The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for May, 2012

Mary Brings the Holy Spirit

As we bask in the grace of the Holy Spirit richly poured out upon us at Pentecost, let us look, as our final May reflection on Our Lady, at some aspects of her relationship with the Holy Spirit, as we find it in the Bible and in the writings of the saints.

Our Lady is traditionally referred to, in Western Christianity, as the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.”  The usual reason for this is that Scripture says that in order for the Son of God to become man in Mary’s virginal womb, the Holy Spirit would come upon her (see Lk. 1:35).  Thus through the overshadowing power of the Most High (here meaning the Father) working through the Holy Spirit, Mary would become the Mother of God Incarnate.  Yet there is another way to understand this mystery of Mary’s “spousal” relationship to the Holy Spirit.  She was entirely united to the Holy Spirit in her whole being as she was created, and this union was never diminished in the least, but rather became more profound throughout Mary’s life. It is this ineffably intimate and indissoluble union with God the Holy Spirit that merits Mary’s title of “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.”

St Maximilian Kolbe reflected deeply upon the mystery of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, for this was the name she gave to herself at Lourdes.  In order to learn more about who Mary is, he reasoned, we ought to begin with the way she spoke of herself.  The words, “Immaculate Conception,” writes the saint, “must tell us in the most precise and essential manner who she really is.”

It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that sanctified Mary from the first moment of her existence.  “United to the Holy Spirit as his spouse, she is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicated of any other creature.  What sort of union is this?  It is above all an interior union, a union of her essence with the ‘essence’ of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit dwells in her, lives in her.  This was true from the first instant of her existence.  It was always true; it will always be true… Among creatures made in God’s image, the union brought about by married love is the most intimate of all (cf. Mt. 19:6).  In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being… the virginal womb of Mary’s body is kept sacred for him; there he conceives…the human life of the Man-God… In the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary we observe more than the love of two beings; in one there is all the love of the Blessed Trinity; in the other, all of creation’s love.  So it is that in this union heaven and earth are joined; all of heaven with all of the earth, the totality of eternal love with the totality of created love.  It is truly the summit of love.”

Since May 31 is the feast of the Visitation of the Mother of God, I’ll share something here on this mystery (from my book A Place Prepared by God), which has much to do with the relation of the Holy Spirit and Mary (see Luke 1:39-56).

This visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is extraordinary, and so has been immortalized in the pages of the word of God.  The first extraordinary thing we encounter is the voice of Mary.  Now the voice of a teenage girl is not something that one would expect to merit special mention in the Holy Scriptures.  Carrying the Son of God within her, however, Mary could mediate the grace of the Holy Spirit simply with the sound of her voice.  When Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary, “the babe leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41, 44).

Let us not pass this by without reflection: Mary simply greeted Elizabeth, and the result was that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, as was the child in her womb (see Lk. 1:15).  This was just the beginning of twenty centuries (and counting) of wonders associated with Our Lady that proceed from the fact that the Incarnation of God happened within her…

At Mary’s voice the grace of the Holy Spirit is given… [What happened] at the sound of Mary’s voice was the filling of Elizabeth herself with the Holy Spirit.  Before we reflect at some length on the result of that little Pentecost of Elizabeth, there’s something else we ought to realize, since we do not explore these mysteries for mere historical value or academic interest.  Since this event is part of the word of God, it is living and active; it has enduring meaning for our own time as well as practical application to our own lives.  So if Elizabeth received joy and the grace of the Holy Spirit at the sound of Mary’s voice, we should realize that this is much more than a historical narrative.  For example, if Jesus healed people and cast out demons when He walked the earth, we have to be aware that what the Gospels offer is not a mere account of what happened then.  It is a testimony to who Jesus is, and hence his power to heal and to cast out demons continues to the end of time, for He is the Lord.  Similarly, Our Lady’s “voice” (that is, her presence, though in extraordinary circumstances chosen souls do hear her actual voice) continues to bring the grace of the Holy Spirit and joy to those to whom it is granted that she come to them, for she is the Mother of the Lord.

The first thing that Elizabeth said to Mary, once she was filled with the Holy Spirit, was: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Henceforth no one can have any valid reason for not praying the Hail Mary.  The first line—“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you”—came directly from Heaven, through the mouth of an archangel.  The next one—“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”—came directly from the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of a righteous woman He had just filled with Himself.  As for the rest of the prayer, the fact that Mary is holy is obvious from God’s choice of her for her mission, and we’ll see in greater detail… what it means that she is the Mother of God and prays for us sinners.  If angels and the Holy Spirit Himself can address her as they have, we have the highest of precedents for lovingly doing so ourselves.

