Friday, December 31, 2010

Considering Time on New Year's Day

Time is precious indeed! Yet often enough nothing is spent so uselessly as time itself. With time, we buy eternity. Using it well, we can obtain glory and happiness - eternally. Abusing it, we incur condemnation in the fires of Hell - eternally.

The thought of eternity so filled St. Therese of the Child Jesus with anxiety, that often she would exclaim: "Oh Eternity! ... Eternity! ...Eternity!"

All the Saints were constantly preoccupied with profound thoughts of eternity: "O eternal happiness! ... O eternal misery!..." So they always followed the wise and prudent exhortation of the great Apostle Paul: "Therefore, while we have time, let us do good." (Gal. 6:10)

From the Ritual of the End of the Year

and New Year Vigil of the

Adoracion Nocturna Filipina

On the Octave of Christmas

In the 2nd day of the Simbang Gabi, we heard the genealogy of Jesus, Son of David, Son of Abraham. Being the list of the ancestors of Jesus, the genealogy showed us how God, in preparing for the Incarnation of his Son, elected a nation to whom his Son will be born. Today, we hear the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…” By saying that the Son of God is born of a woman, St. Paul teaches us that Jesus enters the family of all humanity (as every human being is born of a woman). By saying that the Son of God is born under the law, St. Paul teaches us that Jesus enters the family of Abraham. He is born into Israel, the chosen people of God. The Octave of Christmas celebrates these mysteries of the Divine Maternity of the Virgin Mary and the Circumcision of our Lord. For the past 8 days, we have been honoring the mystery of the Virgin Birth. The Infant lying in the manger is born to the Woman who knew not man. Today, this virgin-born child is circumcised: “When 8 days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus.”

To many of us, circumcision is simply a medical procedure that removes the foreskin from the male reproductive organ. This medical procedure is understood as a rite of passage, or as means for physical growth, or a matter of hygiene. Of course, some people really debate about the uselessness of circumcision. But to the Jews, circumcision is the seal of the covenant of God with Abraham. Any one who wished to benefit from the blessings of Abraham must be circumcised. The Jews thought that salvation rests on circumcision.

By being circumcised, Jesus is born under the law. He did not need to be circumcised because he did not need salvation. He is Salvation himself: “He will save his people from their sins.” If he did not need to be saved, why did our Lord submit himself to the Law? He did this to fulfill the law – He is the fullness, the completion of the Old Covenant.

Though not bound by the law, Jesus subjected himself to it “to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” He sheds his blood at his circumcision only to shed it more upon the Cross for the forgiveness of sins. His blood ransoms us from sin. By the shedding of his Blood, He obtains for us the very purpose of his incarnation: our adoption of children of God: “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then also an heir through God.”

Because Jesus shed his blood on the Cross, all legal observations that used to be regarded as essential to salvation have been done away with. “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile.” (Gal. 3:28) “In Christ, neither circumcision or uncircumcision accounts for anything; but only faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6) “In him you were circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by human hands but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him by baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2: 11-12) By virtue of the waters of baptism that have been empowered by the blood of Jesus and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, we have been grafted like wild olive branches into the olive tree of Abraham. No longer slaves of sin, we are now children of God.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Flight to Egypt

Herod was a builder of infrastructure and the ruins in Caesarea Philippi and the Wailing wall in Jerusalem are evidences of his reign. Thus, he was called Herod the Great. But even in his greatness, he feared the news of a new born King because he knew fully well that his kingship was not legitimate but one which he bought from the Roman Emperor by his money and influence. Thus, he ordered the slaughter of all boys 2 years below in Bethlehem and its environs in order to kill this new born King. “Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him,” the angel warned Joseph in a dream. And so, in the middle of the night, the holy family departed for Egypt and stayed there until they received the news about the death of Herod. Thereby, they returned to Israel and lived in Nazareth.

Like the holy family, the Christian family continues to be threatened by many external forces. Like Herod, governments have put the power of the law behind the many destructive threats against the family. Laws legalizing divorce, abortion, and euthanasia; laws redefining the family and accepting the legitimacy of homosexual marriages; laws funding the distribution of artificial contraception; laws that mandate sex education classes in schools – all these are destructive forces which threaten the family. Condoms are easily procured from non government agencies, so why do we need the power of the law to distribute them – the Holy Father once asked. The enemies of the family possess wealth and power. How can the family defend itself?

