Catholic Exchange: Christmas-The Light in the Darkness

During Advent every year I try to imagine what it was like for the people of Israel as they waited for the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, David, and the prophets. We live in a time after the Paschal Mystery, but we do still wait for Christ in the Second Coming. We approach Christmas each year knowing that Christ has come and He is reigning over the universe. We live in the light of the Son of God who became a baby, died a prophet’s death on the Cross, and rose from the dead.

The Israelites lived for centuries suffering exile, persecution, and darkness. As in our own Fallen lives, much of what they suffered was self-inflicted because of sin, but God repeatedly comes to their aid and our aid despite the battle we wage against the darkness in our own hearts. God never forgets us, nor ceases to forgive us when we come to Him with contrite hearts. Christ is the light of the world, or as Lumen Gentiumbegins: “Christ came to be the light to the nations (LG 1).”

The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord is the time we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s plan to bring light to a Fallen world. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

Enemy-occupied territory — that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.

Christmas is the stealthy landing behind enemy lines in which God condescends Himself to become a babe in a manger in order to bring about the salvation of the world. He descends into the utter darkness, weakness, and helplessness of the human condition so that He may shed a great light upon us and draw us into friendship with Him. This is accomplished in the most unexpected way imaginable!

There is little doubt as we look at the world around us that we live in Enemy territory. The news is a constant barrage of violence, injustice, disease, natural disasters, and suffering. Every single day people suffer immensely. In truth, the greatest suffering and tragedy to befall each one of us is sin. From a material perspective this doesn’t seem to be the case, but in truth it is spiritual wounds that cause the most damage to us and our relationships. Christ tells us: “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more (Luke 12:2-4).” Sin is what we do in darkness, but all will be brought into the light of God. It is this darkness that Our Lord seeks to free us from by His divine light.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Lessons on Motherhood from the Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord. It is a feast day that draws us into a deeper love of Our Lord and Our Heavenly Mother. It is also through the Visitation that mothers can enter more deeply into the joy of their vocation, as well as the joy of ministering to one another on the journey. After the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat to God’s plan of salvation, she proceeds “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth.

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45

There is much to be gleaned from this beautiful passage. It is the coming together of two women, united by joy and the promise of salvation. Two women sharing the great gift of motherhood. One bears the son who will pave the way for the coming of the Lord and the other is the New Eve whose son will take away the sins of the world. They greet one another as kinswomen united in a deep communion. The encounter between these two women invites us to be drawn closer to God by the gift of not only their pronouncement, but their pious love for one another. Their womanhood and motherhood is an example for all, but mothers can learn quite a bit through the Visitation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Let Christmas Teach Us to Make Haste in the Spiritual Life

During Advent and now the Christmas season, I have tried to spend time each day meditating on the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. These three chapters are packed with significant events, responses, and depth on the part of the people involved and their encounter with God. Within them we discover the righteousness of St. Joseph, the foretelling of and birth of St. John the Baptist, the Annunciation of Our Lord and the fiat of Our Heavenly Mother, the Visitation and the beautiful prayer of praise known as the Magnificat, and the Nativity of Our Lord. If there is one theme that has stood out to me in my meditations it is that the spiritual life requires haste. When we hear God’s Word, and when we encounter the Living God made man, we are to respond in haste. There is no time to waste. The Word has become flesh, so let us go to Him in haste.

St. Joseph’s obedient and immediate response to God.

We do not know much about St. Joseph. He is silent in the Gospels, but his actions reveal a great deal about the adoptive father of the Son of God. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

St. Joseph demonstrates his charitable character by refusing to subject Mary to public shame for what appears to be an adulterous act, but then an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream. The angel clarifies and explains Mary’s situation to Joseph and also invites Joseph to participate in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind as her husband. His role is to be the adoptive father of Jesus, the God Incarnate, who has come to His people to save them from sin and death. While this particular passage of Scripture does not use the word “haste” –as it appears in Luke–it is clear that St. Joseph responded immediately to God’s will. He did not wait to do these things, he awoke from the dream and did God’s will. He encountered God through the angel and responded quickly to God’s invitation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: What Will We Give Jesus for His Birthday?

We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?

Whose birthday is it anyway?

To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.

Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.

In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Don’t Forget the Pray More Advent Retreat Starts Today!

