Friday, December 28, 2007

Gospel of wealth

~from the Associated Press

The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor's living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.

And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Fla., area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinn and a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.

Only the blessings didn't come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn't strong enough.

"I wanted to believe God wanted to do something great with me like he was doing with them," she said. "I'm angry and bitter about it. Right now, I don't watch anyone on TV hardly."

All three of the groups Fleenor supported are among six major Christian television ministries under scrutiny by a senator who is asking questions about the evangelists' lavish spending and possible abuses of their tax-exempt status.

The probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles — the "Gospel of Prosperity," or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.

All six ministries under investigation preach the prosperity gospel to varying degrees.

Proponents call it a biblically sound message of hope. Others say it is a distortion that makes evangelists rich and preys on the vulnerable. They say it has evolved from "it's all right to make money" to it's all right for the pastor to drive a Bentley, live in an oceanside home and travel by private jet.


Crossing over

~from The Wall Street Journal...just a little more insanity to enlighten you
So what is the justification for overturning the millennia-old practice of sorting people into two sexes? Let's start with the science, what little there is. One might think that "gender-identity disorder" is a psychological ailment. But the American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes that "many transgender people do not experience their transgender feelings and traits to be distressing or disabling, which implies that being transgender does not constitute a mental disorder per se." So transgenderism, it is argued, is a physical ailment for which there are medical solutions. In that sense, too, it is different from homosexuality, which is no longer considered an ailment at all, let alone one that requires a cure.

Not all experts agree with the APA. Paul McHugh, a former director of the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, notes that the transgendered patients he has come to know were no happier after sex-change surgery than before. He writes in "The Mind Has Mountains": "I concluded that to provide a surgical alteration to the body of these unfortunate people was to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it."

In certain quarters, the findings of Dr. McHugh and a few like-minded professionals have been met with outrage. To question the narrative of the transgendered--all that is wrong, they say, is our society's "social construct"--is to invite a ferocious response. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University, published a book in 2003 suggesting that some men who want to change genders are living in a kind of fantasy. They are motivated by an erotic idea of themselves as women. He was met with a campaign of harassment--one critic even posted pictures of Mr. Bailey's children on the Internet with sexually explicit captions under them.

Elites have noticed this ferocity and have begun to accommodate it. Atlanta hosted the nation's first transgender career fair in September. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the expo drew representatives from 20 major corporations. But logistical questions came up. Should applicants list both their male and female names on résumés? What if a potential employer called an old reference who didn't know about an applicant's "change"?

Even elementary schools have had to adjust. An article in the New York Times revealed how parents of children with gender confusion are now being encouraged to dress their children as members of the opposite sex. "At the Park Day School in Oakland [Calif.], teachers . . . are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender."

When officials in Port Ewen, N.Y., decided to let a school principal stay on even after a sex change, most parents didn't protest. But one resident of a neighboring town told a reporter: "God makes things perfect and people want to screw it all up." It's a passing remark but it raises an interesting question. What does it mean that, once conceived, a person was somehow given the wrong body? Should we hold God responsible? And what bathroom does he want us going into?

Feast of the Holy Innocents

During this octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighborhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod. Sacrificed by a wicked monarch, these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him. It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children; already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men. But the persecutors are powerless, for Christ came to perform a work of salvation that nothing can prevent; when He fell into the hands of his enemies at the time chosen by God it was to redeem the world by His own Blood.

Our Christmas joy is tempered today by a feeling of sadness. But the Church looks principally to the glory of the children, of these innocent victims, whom she shows us in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.

~from Catholic Culture

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Today, dearest brethren, we celebrate the birthday of those children who were slaughtered, as the Gospel tells us, by that exceedingly cruel king, Herod. Let the earth, therefore, rejoice and the Church exult — she, the fruitful mother of so many heavenly champions and of such glorious virtues. Never, in fact, would that impious tyrant have been able to benefit these children by the sweetest kindness as much as he has done by his hatred. For as today's feast reveals, in the measure with which malice in all its fury was poured out upon the holy children, did heaven's blessing stream down upon them.

"Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah! You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers' womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present. The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod's cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers' bosom, are justly hailed as "infant martyr flowers"; they were the Church's first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.

— St. Augustine

Even before they learn to speak, they proclaim Christ

~by St. Quodvultdeus (d. 450 AD)

A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.

You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.

Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace, so small, yet so great, who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the saviour already working salvation.

But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.

How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Thrice-Glorious Seven

~great headline from Chris. Here's Damien Thompson's religious story of 2007
There is only one candidate for my religious highlight of 2007: that glorious day in July when Pope Benedict XVI healed a disastrous rift in the history of the Western Church by restoring the ancient Latin Mass to its full dignity.

The Holy Father’s apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum was a thrilling and shocking event: thrilling for traditional Catholics because its liberation of the older Mass was so much more comprehensive than they had dared hope, and shocking for ossified liberals who believed that the “Tridentine” liturgy was a thing of the past.

In the short term, it might appear that the Pope created a rift rather than closed one. But that is because the liberal hierarchies of many countries – now, thank God, on the verge of retirement – so totally misunderstood what happened on 07/07/07.

Summorum Pontificum is not an attempt to coax fogeys and sectarians back into the Church by relaxing the rules governing the celebration of the old Mass. It is far more radical than that. The document doesn’t relax rules – it abolishes them.

The Bishops of England and Wales need to understand one thing. From now on, Catholics who desire the ancient liturgy DO NOT NEED TO ASK PERMISSION FROM THEIR BISHOP.

Got that?

The tragedy is that bishops should even wish to restrict the celebration of the older form of liturgy. The Extraordinary Form, as it is now called, will not replace the vernacular Mass as the main Eucharistic worship of the Church. It is a freely available alternative, better suited to some circumstances than others.

Why did it need to be made freely available? First, because the generous provision of the Older Missal envisaged by Pope John Paul II never happened: many bishops treated traditionalist Catholics like lepers. Or, to put it more bluntly, devotees of the Mass of the Ages were the one minority the trendy dinosaur bishops didn’t suck up to.

