Sunday, July 25, 2010

Propers for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Today our liturgical Propers give us several cautionary tales from history.  We are reminded not to be foolish in our pride, as many of our ancestors were.  If we are truly to live our lives as faithful followers of Christ, we must always remember to flee from our pride, and to turn our attention to the Father.

Behold God is my helper, and the Lord is the protector of my soul:  turn back the evils upon my enemies, and cut them off in Thy truth, O Lord my protector.  Ps. 53:3 Save me, O God, by Thy name, and deliver me in Thy strength.  (Introit, Psalm 53:6, 7)
As will become clear throughout today's liturgy, the people of God are always presented with a choice.  We can choose to trust in God for our well-being, or we can trust in our own "wisdom."  The Introit in a certain sense reminds us of this stark choice.  We can almost picture the Psalmist proclaiming these words to the wicked around him.  That while they trust in themselves in their arrogance, he trusts in God, the true helper and protector.  Likewise today, people may trust in politics, physical health, themselves, their money, all these things.  Yet the Christian soul, whether or not he has these things, relies little on them, since they cannot provide what truly matters.

Let Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of Thy suppliant people:  and that Thou mayest grant their desire to those that seek, make them to ask such things as shall please Thee.  (Collect)
Brethren, Let us not covet evil things, as they also coveted.  Neither become ye idolaters, as some of them, as it is written:  The People sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.  Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, and there fell in one day three and twenty thousand.  Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents.  Neither do you murmur, as some of them murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now all these things happened to them in figure, and they are written for our correction, upon whom the ends of the world are come.  Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.  Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human:  and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able;  but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.  (Epistle 1 Corinthians 10:  6-13)
I've included both of these together because I believe the Epistle really does a job at explaining the collect.  The Collect mentions those things that "please Thee."  What are those things?  We find that answer next.  Paul reminds us what would seem like simple things:  Do not covet, worship God alone, do not commit fornication.    Many a person would retort:  Why shouldn't we do these things?  Paul reminds us of the grave consequences of these actions.  Thousands died, were stricken ill, etc.  Eventually, their entire kingdom was taken away.  All of this happened because man foolishly believed he had no need of God.  These punishments occurred as an all too frequent reminder that they were not above God.  They were not gods.

Yet if we understand these punishments, we can also understand the way God helps us endure hardships, and the blessings he provides.  Since the people wished to eat and drink, He provided them with bread from heaven and water from the rock.  Just as people were wounded by beasts, God gave the serpent to heal.  When sinners attempted to sway the Israelis into idolatry, God provided the prophets to bring them back to the One True God.  In today's world, He provides the sacraments and the Church for our protection.  Most importantly, He gives us His only-begotten Son, who teaches us how to avoid the things here mentioned.

At that time, when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, seeing the city, He wept over it, saying:  If thou hadst known, and that in this day, the things that are to thy peace: but now they are hidden from thy eyes.  For the days shall come upon thee, and thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee of every side, and beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee; and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.  And entering into the temple, He began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought, saying to them:  It is written, My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  (Gospel, Luke 19:41-47)
The Gospel introduces what could be called the formal judgment of Jerusalem.  All of the things God provided to the Jews they rejected.  Worse still, they were prepared to reject the messiah, the one promised to them of old.  When Christ clears out the temple, it would be akin to someone walking up to the White House, and ejecting the President and all of his cabinet.  Since Israel had rejected God, now came the consequences of that rejection.  Christ foretells the coming destruction of the city, and clears out those committing fraud in the temple.  Yet what He also does at this point is rather curious.  St. Luke mentions "And He was teaching daily in the temple."

One could say that Christ does the same thing with our souls.  After cleaning out the impurities and scandals of sin, He reclaims our hearts, teaching us what we should be doing in place of these evil things.  After reclaiming the temple, He begins to teach the faithful to avoid those things He has just purged.  We know from history that the Jews ultimately rejected His teaching, and killed Him.  As a result, the veil was torn, and 40 years later, the temple was utterly destroyed.  A similar fate awaits us Christians who receive Christ, and decide to reject what He has offered us.

Grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we may worthily frequent these mysteries:  for as often as the memorial of this Victim is celebrated, the work of our redemption is wrought.  (Secret)
If we wish to keep Christ in our hearts, to keep His teaching Supreme, the Father has offered us a certain way to accomplish this.  As Christians, we must frequent ourselves of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist offered at the Mass.  When we make present the sacrifice of Calvary, fulfilling Christ's command to "do this in memory of me" we in a very real sense re-enact the cleansing of that temple.  This time, it is the temple of our body and soul.  Being cleansed of the garbage, we allow Christ to reign supreme in our hearts.  This is contrary to the Jews, who decided to kill Him instead.  When we receive the sacraments, we make the great "yes" to invite God into our heart.

Let us always thank the Father in heaven for providing us these great sacraments, and through them, may we always submit to the teaching daily of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why The Incarnation Matters: The Repercussions of Sin

Having established the nature of the first sin in the previous installment, we must now move onto the consequences of this sin.  Such a sin required an answer from God.  The answer changed everything about human existence.  Let us look at the Biblical record of these statements:

And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where are you?  And he said: I heard your voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. And he said to him: And who has told you that you were naked, but that you have eaten of the tree whereof I commanded you that you should not eat?  And Adam said: The woman, whom you gave me to be my companion, gave me of the tree, and I ate. And the Lord God said to the woman: Why have you done this? And she answered: The serpent deceived me, and I ate. And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this thing, you are cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon your breast shall you go, and earth shall you eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmities between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed: she shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel. To the woman also he said: I will multiply your sorrows, and your conceptions: in sorrow shall you bring forth children, and you shall be under your husband's power, and he shall have dominion over you. And to Adam he said: Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded you, that you should not eat, cursed is the earth in your work: with labour and toil shall you eat thereof all the days of your life.  Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, and you shall eat the herbs of the earth.  In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread till you return to the earth out of which you were taken: for dust you are, and into dust you shall return.  (Genesis 3:9-17)
In this one moment, everything about society was changed.  One cannot spend enough time pondering the ramifications of this event.  That being said, we shall demonstrate later how all of these curses, dreadful as they are, still point to Christ's coming in the Incarnation.  Let us focus on the beginning of the curses.

