31 December 2017

Mary, Mother of God


O God, who by the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary, hast bestowed upon mankind the reward of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech thee, that we may know the help of her intercession, through whom we have been accounted worthy to receive the Author of our life, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, December 31st
Vigil Mass at 6:00 p.m.


Monday, January 1st
Masses at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

30 December 2017

The Holy Family


Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, who was espoused to St. Joseph.  Because Jesus was part of a family, this provides a singular blessing for each one of our families, because now we have the Holy Family as a model and an inspiration. Of course, the celebration of the Holy Family is more than just a kind of "patronal feast" for families. It really provides a picture of the Church itself, which is the true Family founded by Christ. The Holy Catholic Church is that family in which St. Joseph is the paternal Guardian, the Blessed Virgin is the maternal Heart, and Jesus is mystically present as the Divine Son. It is the Church which is our true and abiding Family, and our own earthly families can be strengthened by imitating and being consecrated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy wondrous holiness didst adorn a human home, and by thy subjection to Mary and Joseph didst consecrate the order of earthly families: grant that we, being enlightened by the example of their life with thee in thy Holy Family, and assisted by their prayers, may at last be joined with them in thine eternal fellowship; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

28 December 2017

St. Thomas Becket


St. Thomas was born in London, England around the year 1117. He was the son of pious parents, and his mother converted to Christianity through the example and teachings of his father. From his early youth, Thomas was educated in religion and holiness. After his childhood, Thomas was then taught at a monastery and later at a school in London. After the death of both his parents, Thomas decided to finish his schooling by studying canon law. He was successful in his studies and was made secretary to one of the courts of London.

After working for a while at law, Thomas decided to dedicate the rest of his life to God, and began to work towards ordination. In all that he did, Thomas diligently applied himself and became well known as a holy and honest worker. His work came under the scrutiny of King Henry II and, in 1157, Thomas was asked to serve as Lord Chancellor to the king. After the bishop of Canterbury died, Henry sought to elect Thomas to the position, and in 1162 this suggestion was accepted by a synod. Thomas warned the king that it might cause friction and conflict of interests, but accepted the position.

Thomas served as bishop by seeking to help the people and develop his own holiness. He practiced many penances and was very generous to the poor with both his time and his money. As Henry's reign continued, he began more and more to exercise his hand in Church affairs. This caused many disagreements with Thomas, and after one especially trying affair, he retired for a while to France. When Thomas returned to England, he again became involved in a dispute with the king. Some of the king's knights saw this as treason, and as a result they killed Thomas in his own Church. Henry did penance at the grave of Thomas, seeking forgiveness for the actions of his knights, and the tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.

- Reprinted from the Catholic News Agency
_______________________

St. Thomas Becket (of Canterbury) has a special place in the devotional life of our parish.  Not only does his image (in the form of a lovely old English statue) keep watch at the tabernacle, but his relics are contained under the stone in our high altar.

O God, for whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas Becket fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee; that all who call upon him for succour may be profited by the obtaining of all that they desire; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Tabernacle at the High Altar, flanked by St. Stephen (l.) and St. Thomas Becket (r.)


The Holy Innocents


In the midst of celebrating the incarnation of holy innocence, our joy is tempered by the remembrance of the deaths of the Holy Innocents. A wicked ruler ordering death much as he might order the destruction of an unwanted animal; terrified parents seeing their children's blood on the same streets where their families had walked for generations; brutalized children having their lives stolen scarcely after they had begun; a whole town maimed beyond recognition, all because the sin of Adam and Eve necessitated the birth of a Saviour.

We relate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents to the millions of children murdered through abortion -- and quite rightly so. But the horror of abortion is something that goes even beyond what happened on the streets of Bethlehem. The deaths of those little boys in Bethlehem afforded some safety to the Christ Child, because the sly Herod thought he had accomplished his purpose, and so the Holy Family was able to continue unmolested on its journey to the safety of Egypt. Those little boys, even in their suffering, had parents who did all they could to protect them from the violence descending upon them. Those little boys were named, and they were loved, and they were incorporated into God's family through the religious rites attended to by their mothers and fathers. The little boys of Bethlehem are remembered even today, and their deaths are able to be seen as being directly related to the mystery of the Holy Incarnation.

But the little victims of abortion... theirs is a holocaust that defies description. Not a single action of a single wicked ruler are their deaths; rather, their deaths are "a matter of choice" -- choices made by the very ones who should be protecting their innocent lives. These are not deaths being endured for any noble cause. These are deaths born of ignorance, of selfishness, of greed, of any number of the spoiled fruits of sin.

As we remember the deaths of the Holy Innocents, pray also for those who are being murdered in their holy innocence. And pray, too, that the twisted hearts which allow and encourage such unspeakable things might be changed.

O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and nurslings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: mortify and kill all vices in us; and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


  [Go to this link to read my daily Facebook posts.] 

27 December 2017

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

The cave of St. John on Patmos.

Our spiritual journey continues during this Octave of Christmas, as we travel from the Feast of young St. Stephen to the Feast of the aged St. John. And what a journey he made, being taken from tending his fishing nets by the Galilean sea to a cave of exile on the island of Patmos. In both places he was called by the Lord Jesus; first, to listen to the Divine Word so he could follow, and second, to record the Divine Word so those of us who have come later can also follow.