The answer is found in today’s reading. St. Joseph protected his family by listening to the Word of God revealed by the angel. The Holy Father teaches: “Fidelity to God’s word leads us to point out that nowadays this institution (of the family) is in many ways under attack from the current mentality. In the face of widespread confusion in the sphere of affectivity, and the rise of ways of thinking which trivialize the human body and sexual differentiation, the word of God affirms the original goodness of the human being, created as man and woman and called to a love which is faithful, reciprocal and fruitful.

“The great mystery of marriage is the source of the essential responsibility of parents towards their children. Part of authentic parenthood is to pass on and bear witness to the meaning of life in Christ; through their fidelity and the unity of family life, the spouses are the first to proclaim God’s word to their children…Spouses should also remember that ‘the Word of God is a precious support amid the difficulties which arise in marriage and in family life.’” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 85.)

The only way to protect the family is by proclaiming to it the word of God, “With the proclamation of the word of God, the Church reveals to Christian families their true identity, what it is and what it must be in accordance with God’s plan.” (Ibid.) Thus, our drive must be to fortify the family by helping it listen to the word of God. “The ecclesial community must support and assist them (the family) in fostering family prayer, attentive hearing of the word of God, and knowledge of the bible.” The Holy Father urged “that every household have its Bible, to be kept in a worthy place, and used for reading and prayer.” (Ibid.) It is strange that all houses (even the poorest shanties) have television sets but many of them do not have a single copy of the bible. How can we raise our children in loving the word of God if not even a single copy of the bible can be found at home?

Yes, we may lobby in congress to block the passage of bills that threaten the family but we must not neglect to fortify the family from within. And this can be done only by enabling our families to listen to God’s word. “Let the word of God dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Word was abbreviated

From this glimpse that all reality as the handiwork of the Blessed Trinity through the Divine Word, we can understand the statement made by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: "in many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (1:1-2). It is very beautiful to see how the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word: indeed, "By his covenant with Abraham (cf. Genesis 15:18) and, through Moses, with the race of Israel (cf. Exodus 24:8), he gained a people for himself in words and deeds as the one, living and true God. It was his plan that Israel might learn by experience God's ways with humanity and, by listening to the voice of God speaking to them through the prophets, might gradually understand his ways more fully and more clearly, and make them more widely known among the nations (cf. Psalm 21:28-29; 95:1-3; Isaih 2:1-4; Jeremiah 3:17)."

This condescension of God is accomplished surpassingly in the incarnation of the Word. The eternal Word, expressed in creation and communicated in salvation history, in Christ became a man, "born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4). Here the word finds expression no primarily in discourse, concepts or rules. Here we are set before the very person of Jesus. His unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity. We can see, then, why ‘being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction…We are speaking of an unprecedented and humanly inconceivable novelty: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14a). These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience! St. John, an eyewitness, tells us so: "We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14b). The apostolic faith testifies that the eternal Word became one of us. The Divine Word is truly expressed in human words.

The patristic and medieval tradition, in contemplating this "Christology of the word" employed an evocative expression: the Word was "abbreviated" (Origen, Peri Archon 1,2,8: SC 252, 127-129). The Fathers of the Church found in their Greek translation of the Old Testament a passage from the prophet Isaiah that St. Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways have already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: "The Lord has made his word short, he abbreviated it" (Isaiah 10:23; Romans 9:28)…The Son himself is the Word, the Logos: the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us. Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the Word has a face, one which we can see: that of Jesus of Nazareth.

(Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 11-12.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Midnight Silence

Midnights used to be quiet – well, that was before we thought of having midnight sales. Long before cable TVs that provided entertainment 24/7, long before casinos, bars, and other night spots, midnights used to be silent. People were supposed to be fast asleep, shops were supposed to be closed, networks have signed off – the midnight silence must have inspired people to sing: “It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their hearts of gold.” Indeed, it was in the middle of the night that the Son of God chose to be born in a stable. He preferred to be born in midnight still.

