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By: Erin Kisley

Have you ever heard the words, “You May Now Kiss the Cross,” at a wedding? If you’re not living in Siroki-Brijeg, Herzegovina, there’s a decent chance that your answer is no. These words are part of a beautiful Croatian marriage tradition from this village that is slowly making its way throughout Europe and to the United States.[1]

CalcuttaHerald…A tradition that, while neither of us claims a Croatian heritage, Joe and I have decided to incorporate into our nuptials.

On our wedding day (shameless countdown update: we are 10 weeks away!), Joe and I will bring a crucifix with us to the altar. Our priest will bless it as I place my right hand on the crucifix and Joe places his hand over mine. He will cover our hands with his stole as we declare our vows to be faithful to one another. Then, together, we kiss the greatest image of love, the Cross.

While this probably makes us sound much holier than we are, the truth is, you don’t have to be up for canonization to acknowledge a reality that drives many modern couples apart: suffering. It’s no secret that we live in a culture that finds every excuse to avoid it. The wounds of financial strain, infertility, infidelity and bad days are made “better” by credit cards, in vitro fertilization, divorce and the like.

Yet, if we desire to experience the fullness of love and the true meaning of marriage, we will see our crosses as the means of getting ourselves and our families to Heaven. For it is the cross that helps us to grow in maturity, self-discipline and true charity. This powerful Croatian tradition reminds us that if the bride and groom abandon their cross, they are essentially abandoning Jesus and His plan for their lives.

After the ceremony (and the photos, reception and goodbyes), we will bring the crucifix back and give it a place of honor in our home. It will become the focal point of our family. When misfortune or conflict arise, with faith, we will seek help there, before the Cross. We’ll get on our knees and in front of Jesus will weep our tears, pour out our hearts, and seek the help of Him who died for us.

Isn’t this beautiful? Did I mention that Siroki-Brijeg has no recorded divorces? Not one.  Coincidence? I think not.

In his recently issued pastoral letter on artificial contraception, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., writes: “We live in a world short on love. Today love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying. Material things and comfort and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness. The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning.”

I ask: In whom can we find a greater example of love and meaning than Our Jesus, crucified?


[1] Loveoffering.com, 2002.

 

This is the ninth installment of Erin’s weekly Wednesday series on marriage preparation and its inherent struggles. An engaged woman at the humble age of 26, Erin hopes her experience will encourage and teach. Her final posts will culminate in the event that marks the purpose of it all—taking her wedding vows and tying the knot on June 27, 2014.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

At our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we hear these familiar words: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest! (Mt 21:9) We know them, of course, from the Mass. But to appreciate their significance in that context – and beyond – we need to understand both their original meaning and their place on Palm Sunday.

Palm SundayFirst, their original context. The words come from Psalm 118, commonly understood to have been composed in the 6th century B.C. for the dedication of the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. The Psalm was subsequently used in pilgrimage processions up to the Temple for the Feast of Booths. As the people ascended to the Temple they sang of the Lord’s fidelity and goodness to His people. Reaching the Temple gates, they cried out, Open the gates of righteousness; I will enter and thank the Lord (118:19). And then the priests would greet the pilgrims: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord (Ps 118:26).

So that phrase, so familiar to us in reference to Jesus Christ, originally referred to the Temple pilgrims. Only those who approached in the name of the Lord – that is, having entrusted themselves to the Lord – could enter the Temple. Over the centuries, however, the meaning of the phrase changed. It came to be associated with the long-awaited Messiah’s Temple entrance. By our Lord’s time the verse was charged with Messianic meaning. Thus for the crowds to cry out Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest! was not just to greet Jesus, but to proclaim Him as the Messiah. No wonder then that the Pharisees objected and asked Him to silence the crowds (cf. Lk 19:38).

So the crowds used this phrase for our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem. But Jesus Himself applies it to another event: His second coming. After the Palm Sunday entrance our Lord laments over Jerusalem as He foresees its coming destruction:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Mt 23:37-39).

