What if God were one of us?

OEmmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: Come and save us O Lord, our God.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


As was mentioned earlier, the word gentium, Latin for “nations”, is the source of our word “gentiles”. It is the translation of the Hebrew word for nations, גּוֹיִ֔ם, goyim. So, this antiphon sings of God as the Savior of the Gentiles, the desire of the Gentiles… and then says (we are all one) come and save us! The verse sings of Emmanuel, “God With Us” – with both Jew and Gentile. How is God with us? Let’s start with the Catechism.

“All that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven”, is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter.

Jesus’ words and actions during his hidden life and public ministry were already salvific, for they anticipated the power of his Paschal mystery.

We like to focus on Christmas as if it’s different from Easter as if the Death of Jesus on the Cross is it’s own thing. We look at the “blood sacrifice” as the real deal and everything else is prelude or aftermath. But the Catechism makes it clear that everything Jesus did was our salvation in process. Jesus is God before his birth no less than on the Cross or at the Ascension.

In the eastern Churches, they sing on 25 March – the Annunciation – “Today is the beginning of our salvation.”

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin,
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!

Our salvation is accomplished by the entire movement from the Incarnation (at Mary’s “Yes”) to the Cross and Resurrection, to the Ascension and the Sitting at the Glorious Right Hand of the Father. Yet, it’s not just the great events! The process of salvation moves from zygote and foetus, through the birth canal of the blessed mother; from the first gasp of a baby’s crying and dirty diapers, to teenage acne and a changing voice; from burping and flatulence to cleansing one’s self and a runny nose, from every other part of life.

See: there is nothing – except sin – that you can do now that God has not done. Since God has done it himself, every option becomes a sacrament of our salvation.

When humans were the children of Adam and Eve, the first day of death was the day of brith. No matter what we did – sin or virtue, faithful or faithless – it led directly to the grave. And yes, while God is always merciful, death was the end as far as we knew. From the time we failed in the garden to the day of Judgement all we knew was that every womb opened on a tomb, every cradle tipped into a grave, and nothing could stop that.

Now, God has done this with us: and the grave opens to Life. It is possible to open every part of our life – except sin- to the mediated action of God living with us, as one of us.

This Christmas, as we look into yet another year of Covid, as we peer into a future we do not know, we have two choices: fear or God with us.

We are commanded to “take up our cross and follow Jesus”. What can that mean? None of us are facing capital punishment, none of us are facing death at the hands of civil or religious authorities. But we know our crosses and, as mundane as can be, they are our. When you wake up in the morning do you pray like Jesus about work? “Father, let this cup pass from me…” or school bullies, “Father, let this cup pass from me…” Do you pray about someone smelly on the bus, “Father let this cup pass from me.” Do you find yourself dreading yet another Zoom meeting or going home to an empty apartment? “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not my will, but they will be done.”

All of life – except sin – is our salvation playing out if we will but let it be as God gives it to us. Gond is with us in this! God, at Christmas, gives us our lives to live as one of us. Our imaginations, our loves, our fears, our times, our meals, and our griefs, our daily commutes, our morning coffees are all part of God’s dance with us. The death of our brothers, the murder of our friends, the war, the covid, the collapse of everything that we hold dear… all of it is God’s dance. It begins at Christmas, or better it includes Christmas.

God is one of us. This is the virtue of faith. This is the seventh virtue, the one at our heart. God is one of us, but more than that God is our very beingness: the fire of love that is the Holy Trinity is the fire of our being and we are no longer cut off from who we are and who we are intended to be. This is the very meaning of Christmas. God is one of us. Today Easter begins for everyone.

Life no longer leads to the grave. If you will but let it, it will lead to heaven. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Merry Christmas.

Merry everything!

God with us! Christ is born: glorify him!

Looking Up

ORex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makest both one: Come, and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


THE word gentium, Latin for “nations”, is the source of our word “gentiles”. It is the translation of the Hebrew word for nations, גּוֹיִ֔ם, goyim. A singular nation “goy” is Hebrew (and Yiddish) slang for a singular non-Jew, a goy. So, legitimately, this Antiphon can be called “King of the Gentiles” and I think it’s actually more correct to do so, even if it’s politically incorrect. “Goyim” is not always a polite word in some ways (often used as a derogatory) but it is also the Biblical Word for those of us not part of the Jewish Faith. There’s Israel… and then there’s the goyim- everyone else. This antiphon says that the coming Messiah, the King of the Jews, is also King of the Gentiles, מלך הגויים, Melech haGoyim. The Promised One of Israel is, some how, the unification of the one major division in the Hebrew World: us and them. In Messiah, there is no longer an us and a them there is only us.

if the whole point of the Old Testament Law is to set up a peculiar people, distinguished from everyone by their practices and culture, their religion and traditions, then this verse is a huge paradigm shift. Either it means “the whole world will become Jewish” or else it means “Judaism was important for a time but now it’s not”. In the case of the first option, clearly that has not happened because of Jesus. Sadly the second option is usually taken up by Christians of all flavors. It is also condemned by the Church. The place of the Jewish People in God’s plan is always active (CCC ¶839). There must be something else going on.

Another way to read this history is that God created a people in order to reveal himself to them, that he could then use them to reveal himself to the world, long blind to his presence. Thus the Covenant was intended to form the people, but the imporant part of it was the people. Once the people were formed – and once the world was ready – then the Messiah, revealing all of God’s presence in fullness, could be born to the world in order to heal all divisions, including the one that made his birth as possible.