On one of our parish pilgrimages we went to Greece and Turkey, where we visited the cave in which St. John received the apocalyptic vision. As many holy places as I have visited, rarely have I been as affected as I was while standing in that place. There it was that the Risen Lord spoke to John with a power so overwhelming that a fissure was left overhead, dividing the rock into three pieces as a reminder that the Trinity had revealed the truth on that spot. Every place one looked, there was a reminder of John: the hollow in the rock where he rested his head when he grew so tired he could no longer stand upright; the sloping shelf on which the Revelation was recorded. It was all I could do to keep my shoes on my feet, so clearly was this "holy ground." It seemed as though the breath of history was held in that place, and that the apostle would at any moment appear once again to take up his pen to continue recording the living and awe-full word of the Lord. But of course, that could not be. It was there, in that cave, that the final word was spoken. What St. John heard there was the last word of truth. There is no more to be revealed; all we can pray for now is for our increased understanding of what Christ has spoken once for all. Here are the last words the Lord spoke to the last living apostle, written down with trembling hand:
"I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.


The icon pictured here was obtained during a parish pilgrimage, which included a visit to the island of  Patmos, where St. John had been exiled and where the Revelation was given to him by the Risen Christ. This image hangs in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, near the altar.

Shed upon thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, the brightness of thy light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist St. John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

25 December 2017

St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr


Saint Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church. He was also the first Christian martyr. The Greek word from which we derive the English word martyr literally means witness. In that sense, every Christian is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ, in both their words and their actions. Not all are asked to shed their blood.

Those who shed their blood for the faith are the greatest of witnesses. They have been especially honored since the very beginning of Christianity. Stephen was so conformed to Jesus in his holy life that his martyrdom was both a natural and supernatural sign of his love for the Lord. It also inspired the early believers as they faced the first round of brutal persecution.

His name means “crown” and he was the first to be martyred. His final words showed his understanding that Christ had come not just for the Jews, but for the whole world.

As he was being stoned, the young rabbi holding the cloaks of those who were stoning Stephen was named Saul, and what he saw in this young martyr eventually led to his own conversion.

I find it spiritually invigorating to move so rapidly from celebrating the birth of Our Lord, into the next day's commemoration of the first one to die for his faith in that same Lord. St. Stephen - the great deacon, the compelling preacher, the martyr whose blood was a seed of faith in St. Paul - his was a life which showed very early that the Catholic faith was not designed for cowards!

St. Stephen has been something of a patron saint for me for many years, but in an unconventional way. In 1975, I was ordained as an Anglican deacon in Bristol, England, and was assigned to St. Stephen's Church, Southmead, which was one of the post-war council housing estates outside the city. The martyr Stephen had never been particularly important to me up to that point, but a spiritual bond began, which caused me to want to know more about him. The idea of his intercessory role in my life was not part of my thinking at that time in my spiritual life, but as I look back, I can see that was exactly what was happening.

In 1976, my ordination as an Anglican priest took place in St. Stephen's Church, Providence. Oddly, the thing I remember most about that day was kneeling before Bishop Belden, wishing that he was a Catholic bishop so that I could be a Catholic priest. Why should such an idea have come into my mind at that very moment? Because of St. Stephen's prayers, no doubt. Of course, at that time it was a ridiculous thought, and I pushed it aside as being one of those silly things that pops into one's head at odd times. Now I can see that it was God's plan for me being unfolded gradually. Only a few years later, Pope John Paul II approved the Pastoral Provision, which allowed that very thing to happen.

When I celebrate Mass each year on St. Stephen's Day, it is a special day for me. It always has a sense of quiet holiness, after the crowded Masses of the day before. It is a day when I especially give thanks to God for the priestly vocation He has given me, and the day serves as a reminder to me that the diaconate remains part of priestly ministry. Even the year when my father died on St. Stephen's Day, it was bittersweet - it seemed to me to be right for such a good man to have died on the feast of such a good saint.

Pray, good St. Stephen... pray for us all.

Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth, for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed: and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and bless our persecutors, by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen; who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for thee, our Mediator and Advocate; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 December 2017

Towards Unity


"When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne…" and that Word took flesh untainted by sin from the Virgin chosen from the beginning of time. It was done for the healing of that tragic rift between God and Man.

God created all things to be in perfect unity. He made the universe as a reflection of His own divine order. He created Man in His own image, to be in perfect communion with Him. But through the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, disorder entered into the world, and perfect communion was broken. And ever since that time, there has been a tendency in the natural order of things for there to be disintegration, the breakdown of things, a crumbling. Sadly, what should be unnatural has become all too normal in the world around us, and within us, and even within the Church.

Christ founded the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – and so it is. But our sin has caused division, and that’s a clear contradiction to the Divine Will of our Lord. While there may well be an invisible spiritual communion deeper than we know, especially through the bonds of baptism, nonetheless there is to be a visible communion, too, because that’s the Will of Christ, and the constant invitation from God is that we work and pray to build up both the spiritual and visible unity of Christ’s Body.

It’s this purpose – the building up of unity – which is outlined at the very beginning of the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. In fact, this stated purpose is sometimes glossed over in the search for the particulars of the Personal Ordinariates. People tend to look at the details of how they’re established, and of who can belong, of the liturgical use, and of who can be ordained – indeed, any number of other details.

But all that neglects the reason for Pope Benedict XVI’s great generosity, and that is to help bring about the prayer of Christ “that they all may be one.” It’s not accidental that the first three paragraphs of the Apostolic Constitution speak of the Church as “a people gathered into the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and that the Church was instituted by Christ as “a sacrament…of communion with God and of unity among all people,” and that this Church is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. Then, recognizing that there are “many elements of sanctification and of truth [which] are found outside her visible confines,” he says that these “are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”

What had been broken, the Personal Ordinariates invite us to repair. The communion that has been impaired, we are asked to restore. The fellowship which has been strained, we are bidden to strengthen.