Second, and more profoundly, it is the particular genius of Pope Benedict to recognise that so many features of the classical Mass that struck the 1960s reformers as anachronisms – the silent canon, the eastward-facing celebration, the precise sacerdotal gestures – are truly timeless. Their cosmological symbolism is so rich, so other-worldly, that they speak far more directly to disorientated young people than the glib mateyness of many vernacular Masses.

July 7, 2007, was one of the greatest days in the history of the Catholic Church. Our bishops may be too myopic and grouchy to recognise this, but perhaps their hearts will be touched in 2008 and the great reform can begin in earnest.
Love this line: Their cosmological symbolism is so rich, so other-worldly, that they speak far more directly to disorientated young people than the glib mateyness of many vernacular Masses.

Glib mateyness much have we suffered through them!

An interview with Mons. Guido Marini

~an excerpt via The New Liturgical Movement
So your responsibility is great: to get the faithful involved and make them understand what is happening.

That is the great task of every liturgical celebration, of the ars celebrandi. If it succeeds, then one truly has the active participation of everyone, because they will not only be taking part exteriorly in the celebration, but will be profoundly, spiritually engaged and able to enter into the action of Christ and the Church, thus growing in holiness and a transformation of one's life.

We truly participate in a liturgy when we arrive at the mystery of the Lord,our Savior, and come out of it interiorly changed and capable of giving oneself without reservation to God and our fellowmen.

Let's get back to the symbolic aspects. What vestments will the Pope wear?

Above all, it must be underscored that the vestments chosen, like some details of the rites themselves, are meant to underscore the continuity of the present liturgy with that which characterized the traditional liturgy of the Church.

The hermeneutic of continuity is always the right criterion for interpreting the course of the Church in time. This goes for the liturgy as well.

Just as a Pope cites his predecessors in his documents, to show the continuity of the magisterium, a Pope also does the same in the liturgical sense when he uses the vestments and sacred accessories that previous Popes have used, to indicate the same continuity in the lex orandi.

Thus during the Christmas season liturgies, Pope Benedict XVI will be wearing miters that belonged to Benedict XVI, John XXIII, John Paul I and John Paul II.

So, attention to external elements reflects attention to the spiritual content of the liturgy?

The beauty of a liturgical celebration in all its entirety is not simply external, even if this has its value because it reminds us that the liturgy is an act of worship, that the Eucharist is the greatest treasure of the Church, and we can never 'give' it enough.

The beauty also tries to express humanly the infinite beauty of God and his love. And therefore, liturgy cannot be not beautiful, nor lacking in dignity, order, precision and harmony, even in the smallest details.

The Crucifix will be at the center of the altar even for the Christmas Mass. How do you reconcile a nativity event with a symbol of death?

The Crucifix on the altar indicates the centrality of the Cross in the eucharistic celebration, which is the precise orientation that the congregation is called on to have during the liturgy. We do not look at each other - we look at Him who was born, died and resurrected for us, the Savior.

The Lord bring salvation. He is the Orient, the Sun who rises, to whom we should all look, and from whom we may all receive the gifts of grace.

What can a Christian today, a man or woman of the third millennium, gain from the celebration of an event that took place two centuries ago? The liturgical celebrations of the season, starting with the Midnight Mass, allow us to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation. In contemplating that mystery, everything should contribute to inspire awe and wonder.

How can we fail to wonder at the event of the Son of God becoming a baby for us and for our salvation? In him, the true and previously unknown face of God was revealed, and with him, the truth about man's life and destiny. The liturgy makes manifest the beauty of that mystery and the love of God which is rich with his infinite mercy. It is a splendid wonder that conquers the human heart.

So the star that shone over that cave in Bethlehem remains 'contemporary'? The birth of Jesus is not just a fact of the past - it is a fact that is present and vivid today in the eucharistic celebration. Jesus Christ is the Living One. And there is a keyword which indicates this - the word 'today' which recurs so many times in the celebrations of the Christmas season.

Feast of St. John the Evangelist

Today is the third day in the octave of Christmas. The Church celebrates the Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist. Born in Bethsaida, he was called while mending his nets to follow Jesus. He became the beloved disciple of Jesus. He wrote the fourth Gospel, three Epistles and the Apocalypse. His passages on the pre-existence of the Word, who by His Incarnation became the light of the world and the life of our souls, are among the finest of the New Testament. He is the evangelist of the divinity of Christ and His fraternal love. With James, his brother, and Simon Peter, he was one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration. At the Last Supper, he leans on the Master's breast. At the foot of the cross, Jesus entrusts His Mother to his care. John's pure life kept him very close to Jesus and Mary in years to come. John was exiled to the island of Patmos under Emperor Domitian.

~from Catholic Culture

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St. John, the Evangelist, who is styled in the Gospel "the beloved disciple", was a Galilean, son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother to St. James the Greater, both of whom were fishermen. The two were called by Jesus to be disciples as they were mending their nets by the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus showed St. John particular instances of kindness and affection above all the rest. He had the happiness to be present with Peter and James at the Transfiguration of Christ, and was permitted to witness His agony in the Garden. He was allowed to rest on Our Savior's bosom at the Last Supper, and to him Jesus confided the care of His holy Mother as He hung dying on the Cross.

St. John was the only one of the Apostles who did not forsake the Savior in the hour of His Passion and Death.

It seems that St. John remained for a long time in Jerusalem, but that his later years were spent at Ephesus, whence he founded many churches in Asia Minor. St. John wrote his Gospel after the other Evangelists, about sixty-three years after the Ascension of Christ; also three Epistles, and the wonderful and mysterious Book of the Apocalypse or Revelation. He was brought to Rome and, according to tradition, was cast into a caldron of boiling oil by order of Emperor Domitian. Like the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, he was miraculously preserved unhurt.

He was later exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse, but afterwards returned to Ephesus.

In his extreme old age he continued to visit the churches of Asia, and St. Jerome relates that when age and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words: "My dear children, love one another".

St. John died in peace at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan (as seems to be gathered from Eusebius' history of the Saint) that is, the hundreth of the Christian era, or the sixty-sixth from the crucifixion of Christ, St. John then being about ninety-four years old, according to St. Epiphanus.