Even if St. Luke hadn’t told us that Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit when she blessed Mary and the Fruit of her womb, we would have been compelled to come to the same conclusion ourselves.  How else would Elizabeth have known the extraordinary blessing Mary had just received? How would she even have known that Mary was pregnant?  Obviously the communication wasn’t very swift in those days.  Mary didn’t hear the astonishing news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy until six months after the fact, and that news didn’t even come from Elizabeth, but from the angel.  So Elizabeth couldn’t have known what had happened to Mary in the past few days except by divine revelation.

The revelation is even more extraordinary than the awareness of Mary’s pregnancy. Elizabeth called Mary “the mother of my Lord”!  Mary herself was probably still coming to terms with the incredible significance of just Who it was that was now living in her womb, and when she goes to visit her cousin she is greeted with: “You are the mother of my Lord!”  Elizabeth’s humility is also evident, since she speaks to someone much younger than herself with such respect and deference.  “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  Behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy.”  The very presence of Mary is a gift from God that brings joy and grace, of which Mary’s elder considers herself unworthy.

Let us, then, welcome any “visitation” of the Blessed Virgin Mary that God might deign to grant us in his mercy and love for us.  For she will bring with her the grace of the Holy Spirit, being his precious spouse in the ineffably profound manner we will understand fully only in Heaven.  But let us open our hearts to receive a little bit of Heaven even now…

Receive the Sweet-Fire

[I gave this homily on the feast of Pentecost in 2005.]

Since this is the day of Pentecost, I thought I’d talk about fire.  We heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit chose to appear in the form of tongues of fire. 

Now why fire for the Holy Spirit? Well for one thing, fire is a source of light and of heat.  Fire purifies precious metals, and in general, it is a symbol of dynamic passionate energy and love, and here we speak of fire from God.  As we heard in our Office this morning, the text combines the images of fire and water and says that the fountain of the Holy Spirit pours down, gushes down, onto the apostles in flaming streams.  It’s a way of trying to express the lavishness, the power, the energy, the bright Uncreated Light and Glory of God the Holy Spirit, who is being given to us this very day as we celebrate this holy mystery.  The material fire and the spiritual fire both have different elements to them, positive and negative, because fire can be a destructive thing.  But we’ll get into that in a bit.

In the novel by Michael O’Brien called A Cry of Stone, the little heroine, who is a Native American woman, speaks about different kinds of spiritual fire.  Their language is very full of concrete images and not of abstract concepts, so it’s easier to connect to sometimes.  She talks first of all about what she calls the sweet-fire.  The sweet-fire is the grace, the love of God, something she experiences when she goes before Jesus in the tabernacle in the church.  She says she feels this sweet-fire coming into her.  It doesn’t hurt, but it burns in a beautiful and loving way.  It’s a torrent of love that comes to her from Jesus, and she in her own heart returns it to Him, in her own simple way of loving Him back in gratitude.

The sweet-fire is also something that she sees in other people when she sees goodness in them, and love.  In the eyes of a young man who she came to love like a brother, when he loved her she said she saw the sweet-fire in his eyes.  The Holy Spirit brings us the sweet-fire today if we’re open to it, if we want it and if we want to return our love for God’s love.

But there’s another kind of fire, which she called a bile-fire.  Now this fire comes either from the demons or from someone who’s in the grip of evil.  It’s a dark stream of anger or hatred or bitterness that comes out of people, something that is evil and destructive.  There’s no light in this bile-fire.  It’s like hellfire.  You know, some people have said about Hell, that it’s a fire that burns but does not give light.  You’re in the flames but you’re also in darkness at the same time, and that’s the fire of the devil. As a matter of fact, in another of Michael O’Brien’s novels, the character of the antichrist invokes the devil as “he who hath the form of black flame.”  This is the bile-fire, the dark evil flame that is exactly the opposite of the sweet-fire of the Holy Spirit that we’ve come to receive today.

Not so long ago I had an experience, which was rather unpleasant, but it—I almost said “illuminates” this mystery, though I shouldn’t, because this is all about darkness, the reality of that dark presence of evil.  You know, sometimes we have to engage in spiritual warfare. I hate it when I have to do that in the middle of the night, but that happens once in a while.  One night, I just felt—I won’t go into details here—several clear indications that there was some malevolent presence in my little room that night, which does not, by the way, make for sweet dreams.  But anyway, in the final manifestation of that—I was trying to force my hand into the priestly blessing-form (the name of Jesus and the sign of the Cross) to make it go away, but at such moments it’s hard even to do that—I saw something that was really weird.  The room was completely dark.  It was the middle of the night and it was pitch black.  But you know what, something darker than the darkness passed in front of my eyes.  I thought, how could something be darker than black?  But that’s what evil is: the formless void of darkness that’s darker than the darkest night.