In fact, it was silence that made him choose to be born in a stable. I had the wonderful privilege of spending my priestly anniversary this year in Bethlehem. It was really a God-given gift that I found myself on that day in the cave where our Lord was born. An even greater gift still was the chance to offer Mass on that day in the Church of the Nativity itself. The stable where our Lord was born was a cave – yes, a cave. And it wasn’t strange at all for the people of those times lived in caves. The inn that was said to have refused St. Joseph and Our Lady was no Hilton or Peninsula. It was a cave. Travelers paid for a small space in that cave where they could rest for the night. The couple was not refused because the innkeeper was inhospitable. No, there were so many people in Bethlehem that night that every inch of space in the cave was already taken. The innkeeper, seeing the delicate condition of our Lady who was about to give birth, thought that a cave filled with people is not the proper place for a woman to give birth in. There was just no privacy. It was all too noisy and inconvenient. This is why he offered the holy couple a more suitable place – a place a lot quieter, a lot more private, a lot more respectable – and that would be the stable: the cave where his animals were kept. It was the silence of the stable that made our Lord choose it for his birth place.

Why did he want to be born in the stillness of midnight clear? Why did he choose to be born in a quiet stable. I think the choose of stillness and the preference for silence came from who he, the child was: He is the Eternal Word of the Father, the definitive self-revelation of God to us. Being the Word, He prefers the stillness of midnight and the silence of a cave. A word can only be appreciated when listened to. It cannot survive in the middle of noise and activity. When something serious needs to be considered, we do not choose to talk things out in a noisy entertainment bar or in a public market place. We choose a nice quiet place where the conversation can be carried out with people listening to the one speaking. Though he is the Son of the Eternal Father, Jesus did not arrive amidst the sound of blaring trumpets. He came amidst silence because what he wanted to reveal was important – it was a matter of life and death for us. Everything he came to reveal was necessary for our salvation. And so we have to listen, and listen well. Did not God the Father express this as his will when on the Mountain of the Transfiguration he said to the disciples: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” To listen to the Son, the believe what he says, and to obey what he commands – such should be our disposition as we stand in silence and wonder before this child who lays in a manger. Have you not noticed? The malls have closed early, vehicles in the highway are sparse – for once in many months, at last all is silent, all is still. Let us take advantage of the silence of this night to welcome Him in our lives. Let us listen to the word proclaimed to us. Let us receive the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Let us spend this night in prayer. Let this night be truly what we have just sung: Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin Mother and Child. Yes, Christmas may be for family reunion and godly cheer. But let us postpone it for tomorrow. As for tonight, let us stay before the manger and keep the holy Babe company. Let us stay with his Mother Mary and St. Joseph. Let us allow the angels sing about the blessedness of this night. Let them sing of the glory of God. Let them sing of peace to men of goodwill.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

the Benedictus

As the Simbang Gabi ends today, the Advent season likewise draws to a close. Tonight, the joyous season of Christmas begins. I find it significant that the entire season of Advent (and the Simbang Gabi for that matter) ends with the Canticle of Zechariah which now is known to us as the Benedictus. This is the hymn which the priest Zechariah sang when his tongue was loosened at the circumcision of his son, John the Baptist. Looking at his newborn son, Zechariah could not help but recall everything the angel said about his son who “shall be called Prophet of the Most High” and his mission “to go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” But as you may have noticed, Zechariah’s appreciation of his son’s role in the plan of salvation enables him to look forward to the coming of the Lord whose way will be prepared by John: “he has come to his people to set them free… for us (he is) a mighty Savior of the house of his servant David.” Realizing the proximity of the fulfillment of God’s promises, he sings: “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This conclusion of the canticle is a fitting conclusion of the entire season of Advent. We will appreciate this more if we keep in mind the reading that opened Advent for us: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to wake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” (Romans 13: 11-14) At the beginning of Advent, St. Paul reminded us of how far advanced was the night that covered all of us with its darkness. And time pressed forward and Zechariah reminds us now where we are at the end of Advent: “the dawn from on high shall break upon us.” The night is far spent…we find ourselves at the break of dawn. The Savior is about to put an end to the reign of darkness. He is coming as the Light of the world. He is the Oriens, the Radiant Dawn, the splendor of eternal light and the Sun of justice who comes to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