~ from Heavenly Friends, St. Paul Editions

The flesh revealed Life itself

~by St. Augustine

We announce what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have touched with our own hands. Who could touch the Word with his hands unless the Word was made flesh and lived among us?

Now this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from what John says: What existed from the beginning. Notice how John’s letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.

Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ’s body itself which was touched by human hands. But consider what comes next: and life itself was revealed. Christ therefore is himself the Word of life.

And how was this life revealed? It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. But what does Scripture say? Mankind ate the bread of angels.

Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.

John continues: And we are witnesses and we proclaim to you that eternal life which was with the Father and has been revealed among us – one might say more simply “revealed to us”.

We proclaim to you what we have heard and seen. Make sure that you grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us. So we also have heard, although we have not seen.

Are we then less favoured than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: so that you too may have fellowship with us? They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith.

And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And we write this to you to make your joy complete – complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Feast of St. Stephen

Yesterday, after solemnly celebrating Christ's Birth, today we are commemorating the birth in Heaven of St Stephen, the first martyr. A special bond links these two feasts and it is summed up well in the Ambrosian liturgy by this affirmation: "Yesterday, the Lord was born on earth, that Stephen might be born in Heaven" (At the breaking of the bread).

Just as Jesus on the Cross entrusted himself to the Father without reserve and pardoned those who killed him, at the moment of his death St. Stephen prayed: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit"; and further: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (cf. Acts 7:59-60). Stephen was a genuine disciple of Jesus and imitated him perfectly. With Stephen began that long series of martyrs who sealed their faith by offering their lives, proclaiming with their heroic witness that God became man to open the Kingdom of Heaven to humankind.

In the atmosphere of Christmas joy, the reference to the martyr St. Stephen does not seem out of place. Indeed, the shadow of the Cross was already extending over the manger in Bethlehem.

It was foretold by the poverty of the stable in which the infant wailed, the prophecy of Simeon concerning the sign that would be opposed and the sword destined to pierce the heart of the Virgin, and Herod's persecution that would make necessary the flight to Egypt.

It should not come as a surprise that this Child, having grown to adulthood, would one day ask his disciples to follow him with total trust and faithfulness on the Way of the Cross.

Already at the dawn of the Church, many Christians, attracted by his example and sustained by his love, were to witness to their faith by pouring out their blood. The first martyrs would be followed by others down the centuries to our day.

How can we not recognize that professing the Christian faith demands the heroism of the Martyrs in our time too, in various parts of the world? Moreover, how can we not say that everywhere, even where there is no persecution, there is a high price to pay for consistently living the Gospel?

Contemplating the divine Child in Mary's arms and looking to the example of St Stephen, let us ask God for the grace to live our faith consistently, ever ready to answer those who ask us to account for the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

Angelus Message, Pope Benedict XVI, December 26, 2005.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

A New Light

It is truly meet and just, right and profitable for us at all times, and in all places, to give thanks to Thee, O Lord, the Holy One, the Father Almighty, the Everlasting God; because by the Mystery of the Word made flesh, from Thy brightness a new light hath risen to shine on the eyes of our souls, in order that, God becoming visible to us, we may be borne upward to the love of things invisible. (from the Preface for Christmas)

A Great Light Descendeth

Alleluia, alleluia. Dies sanctificatus illuxit nobis: venite gentes, et adorate Dominum: quia hodie descendit lux magna super terram. Alleluia.

Alleluia, alleluia. A hallowed day hath dawned for us: come ye Gentiles, and adore the Lord; for this day a great light hath descended upon the earth. Alleluia.

At the beginning is the Baby

~an excerpt from my friend Fr. B's homily for the Vigil Mass of Christmas
The answer that God gives is the reason for our celebration. He does not come in power and might. He does not come as an earthly king. He sends his Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary and she is found to be with child. He Himself took flesh from the Virgin. This is why the Old Testament calls Him Emmanuel - God is with us. God Himself became a little baby – a baby called Jesus, a name meaning Saviour. And how does He save us? He does not do so with brute power and might, but the strange weapons of weakness, innocence and love – the weapons by which a little baby can win our hearts.

By coming into the world as a child, God makes possible a new relationship with Him. He makes Himself small so that He is no longer far away from us. He shows us that His love for us is so great that He wants to enter into our world, into our lives and make Himself defenceless in front of us.

By coming to us as a baby He invites us to open our hearts to Him. This is where His salvation begins – by driving out hatred, bitterness and sin and replacing it with His love. During the year we will celebrate His teaching, His Passion, His Cross, His Resurrection and His sending of the Holy Spirit – but tonight our focus is on the beginning. At the beginning is the baby. We look at the little baby in the crib and our hearts open; we learn that He is our God and we realise that the whole world has been changed. We know that the world is not Foresaken or Abandoned, but that Heaven and Earth have been wedded to each other, and God has come to change us so that he might truly delight in us. We know that God has come close to us, and has poured His grace and His love into our world, and for that we give thanks on this Holy Night.

Holy Father's Homily for Midnight Mass

AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito

~from Zenit

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: "you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours - the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: "She wrapped him in swaddling clothes" allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke's brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: "To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God" (Jn 1:12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or "wise men" - the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down - in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David's throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way - in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne - the Cross - corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ's love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness - this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace - and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" - those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.

Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: "He pitched his tent among us" (Jn 1:14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: "Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created" (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory's vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels' Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song - still according to the Fathers - possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father who art in Heaven", he asks: what is this - Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: "... who art in Heaven - that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: 'The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains', but rather: 'the Lord is close to the brokenhearted' (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called 'Earth', so by contrast the just man can be called 'Heaven'" (Sermo in monte II 5, 17). Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God's humility, God's heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

[Original text: Italian]

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Urbi et Orbi

REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN)

REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN)

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"A holy day has dawned upon us."

A day of great hope: today the Saviour of mankind is born.

The birth of a child normally brings a light of hope to those who are waiting anxiously. When Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem, a "great light" appeared on earth; a great hope entered the hearts of those who awaited him: in the words of today’s Christmas liturgy, "lux magna".

