Category Archives: liturgical season

Sitting on a hard bench.

I can’t remember where I heard this but someone, sometime said s/he thought the reason churches had wooden pews was so that the pew-sitter didn’t get too comfortable. Christ isn’t a comfortable person.

This weekend we have had the ember days of the Triumph of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows. Both uncomfortable remembrances. The Triumph(or exultation) of the Cross came about like this:

St. Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) had found the true cross at Jerusalem and rescued it. She left part of it in Jerusalem at the Holy Sepulchre and took the rest back to Rome. Around 614 the Persians stole the portion of the cross from the Holy Sepulchre. Things went wrong for the Persians after that (an echo of what happened to the Philistines when the stole the Ark of the Covenant). In 629 the Emperor Heraclius took the cross back and carried it in fine procession back to Jerusalem and Calvary. However, upon reaching the city he found he couldn’t go on. Bishop Zacharias pointed out that Christ had not been so finely dressed when He carried the cross. The Emperor changed to a penitents robe and carried the cross the rest of the way.

We are proud to preach Christ crucified and know that He has commanded us to take up our cross each day to follow him. A hard bench in church is perhaps a very small reminder of that.

Our Lady of Sorrows with her seven swords of sorrow comes the following day. Despite the great suffering laid on her she continually said “yes” (Fiat) to God.

imgYesterday I listened to the Catholic Answers programme with Steve Ray talking about the horrible persecution and mass martyrdom of Christians in the Middle East. He spoke of a nun whose entire family had been slaughtered and a Christian man whose heart was cut out and eaten raw by one of the the Muslim terrorists. We know what’s happening in Syria and some of us at least are horrified that our Governments want to aid the terrorists who are murdering as many Christians as they can get hold of.

Then after Mass yesterday a man spoke to us. He had come from Bethlehem with some of the beautiful olive wood carvings that he and his fellow Christians make. It’s all they can do to stay afloat there. The wall has done them much damage and they are trapped between Israel’s need for security on the one side and Islamic persecution on the other.

If you can possibly buy some olivewood carvings that will help Elias and his fellow Christians.  They are sold HERE and at ACN HERE 

Olive wood, he told us, is the second hardest wood in the world. Some of the carvings, which must be done by hand, take 8 months of work.

There’s nothing comfortable about that.

Sign

Thank God for Divine Mercy.

imagesCAO9DBVZAs the Octave of Easter approaches we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. It’s got to be one of the most beautiful gifts God has given His people. I have a special soft spot for it, not just because I need it, but also Ronan was baptised on Divine Mercy Sunday on the morning after the death of Blessed Pope John Paul II. I think it is fair to suggest that Blessed Pope John Paul II is the “spark to come out of Poland to ignite the whole world and prepare it for my second coming.”

All we have to do is ask and He pours out His mercy for us. It’s there, and He has to keep asking us to accept it. That’s a bit embarrassing really.

If we reject mercy, then we face judgement, Jesus warns as He has done so through Scripture and the Traditions of the Church. When we are faced with the invitation to accept all the mercy He has on offer, it seems to so simple, but in fact it can be quite difficult. First, we have to admit we need mercy. That’s not all that easy, it seems to me. After all, today we tend to think of people as generally “nice” and nice people are good, we think. Even if you’ve decided to go your own way in life and choose even grave evil then it doesn’t matter so long as you’re nice.  People who consider themselves nice won’t be looking for mercy. We have to accept, painfully, that perhaps we aren’t all that nice sometimes; or even often.

If you are wondering whether you need mercy, why not try reading some lives of the saints; all of whom threw themselves on God’s mercy.

Some quotes from St. Faustina’s Diary

Holy Week; Spy Wednesday. Thinking like Judas.

Lazarus had been raised from the dead. Instead of doing this on the quiet as He had with Jairus’ daughter (I suspect for her sake) Jesus had raised Lazarus in front of a crowd. The following day He is sitting in the house with Lazarus when Mary comes in and pours very expensive Nard all over his feet.

Judas says the same thing I have heard from so many people who say they are followers of Christ, “Why hasn’t this expensive stuff been sold and the money given to the poor?”

John tells us something else about this statement. Judas was not interested in the poor, he was interested in the money.

How many people who use the same words as Judas about the Church have sold their goods and given the money to the poor?

Jesus says, “The poor you will have with you always….” And sadly this is true. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor and they will still be poor when it runs out.  We need to get our priorities in the right order. We cannot serve the poor properly unless we first serve God properly. We cannot give to the poor unless we first give to God so we can receive from Him everything we need to give to the poor. And if we look at some of the most beautiful buildings and vestments in many churches we find that it was the poor themselves who donated to make sure these things were there for the proper worship of God.

St. Francis of Assisi had nothing. He and his fellow Franciscans begged for their daily bread and worked among the poor all their lives. But Francis insisted on the very best vestments, chalices and altar cloths for the Mass because God is worth it.

Jesus didn’t need nard poured over him. Mary needed to do that. Jesus doesn’t need to see His priests and deacons in proper vestments using precious items for the Mass – we NEED to see that, because we are weak and so easily forget who God is.

When the Church is stripped of her wealth, as she was in England under Henry VIII, it is noteworthy that the wealth doesn’t get near the poor, but boosts the coffers of the already rich. While Henry destroyed everything the poor were thrown out of the hospices and monastery guest houses and the sick were left without the medicinal gardens and care of the monasteries and convents. The schools that had been open to the poor were shut.

Leprosy, which the work of the religious orders had eradicated from England was re-introduced.

And most famously of all the bee-keepers of the country were left destitute.

Judas is not unique. He got his thirty pieces of silver that he longed for, but it didn’t help him or any poor person.

The first person to refuse to offer to God what was right, was Cain, and he murdered his brother. Henry VIII murdered a lot of people, but gave us wonderful saints like St Thomas More and St John Fisher among many many others.

Judas saw to it that Jesus was crucified but from that we have our Salvation.

God makes straight with crooked lines, but God help the one who has made those crooked lines.

Holy Week Tues: Why was the bridegroom so late.

108505652_b7ca73a371_zChrist proclaimed Himself to be the Bridegroom. In the Icon of Christ the Bridegroom He is sitting with His wrists tied, crowned with thorns and in the red robe with the whip marks on his body and holding the reed. In Orthodox Jewish weddings and Eastern Rite and Orthodox weddings the bride and groom wear the crown and their wrists are bound with the stole of the priest or rabbi. I love the symbolism of that. I wish the Latin Rite had it.

Jesus tells a few parables in which wedding banquets play a part, but the one that we tend to consider on Holy Tues is the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The bit in that parable that I wonder about is “The bridegroom was late” He didn’t turn up when expected.

This is one of those double layered revelations of the both/and kind which Catholic apologists are so fond of.  How often do we hear, in response to a question, “It’s not either/or it’s both/and.” ?

Jesus was late. The people had been waiting for a Messiah since a saviour was promised to Eve and they had been waiting for the throne of David to be eternal since the death of Solomon. It’s a long time to wait.

In the meantime Israel had been scattered among the gentiles and only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin now lived in the Holy Land with a remnant of Levi and an even smaller remnant of the ten lost tribes of Israel.  If all Israel was to be saved where was the Saviour?