Returning to the problem of evil, though, we love to make “us” and “them” at nearly every turn. God plays a long game. The end goal is salvation – a restoration of the communion between God and all men (always allowing that some men will reject this). The goal has never been to ban bacon, or to get everyone circumcised, or even to get everyone to avoid meat on Fridays. God works though things that seem bad (to Israel) and things that seem bad (to us) but the end goal is not a new Temple, or even a new Church. The end goal is man’s communion with God. God’s willing to use anything to bring this about – even destruction. “….God wills to see the religious and political institutions of Israel destroyed, like the master builder who destroys the scaffolding that now does no more than conceal the definitive building…” (from  God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology by Dominique Barthélemy, OP.) God’s restoration of our communion with him is the only good that actually is.

The King of the Goyim and Israel is the cornerstone uniting both into one, not just Jews and Gentiles, but also God and Man.

This is why, as I mentioned last time, this is our Faith (the ground of our reality). It is also the source of our Hope. No matter how sucky things get, no matter how much we want to call things evil here, our Hope says God’s will be done. And that will is always for the one Good that there is in our sin-ridden world: salvation. Because we are clay we are not able to do anything on our own. We freely submit to the Cross Christ gives us today, here, and now in order that we may be resurrected in his glory. Because he is the King of All, he has the power to do this.

This is our Hope: that something that can never be taken away.

The Dawn of All

OOriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Day-Spring, Brightness of the Light everlasting, and Sun of righteousness: Come, and enlighten them that sitteth in darkness, and the shadow of death.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


From the Cardinal virtues, moving around the compass, we pass now to the theological virtues. These actually complete the compass for there are seven directions – not just four – in the ancient Cosmology. Sevens were an important part of the understanding of the ancient world: seven visible planets (Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), seven days, etc. So, in addition to West, North, East, and South, there is also down, up, and center. We will begin at the bottom and work our way in.

Oriens refers to the dawn – to the light that fills up the east, to the “orient” and to the “orientation”. It’s the very beginning of all things for us. Yes, it’s Jesus. And he is everywhere, but, more importantly, he’s the ground we stand on, the first step, the Word spoken that forms our lives. So, Jesus the dawn, the beginning, is for us the “faith by which we stand” (2 Cor 1:24).

Two things about this verse. Thing one: the Antiphon is paraphrased in the Old English poetry collection known as Crist – in section one, the Advent Lyrics. The lines are:

Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.

Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men.

You will note that in Old English, our world is called Middangeard or “Middle Earth” which implies “that which is between Over-heaven and the Under-world”. You will hear the echo of JRR Tolkien there – and also in the translation of Oriens as Earendel – which is also the name of one of the “good guys” in Tolkien’s created universe.

Thing two is more important for our work here – the consideration of the virtue of faith as the ground of all being. This antiphon is sung every year at vespers on 21 December, that is, on the night of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the shortest day of the year and, from that day until 21 June, the light begins to lengthen each day. So that night (from the 21st into the 22nd) is the longest night, but with Oriens – with dawn – the next day is about 4 mins longer and each day thereafter until midsummer is from 4 to 6 mins longer. So the Church marks the longest night with a prayer for the Radiant Dawn! It is our faith that, even in darkness, God will come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. It is our faith that darkness never wins, in fact the darkness is not a thing: darkness is only the absence of light and Christ is the light of the world.

What is Faith? Let us turn to Father (as he then was) Joseph Ratzinger. The whole passage is important, but I’ve underlined the best part.

We now begin to discern a first vague outline of the attitude signified by the word credo. It means that man does not regard seeing, hearing, and touching as the totality of what concerns him, that he does not view the area of his world as marked off by what he can see and touch but seeks a second mode of access to reality, a mode he calls in fact belief, and in such a way that he finds in it the decisive enlargement of his whole view of the world. If this is so, then the little word credo contains a basic option vis-à-vis reality as such; it signifies, not the observation of this or that fact, but a fundamental mode of behavior toward being, toward existence, toward one’s own sector of reality, and toward reality as a whole. It signifies the deliberate view that what cannot be seen, what can in no wise move into the field of vision, is not unreal; that, on the contrary, what cannot be seen in fact represents true reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality. And it signifies the view that this element that makes reality as a whole possible is also what grants man a truly human existence, what makes him possible as a human being existing in a human way. In other words, belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point that cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, that encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.

Introduction to Christianity, 2nd Ed, Fr Joseph Ratzinger (German, 1968), trans. J.R. Foster, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2004.

Later he says belief is “accepting what plainly cannot be seen as the truly real and fundamental.” In other words, this trusting in God (Faith) defines literally everything about us. It is not “a part” of who we are it is the important part of reality, the center of us. As Rich Mullins sang, “I did not make it, it is making me.” In our cosmological map, it is the ground, the direction of down.

So here, then, on the 5th antiphon, is the beginning of the answer I sought to the problem of evil with these essays, as well as back in the early 1980s when there was so much evil in my life. Somehow, even when it feels as if everything sucks, our faith insists that God is working his purpose out. God is playing a long game, though, both in general and specifically. God loves everyone equally (Caritas) but God desires each of us personally, fully, especially. God’s long game includes calling all people to himself, but especially, calling you, personally into his loving embrace. At no point does that preclude bad things happening: he never promised you a rose garden. What faith demands is that the bad things are also working to the end God intended. St Paul speaks to this in Romans

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?[f] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:28-39 (RSVCE)

God is working a plan out – just as he did for Jesus in the Garden. Our submission to God’s will (For thy sake we are being killed all the day long) will lead us to the same glory as Jesus (we are more than conquerors through him who loved us).