God’s Incarnate Love came into this world by Our Lady’s “yes,” and it would gladden her heart for her children to be one again. She, who stood beside the Cross and saw her Son in agony, would be comforted by us taking away this pain of separation. There are few things that touch a mother’s heart more, than to see her whole family together at one table. This is why we have been given the Apostolic Constitution: so that we can put division behind us, and join together with one voice and one heart in “that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel” to the whole world.

“Lord Jesus, make us one, as you and the Father are one.” Amen.

19 December 2017

In the fullness of time...

O precious Lord, once born for us
in stable small and poor;
be born again within our hearts,
and there let us adore.
-
As once our Saviour thou didst come,
both Man and God divine,
so now thou givest Flesh and Blood
'neath forms of bread and wine.
-
Sweet Fruit of Virgin Mary's womb,
once hid from earthly sight,
may we thy children fruitful be,
and show the world thy Light.
-
Now stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ,
in solemn Mystery,
that when our work on earth be done
thy glory we may see.
-
Tune: "St. Botolph" by Gordon Slater (1896-1979)
Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1992

18 December 2017

Lullaby for the Infant Jesus


Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Saviour with Love’s tenderness.

Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.

What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.

Text: V.1, Traditional,
vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music; CRADLE SONG, William James Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921)

17 December 2017

Late Advent


As we begin this time of Late Advent, so we begin the great “O" Antiphons, which lead up to the Vigil of the Nativity. Each antiphon highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (O God With Us), and they are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah.

Of course, most of the Catholic Church already shares our patrimony’s gift regarding the O Antiphons in the metrical translation of these antiphons, the universally beloved: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That translation is, in large part, the work of the famed Anglican priest, translator and hymnographer, John Mason Neale (1818-1866), to whose scholarly and literary gifts the Anglican Church owes its recovery of the great treasury of pre-Reformation Latin hymnody.

There is, however, another antiphon which is firmly part of our patrimony.  It is our unique eighth O Antiphon, which we will hear on the morning of December 24th — a most fitting antiphon indeed to echo throughout the monasteries and churches of the land known then – and now again – as “Our Lady’s Dowry,” the antiphon O Virgo virginum:
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? for neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? the thing which ye behold, is a divine mystery.

Gaudete.


Gaudete.  Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice: let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing: but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. Ps. Lord, thou art become gracious unto thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.  Gloria Patri.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

13 December 2017

St. John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross was born in Spain in 1542, and he learned some important lessons from his parents -- especially the importance of sacrificial love. His father gave up tremendous wealth and social status when he fell in love and married a weaver's daughter, and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, John’s mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed as he came to know that one great love in his own life -- God.

When the family finally found work, the family still lived in poverty. When he was only fourteen, John took a job caring for people in a hospital for those with incurable diseases or who were insane. It was in the midst of this poverty and suffering that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

St. John eventually became a priest and joined the Carmelite order. This was at the time of great Saint Teresa of Avila, and she asked him to help her in her efforts to reform the Carmelites, who had become very worldly. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer, but many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell which was only six feet by ten feet, where he was frequently beaten. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolate cell, his love and faith continued to grow. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. He managed to hide from his pursuers, and from then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.

"What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction and kingdom -- your beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire him there, adore him there. Do not go in pursuit of him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and you won't find him, or enjoy him more than by seeking him within you."
Saint John of the Cross
Priest, Mystic, Poet, Doctor of the Church

O God, who didst inspire thy holy Confessor Saint John with an ardent love of self-denial and of the Cross: grant that by constantly following his example, we may attain to everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

12 December 2017

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr


Lucy’s name has as its root the Latin word for light, lux. This makes her commemoration all the more meaningful during this time of Advent, as we increase each week the number of candles we light on the Advent wreath, reminding us that our lives are to be more and more illumined by the light of Christ.

We can be certain that there was a young Christian girl named Lucy who lived at the end of the 3rd century and into the beginning of the 4th century, because devotion to her is widespread from the 4th century on. Lots of the details of her life, however, come from legends and stories which were told from one generation to the next – and although the stories no doubt have some factual basis, many of the details were added over the years.

So what do we know about her? We know that Lucy’s father died when she was very young, because there is no mention of him whatsoever in the stories about her. Lucy’s mother, Eutychia, suffered from a serious sickness for many years, and she was unable to find any doctor who could help her. Young Lucy had heard of the healing power of the prayers of a young girl, St. Agatha, who had been martyred for the faith. The story is that St. Lucy convinced her mother that they should travel to the tomb of St. Agatha, so they could ask for her prayers for Lucy’s mother. They prayed all night, even falling asleep at the tomb. In her sleep, Lucy had a vision of St. Agatha, and at that moment, her mother Eutychia was cured.

Now, it happened that some time before this, Eutychia had arranged a marriage for Lucy with a young man who was a pagan, but Lucy insisted that she wouldn’t marry, and that the money which would have been used for her dowry should be spent on the poor. In fact, Lucy gave away everything she owned, including her property and her jewelry. News of this came to the attention of the young man whom she was supposed to marry, and he became very angry. He went to the local authorities to report that Lucy was a Christian – and this was a time when it was illegal to belong to the Church.

She was condemned to prison, but when the guards came to take her away, they found that it was impossible to lift her. No matter how much they tried to lift her, she seemed to become immoveable. It is said that she was killed when they plunged a dagger into her throat, and the story is that they had gouged out her eyes before her death. She is often pictured in art with two eyes on a plate, and for that reason she is the patroness of those who are blind or who have any disease of the eyes.

She is Lucy – lux – who lived and died in the light of Christ.