Today is the beginning of the Pray More Advent retreat which is entirely online. There are talks from multiple speakers on a wide variety of topics. I was blessed to participate as a speaker. My talks are on St. John Paul II and the Eucharist, St. Therese, persevering in holiness, and the strangeness of how God heals us in suffering. Other talks are about Isaiah, keeping Advent holy, walking with Mary in Advent, discipleship, the Our Father, and many more. Check it out! Let’s walk deeper into Advent this year and every year. Pax Christi.

http://praymoreretreat.com/

 

Practical Lessons from St. Athanasius

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Athanasius of Alexandria who is a Doctor of the Church, as well as a great theologian who united the Eastern and Western Churches. A great deal of his work and mission was responding to the Arian heresy running rampant in his day. In fact, the Arian heresy has proved to be one of the most virulent heresies and can be seen in various forms even in our own day.

He was born around 300 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. After receiving a quality education, he became a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria. He worked closely with the Bishop and attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 AD. This Council focused primarily on the divinity of Christ in response to the Arian heresy which had been advanced through the Alexandrian priest Arius.

Arianism greatly threatens an authentic understanding of Jesus Christ. It teaches that “the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained forever inaccessible to us” (Pope Benedict XVI, Doctors of the Church, 14). It was at Nicaea where the Creed incorporated Greek term homoousios, which means “of the same substance” as the Father. It was the first and only term to be added with no theological or biblical link, and it pointed to the Church’s willingness to integrate philosophy and theology together into the Faith.

Shortly after the Council in 328 AD, the Bishop of Alexandria died and St. Athanasius was elevated to Bishop. Even though the Church had firmly and unequivocally affirmed the divinity of Christ, the Arian heresy raged on creating painful and destructive divisions within the Church. St. Athanasius fought hard against the heresy and created powerful enemies in the process. He spent 17 years in exile. He continued to spread the Faith in the West, as well as monasticism which he had learned from the hermit, St. Anthony, during his time in exile. After many years of suffering for the authentic and true Faith, St. Athanasius returned to Alexandria to finish out his days. He died on May 2, 373.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Love Changes the Ordinary, the Mundane, and the Ugly

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Yes the picture above is an ordinary dandelion. The weed that is the bane of gardeners and lawn owners in their quest for spring and summer perfection. To adults it is nothing more than a pest to be rid of. In fact, most people would either look at this image that I took with derision or scorn. What they do not realize is that this dandelion was a gift from my 3 year old daughter. My birthday is Friday, Good Friday. She knows that it is coming, so she ran up to me with this bright yellow “flower” and presented it as an early birthday gift. My cup floweth over.

My daughter had found something of beauty and wanted to give it to me as a gift. In that moment she transformed that pest and weed into a thing of love and beauty. And I saw it. Mothers tend to see it. We see how much our children desire to share their wonder and fascination in the ordinary with us. I took the dandelion in my hand with great joy.

Christianity is where paradoxes meet and mingle. This truth is a major theme of the writings of G.K. Chesterton. I thought about it in light of my dandelion gift. Our Lord took an instrument of torture and fear and turned it into a gift of love. On Good Friday, Catholics hold up the Cross in veneration. We look upon the crucifix and experience joy and sorrow. We experience them together, not apart. One of the great mysteries of the Incarnation is the transformation and return of Creation to God. The transformation of sin into redemption. The combining of joy and sorrow. Torture is made into love.

Is this a bit much for a dandelion? No. Everything around us has been transformed in light of the Cross. This Holy Week is the culmination and fulfillment of our return to grace. All because of an act of love that changed the cross from an instrument of power and torture, into Divine Love and Divine Power. Love, in its truest sense, changes the ordinary into the extraordinary.

My daughter’s act of love changed that dandelion into a gift of self. She wanted to give me a gift. A gift to me, who is an avid gardener, and lover of all things that grow. She found a beautiful yellow weed and changed it into a flower of love. No the object itself is not changing. It is still a dandelion, but in her hands to mine, it becomes her joy and mine and a thing of great beauty.

You might not ever look at a dandelion the same way again. I hope you have a very blessed Holy Week.

Today’s Beauty Theme is Human Beings

Today’s beauty theme is human beings. We are created in the image and likeness of God. Each person of the over 6 billion people on this planet has inherent dignity bestowed by the Blessed Trinity. The height of God’s creation is the human person. *Once again, not my pictures. I am just sharing the beauty from Google images and I have no claim to these images.*

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We are NOT Called to be Angels; We are Called to be Fully Human

Crucifixion-Renaissance-Oil-Painting-ACS01617

I have always, even before I began formal study, had a theological pet peeve related to human beings and the angels. Somewhere down the line, human beings got the idea that we become angels when we die or that we are to be angels. I would have to study it further to understand where this error started. Perhaps it really began with the cherubim depictions of babies that are so popular that convinced parents that their children who have passed on became cherubim? I am not sure. I can understand this error within the secular culture which assimilates all manners of heresy due to their lack of the fullness of truth. It logically makes sense for things like this to occur. It is not understandable for it to occur within the Church.