As long as we keep walking through Middle Earth in the virtue of faith, Earendel, the “brightness of the Light everlasting” will show us the way and “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Power of the Keys

OClavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O key of David, and Sceptre of the House of Israel; that openest, and no man shutteth, and shuttest, and no man openeth: come and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


The reader is perhaPS expecting an essay on the Virtue of Temperance and we will, in fact, get to that, but first a discussion of Cardinal.

Cardinal refers to the four directions on a compass: West, North, East, and South. With these four directions, you can go anywhere except up or down. According to Christian understanding, these four virtues are available to all, Christian or not. They are, if you will, “natural” although they require an effort to acquire: man cannot come to perfection at all without God’s grace since we are all subject to Original Sin, but even non-Christians have access to these virtues and can move towards their perfections. If you imagine them on the compass around you, you can navigate all over the natural world. They are there and available even for those who openly reject God. Yet if you deny the very beingness at the core of all being, eventually even the cardinal points of navigation fall away. Rip out the center and the boundaries will fall. If you deny the existence of truth, per se, then any point of reference becomes pointless. If there is no Truth, then even “my truth” becomes silly, meaningless. This whole thread on Twitter is about how people literally do not understand that Truth must have a reason beyond “feeling good about it:”

Although it’s possible to approach perfection in the Cardinal Virtues, they are only fully knowable to someone entering into a relationship with the actual truth behind these qualities (that is, God’s Logos, Jesus). The mere sentiment of wanting to “be good” or even of wanting to “feel good” won’t pull you through. And, when times change, the meanings can change: ask those for whom “my fellow humans” only includes certain races or, for whom certain races were OK one day – but not the next. Wonder how our nation lost her way on 8 Dec 1941. So, although these are the common ground of all mankind, they are not enough.

To the awareness that the Cardinal virtues are not enough, let’s add one further realization: it’s possible to move through life in the world without ever needing or using one of these virtues. While they are required for Christian formation at all, they can be entirely ignored in the World and one can still move through the World’s system and be – by the World’s standards – very successful. If one is willing to “do one’s own thing” then it’s possible to move through the World entirely on one’s own terms. One does so, then, without any virtue at all. Those who are without virtue can often get very far ahead in the World. In this way, they appear to be successful even though they are without any but the most basic formation of humanness. To be and to be in communion are the same thing, as Fr Alexander Schmemann says. In rejecting their virtues these folks are not even in communion with each other. Their only communion is in their vice – the opposite of virtue – they fail to become even adolescents, let alone adults. This is the source of many problems we see in the world today: those without any sense of maturity or adulthood, without any communion, without any human beingness, manage to make quite a lot of money. But there’s no there there.

They are the ones sitting in darkness in this antiphon – they are a sign for all of us. For even the one who is working on the acquisition of the virtues is still in darkness to the degree that he has not yet acquired all seven of them. Yet it is the one who rejects even the possibility of truth, the possibility of virtue, that is most in darkness.

For him the power of the keys is most needed; together with temperance.

I’m just going to lay out the full paragraph from the Wiki here…

“Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.”[30] The Old Testament emphasizes temperance as a core virtue, as evidenced in the Book of Proverbs. The New Testament does so as well, with forgiveness being central to theology and self-control being one of the Fruits of the Spirit.[4] With regard to Christian theology, the word temperance is used by the King James Version in Galatians 5:23 for the Greek word ἐγκρατεία (enkrateia), which means self-control or discipline (Strong’s Concordance, 1466). Thomas Aquinas promoted Plato’s original virtues in addition to several others.

Within the Christian church Temperance is a virtue akin to self-control. It is applied to all areas of life. It can especially be viewed in practice among sects like the AmishOld Order Mennonites, and Conservative Mennonites. In the Christian religion, temperance is a virtue that moderates attraction and desire for pleasure and “provides balance in the use of created goods”. St. Thomas calls it a “disposition of the mind which binds the passions”.[4] Temperance is believed to combat the sin of gluttony.

Wiki article on Temperance (Virtue), retrieved on 10 Dec 21

So here’s a surprise for you: Temperance, in her most basic meaning, is a very common virtue in our world. There is hope. As wild and crazy as this world is as messed up and prideful, as sexual and sinful as it gets, anyone with the self-control to go to the gym every day or to say on a diet, can – through grace – figure out the need for the other virtues. Anyone with the presence of mind to work the 12 steps, or to sacrifice for a political cause, or to give up some pleasure for the sake of “the marriage” or “the kids” or even “my job” has the very root beginnings of this virtue. So there is hope. And from the very root of “Temperence” the rest can arise if the Key of David will only unlock the doors, open the floodgates of grace as the man does curls at SF Fitness or at the Y, or as the kid willingly sits down to playing scales with an eye towards Julliard. The Girl who figure skates her way to the Olympics knows the virtue of Temperance even if she doesn’t know anything about truth-telling or humility.

The compass is well begun with only one direction – but it will balance wonderfully with all four!

This principle is well known in the Orthodox East where ascetic practices are very common among the laity. Fasting at Lent and during Advent involves avoiding meat, fish, dairy, eggs, wine, and oil. The point is not that those items are sinful or even overindulgent. Rather, through constant denial of the body’s desires for these things, it is hoped that the Christian can learn to deny other urges in the body for things that are sinful. Through temperance other virtues can be discovered.