I always find the beginning of this exchange rather humorous, perhaps it is my dark sense of humor.  In just a few verses before this, Adam and Eve attempted to become "as gods."  They attempted to flex their dominion over everything, including good and evil.  When they get caught, what is the first thing they do?  The very thing that is antithetical to a god, they blame everyone else.  Adam blames Eve.  Eve blames the serpent.  One can still detect the pride in their voices.  They were pure in heart, they were just taken advantage of by someone else.  Don't blame me!

Here we see the first mention of one of the most important truths of Scripture:  personal moral responsibility for one's actions.  God judged all of them individually.  He did not accept the reasoning of Adam and Eve that they were not responsible.  Yet at the same time, He reserves a special condemnation for "the serpent."

While there are certainly earthly curses given to the serpent, one can read an even greater curse towards Satan.  Here, Lucifer in a sense seals his doom.  To understand the magnitude of this, we must speculate a bit.

Why did Lucifer rebel?  There have been many questions posed to this throughout history.  Many have posited that He was shown that he would be placed into the service of man.  Think about that.  The most splendid of God's angels being placed in the service of what had to be in his eyes crude matter.  His pride would not allow it.

Being expelled from heaven, he does not give up his mission.  He refuses to concede a defeat that is plainly obvious.  Realizing that he cannot wound God, he will do the next best thing.  What is the cliche amongst criminals?  You hurt someones family to get to the person.  The devil would wound the one who was called to be Christ's spouse, the race of man.

Though it would appear a victory, this is only temporary.  One could call this God's sense of irony.  Satan attempted to use man to wound God.  Instead, God promises He will use man to destroy the devil.  When he coaxed man into sin, Lucifer was attempting to show that once again, he was above that which he was meant to serve.  In turn, God made the serpent the most loathed of all beasts on earth.  The serpent from that day forth would have no power over anything.  This alluded towards the future the devil had in store for his act.  He was too clever by half, and that cleverness spells his eventual doom.

It is here that we come across what is known as the Protoevangelium.  Most importantly to us, these curses contain the first proclamation of the Incarnation.  Satan figured he could use the woman, the supposed weaker of the sexes to wound man.  Instead, God will use a woman and her offspring to destroy the devil.  As proof God is indeed God, He informs the devil there is nothing he can do about it.  Indeed, all he can do is lash out in anger and desperation, certainly not the traits of one who is above all.

Having covered the ramifications of the first set of curses, in our next installment we shall look in particular at the curses placed upon Adam for his actions.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Propers for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

*Note:  This was slightly delayed because I was given the opportunity to witness a Solemn Pontifical High Mass at St. Josaphat this Sunday.  Quite an experience*

Today's liturgy is a familiar theme, yet one that cannot be stressed enough.  We see two mentalities within Catholicism (and Christianity in general for that matter) in regards to our sins, and our salvation.  We must avoid both.

The first treats our justification and salvation as something we can achieve on our own.  We know the popular Protestant polemic "Catholics believe they can earn their salvation."  While no Catholic worth his salt would ever make such a claim (since to make it, they would cease to be Catholic), this may exist on a more subtle level.  They believe if they show up to Mass, do good works, there's really not much they have to worry about.  When they struggle with sin, they simply believe that they can conquer it on their own power.  Indeed, sometimes priests in the confessional will say "God will not take away sins, we must deal with them ourselves."  They turn Catholicism into a naturalist religion. 

Others treat God as a magician.  God snaps his fingers, and all inclinations to sin are removed, and nobody needs to worry about anything from that point onward.  If they somehow keep sinning, they can just go to the confessional, have a "morality car wash" and be free to do whatever.  I believe throughout our examination of today's liturgy, we will find both concepts false.

We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple: according to Thy Name, O God, so also is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth;  Thy right hand is full of justice.,  Ps 47:2  Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised, in the city of our God, in His holy mountain.  (Introit, Pslam 47:10-11, verse 2)

We see the Introit dealing with the first error that I mentioned.  We have received God's mercy.  Our salvation is solely due to the "work" of God's mercy.  (Titus 3:4-7)  If we could earn or merit our salvation, there would be no need of the mercy of God.  Indeed, there would be no need of Christ's sacrifice.  We Catholics must always remember that.  As the Council of Trent says, both our faith and our works are insufficient to "earn" salvation.

Graciously grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful:  that we, who cannot exist without Thee, may be enabled to live according to Thy will.  (Collect)
Having established the supremacy of God's mercy in saving us, the question could be asked "what now?"  How are we to live our lives after receiving this mercy?  We know already that relying primarily on our own wisdom gets us into trouble when dealing with things divine.  The collect gives the answer to the second kind of individual I mentioned.  God is always willing to cleanse us from our sins, if we approach Him, and trust in Him.  Yet after that, we need to make sure we live in accordance with His will.  The only way to do that is to ask God that we can follow His will.  He enables us to do so with the power of the Holy Spirit which He grants to the Church.  To the extent that one remains in a life of sin after forgiveness, they are not trusting in the power of the Cross.  Accepting the Cross, we can be transformed towards a life of service in God's name.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).  For the Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God.  And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God  and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.  (Epistle, Romans 8:12-17)
Doubting the power of the cross is something that all Christians do.  If we never for a second doubted the power of the Cross, we would never sin again.  Human nature being what it is, we are weak.  St. Paul strives to make us be courageous in trusting in God's mercy.  He reminds us that those saved by God's mercy are no longer slaves to the flesh.  As mentioned, they are freed from the dominion of sin.   Yet this freedom can in a sense be scary.  In our old selves, all we knew how to do was sin. 