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the world deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr St. Lucy, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

11 December 2017

Our Lady of Guadalupe


On December 9, 1531, in Mexico, Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, a poor humble Aztec Indian who had recently converted to the Catholic faith, and we heard about this last week when we commemorated St. Juan Diego. She asked him to go to the Bishop and tell him to build a church where she said “I will show and offer all of my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to my people.” Juan Diego did as she asked, but the Bishop asked for a sign that this message was really from Our Lady. Mary granted his request. On December 12, she showed Juan where the most beautiful Castilian roses were and told him to gather them. It was a miracle that the roses were there and in bloom because there was frost on the ground, and the ground was an infertile place where only cactus and thistles grew. After he gathered them, she helped arrange them in his tilma and told him to show them to the Bishop. When he brought them to the Bishop, the Bishop was amazed at the roses, but was even more amazed at what began to happen to Juan Diego’s tilma. Right before their very eyes, the image of Our Lady began to form on the cloth. The picture of Mary was beautiful and the Bishop fell to his knees. He had the church built at her request. The tilma is still intact after 485 years. The colors have not faded and the cloth has not deteriorated. It has been on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all this time.

The manner in which Our Lady appeared on the tilma was very significant to the Aztec Indians. God had her dressed in a way that they would understand who she was. She was dressed in royal clothes that showed that she was very important, perhaps a queen. She also had the symbol of the cross at her neck which was the same symbol the Spaniards had on their ships and in the churches they built. She had a sash tied around her waist which meant that she was going to have a child, for this was the way the Aztec women dressed when they were pregnant. And on her beautiful dress were all sorts of designs and flowers. But there was one flower on her dress that was very significant. It had only four petals. To the Aztecs, the four petal flower was the symbol for the true God, the God above all gods. This flower was located on her abdomen, right over the place where Jesus was growing inside of her. The Aztecs immediately understood that this was the mother of the true God! This appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe was very important to the history of our continent. You see, the Aztec Indians and the Spaniards were on the brink of war. The Aztec Indians’ culture and religion were very different. They worshipped gods, to whom they would offer human sacrifices, often killing 50,000 people a year. If a war had occurred, it would have been very brutal and the Spaniards and Christianity would have been totally wiped out. Mary’s appearance changed everything. It helped the Indians to embrace Christianity and it helped the Spaniards to treat the Indians with respect and as human beings. In the course of seven years, 6,000,000 Indians converted to the Catholic faith. This was the biggest conversion in the history of the Church! This is why Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Americas. Mary’s appearance put an end to the worship of stone gods and the ritual of human sacrifice. Our Lady of Guadalupe is also called the Patroness of the Unborn. We pray for Mary’s help today to bring an end to the human sacrifice of God’s children through abortion and to convert non-believers.

10 December 2017

Pope St. Damasus I


Pope St. Damasus is one the many popes whose name isn’t immediately recognizable to most people, but whose faithful service in the Chair of St. Peter is still reflected in the Church today. Damasus had served as a deacon under Pope Liberius, whose pontificate was filled with upheaval from both outside and inside the Church. In fact, when Pope Liberius died in the year 366, there were riots that broke out over the election of his successor. Most people favoured the deacon Damasus, a Roman who was of Spanish descent. Damasus was a very faithful man who upheld the fullness of the Catholic faith, and although there were some who supported another man whom they tried to install as pope, but Damasus finally was installed, with the Emperor Valentinian interceding to expel the anti-pope.

A time of peace in the Church came with Pope Damasus, and he was able to concentrate on the growth and strengthening of the Church. He knew the importance of the Holy Scriptures in the life of the Church, and one of his first projects was to gather together a list of the books of the Old and New Testaments, which until this time had been scattered piecemeal throughout the Church. He then asked his longtime friend and secretary, St. Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin. St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation still serves as a foundation to the study and translation of the Scriptures to this very day.

Damasus had a great devotion to the martyrs who had gone before, and he searched out the tombs of the martyrs which had been blocked up and hidden in the catacombs during previous times of persecution, and he marked their tombs with beautiful slabs of marble. He lighted the passages of the catacombs, and encouraged the Faithful to make pilgrimages to the burial places of the martyrs. Damasus also beautified existing churches, on the principle that the worship of God demands our best, and that places of beauty can point us to heaven.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Damasus was a strong defender of the orthodox Catholic faith, making it a point to publicly condemn various heresies which had crept into the Church, especially the heresy of Arianism. If fact, the place of Peter and his successors was never more respected as it was during the time of Pope Damasus, and he spent much of his energy in promoting the primacy of the Holy See, even leading the civil Roman government to recognize the special rights of the Church in society.

Pope St. Damasus was able to bring peace and strength to the Church, which had been so fractured under his predecessor, and this holy man died on December 11th in the year 384, after serving the Church as the Supreme Pontiff for eighteen years.

Grant, we pray thee, O Lord: that we may constantly exalt the merits of thy Martyrs, whom Pope Saint Damasus so venerated and loved; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

09 December 2017

Judgement


During Advent our thoughts should include the coming judgement of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we profess in the Creed, "...and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead..."

First, some facts. God’s judgement is really two-fold. There is the Particular Judgement, and there is the General Judgement. Particular Judgement is that judgement which takes place immediately upon the death of an individual.  When we die, we are no longer the “pilgrims” that we are in this life – we will no longer be able to sin, nor will we be able to repent from sin. If there is the rare individual who dies in a state of perfect grace, with no further need of purification, and with no temporal punishment due to them because of their previous sins, that person will directly enter heaven with the other saints. Those who die in the state of grace, but who still need some purification before the final destination of heaven will enter purgatory, where they will be cleansed and made ready for heaven, aided by the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful. And finally, those who die in the state of mortal and unrepented sin – those who have purposely offended God and don’t care that they have – will, at the Particular Judgement, enter into their unending punishment in hell. This is, of course, a much simplified explanation of Particular Judgement.