So by the time He turned up quite a few people had given up on His appearance all together and those who had not, even among the apostles, had made up their own image of who the Messiah would be and what He would do.

There was many a dry lamp in Judea.

So Jesus was rejected and crucified.

But “He will come again to judge the living and the dead and His Kingdom will have no end.” (Apostles Creed and Nicene/Constan Creed)

Here we are 2000+ years later and He is still not come. So how many of us have decided He won’t be coming? And how many have made up their/our own idea of just what that Second Coming had better consist of?

It’s increasingly difficult today, it seems to me, to keep the pure olive oil burning and topped up when there are so many religious snake oil salesmen out there. We must pray for discernment every day.

But when it’s so difficult to keep the lamps alight why is the Bridegroom late? Why doesn’t He come early instead? I wonder if the problem is us.

Weddings take a lot of preparation. So the Wedding Banquet of the Bridegroom will take a lot more preparation. If we aren’t getting prepared, we aren’t ready for Him to arrive – and so He’ll be late. But in the end He’ll turn up whether we’re ready or not. So as He is giving us the chance to get cleaned up, wear the proper wedding cloths and get some oil in our lamps, perhaps we should start getting ready.

Holy Week; Cleansing the Temple and cleansing the Church

Jesus-Cleansing-the-TempleToday we remember how Jesus arrived at the Temple to see the Court of the Gentiles had been turned into a market place. Those Gentiles who wanted to worship the LORD were therefore given no place to pray. They were not allowed into the Court of Israel on pain of death .

Jesus, who is the Light to bring the gentiles out of darkness, (as Simeon prophesied when he held the 40 day old Baby in his arms), made a whip and thrashed the money changers and the sellers out of the place.  No more den of thieves. But it is assumed that Jesus may have had to do this clearing of the Temple more than once, as the money makers didn’t take “No!” for an answer and didn’t care enough about the gentiles who wanted to worship God to allow them their space to do so.

Pope Francis is facing many calls to clean house. There was consternation and deep sadness over the sacrilegious public taking of Holy Communion by people who are very publicly and very powerfully pro-death politicians.  The call has gone out for Church Law to be obeyed on this matter, as the open disobedience  causes such grave scandal and is hardly helping those who persist in taking sacriligious Holy Communion.

parable-of-the-taresI don’t envy Pope Francis that difficult task. But Jesus told a parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like a field in which the owner planted good seed. But while  he slept his enemy came and planted weeds among the good seeds. Both seeds grew up so when the servants came to the field they found wheat and weeds growing. “Sir, didn’t you plant good seed?” they said to the owner, “Look at the weeds here.”

“Some enemy has done this,” said the farmer.

“We’ll go in a gather them up,” offered the servants but the farmer said, “No, don’t gather the weeds incase you uproot some of the wheat too. Leave them to grow together and at the end when the harvest is ready, I will send reapers to gather the weeds first and burn them, while the wheat will be gathered into my barn.”

I don’t know what Pope Francis will do, although I think he’ll have to do something. There is a line between pulling up the wheat with the weeds and losing some wheat to the strangulation of the scandal caused by murderous weeds.

The only thing for us little ones is to pray and make sure we change our lives so we are the wheat and not another weed.

Lent; Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows. (Mystery 6)

Jesus us taken from the cross and placed in the arms of His Mother.

Anyone who has lost a child will remember the pain, that deep soul wrenching pain that comes with the loss. Those of us who have watched, helpless, while a child of ours suffers terribly and the sense of them leaving us is a pain that is beyond description.

Mary had watched her Son be tortured to death. Now two brave men arrive with a signed permission from Pilate that they can receive the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea was a relative of Jesus and Nicodemus was a friend of Joseph’s. Both these men had positions of status in the Temple and were (particularly as Pharisees) well aware of the Law.

In stepping into Pilate’s house that day before the Sabbath, which that year coincided with the Passover, they made themselves unclean. To make themselves so unclean they could not celebrate the Passover they went and took a bloody corpse down from a cross. They were so terribly ritually unclean now and yet that Precious Blood that they undoubtedly got over them did not make them unclean, but cleansed them.

St. Longinus, the Roman soldier pierces the side of Jesus so that blood and water flows out.

Jesus is laid in the arms of His Mother and she holds him as she had when he was a child.  The Pieta is a scene produced by many artists, the most famous I suppose is the sculpture by Michelangelo.

pieta1But I have to admit that it’s Mel Gibson’s scene in the Passion that I remember most vividly. You cannot look on that scene and not know that you are the one who brought it about – that He and she have suffered and drunk to the dregs the cup of suffering and all because of us.

Jesus is then wrapped in a shroud, traditionally a cloth belonging to St. Joseph of Arimathea, who is (again according to tradition) to be the first bringer of Christianity to Britain.

Jesus had said that even if a man should rise from the dead some people would refuse to believe. He told the Temple authorities they would only receive the sign of Jonah and He was in the belly of the earth for three days. But many people don’t ask “Why did He rise?” they ask “Why did He have to die like that?” Now, that’s a mystery, but I think part of the answer is that He wanted to show us just how utterly horrible sin really is. I think a lot of art has sanitized the Passion so much that we don’t get it any more.  

In seeing the horror and agony of the Passion, especially in seeing it from the point of view of a mother watching her son being whipped, beaten, forced to carry a heavy cross on a back already ripped and bleeding, having the nails hammered through him and then hung – and knowing that He became sin for us (1 Cor 5:21) we must see how dreadful sin is and we can never tire of  asking for forgiveness (and trying not to sin in the first place)

As Pope Francis has said, God never tires of offering forgiveness, it’s we who tire of asking for it. But we mustn’t. We must run the race to the end.

Throwing Stones and Casting out Snakes.

In 2 Peter 3:16 the good saint warns against misusing Scripture to our own destruction. If there are two bits of God’s Word that seem to get the most misuse it’s Christ’s words, “Jusdge not lest you be judged also,” (Matt 7:1) and the Gospel reading we had today about the woman caught in adultery.

I must admit I love the Gospel story of this woman and Jesus.

The Pharisees, who insist publically that they follow the Law and all the extra bits they have added to it and are therefore perfect before the LORD, bring a woman to Jesus, to entrap Him. They are not concerned that she has committed adultery, but rather are out to get Jesus.

As Father noted in his sermon this morning, it takes two people to commit adultery and yet they only brought one to Jesus. So the sin itself, if she was even guilty, was not the issue here.

They tell Jesus that they have caught her in the act and that the Law says she must be stoned. They are sort of correct although the Law (Deut 22:22) says both parties who have committed this horrible sin shall be stoned.

As it happens, however, Judea is under the authority of Rome and the Roman law takes all capital puncishment on itself denying the Jews any legal ability to give capital punishment. If Jesus says “Yes she should be stoned,” as per Jewish Law He would be arrested by the Romans. If He says “No, don’t stone her,” then he is nothing but a puppet of the Romans.

