St Mary in the Sabbath

Inset from the icon, “Captive Daughter of Zion” by Robert Lentz, OFM,
in the author’s icon corner and available here.

JMJ

IN THE WESTERN DAILY OFFICE and Mass there is a tradition of commemorating the Blessed Virgin on Saturdays outside of Lent. There are propers for the office as well as for votive Masses offered on these days. In the older Western Rite, this commemoration began with Vespers on Friday night with a special hymn and prayer, it included readings in the Night Office, and then special hymnody and prayer at Lauds on Saturday morning. This tradition dates back to at least the Tenth Century, but it may be earlier. A form of this may be familiar to the reader as the First Saturdays Devotion. There are a number of ideas about why Marian Saturdays might have happened and also a number of ideas about “What it means”. You can read some of them here or here. This post is only a meditation on the fittingness of the idea: I’m not being a historian here but rather meditating on Mary and the Sabbath together. BY way of warning, I’m crossing the streams again: today it’s Byzantine and Western liturgy plus the Jewishness of Mary and Jesus. (I love the icon of the Captive Daughter of Zion that heads this post: the artist has created a visual map of this meditation.)

First, it’s important to see the Sabbath clearly: it’s not just a negative prohibition against work. God rested on the Sabbath Day. The invitation is not to “don’t do that” but rather to “be like God”. In fact, if you read the Genesis account carefully Man and Woman are created on the 6th Day, God says, “your job will be as gardeners” and then Day 1 of their job is the Sabbath! Your job starts today so take a break… In very real ways, the Sabbath is not “the Weekend” for man: rather it’s the beginning. (Yes, it’s Day Seven for God.)

Far from being prohibited to “do anything”, Adam and Eve are starting from a place of trust. Humanity’s assigned place at the pinnacle of Creation begins with a resting moment of contemplation which they share with God. God is Father who provides: man needs to trust in God, not in the labor of his own hands. Yes, we have work to do but in due time, not now. Sit. Breath. Trust.

In the Liturgical East, the Great Sabbath is the day before Pascha. This also comes from Judaism where the Great Sabbath (Hebrew: Shabbat HaGadol) is the Sabbath that occurs before Passover (Hebrew: Pesach). On this day is commemorated the descent of Jesus into Hell as Jesus’ body rests in the tomb of St Joseph. It’s this resting in the tomb that’s seen as a typological fulfilment of the Sabbath.

Using the same typological reading of Sabbath rest, let’s spin the clock backward: as God-Made-Man, Jesus must recapitulate all of humanity’s journey and so – as with Adam and Eve – Jesus begins his “job” as redeemer resting in the womb of Mary for nine months. Mary is – in her very self as Mother of God – a type of the Sabbath. To commemorate Mary on the Sabbath is to commemorate the Sabbath on Sabbath! As was mentioned at the top of the post, the devotion used to begin on Friday night at Vespers (that is, sunset). It makes each “Weekend” a beginning: for to start with the Divine Rest, and then to celebrate the Resurrection on the First Day was a real beginning. As my pastor says, “I can’t think of a better way to start the week…”

Shabbat Shalom!

Even this is for our good.

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Saturday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Omnia cooperantur in bonum.
All things work for the good.

This is one place where I feel woefully weak in my faith. For I need to have all my ducks in a row all the time. Yes, it’s true: I could up and move across the country tomorrow. But if I do it’s because I have all my ducks in a row and, “I got this.”  I know I usually make it look like “God, you gotta miracle? Cuz I need one…” but the reality is if I trusted God more, I might have actually stayed put and acted rather than running away.


In hindsight no one would be happy: but I might have stayed in Western North Carolina, when the Parish and the Monastery melted away… and become Roman Catholic just there. B16 had come on board, everything was looking rosy, Asheville was even doing parades with the Blessed Sacrament!  


But I’ll take my ducks and run away… you know though: God even uses that. I had a birthday phone call last week from a friend whose life was always in chaos because she just had one thing she could NOT get at work. After years she got it… and that gave her more responsibility, and that put her life in even more chaos. Thing is she was my housemate. We might have hung on a bit longer if she saw this work opportunity coming. But lo, when it got there, it was even worse than before. My departure – my fear of commitment – turned out to be something God used for my good: in this case, my sanity.