I remember somebody else who was here a couple years ago; she was struggling with the devil, and said she’d seen visions.  You know how she saw the devil?  It wasn’t a form with horns and hooves and a pointy tail or that kind of thing.  She said the devil is a black hole of evil and it sucks into it anything that comes near it.  That’s one of the best descriptions of evil and the devil that I’ve ever heard.  That’s the darkness.  But what did Jesus say today in the Gospel?  “I am the light of the world.  No one who follows me will be in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, as we heard in the Gospel.  It says the Spirit wasn’t given at that moment because Jesus was not yet glorified, but Jesus is now glorified and so the Spirit is now given.  God gives us the Fire of the Spirit that enlightens, that leads us to Christ, the light of the world: the light, which it says in the beginning of the Gospel, shines on in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  Darkness cannot overcome us as long as we cling to the Light and embrace the Light.  If we choose darkness, then darkness swallows us up real fast because it’s always waiting for us, but when we cling to the Light, evil cannot harm us.

Now fire also gives heat.  Fire warms cold hearts and enkindles the lukewarm.  That’s something that we also have to be aware of, because Jesus says He spits the lukewarm out of his mouth.  What a horrible thing!  So we’d better make ourselves available to that Fire that ignites us, that enkindles us, so that we aren’t lukewarm, mediocre in our spiritual life and our efforts.

You know, God has a sense of humor.  He pulled a little joke on me yesterday during Vespers.  I was praying at the beginning of Vespers that He would put a burning love for Jesus into my heart.  Well, within a couple minutes, I got a very unpleasant case of heartburn!  So I said to Him, “Very funny, but that’s not exactly what I was asking for!  I want the fire of love, not of stomach acid.”  But maybe He was just trying to make the distinction that there are different kinds of fires.  Or that maybe there was still some work to be done in me, because just like there’s another fire that’s not of God, there’s another heat that’s not of God.  This heat is the heat of disordered desire and passions, of misdirected energies and efforts.   It is—I found this phrase in a commentary, which referred to an old Latin hymn—it’s called the calor noxius, the toxic fire, the harmful heat which is the bile-fire, the dark fire that we have to avoid if we want to live in the grace of the sweetness of that fire of love of the Holy Spirit.

We want the Holy Spirit to transform us.  The light dispels the darkness.  The heat enkindles the heart.  It purifies us of the dross of our sins and bad habits and our general laziness and lack of fervor in loving and serving God.  He has to give us a hotfoot, set a match under us and get us going, so that we can live in the way He calls us to live and enables us to live by His grace.  We need to be remade, renewed and revived—which means given life again, a new life.

God wants to do something for us, beginning today at this very Liturgy.  The Holy Spirit is being given, but will you receive?  That’s the question.  The Holy Spirit comes to open hearts, for He dwells only in open hearts.  If we want to close the door, He’s not going to come in.  He’s going to knock, but He’s going to wait for us to open.  So we have that terrible power to say no to the Holy Spirit, no, don’t come in.  No, don’t bring me the fire of your love and of your light.  No, go away.  Well, He will, if you say that.  But where does that leave us? In the darkness, that evil darkness, that bile-pool of sins, the place where the demons work.

We might ask, after all of that, can the Holy Spirit really transform us?  Looking back perhaps at our own track record, can He really change us or is this just wishful thinking, that we come here on Pentecost and say, “come Holy Spirit and do something with me”?  Well, the Holy Spirit can.  If the Holy Spirit can change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, then He can change us.  That’s the final prayer of the anaphora, of the consecration of the bread and wine.  We ask the Father to change these gifts by the Holy Spirit.

So this should be our prayer today on Pentecost to the Father: Change us by your Holy Spirit!  Make us into the Body of Christ, the members of the Body of Christ that we are. We’re called to bear fruit, and to be recognized as belonging to Christ and live in His Spirit.  That’s what the Christian life is about.

So we have to pray for the sweet-fire and pray that the other image, the living water, will extinguish any bile-fire that may still be in us.  We need to be ignited with God’s love, and with love for God, just like the sacrifice of Elijah was ignited by fire from Heaven.  He prepared the sacrifice, and just to taunt his enemies, he poured buckets of water all over it and then said, OK, God, show them who is God!  And fire came down from Heaven and consumed the whole sacrifice.

We have to offer ourselves to God as a sacrifice, so that that fire from Heaven will come down—not to consume us, but to fill us and transform us.  It can consume all the junk and remove it, but save the image of Jesus that is still maybe buried within us, and purify, enlighten, and bring it all to its full beauty and manifestation in lives that are pleasing to God, that give glory to God, and that are a service to our brothers and sisters.

Don’t lose the opportunity.  Now is the acceptable time.  Now is the day of salvation.  So let the fire fall!  Say yes to the grace of the Holy Spirit, yes to the will of God for the transformation of your life.