And our lives as Christians are constantly “oriented” toward Christ the Orient, the Rising Dawn. Our sense of space is always “oriented.” When I went to the Holy Land, I brought with me a compass which proved to me that in the Motherland of the Church, the birth place of Christianity, all Christian Churches had their altars facing the east. If the Jews prayed facing the west (where the temple used to stand), the Christians faced the east (where the Mount of Olives stood). The Christian heritage of prayer had a specific liturgical direction, which is the east, the rising sun. The orientation of the Christian space is but a reflection of the orientation of the Christian time. The Benedictus is the official morning prayer of the Church. Christians greet each morning with this canticle of Zechariah. Our daily morning canticle, as also our yearly celebration of Advent does, reminds us that we constantly look forward in joyful hope to the definitive dawn of the eternal Day, the glorious return of our Savior Jesus Christ. To us, history moves forward to a definitive end, which is the parousia, the second coming of Christ. History is not a directionless movement of time. Slowly and surely, it moves towards the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ.

I find it significant that in the old funeral rites, the Benedictus is sung just before the body is laid to rest in the tomb. The canticle seems to be the Church’s way of assuring the dead that they shall not remain in the shadow of death forever and so they must await their resurrection on the last day. In between Mount Zion (where Jerusalem and the Temple stood) and the Mount of Olives (where Jesus ascended to heaven) is a valley called the Valley of Jehosafat. According the Jewish tradition, at the end of time, God will descend on this valley to judge the whole world. Thus, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Jews buried their dead with their faces towards Jerusalem. They do this so that when God descends on the valley of Judgment, the dead will rise facing Jerusalem. However, at the other side of the valley, at the foot of Zion, just outside the walls of the ancient Jerusalem, the Christians buried their dead with their faces towards the Mount of Olives (which was east of Zion). They do this so that when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, the dead will rise facing the Mount of Olives. In fact, when we bury our dead, we must position them in such a way that their faces are turned towards the rising sun because they lay in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who shall come to judge the living and the dead.

Even with our excitement over the proximity of Christmas, the Church does not forget the very purpose of Advent, which is, to keep us vigilant for the return of Christ. The day or the hour we do not know but we are sure that it will come. The Lord indeed keeps his promises. At his incarnation, he fulfilled his promises to the prophets. At his resurrection, he fulfilled his promise to his Apostles. He has one last promise to fulfill and we know he will keep it: his coming at the end of time. And so, we bid farewell to Advent with the ancient Christian prayer: Marana tha. Come Lord Jesus. Halina Hesus halina.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the spirit and power of Elijah

After nine months of silence, Zechariah was able to speak at the circumcision of his son whom he named “John”. He spoke blessing God and fear descended upon his neighbors who recognized that the child born to both the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth was no ordinary child: “What will this child be? Surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

“What will this child be?” He will be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi: “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom.” When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah by the altar of incense in the temple, he said that the child to be born of Elizabeth “will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

“In the power and spirit of Elijah…” indeed, Elijah will for ever be remembered as the prophet who brought down fire from heaven to awaken the Israelites from their idolatry. The image of fire evokes not only passion but also purification. St. John the Baptist would prepare a people for the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance. Being the voice crying in the wilderness, he will speak with powerful and passionate words: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every mountain shall be made low and every valley be filled.” His tongue is like a sharp sword because he speaks not in a flowery and politically correct manner. No, he speaks direct to the point: he tells Pharisees and Sadducees “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” He tells Herod directly that “it is not right for you to take your brother’s wife?” There is no pretense in his words: “Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” To him, the coming of the Lord is not an excuse for parties nor a license for enjoyment but something we should truly prepare for by our conversion: “Yes, he is coming…But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in the days of old, as in years gone by.” John the Baptist pointed always to Christ as the one mightier than himself; he is the voice but Christ is the Word. The Holy Father said: “It is the word which illuminates, purifies, converts; we are only its servants.” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 93.)