St. Paul teaches the remedy for this situation in the fact that God is our Father.  What Father would not provide His children with the tools that are necessary for their survival?  What father would ask a child to mow the lawn, yet never check that the lawn is in good working order?  Finally, what father sits back while their child pleads for help when they are in danger?  God, being the perfect Father, will give us all that we need, and protect and defend us if we find ourselves in trouble.  Yet we be willing to turn to Him, putting to death (mortifying) the deeds of the flesh.

Let us pray that we may always have this confidence.  With that confidence, let us then always turn to and accept God's mercy, which has the power to bring us unto our true heavenly home.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Interface Changes

A little bit of background work is being done to make things easier to navigate.  Most of this blog's posts consist of short essays that might be harder to find when searching through the entire archives.  To help with this, I've created index pages for the main topics that will provide easier access to them on the left sidebar of the page.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On Merit and Mary

Thanks to some very pointed questions in the comments box, I have been given the opportunity to further develop my thought, and I hope give the outline for a further exploration of devotion to the Saints, and the Blessed Virgin Mary in particular.

In short, there are concerns that my statement:

"As a result, even the prayer of the most unknown of saints in heaven would have equal efficacy as the greatest saint".
There is a worry that this downplays and even confuses the notion of why Catholics pay such high devotion to Mary.  Why is anyone devoted to her in asking for her intercession, if her ability to intercede is not "greater" than everyone else?  Didn't Mary's life on Earth establish her with this power?

I think a few ground rules need to be established before going any further.  First and foremost, it is God, and God alone, who can answer prayer.  The saints can only intercede.  Their role in the answering of prayer is secondary in imploring their assistance, not primary.

It is for this reason that the Church has never taught that there are things that Mary can obtain that the other saints in heaven are incapable of doing on a strictly objective level.  To the degree that this is believed, one runs the risk of having an improper devotion.  Even our piety is imperfect, and it is something we all must deal with.

Finally, in heaven, there is no "better" or "worse" in heaven.  Even still, intercession of the saints in heaven is not based on what the saints did.  The ability to intercede is based upon what Christ did.  To the extent we share in Christ's priesthood, we can intercede, for we are a "kingdom of priests."  Those in heaven participate fully in Christ.  Sin limits our ability to share in that priesthood. (For whatever you ask in my name shall be granted Our Lord tells us.) Those in heaven have no sin, being "the spirits of just men made perfect."  We also know that since they are in heaven, Christ provides them with every need, so that they lack absolutely nothing, and can obtain whatever they ask in accordance with the Father's will.  Of course, the saints cannot not do the Fathers will.

So why do we venerate the Virgin Mary with such high honors?  In order to understand this, we must understand the first rule of what is called "Mariology", the theology behind devotion to Mary.  mary is never honored by the Church for her own sake.  She is always honored for the sake of Christ.  When the Church proclaimed her Theotokos (Mother of God), they did so primarily to protect the proper understanding of Christ.  Even with the Assumption of Mary, the Church holds that ultimately her being taken into heaven, while a singular grace, also foreshadows our eventual heavenly home by the power of Christ's Cross and Resurrection.

So we aren't devoted to Mary because of her powerful intercession.  We are devoted to Mary ultimately because of she was because of Christ's saving power.  Mary lived as we are called to live, freed from the dominion of sin.  She was free from such dominion because she lacked original sin.  Eventually, all of us will be like that in heaven.  We will be freed completely from sin.  In Mary, Christ gave a foreshadowing of that for us all.  (Some Protestants may dispute this, but my point is not to go into the doctrinal questions regarding Mariology, only to for the moment show its purpose.)

This is why we honor Mary.  In pondering her life (and in asking her intercession, we always are to ponder her), we learn how to live in full accordance with Christ. Pondering the lives of even the greatest of saints on this world, they still had sin, and hence there was some way they did not serve God perfectly.  When we ponder Mary, we ponder how she fulfilled the will of her Divine son perfectly, since there was no such separation on account of sin.  The saints in heaven are just as she is now.  The only difference is she was that from the moment of her conception, to prepare her for the role of being the mother of Our Lord and Redeemer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: The Entrance of Sin

In the previous missive, we talked about God's original plan for creation, and our initial call to eternal union with Christ.  As I noted at the conclusion, the simplest of actions had the most dire of consequences.  There have been some theologians throughout time who have questioned whether or not the Incarnation of Christ would've occurred had it not been for sin.  An interesting theological debate perhaps, but one thing is certain.  Due to the entrance of sin, everything changed.  

Yet some ask, why was the eating of fruit, such a simple act, worthy of such a condemnation?  In order to answer this, we must think a little deeper. 

As mentioned earlier, the tree which God forbade man to partake of was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This represented the moral law in a sense.  To eat of good and evil applies having authority over good and evil.  In placing this prohibition, there was a strict reminder that while we were given everything in Eden, we were not the Creator, but the created.  Our first sin was man's attempt to deny this.  

The narrative begins in Genesis 3 with the introduction of "the serpent."  We now know that serpent as the devil, our eternal adversary.  In persuading Eve to partake of the tree, he insinuates "you shall be as gods, having knowledge of good and evil."  In partaking of the fruit, they would have authority over the moral law.  Indeed, they would be able to decide good and evil, since they had authority over it.

Why was this such a great temptation?  Indeed, why would Adam and Eve even listen to what was the appearance of an animal they had control over?  (Since all things were created in Eden for Adam to have dominion over.)  In a word, pride.  We read that after hearing the serpents discourse, Eve "saw that the tree was good  to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold."

If this was truly a paradise, why was God withholding such a great treasure?  If they were to have dominion over Eden, how could they not have dominion over the tree as well?  Indeed, was not paradise a paradise because of Adam and Eve tilling the garden?  Why did they need God to have dominion over it?