I’ve nearly never come clean about all the times I’ve run away. But mostly: it was because I couldn’t trust God to bring good out of where I was or else, I was too chicken to take the actions I knew I needed to take so running away was the only thing left. For example, when I became Orthodox I was living with this guy. I was trying to find a way to be Orthodox and hold on to this guy. I couldn’t… so I left. Moved to Asheville, because I couldn’t make the break up either. So, when I wrote “I was in hell” I was living with this Dude. And no small art of my hell was made up of not being willing to act and to trust God when I acted.


So I ran away. 


Which God used: bringing dozens of people into my life, bringing friends I’d never have had otherwise, reconnecting me with my parents (because of proximity), reconnecting me with some sense of adult responsibility: I came away from there with my first driver’s license and my first car. And I got there with my first sense of things I can’t do any more and be Orthodox or Catholic. It took a while to sink in, but the lesson was learned.


I’m not sure why this lesson shows up on the Nativity of the BVM, but maybe because her parents were barren for so long that they are a reminder: even when life isn’t going “right” it is still going God’s way.

My formation director in the Dominican Tertiaries encouraged me by saying that God used all the things I’d been through to bring me to holiness. I’ll chew on that. God uses all things for our Good – which means for our acquisition of virtue, our salvation, our union with him. As St Paul says, later in this chapter.

Certus sum enim quia neque mors, neque vita, neque angeli, neque principatus, neque virtutes, neque instantia, neque futura, neque fortitudo, neque altitudo, neque profundum, neque creatura alia poterit nos separare a caritate Dei, quae est in Christo Jesu Domino nostro.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Not one thing that can happen to us can part us from God. 

But this is where my faith is weakest, and I have more than trouble here: trusting that things are going not “as God planned” but rather “As God is saving me”. 

The Final Mystery of the Rosary

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Queenship of Mary
Wednesday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Alleluia. Vivus est enim sermo Dei, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum cordis. 
Alleluia. The word of God is living and effective, able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.

It’s tempting to take this reading about the bad shepherds and go someplace dark. It’s tempting to take the bit about the generous landlord and the non-union workers and go someplace political.

Even the Alleluia verse about Jesus can be seen as a threat. It can almost sound like “He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.”

Yet the very Logos of God – Jesus himself – is alive and present in this messed up place. There is hope. God says he will shepherd his people himself. It is the feast of the Queenship of Mary: and that’s worth so much hope, so much joy…

I’m new here. The whole “convert” moment still has that new car smell for me. Mindful, of course, that my conversion came in spite of this scandal, which was on the front burner when I was leaving ECUSA. Having decided I was wrong then to let my pride keep me away, it was sort of an inoculation preventing such an event. And so I’m thankful that I can celebrate this feast with the titles lavished on her in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin:

Queen of Angels, 
Queen of Patriarchs, 
Queen of Prophets, 
Queen of Apostles, 
Queen of Martyrs, 
Queen of Confessors, 
Queen of Virgins, 
Queen of all Saints, 
Queen conceived without original sin, 
Queen assumed into heaven, 
Queen of the most holy rosary,
Queen of the family, 
Queen of peace.

And this Queen is also mother, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, as the Litany reminds us. And:

Mother of divine grace, 
Mother most pure, 
Mother most chaste, 
Mother inviolate, 
Mother undefiled, 
Mother most amiable, 
Mother most admirable, 
Mother of good counsel, 
Mother of our Creator, 
Mother of our Redeemer.

This lady is praying for us in heaven. And she’s concerned about us. Not just abstractly, but as her children, the sisters and brothers of her only son. Is any mother concerned about her children only in the abstract? No. She remembers us each. And so the visionaries at Lourdes, at Fatima, at La Sallete, at Walsingham, at Penrhys, at Glastonbury, and at Knock all remind us. In our sadness, in her sadness for us, she comes to us as your own mother would come to you. Or, perhaps, as your own mother never did. And Francis (and other Saints) have taken God as their Father and this lady as their Mother.

She is the Joy of All Who Sorrow, the sign of God’s triumph, even in darkness. She is the shower of the way, and the gate of heaven, the unploughed field that produced the heavenly manna, the ladder, and the lampstand.

She is the mother of all in the Church and of the Church herself, the bride of Christ as Mary is the Bride of the Holy Spirit. So on this feast I’m joyously letting her pray. For I know she does. And I shall let her reign, too. In my heart as she reigns in the highest heaven.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

The True Story of Sleeping Beauty

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Astitit regina a dextris tuis in vestitu deaurato, circumdata varietate.
The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir.