But Jesus is Jesus and silly traps won’t beat Him. We are never told what He writes in the dirt but He looks up and says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”

So now the Pharisees who declare themselves without sin must either start stoning the girl and get arrested by the Romans or admit publically that they are not perfect. Ouch!

Once they have all melted away Jesus speaks to the woman, “Has anyone condemned you?” She says no one has and He answers her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go on your way…” And that is usually all we hear of this story, but in fact Jesus said “And sin no more.” That is the depth of the message. He asks all of us to stop sinning. We aren’t supposed to take a piece of Scripture, strip it down and use it as an excuse to sin to our hearts content because Jesus will say “Neither do I condemn you.” If we misuse the Word of God as a way to get away with sinning then believe me, He certainly will condemn us. In fact He won’t have to, because by our own actions we condemn ourselves.

The story of the woman caught in adultery who is not condemned always reminds me of the story of Susanna the wife of Joachim who is entrapped with a false allegation of adultery by the elders. It is the child Daniel who speaks out for her. (Daniel 13:1+)

Today is also the feast of St. Patrick who brought Christ to Ireland and is famous for having cast out all the poisonous snakes. We can only pray that by his prayers and the grace God gives to Ireland and the Irish that they  will renew His presence and bring us all closer to God. It was from Ireland that so much of the Gospel was spread over the world; I can only hope, as Britain falls that we can be lifted up again and that Ireland will play a part in that. I think there may be prophecies about that.

Lent; Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows (mystery 5)

At the foot of the cross

Having walked with Jesus her beloved Son, to the place of crucifixion, Mary stays with Him even as he is stripped nailed and hoisted up onto the cross. If ever you are tempted to see this as “ordinary” try and imagine watching your own child, or someone you love very much being tortured right in front of you while you stand by powerless to intervene.

We love our super heroes who come swooping in, often at the last minute, and save the innocent or good guy from the bad guys But here the mystery of iniquity is played out before us and it is allowed to happen. Jesus doesn’t show His power here.

Mary is not left to suffer alone. Just as Jesus had Simon of Cyrene, so Mary has those with her who are there out of love. Her sisters (that is close kin) Mary the wife of Cleopas and Mary Salome the mother of James and John (widow of Zebedee) are there as is Mary Magdalene and Salome’s son John stands with them.

But even with these kind persons the pain, the twisting of the sword in her soul, must have been something that only God’s grace could have made bearable.

Watching another suffer, has got to be one the most difficult things any of us are called to do.

While she is there Jesus, taking note of her needs but also, as He suffers for us, taking note of our needs, gives her to John and through him, us to her. “Mother, behold your son; son behold your mother.” He doesn’t call John by name because in the word son is the sonship of all of us as Mary is made our mother and we can ask her to pray for us as we are her children.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a mother on earth or not, or whether she is a good mother or a bad one because you will always have a mother in heaven who wants the very best for you. Jesus said He wouldn’t leave us orphans; in His promise we have a Father and a mother.

MaryAtFootOfCross

As I have a soft spot for Mary Salome, I can’t help wondering what she thought at that moment. We are never told, but I don’t think she would have felt that John was being taken away from her and given to Our Blessed Mother. I think she would have realised that this moment was beyond a simple bit of Jewish law ensuring a widow without a son wasn’t left destitute – it was bringing all four Mary’s closer together in their relationship with the B. Mother and St. John.

A deeper mystery still is here in this moment of the crucifixion. Christ suffers and pours Himself out; every last drop of His Precious Blood given for us. But He doesn’t suffer alone. Our Blessed Mother, John, Mary of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene and Mary Salome suffer too. They suffer with Him and their suffering is united with His.

When we contemplate the sword of sorrow that pierced our Mother’s soul, we can follow her example in uniting our sufferings with Him, so that none of our suffering, of the crosses we accept to follow him, need be wasted. (cf Col 1:24)

Lent; The Chaplet of Seven Sorrows (mystery 3)

The Losing of the Christ Child in the Temple.

I think this mystery is incredibly profound. When we read of it in St. Luke’s Gospel I think we tend to concentrate on how Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple; but in this meditation we are to consider how the sword pierced Mary (and I bet Joseph’s) soul as they discovered their loss.

The sense of loss, of fear without Him must have been horrendous. They had left the Holy City and it’s Temple behind and He wasn’t with them.

In order to find Him, they had to turn around and go back. They had to go where He was most likely to be, even if they didn’t understand why He was there and even though it would have been more convenient if He could meet them somewhere else. But when you really want Jesus back in your life, you will search for Him and be happy to go where He leads you and where you know you can find Him where they liked.

In the desert when Israel wouldn’t go up the mountain to find God, they ended up making a god at the bottom of the mountain.

Jesus commanded us (we need to stop taking what Jesus said plainly as merely suggestions) that we should FIRST seek the Kingdom of God.  This has been self-edited by too many of us who remember “ask and you shall receive” as though God is a magic slot machine – prayer in, whatever we ask for out.  This is a sure way of finding ourselves walking away from the Kingdom and losing sight of Him altogether.

Then we have to turn around – the word repent means to turn around – and seek the Kingdom again. Jerusalem has been a sign or type of the Kingdom of God from the Old Testament right the way through to John’s Revelation (the New Jerusalem descending from Heaven like a Bride).

God said, “I have not said to Jacob seek me in vain,” so if we seek Him we will find Him as Christ promised, “Seek and you shall find” but we have to seek Him where He is. There is nothing in Luke about Mary and Joseph searching throughout Jerusalem or the surrounding environs. They headed back to the Temple and there He was. If we try to get to know Jesus, properly, we will know where to find Him.

Mary and Joseph had a major advantage over the rest of us. They had one Jesus in their lives and they knew Him very well. These days we have to search among so many different Jesuses before we can truly find Him. (One red flag for me is when I see something with “the real Jesus” written over it. You can almost guarantee that it’s another golden calf Jesus). Beg God for discernment. Pray and be ready to accept Him, on His terms.

Lent; Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows (mystery 2)

The Flight into Egypt.

The Gospels don’t give us an exact timeline of the infancy narratives, but you can kind of work out that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem,  He and His family stayed there for a while. He would have been circumcised there on the eighth day after birth and then Mary and Joseph took him the few miles north to Jerusalem for His presentation. Luke leaves out the rest saying when all was done they went back to Nazareth, but Matthew fills in the rest of all that was done.

The Magi came. Having read the signs properly, first, from the sky and very likely from the prophecy of Balaam which had been given to the pagans; they headed off to find the king of the Jews. Understandably they went to King  Herod in Jerusalem.

Herod didn’t want a Messiah, and to make sure there wasn’t one, he ordered all the boys under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed. The slaughter of the innocents was the result.

But an angel came to Joseph and warned him, telling him to take his little family and flee into Egypt.

Leaving their lives behind, Mary and Joseph headed off into the desert, taking our precious hope of salvation with them. The sword in Mary’s heart was not just the loss of home and extended family, and having to become a refugee, but the realisation that already people hated her beloved Son. They hated Him enough to want Him dead.