Unlike material fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit doesn’t automatically heat or enlighten what it touches.  It’s a personal Fire that works only with a personal, free response.  So for that fire to catch in our hearts we have to let it.  One can receive the flaming ember of the Eucharist or, as one author put it, the “Fire in the Blood” of the chalice and still remain cold inside if the heart is not open to grace.  Some people receive Communion thousands of times and still never change.  That’s a sign that something inside is not getting ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit, even among those who might consider themselves pious people.

So resolve to be rekindled, and receive the Holy Spirit today from the Heart of Christ, from the everlasting love of God the Father.  Receive the sweet-fire, and live for Him who is the Light of the world.

Prepare Ye the Way

It’s almost Pentecost Sunday, so I hope you have been praying fervently these days for the renewed gift of the Holy Spirit. But just in case you are remiss in your preparations to open your heart and soul to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, here are a few liturgical texts to meditate upon, and a few Scripture passages to help you embrace the mystery of the Third Person of the All-holy Trinity, who wants to renew cleanse and heal and ignite your soul!

“Come to us from on high, O Comforter, as You descended upon the Apostles. Thus sanctify and save us all who proclaim You as true God.”

“Renew in us, O God, the Spirit, the All-Holy One, Him whom You sent forth to give strength to Your holy disciples, that they might thus accomplish Your saving will, for You alone are merciful.”

“All things bow the knee before the Comforter, and before the Word and the consubstantial Father; for they acknowledge in three Persons the One, Infallible, Unapproachable and Timeless Essence; for the grace of the Spirit has shone forth illumination.”

“Like fire, the grace of the Spirit awesomely came from Heaven and rested upon each of the Savior’s disciples. And by this enlightenment they became beacons of His light, that they might declare the oneness of the Holy Trinity and the unity of God’s dominion and power, which we glorify with faith.”

“With God-inspired words let us now speak of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from God the Father and is worshipped with the Son. By Him all is governed and sustained and given life. From Him all things derive their existence; by Him all men are redeemed. O Holy Comforter, who cannot be comprehended, grant Your people endless peace.”

“Behold, the prophets’ words are fulfilled and accomplished. For by veiled beams He has revealed and shed light on the things that would come to pass; since He is God the Comforter, He has descended in all fullness on the Apostles. And through them He comes also to the faithful who worship the Holy Trinity.”

I’ll just list the Scripture passages here, since they’re a bit too long to type them all out.  If you want to prepare your soul, you need to put in a little effort, so get out your Bible and look them up!

Ez. 36: 22-28

Is. 11: 1-9

Joel 2: 27 – 3: 5

Gal. 5: 16-26

Eph. 1: 11-23

1Cor. 2: 6-16

And the grand finale: Rev. 22: 10-21

Let us pray.

O All-Holy Spirit, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, we beg You to pour out Your grace upon us as we await Your coming in power on the day of Pentecost.  Heal the wounds of our souls, purify our hearts and our minds, and make us ready to receive You and the fullness of Your gifts.  Make all things new as You abide in us and we in You; grant that we may love You and live for You and serve You in holiness all the days of our lives.  For You are our God, the Fire of divine and everlasting love, and to You we give glory together with the Eternal Father and His only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever and unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Blessings to you for the great and holy day.  Let the Fire fall!

Pride Leads to a Fall

It is commonly accepted that the fall of the wicked angels was due to pride.  The following passage from Isaiah is often used to refer to that primordial event: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! [“Lucifer” means “light-bearer”]… You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high… I will make myself like the Most High’… But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit” (14:12-15).

It is also commonly accepted, according to the writings of saints and mystics, that the pride of the devil and his demons was expressed primarily in their refusal—upon being made aware of God’s future plans—to accept the Incarnation of the Son.  For these proud angels, being of a pure spiritual nature, thought it beneath their dignity to accept the Son made man in the fleshly matter of a human body as their Lord and Master, to whom adoration and obedience would be due.  To add insult to injury, as it were, they would also have to be subject to the Queenship of Mary, who, as the Immaculate Conception and Mother of God, would also exercise dominion over them.  This was perhaps the last straw, for it was bad enough they would have to serve God made Man—now they would also have to serve a Woman who was purely a human creature, yet whom God in his wisdom and his exceeding love deigned to raise higher than all the spiritual beings He had created.

So what did they get from their pride and arrogance?   How did they benefit from refusing to honor the King and Queen of Heaven?  They got to be citizens of Hell, that’s all.  Fine, so they don’t have to worship the Son in his human flesh, and they don’t have to honor the Mother who gave her own flesh to be the flesh of God.  Now they have to suffer torments in flaming tar pits for all eternity.  Was it worth it?  Their pain is mixed with their anger, but their pride is so intense that they wouldn’t abandon it even if they had the chance.  During the course of an exorcism I read about, the priest once commanded the devil in Jesus’ name to tell him if he would accept to be released from Hell and be taken to everlasting happiness if only he would submit to the Lordship of the Incarnate Son and would honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The devil could not restrain his hate-filled pride, and so he screamed, “Never!