They failed to recognize Him as the Messiah when He first entered Jerusalem – mercifully and meekly, riding on a donkey. As a result they will recognize Him only when He comes in power and glory, for judgment, on the last day. Then they will say with fear and trembling what they should have said earlier with joy and exultation: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

The verse therefore has these three meanings: the original, centuries before Christ’s birth; the messianic, as He enters Jerusalem; and the final, when He comes in glory. The Church’s Liturgy, however, adds still another meaning. In the Mass, we use the verse to acknowledge another coming of the Lord, between Palm Sunday and the Day of Judgment. As the Catechism explains, the acclamation “is taken up by the Church in the ‘Sanctus’ of the Eucharistic liturgy that introduces the memorial of the Lord’s Passover” (CCC 559). Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, we pray as we prepare to encounter Him in the Eucharist. In the Extraordinary Form the singing of the Sanctus is often divided such that these words come after the Consecration. Thus immediately after Jesus has been made present sacramentally in the Eucharist, the choir responds on behalf of all, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Whatever the details of the various traditions, the common practice is clear: to greet the Eucharistic entrance of Jesus as the crowds greeted Him in Jerusalem and as all will hail Him on the last day.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem centuries ago. Now we greet Him in the Eucharist as He again comes to us humbly, meekly. He comes to us not visible, but hidden under the form of bread and wine; not riding on an ass, but (even more humbly) in the hands of a priest. At every Mass we have the opportunity to imitate the crowds in Jerusalem that hailed Him in His meekness. Interestingly, the ancient entrance chant for Palm Sunday refers to the children (pueri hebraeorum) who ran out to meet our Lord. That detail indicates the disposition we should have at Mass. We ought to be as simple and unaffected as children in greeting our Lord. Leaving aside all sophistications and pretensions, knowing full well our smallness and need for a Savior, we sing to Him plainly and joyfully.

Jesus will return to judge the world at a day and hour we do not know. Our greeting Him at Mass is ordered toward that moment. We greet His humble entrance at Mass so that we can greet His glorious and powerful return at the end of the world. Indeed, the manner of our greeting Him on the last day depends on how simply and confidently we say at Mass, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

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By: Natalie Plumb

For once, a Hollywood star finally got it all right. With lyrics that claim:

I get to be the other half of you

…This is certainly nothing like a Rihanna or Miley Cyrus love song.

It’s pretty much a wedding vow.

When I first heard it pop on the radio while driving, I had to do a double-take. I recognized Sara Bareilles’ voice, but it seemed odd that a song so profound, and with lyrics so true to the definition of authentic love, would be playing on just any ol’ station (that doesn’t cater its broadcasts to family-friendly values, or things of the sort).

In marriage, a couple becomes one flesh. …Emotionally, financially, spiritually, intellectually, and a whole bunch of more -ally words. The couple becomes one. Hence, I get to be the other half of you. I get to be part of you. We get to become one flesh. All of this…in a pop song?

But there it was on 94.7 FM (which is all about “Today’s best hits, without the rap”). And blasting because I turned the volume way up.

This truly is a lifelong love letter that bears an uncanny resemblance to faithful prose a young groom might write to his sweetheart bride (or vice versa).

People are already claiming “I Choose You” for their walk-down-the-aisle. They are already ecstatic about what the lyrics in this song mean.

If love is like this, then who can stop it? If love truly means I will become yours and you will become mine, as Chris Tomlin proclaims, too, in his Our Godthen who could ever stop us?

If love really means…

Let the bough break, let it come down crashing
Let the sun fade out to a dark sky
I can’t say I’d even notice it was absent

…because the person you love is overwhelming any cares you might have in this world, then perhaps there is some greater love out there for each of us. Maybe what pop culture calls love’s illusion isn’t an illusion at all.

Maybe the longing in our hearts for this kind of love — maybe every female’s, and even male’s, attraction to — this kind of song is because there is something written on our hearts that calls us to something more. …To a Greater Love. …To a love that only a lifelong love song – an eternity, in fact, with Him – could fulfill.

The waiting sacrifice it talks about (And as long as it takes…I will prove my love to you) is unmistakably similar to the tone Christ takes with us as He approaches us daily, knocking at each of our doors.

I’ll unfold before you

In fact, He would rather die on a cross than spend eternity without you.

I could live by the light in your eyes

We all have doubt at one time or another in our hearts that love — that God — can change anything for us.

There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me you could not come true
Just love’s illusion

But the transition that takes place after this love is found is — just like that of two lovers joined in the Sacrament of Matrimony, or in the taking of Holy Vows with the Spouse of Christ — is life-altering.

But then you found me and everything changed
And I believe in something again

Not only that, but following this transition, the spouse desires solely to shout their union to the nations.