For so many of us, our journey with Christ, with the Divine Child, is through the desert. It’s a long journey of spiritual dryness where the joy of the Temple seems far behind and we feel we are facing a life in Egypt where we don’t belong, and long for home. A desert prayer life is a lesson in faith. It doesn’t feel good and there are no (or few) consolations, but we do it anyway. It’s a big sign of contradiction to “feel good Christianity” that’s for sure.

There are two lovely golden legends about this journey. The first tells us that the soldiers chased after the Holy Family. Joseph quickly led them, and the donkey off the path and hid them in a cave. But the soldiers were searching everywhere.

As the little family huddled at the back of the cave, a spider came and quickly made her webs around the mouth of the cave and a soft wind sent dust over the webs.

When the soldiers arrived they said, “These webs have been here a long time undisturbed so they didn’t come this way.” They turned and went away.

The second story tells us that along the road, not far from Bethlehem robbers came to attack the family. One of them, a young one, was so taken with the baby he said he would not steal from them and he ensured they were allowed to go on safely.

This was St. Dismas who would continue in his life of crime and get arrested. He would then be crucified on Calvary that Friday before the Sabbath and he would in his own agony, repent, accept his punishment, rebuke his fellow criminal (one of the spiritual works of mercy) and declare his belief in Jesus and His innocence. So much good done while in such terrible agony!

I hope that the faith of Dismas helped mitigate, just a little, the intensity of the sword that pierced Our Blessed Mother’s soul that day. As you can see I have a big soft spot for St. Dismas who not only picked up his cross but accepted being crucified on it too.

Into the desert

Every spiritual journey has to pass through the desert. Once Israel crossed the Red Sea (symbol of baptism) they had a long journey through the desert, made much longer by their sinful behaviour. They were fed and watered from God’s generous hand, and only through trial and warfare did they make it to the Promised Land. That seems to be the way it has to be for all of us.

When St. John of the Cross wrote the Dark Night of the Soul, he was writing of the spiritual journey through the desert to the Promised Land. It’s a beautiful and deep meditation and I highly recommend it. I’m reading it very slowly because it needs time to go over.

851151Today we celebrate the feast day of St Anthony Abbot (of Egypt). Although he wasn’t the first monk, he is considered the father of monasticism because of the way he devoted his life to Christ. He was left very wealthy when his parents died. He had a younger sister for whom he became guardian and to begin with he and his sister set about living the life that had been left to them. After a while Anthony wanted to find a way to give his life to God.

As he entered Church one morning to hear Mass, he heard the Gospel being read in which the young man asks Jesus, “Rabbi, what should I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus answered him, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and come and follow me.”

Anthony went out and did just that. He then went and lived in the desert praying and making sacrifices and getting closer to God.

The desert could have been a very dry and isolating place, but Anthony’s holy life drew people to him. He was busy with visitors a lot of the time. Even with the busy ministry God had given him, Anthony maintained the quietness of soul needed for his life of prayer and service.

We are not all called to religious life, but we are all called to accept that part of life that means the desert journey. We need Faith to know that He will feed and water our souls with the Bread of Heaven and the water of life. Whatever happens in that desert we have to trust He has a plan and can make the rocky way smooth as we carry whatever cross He has given us.

This is not easy. Christianity is a very difficult road to take, but it’s the road to the Promised Land.

Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the feast day when Jesus was baptised in the Jordan by His cousin who was to lay down his life for the sanctity of marriage. Christ the Bridegroom came to be baptised to take up His priesthood from John the priest of Levi, and to begin His public ministry. In stepping into the water, Jesus did not need to be cleansed of sin, on the contrary, His Presence in the water cleansed it as He cleanses us of sin.

Christians are called by Christ to accept marriage the way God designed it. Part of the reason marriage is so holy and sacramental is because Christ is the Bridegroom to His Church. Not to mention that God created marriage when He made Adam and Eve as flesh of his flesh.

One of the questions or issues that comes up regularly when you listen to catholic call-in shows is the matter of invincible ignorance. Jesus said of those to whome He had given His message “if they hadn’t heard Me they would be innocent, but having heard Me, their guilt remains.”

If someone genuinely could not have know the Gospel and all it’s Truth, then they can be judged on natural law alone,(natural law is not the law of nature) but anyone who has heard or read the Gospel or could have and has deliberately avoided it, will have some very very serious explaining ahead of them.

It is deeply worrying when people who call themselves Christian-followers of Christ, who have access to Scripture and all that Christ teaches, and yet choose to reject that in favour of political or zeitgeist views.  It is not just that their betrayal will undoubtedly bring more persecution down on true Christians, it is that they are risking their souls.  Eternity is a very long time.

John as the friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:29) spoke out for marriage and was imprisoned by Herod, whose marriage was invalid and immoral, and was martyred. He never once went back on his word, or said, oh well we should allow it after all.

Christ the Bridegroom re-established marriage from the mess some of the Jewish authorities had allowed it to get into with Rabbi Hillel arguing for divorce for any reason. Jesus speaks of how God designed marriage from the days of Adam and Eve, and He elevated it to a Sacrament.

Epiphany: manifestation of the Lord

It’s Twelfth Night, the feast of Epiphany in the Latin Rite.  This feast comes just before the Baptism of the Lord on the Liturgical Calender. Both of these events are manifestations of Christ the Messiah.

The magi come from the east, from the lands of the gentiles and bring with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Symbols of kingship, priesthood and prophecy. Oil of myrrh would have been used to anoint the bodies of the dead.

Balsam of Myrrh is still used today in the sacramental oils for baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation Eastern Rite) Holy Orders and Sacrament of the Sick.

Incense is of course still used as a sign of sanctification and prayer as it was in the Temple and the Vision of St. John (Revelation).

The magi came, it is thought, because in the appearance of the star they saw the fulfilment of the prophesy of Balaam (the bad prophet who made an ass of himself while his ass spoke with dignity) Despite his best efforts to take a bribe and prophesy against Israel he was, as a real prophet, saddled with infallibility to some extent so when  he spoke he couldn’t help tell the truth and bless Israel.  (Num 24:17 and surrounding verses). It is also suggested that they had on record the great prophesy of Daniel which he gave to the gentiles and recognised that they were in the time of the iron and clay feet. *Dan 2:33 and surrounding verses).

They saw and understood and travelled a huge distance to find the King of the Jews.  They visited Herod and we often tend to dwell on the fact that Herod wanted to kill the baby after this, but something nastier happened, it seems to me. The wise men of the Temple came with the Scriptures they had and they too recognised the prophesy. “He will be born in Bethlehem…” they say. The gentile pagans head off to find the child and the men of the Temple don’t go with them! I am quite sure they knew it would have been politically inexpedient to do so. But still, the apathy shocks me. I suppose it’s a bit like the way non-practicers turn up for Christmas Mass or Services while some Christian denominations have been closing their churches for Christmas.

Most of Christ’s childhood and early adult years are “hidden” to us. He is next made manifest when, at the important age of thirty he comes to John to be baptised. Christ is a son of David of Judah. John is a Levite priest, son of a High Priest.

God took away the priesthood of the fathers and first born sons of Israel after the Golden Calf incident. Only the Levites, relatives of Aaron, Moses and Miriam had stood (more or less) firm and God gave the priesthood only to the sons of Levi.