The holy and good angels, who did not rebel against God’s plan for the Incarnation, are eternally happy in their loving obedience to the wisdom and will of God.  The arrogance of the devils may generate some dark satisfaction, but are they happy?  Obviously not, but they cling to their misery since they will not let go of their pride.  And they would like to spread it around.  At their first opportunity, with the first human beings in the world, they incited them to disobedience through pride.  It clearly reflects their own fall.  The passage in Isaiah has it, “I will make myself like the Most High,” while the fallen spirit whispers to Eve, “You shall be like God.”

So it is not much different for us.  Thanks be to God, at least we, unlike the fallen angels, have the opportunity to repent when our pride makes us do something stupid, or something that puts our salvation in jeopardy. But if we don’t acquire the virtue (which is the fruit of a habitual way of acting) of humility, we will be forever stuck with the vice of pride. Pride (and other related selfish disobediences like lust and greed) do not bring happiness, but a host of evils, even if some passing satisfactions are gained.  Humility, on the contrary, brings peace, joy, and hope of eternal life: this is the exaltation of those who humble themselves.

Jesus says: “Learn from me, for I am lowly and humble of heart.”  That is why his yoke is easy and his burden light.  The yoke of sin is heavy and bitter, and hard to shake off once we have become habitually burdened by it.  Our Lady knew this.  She not only avoided sin altogether, but she also was exceedingly humble.  Even though she merited an angelic visitation and heard high praises of her fullness of grace from the holy archangel, Mary simply stated that she was the handmaid of the Lord and would act only according to his word and will.  For this, the humble maiden was exalted as Queen of Heaven!  With her consent, God became man inside her own body!  This utterly astounding and absolutely unique glorification of a human person, chosen to surpass all men and even all angels in holiness, would never have come about if there was an ounce of pride in the pure Virgin.

So let us learn the lesson that pride always leads to a fall and that humility always leads to glory.  It may cost our damaged human nature a lot to swallow our pride, but let us look to what makes for true and lasting happiness.  The devils are now “free” to curse and complain and ridicule and blaspheme and vent their impotent rage to their heart’s content. But look where they are. Better for us now to restrain our wayward impulses and our desire to exalt ourselves, or to have the last word, or to humiliate those who threaten our fragile egos.  Better simply to say yes to God as did Mary, to learn from Jesus who is meek and humble of heart, even to bear the reproach of the arrogant.  For we will at length be exalted, and we will be eternally grateful that we chose the lot of the angels who humbly obeyed the will of God, and who therefore will be our joyful companions forever!

Reparation for Blasphemy

“What evil has the enemy wrought in the sanctuary! … Your foes now swagger in the middle of Your rites… in the dirt they defile the dwelling of your name. They said… ‘Let us stifle all the holy feasts of God on earth’ … How long, O God, shall the foe blaspheme?  Shall the enemy revile Your name forever? … Arise, O God, defend Your cause!  Remember how the fool blasphemes You all day long… the pride of those who hate You rises up incessantly” (Ps. 73/74).

Strong words from the Scriptures.  Evidently not a whole lot has changed in the past 2500 years or so.  God and all that is holy are routinely blasphemed in the public square and in the media.  Much of it is explicitly anti-Catholic and therefore is well-tolerated by most and even applauded by some.  Recently a Catholic church was vandalized and desecrated in Santa Cruz, CA (ironically, it means “Holy Cross”), an area in which there is much satanist activity.  Such acts of blasphemy are becoming routine around the country and around the world. Anti-Catholicism has been aptly called “the last acceptable prejudice” in America, but it is not acceptable to God; it is rather a grievous offense against his majesty, his truth, and his love. Many of these incidents are documented by the group America Needs Fatima (see link in sidebar), who provide opportunities to send e-protests and to offer prayers of reparation.  Such prayers can be found here and here and here.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is often singled out as the target for blasphemers, because the devil hates her so much.  Mary has been given such grace and power in her immaculate purity and holiness that she can effortlessly crush the ancient serpent.  So the devil uses his servants to try to defile and mock her pure image and heavenly beauty and goodness in all sorts of displays designed to insult her and invite others to do so as well.

It seems like it doesn’t occur to most Christians to offer prayer and reparation when Christ and his dear Mother and the citizens of Heaven are blasphemed, though it should be something we would spontaneously be moved to do.  If someone we love is hurt or offended or grieved or insulted by others, we do our best to console them and assure them of our love and support.  How much more ought we do it for those whom we love the most, and who have done the most for us!

If we’re a little too slow to get it, sometimes Heaven has to intervene.  The following is part of the account of Lucia, one of the visionaries of Fatima, who was charged by an Angel to offer prayers and sacrifices of reparation.