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you
I choose you

Let your spouse, and allow Christ, to be the other half of you.

Lyrics to “I Choose You” in full:

Let the bough break, let it come down crashing
Let the sun fade out to a dark sky
I can’t say I’d even notice it was absent
Cause I could live by the light in your eyes

I’ll unfold before you
What I’ve strung together
The very first words
Of a lifelong love letter

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you
(Yeah)

There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me you could not come true
Just love’s illusion
But then you found me and everything changed
And I believe in something again

My whole heart
Will be yours forever
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you

We are not perfect
We’ll learn from our mistakes
And as long as it takes
I will prove my love to you

I am not scared of the elements
I am under-prepared, but I am willing
And even better
I get to be the other half of you

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you
I choose you

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

“Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.

From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for you, O God, are my strength.” Psalm 43:1

This Sunday is the fifth Sunday of Lent, formerly known as Passion Sunday.  On this day, the tone of the readings and prayers for Mass becomes more intense as we enter the last two weeks of Lent.  The tradition of veiling statues and sacred images, still observed in many parishes, also conveys this change of tone.  In times past, this Sunday was also known as Iudica Sunday, after the first words of the entrance antiphon: Iudica me, Deus – literally, Judge me, O God.  In the current translation it says, Give me justice, O God (Psalm 43:1).  This title is probably not as familiar as Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday.  For some reason, Judge Me Sunday never really caught on.

But this verse is placed at the head of the Mass for a reason – and it merits our attention.

As is the case with other psalms, this one has three distinct historical “moments.”  First, the original composition by David, who appealed to the Lord to deliver him from the hostile nations in which he found himself.  Second, fulfillment in the Person and life of Jesus.  As a faithful Jew our Lord would have prayed this Psalm.  Perhaps He prayed these words in the Garden of Gethsemane: Give me justice, O God…  Whatever the case, He speaks them perfectly, as no one else can.  He alone can appeal perfectly to the Father to be delivered from a faithless nation.  He alone merits to be rescued from the deceitful and cunning.

Third, the continued fulfillment of the verse in the life of the Church.  As the Body of Christ the Church gives voice to this cry for justice and for deliverance from her enemies.  In His Body, our Lord continues to suffer persecution and cries out, Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.  From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for you, O God, are my strength.

Pope Francis ConfessionThere is still another way of understanding this verse: our own personal praying of it.  Indeed, it serves as a good way to prepare for the Sacrament of Penance.  The Douay Rheims translation phrases it powerfully: Judge me, O God.  Yes, in a sense when we go to confession we invite God to judge us.  We anticipate the final judgment by accusing ourselves.  One manner of beginning confession is to say: “I accuse myself of the following sins.”  We desire His judgment because we know that it is tempered by mercy.  The current translation – Vindicate me, O God – gets at the same point.  We enter the confessional to be vindicated – not from any external persecution or enemy but from something far worse: our own sins.

Plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. In a sense, we confess our sins in order to plead our cause.  By sin we fall into the faithlessness of the world.  We depart from God’s People and take up with the faithless.  By Confession we ask that God correct this – that He Himself plead our cause as children of God to be brought back home.  We desire that He (as the DR translation says) distinguish us from the faithless, most importantly from our fallen selves.  Indeed, Penance is very much a matter of distinguishing.  We distinguish our selves from our sinful actions.  We distinguish the sinner – namely each of us – from the sin.  And knowing our own actions to be insufficient, we beg God to distinguish, to separate us from what is incompatible with being children of God.

From the deceitful and cunning rescue me.  Technically, this is a plea to be rescued from the one who is deceitful and cunning.  Each of us can probably think of some such person in our lives.  But the greatest threat to us – the most deceitful and cunning – is not outside of us, but within.  Something within us – what Saint Paul calls the “unspiritual man” (1 Cor 2:14) – leads us into sin.  Our fallen human nature, deceiving and cunning, makes us our own worst enemies.  On the path to sin we invent all kinds of justifications and rationalizations for our immorality.  We deceive ourselves; we cunningly blind ourselves to the wickedness we embrace.  Thus, we need to be delivered from ourselves: From my deceitfulness and cunning rescue me.