The first non-Levite priest after that was King David and then Solomon, of the tribe of Judah.

The law of the Levitical priesthood was that a man could not come to ordination before the age of thirty. Most men were ordained at that age.

Jesus came to John the priest when He was thirty years old and received the baptism of John. At that moment God speaks and John bears witness to the people about Jesus, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

Jesus is the Son of David, a prophet, priest and king like David. Jesus is more of all of those things for He is The Prophet, The High Priest and The King, not just of the Jews, but of all the nations.

Side note: I’ve come across some confusion over the baptism of John and  the Baptism commanded by Christ when He returned to the Father. You will find in Scripture that the apostles baptised those who they found who had only received the baptism of John because his baptism was different.  The baptism of John did not affect circumcision into the Law whereas the Sacrament of Baptism instituted by Christ replaced circumcision (hence St. Paul’s argument against the Judaizers who wanted gentile converts to get circumcised as well as baptised). P’haps I need to do a proper blog about baptism…

feast of the Holy Innocents; children beg santa for a family.

Pia de Solenni writes how the Telegraph here in the UK have reported on the most popular things children ask Santa to bring them. Up there at the top children ask for a sibling. In their loneliness and innocence they ask Father Christmas to bring the child they so long for to add to their family and be the love and company they long for.

I read this only a few minutes after hearing a mother phone Dr. Ray Gaurendi looking for a way to tell her family, especially certain members, that she was expecting her fifth child. Instead of being overjoyed at another baby they would be snarly about it, as they had already been with previous children. Even though she said they were Catholic, who undoubtedly heard how Joseph, and Mary pregnant with Jesus were turned away from the Inn, they were happy to slam the door on this family because another child was on the way.

At number 10 children were asking for a father and at 23 on the list they asked for a mother. Among the horses, cars and stuff of Christmas children were asking first for a family.

Meanwhile two people phoned up who had many siblings, one of whom, lady who was one of 12, was now dying. She had her family around her for support and in turn wanted to offer something back in letters or words of comfort.

Dr Ray mentioned that he had come across many elderly people, alone and lonely because they had chosen not to have few or no children. It’s especially sad when you consider those people who can’t have children or manage only one or two pregancies and would give anything to have more.

It’s funny that some people try and undermine the historicity of the slaughter of the innocents when Herod sent soldiers to kill the children of Bethlehem in the hope that the slaughter would include the new King of the Jews. They say they can’t find other references outside the Gospel of Matthew and so Matthew must be wrong, for someone else would be bound to notice this.

We live in a world where technology is so great I can send a message to friends in America and Australia and it gets there almost instantaneously. We have more information on the internet than we could possibly deal with. News programmes saturate the airwaves with banality and politics every minute of every day in every time zone. An yet many people seem still unaware of the Gospel. They don’t know about Jesus, or even about the children in their own neighbourhood.

We have the Gospels to tell us about Jesus and there is nothing in history or tradition that would give us reason to think Matthew lied in his report on the killing of the toddlers and babies in Bethlehem.  It is most likely that the story came from the lips of Jesus or His mother themselves.

It was recently reported that babies are routinely killed in our NHS hospitals, that a baby’s life was only saved because she was weighed with an accidental pair of scissors that tipped the scales in her favour. So many stories are out there- and how many of us know those stories or care about them? I am quite sure there are many more that I have never seen or heard of.

BAPTISM OF DESIRE

The feast of the Holy Innocents is the day mothers who have miscarried babies, had still births and those who had abortions can remember their little ones and ask for God’s love and mercy for them.

Some parents are blessed to be able to baptise their baby before they die, but most of us have lost our children before they could be baptised. This often leads parents to worry about their eternity, especially in light of St. Augustine’s thought that the innocent unbaptised entered a place of limbo, an eternal happiness but not the full blessedness the saved can hope for.

The Church teaches three baptisms. The ordinary form is the baptism of water and oil that we see so often at Church. Water is pours over the baby, child or adult and the words “I baptise you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” are spoken in obedience to Jesus command in Matthew 28.

The next form is called Baptism of Blood. This is the baptism that catechumens and other’s not yet in the Church receive should they die for love of Christ as marytrs.

Finally there is the baptism of desire. That is someone who would have been baptised if they could have, but died before the opportunity was offered would be saved through their desire to do God’s will and receive baptism.

I don’t know, but I wonder if many of us who have lost babies pre-term or before we could get them baptised, can hope that our desire as parents counts as a baptism of desire for if they had lived we would have taken them to be baptised.

I don’t know – but we can trust in God’s mercy and I have no doubt at all that we will all get to meet up with our children in the end. So there is more joy than sorrow in the end.

Every single child is a blessing no matter how long or short a time we have them.

O Emmanuel (O God with us) Dec 23rd.

Isaiah went to bad king Ahaz and said “Ask the Lord for a sign.”

In a fit of prentended humility Ahaz said “oooh I couldn’t.”

So Isaiah said, “Well you’re getting a sign anyway. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and he will be called emmanual, God with us.” (Is 7:14)

Hezekiah was born and became king of Judah. At that time it seems God was calling a few men to be prophets. Isaiah and Micah in Judah and Amos and Hosea in Israel. Hosea of course was a prophet of Israel in Babylonian captivity.

Just before these events Jonah had been spit up on the shores of Syria where he had to go and prophesy to the people of Nineveh, a potential enemy of Israel, They repented and the Lord was with them.

Events were moving hard and fast in that little piece of history.  In the Pseudepigraphia we hear the story of how Hezekiah calls his infant son Manessah to his side as he dies, but even as he is to give the child a blessing the son of Isaiah Josab prophesied that Manessah would worship a demon instead of God and undo all the good that Hezekiah had worked. The faith of the people would be split apart. In horror and grief Hezekiah considers having his little son killed, but is warned against this by Isaiah even though he has forseen his own terrible martyrdom at the hands of Mannessah. Isaiah was sawn in half.

There is an addition showing the Christians saw in this the symbolism of the terrible martyrdom the Church suffered under her own Manessah in Nero (both types of antiChrist).

In the end poor Manessah, having sacrificed his own sons to Molech the child consuming burning idol, repents. Psalm 151 is one of those not quite canonical but much loved prayers of repentence. For Manessah to have come home after having run so far gives hope for us all.

The martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah

The Holy Father, commenting on today’s Mass readings asks us to behave like Mary and Elizabeth:

Let us imitate Mary in the Christmas season, visiting those who are experiencing hardship, especially the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly and children. Let us laso imitate Elizabeth, who welcomes guests like God Himself: without desiring the Lord we will never know Him, without waiting for Him we will never meet Him, without seeking will never find Him

We’ve just come home from a lovely visit with friends who are relaxed and caring and  gave us a beautiful organic lamb dinner. They had received the lamb from the farmer as a gift and took that gift and shared it with us.

I am not that well today and very twitchy and jerky. But with them it didn’t matter. I could twitch, jerk and tip over and not have to feel embarressed. I think many of us are more blessed with friends than we sometimes realise or appreciate.  If you have friends as good as this don’t forget to thank God for them :)

O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations) Dec 22nd

When Jesus stood before Pilate, He was asked, “Are you a king?” and from the conversation that followed Pilate the gentile and his gentile wife St. Claudia Procla saw that He was indeed a king.