All of these questions no doubt were racing through the mind of our first parents.  In a real sense, they let having dominion over all creation go to their head.  In and of itself, such questions are not sinful.  God provides them in nature as a way towards Him.  We see these things, and are drawn closer to God.  Adam and Eve chose a different route.  They chose to believe the lie, the lie still told to us today.

What happened next was clearly not what they had expected.  Their eyes were indeed "opened", but not to become as gods.  One could very well say the partaking of the fruit revealed all too clearly they were not gods.  At that very point, they recognized that they were indeed created, not the Creator.  Yet by this point the pride was unshakable.  From pride, came lust.

As we will discuss later, when we speak of lust, I will not speak of only the sinful desires of the flesh sexually.  Yet here, we see the sewing of fig leaves out of shame.  Why are they ashamed?  This comes back to pride.  Pride infected every bit of their being.  Even though they were reminded far too clearly of their humanity, they believed they did not need God to establish authority.  Everything became about Adam or Eve.  Rather than being the gift for each other they were called to be, both sought to possess each other, exploit the other for their own benefit.  Afterall, Eve was beautiful like the tree was "fair to behold."  Adam reasoned he used the tree for his own enjoyment, why not use Eve?  Likewise, Eve ultimately persuaded Adam to follow her lead.  Why should he not exist for her manipulation and enjoyment in pleasure?

Along with that shame, however, was great fear  They had learned quite clearly that they were not gods, for a God cannot feel shame.  Yet to admit fault and repent of it would be to surrender that knowledge they had gained.  To repent and surrender would also mean that everything would not exist for their enjoyment.  Certainly there would be grave repercussions of this.  Faced with repentance or engaging in something they knew to be wrong, they chose to do wrong and at least maintain their pride.

With this fear running through their veins, they hear the voice of God calling them.  What are they to do?  Certainly He knows what has happened.  Certainly He can figure things out.  So why hide?  Their fear gained the best of them.  They had no clue what to do at this point.  Repentance could be seen as out of the question.  Yet knowing their inferior status, they recognized they could not act on this "knowledge" and face against God, for surely they would lose.  In prideful defiance, they felt they could ignore God's call.

Yet in the end, God confronts Adam for his pride.  The consequences of this pride and insatiable will to power, though they occurred ages ago, still reverberate throughout history today.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the Intercession of the Saints

Recently I had a friend ask me some very pointed questions regarding Catholicism, giving me ideas on what to write about when doing apologetics.  I really liked these questions, as they were rarely of the strict "boilerplate" mentality.  I liked them so much, I'm going to be devoting time to answering as many of the questions here as I can.  Today, I will deal with questions he posed regarding the intercession of the saints.  They are as follows:

  • Aren't the canonized saints in Catholicism simply stand-ins for the western pagan pantheons, the same way they are in Voodoo?  Isn't "Patron Saint" just a syncretized way of saying "god of"?
  • Is the popular depiction of Catholics praying to the saints accurate?  If so, why do you pray to dead people when you can be praying to God himself?
  • Why does catholic tradition seem to so broadly ignore the idea that "God is no respecter of persons"?  (This ties back with the idea of praying to saints, in that you'd be asking a dead guy to intervene on your behalf with God.  If God is genuinely evenhanded with ALL humanity, this would be a waste of time, at best, and a violation of the first commandment, at worst). 
I would like to start out by outlining the basic concept of the Catholic teaching of the Intercession of the Saints, and then move onto the specific questions.

What is a Saint?

I believe there is a common misconception in Protestant circles by exactly what we mean when we say "Saint."  Whenever people think of saints, they think of typically those prominent Christians throughout the years whom we attach "Saint" at the beginning of their name.  This is certainly true, but does not tell the whole story.  

These individuals are those the Church decrees worthy of special recognition.  They are those heroes worthy of remembrance.  When we think back on great figures of history, we are often inspired by their great deeds.  This is no different for the canonized saints.  We remember their love of God, and we strive to do the same.  The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is filled with such examples of those heroes.

Yet the meaning of saint is far more expansive than simply those few individuals throughout human history.  "Saints" refer to all Christians.  Paul frequently reminds us that we are the saints, those chosen by God.  We are called to be saints, each and every one of us.  Great holiness is not the privilege of some cloister or monastery. 

So when we ultimately speak of the intercession of the saints, we speak of the manner in which all Christians pray for each other.  We base this off the First Epistle of Saint Paul to Timothy:

I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men:  For kings and for all that are in high station: that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God: and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus:  Who gave himself a redemption for all, a testimony in due times...
 So far, Catholics and Protestants agree that we should pray for each other.  The Protestant objects that we err when we ask "dead people" to pray as well.

At this point, another misconception needs to be cleared up.  If one notices, I have not used the phrase "praying to the saints."  While from a certain standpoint true, it's incredibly misleading in modern language.  Prayer is equated with an act of worship of the One True God.  If that is the case, we most certainly do not pray to the saints.  To do so would be absolutely idolatry.  The saints in heaven cannot "grant" something if we ask for their prayers.  All they can do is the same thing the Christians on earth do, pray to the Father that God grants these things for us.

So the question is, as my friend put it "why ask a bunch of dead guys to pray for you?"  We must remember that:

And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken by God, saying to you:  I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.  (Matthew 22:31-32)
 We have to let that sink in.  Nobody is truly "dead" when they are in Christ.  Those in heaven are supremely aware of the affairs of men on earth.  The Apocalypse of Saint John teaches that the martyrs in heaven cry out every second of the day for vengeance against the devil in slaying the saints on Earth.  The Transfiguration of Our Lord in John's Gospel shows Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah.  Elijah was taken to heaven centuries before Christ came to this earth in human flesh, and Moses was long dead even in Elijah's time.  What were they doing?  No doubt they were talking about our salvation and Christ's mission on Earth.  If there were any doubt about the "dead" in their understanding of our activities on Earth, there can be none now.