In two weeks we unite ourselves with Christ in His Passion. To do so we must know what it means to be persecuted by sin.  And we cannot come to that realization until and unless we confess our own sinfulness and acknowledge ourselves as our own persecutors, our own worst enemies.  There are still plenty of opportunities for Confession in the remaining two weeks.  If you have not done so this Lent, make a good confession.  Beg Him to vindicate you, to plead your cause, to rescue – and thus say to Him: You, O God, are my strength.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

“We do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, Who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that His hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Carlow Cathedral - St. Patrick Preaching to the Kings

Carlow Cathedral – St. Patrick Preaching to the Kings

Now that we are sufficiently distant from the annual Saint Patrick Day’s silliness of celebrating a Catholic Saint and culture by abandoning Lenten discipline and indulging the flesh, let us give that great saint due honor by benefiting from his spiritual wisdom.  In the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, he invokes God’s power against, among many other things, “every knowledge that blinds the soul of man.”  Some translations have it as the knowledge that “binds” the soul of man, or “corrupts” or “endangers man’s body and soul.”  Whatever the translation, the petition is the same: to be shielded against a knowledge that brings not benefit but blindness, binding, corruption, and danger.

It is a shocking invocation especially for the modern mind, as we tend to think that knowledge is always good.  “Knowledge is power,” we foolishly parrot.  No, knowledge is knowledge, and the inordinate desire for it can lead us, as it did Adam and Eve, to grave evil.  Virtue is power (literally, coming from the Latin for power, virtus).  The man who has knowledge but no virtue might be powerful – in the same way an errant missile is.  He might also be sitting around being knowledgeable and benefiting no one.

We find this kind of knowledge in the Pharisees, whose familiarity with Scripture puffed them up and blinded them to the truths of Christ.  “Have you not read?” Jesus asks them repeatedly.  Of course they had read the scriptures.  They knew them backwards and forwards.  But they knew the scriptures with a haughty knowledge that blinded them to the deeper truths contained therein.  It was a knowledge that bound them in their arrogance and blinded them to our Lord’s words.  To confound them Jesus speaks in parables – those riddles accessible only to those who acknowledge their need to be taught, their need to learn, and that they do not know it all.

Saint Paul likewise saw the danger of this knowledge without virtue.  Writing to the Corinthians he warns, “‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1).  This is the knowledge of the know-it-all, the man whose knowledge prompts him to look down on others and consider himself somehow immune from falling.  To such a man the Apostle says, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor 3:18-19).

Another version of this blinding knowledge is related to the vice of curiositas.  It is this vice, this inordinate desire for knowledge, that binds so many to the 24-hour news cycle and information glut.  We think that by consuming more facts and figures we will be freer, more powerful – more “in the know.”  In reality, we only become more enmeshed in the affairs of the world. We find it more difficult to lift our heads above the flow of information and look at higher things.

The kind of knowledge that truly enlightens and therefore frees is the knowledge that we receive.  When we do not grasp (as Adam and Eve grasped for the fruit tree of the knowledge of good and evil) but instead receive reverently the truth about things, then we dispose ourselves not only for knowledge but also for wisdom.  This is the way of children, always responding to the world with an attitude of wonder.  They see the world as a place to marvel at and to be enlightened about – not as something to be seized and conquered.  Our quest for knowledge must be the childlike path of reverence and wonder.  So it is that that highest knowledge is a gift of the Holy Spirit – a gift not to be grasped but to be received by children.

The truth is not something we conquer but something we dispose ourselves to receive.  We are not its masters but its servants.  Through the intercession of Saint Patrick may the Lord deliver us from every knowledge that corrupts!

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By: Kathleen Yacharn

As a child, Mary was a mysterious, intimidating figure for me. Her perfection, her holiness, and her requests seemed beyond my natural abilities. To me she appeared impossible to please, asking for constant prayer and rejection of sin and, later as I read of warnings in her apparitions, even unreasonable. I wasn’t even a particularly wayward child, but much like everyone else, often fell short in my daily life. I was something of a scaredy-cat then and am still prey to occasional thoughts of worry or anxiety today.

I would think, “It is so easy for Mary to be good, she had no original sin, she was the only person in the world who could follow God’s will so completely.” Horrible, right? But as a young adult and teen going to school in an increasingly bizarre and changing environment, it seemed that sin was around every corner and that humans just weren’t strong enough to fight it.