This morning I saw an article posted on one of my favorite Catholic sites that focuses on inspirational pieces, that stopped me cold. The title was: We are Called to be Angels. I stopped and stared at it. I was concerned, and frankly a bit annoyed (I am still working on that holiness thing), and so I opened the article. It discusses a bit of conjecture by St. Anselm on the human being as a replacement for the fallen angels. I can’t say the title fully reflected the content. Although, the author did not inform readers that saints have all sorts of conjectures that may or may not be accepted by the Church. This is where error starts and runs rampant. The article has already been shared hundreds of times. The title is a complete theological error and misleading.

We are not called to be angels. We are called to be human, more clearly we are called to be fully human as we conform ourselves to the Blessed Trinity. Our anthropological (theological buzzward) orientation to God is that He created us in His image and likeness in order to serve and become like him. This is not what he did for the angels. Angels are pure spirit, with no body. Speaking of conjecture, I have heard it suggested that Lucifer chose not to serve God after the Incarnation was revealed to the angels (this is conjecture). In equating us to the angels, Christians lose their incarnational understanding. God became man and has invited us to share in His Divine life. The union of body and soul, our humanness, matters. God acts in our world towards us to serve our human understanding. The Church is a combination of the material and the spiritual. It is not either/or, it is both.

This is most fully realized in the sacramental life of the worshiping community. The internal realities of grace are fully realized and expressed through the external actions of the Church, that is, the sacramental sign-action. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas equates all of the sacraments with various actions and periods within a human being’s life (see the Summa on various Sacraments). Baptism is re-birth and the washing away of sins as the individual publicly declares their desire to be conformed to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to become a member within the public life of the Church. Water, which is the “matter” in this sacrament, is a means of cleansing and washing for the human person. God uses those things that will impact our in order to bring out the internal realities of sanctifying grace. The sacraments are the most concrete union of body and soul that we have on this side of eternity, most especially in the Blessed Eucharist.

So, what am I getting at? Our bodies matter. We are not pure spiritual beings. The fact that Christ became man matters. When we change our anthropological understanding of ourselves all kinds of heresies begin to take hold. In fact, heresies like Gnosticism which hold that material is evil, become a serious problem. That heresy has been around almost as long as the Church.  God made us human, both body and soul, and he sanctifies us through that reality. It is also in our body-soul reality that we are sanctified and conformed to the Blessed Trinity. We are called to be united to Christ’s passion. That can only occur through a bodily unification with the soul, since Christ suffered in His body (and soul).

It is true that we can be like the angels in their obedience, charity, glorification, and service to God. In that way, we most certainly should pray for the grace to be like them. I am a huge proponent of the intercession of my Guardian Angel. My daughter knew the Guardian Angel prayer by the time she started speaking and it is her favorite prayer. In fact, a great peace washes over her at night as she prayers it, knowing that Our Lord has given each one of us a great spiritual being to guide and protect us through his will.

I just want to remind Catholics that there is a very real serious threat of dualism and a misunderstanding of the human person in our culture that we can absorb. And while the article in question was about a Catholic saint. It is important that we have a grounded theological understanding before we tackle conjecture from the various saints. St. Anselm posited that human beings are to replace fallen angels in Heaven, but that does not mean that we become angels. The title is misleading and wrong. It is a very important distinction and that word replace can cause a lot of confusion for Catholics. As my professors are always telling me, ‘precision in language is crucial’. We resurrect at the end of the Parousia, in our glorified bodies. It is not just our spirit, nor are we called to be like purely spiritual beings. We never become angels. Our intellects are incapable of reaching that of the angels and we were created to be human beings. Angels and men are both beautiful aspects of God’s awesome creative power and love. We are called to become the highest form of a human being as God perfects our fallen nature and the angels are called to be the highest form of angel.

***UPDATE: Please be sure to read the comments in order to see the clarification from the author of the original article. I am appreciative that he took the time to clarify.

**UPDATE: The editor of the Catholic online magazine has contacted me and said the title has been adjusted and the content has been clarified in relation to Church teaching. It was an accident. These things happen. :o)

angel423_Guardian_angel

*If I have made any theological errors and you happen to be a theologian, instead of a lowly grad student like me, or you are a grad student, please feel free to correct me. I never want to preach or teach in error. It was not my intention to eviscerate the author of the article either. He is not a theologian. I merely wanted to point out that our words and teaching, even as a layman, matter.* My professors are constantly telling us that “precision of language matters” and I think the article in question is a very good example of why.  God bless.