Admittedly it was not "great" in the manner of this world, because the first to see it were only Mary, Joseph and some shepherds, then the Magi, the old man Simeon, the prophetess Anna: those whom God had chosen.

Yet, in the shadows and silence of that holy night, a great and inextinguishable light shone forth for every man; the great hope that brings happiness entered into the world: "the Word was made flesh and we saw his glory" (Jn 1:14).

"God is light", says Saint John, "and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn 1:5). In the Book of Genesis we read that when the universe was created, "the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep."

"God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light." (Gen 1:2-3). The creative Word of God – Dabar in Hebrew, Verbum in Latin, Logos in Greek – is Light, the source of life.

All things were made through the Logos, not one thing had its being but through him (cf. Jn 1:3). That is why all creatures are fundamentally good and bear within themselves the stamp of God, a spark of his light.

Nevertheless, when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the Light himself came into the world: in the words of the Creed, "God from God, Light from Light".

In Jesus, God assumed what he was not, while remaining what he was: "omnipotence entered an infant’s body and did not cease to govern the universe" (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 184, No. 1 on Christmas).

The Creator of man became man in order to bring peace to the world. For this reason, during Christmas night, the hosts of angels sing: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" (Lk 2:14).

"Today a great light has come upon the earth".

The Light of Christ is the bearer of peace. At Midnight Mass, the Eucharistic liturgy begins with this very chant: "Today true peace has come down to us from heaven" (Entrance Antiphon).

Indeed, it is only the "great" light manifested in Christ that can give "true" peace to men: that is why every generation is called to welcome it, to welcome the God who in Bethlehem became one of us.

This is Christmas – the historical event and the mystery of love, which for more than two thousand years has spoken to men and women of every era and every place. It is the holy day on which the "great light" of Christ shines forth, bearing peace!

Certainly, if we are to recognize it, if we are to receive it, faith is needed and humility is needed. The humility of Mary, who believed in the word of the Lord and, bending low over the manger, was the first to adore the fruit of her womb; the humility of Joseph, the just man, who had the courage of faith and preferred to obey God rather than to protect his own reputation; the humility of the shepherds, the poor and anonymous shepherds, who received the proclamation of the heavenly messenger and hastened towards the stable, where they found the new-born child and worshipped him, full of astonishment, praising God (cf. Lk 2:15-20).

The little ones, the poor in spirit: they are the key figures of Christmas, in the past and in the present; they have always been the key figures of God’s history, the indefatigable builders of his Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

In the silence of that night in Bethlehem, Jesus was born and lovingly welcomed. And now, on this Christmas Day, when the joyful news of his saving birth continues to resound, who is ready to open the doors of his heart to the holy child? Men and women of this modern age, Christ comes also to us bringing his light, he comes also to us granting peace!

But who is watching, in the night of doubt and uncertainty, with a vigilant, praying heart? Who is waiting for the dawn of the new day, keeping alight the flame of faith? Who has time to listen to his word and to become enfolded and entranced by his love? Yes! His message of peace is for everyone; he comes to offer himself to all people as sure hope for salvation.

Finally, may the light of Christ, which comes to enlighten every human being, shine forth and bring consolation to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war; to those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend against human dignity.

It is the most vulnerable members of society – women, children, the elderly – who are so often the victims of brutal armed conflicts, terrorism and violence of every kind, which inflict such terrible sufferings on entire populations.

At the same time, ethnic, religious and political tensions, instability, rivalry, disagreements, and all forms of injustice and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations.

Throughout the world the number of migrants, refugees and evacuees is also increasing because of frequent natural disasters, often caused by alarming environmental upheavals.

On this day of peace, my thoughts turn especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate; to the tortured regions of Darfur, Somalia, the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia; to the whole of the Middle East – especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land; to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to the Balkans and to many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten.

May the Child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions.

To the thirst for meaning and value so characteristic of today’s world, to the search for prosperity and peace that marks the lives of all mankind, to the hopes of the poor: Christ – true God and true Man – responds with his Nativity.

Neither individuals nor nations should be afraid to recognize and welcome him: with Him "a shining light" brightens the horizon of humanity; in him "a holy day" dawns that knows no sunset. May this Christmas truly be for all people a day of joy, hope and peace!

"Come you nations and adore the Lord."

With Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, with the Magi and the countless host of humble worshippers of the new-born Child, who down the centuries have welcomed the mystery of Christmas, let us too, brothers and sisters from every continent, allow the light of this day to spread everywhere: may it enter our hearts, may it brighten and warm our homes, may it bring serenity and hope to our cities, and may it give peace to the world. This is my earnest wish for you who are listening.

A wish that grows into a humble and trustful prayer to the Child Jesus, that his light will dispel all darkness from your lives and fill you with love and peace.

May the Lord, who has made his merciful face to shine in Christ, fill you with his happiness and make you messengers of his goodness. Happy Christmas!

Hymn to the Nativity

~by St. Ephrem the Syrian

Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem today! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again today! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

Praise to the Fountain that was sent for our propitiation. Praise be to Him Who made void the Sabbath by fulfilling it! Praise too to Him Who rebuked the leprosy and it remained not, Whom the fever saw and fled! Praise to the Merciful, Who bore our toil! Glory to Your coming, which quickened the sons of men!

Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born! Glory to the Silence, that spoke by His Voice. Glory to the One on high, Who was seen by His Day-spring! Glory to the Spiritual, Who was pleased to have a Body, that in it His virtue might be felt, and He might by that Body show mercy on His household's bodies!

Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest! Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die! Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small! Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape! With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.

Glory to that Hidden One, Who even with the mind cannot be felt at all by them that pry into Him; but by His graciousness was felt by the hand of man! The Nature that could not be touched, by His hands was bound and tied, by His feet was pierced and lifted up. Himself of His own will He embodied for them that took Him.

Blessed be He Whom free will crucified, because He let it: blessed be He Whom the wood also did bear, because He allowed it. Blessed be He Whom the grave bound, that had [thereby] a limit set it. Blessed be He Whose own will brought Him to the Womb and Birth, to arms and to increase [in stature]. Blessed He whose changes purchased life for human nature.