As Fr Schmemann said in his final homily– “Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.” Let us modify that a little bit: “Everyone capable of temperance (even at the gym) has taken the first steps on the path of the virtues and so can be saved.” That’s not to say they will do so, but well begun is half done. It’s up to the keeper of the keys to open doors – and close others. We doors close we tend to throw tantrums. Did you ever accuse someone of “ruining Christmas”? Did you ever ruin Christmas for someone else? The door to some memory was thus closed – and that memory was more important than the present reality. Closing the door can be very painful indeed. It is very hard to give up other things for the sake of one thing that has become important. But it’s possible.

These posts begin with the discussion of why is there evil but there is evil for the same reason but there is virtue and vice: human beings are free to make choices. It’s hard to hear this for most of us enjoy freedom in the first person without ever wanting there to be freedom in the second or third person. I want to be free, you should be nice, but they must be stopped. Freedom is an ontological reality of human being. It is not possible to force you to acquire the virtues oh, it is not possible to force you to grow up. It is not possible to force others to focus on themselves it is only possible to do so in the first person. Furthermore, only in the first person can we control reactions to others. Your vices become stepping stones for my virtues if I am willing to let them be such.

But this is not the only reason. God is playing a much longer game. Until we must discuss the next three virtues.

We’ve now discussed four Cardinal Virtues, the Four Points of our compass that navigates us through the World. The next three virtues, the next 3 antiphons require Grace not only to acquire or perfect but even to begin. The first four virtues are natural the next three are theological. They will help us to explain the problem of evil and the problem of human Freedom as well.

Totally Radical Dude

ORadix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


There is a tendency to read the entire Gospel as Spiritual Content and to overlook the, if you will, political implications of the plain sense of Scripture. This tendency is so common that when we hear political readings of text we instantly think it can’t be so. As I mentioned in my first post, the response is often, “Don’t be so (insert political bias): Jesus came to save souls.” This is true regardless of any political bias you may have: if you lean left or right, your “political reading” of the scripture may be discounted by your opponents as “worldly” and unrelated to the “true, spiritual meaning”. Curiously the tendency is often reversed as well: there are those who say God is only political and there is no spiritual implication involved. This Jesus was a (insert political bias) and the theology is unimportant, added later, made up.

Today’s verse can be read in response to both of these false dichotomies of theology and politics.

The motto of this blog displayed on the banner is “Deo Optimo Maximo Et Christo Liberatori”. It is usually translated as “To the Most Excellent God and to Christ the Liberator”. It is an ancient motto, found in Rome and other places from the earliest times, but I first heard of it look up historic photos of the Episcopal parish I attended in college, St Luke in the Fields, Greenwich Village. Although the text was missing in the structure where I worshipped it was, before a fire that burned it all down, originally emblazoned around the altar.

The first part of that line, Deo Optimo Maximo, was once a title of the Roman God, Jupiter. It was seen as a fitting title of the One True God, the source of all being. In the early church, though, it was not God the Father but Jesus to whom the saints gave the qualities and titles of the pagan deities. And so, while we might want to read the motto as something about God the Father and then something about God the Son, that would be wrong. This motto says “To the (great God and Messiah) the Liberator”. Jesus is both the Great God (or “Maximum God”) and the Christ. He is the Liberator. Jesus is, as Rosie the Robot used to say on The Jetsons, “The Most Ut.”

Liberate us, or as the Antiphon says, deliver us – yes, from our sins, certainly – but what about the other sort of liberation? Why would kings stand silent before a religious teacher? Why did the Romans want to kill Jesus? You can, if you want, make it all about religion – and then fall back on blaming the Jews. Or, you can see what the Jews saw – and what they made the Romans see: Jesus was a theological threat to Jewry, yes, but he was a political threat to Pilate and the Romans. I don’t care if you’re an anarchist, a Marxist, or a Republican: Jesus clearly offered a political choice to the oppressed peoples of his backwater Roman colony.

Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says the world will hate them because they are not of this world using the Greek phrase ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου οὐκ ἐστέ ek tou kosmou ouk este (John 15:19). A few pages later, Jesus uses the same phrase, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, to describe his Kingdom (John 18:36). When Jesus says his disciples are “not of this world” we know it means we do not live according to this worldly system, we are counter-cultural. We still live in the world. There is neither Jew nor Greek – but we are still our ethnicities. They are no longer important. Our identity is not “American Catholics” but Catholics. We are in the world but not of it – so is the Kingdom. Yet so many times when we hear Jesus say the same words about his Kingdom we imagine him to mean “Well, my kingdom is in heaven, not here on earth…” and then we go on to say he has no political plans. We say this especially if we have our own plans… Our antiphon today seems to indicate quite the opposite.

As we have seen, these Advent Antiphons attribute their qualities to Jesus himself: Adonai, Wisdom, etc. These verses are not singing to God the Father at all. So it is Jesus whom the Gentiles seek, before whom kings are silent, and who is our banner (ensign) to wave. Jesus will come and deliver us. He is the liberator. Notice there is not much talk of spiritual content in this antiphon – it can be seen as nearly all political if we want.