Over time, and especially after becoming a mother, I see that though Mary appeared so stern and removed from me then, looking at her through the lens of her motherhood and her actions, not only through the lens of her queenship and freedom from sin, gives a much more accurate and hopeful picture. Looking at Mary as normal woman and mother, her actions show her true beautiful spirit and belie her constancy of love and charity. If Mary, our mother, can do it, why can’t I?

Mary is considerate, as we see in the Wedding Feast at Cana. She thoughtfully asked Jesus for help, hoping to spare their hosts embarrassment. She visited Elizabeth to help her through the end of her pregnancy, despite being pregnant with Jesus herself! When I was pregnant with my children, it really didn’t occur to me to do anything charitable for others. Mary’s acts of charity throughout the Gospel speak to her selflessness and love for those in her life.

She clearly was facemadonna of rosesd with sin and temptation throughout her life. She may have experienced fear and anxiety when she conceived Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, or again on an arduous trip to Bethlehem, or again on the flight with her newborn into Egypt, or again when she and Joseph lost track of Jesus. Yet despite these frightening events, she never sinned. After she found Him in the temple, Jesus asked her, “why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Mary reflected on these things and brought Jesus home. Let me tell you, my son would’ve gotten a very different response!

Lastly, consider how Mary watched her son’s crucifixion and death, but did not despair or lose hope. This last reflection may be the most difficult of all, as every mother’s deepest fears involve losing her children to suffering, sickness, or death. Having lost her spouse, St. Joseph, and then her holy and divine son, Jesus, she followed her son’s command to be a mother to John, and in Acts we see her in the company of the Disciples for prayer (Acts 1:14). We only know for certain after this that she was assumed into heaven. Despite her suffering and outliving her husband and son, Mary continued to live in perfect harmony with God until He brought her to be with Him in heaven.

Considering the messages in her apparitions and the warnings attributed to her, I only have to look at myself in my role as a mother. How many times have I told my son what he should or shouldn’t do? And how many times is he told that he has to do something because it’s for his own good? Mary, in all of her grace and freedom from sin, is not divine but purely human. As difficult as it may seem to me, she simply followed God’s will for her, and lived a pure and holy life. Seeing us, her children, wander towards sin and away from God can only bring her pain. She is only stern and grave concerning sin because sin is not a small matter, but an eternal one.

Though she was preserved from original sin, Mary was inherently no different from you and me. In her earthly life, she showed strength of character that allowed her to perfectly follow and trust in the will of God. The image above, Madonna of Roses by Bouguereau, is my favorite because it shows her holding Jesus as a toddler with complete serenity and strength. Anyone who has held a child like this knows how uncomfortable it is to hold them in this awkward position. In the picture we see her face completely at ease, and only her fingers show the strength she is using to hold her son. Mary shows us that we can be afraid, we can be anxious, we can experience great sorrow, all while trusting in the complete goodness of God and His plan for us. Following God’s will means trying every day, little by little, to love others more, to reject sin every time, and to be completely open to His love for us. If Mary can do it, why can’t we?

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

What is holiness? Last week we considered it as “otherness.” In addition to this dimension, Saint Thomas identifies another. It is what he calls firmness — the “firmness…required for the mind to be applied to God.” What he calls firmness we may fairly regard as wholeness. To be holy means to be whole and entire, undivided and integrated. Such is the firmness that enables us to apply our minds to God.

WebUpload_MG_5994-wWe find this wholeness in God Himself, first and foremost. God is one. There is no division in Him, no parts or pieces. When Scripture recounts God’s interior conversations (e.g. “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26)…”My heart recoils within me” (Hos 11:8b)), it is to put things in terms we can understand — not because God needs to come to agreement with Himself or because the Persons of the Trinity need to hash things out before making a decision.

The doctrine of the Trinity — seemingly so contrary to oneness — in fact enhances this dimension of God’s holiness. God as a community of Persons does not violate but in fact deepens the meaning of His oneness, His wholeness. The oneness of the Triune God is not the solitary oneness of a bachelor (although that would be a fair description of Islam’s Allah). It is the sacred oneness, wholeness of a community of Persons — of love.

At the Incarnation, God extends this dimension of holiness to our human nature. In the Person of Jesus Christ there is no division between the divine and the human. And, perhaps more amazing to us, there is no division within His human nature. His body and soul, intellect and will, His passions all form one undivided whole — as God intended our human nature to be. Contrary to modern depictions, our Lord was never conflicted or at odds with Himself. He never had an identity crisis or had to find Himself. Indeed, what drew people to our Lord was precisely this wholeness and integrity. He was not one thing today and another tomorrow, nor did He speak or act this way to that crowd and that way to this crowd. Even the Pharisees sought Him out because of this integrity — because, as an older translation has them say, “neither carest thou for any man” (Mt 22:16b). They could not tempt Him from His mission because there was no division within Him to exploit.