But in addition to the Particular Judgement upon each and every soul, which will take place individually at our death, there also will be the General Judgement – that judgement which we profess in the Creed, when we proclaim that “He shall come again in glory, to judge both the quick and the dead...” This is the Final Judgement of God upon all mankind. It is not simply the summation of all of the particular judgements which have taken place, but it involves the consummation of all things in Christ, when God’s kingdom will be complete. At that time, there will be no further question in anyone’s mind or heart as to the power of God, or as to the Kingship of Christ, or as to the truth of the Catholic Faith. All things will be put in subjection to Christ, and it will be the age of “the new heaven and the new earth.” Of course, we should understand that these two judgements are not as separate as they sound, because in this, God acts outside of time.  In fact, they are really the one judgement by God, bringing all lives and all things to a final end.

Having outlined those basic facts, what does it really mean to us? Actually, a great deal. God’s judgement necessarily involves God’s system of justice, so we must have some understanding of divine justice as we face the reality of divine judgement. Perhaps we can better understand it if we look for a moment at the system of justice which we have in the United States.

When American justice works as it is supposed to (which, of course, is not always the case) it is based upon the supposition that if a person is found to have done something wrong, then he has to pay a price for that action. In other words, if a man is caught robbing your house, then you should be able to expect him to spend some time in prison. It’s not enough for him simply to go into the courtroom and say, “I’m sorry, your Honor,” and then expect it all to go away. The question that gets asked is, “How to you plead: guilty or not guilty,” and if he is found to be guilty, then a punishment will be exacted. That is our system of justice, and it is what we expect to happen in our courts of law.

Now let’s look at Divine Justice. One of its tenets is that it is Christ who will be our Judge. On that Last Day, when the secrets in the hearts of all men shall be disclosed, it will be Jesus who will mete out Divine Justice. And because of that, it will not be the justice of our human law-court that will be given out. If God were to administer justice in the same way that we expect our human law-courts to administer justice, then our chances of escaping eternal punishment on the Day of Judgement would be slim-to-none. We have all grievously sinned; every one of us has come short of the glory of God. Each and every one of us will stand guilty before the Divine Judge. That is why, thanks be to God, it is a different kind of court-room where Christ is the judge. Certainly, in that court-room we will all stand guilty – and in fact, we will all deserve the death penalty. But in the Divine court-room, when the judge passes the death-sentence, He then gets up from behind the bench to stand next to the guilty party, and He takes the death sentence upon Himself. Why? Because in God’s court-room, He doesn’t ask us to plead “guilty or not guilty” – rather, we are asked to plead “sorry or not sorry.” If we have lived lives which plead “sorry” – lives which have had real repentance and which have been healed and fed with His sacraments – then Christ shoulders the sentence Himself. Here’s the beauty of it all, when it comes to Divine Judgement. Christ is not only our Judge, but He is our Redeemer, too. This is God’s justice: He demands righteousness, and then He proceeds to provide us with the means to become righteous. He demands perfection, and then He provides the means whereby we may be made perfect.

Whatever else is true about God’s judgements, one thing is certain: on Judgement Day, there will not be any surprises. It will be obvious to everyone that God’s judgement is completely fair. In fact, we will receive precisely what we ask for. The record of our relationship with God will lay before us in complete truth and openness, and the facts will speak for themselves. If we have been faithful to God, if we have shown sorrow for our sins and have sought His absolution, if we have been generous to those in need, following the path of the Lord which began at our baptism, then God our Judge will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant...” But if we have been purposely unfaithful to God, untrue to our baptismal promises, stingy toward those in need, prejudiced and cruel to others who are also children of God, if we have been too proud to confess our sins and too lazy to do penance, if we have thrown away our birthright by clinging too closely to the things of this world, then God our Judge will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire...”

It is not some fickle or uncertain justice which God will give out on Judgement Day. In a very real sense, we will actually bring judgement upon ourselves – or, at least, our actions and our attitudes will. The righteousness and the mercy of God will prevail on the Day of Judgement. The righteousness of God demands perfection – and the mercy of God means that we will have been given the means of righteousness through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. And it is through the Cross that we receive the forgiveness which brings us to the joy of life in eternal communion with Almighty God.

08 December 2017

St. Juan Diego


Although we don’t know very much about the life of Juan Diego before his conversion, we know that he was born in the year 1474 in part of what is today Mexico City. The Catholic faith was brought to Mexico in 1519 when Cortez landed on the coast of Mexico, and there were Catholic priests with him. Juan Diego was among the first of those the hear the Gospel, and in 1524, when he was 50 years old, Juan Diego was baptized by a Franciscan priest, Fr. Peter da Gand.

Juan Diego took his faith very seriously and attended Mass on a daily basis. He walked many miles to Mass every morning, and on December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass, the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill, the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. She asked him to go to the Bishop and to request that the bishop build a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out her grace upon those who asked for her prayers. The Bishop at first didn’t believe Juan Diego, and he asked for some sign to prove that the apparition was true. On December 12, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. The Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and even though it was winter time, he found roses blooming. He gathered the flowers and took them to Our Lady who carefully placed them in his mantle and told him to take them to the Bishop as "proof". When he opened his mantle, the flowers fell on the ground and there remained impressed, in place of the flowers, an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac.

With the Bishop's permission, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life as a hermit in a small hut near the chapel where the miraculous image was placed for veneration. Here he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to ask for Mary’s intercession.