Before readers get upset I want to be clear about something: Jesus is not taking sides here. There is no right humans and wrong humans here. There are right and wrong systems, however. When we are brought into the kingdom of God we are taken out of the world. Yet we are still in the world and must make political choices here. Some worldly systems may mirror certain aspects of the Kingdom, but none of them are the Kingdom. Democracy is nice and all but capitalism sucks. Socialism can destroy private property but it seems to promote better economic justice. Mob rule (democracy) can lead to some really horrid oppressions but monarchy isn’t always the right solution and dictatorships fail – even goodly minded ones. No human system, based in this world, is the right solution. And the only way the Kingdom will be the final solution of Heaven: it’s when everyone is a member of the Kingdom and that’s not happening in this world at all.

Christians have choices to make. This antiphon mirrors the virtue of Justice. Christians have to find ways to walk through the world embodying the Justice of the Kingdom in our actions and our relationships. We constantly, however, confuse God’s justice with simply this-worldly ideas of Justice. Refusing to apply Christian teaching and morality, many people act as if anyone who claims to be oppressed in our society deserves Christian liberation. It is unjust to oppress anyone however telling someone they cannot sin is not oppression. In God’s law all humans have the freedom to commit sin but they do not have the right to commit sin. It is not unjust to pass laws against sin. It is unjust to rob anyone, however, in the Kingdom, refusing to share one’s surplus is robbing the poor – and one never needs as much as one claims. The Fathers say if you have more than one pair of shoes and you never wear the others you’re robbing the poor of that pair of shoes. If you have clothes that you do not wear you are robbing the poor of those clothes. The only reason God gives you wealth is so that you can give it to others thereby being God-like. It is not unjust to find ways to redistribute wealth. This gets us to the root – the radix – of our problems: we are constantly trying to do something of this world when we should do everything not of this world. Even using the tools of this world, we must be not of this world at all in the use of them.

Holy wisdom teaches us prudence, the Holy Spirit gives us fortitude, and now we can begin to learn to live in Justice thanks to the Incarnation of God. Yet it is not a worldly Justice based on “rights” imagined by the state but it is an otherworldly Justice based in the kingdom of God.


OAdonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the Law in Sinai: come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES when the Four-Letter Name of God is written, it is not pronounced. The reader will say “Adonai” or, outside of the scriptures, he will say “Ha Shem” meaning, “the Name”. In time even “Ha Shem” became so sacred that if it is being used outside of a sacred context (such as as a concert in a secular hall) the word is obscured by a contraction pronounced as “Kado’shem” from”Kadosh Shem” meaning “Holy Name” (but in Hebrew it would be “Ha Shem Ha Kadosh” so this is an interesting construction, itself). In most English translations this tradition is continued. When the Four-Letter Name is used, the English will, most often, say “the LORD” rather than “the Lord”. My own favorite translation, the Jerusalem Bible, comes right out and says “Yahweh” but the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, urged Catholics to avoid that out of respect for the Jewish tradition so the current edition of the JB says “The Lord” instead. I prefer my old-school one from the 1960s. Other Bible translations such as The Complete Jewish Bible make it clear when Adonai is being used to replace The Name. The Name is also used in regular prayers – although it’s obscured by “Adonai” just as noted above. This prayer will be prayed tonight (Sunday 28 November) before lighting one candle for Hanukkah, for example:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vitzivanu lehadlik neir shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are you LORD, our God king of the universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy mitzvahs and hast commended us to light the lamps of Hanukkah.

That “adonai” there is hiding the Holy Name.

This tradition is known to the composers of Church Liturgy: calling Jesus here Adonai is naming him by the Sacred Name. This is underscored by the parallel, “qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti” and “in Sina legem dedisti”. It was not some random “Lord” who appeared in the Burning Bush to Moses or who gave the Law on Sinai. Moses was addressing the Burning Bush when he asked, “I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you’. But if they ask me what his name is what am I to tell them?” And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you’.” And God said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons od Israel: ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for all time; buy this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.” (Exodus 3:13-15, Jerusalem Bible) A footnote comments, “The formula ‘I Am who I Am’ becomes, in the third person, Yahweh, ‘He is'”. In the Greek Septuagint this is rendered as ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on, meaning I am the one who is. And so, on icons of Jesus, he bears the greek letters, ὁ ὤν (ho on) meaning “the one who is.”

In the previous post, citing Josef Pieper I noted that prudence was referring to “the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man”. Pieper goes on to say this ordered structure is “Being precedes Truth, Truth precedes the Good.” And so, here, Jesus is being cited at the root: the beingness of all creation. We know from the Gospel of John that all things were created through Jesus and by Jesus. Without Jesus was not anything made that has been made. All beingness is rooted in Jesus. Anything that participates in Being has this fire at its center. This fire is a participation in the eternal Trinity (albeit in a mortal, partial way). Pieper says, “Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.” The Thomists would tell us the Trinity lives in our own heart – even though we may not know how to enter there.

And so, as yesterday’s invocation brought us to prudence, Adonai, the fire of being that is the Logos, Jesus, brings us to Fortitude: which is to say the courage that arises from our own heart but not from ourself. It is the courage that comes from reliance on God. As indicated above, tonight is the first night of the Festival of Hanukkah. After lighting the candle for tonight (and so, each night), Sephardic Jews may, according to their custom, recite Psalm 30:

I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast drawn me up,
    and hast not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to thee for help,
    and thou hast healed me.
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By thy favor, O Lord,
    thou hadst established me as a strong mountain;
thou didst hide thy face,
    I was dismayed.

To thee, O Lord, I cried;
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise thee?
    Will it tell of thy faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be thou my helper!”

11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    thou hast loosed my sackcloth
    and girded me with gladness,
12 that my soul may praise thee and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.