Holy TrinityEven our Lord’s agony in the garden — which some have tried to make an instance of division — even that witnesses to His unity and oneness. That agony is precisely the expression of His human will’s union with the divine. Jesus’ initial drawing back from the Cross manifests His human nature and that we are not created for death: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” The conclusion to His prayer manifests the unity of His human and divine wills: “nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” There we find distinction…but no division.

Multiplicity and division is the stuff of sin and godlessness. God brings unity. He distinguishes without dividing. The evil one sets himself against this. In place of unity he brings division. In place of distinction he brings confusion — blending and blurring what should be distinct. Our word “diabolical” comes from the Greek “diaballein” which means, in effect, to throw apart. When we depart from the Holy One and toward sin, we are thrown apart, divided. Sin brings us into a life of dissolution — of being dissolved, dis-integrated. Evanesco in multis, Saint Augustine said during his sinful life in Carthage: I disappear into many things.

Again, we know this intuitively. The person who strikes us as holy “has it all together,” we might say. Not in the worldly sense, but in that such a person has unity of life, is whole and entire, integrated. Not only do we find no duplicity in such a person but we in fact encounter a disarming simplicity and candor. The saint is not tossed about according to circumstances or company. Rooted in the One Who is unchanging and unchangeable, the saint’s wholeness and constancy gives us a taste of God’s own firmness, His everlasting love.

Next week: Holiness Received, not Achieved (Having been sanctified…)

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Perhaps last Sunday’s reading struck you as unusual.  It was not the customary exhortation or story we might expect. That passage from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:1-3) is a simple greeting, nothing more.  We would have been content with something more efficient. “Dear Corinthians,” perhaps.  Maybe “Dear Sirs” or “To Whom it may concern.” Saint Paul does something different.  He takes time to identify himself, present his credentials, describe the Corinthians, and — finally — greet them.  It is no mere greeting but also a description.  In particular it gives a definition of Christians: that is, those “who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy” (1 Cor 1:2).

Saint PaulSaint Paul intends this as description primarily of “the church of God that is in Corinth.”  But it holds true for Christians in every time and place.  It reminds us of who we are and how we ought to live, of where we came from and where we are going, of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.  And central to all this is holiness.  Indeed, for Saint Paul that seems to be the basic identity for a Christian.

But what does it mean to be holy? Holiness is essential to who we are, but also fraught with danger.  It is a concept open to tragic misunderstanding and distortion.  It has had — and still has — its fair share of phonies.  So it would be good to consider what holiness is…what it means for us to be both made holy and called to be holy.

The basic meaning of holiness is separateness, or otherness.  This is at the heart of ancient Israel’s concept of holiness. The Holy One — the Lord — was separate from the world.  This distinguished Him from other gods.  They were not separate but belonged to some town, nation or region.  The Lord, while of course the God of Israel, also transcends the world and all worldly descriptions of Him.  Even the name He entrusts to Moses — I am Who am — does not so much reveal Him as describe His “otherness.”  He cannot be confined.  We cannot grasp or comprehend Him completely.

We usually equate holiness with moral goodness.  While these two things are clearly linked, there is a distinction.  The words Holy, Holy, Holy do not intend a positive moral judgment about God.  Rather, they express the reality that He is beyond our ability to comprehend or control.  He is wholly other.

God’s otherness should heighten our amazement and wonder that God became man — like us in all things but sin.  Even when the Lord enters the world in our human nature, however, He remains Other.  Jesus experiences the greatest suffering and descends to the darkest regions of our world (and beyond).  But He is not confined to or bound by them.  Precisely because He is wholly Other, He can draw close to us in our misery.  No illness or disease, no persecution or humiliation, not even death, can hold Him.  Thus He can enter every nook and cranny of human suffering and redeem it.  He can touch the leper, eat with tax collectors and prostitutes, descend to the dead — and instead of being engulfed in them He redeems them with His  presence.