Blessed He Who sealed our soul, and adorned it and espoused it to Himself. Blessed He Who made our Body a tabernacle for His unseen Nature. Blessed He Who by our tongue interpreted His secret things. Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp. The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains.

Glory to the Son of the Good One, Whom the sons of the evil one rejected! Glory to the Son of the Just One, Whom the sons of wickedness crucified! Glory to Him Who loosed us, and was bound for us all! Glory to Him Who gave the pledge, and redeemed it too! Glory to the Beautiful, Who conformed us to His image! Glory to that Fair One, Who looked not to our foulnesses!

Glory to Him Who sowed His Light in the darkness, and was reproached in His hidden state, and covered His secret things. He also stripped and took off from us the clothing of our filthiness. Glory be to Him on high, Who mixed His salt in our minds, His leaven in our souls. His Body became Bread, to quicken our deadness.

Praise to the Rich, Who paid for us all, that which He borrowed not; and wrote [His bill], and also became our debtor! By His yoke He broke from us the chains of him that led us captive. Glory to the Judge Who was judged, and made His Twelve to sit in judgment on the tribes, and by ignorant men condemned the scribes of that nation!

Glory to Him Who could never be measured by us! Our heart is too small for Him, yea our mind is too feeble. He makes foolish our littleness by the riches of His Wisdom. Glory to Him, Who lowered Himself, and asked; that He might hear and learn that which He knew; that He might by His questions reveal the treasure of His helpful graces!

Let us adore Him Who enlightened with His doctrine our mind, and in our hearing sought a pathway for His words. Praise we Him Who grafted into our tree His fruit. Thanks to Him Who sent His Heir, that by Him He might draw us to Himself, yea make us heirs with Him! Thanks to that Good One, the cause of all goods!

Blessed He Who did not chide, because that He was good! Blessed He Who did not spurn, because that He was just also! Blessed He Who was silent, and rebuked; that He might quicken us with both! Severe His silence and reproachful. Mild His severity even When He was accusing; for He rebuked the traitor, and kissed the thief.

Glory to the hidden Husbandman of our intellects! His seed fell on to our ground, and made our mind rich. His increase came an hundredfold into the treasury of our souls! Let us adore Him Who sat down and took rest; and walked in the way, so that the Way was in the way, and the Door also for them that go in, by which they go in to the kingdom.

Blessed the Shepherd Who became a Lamb for our reconcilement! Blessed the Branch Who became the Cup of our Redemption! Blessed also be the Cluster, Fount of medicine of life! Blessed also be the Tiller, Who became Wheat, that He might be sown; and a Sheaf, that He might be cut! [Blessed be] the Architect Who became a Tower for our place of safety! Blessed He Who so tempered the feelings of our mind, that we with our harp should sing that which the winged creatures' mouth knows not with its strains to sing! Glory to Him, Who beheld how we had pleased to be like to brutes in our rage and our greediness; and came down and was one of us, that we might become heavenly!

Glory be to Him, Who never felt the need of our praising Him; yet felt the need as being kind to us, and thirsted as loving us, and asks us to give to Him, and longs to give to us. His fruit was mingled with us men, that in Him we might come nigh to Him, Who condescended to us. By the Fruit of His stem He grafted us into His Tree.

Let us praise Him, Who prevailed and quickened us by His stripes! Praise we Him, Who took away the curse by His thorns! Praise we Him Who put death to death by His dying! Praise we Him, Who held His peace and justified us! Praise we Him, Who rebuked death that had overcome us! Blessed He, Whose helpful graces cleansed out the left side!

Praise we Him Who watched and put to sleep him that led us captive. Praise we Him Who went to sleep, and chased our deep sleep away. Glory be to God Who cured weak manhood! Glory be to Him Who was baptized, and drowned our iniquity in the deep, and choked him that choked us! Let us glorify with all our mouths the Lord of all creatures!

Blessed be the Physician Who came down and amputated without pain, and healed wounds with a medicine that was not harsh. His Son became a Medicine, that showed sinners mercy. Blessed be He Who dwelt in the womb, and wrought therein a perfect Temple, that He might dwell in it, a Throne that He might be in it, a Garment that He might be arrayed in it, and a Weapon that He might conquer in it.

Blessed be He Whom our mouth cannot adequately praise, because His Gift is too great for skill of orators [to tell]; neither can the faculties adequately praise His goodness. For praise Him as we may, it is too little.

And since it is useless to be silent and to constrain ourselves, may our feebleness excuse such praise as we can sing.

How gracious He, Who demands not more than our strength can give! How would Your servant be condemned in capital and interest, did he not give such as he could, and did he refuse that which He owed! Ocean of glory Who needest not to have Your glory sung, take in Your goodness this drop of praise; since by Your Gift You have supplied my tongue a sense for glorifying You.

Christian, remember your dignity

~by Pope St. Leo the Great

Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.
Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

Monday, December 24, 2007

O Magnum Mysterium

O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio:
O beata Virgo, cuius viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Jesum Christum.

+ + +

O great mystery
and wonderful sacrament,
that beasts should see the new-born Lord
lying in a manger.
O blessed Virgin, whose womb was deemed worthy
to carry our Lord Jesus Christ.

Truth has arisen from the earth and justice has looked down from heaven

~by St. Augustine

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.

Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.

Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory”, but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.

For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

You shall see His glory

Hodie scietis, quia veniet Dominus, et salvabit nos: et mane videbitis gloriam ejus.
~Graduale, In Vigilia Nativitatis Domini

This day you shall know that the Lord will come, and save us; and in the morning you shall see His glory.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Angelus: Great Mystery of Love

Pope Benedict XVI gives his blessing during the angelus prayer from his studio overlooking St. Peter's square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2007. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

~via Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters !

Just one day separates this fourth Sunday of Advent from Christmas Eve. Tomorrow night, we shall reunite to celebrate the great mystery of love which never ceases to astound us: God became the Son of man so that we can become children of God.

During Advent, from the heart of the church, we implored "come, Lord, to visit us with your peace, your presence, and fill us with joy."