O God, who by means of Saint Juan Diego didst show the love of the most holy Virgin Mary for thy people: grant, through his intercession; that, by following the counsels our Mother gave at Guadalupe, we may be ever constant in fulfilling thy will; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

07 December 2017

The Immaculate Conception


It was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who famously said, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church…” He was referring, of course, not simply to the institution, but more to what the Catholic Church teaches.

In my work with converts to the Faith, there are usually certain predictable teachings that are like “red flags” to those who are inquiring about Catholic teaching. Along with issues such as Papal Infallibility, one of the biggest “red flags” tends to be the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let’s look first at what this doctrine is not. It does not refer to the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary, nor does it mean that Mary was somehow miraculously conceived. Mary was conceived in the normal way as the natural fruit of the marriage of Ss. Joachim and Anne, but at the moment of her conception she was preserved from original sin and its stain.

As we know, the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, became their bitter legacy to us. Original sin deprives us of sanctifying grace, and the stain of original sin corrupts our human nature. But by God’s grace, given at the moment of Mary’s conception, she was preserved from these defects, and so from the first instant of her existence Mary had the fullness of sanctifying grace, and was unburdened by the corrupt nature caused by original sin. In this way, Mary becomes a “second Eve,” conceived in the same state of original purity as God intended for mankind.

Why would God do this? We state the reason every time we say the Creed. When we profess that Jesus Christ “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,” we’re proclaiming that God took human flesh upon Himself. And from whom did He take that flesh? From Mary. So the question must be asked: would God – who can have no part in sin – take upon Himself that which was fallen, stained and corrupt? The answer is obvious: of course He wouldn't. So, as we can see already, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has as much to do with our Lord Jesus Christ and His Incarnation, as it does with the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, as we explore the various Marian dogmas, we see this consistently. What God does in and through Mary finds its ultimate purpose in Jesus Christ.

We can find a strong implicit reference to the Immaculate Conception in St. Luke 1:28. In the original Greek text, when the archangel Gabriel is addressing the young Virgin Mary, the word used is translated to say that she is “full of grace.” In some translations of scripture, Gabriel’s words are translated as “highly favored one,” but that translation doesn’t capture the best and fullest meaning. The original Greek clearly indicates that Mary was filled with grace in the past, and the effect of it continues into the present. Understanding that, it’s apparent that the grace received by Mary didn’t come about through Gabriel’s visit; rather, she was always filled with grace.

Here’s another point used by those who doubt the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: They ask, “What about the words Mary spoke in her Magnificat, when she says, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”? If she wasn’t a sinner, why would she need a Savior?” Remember, Mary was a human being, a descendant of Adam and Eve. When she was conceived, she was certainly subject to the contracting of original sin, like all of us. But she was preserved from it – and how so? By grace. Mary was redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way; that is, by anticipation. There’s a helpful analogy which has been used by the Church to illustrate this very fact: a man falls into a deep pit, and somebody reaches down and pulls him out. It would be true to say that the man was “saved” from the pit. A woman is walking by that same pit, and she’s about to fall in, but at that very moment someone reaches out and pulls her back from the edge. She also has been “saved” from the pit. And in fact, she didn’t even get dirty like the poor man did, who actually fell in. God, who is outside of time, applied Christ’s saving grace to Mary before she was stained by original sin, rather like the woman in the story who didn’t get dirty because she was prevented from falling into the pit. So yes, Mary had a Savior, and He is none other than Christ, her Son and her Lord.

Then we’ve got Romans 3:23, where St. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Did St. Paul mean this statement to be understood in an all-inclusive, no-one-excluded way? Well, let’s consider. First of all, we certainly have to exclude Jesus Himself. Even though He was fully man, we know He didn’t sin. And what about a new-born baby? If sin is the deliberate disobedience to God’s law, could we say that a little baby has committed sin? I don’t think so. Although St. Paul was certainly stating the truth about mankind, his purpose in writing this section of Romans wasn’t to discuss the possibility of exceptions; rather he was constructing an important argument about law and grace, justification and redemption. If anybody wants to apply Romans 3:23 to Mary, then they’d have to apply it to babies and young children, too.

Sometimes people object to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception using this argument: “if we’re saying Mary was without sin, then we’re making her equal to God, because only God is without sin.” But we need to remember that in the beginning, Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they weren’t equal to God. The angels were created without sin, and in fact, from Scripture we know that only some of the angels sinned – Lucifer and his friends – but that means a lot of angels never sinned.  And they certainly are not equal to God.

Tragically, after the fall of our first parents, sin became commonplace and even expected. In fact, think about how often someone will say, after doing something wrong, “Well, I’m only human,” as though sin is perfectly natural, and somehow even defines humanity. Actually, sin is unnatural. We weren’t created to sin; we were created to know God, and to love Him, and to spend eternity with Him in heaven. In Mary, because of the Immaculate Conception, we see a human being as God intends all of us to be. What was maimed by the first Adam and Eve, is restored by the Second Adam and the Second Eve.

So then, what about the Immaculate Conception? It is logical. It is scriptural. And it is definitely an essential ingredient in God’s loving act of redemption.

O GOD, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son’s most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling-place by the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: mercifully grant that she who was preserved from all defilement, may evermore pray for us, until we attain unto thee in purity of heart; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

06 December 2017

St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor


St. Ambrose was born around 339 in what is now France, the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul. Following his father's footsteps, Ambrose embarked upon a career in law and politics and by 370 AD, he had become the Imperial governor of Northern Italy, where the main city was Milan. In about 374 the bishop of Milan died. At this same time, the Arian heresy that argued against the divinity of Christ threatened to destroy the Church. The bishop, who wasn’t a very good one, had supported the Arians. So now, the question was, who would take his place - an Arian or a Catholic? Both sides met in the cathedral and a riot broke out.

