hearts respond with a hunger for holiness, a thirst for souls, and a fear of God, the one who is stronger than Satan.

We all stand in the place of Job.  Et ne inducas nos in temptationem sed libera nos a malo.  God does not tempt us, but he allows Satan to.  Just as Jesus uses Scripture to withstand the temptations of Satan, so we avail ourselves of the Word, the Eucharist, the living Bread to strengthen our weak souls.

We must remember that Satan is on a leash.  We ought not fear him.  He has been defeated, and he will finally be thrown into the lake of fire.  The limits of evil are set by God himself.  When Satan quotes Psalm 91, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, / To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, / Lest you dash your foot against a stone,” he forgets the following verse: “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, / The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”  Jesus will enact the promise hidden in the curse put on the serpent:  “And I will put enmity / Between you and the woman, / And between your seed and her Seed; / He shall bruise your head, / And you shall bruise His heel.”  Mary is the Seed of Eve, and her Son crushes the Serpent’s head.  He tramples upon the world, the flesh, and the devil.  He divests Satan, sin, and death of their power.

Christ did not have to be baptized, but he consented to receive the sacrament from John in the Jordan for our sake.  He did not have to suffer temptation, but he allowed it for us.  If our mind is transformed to the likeness of Christ, we will combat the evil suggestions of Satan and his demons.  We must be like the burning bush, symbol of Mary, afire for God but not consumed.  The Catechism teaches that “as fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected for his power.”  Or in the words of St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

We should knock down every impediment between us and the sacraments.  I once heard a priest pray for the congregation and himself “that we would rather die than commit a venial sin.”  Oh, for the gift of a tender conscience.  Oh, to possess true sorrow for sin.  Oh, for the gift of a humble and contrite heart.  We have only to ask if we wish to receive.

When Jesus into yonder Jordan dove,

He left his coat of glory there to wear,

He called out to the souls that sank and strove,

By their own strength and light themselves to bear.

The gladsome tidings that the infant brings

Exceed the sorrow of his mother dear

The blood spilt on the hill with triumph sings

Above the thwarted foe that crept so near.

As Moses in the basket by the bank

Gave to the unwed girl her motherhood,

So axe heads that would otherwise have sank

Did float when they were rescued by the rood.

So when the water mixes with the blood,

It serves to do mankind their greatest good.

These Words are Fulfilled in Your Hearing

The gospel of Luke is the most Marian gospel.  It provides the five joyful mysteries:  the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation, and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  Luke says that he “investigated everything accurately anew.”  He must have spoken to Mary about the birth of Our Lord.

As Jesus on the cross gives his mother to “the beloved disciple,” he gives him to every beloved disciple.  As Luke writes his gospel to “Theophilus,” he writes it to every lover of God.  Luke, an apostle of Paul, writes his gospel that we may realize the certainty of the teachings that we have received, that written tradition may affirm oral tradition.

We find one strength for our faith in chapter four.  Jesus prepares for his temptation with forty days of fasting.  Moses fasted and gave the old law; Jesus fasts and gives the new law.  The living Word, Christ Himself, combats the devil with the written Word.

Jesus leaves the wilderness filled with the Spirit and enters the synagogue of his childhood. He teaches, and everyone praises him.  He reads from Isaiah that he has come to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, and sight to the blind.  After he finishes reading, he sits down to teach ex cathedra.  The crowd looks intently at him.  He explains that He himself is the homily, the fulfillment, the explication of the prophecy.  Filled with wrath, the crowd takes him to a mountaintop to throw him off, but He walks away through the crowd and escapes.

The Savior is the Teacher.  When he reads the prophesy from Isaiah, we learn that we must be poor in spirit and meek of heart in order to receive riches.  The Son fulfills the law, ushers in the new covenant, marries the widows, and adopts the orphans.  He frees us from the bondage and the blindness of sin.