The evangelizing mission of the Church is the answer to the cry "Come, Lrod Jesus!" which runs throughout the history of salvation and continues to arise from the lips of believers.

Come, Lord, to transform our hearts so that justice and pace may spread throughout the world. This is the significance behind the doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelization, recently issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In effect, the document serves to remind all Christian - in a situation where, often the very reason for evangelization is no longer clear even to many faithful - that "the acceptance of the Good News in faith' by itself urges us to communicate the salvation we have received as a gift.

Indeed,"the truth which saves one’s life inflames the heart of the one who has received it with a love of neighbour that motivates him to pass on to others in freedom what he has freely been given." (No. 7).

Having received it from the presence of God, who is particularly near us at Christmas time, it is a priceless gift. A gift that enables us to "live in the universal embrace of the friends of God" (ibid), in that "network of friendship with Christ that links heaven and earth' (ibid, 9), which impels human freedom towards its fulfillment and which, if lived in truth, will flourish in "a love that is freely given and which overflows with care for the good of all people" (ibid.,7).

Nothing is more beautiful, urgent and important than to give back freely to other what we have freely received from God! Nothing can exempt or relieve us of this onerous but fascinating task. The joy of Christmas, of which we already have a foretaste, fills us with hope but also urges us to announce to all the presence of God in our midst.

The unequalled model of evangelization is the Virgin Mary who communicated to the world not an idea, but Jesus himself, the Word incarnate. Let us invoke her with confidence so that the Church may announce, even in our time, Christ the Savior.

May every Christian and every Christian community feel the joy of sharing with others the Good News that "God so loved the world he gave his only Son so that the world may be saved through him" (Jn 3,16-17).

This is the authentic sense of Christmas, which we should always rediscover and live intensely.

O Antiphons: O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Saviour; come and save us , O Lord our God!

Listen to the chant by the Dominican Studentate in England. Read the accompanying meditation at Godzdogz.

Read a meditation by Fr. Mark at Vultus Christi on believing in Love Incarnate casting out fear.

Pray the Christmas Novena

The hidden Sacrament is revealed

~by St. Hippolytus

There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures and from no other source. Whatever things the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatever they teach, let us learn it; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as he wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify him; and as he wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet storming by force the things which are given by God, but even as he has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them.

God, subsisting alone, and having nothing coequal with himself, chose to create the world. And conceiving the world in mind, and willing and uttering the Word, he made it; and at once it appeared, formed it in the way he desired. For us it is sufficient simply to know that nothing was coequal with God. Outside him there was nothing; but he, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality. For he did not lack reason, or wisdom, or power, or counsel. All things were in him, and he was the All. At a time and in a manner chosen by him he made his Word manifest, and through his Word he made all things.

He bears this Word in himself, as yet invisible to the created world. He makes him visible, uttering the voice first, and begetting him as Light of Light. He presents him to the world as its Lord; and whereas the Word was visible formerly to God alone, and invisible to the world which is made, God makes the Word visible in order that the world might see him and be able to be saved.

This is the mind which came forth into the world and was manifested as the Son of God. All things came into being through him, and he alone comes from the Father.

He gave us the Law and the prophets; and in giving them, he made them speak by the Holy Ghost, in order that, receiving the inspiration of the Father’s power, they might declare the Father’s counsel and will.

Thus, then, was the Word made manifest, even as the blessed John says. For he sums up the things that were said by the prophets, and shows that this is the Word, by whom all things were made. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made. And later, The world was made by him, and the world did not know him; he came to his own, and his own did not receive him.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

O Antiphons: O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of the Nations, and the one they desired, keystone, who makes both peoples one, come and save mankind, whom you formed out of clay.

Listen to the chant by the Dominican Studentate in England. Read today's meditation at Godzdogz.

Read today's meditation by Fr. Mark at Vultus Christi on the beauty of the Christ child, the "desired of all nations",

Pray the Christmas Novena

Friday, December 21, 2007

What Anglicans don't believe

~I spent years trying to figure what Anglicans believe and finally left. Now here's Rowan Williams telling us what Anglicans don't believe. From CWN
The Archbishop of Canterbury questioned the accuracy of the Nativity story in a BBC television interview.

Dr. Rowan Williams, the worldwide leader of the Anglican communion, said that the story of the Magi in particular is vague at best, and the claim that the followed a star to Bethlehem is incredible because "stars to not behave like that."

The Anglican leader said that it is "very unlikely" that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in December. The tradition of celebrating the Nativity in December only arose, he said, "because it fitted well with the winter festival."

Archbishop Williams also questioned whether Jesus was born of a virgin. While he personally accepts that tenet of faith, he said, "that's not a pre-condition for being a Christian."

Ad Orientem

~From Vultus Christi, here is a beautiful reflection on celebrating ad orientem by Father Mark. It was a joy to be present at a Mass with him at the Oratory of Our Lady of Good Help at the Abbey of Santa Croce. We faced East together.
What are the advantages of standing at the altar ad orientem, as I have experienced them over the past two years? I can think of ten straight off:
  1. Holy Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.
  2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.
  3. It has once again become evident that the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.
  4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.
  5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Eucharistic Prayer softly, and of cantillating others.
  6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.
  7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.
  8. During the Eucharistic Prayer I am graced with a profound recollection.
  9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.
  10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.
For me as part of the faithful, having a priest celebrate ad orientem helps me to re-orient my focus, to be present mentally in the prayers, to become more deeply aware of the Sacrifice being offered and the prayer being offered up to the God the Father. And it blessedly relieves me from having to feel emotions. At the Elevation, I don't see the priest's face but the Sacrament and the sacrificial nature of the Mass is made clearer in that austere and stark way. I am made to bow down and say, "My Lord and my God."

O Antiphons: O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those, seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Listen to the chant by the Dominican Studentate in England. Read the accompanying meditation.

Read Father Mark's sermon on the "splendor of eternal light".

Pray the Christmas Novena

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

~by St. Ambrose

The angel Gabriel had announced the news of something that was as yet hidden and so, to buttress the Virgin Mary’s faith by means of a real example, he told her also that an old and sterile woman had conceived, showing that everything that God willed was possible to God.