“…And then we began to see, in the distance, above the trees that stretched to the east, a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun. As he came near we were able to see his features. We were astonished and absorbed and we said nothing to one another. And then he said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.’ He knelt, bending his forehead to the ground. With a supernatural impulse we did the same, repeating the words we heard him say: ‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope in You, and I love You. I ask forgiveness for those who do not believe, adore, hope in You, or love You.’ After repeating this prayer three times the angel rose and said to us: “Pray in this way. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.” And he disappeared. … Suddenly we saw the same angel near us. ‘What are you doing?’ he said. ‘You must pray! Pray! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs upon you. Offer prayers and sacrifices continually to the Most High.’ While we were there, the angel appeared to us for the third time, holding in his hand a chalice, and above the chalice, a Host, from which a few drops of blood were falling. Leaving the chalice and Host suspended in air, he prostrated himself on the ground and repeated three times this prayer: ‘Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.'”

Our Lady also appeared to them, and years later to Lucia after she had entered the convent, manifesting her Immaculate Heart, surrounded and pierced by thorns, due to the blasphemies and ingratitude of men, as I mentioned in the Mother’s Day post.  People can lose their souls forever because of blasphemy, and since Mary does not want to see her children burning in Hell for all eternity, she was sent by God to us to ask for reparation, and for devotion to her Immaculate Heart.  In this way we can not only console Our Lord and Our Lady over the horrible treatment they receive from evildoers and misguided zealots, who destroy their sacred images or desecrate the Blessed Sacrament, we can actually win grace for their repentance, conversion, and salvation.  The more the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are wounded and grieved by blasphemers, the more we should honor and love those precious Hearts.  We, after all, have received grace that others have not, and we should make special efforts to console the Hearts that love us so much.

So pray the Fatima prayers, the other reparation prayers linked here, or any that you wish.  Go about your day with the adoring praise of God upon your lips, with love for your heavenly Mother in your heart. Make up for those who hate them; win grace for souls. We waste so much time in frivolous activities and vain thoughts and daydreams, when we could be making reparation for sinners and giving glory to God—not to mention advancing the sanctification of our own souls.  So pray and honor and love, while the world curses and blasphemes and hates.  You will begin to discover just how much Heaven loves you for this, and nothing is as sweet as that.

Christ Ascends to Where He Is

[Here’s a homily for the feast of the Ascension of Christ that I gave in 2003.  I was rather long-winded back then, but hey, you might just like it!]

On this great feast of the Ascension of our Lord, we sing in the liturgy, “The Lord goes up into Heaven!” But does the Lord really go up?   Well, I think the best answer would have to be, “Yes and no.”  Yes, He went up because it says right there in the Scriptures that He went up: the apostles saw Him going up, on a cloud, into the heavens.  But on the other hand, we should say, “No,” in the sense that in order to go to Heaven, He doesn’t have to go up.  He didn’t have to pass through the various layers of the atmosphere and then go into space and maybe take a little rest stop on Jupiter and then go to some other, hidden corner of the universe where Heaven is located.  He didn’t have to “go up.”

But the fact that He did bodily rise out of their presence helped them understand what He was really doing, because the whole mentality, not only of Israel, but anthropologically of practically all races and cultures, is their sense that what is great is “up,” is “high”; what is poor and mean is “low” and “below”.  So God is often referred to, as the Scripture says, as the “Most High”—He’s the One who is way up there.  And many times in the Scriptures too it says, “You who dwell in the heavens,” which is literally, “You who dwell in the sky.”  So Christ, before his disciples, in order to communicate with them where He was going, went up.

But Heaven is not really up; Heaven is a dimension of reality that’s everywhere.  Unfortunately, we have extremely limited access to this dimension—maybe certain glimpses we get, or a fleeting perception or awareness of the ineffable somehow connects us with this dimension of Heaven, but even if we’re unaware, it’s there.

We should not try to conceive of our relationship with God in terms of direction and distance: God dwells “up there” and, through the incarnation, He came “down here”; and, through the Ascension, He went back “up there” and then, at the end of the world, for judgment, He’s going to come back “down here.”  And if we’ve been really good, He’ll take us with Him back “up there”!  But that’s not really how it works.

We can see that after Jesus was raised from the dead and was in his glorified body, He passed in and out of Heaven, a number of times.  When He was eating with the disciples at Emmaus, and broke the bread, He just disappeared: well, where did He go?  Just outside or something, so that they wouldn’t see Him?  No, He went back to where He is!  He went back to Heaven.  And the women who were running away from the tomb after they’d seen the angels—suddenly, Jesus appeared in front of them: what was He doing, hiding behind a tree, and then He jumped out in front of them?  No, He’s in Heaven, and He just came into our dimension of space and time and sense perception, and manifested Himself to the women.

But the Ascension into Heaven is really a return to his eternal dwelling place (so to speak), but now “in a new way,” as man, in his glorified body, but which glorified body has the capacity, unlike our unglorified bodies, to pass through, into that dimension that is Heaven, the dwelling place of God.