This Psalm celebrates God as our deliverer. We can be courageous, not because we are each strong enough or good enough or, Gosh Darnit, because people like us, but rather because God stands with us. In my beingness, God stands with me. This is part of my inherent dignity as a Human, created in God’s image and likeness.

When I wonder at how things are falling apart (as I did in my first post) and then realize the dignity God has given me, I can find the courage, the fortitude to stand – but only in him. This is how we are called forward by Adonai. This is how he comes with an outstretched arm to deliver us.

Our Suave God

OSapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things; come and teach us the way of prudence.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


The Antiphon speaks of God disposing of all things sweetly or even suavely, to render the Latin in a more literal way. Fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia “strongly and suavely ordering all things.” Our God is the suavest. But how can that be? Evil is, right? I hoped to point out in my first post that something had touched my life that I think of as evil – the deaths of two close friends and my own brother over the course of 13 months. Even now, 40 years later, I wonder what it might be like to have had a brother for my whole life. While I have fallen out of touch with nearly everyone from that time in my life, I am not sure if it’s because of my sense of disconnection caused by that year of death. Certainly two families were thrown into chaos, as was our whole community. The murder of a young girl in her own home, in a quiet mountain village… it’s all too disturbing.

Way to be suave, God.

Such was my thought for a couple of years: I remember walking from work, a long walk around a golf course, yelling at God and asking him what he was doing. It was dark and chilly and there were homes along the walk – nice, well-lit homes with warm glows in them. Certainly nothing evil was happening there. Why are the wealthy untroubled by evil? That was my Freshman year in college. I took up smoking and some other things happened. You could smoke in your office in those days. My parents went on a trip and I spent two weeks in a panic, PTSD after the motorcycle accident. There were no cell phones in those days.

Anway… everything changed. Way to be suave. 40 years later those events still seem evil to me. But a young girl murdered in her own home is – certainly – real, actual evil? Right?

And so I languished before and eventually left behind the God that would let things like that happen. Of course, we are never told what could have been. I lost the idea that this was “the best of all possible worlds” early on, though. I learned during the rest of my college life and for much of the last 40 years, that God will really let anything happen. I can quite literally do anything I want. I am entirely free to do so. As was the man that murdered Michelle in her own bathtub, and as were the drunk boys riding motorcycles in the ran on a rural Pennsylvania two lane used as a trucking route. We are all free.

How does God work with that? The answer is in the crucifix that I carry around my neck but it is still a mystery. How can the most pure, the most just, the most innocent be condemned to death in the most horrible and public way, bringing pain to his family and friends and the horror of state oppression on all who watch? How does God work with that?

This antiphon is not about that though. This text is a prayer to Holy Wisdom to come and teach us prudence. What is prudence? It’s the beginning of our life, really: the life of being holy. Here’s the opening of Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues:

No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.

Our uneasiness and alienation would be only the greater if we were to take the proposition as seriously as it is meant. But we have grown accustomed to disregarding such hierarchic rankings among spiritual and ethical qualities. This is especially true for the “virtues.” We assume that they are allegories, and that there is really no need to assign them an order of rank. We tend to think that it does not matter at all which of the four cardinal virtues may have drawn first prize in the lottery arranged by “scholastic” theologians.

Yet the fact is that nothing less than the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man rests upon the pre-eminence of prudence over the other virtues…

So it’s sounding important that we get this prudence – the whole ordered structure depends on it! But how can that be if in the “ordering of all things” God lets things fall apart?

But prudence is a virtue, and God is all virtue, so all prudence must be in him – every action of God is prudent: it is the right action at the right time, the right place, at the right speed.

I cannot write these evils off with any other philosophy I’ve learned. In 40 years the one thing that helps the most is the idea that what we humans think of as evil is not always actually evil: we only call it evil because we don’t like whatever it is. No, I don’t like the murder of a young girl in her own home, no I don’t like the death of my friend and my brother, and no I don’t like all the things it did to my family, my town, myself… but in some mysterious way, God is always prudent and I can be too if I pray for it to be given to me by God’s holy wisdom.

The questions handed to Job by God are valid (Job 38, Revised Standard):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed[a] like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man;
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?

“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.

“Can you bind the chains of the Plei′ades,
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Maz′zaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the clouds,[b]
or given understanding to the mists?[c]
Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cleave fast together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?

Our Faith does not provide answers for why or how. Those are – in many, if not most – cases the most imprudent questions possible. Think of all of salvation history and, taking the Bible as literal for just a moment, explain why the crucifixion did not happen in the garden of Eden just after the fall? Why was all of salvation history, with its pains and slaveries, exiles, tortures, killings, conquests, etc, needed for the thing to happen? And yet it happened in exactly the right place and time. And yet the most innocent, the most just, the most pure had to die in the most horrible way.

It was prudent.

Our faith does not ask us to take comfort in our inability to know, even with divine wisdomcoming to us. Rather our faith asks us to know our place, to know God’s place, and to know they are not the same. To reach beyond those places is imprudent. It’s painful and humiliating, but in the end, our faith asks us to accept that it will be to our salvation.

There’s no answer other than God’s glory.

And that is pure joy.