When Mary heard this she did not disbelieve the prophecy, she was not uncertain of the message, she did not doubt the example: but happy because of the promise that had been given, eager to fulfil her duty as a cousin, hurried by her joy, she went up into the hill country.

Where could she hurry to except to the hills, filled with God as she was? The grace of the Holy Spirit does not admit of delays. And Mary’s arrival and the presence of her Son quickly show their effects: As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting her child leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

See the careful distinction in the choice of words. Elizabeth was the first to hear the voice but her son John was the first to feel the effects of grace. She heard as one hears in the natural course of things; he leapt because of the mystery that was there. She sensed the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord — the woman knew the woman, the child knew the child. The women speak of grace while inside them grace works on their babies. And by a double miracle the women prophesy under the inspiration of their unborn children.

The infant leapt and the mother was filled with the Spirit. The mother was not filled before her son: her son was filled with the Holy Spirit and in turn filled his mother. John leapt and so did Mary’s spirit. John leapt and filled Elizabeth with the Spirit; but we know that Mary was not filled but her spirit rejoiced. For the Incomprehensible was working incomprehensibly within his mother. Elizabeth had been filled with the Spirit after she conceived, but Mary before, at the moment the angel had come. “Blessed are you,” said Elizabeth, “who believed”.

You too, my people, are blessed, you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognises his works.

Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us. For every soul can receive the Word of God if only it is pure and preserves itself in chastity and modesty.

The soul that has been able to reach this state proclaims the greatness of the Lord just as Mary did and rejoices in God its saviour just like her.

The Lord’s greatness is proclaimed, as you have read elsewhere, where it says Join me in magnifying the Lord. This does not mean that anything can be added to the Lord’s greatness by human words, but that he is magnified in us. Christ is the image of God and so any good or religious act that a soul performs magnifies that image of God in that soul, the God in whose likeness the soul itself was made. And thus the soul itself has some share in his greatness and is ennobled.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cardinal Pell announces winner of adult stem cell grant

~from the Archdiocese of Sydney. I like Cardinal Pell's approach, boldly speak out against embryonic stem cell research and monetarily support adult stem cell research.

Cardinal George Pell today announced that the Archdiocese of Sydney’s $100,000 grant to support adult stem cell research has been won by an Adelaide-based research team, led by Associate Professor Stan Gronthos (Mesenchymal Stem Cell Group, Bone and Cancer Laboratories, Hanson Institute), and Dr Simon Koblar (Schools of Medicine and Molecular Biomedical Science, Australian Research Council Centre for the Molecular Genetics of Development at the University of Adelaide).

Their success in winning the grant will enable Associate Professor Gronthos and Dr Koblar to investigate the capacity of stem cells derived from human dental pulp tissue to differentiate into neuronal cells, and hence whether they have the potential to be used in treating people who have suffered strokes.

Both researchers praised the contribution of their co-supervised PhD student, Dr. Agnieszka Arthur, who was instrumental in advancing these studies. Dr. Arthur is also a co-investigator on the grant and is currently undertaking her postdoctoral training at the Hanson Institute.

Cardinal Pell applauded the work being done by Associate Professor Gronthos and Dr Koblar and other researchers in Australia on therapeutic applications for adult stem cells.

“The project of Associate Professor Gronthos and Dr Koblar brings new ideas and new thinking to adult stem cell research, and to the search for new treatments for people who have had a stroke”, Cardinal Pell said.

“Their research will initiate and foster a new collaboration between researchers in this area, and I am particularly pleased that the grant from the Archdiocese of Sydney will make a significant contribution to ensuring that their research project goes ahead.

“This is exactly the sort of ethical, innovative and life-enhancing research that the grant was established to promote, and I am delighted that Associate Professor Gronthos and Dr Koblar will join the other distinguished winners of our previous grants in furthering this work.”

Ten highly competitive applications from stem cell researchers across Australia were received for this year’s grant. The applications were considered by an independent selection panel, which sought referees’ reports from one of two referees nominated by the applicant and a referee chosen by the selection panel.


Christ Our Hope

~from Zenit

The message "Christ Our Hope" over an image of Benedict XVI before the dome of St. Peter's Basilica is the logo for the Pope's visit to the United States, April 15-20.

The papal visit will be highlighted by a trip to the United Nations, in response to an invitation from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Pope will also visit the Archdioceses of New York and Washington, D.C..

The theme reflects the Holy Father's new encyclical, "Spe Salvi," an invitation for people to personally encounter Jesus Christ. In the encyclical, the Pontiff said that faith in Christ brings well-founded hope in eternal salvation, the "great hope" that can sustain people through the trials of this world.

The logo features a full color photograph of Benedict XVI waving both hands. Behind him is a yellow-screened image of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. In black type running at the top and over the cupola of the dome are three lines of type reading "Pope Benedict XVI/Christ Our Hope/Apostolic Journey to the United States 2008."

Logo designer Donna Hobson, director of publications at the Catholic University of America, explained her goal with this design.

"I wanted to incorporate the papal colors -- yellow and white," she said, "and my vision was to show a welcoming, arms-open, smiling Pope Benedict."

Two new members for the CDF

~from the Holy See's Daily Bollettino

The Holy Father has named two new members for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Mons. Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Bishop Regensburg (Germany) and the Rev. Fr. Aimable Musoni, SDB from the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome.

O Antiphons: O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, cludis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis. Magnificat.

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Listen to the chant by the Dominican Studentate in England. Read today's meditation at Godzdogz.

Read Father Mark's homily for this antiphon, "The Yes to Love".

Pray the Christmas Novena

The whole world awaits Mary's reply

~by St. Bernard

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Heroes of Sacrifice

Here's the vocations poster from the Diocese of Raleigh...
An increase in vocations is one of the top priorities of Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. In November, 2006, the Diocese began celebration of a First Friday Vocations Holy Hour with prayer and benediction. This year, Bishop Burbidge is celebrating the Vocations Holy Hour each month in one of the Diocese’s eight deaneries.