Yet do they intercede for us?  I guess we must pose a counter question:  Do Christians stop being Christians when they die?  If they are indeed still in Christ and perfected, would that not include the command to "pray for one another" being followed perfectly?  Yet I think there is further evidence from the Scriptures for this concept when we turn to the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah:

And the Lord said to me: If Moses and Samuel shall stand before me, my soul is not towards this people: cast them out from my sight, and let them go forth.  (Jeremiah 15:1)
 When we read this verse, we need to think of the context.  Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah for the latter years of her Kingdom.  By the time this verse occurs, Judah has slid almost entirely back into apostasy.  They have forsaken the reforms of the righteous King Josiah (of whom Jeremiah was one of his greatest champions) and began worshiping false gods again.  In many ways, they were even worse than so many of the previous wicked Kings, because they knew the truth, and willingly rejected it.

The covenant God made with them at this point was broken.  Since the people did not follow the precepts of the covenant, rather than blessing, they would receive the curse, in the case, the destruction of their beloved Jerusalem and their enslavement by the Babylonians.  This is the context of this verse.  After establishing this grave wickedness, God proclaims that even if Moses and Samuel interceded for the people, God would not spare them their fate.  Note well that God does not say "If a Moses" or "a Samuel" would stand before Him.  He is referring to Moses and Samuel, the very same as the great heroes of the Old Covenant, and the famed intercessors of Israel before God.

Would this not imply that under different circumstances, God would hear their pleas?  What if the people were not idolaters, but righteous souls redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb?  We know from St. James "the prayer of the righteous man availeth much."  Are these not righteous souls?  We see that they are clearly aware of what is going on, and that the righteous are depicted as interceding before God.  Why not ask them?  We know from the Scriptures, for example, that St. Michael the Archangel is the defender of all God's elect.  St. Michael does battle with the devil as he attempts to destroy the souls of men on Earth.  Knowing that we have such a powerful champion, should we not ask his aid?  Should we not ask for him to plead with the Father for our sake?

The only thing we Catholics should worry about is that we not develop a sense of spiritual laziness in our prayer.   Just because we have a powerful saint interceding for us, this does not excuse us from praying to the Father as well.  Rather, we wish to unite our prayers to that particular saint.  The Protestant may counter "Why not just pray to Jesus yourself?"  At this point, we must ask, do we Christians really do anything alone in our spiritual lives?  Are they not part of Christ's body?  Can we say "I have no need of you" like a hand would say to the feet, as St. Paul mentions in Corinthians?  Of course not.  We go to God with our prayers, but we are never alone.  We know from the Apocalypse that the 24 elders carry the prayers of the saints to the Father.  (Consistent with this in the Catholic tradition is the Book of Tobit, when the Archangel Raphael states he carried Tobias and Sarah's prayers to God.)  The Gospel allows no such boasting of independence, as if we do not need the prayers of others.

Having established the basis of the intercession of those in Heaven, we come to the other questions asked.  Why do we have "patron saints?"  Do they really answer prayers more effectively than the other saints in heaven?  From a strict standpoint, the answer would have to be in the negative.  All the saints in Heaven are perfect, removed of any stain of sin.  As a result, even the prayer of the most unknown of saints in heaven would have equal efficacy as the greatest saint.  So why do we ask for particular saints to pray for us?

I submit that it is for our benefit we mention those names.  When we invoke those saints, we should ponder their lives, and the particular causes they have come to represent.  When Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed St. John-Marie Vianney as the patron of priests, he wanted the Church to reflect on the priestly service and mission of the great Cure d'Ars.  By placing them over this specific cause, we develop a devotion not only to the particular saint, but most importantly, the virtues he championed.  When we invoke the protection of St. Michael, we call to mind his eternal service in defense of God's people, and that we may join him in that battle.  We call to mind his famous statement:  May the LORD rebuke you!  We remember that like St. Michael, we do nothing on our own power, instead relying on the supreme power of the Father in Heaven to conquer and defeat the devil.

When we call this to mind, it is clear that these are not pagan iterations.  St. Vianney is not the "god" of priests.  He has no direct control over something, as a deity would, and as the pagans believed their deities did.  Rather, those patrons were champions of the causes they now represent.  Most importantly, they are champions of humility in recognizing God's supreme dominion over everything.  Far from taking the credit themselves, they point us to God.  Through their intercession and pondering their lives may we always remain close to the Father whom they championed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Propers for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

As we continue our devotion to the Precious Blood throughout this month of July (traditionally the month of devotion to the Most Precious Blood), today's liturgy speaks of the great power of the blood in a very particular way.  I believe the way in which it could be described comes from that great passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews that I have quoted so much in these commentaries:

For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh:  How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14)
The Epistle to the Hebrews has always been my favorite book of Scripture, even as a Protestant.  This message is the reason why.  I also believe that this is the message of our liturgy today.  When one truly understands this message, one cannot help but be filled with joy.  If I can increase that message of understanding, then praise be to God.  We are called to this praise in today's Introit, which calls us to "clap our hands" in joy over God's ruling over the universe.  (Pslam 46:2-3)  The Collect for today contains one of the greatest reasons for this joy:

O God, whose providence faileth not in its designs, we humbly entreat Thee, to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us all things which be profitable for us. Through our Lord...  (Collect)
 Contained within this prayer is I believe the hardest message of Christianity.  We sinful men are prideful beings.  Everything must be about us.  Our faults, our triumphs, if we cannot take the credit for them, we become angry, depressed, etc.  Our first parents in the garden, they sinned through this pride.  They wanted to become as God, to rule Eden on their own authority.  The garden was to be their gift to themselves, not God's gift to them.

