Et Cetera, Et Cetera

The Readings for the Solemnity of All the Saints

Vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat, ex omnibus gentibus, et tribubus, et populis, et linguis : stantes ante thronum, et in conspectu Agni, amicti stolis albis, et palmae in manibus eorum :
I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.

JMJ

Google 144,000. Go on, I’ll wait. There’s so much out there! Some folks think that God’s only going to let 144,000 folks into heaven as if there was only that much room. Others think of it as a symbolic number indicating – again – the limited access of the few saved folks. Still others, in to which camp I used to fall, think of it as an exact number of Jews who will convert just before the 2nd Coming and try to evangelize the world. Hal Lindsey had me convinced of this. Don’t get me started on all that is wrong with the idea.

Yet if these 144,000 are evangelists – or a symbol of the function of Evangelists (which I think it is) then the important part is in the next set of verses: for the Evangelists bring in a “great multitude which no one could count”. That’s not a “limited heaven”: It’s infinity – and beyond!

Today’s feast is a mark of the Unity, the Catholicity of the Church: for we, the Evangelizing servants of God on the earth are united with the great multitude which no one can number, in heaven. This happens at every Mass as we gather around the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: You might not be able to see them with your physical eyes but we are all here, together, around the Altar! When you come forward to receive the Body of Christ, angels are kneeling in awe, your patron saints, and thousands of others whom you do not know – but who know you intimately – are standing with you, praying for you and cheering you on. When the priest says, “The Body of Christ!” and places the host on your tongue, all of heaven responds with a gloriously victorious

Amen! Benedictio, et claritas, et sapientia, et gratiarum actio, honor, et virtus, et fortitudo Deo nostro in saecula saeculorum! Amen! Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

The rafters thunder! The earth quakes! A mortal receives the bread of life, the chalice of slavation, infinity on our tongue.

On All Saints Day we celebrate what we rarely acknowledge: the vast majority of the Church is invisible but we are ever one in Christ. These are our most intimate friends for while they share in the knowledge of Christ they love us, pray for us, beckon us on; sometimes I think they get behind us and push. They have been in this same world, they know what it means to be poor, to have a job, to be afraid, and to be ill. They know about raising children, about being lone, about being hungry, about being persecuted. They know what it means to be all the thing humans can be – and still, they have pushed through to God. One step at a time, this great multitude which no man can number has gained the Victory offers by the Lamb.

And they long for us to join them. In the Office of Readings for today St Bernard of Clairvaux said:

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Let us not be indifferent! Let us not ignore them! Let us be thankful for their prayers, but let us emulate them as well: for they with us pray for all the souls of the departed. They, with us, pray for the Pope, the Bishops, and our clergy, the living 144,000 we have today. The saints, with us, pray for the peace of the world and the Church. And with us, they pray for the coming of the Great Day when all the Church shall finally be reunited as one in one place before the Throne.

Alla famiglia! A Blessed Feast!

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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Contemplata Aliis Tradere

JMJ

The Readings for the 8va Day of Christmas, 
The Solemnity of the Mother of God:

Maria autem conservabat omnia verba hæc, conferens in corde suo.
But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.

How does Luke know this? Because Mary told him…

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “Vita contemplativa simpliciter est melior quam activa quae occupatur circa corporales actus, sed vita activa secundum quam aliquis praedicando et docendo contemplata aliis tradit, est perfectior quam vita quae solum contemplatur, quia talis vita praesupponit abundantiam contemplationis. Et ideo Christus talem vitam elegit” (Summa Theologiae, III, Q. 40, A. 1, Ad 2). A translation is: “the contemplative life is, absolutely speaking, more perfect than the active life, because the latter is taken up with bodily actions: yet that form of active life in which a man, by preaching and teaching, delivers to others the fruits of his contemplation, is more perfect than the life that stops at contemplation, because such a life is built on an abundance of contemplation, and consequently such was the life chosen by Christ.” (Quote the Wiki)

I’m not going to dare an essay on the Dominican contemplative tradition here, but only note that if St Thomas is correct about Jesus choice of life, then Jesus learned it from his mother.

It is traditional on New Year’s Day (or maybe last night) for Mother Church to sing a Te Deum for all of Last Year.

Yesterday at Mass I heard a Latin Te Deum sung after Mass in this way and I was thinking of all the things that God has blessed me with in 2017.  And as I contemplatively tap danced around the year thinking of this event or that, it finally dawned on me that I was doing this in the Catholic Church! I thank God daily that it is so. Here I have found a family and it is the family I would have chosen.

For what will you sing Te Deum ?

Te Deum laudámus: te Dominum confitémur.
Te ætérnum Patrem omnis terra venerátur.
Tibi omnes Angeli; tibi cæli et univérsae potestátes.
Tibi Chérubim et Séraphim incessábili voce proclámant:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth.
Pleni sunt cæli et terra majestátis glóriæ tuæ.
Te gloriósus Apostolórum chorus;
Te Prophetárum laudábilis númerus;
Te Mártyrum candidátus laudat exércitus.
Te per orbem terrárum sancta confitétur Ecclésia:
Patrem imménsæ majestátis;
Venerándum tuum verum et únicum Fílium;
Sanctum quoque Paráclitum Spíritum.
Tu Rex glóriæ, Christe.
Tu Patris sempitérnus es Fílius.
Tu ad liberándum susceptúrus hóminem, non horruísti Vírginis úterum.
Tu, devícto mortis acúleo,
    aperuísti credéntibus regna cælórum.
Tu ad déxteram Dei sedes, in glória Patris.
Judex créderis esse ventúrus.
Te ergo quǽsumus, tuis fámulis súbveni,
    quos pretióso sánguine redemísti.
Ætérna fac cum sanctis tuis in glória numerári.

[added later, mainly from Psalm verses:]
Salvum fac pópulum tuum, Dómine, et bénedic hæreditáti tuæ.
Et rege eos, et extólle illos usque in ætérnum.
Per síngulos dies benedícimus te.
Et laudámus nomen tuum in sǽculum, et in sǽculum sǽculi.
Dignáre, Dómine, die isto sine peccáto nos custodíre.
Miserére nostri, Dómine, miserére nostri.
Fiat misericórdia tua, Dómine, super nos, quemádmodum sperávimus in te.

In te, Dómine, sperávi: non confúndar in ætérnum.

We praise thee, O God : we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee : the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud : the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim : continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy : Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty : of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world : doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man : thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
    thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God : in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come : to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants :
    whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints : in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save thy people : and bless thine heritage.
Govern them : and lift them up for ever.
Day by day : we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name : ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord : to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us : have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us : as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted : let me never be confounded.