Let me tell you a love story. This is a real love story, not a romance, such as we pass off today as love; nor is it a “chick flick” sort of story, where things are all feelings and mush. Yet it is not a fairy story, for this is real. And since it deals with real things, with real love, it is not just a story of a man and a woman, not just boy meets girl. For real love does not just change the hearts of two people, like some blushing beauty and the quarterback at a football game. Real love changes the world. And so it must start with two ordinary people. This story involves a princess who would be a queen ere long, and a king who would die, and the king’s son would would also reign. But I get ahead of myself. 


It starts in the most ordinary way: an arranged marriage and a baby coming, awkwardly, before the wedding. This Baby is God the Son, and I don’t want to tip too many cards but you should know the Baby is Jesus, and the princess is Mary. And the arranged wedding is with Joseph. See her father, Joachim, place Mary’s hand in Joseph’s. Arranged marriages are where love can blossom first and foremost. We have it in our heads that Romance is Love. But it is not. And Romance does not give way to love. Romance is your hormones running amok. We are so confused by this that when the hormones stop running, we think love has ended. We take great pains to continue the run… but an arranged marriage with no pretense of romance, must needs give rise to duty.

Then Real Love, the Love that this story is about, grows directly from duty. Real love is self-sacrifice, and even death. Real love sings most gloriously just before it dies, and makes of an entire life an aria of surpassing pain and light. And then it offers it all up to God.

So Joseph, who was put into an arranged marriage, was there as a middle aged man getting a young second wife, or else as a teenager, but either way, this man discovered his duty to God coming first even in his marriage bed. And in that duty, the man arose in strength  of the Spirit, and loved his wife and her son, giving glory to the Royal line he embodied, this poorest son of King David. He was providing safety for them both, and a home. His life wrapped up in their lives, and theirs in his. True love changed him forever.

Yet he died. And his wife, the Queen, mourned him and never married again, raising his children and her own son, and caring for all. And Jesus, too, knowing the death of his father, and the pain that young children have over things they do not understand, learned what it is when God loses by death what he loves in life. And Jesus cared for his mother in her loss. And God knows what it is to see a parent grieve, when we children cannot offer the right comfort. God knows the pain that we feel. I don’t just mean God understands, or in his wisdom “gets” it. I mean, damn it all, God has actually done these very things.

And Love – real love – changes the world.

The boy becomes a man. The woman ages. The prince rises as King in David’s line after the man who fostered him. And as something else, the Anointed of God. And the woman, the Queen watching from the side, knows where all this is leading.

And when she comes again to the fore, she is standing before his very throne and a little to the right, as reigning from the tree, he is slain. And the King gives us all his mother. And she becomes our mother too.

Again she mourns. For her love, a mother’s duty, is now slain. And she does not understand, does not know why God has singled her out for this grief. Her heart is pierced by seven swords and God now must watch in ways we cannot understand, while his own mother mourns the loss of her only son. God, who knows all things, know now, this, too, from the inside. 

Something new happens now.  In tradition, the Resurrection – which we all see coming – is depicted as the harrowing of hell, with Christ holding the hands of Adam and Eve as signs of all humanity rising. If you will, however, see Christ bursting the gates of hell and finding first his Daddy who is proud beyond a father’s knowing, and there are tears of joy in that place where never joy has been. And in the clasped arms of love the darkness is destroyed, and hell washes away in peals of Dad and Son laughing at how painful it was, but it was only the end of night. Real love changes everything.

Now this love story has one more act. After the Resurrection, after the Ascension and Pentecost, and after more time than the tradition will let us know. When the Queen grew old beyond need, and the Church was ready to blossom forth. She, too, died. And her apostolic sons, given to her by Jesus, gathered around her, prayed, and wept. The last of that Holy Family now gone.

But the icons tell a different story. How, as she lay falling asleep, the walls of time and space parted, and her Son came to receive her into his arms. And she saw him, there, with Angels and Powers of all, singing her praise and the praise of the Son she bore. And as they turned to go, a man was there too. See the Son, Jesus, place his mother Mary’s hand in his father Joseph’s. That reunion was beyond all joys ever known. Then Joseph, Mary, and Jesus leave her house on earth together. For Christ does not leave us as we are, nor can the world be the same after.

The Holy Family is a sign of our rebirth, of our life beyond. True love – real love – changes not just two hearts, but the entire world, all space and time. Once upon a time is now: if you will but discern the path of real love.

A blessed feast!


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