Today, we believe we can handle everything.  Even within the Church, this mentality is pervasive.  When we struggle with our sins, we believe "If I just say a few more prayers, do a few more penances, I can conquer these problems.  If I do a few more things, I will master this."  This is not to belittle the importance of penance, sacrifice, and striving for virtue.  Yet does anyone notice who the focus is of this mentality?  Me, me, ME.  We want to do everything ourselves.

The message of the Gospel and today's liturgy is different.  They tell us "You cannot conquer on your own.  Strive as you might against these sins and problems, you can never take them away.  Only God can conquer sin.  Only God has conquered sin.  He conquered sin by His own blood which He shed on the cross.  Unless we allow the blood of Christ to cleanse us, we are doomed.  Why are we doomed?  As always, St. Paul sheds tremendous insight:

Brethren, I speak a human thing, because of the infirmity of your flesh for as you have yielded your members to serve uncleanness and iniquity for iniquity, so now yield your members to serve justice unto sanctification. For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from justice. What fruit therefore had you then in those things, of which you are now ashamed? For the end of them is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting. For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Epistle, Romans 6:19-23)
 We cannot overcome sin on our own devices because we are servants to sin through the sin of our parents in the garden.  While our freedom is not extinguished, it is greatly weakened and corrupted, twisted into the service of sin.  All our prayers, our penances, our good works, if done on their own account, are still done in sin.  They may be of some use, but they can never truly conquer iniquity, for we serve iniquity. 

Instead, Paul counsels us to service justice and righteousness.  Notice he says serve.  He does not say "become."  He does not say we can do this all on our own, that it is within our own power.  Instead, the wages of doing everything on our own are death.  Only through Christ and His Blood can we have life everlasting.

The story of St. Cyprian in instructive.  He recalls how upon coming to Christ, he kept trying to do this or that to overcome his sins, and not only would he fail, he would end up worse.  He only was able to change once he realized that Christ had already taken away those sins.  He could only choose then to serve the one who did it.  Once he stopped trying to conquer everything himself, he was able to overcome those sins.

Yet what are we to do once we accept the Blood?  The Gospel tells us:

At that time Jesus said to His disciples: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth; good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that saith of Me: Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven but he that doeth the will of My Father Who is in Heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven."  (Matthew 7:15-21)
 While many people use this Gospel to justify what is called the discernment of spirits, I believe there is another way we can go with this.  How are we able to bring forth good fruit?  Our Lord tells us that we do so by doing the will of the Father.  Yet why does this bear good fruit?  This is where the passage I quoted from Hebrews comes into play.  When the Blood of Christ has cleansed us, we also ask God to place within us that which is good.  We want to make the blood beneficial.  Of what benefit is redemption if we continue in our former ways?  That's the entire point of Paul's writings.  We are not to live lives in sin because we have been freed from sin's domination.   Once we have been freed from sin, God calls us to Himself, to give us what we were promised from the beginning.

If people live this way, that is how we know they are truly in Christ.  Let us always remember the power of the Blood of Christ to cleanse us from our sins, and give us life everlasting.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: God's Original Plan

Christians of all stripes hold the Incarnation (at least formally) to be something of Supreme Importance.  Yet if you ask someone why, very rarely does one get a real concrete answer.  Sure, you will hear "So He could save us", but what does this mean?  What are the implications of this simple statement?  The implications are indeed profound, and have the potential to impact every facet of our Christian faith.

Yet in order to see this, I believe we must first start "from the beginning" as to why the Incarnation is so important.  When we outline God's initial plan for the human race, we outline it only to show how much sin has distorted that plan in our lives.

Why was man created?  Was God lonely?  What was our original purpose?  These kinds of questions are asked by every man, indeed even those who deny God.  The Scriptures give us the answer of the purpose for our creation in St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians:

As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.  Who has predestined us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will... (Ephesians 1:4-5)
 Sometimes we may wonder if we sinned, if we still would have needed Christ.  When looked at from the perspective of Christ coming for the simple salvation from our sins, this might indeed be a question.  Yet we see here that before the world was even founded, we were chosen for union with Christ.  The eternal bliss of union with Christ was chosen for us before Adam and Eve even existed.  This was the very reason for our existence.  We were created to be with Christ.  As we will see later, sin may effect us, but it does not change our calling.  We are called to be with Christ in a perfect and eternal union.

Because of this, God created the heavens and the Earth.  He created an earthly paradise in Eden.  The beauty of Eden was meant to call to our minds even then our true eternal goal, of a union in the true paradise of union with Christ.

Destined to be the eternal Bride of Christ, we shared in his authority in Eden.  Everything was made in Eden for man and only man.  The garden, the beasts, all creation was subjected to us in Christ.  Since we were called to union with Christ, we were also called to share in the rule of Christ, the true King of the universe.  These may seem like simple platitudes now for the moment, but we must remember them, as they become highly important when we reach the moment of man's sin.

Even with all of this authority, there were still some limits placed upon us.  We were created beings, not the Creator.    We shared in the rule of Christ through our called union to Him, not because of any claim we make of our own right.  I believe God establishes this when He tells Adam and Eve:

And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge  of good and evil..... And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise you shall eat: 17 But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat. For in what day soever you shall eat of it, you shall die the death.  (Genesis 2:9, 16-17)
There are some who wonder if this account is literal or allegorical, though that need not concern us here.  If literal, this also highlighted to something even deeper, and that is the focus of our discussion.  I find it interesting that two trees are named specifically:  The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I, following the footsteps of men far more advanced than myself, would say the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ultimately represented the moral law.  The moral law is indeed something beautiful to behold.  When we live in accordance with that law, we understand things as they really are.