Public order was Ambrose's responsibility as governor so he hurried to the church and made a passionate speech not in favor of either side, but in favor of peace. He begged the people to make their choice without fighting, using restraint and moderation.

Suddenly, while he was speaking, what sounded like a child’s voice called out, "Ambrose for bishop!" Soon everyone was shouting, "Ambrose for bishop!" The neighboring bishops and the Emperor convinced him to accept this call as the will of God, and so the catechumen Ambrose was baptized and ordained first deacon, then priest, then bishop, all in a single week!

This politician, now suddenly a bishop, was very much aware of his lack of preparation for this great responsibility and so set himself immediately to prayer and the study of Scripture. His deep spirituality and love of God's Word, put together with the speaking skill he had acquired in law and politics, made St. Ambrose one of the greatest preachers of the early church.

St. Ambrose proved to be a fierce opponent of heresy. He battled to preserve the independence of the Church from the state and courageously excommunicated the powerful Catholic Emperor Theodosius I, who had massacred a group of innocent people in Thessalonica. St. Ambrose also had a significant impact on sacred music through the composition of hymns and psalm tones that are known to this day as Ambrosian chant. Besides many sermons and treatises on the spiritual life, Saint Ambrose is responsible for two of the first great theological works written in Latin, De Sacramentis on the Sacraments and De Spiritu Sancto on the Holy Spirit.

Around 385, a young man who was a teacher of rhetoric named Augustine came to hear Saint Ambrose preach in order to study his speaking technique, and in the process, was attracted to the Catholic faith. In 386 Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose and went on to become bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Ambrose and his pupil, Augustine, together with St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great, make up the four original Doctors of the Latin Church. Saint Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, died on Holy Saturday (April 4) in the year 397 AD. His feast day is December 7, the day he was ordained bishop.

O God, who didst give to thy servant St. Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim thy righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honour of thy Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellency in preaching, and fidelity in ministering thy Word, that thy people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

05 December 2017

St. Nicholas of Myra


St. Nicholas was born of Christian parents in the last part of the third century, and was raised in the Faith. His parents died when he was young, and they left him a large sum of money. Rather than using this for himself, Nicholas secretly disbursed his fortune to those who were in particular need.

His uncle was the archbishop of Myra, and he ordained Nicholas and appointed him to be the abbot of a nearby monastery. At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death. About the time of the persecutions of Diocletian, he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity but was released during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

There are lots of stories surrounding the life of Saint Nicholas, one of which relates Nicholas' charity toward the poor. A certain man, who was the father of three daughters, had lost his fortune, and finding himself unable to support his daughters, he was planning to sell them into slavery. Nicholas heard of the man's intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters, enabling them to be married. There are other stories of his generosity in giving to others, but he always tried to do it secretly.

After Nicholas' death on December 6 in or around 345, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra, and a great devotion to him grew up. More and more people visited his tomb to ask for his prayers. His body remained there until 1087, when some sailors from Bari, an Italian coastal town, came and took the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city. Veneration for Nicholas had already spread throughout Europe as well as Asia, but this occurrence led to a renewal of devotion in the West. Countless miracles were attributed to the saint's intercession. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari.

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children – and we’re reminded of this here in the parish because we have our St. Nicholas Field as a place for our children to play.

Relic of St. Nicholas, in the Lady Chapel.


O God, who didst adorn thy blessed Bishop Saint Nicholas with power to work many and great miracles: grant, we beseech thee; that by his prayers and merits, we may be delivered from the fires of everlasting torment; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

03 December 2017

St. John Damascene


St. John of Damascus or Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers, was one of the principal defenders of the veneration of images against the Iconoclasts, who condemned this practice.

When John was born, Damascus was under the jurisdiction of caliphs, but Christians were allowed to hold high offices. John's father was chief revenue officer of the caliph and a sterling Christian. He entrusted his son's education to a monk, Cosmas, who had been brought from Sicily as a slave, and who schooled the young man in theology, the sciences, and poetry.

John succeeded his father in office, and while living at the court gave an example of a model Christian. But he had set his sights higher, and after resigning his office he became a monk at St. Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem. Here he spent his time writing books and composing hymns. When Leo the Isaurian issued decrees against the veneration of images, John took up the challenge and wrote treatises defending this ancient practice.

At this time the Patriarch of Jerusalem, desirous of having John among his clergy, ordained him priest and brought him to Jerusalem. After some time, however, John returned to the monastery and devoted the rest of his life to writing. His most important work is his Fountain of Wisdom, in which he compiled and collated the teachings of all the great theologians before him; this is the first attempt at a Summa Theologica, a summary of philosophy and theology, that has come down to us. John's writings are a rich treasure of ancient traditions, and are held in high esteem. Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1890.

St. John was such a great orator that he was known as Chrysorrhoas ("golden-stream"). He was the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, and the first of the Christian Aristotleans. He also adapted choral music for use in the liturgy. His eloquent defense of Christian images has given him the title of "Doctor of Christian Art."
-from www.catholicculture.org

Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by thy servant St. John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent

 "From the Cradle to the Cross" by Michael Hayes

The time of Advent has a sense of mystery all its own. We know it best as that time of waiting before the Solemnity of the Nativity, but it contains a much more comprehensive expectation than mere preparation for Christmas. Truly, it collects the many strands of our faith, and weaves them into one fabric, for during Advent the cradle rests in expectation of the cross; the Child Redeemer speaks of the coming Judge resplendent in the clouds; the awaited birth of Jesus is the beginning of His passion; the swaddling-clothes prepared by the expectant Mother foretell the shroud of Christ's burial. Perhaps at no other time of the year is the totality of Christ's work put before us so clearly as it is at this time of Advent.