We ought to be aware, when we’re thinking about Heaven (and this applies to our life here on earth), that Heaven is not “way out there at the edge of the universe” somewhere; that it’s really everywhere, and that we need to have a certain sensitivity to at least begin, here below. See? I just automatically said “below.”  It’s so much ingrained in our consciousness: “here below” and not “up there”!  We have to develop this awareness and sense of the presence of God.

G. K. Chesterton and Abraham Heschel both came, independently, to a similar insight.  They say when we see things in this world, basically what we’re looking at is the “back side” of things.  When we see a tree, it’s really the back of the tree; when we see a cloud, it’s the back of the cloud.  And Chesterton says, everything out there is hiding a face, and would that we could go around front, and get a look at it!   And Heschel makes it even more explicit when he says, “Why is it that we see only the backs of things?”  He says, “Because their faces are turned towards God, who created them.” And hopefully, we can get a little bit of a glimpse of what all creation is looking at, in its very being, coming fresh from the hand of God, that there’s a deep reality, a meaningfulness out there, that we can only arrive at, we can only sense, through a spiritual gift.

We don’t come to faith in God through logical syllogisms, through conclusions based on certain premises.  We don’t come to believe in God through those so-called “proofs” of the existence of God.  Proofs may support our faith, but they can’t create it.  It has to come, as Heschel says, through this awareness of the ineffable, a sense of the great meaningfulness of everything that somehow seizes us, and we cannot but realize the presence of God, we cannot but believe that there’s something profound, magnificent, as he says “pregnant with awe-inspiring grandeur,” that’s just behind, so to speak, or within the phenomena, the things that we see.

When we pursue that presence that’s at once beyond the heavens and in the depths of our souls, we finally realize an encounter with the living God.  Then no one has to prove anything to us because it’s like an intuition: it’s something that impresses itself on us and gives us a little bit of a taste for the truth, for the deeper meaning of everything, and the Source of everything.

So, when we see a flower swaying in the breeze, we’re witnessing its state of ecstasy in its silent devotion, and every chirp of a bird is a syllable of the language of Heaven; the patterns of the clouds in the sky are the hieroglyphics of God.  It’s all there for those who can see it, who want to see it, and who open their hearts to something beyond logic and reason and scientific verification.  It’s there because God is there.

We need to “connect” somehow with this reality, and one of the most important ways to do it is by prayer, by seeking, by trying to enter into some sort of relationship with this great Mystery that fills, inspires, and vivifies the entire universe.

Talking about Ascension, we sing every day, “Let my prayer rise like incense,” so we’re always wanting to rise, to go up and beyond where we already are, to get higher.  And our prayer, in that sense, ought to rise. There’s a story about a famous and holy rabbi who was visiting a certain town, and he came to the synagogue of the town and, as he came to the entrance, he stopped and would not go in. They said, “Rabbi!  Why don’t you want to come into the synagogue?” He replied, “I sense that the synagogue is full of the words of Torah and of prayer.” They thought, “Wow: that’s really the highest compliment!” And so they said, “Well, all the more reason!  Why don’t you want to come in?” Then he said: “Because, when the words are uttered with devotion and the prayer is prayed with fervor, it rises to Heaven!  But I sense that this place is still full of Torah and prayer.”

Let us hope and pray that this temple is not full of prayer, that is, prayer weighed down by our lukewarmness, but that our prayer rises up to Heaven, and not rising up just through the roof, but connecting, communicating, finding the ear of God: that’s what we want to do with our prayer, with our lives.

We’re on a quest. This quest that we’re on is an inner as well as an outer quest.  We are looking to the inner essence of things, where God “hides,” so to speak, but where He wants us to find Him, to recognize Him, to communicate with Him, to ascend from the ordinary, daily sleepwalking and unawareness of anything beyond our own material surroundings and our psychological and emotional fluctuations and activity.  He wants us to enter that state of awe, of wonder, of (as Heschel says) “radical amazement,” at what is, at the fact that there is something at all.  We should be amazed not only at the beauty that we can see, but at the fact that we can see, the miracle that is seeing.  And just like everything else, there’s something so deep that we can’t really take it in; you can’t just think about it and articulate it, you have to sit in this Infinite Presence that you can’t even describe, or you stand up here like me, stumbling and struggling for words, and you realize that it’s so much more than you could ever even articulate or realize, that you just have to sit in silence and let it wash over you, let it speak to you, let it reveal itself in symbols, in silent ineffable revelations.

But our task is to try to keep alive the wonder, the awe, the amazement at the great meaningfulness of the mystery of everything that is, and of God who has made everything that is, who is present in everything that is, who loves us, and who has gone beyond what we could’ve imagined a God would do for us, who loved us by becoming man, in Jesus Christ, suffering and offering Himself as a sacrifice for our salvation.