The apostles had some understanding that Jesus, a son of David was a king by right but they were stuck in the idea that He would take a political stand against Rome and somehow bring all Israel back together. When Jesus went out to do His mission there was only Judea, the land of Judah and Benjamin with the Levite priesthood. Sometimes other tribes were noted such as Anna in the Temple who was from the tribe of Ashur. But in saving all Israel Jesus wasn’t going to pick out Israelites alone. He was calling all the nations, the gentiles too now, into the new Israel of the new Covenant. Israel was the first born son, the oldest brother of us all, but the gentiles were God’s children too.

O Oriens (O Dayspring) Dec 21st

The Light of Christ dawns and the people who have walked in darkness and the shadow of death have seen a great Light (Prayer of Zecharius. The Benedictus Luke 1:68 to 74).

The great fire of God’s Love will burn up the stubble; and yes that will include yours and mine and it will hurt. We need to get rid of that stubble to be as gold. Those who do evil will be burned up. When Christ comes as the Daystar, He comes to renew the face of the earth. He is the Light in the darkness that cannot be overcome.

This is the Light we can reach for to get us out of our self imposed darkness. It’s still a choice of course and as no one is forced to stand in the light. But the light is mercy. If we refuse mercy we will face justice. Thank God there’s mercy. Are we not blessed?

From Divine Office today:

Thus say the Lord, your remdeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I, the Lord your God, teach you what is good for you. I lead you on the way that you must go.

O Clavis David (Key of David) Dec 20

Christ comes to fulfil the prophecy that David’s throne would last forever. He holds the key of the Kingdom. Christ’s kingdom, however, is not of this world. He came and through His Passion He opened the gates of heaven that had been closed when Adam sinned.

Christ set about establishing heaven on earth. He called His apostles and said he was going to build a Church. As King He saw those who were to be His ministers in the Temple had reneged on their priestly duties. So, like King Hezekiah all those years a go, He dismissed the false stewards who had not cared properly for the kingdom and it’s people, and He gave the Key to a new Steward.  He took Simon barJonah and gave him the Keys of the Kingdom. Jesus even used very similar words to King Hezekiah who placed the keys of his kingdom on the shoulder of Eliakim. “What you bind on earth is bound in heaven, what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.”  (Is.22:22 Matt 16:19)

Jesus takes the keys of the kingdom and passes His authority to the Church, His bride. Peter is the new Eliakim and he will pass on the keys to St. Linus, who into turn passes it on to St. ‘Cletus and then St. Clement and so on until Benedict XVI

Even as the little baby we will greet at Christmas there was an understanding that He is a king. It was the gentile Magi who brought Him the gifts for a king, gold for His kingship, frankincense for His priesthood and myrrh for prophecy.

From Lauds today:

The sceptre shall not pass from Judah, nor the mace from between his feet until the one comes to whom it belongs, to whole the people shall render obedience.

Gen 49:10. This is part of the blessing Jacob-Israel gave to his sons. Reuben had forfeited the blessing of the First Born because of the way he took revenge for the rape of his sister Dinah. Judah was the third born of Leah the first wife of Jacob-Israel.

O Radix Jesse (Dec 19th)

God had promised King David son of the shepherd Jesse of the tribe of Judah that his throne would last forever. But the sins of Solomon son of David caused Israel to be split (a schism) with ten tribes to the north continuing as Israel with their own kings and queen mothers and Judah in the south made up of Judah and Benjamin with some Levites for the priesthood.

Isaiah began his prophesying in the Reign of King Uzziah of Judah. He continued through the reign of Jotham and then came Ahaz who was just dreadful as kings went but he was to have a son.

Isaiah went to King Ahaz and said “Ask for a sign.”

Ahaz in a pretence at suddenly being holy said he couldn’t possibly ask God for a sign. He may very well have been too scared to hear what that sign would be. Isaiah said “Well God says you are getting a sign anyway.” I am sure his tone was a little snarky. “Behold,” said Isaiah as the Spirit filled him with what to say, “A maiden shall conceive and bear a son and he shall be called Emmanuel, God with us.”

Ahaz’ wife gives birth to Hezekiah meaning something like “take courage”. She saved this son from the fires of Molech the god who had consumed her other child at the behest of Ahaz. Sacrificing babies for wealth and power is an age old vileness and Molech has turned up in many forms but always with the same results; lots of dead babies.

In many ways Ahaz could be considered a type of Antichrist. He sets up a pagan altar in the Temple, desecrating it with sacrifices to another god. Surely this was an abomination.

When Hezekiah becomes king he tries to put things right. Through a renewal of the Passover he tried to bring all Israel together at least spiritually. But when Hezekiah died his son Manasseh went back to the bad old ways of worshipping like the pagans and child sacrifice.

Jesus uses the word Gehenna, the place of fire where Ahaz and Manasseh had made their children pass through fire – that is sacrificed their children for wealth and power; as a word for hell.  Gehenna the place of fire is hell because the Molech gods were demons. (Ps 151 the prayer of Manasseh gives some hope that he repented in the end).

Isaiah’s prophecy was to be more fully fulfilled when a virgin conceived and bore a son, a branch from the root of Jesse. Jesus is God With Us and He is of the family of David, the tribe of Judah and through him all Israel is saved.

3rd of Advent end of Hanukkah; Rejoice and have hope in the darkness

30219_Silver_Plated_Oil_MenorahAs we light the third candle – that pink one of joyousness, our Jewish brothers and sisters are lighting the eighth candle of Hanukkah. At this point the oil of the old Temple Menorah, which should only have lasted one day before plunging the Temple back into darkness, had lasted all eight days it took to make new oil. Then it could quietly run out in time for the new oil to be added to the lamps. The light stayed as the people of Israel reconsecrated their sacred things and the Temple to the Lord and then they could rejoice in their new freedom. They had lost so many good men and women and children under the darkness of Antiochus Epiphanes. Perhaps they mourned the unnamed mother who is remembered more than 2000 years on as she suffered the martyrdom of her seven sons and lost her own life after them. Her light still shines in many hearts.

We can rejoice that the Light is going to dawn. There will not always be darkness and for so many of us we can relax and know Christmas will be a time for joy.

But my heart and prayers go out to those who face a dark Christmas. I can’t imagine the indescribable pain for the families of those murdered in the school shooting in Connecticut. How can such evil happen? Why do people make such astounding choices and destroy so much for so little reason?

479983_213167592152057_1962316465_nCan we find joy, and true hope in the midst of such deliberate darkness? I think we have to. Christ has promised us so much if we persevere and in the shooting there are names that shall never be forgotten. Even in what can seem the deepest evil and darkness bright lights shine. So many people turn back to God and pray at these times and we ask that He welcome all those killed home. For many there is a crown of glory for they lay down their lives for the little ones.

There will be many unnamed heroes in this atrocity. Families who care for one another and stand by one another. Priests who ran to care for victims, children who held on bravely with their friends. We may never hear their stories this side of heaven, but they are happening.