01 December 2017

Mary: The Treasury of Truth


The earthly life of the Blessed Virgin Mary marks one of the great pivotal points of history, because of the task given to her by God. And yet, this earth-shattering event took place in a surprisingly quiet way, as St. Luke tells us:

“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God...”

And so to this, Mary said “yes,” and in her “yes” to God is a treasury of truth. Just as God heard Mary’s “yes” and so the Son was conceived in her womb, so the Church has listened to Mary’s “yes”, and it has communicated the great truths about Mary in a voice loud and clear – truths which we accept, and around which we form our devotion – because these truths about Mary speak impressively about her divine Son.

First, the Church teaches us that Mary was immaculately conceived. At the instant of Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, she was, by the special grace of God, protected from the stain of original sin. This was done because of the great destiny which was hers – that of being the Mother of God. It was her flesh which would give flesh to Jesus; it was her body which would be His tabernacle for nine months; therefore, it would be beyond possibility that the Mother of God should bear the sin of Adam, since God can endure no sin. This was taught implicitly and explicitly from the earliest days of the Church, and was confirmed and solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, when he stated infallibly, “The most holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

Second, the Church teaches us that Mary was impeccable. In other words, she was never stained with any personal sin, and she was free from every moral imperfection. Certainly, she lived a human life. She had to labor, and was subject to pain and tiredness; but she, like her son Jesus Christ, had nothing in her which led her to act against the perfect moral law of God. This formal teaching of the Church is deduced from the words of the archangel Gabriel, when he addressed her as being “full of grace,” since moral guilt could not be reconciled with being filled completely with God’s grace. Once again, this teaching is defined because of Mary’s relationship with her Son, and not through simple merit of her own. She did not sin, and she could not sin, because of a special grace and privilege given to her by God, because He had chosen her to bear the Incarnate Word.

Third, the Church teaches us that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Three states of virginity are professed in this teaching: Mary conceived her Son without a human Father; she gave birth to Jesus without violating her virginity; and she remained a virgin after our Lord was born, for the rest of her life. The virginal conception is contained in all of the ancient creeds: “Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary...” The biblical basis of this, of course, is the prophecy of Isaiah (“A virgin shall conceive and bear a son...’), and it is confirmed by St. Matthew’s Gospel, which quotes this directly from the prophecy of Isaiah. All of the early Church Fathers confirm this teaching. The virginal birth was not questioned until a monk named Jovinian, teaching in the 4th century, said that “a virgin conceived, but a virgin did not bring forth,” and he was condemned by a synod of the Church meeting at Milan in the year 390, which was presided over by St. Ambrose. This was confirmed by the fifth general council of the Church, which was held at Constantinople in the year 553, where Mary was confirmed as being “perpetually virgin.” Certainly, the ancient theologians did not go into the physical details, but they speak in modest analogies, such as the “emergence of Christ from the sealed tomb,” his “going through closed doors,” the “penetration of light through glass,” the “going out of human thought from the mind.” The Church also teaches us of the perpetual virginity of Mary, that she remained a virgin after Christ was born. Her marriage to Joseph was a spiritual one, which was not consummated physically, and so she bore no other children. From the fourth century on, such formulas as that of St. Augustine became common: “A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, and a virgin remained.”

All of these truths about Mary have to do not only with her, but they are intimately related to Our Lord Jesus Christ. All of them are true, because of the one great truth of history: that Almighty God took human flesh upon Himself, and was born of this special woman, a virgin, chosen by God Himself, a Virgin prepared for this task through her immaculate conception, a virgin preserved for this task through her impeccability, a virgin honored for this task through her perpetual virginity, as a constant witness to the fact that it was her pure flesh which was given to the Incarnate Word. These truths are not simply esoteric theological statements. They are truths which impact history. They are truths which prepared for that ultimate moment of history when God entered personally into time and space.

It was at that time that Caesar Augustus, the master of the world, determined to issue an order for a census of the world which was ruled by Rome. To every outpost – to every corner – the order went out: every Roman subject must be enrolled in his own city. How far it was from the mind of Caesar Augustus, that his imperial order was a part of God’s great plan that the Saviour of the world should be born of the chosen Virgin Mary in a little-known place called Bethlehem. An order of Caesar Augustus – perhaps thought of by him only incidentally, and then ordered casually – meant that countless lives were interrupted as people gathered the necessary supplies for their various journeys.

And so it was that Joseph and Mary, this couple visited by angels and touched by God, were traveling in eternity at the order of an earthly ruler. And because of that, how things were to change! In a dirty stable, Pure Love was born. The “Living Bread come down from heaven” was laid where animals had eaten. The ancestors of Joseph and Mary, the Jews, had worshipped the golden calf, and now the ox and the ass were bowing down before their God.

As Mary fulfilled the plan of God, by conceiving and giving birth to the Christ, his passion began: He was born in a borrowed stable; He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The swaddling clothes which Mary wrapped around him when he was born looked forward to the grave-clothes which she would help to wrap around His lifeless body some thirty-three years later. The wooden manger in which His mother had laid him foreshadowed the wooden Cross from which she would receive His body into her arms.

And so in Christ, heaven came to earth, and it came through the Blessed Virgin Mother. God’s glory was announced to shepherds and to kings. And they came, as men and women have been coming ever since, to worship the Word Made Flesh. The Blessed Virgin, holding the Child Jesus, becomes truly our Mother and our example, as God calls each one of us to hold out Christ to the world – to hold Him out in our actions and in our words – so that all may come to worship Him, the Incarnate God.