Intuition confirms what our Jewish roots teach.  We know that someone holy — not just pious or observant but genuinely holy — is not embroiled in the vanity and pettiness of this world.  Somehow that person remains, well, apart from all of that.  His thoughts, words, and actions are formed not by this world but by an Other.  This does not mean he is aloof.  The saint draws near to man’s greatest sufferings and poverties…all the while remaining untouched by them.  He can bring light to others without in any way reducing his own.  And that already should give us some sense of what we ought to be.

Next week: Holy, Holy, Whole (Holiness as Wholeness)

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Here we are, transitioning out of Christmas into the poorly named “Ordinary Time.” It all ends so abruptly. One moment we are celebrating His Birth, singing hymns, greeting shepherds, welcoming Magi. Next thing you know, we are celebrating His Baptism and packing up the crèche. So, before Christmas recedes too far into the distance, let us take one last look. The final line in the account of the Magi may serve as a good lens for doing so: “they departed for their country by another way” (Mt 2:12).

imagesThe line refers to the Magi’s avoidance of Herod, who had wanted them to report back to him about the Christ Child. He was jealous, of course, and sought to kill the Child. God warned the Magi in a dream about the danger, so they wisely avoided the king and his troops.

They departed for their country by another way. Obviously, the line describes the path of their physical journey. But perhaps we can take it to speak also of the change effected interiorly in the Magi. After what they had seen and heard, they could not possibly return the same way. They returned to their country differently – that is, as different men. Those who had encountered the Christ Child, who had prostrated themselves before Him, could not return the same way.

They returned as believers, as men whose entire way of thinking had been changed. They saw everything differently because they had worshipped the Creator and Lord of all. Of course, their country did not look any different upon their return. They encountered all the same people and situations. But now they saw it all in a new light, in His light.  Their wealth and power were put in the proper perspective.  Their own learning – which prompted them to follow the star in the first place – had reached its destination and purpose. Now they would think differently.  Everything looked different in light of that Child in Bethlehem.

They departed for their country by another way. The line is Christmas’s parting shot. The reason we celebrate Christmas year after year is precisely so that we will be changed interiorly and return to our ordinary lives as different men and women. Christmas is not just a slice of nostalgia served up to us as a break from worldly activities. It is a time of encounter meant to change us within and return us to our regular routine – our country – in a different way.

As ours feasts and celebrations become a memory, as we return to routine, we imitate the Magi. Our lives look pretty much as before. Same spouse, same family, same job, work, struggles, challenges, etc. And yet in another sense everything is different. We have returned by another way. We have encountered the Christ Child, the King, God Himself as a baby in a manger. Now nothing will again be casual or small. He has entered our world and enchanted us. We must return a different way.

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By: Deacon Marques Silva

With the celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord, the Christmas season comes to a close. Christmas trees and lights will come down and ornaments and lights will be stowed away for a long winter’s nap (or is that a winter through fall nap?). That being said, maybe there is one item we might consider keeping out of its box this year.

The mystery of the incarnation is central to the Christmas season and, I would even suggest, that it is central to history. Even in theology, it is central:

“The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of revelation and the content of faith. The very heart of theological inquiry will thus be the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. The approach to this mystery begins with reflection upon the mystery of the Incarnation” (Fides et Ratio, n. 93). [My emphasis.]

Until the Annunciation and then the Nativity, neither human nor angelic being had ever conceived that the plan of redemption would be accomplished by God becoming man. Literally, eternity stepped into time. That is mind-blowing.

Mother Angelica in her book, The Prayers & Personal Devotions of Mother Angelica, wrote:

“The Angels must have been absolutely floored because they knew that God had a right to determine the circumstances of his coming—but the details were unknown to them. Never in a million years would they have imagined not only that He would become man, but that God would be so lowly a man—born in a stable. The Angels knew His Grandeur, His Majesty, His Awesomeness, His Power. His Humility and Simplicity is something they and the entire world did not expect.

 

CrécheThat is why my family keeps up a crèche all-year-round. To remind us not only that God became man but that He chose to become a weak, lowly, and helpless form of a man – a baby. This simple display is a constant reminder that simplicity and childlikeness is how we need to approach the Lord since that is how He approached us.

So, many thanks to St. Francis of Assisi who is credited with the first crèche in the year 1223 at a cave in Grecio, Italy. And as we leave Christmastime, maybe to keep the importance of the Incarnation at the forefront of our minds this year, we could find a safe place and display the symbol of his love in the crèche.

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