Vero Cras


Generally, during the period from 15 November until 20 December, I have posted meditations (every 5 days or so) on the Great O Antiphons, including the 8thg Antiphon tradition in the Sarum Rite (O Virgo). I have been lax in recent years because Western Advent does not begin on the 15th of November (as it does in the Byzantine Tradition). Nevertheless, I have found myself meditating on the O verses each year. In light of a recent post I made on Facebook, the Problem of Evil seems to be coming to my heart, paired with a comment I overheard in Diaconal Formation. We’ll get to this quote in a bit, but by way of introduction, here’s the text of the post from Facebook, which explains the Crucifix displayed in the header image above. This post seems to have triggered a lot of people. I don’t usually talk about this story, but it was very formative, both for my Faith Journey as well as my emotional journey in my family and my world. It is one sure time I can look at in my life and see a Touch of Evil.

In 1977 or 78 we moved into a house at the north end of town that had an odd attic with a door about 4′ high and a sloping ceiling. Only in the middle of the room could you stand up… This became my bedroom.

On move-in day, as my brother, Jimmy, and I were discussing who would get which bedroom, we saw something silver wedged on the floor under the molding. We both dived at the glint! It was this crucifix. He had no use for anything religious and, even though we were not Catholic, I kept it in my treasures as a kid does.

In 1981 or so, my friend, Brian, had no gift to give his sister, Michelle, for her birthday. That family was Catholic and he asked me if he could give the cross to her. So he added a chain of his own and it became her birthday present. She was murdered a year or so later, and Brian kept this on his dresser in his room… Which is where I found it in May of 1983 after he and Jimmy had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Brian’s mother let me keep it and so I still have it and wear it.

It’s been here for a while now, but it seems good to tell the story today. Pray for Jimmy, Brian, and Michelle.

Michelle’s murder (I left off a key word there on purpose) in her own home, let the reader understand, and then her brother’s death, together with my brother, only a year later surpasses all other things in my life as truly evil. As if someone wanted to put a punctuation on the event, the headline in our local paper, in the wee hours after the motorcycle accident, announced the conviction by jury of Michelle’s murderer in very large type. Our town, which had previously been one of those places where doors were never locked, where cars were left running while you dashed inside for errands, and where children would sleigh ride into streets firm in the knowledge that cars would stop suddenly changed that year. Evil had touched us.

And so, Advent, which always carries a hint of Apocalypse, comes to me today along with a quote: “Jesus came to save souls, not the politics…” and I only wish it was that easy.

While it is a commonplace to say the Jews were expecting a different Messiah (different from Jesus) it is also an oversimplification. There had developed in some traditions of Judaism an expectation of two Messiahs: a reigning King who would restore the empire and Jewish freedom from oppression called “Messiah ben David” and a suffering servant, who would be more of a spiritual savior, called “Messiah be Yosef”. The “plot twist” if you will, for the Jesus Story is that Jesus, the suffering servant, was the son of David. He had no plans for empire at all. “Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo. ” My kingdom is not of this world, he said to Pilate. Jews rejecting Jesus as the Messiah did so not only because he was different from what was expected, but because he was from the wrong tribe for what he was.

This did not stop the early Church – Jews and Gentiles – from making precisely political claims about this backwater itinerant preacher. “Jesus is Lord” is a rip-off from “Caesar is Lord”. The “Evangelion” is what the empire sends to a town to announce they’ve been conquered. “Good news! You have a new king…” Jesus is God, not Caesar. Literally, “There is no God, but God, and he’s this Jewish guy you tried to kill. By the way, Christ is Risen!” There’s a reason the Romans thought Christians were trouble and it’s not theology or soteriology – it’s politics and economics. Which exactly are theology and soteriology as everyone knew then. Even the Great O Antiphons themselves are political claims, as well as economic, theological, and soteriological ones.

So this Advent, as I post on my own erratic schedule to meditate on the Great O antiphons, I will think about Evil and Politics.

By way of introduction and comment on the Antiphons themselves, they are used in Vespers (Evening Prayer) in the last few days before Christmas. The Tradition ones are:
– O Wisdom (in Latin, Sapientia)
– O Adonai (Adonai)
– O Root of Jesse (Radix Iesse)
– O Key of David (Clavis David)
– O Sunrise or Dayspring (Oriens)
– O King (Rex)
– O Emmanuel (Emmanuel)

The Latin words form an acrostic in reverse: Ero Cras. It means “tomorrow I will be there.” This formulation is rather late, though, and limited to Rome. There were other “Great O’s” in other liturgical traditions such as “O Jerusalem”, “O Joseph”, and “O Queen of the World”. The tradition of the Sarum rite, which is now used in the Anglican Ordinariates, includes the verse “O Virgo” as well. This makes the acrostic Vero Cras, meaning Truly Tomorrow.

It may not be tomorrow, but I will post on all of the antiphons between now and Christmas Eve. Let us pray for each other as we make the journey this Advent.

Gotta Start Somewhere

OVirgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.


SPOILER ALERT: the answer to the question, “Mary, did you know?” Is yes, in no uncertain terms. God told her, through the Angel, everything she needed to know. Further, you would not know to ask (or sing) the question at all if she did not know in the first place. You’ve got to start somewhere and God started here. Every human being is born into the world carrying Original Sin. Properly understood this is a weakness or an illness. You may have seen a sunflower turning towards the Sun as the latter moved across the sky. This is caused by some Curious change in the cell structure of the stem which enables the plant to always receive the full force of available sunlight. Imagine, if you will, or sunflower that was missing the gene that allowed it to always turn towards the left. That would be original sin in a sunflower. For all that we would expect it to move, it cannot. For all that we might imagine it to stand in a field with its brothers and sisters desiring to move like them, it cannot. The analogy breaks down here for in reality there is none of us that can turn towards the light: all of us are missing the gene, if you will, that allows us to do so. All the flowers – human souls – in all of history since our first parents failed has been like this: parents cannot pass on more genes than they have.