We live with blinders on; we live closed up in ourselves, with a very narrow “script” of our lives, a very small book of the things that we think that we need to know to live, and we think that’s enough: here, I know my catechism, my job, my family, and a couple of other things and that’s enough, that’s my life. No. The book should break open, it is endless in its profundity: we can always go deeper, we can always experience more, but we should never think that we have come to the end, or that now we really know about all of this.  No; we don’t finally know; we can only take little baby-steps into the world of the wonder of God’s presence and goodness and love.

Remember that God is always going to be a mystery!  We always have to realize that God is greater than anything that we can say about Him, that we can conceive about Him.  Concepts are limiting.  St Gregory of Nyssa said, “Concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything.”

So let us, today as we’re celebrating this Ascension—the “going up” of Christ—let us rejoice in Him and give Him thanks, the One who has ascended to Heaven so that Heaven can descend to us, and be here, even in our daily lives where we can glimpse and perceive little bits, little glimmers, from the deep recesses of the World of Light that we’re hoping to enter at the end of our lives. Then we will, even now, begin to descend into our own depths where God is, as we ascend, letting our prayer rise and our whole life break open to the awareness of the great mystery of the God who has come to us in the flesh, and who has said, “I am with you always.

If He ascended into Heaven, and Heaven is “up there,” how’s He going to be “with us always” until the end of the world?  Well, He’s with us always, because Heaven is with us always, and He who is with us always will make it possible, as He said in the gospel of John, to be where He is. He didn’t say, when He was praying to his Father, “I want them to come up to Heaven”; He only said, “I want them to be with Me, where I am.” Well, we can start being with Him where He is, now.  Because, through his Spirit, as we pray in every hour of the Office, He is “everywhere present and filling all things.”

Walk with Christ in White

There’s a beautiful way that Our Lord describes the communion of life with Him, both on Earth and in Heaven.  His faithful ones who are pure of heart and cleansed of their sins, He says, will “walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4).  The whiteness, which refers to inner purity and holiness, is symbolized by a white garment. Therefore, the ones He says are worthy of Him are those “who have not soiled their garments.”  This image of the garment representing the soul is found in several places in Scripture, such as the one about the man whose garment was unacceptable for entering the wedding feast, that is, the Kingdom of Heaven (see Mt. 22:11-14).

There’s also an interesting account of a vision granted to the Prophet Zechariah, which I quote here in full: “Then he showed me Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.  And the angel of the Lord said to Satan: ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan!  The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!  Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’  Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.  And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’  And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’  So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments; and the angel of the Lord was standing by” (Zech. 3:1-5).

We who have soiled our garments can still be made clean.  Our iniquity can be taken away from us, and we can be clothed in rich apparel, like Joshua the high priest, and like the returning prodigal son.  Thus we can still walk with the Lord in white.  It is interesting how our soiled garments get to be made white: they are washed in blood!  Ordinary human blood will stain a white garment; but the Blood of Christ will turn a stained garment white!  “Who are these,” asked one of the heavenly elders, “clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?”  He answered his own question: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13-14).  These will walk with the Lord in white forever and ever.

We all have a lot of scrubbing to do, to get our robes white, so as to be worthy to walk with the Lord.  The psalmist says, “Wash me more and more from my guilt,” because a single cleansing does not prevent us from ever sinning again.  So our recourse to the Blood of the Lamb, through Confession and Holy Communion, must be frequent if we are to keep our robes white.

There is one who has never soiled her garments, and it is she whom we are honoring in a special way in the month of May.  She has walked in white with the Lord from the first moment of her existence, for her soul was redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb in a unique manner: preserving her from sin rather than taking it away after the fact.  More than any other creature, she is worthy of the Lord, but though her heavenly glory outshines even that of the highest angels, she, like all creatures, depends upon God for her very existence and every privilege graciously granted her.  This is why, in her ecstatic hymn of praise to God, she not only prophesied that all ages would call her blessed, but that she rejoiced in God her Savior, who looked favorably upon her, his humble handmaiden, and did great things for her (see Lk. 1:46-49) .  Often in her apparitions upon earth—when the Lord sends her to urge us to wash our soiled garments in the Blood of the Lamb through repentance, prayer, and return to the Sacraments—she appears clothed in brilliant white garments. She is the all-pure one, and as Queen of Heaven walks in white with the King.

Let us strive to be found worthy to walk with Christ in white, cleansing our soiled garments in the Blood of the Lamb.  And in order to keep from constantly falling into the mud, let us entrust ourselves to the guidance of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, who will direct us along the narrow path to the Kingdom, wrapping us in her white mantle of purity and holiness, protecting us from the mudslinging demons, and preparing us to enter forever into the brilliant, Uncreated White Light of the glory of God.

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