Yet why can we not eat of it?  Let us think of what would occur if one were to eat from that tree.  They would have to approach the tree, and take something from it, making it their own.  This implies authority over the object.  If I go to a garden I have planted and take the vegetables from it, it is my garden, nobody can fault me.  I have the rights over that garden to do with it as I please.  Yet to take from the moral law implies that we have authority over the moral law.  Yet we know from Scripture that we are created beings who live in the universe.  We did not will ourselves into existence in Eden and create the rules of the universe.    We can only follow them.  That I believe is the reason why God placed the prohibition on eating of that tree.  To do so, we would be denying our very nature.

What of the tree of life then?  This was something created as well, so why are we allowed to eat of it?  The tree of life could be likened to the ultimate marriage present.  Since we were called to be united with Christ eternally, that tree served as a symbol and the way by which we could achieve that union.  What husband would want his spouse to not live forever with him?  God had the power to make that wish of ours a reality.  Not only were we given authority over that tree, we were called to eat of it liberally.  Eat of the riches of God, for they sustained us towards that eternal union.  Without partaking of those gifts, we would certainly die.

Therefore in this I believe we see the fullness of God's original plan.  Both trees were created by Him.  Both ultimately served as signs of our created nature, even before the fall.  One was meant as nourishment of the body for eternal life, the other as a symbol of our dependence on Him.

As we will see in our next column, this original plan and design of God was almost destroyed by the simplest of acts.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Propers for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

The message for today's Propers are simple, yet profound.  The Church today wishes to remind us of the fact that God is the author of the universe.  Everything that exists is so because He has willed it.  Since He has willed it, He will provide for the faithful.

The Lord is the strength of His people, and the assurance of the salvation of His anointed. Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance, and guide them forever.  Ps. 27:1. I cry to You, O Lord my God; do not be deaf to me, lest if You heed me not, I become like those who go down into the pit.  (Introit)

Today's Introit offers one of those classic balances only Catholicism seems to achieve.  On the one hand, we speak of assurance of God saving His people.  We have this assurance because God acts to preserve His name.  Whenever one reads through the Old Testament, one hears God saying "Not for your sake do I act."  When the Syrians believed they could defeat the Israelite army on different terrain since "their God is a God of the hills", God provided Israel victory on flat land.  Yet He did so to shame the Syrians, not for the kings of the land, whom were quite wicked at the time.  We Christians can take comfort in the fact that ultimately, it is God who saves, not us.  We know that God protects His Church by the Holy Spirit not because of the sanctity of her rulers.  At times, we have had the opposite of sanctity.  Yet the promise of Christ stands firm in the Church, and our own lives.

Balanced by this tension however is the second part of the Introit.  Here the Psalmist speaks of the reality that he may be "like one who goes into the Pit", that is, Hell.  How can we have an assurance on one hand, and a very real fear of hell on the other?  Protestants frequently wonder this.  The answer comes in "I cry to You, O Lord my God."  Every moment of our lives, we must turn to God.  When we turn to Him, we can be assured He will answer us, aid us, and most importantly, save us.  Yet if we do not cry out to God, we are telling Him "I can handle this on my own."  Rather than a cry for help, we give the defiant cry of the world.  Left to our own devices, we most certainly will fall into the Pit.

O Mighty God, author of every good thing, implant in our hearts a deep love of Your name. Increase in us the true spirit of devotion and sincere virtue so that we may be supported by You and protected by Your loving care. Through our Lord . . .
Given the Introit we had, with good reason are these words chosen.  Devotion to God is not something that comes from the individual will, at least not completely.  Our wills have been corrupted by sin, so that, left to our own devices, 95% of the time we will not have a devotion towards God.  This is why we ask God to increase that devotion.  God is always willing to save, provided we call on Him.  The calling on Him, that is hard for a soul wounded by pride.  The grace of God transforms that selfish pride into devotion of another, devotion to God.    Through this devotion we have our assurance.

While God also increases that devotion, He gives us real tangible signs of this increase, as our readings make plainly clear.

Brethren: Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer. For he that is dead is justified from sin. Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ. Knowing that Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth now no more. Death shall no more have dominion over him. For in that he died to sin, he died once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Epistle, Romans 6:3-11)
What I find fascinating about this passage is when Paul states that we know the old man is crucified with Christ.  We know that we are a new creation, called to serve God in the vocation He has outlined for us.  Furthermore, we know that dying with Christ, we will rise again.  Many times we Christians are accused of living a rather blind faith, a trust without a shard of evidence.  This is not the Catholic faith.  If we were saved, what were we saved from?  We were saved from sin.  If sin no longer has dominion over us because of this salvation, what are we to do?  We are to do the works of God.  When we struggle with sin, we should take great consolation in the fact that the victory over sin has already been won, we only need attach ourselves to that victory.  

This is a truth beyond all truths.  Many times you will hear the saints such as St. Cyprian speak of the deep struggles he had with sin.  He overcame those sins not through mortification and fasting, important as those were.  He did not overcome his sin through all the good works he did, great as they were.  He overcame his addiction to sin because he finally realized that Christ had conquered those sins on the Cross.  All he had to do was to accept that fact with his full mind, body, and soul, and boldly strive in that victory.

Yet why do people fall away, knowing this truth?  If we know anything about human nature, we will frequently prefer a lie to the truth.  In our pride, we believe "we got this."  We don't need Christ conquering our sin, we can win our own victory.  Salvation history from Adam is full of this truism, that given a choice, more often than not men prefer to think they are able to handle things on their own, instead of just accepting that the victory has already been won.  This cannot be.  Rather than focusing on our own pride, we should turn to the Lord, recognizing and uniting ourselves to his victory.  If we stay close to the victorious one, we too shall triumph.