This failure leaves us unable to turn to God at our weakest moments without his help and inclined to say “no” when the help is offered. It’s a weakness that we all share and – like any social pressure – we feel a “natural, human urge” to not break ranks, to blend in, to be like everyone else: no one wants to be the one sunflower in the field pointing in another direction from everyone else – even if that direction happens to be right.

Jesus was sent to save us from this spiritually congenital failure – and more. In his life, death, resurrection, and ascension he reconnects humanity to the one source, the one life, the one love we all must have in order to live and love properly at all. In the gift of baptism he lets us be open to his grace. In the Eucharist he lets us embody the temple of his flesh in our lives. But it all had to start somewhere.

This is the Divine Mystery of the Holy Virgin.

God came to her and asked her if she would participate in this divine action. He knew the truth of the saying, “My body, my choice.” He would never force her hand in this action. But He also knew that all humans, congenitally, were unfree to make that choice. All humans were slaves to the failure that we are all born with. Mary could say “Yes” but it wouldn’t be a free, open, and full yes. The song “Mary did you know” would be perfect there. And so the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception: from the moment of her conception God gave Mary the grace of Baptism, preserving her free of original sin from the very moment her life began. When Gabriel came to Mary to invite her to participate in salvation, her gift of self was free and total. Her yes was a true yes, a submission to the will of God in a way that we – even after baptism – often have trouble with.

And that yes changed the world.

The story of Jesus starts further back that Mary, of course. We’ve just walked through all the “O” Antiphons and so you know: Jesus comes from Jesse’s family. But even before Jesus is Adonai, the one who spoke to Moses. Jesus is God’s wisdom, forming us out of the dust.

Jesus is the Logos ordering the Chaos, the meaning of all, in all, and through all.

But for everything that Jesus is, Mary is the vessel, the container, the gate. Jesus is the Dawn, Mary the morning star. Jesus is the King, Mary the gates lifting high their heads. Jesus is the water of life, Mary is the well from whence he is drawn. Jesus is the bread of life, Mary is the field in which the grain was grown. Jesus is the new wine, Mary is the chalice. Jesus is the Life, the Zoe, Mary is the womb in which Zoe is birthed for the world.

Her choice for life, for God, for yes had to be freely offered – neither cajoled, nor tricked out of her. And so, it was. Yes, it took God’s grace even so: but it was the grace that makes us truly free from even our own mental misgivings. God gave Mary the freedom to the yes we all need.

And that freedom sets us all free.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

We have reached the end of another series of Advent postins on the Great O Antiphons. Thank you for reading along! I pray you and your family will have a blessed feast – and may 2021 be a tad less interesting for us all.

This Changes Everything

OEmmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.


GOD WITH US: what can that mean? How can the infinite be with us? How can there even be a God – as most folks understand that word – and him be “with us”? Nietzsche rightly point out that having a God With Us means that he can die. He goes on to suggest there for God is dead and that Christians killed him by insisting he enter history. What is this God With Us stuff?

I mentioned in the last post that your very being is a sign that God loves you: you would not exist without that love. I also mentioned the heart or soul, the core of your being. This is actually where God lives in you: the wholy Holy Trinity, living in you, sustaining your being. You cannot be without this. God is with you, like it or not. But that’s not what “Emmanuel” means here. Or is it? In the East, at Compline before the Nativity, the Choir sings “God is with us! Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves. God is with us!” That sounds rather martial until you realize that “understand and submit” is the primary action of faith. The act of belief to which we are called is not merely a doctrinal affirmation. The creed is not a checklist of things: it is descriptive of reality. We commit to a lifetime of growth in “understanding” and ever more deeply “submitting” to this reality in which we find ourselves where “God is with us.” God with us has ever a new meaning:

If God’s first sign of love is our being, what can we say about the world around us, which clearly shares in beingness? Yes, God is present there – albeit in a different order. Only humanity shares fully in the image and likeness, but angels and rocks, seraphim and dolphins, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, everything that lives and moves and has its being in God. All that is is grace. God is with us. It was this way in the Garden and we lost it – or more rightly gave it up.

So then something new had to happen. And it did and God is with us has a new meaning: a Baby. One of us. The God who slobbers. The God who forgets eternity and nurses on his mother’s breast. The God who loves us so much that he poured out all of infinity and became a cell, then two, then four, then eight. How can he love us so much? This is God with us. And acne, and changing voices, and hormones. Neighborhood bullies who won’t let him forget that his mother was pregnant too early. Soldiers that won’t let him forget he’s only a Jew. Traveling Romans who won’t let him forget he’s a hick and the son of a tradesman and that he smells like fish.

God. Wiping his butt with his hand. God with us.

We killed him. And so a new thing had to happen. And it did and God is with us has a new meaning: our daily bread. If this seems like a RETVRN (as the cool kids say) to the way it was in the garden, it is. The very stuff of Creation, the work of human hands, is God. God everywhere and here, walking with us in the shard of the evening or sitting down with us to a nice Sunday brunch.

Now think it through: God, the infinite, eternal, and radiant IS, can enter time, space, and darkness. Yet he is still infinite, eternal, and light himself. He is truth, life, the way, and yet he dies and we consume him. The smallest part of infinity is still infinity though: God is with us and what we are what we eat.

Take, eat. Understand and submit yourself for God is with us! Merry Christmas!

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.