Rejoice and have hope for such people do exist in our world. Thank God for them.

Joy is not about being happy, it’s about being blessed.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Woman Clothed with the Sun with the moon under her feet (Rev 12)

our_lady_of_guadalupe_4x6Dec 12th is the Feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Dec 9th would have been the feast of St Juan Diego but it fell on 2nd Advent Sun this year)

That God in His love and mercy has given us such a mother is wonderful all by itself, but that He allows her, sends her, to speak with us and leaves us a beautiful Icon should make us even more grateful.

While it is true that private revelation is not binding on the faithful, I think we should be cautious about using that as an excuse to ignore what God is giving us when He sends Our Blessed Mother and/or other saints to remind us of the Gospel message.

bent-crucifix-cc-odoyle81The tilma made of cactus ayate  fibre is still in great condition and the image remains clear despite some accidents; one with nitric acid and the time someone tried to blow it up. In fact despite being on open display for many years under candle flame and incense, before even a glass covering was made, the tilma image is in much better condition that the Mona Lisa and is only 12 years younger than Leonardo’s famous painting. The great crucifix that was bent right over by the explosion is now on display. The glass covering of the tilma remained in tact.

On Dec 12th 1531 Juan Diego was sent to the barren cold top of Tepayac Hill where he gathered an astonishing harvest of big castellan roses that had suddenly appeared there.

StarThe Icon shows a woman dressed as royalty, but with her head bowed as one in service. The black ribbon that hangs under her prayerful hands shows that she is pregnant. More than that, thanks to some study of the stars on her mantel we see she is carrying the constellations from that very date. She wears the crown of stars (Corona borealis) and under her hands (invisibly) is Leo showing that she carries the Lion of Judah and above that over her heart is virgo saying she is a virgin.

There were more scientific studies that show the eyes of the Icon have the reflections of a real eye showing the bishop and Juan Diego in her eyes. The minute and realistic distortions of the images in her eye show something so accurate that no artist could have done this.

At the time the Indians understood the image better than the Spanish did. They read graphics like words. The tilma is as packed with information about her. She wears the cross of the Christians and the robes of a princess. She is robed in the sun and stands on the moon, so she is greater than their gods, but she bows her head with the cross on her neck and therefore is accepting a God greater still.

Up until this point the missionaries in Mexico and surrounding areas were having a tough time converting the native peoples. Their work was hampered by the unChristian behaviour of many of the Spanish and Portuguese settlers who, feeling that Rome and her rules was far away, took slaves and spent more time chasing gold than seeking the kingdom.

But after the apparition and the miraculous image was left, millions of people learned about how much God loved them and how He had even given them a Mother and they were baptised.

It was this image that was taken into the battle of Lepanto and her prayers that gave victory on the Feast of the Holy Rosary 1571.

I love the way God sends His mother at times of crisis. He sends her and raises up some ordinary person like St. Juan Diego or the children of Fatima, Lourdes, La Salette and so on. Mary appears clothed in the sun at a point where in Europe the book of Revelation is under attack. God has a gentle sense of humour I think.

It’s great to have a wonderful mother.

Advent 2: getting straightened out.

Our family are getting ready for a wedding. Alex is getting married. So we all have preparations under way. Certain things need to be sorted out before the bride and groom can walk down the aisle.

In some ways Advent is like preparing for a wedding. We want to be ready to greet the Christ Child in the best way we can. But advent is also about awaiting the return of the King, the Bridegroom who will come at last to claim His Bride.

St. John the Baptist stood at the river Jordan and asked the Jews to repent, clean themselves up, get baptised as a sign of that cleaning up and be ready because the Lamb of God was on His way.  John  stood on the banks of the Jordan the river that ran from the Sea of Galilee in the north where old Israel had dwelt to the dead see in the South where Judah was based. On one side of the river lived the Jews and on the other was the Decapolis, the ten cities where many of the diaspora, Hellenist Jews lived.  One was coming who would bring all Israel together and bring the gentile pagans into cleansing waters too.

John was the last old covenant prophet and his baptism was the last baptism before the sacrament established by Christ came in which we are born again in water and the spirit. (John 3). John’s final action was in baptising with a promise of the final baptism and Christ left His apotles with the instruction to baptise all the nations in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; bringing the world into the New Covenant.

St John was going to die because of his stance on the sanctity of marriage. While in the Temple of Herod the rabbi Hillel was wondering whether a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all, John was preparing the people for a true Bridegroom.

In Divine Office we’ve had the reading from Isaiah where King Hezekiah (who was the first fulfilment of the prophecy about a maiden conceiving and bearing a son) is cleaning house. Shebna, the King’s Steward has shown himself corrupt and incapable of properly stewarding the people. So Hezekiah ditches him and places the keys of the kingdom on Eliakim. He shall open and none shall shut, he shall shut and none shall open.

When the Messiah comes He too cleans house. The Temple priesthood is overthrown (in the mini Parousia it’s more definite 70 AD) and Peter is given the keys of God’s Kingdom. He is given the authority to bind and loose.

That authority is still under the King though. Popes have authority to do only what God wills. It doesn’t matter how much the media and others demand the Church change the laws God has laid down – She can’t. Authority isn’t about doing what you want, or what someone else wants, it’s about doing and saying what is true.

Right now I am fighting the flu. So my brain is more like a pile of mash spuds, so sorry this isn’t very erudite…

Oh no not the Immaculate Conception! What is it again?

Let’s start at the very beginning

A very good place to start

When you read you begin with A B C

It’s Adam and Eve in theology…

Ahem, yes that was really awful, but I couldn’t resist. So let’s start with Adam and Eve.

God created the heavens and the earth “all that is visible and invisible! (Nicene Creed). Then on the evening of Day 6 He created Adam out of the “red earth” (Adam means red earth) and gave him authority. How do we know Adam received authority from God? Adam named the animals. In Jewish thought, and strictly speaking this should still be Christian thought, naming is a sign of authority. Names are important, they carry meaning.

Adam doesn’t find a fit companion among the animals so God makes Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. To paraphrase St. Edith Stein; God didn’t take from Adam’s head that he might rule over her, or from a bone in his foot that he might trample her underfoot, but from a bone close to his heart that he might love her.

Now, I have a little theory on this – take it or leave it. I think God took the rib from Adam’s right side, nearest his heart to make Eve. I’ll tell you why in a moment.

I would like to believe that Adam bore a scar on his right side where the rib had been taken.

Adam named his bride Eve, the mother of all that live.

Adam and Eve sinned and God cursed Satan. “I will put enmity between you and the woman…you will bite at her heel and (he/she/they/it) will crush your head.” (There’s still a discussion on the proper translation of the word s’he it; I tend to lean towards the word “she” and I’ll explain why).

With the curse, God gave the Promise of a Saviour.

Then there’s the whole of the Covenant testaments as God made new Covenants with Noah, Abraham, Jacob/Israel and then Moses. Gradually God trains His Chosen people and reveals Himself a little more along the way.