“We pray that the Lord will bless the Diocese of Raleigh with more candidates for the Priesthood and more vocations to Religious Life,” Bishop Burbidge said. He is asking individuals, families and parish communities to pray daily for this intention and also to pray for our seminarians by name.

Our Diocesan Prayer for Vocations

O Lord Jesus Christ, Great High Priest, I pray that you call many worthy men to your holy priesthood.

Enlighten our Bishop in forming our candidates, our Director of Vocations in guiding them and their professors in teaching and training them.

Lead the seminarians in your unerring footsteps so they may become priests who are models of purity, possessors of wisdom and heroes of sacrifice. May they be steeped in humility and aflame with love for God and others.

Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us.

(Well done, Brad!)

General Audience: Predispose our hearts to Coming Lord

Pope Benedict XVI looks on during his weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican December 19, 2007. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (VATICAN)

~translated by Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters!

In these days, as we come nearer to the great feast of Christmas, the liturgy urges us to intensify our preparation, offering for our disposition several Biblical texts from both the Old and New Testaments which stimulate us to focus properly on the sense and value of this annual occasion.

If, on one hand, Christmas reminds us of the incredible miracle of the birth of God's Only Son to the Virgin Mary in that cave in Bethlehem, on the other hand, it exhorts us to await, in vigilance and prayer, our Redeemer who on the he last day "will come to judge the living and the dead'.

Perhaps, today, not even we believers truly await the Judgment, but all men expect justice. We see so much injustice in the world - in our small world, in the home, in our neighborhood, as well as in the large world of states and society. And we expect justice to be done.

We expect someone to come forth who can concretely render justice. And in this sense, we pray: 'Come, Lord Jesus Christ as Judge, come in your own way'. The Lord knows how to enter the world to create justice. Let us pray that the Lord, as Judge, answers us and truly creates justice in the world.

We expect justice, but this cannot be only the expression of certain demands with respect to others. To expect justice in the Christian sense means, first of all, that we ourselves start to live under the eyes of the Judge, according to his criteria - that we begin to live in his presence by doing justice in our own lives. Thus, by doing justice ourselves, placing ourselves in the presence of the Judge, we can truly hope for justice.

This is the sense of Advent, of vigilance. The Advent vigilance means living under the eyes of the Judge and thus preparing ourselves and the world for justice. By living under the eyes of God as Judge, we can open the world for the coming of his Son and predispose our hearts to 'The Lord who is coming'.

The Baby, who, two thousand years ago, the shepherds adored in a cave that night in Bethlehem, never tires of visiting us in our daily life, as we proceed like pilgrims towards the Kingdom of God. In waiting for him, the believer becomes representative of the hope of all humanity. Mankind yearns for justice, and so, even if unconsciously, it awaits God - it awaits the salvation that only God can give us.

For us Christians, this waiting is marked by assiduous prayer, as indicated by the particularly evocative series of invocations which are proposed to us, in the nine days preceding Christmas - in the Mass and in the Gospel, as well as in the celebration of Vespers before the Magnificat is sung.

Each of the invocations, which ask for the coming of Wisdom, of the Sun of justice, of God-with-us, contains a prayer addressed to the One who is awaited by all peoples, that his coming may be hastened.

But to invoke the birth of the promised Savior also means committing ourselves to prepare the way, to prepare for him a dwelling worthy not only in the environment around us, but above all, in the spirit.

Allowing ourselves to be guided by the evangelist John, let us seek to address our minds and hearts these days to the eternal Word, Logos, the Word which became flesh and from whose fullness we have received grace upon grace (cfr 1,14-16).

This faith in the Logos-Creator, in the World which created the world, in Him who came as a Baby, this faith and its great hope appear today, unfortunately, to be remote from the reality of life lived daily, whether public or private. The reality seems too huge, and we ourselves have been trying to adapt as best we can, or so it seems.

But in this way, the world only becomes more chaotic and even violent, as we can see every day. And the light of God, the light of truth, becomes extinguished. Life becomes dark and without a compass.

How much more important then that we should be truly believers, and as believers, to reaffirm forcefully, with our life, the mystery of salvation which brings with it the celebration of Christ's Nativity!

In Bethlehem, the Light which illumines our life was made manifest to the world; the Way which leads to the fullness of our humanity was revealed to us.

If we do not acknowledge that God became man, what sense is there in celebrating Christmas? The celebration would be empty. We Christians above all should reaffirm the profoundly felt conviction of the truth about Christ's birth, in order to testify to all our awareness of the unprecedented gift not only for us but for everyone.

From this comes the duty to evangelize, which means precisely the communication of this 'eu-angelion', this 'good news'. This was referred to in the recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called "Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelization", which I wish now to pass on for your reflection and to study in depth, personally as well as communally.

Dear friends, in these days when Christmas is imminent, the prayer of the Church is ever more intense that the expectations of peace, salvation and justice, which the world urgently needs today, may be realized.

Let us ask God that violence may be overcome by the power of love, that conflicts give way to reconciliation, that the will to overcome be transformed into a desire for forgiveness, justice and peace.

May the wishes for goodness and love that we exchange these days reach into all the areas of our daily life. May peace be in our hearts that we may be open to the action of God's grace.

May peace dwell in all families so they may spend Christmas together before the creche and a lighted Christmas tree. May the message of brotherhood and hospitality that comes with Christmas contribute to create deeper sensitivity towards the aged and the new forms of poverty, towards the common good in which we are all called upon to take part.

May all the members of the family - above all the children, the aged and the weaker ones - feel the warmth of this feast, and may that warmth spread out through every day of the year.

May Christmas be for all a feast of peace and joy - joy at the birth of he Savior, Prince of Peace. Like the shepherds, let us hasten on our way to Bethlehem. And in the heart of that Holy Night, in our hearts, even we will contemplate the "babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, who lies in a manger" (Lk 2,12-16).

Let us ask the Lord to open our spirits so that we can enter into the mystery of his Nativity. May Mary, who gave her virginal womb to the Word of God, who looked at him as an infant in her arms, and who continues to offer him to everyone as the Redeemer of the world, help us to make of this Christmas an occasion to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ.

This is the wish I affectionately have for all of you who are present here, for your families and those who are dear to you.