In those days again, when there was great multitude and they had nothing to eat; calling his disciples together, he saith to them: "I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way: for some of them came from afar off." And his disciples answered him: "From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness?" And he asked them: "How many loaves have ye?" Who said: "Seven." And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground. And taking the seven loaves, giving thanks, he broke and gave to his disciples for to set before them. And they set them before the people. And they had a few little fishes: and he blessed them and commanded them to be set before them. And they did eat and were filled: and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand. And he sent them away.  (Gospel, Mark 8:1-9)
When reading this Gospel, it is best to understand the context.  In the context, we find the mindset of today's liturgy being followed.  Why did Christ have compassion on this multitude?  Chapter 7 tells us that this discourse originally began in Jerusalem, after the Pharisees were rebuked over their views on ritual purity, in which they had distorted the law into a hyper-ritualistic creed, following the exact letter but forgetting the Spirit.  After this, Christ went away to Tyre and Sidon, many miles away.  The multitudes, so impressed with the teaching of Jesus, pursued him in a rather gigantic procession to Tyre and Sidon to hear more from Him.  This involved traveling all day and listening for 3 days to Christ speaking.

This is why Christ was so moved with compassion.  They were the ones calling on the Lord.  They were the ones who knew He offered the truth.  Christ wanted to show them that He will take care of them, fulfilling their needs.  Yet resources were limited.  The Apostles certainly weren't planning on having to cook for four thousand people!  They had enough food for themselves.

In response to this, Christ shows what he can do with little.  With just a few loaves and fishes, the entire multitude is fed.  Yet we know the purpose of Christ's miracle was not merely to satisfy temporal needs.  Ultimately, the hunger being quenched would be a spiritual one.  It is almost as if Christ wanted to say to the crowd:  "See how I have provided much out of little for your mere physical needs.  Will I not give you even more for the needs of your soul, which trump any physical need?"  

I believe at this time we are reminded of the beginning in the Introit.  We "cry" to the Lord.  This cry happen with humility.  We may not cry out with great knowledge or wisdom.  We may not even cry out boldly.  It might be a simple sobbing cry in our bed at 4am.  Yet presenting that small cry to the Lord, He does great things with it.  That 5% of the time we may turn to the Lord (typically when in grave danger) He turns into a life of continually calling upon Him.  The small amount of bread and wine we bring to the altar at Mass is transformed into the Eucharist.  That one reception of a host which has the appearance of simple bread is enough to satisfy every single desire, if we only let it.

This is ultimately the message of today's liturgy.  We need only approach the Lord continually with our pittance of offering in faith.  If we do this, Christ will transform that small offering into something grand.  He will fulfill our every desire that moment we turn to Him with almost nothing.  This is the assurance of salvation the Psalms speak of.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reflections on the Feast of the Visitation

I'm going to do something a little different for my usual commentary on the Propers of the Sundays and Feasts of the Extraordinary Form.  While normally I would focus on all of the Propers, today I will be focusing solely on the Gospel reading.  In this celebration of the Visitation of Mary, the Gospel provides us so many avenues of knowledge to immerse ourselves in.  Indeed, I will scarcely scratch the surface.  Let us now quote the Gospel:

At that time, Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice and said: "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord." And Mary said: "My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."  (Luke 1:39-47)
 When I think of this Gospel, the pro-life message of this passage jumps out and screams at me.  Perhaps it is because my friend Todd and his wife Mary Ellen are having their first child, or my dearest friend Jessie and her husband are having their first.  Yet I see within this passage the basis for our vocation as living the pro-life mentality.  We see this in remembering the purpose of Mary's visitation.

Her relative Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist.  One could also say, in a certain sense, this was a "troubled pregnancy."  Elizabeth was as good as barren, and her husband was stricken mute on account of his doubting this pregnancy.  While there was of course feelings of joy, there was also no doubt a feeling of great fear.  Could Elizabeth survive the pregnancy?  Would her son survive?  It is clear that Elizabeth would need all the support she could get.

Do we not see this today?  The world tells expectant mothers that the child is not a child, but just a mere blob of tissue.  Those living in fear during pregnancy often feel they have nowhere to turn to.  The devil feeds on this fear and desperation, and attempts to push the parents towards abortion.  Even if the child is brought to term, the devil attempts to give a sense of irreverence towards the miracle of life.

This I propose is the backdrop of the Visitation.  Yet here is where we see a strong indication of Mary's holiness.  She left her home "in haste" into the hill country.  Herself being pregnant with Our Lord, such could not have been an easy journey.  Yet Our Lady thinks nothing of it.  Her family is in need of her, and that is all that matters.  In perfect humility she puts the needs of others above herself.  Likewise today, the Blessed Virgin wants to visit all those who are preparing to give birth.  She knows what people go through in this time.

We also see that John the Baptist leaped for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, being in the presence of Mary, and most importantly, the infant Jesus.  We see in John's reaction the utter humanity of the infant.  Like any who is in the presence of pure bliss, his heart is overjoyed, causing his entire body to react.  So will the Blessed Virgin do for all the infants in the wombs of their Mothers today, if we just invite her.  She will bring those infants and their parents her Divine Son.

However, the Visitation is also of great profit to even those not expecting a child.  When we are troubled by sin, we often find ourselves lacking proper support and formation.  The adversary tries to lure us into despair.  Left to our own devices, there certainly is no hope.

The good news is that God does not leave us to our own devices!  If we ask, He will send the Blessed Mother to us with her Divine Son.  She will drop everything and head "into the hill country" of our spiritual life to wait on us, support us, and console us.  She will bring her Son to us no matter the cost.  Just as John the Baptizer leaped in the womb, so our souls leap for joy within our bodies in the presence of the Divine Savior and His Blessed Mother.  Our soul knows that in the presence of Christ, everything will be okay.  If there is ever a time society needed this message, it is now.

Let us unceasingly pray that as the Virgin visited Elizabeth and brought her Son, that she may also do the same to us.  To mothers, fathers, married, single, all us sinners.  When we wonder like Elizabeth what we have done to deserve such special treatment, let us always hear the words of the Magnificat from Our Lady's voice.  "My soul doth magnify the Lord.  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior."  May the wisdom beyond all creation she received from her son penetrate our troubled hearts.