Types of Mary occur through Scripture. Jael who put the tent-peg through the head of the enemy, (jdg 4:21) then Judith who beheaded the enemy (Jud 13) and an unnamed woman who dropped a massive stone block on the head of the enemy coming to attack Jerusalem. (can’t remember where this is in Scripture)

Then there’s the importance of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is the great sign of God’s Covenant with Israel. It is made beautifully with gold, and more gold lining the inside.  The Ark contained the Law that God gave to Moses – His Word written by His hand; some manna- the bread from heaven and the rod of Aaron the High Priest.

So the groundwork is laid.

Now to the story of how Mary came to be conceived.

In the Protoevangelium of James we find Joachim and Anna who are good, saintly people but have never been blessed with a child. This theme is also found in the Old Testament; Sarah was barren until Isaac was given her, Rachel was barren until Joseph and Benjamin; Hannah was barren until Samuel…and so on.

The elders of the Temple gave Joachim a hard time because having no children seemed like a punishment from God.

After much heart ache and prayer, finally God sends an angel to tell Joachim that his wife will bear him a child. In this case, unusually, the promise is a daughter.

So Mary was conceived.

Some people have asked “how”? They are asking if she was conceived in the usual way, or miraculously. It is generally agreed that Mary’s conception happened in the usual way. Let’s not forget that God invented sex. Adam and Eve were built physically as people are today.

So why ask if Mary was conceived miraculously? It goes back to Adam and Eve.

Back in the Garden Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. They were man and wife. It doesn’t seem they had relations at this point. In fact from rabbinic tradition, it would have been proper to wait until Adam had made the sacrifice to claim his bride. Adam didn’t make the sacrifice – he ate the fruit instead. The tree of life remained untouched.

Then Adam and Eve covered themselves and we all know they covered up the sexual. life giving parts because they had consumed “death” with that fruit.

As a result sex between married couples will always be less than it could have been and brining forth life more difficult.

Blessed Catherine Anne Emmerich’s visions do suggest a miraculous conception of Mary. but there have been a number of issues with the recording of her visions – as someone else did it . Some man whose name I can’t remember.

Anway. Mary is conceived. So what makes her conception “immaculate”?

God, her saviour, fills her with grace just as He had done with Eve. She is the Second Eve, as her Son will be the Second Adam. She still has free will, just as Eve did, but she retains her sinlessness. The Second Adam will embrace the Tree of Life, as the first Adam did not, and He will pour out His Precious Blood for His Bride the Church. Mary is a model of the Church, the Bride. And of course the last pouring out of Blood an water comes from the side of Christ, between His ribs and I believe He was pierced on the right side for the vision of Ezekial saw water flow from the right side of the Temple and Jesus had already equated Himself with the Temple. God is neat.

Why does she need to be without sin?

It is said that strictly she didn’t “need” to be sinless but it is fitting she should be. It is also one of those things God would do. He’s good like that. Just as the inside of the Ark was of purest gold before it received the word of God, the Bread from heaven, and the symbol of priesthood – so Mary is purest gold before she can conceive the Son of God being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.

She is the Ark of the New Covenant.

This is another reason she remains ever virgin. Just as no one would empty the old Ark and put a couple of good books in there, so no one could enter the womb that bore Jesus because, like the place in the Temple that was the Holy of Holies, no one but the High Priest could enter.

When she bears the Word of God, Satan does get his head stomped on.

Understanding the role of Mary means spending a lot of time with Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers. Once we get to understand her, fully human and utterly saved and loved, and loving she will point us to her Son, fully human and fully Divine. That is her primary role – to point us to Her Son.

I heard a very angry man on Catholic Answers who was absolutely furious at the notion of Mary being sinless. Personally I rather like the fact that God really is that generous towards His mother.

Advent 1: Going up to the mountain of the Lord

advent1After Sunday’s Gospel where Jesus gives a pretty full-on warning and promise about His Second Coming, the readings begin to unpack the fulness of that promise.

The New Covenant wasn’t just between God and Israel (You shall be My people and I shall be your God Jer.30:22) but now the gates are open wide and all the nations will come to gather at the mountain of the Lord. (Is 2:3)

What are we waiting for?

We await the shoot that will spring from Jesse and bring a much looked for peace to the nations of the earth. They will all come under the one Lord Jesus Christ who brings light out of the darkness of death and leads us on the path of peace (Benedictus of Zachariah Lk 1:68 said every morning in Lauds)

Where is this mountain?

I wonder about the symbolism of the mountain. John, in his vision of Revelation talks about the city built on Seven Hills and the argument has gone back and forth about whether that’s Jerusalem with it’s seven hills (Olivet, Acra, Moriah, Bezetha, Scophes, Ophel and Zion other lists have slightly different names). The Seven Hills of Rome (Quirinal,Viminal, Capitoline, Equiline,Palatine, Caelian and Avetine).

It’s an interesting coincidence that both this cities were built like this and John probably wanted readers to see the “twin” natures. One city crucified Our Lord and the other was busy crucifying the members of His Body – Nero did some truly hideous things in his slaughter of Christians.

Seven is an important number in Jewish faith. It is the number of the Days of Creation and it is the number for swearing and oath. It is from this we get the word Sacrament, which as Dr. Hahn points out means literally to “seven ourselves” when we bind ourselves to a holy oath – of which there are seven and therefore seven ways that God in His generosity pours out His graces on us.

Adam and Eve were made on the sixth day, but the Sabbath was then made for them (the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27). But when they sinned they fell back to “working” instead of resting in the Lord and were people of the sixth day, longing for the Messiah.

Jesus is crucified on an eighth hill, just outside Jerusalem (Calvary to the Romans, Golgotha to the Jews). Peter is crucified on an eighth hill across the river from Rome. (Vatican)

Jesus rises on the Sunday which in the Holy week is day 8. He rises on the first day and remakes it. We are children of the eighth day. This is the day that the Lord has made (Ps 118:24)

When we ask Him to come, Marana tha, we are asking for glorious Christ to be heralded by the angels. He will come to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end (Creed).

Christ the King and off to Advent.

It was the feast of Christ the King yesterday. The salvation history story comes to it’s end with the return of the King. Christ comes as the Just Judge and there is  the triumph of His Kingship.

This feast is one of those “already and not yet” things about Christ. He is already King, but He hasn’t fully revealed Himself as such and won’t until He comes in glory.

Then He will perform the General Judgement and after the Judgement there will be Heaven and Hell. All those souls in purgatory enter heaven and all is done.

We have pointers in Scripture and Tradition that God is merciful, but He is also Judge. Christ is our brother but He is also our King. He is glorious and powerful and according to Scripture He will come and kick some butts. We are supposed to make sure it isn’t ours.

In Divine Office and Mass readings we have come to the end of the story with John’s Revelation (Apocalypse).  Christ has fulfilled His Mission and is the King of Kings.

If we are going to meet Christ the King and be part of the Church Triumphant in heaven we have to “seek first the Kingdom”. If we aren’t seeking the kingdom, we will find it might difficult to find the king.

The Scripture stories have come from the darkest days of persecution through the Prophecies of Daniel and the stand of the Maccabees, through the war in heaven and Satan wanting to destroy the Child of the Woman. Then at last to the great Triumph. It is promised. God always keeps His promises.