What does it mean to us that the Baptist is born? It means that the day of the Lord is near! “I will send you Elijah before the day of the Lord comes.” Indeed, the day of the Lord comes – the Simbang Gabi draws to a close. Christmas is 2 days away. Are our preparations near completion? But do not just think of your shopping list. Think of the preparations that really count: “to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous…” Have we become a people fit for the Lord? “The day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day.” The One to be born to us may be a little child but helpless as he may be in the manger, his Divinity has never been diminished. He who will be born is the Son of Man who will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff. He is the Truth before whom everything hidden comes to light. He will come to judge the living and the dead!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the Magnificat

The Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to declare the blessedness of both Mary and the fruit of her womb. Acknowledging the wonderful things God has done to her, Our Lady bursts into song which now we know by the title “Magnificat”. St. Louie Marie de Montfort (+1716) said that the Magnificat “is the only prayer, the only work, which the Holy Virgin composed, or rather, which Jesus composed in her; for He spoke by her mouth. It is the greatest sacrifice of praise which God ever received from a pure creature in the law of grace. It is, on one hand, the most humble and grateful, and on the other hand, the most sublime and exalted of all canticles.”

St. Louie said that “Jesus spoke by her mouth” because whatever Our Lady sang in the Magnificat would be the content of the teachings of Jesus. She spoke of the paradigm of the kingdom of God as the very inversion of the standards and values of the world: “He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.” These words will later on be reflected in the Beatitudes in which our Lord would speak of the blessedness of the poor in spirit, of those who mourn, of the meek, of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, of the merciful, of the pure of heart, of the peacemakers, of those persecuted for the sake of righteousness and of the name of the Lord. Indeed, our Lady, at a very early stage of the gospel, is already singing of the new creation that her Son, the new Adam, is about to inaugurate.

The congruence of the Magnificat with the Beatitudes seems to reveal that both Mother and Son are breathing the same air of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict speaks of this with great accuracy: “The Magnificat – a portrait of her (Mary’s) soul – is entirely woven from the threads of Holy Scriptures, threads drawn from the Word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. SHE SPEAKS AND THINKS WITH THE WORD OF GOD; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word incarnate.” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 28.)

How we should envy our Lady because more often than not, we notice how we sing to a different tune to that of the song of God and of our Lady. It is about us that our Lord makes this comparison with children in the streets calling out to their playmates: “We sang you a song but you did not dance. We played a dirge but you did not mourn.” Many people, Catholics included, say that the Church is too old-fashioned in her teachings – that the Church is out of tune with the present times. Is the Church out of tune or is the world we live in out of tune as compared to the song of God? We want God to dance with the tune we play and by doing so, we forget that it is us who must be converted and who must change our lives in order to be attuned to the will of God. Mary is the perfect Christian because “her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God…her will is one with the will of God.” In Mary we find “an active listening which interiorizes and assimilates, one in which the word becomes a way of life.” (Verbum Domini, 27.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Time of Your Visitation

“Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town in Judah…” Zechariah’s house was in the mountains of Judea in a place which is now called Ain Karem. Pilgrims to the Church of the Visitation climb the hill on foot to the shrine and from the top of the hill, they are treated to a wonderful panoramic view of the hills of Judea. It is a marvelous sight to behold. Looking at the hills, I remembered Our Lady who walked from Nazareth to Ain Karem in order to visit Elizabeth. It was quite a distance as it took a week’s walk to get to this place from Nazareth. And the story says: “Mary went in haste…” She was in haste because she wanted to be of assistance to Elizabeth who surely was going through a difficult pregnancy on account of her advanced age.

We see here a woman in haste to come to the aid of another woman. But this is not all there is to the story. The women concerned were both pregnant: Elizabeth with John the Baptist and Mary with Jesus. And the gospel was quite clear in emphasizing the fact that the women were not the only ones who met but their pre-born children as well. Mary had the simple intention of helping her cousin Elizabeth through a difficult pregnancy. But Jesus in the womb of Mary went to the hill country with the intention of sanctifying John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Barely a week old in his mother’s womb, our Lord was already working to save people. The first he saved was John the Baptist. Sanctifying the pre-born Baptist with the Holy Spirit, our Lord liberated him from the slavery of original sin. Barely a week old in his mother’s womb, our Lord was fulfilling the prophecy of Zephaniah: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.”

“Mary’s visit to the household of Zachary has a striking parallel to the Old Testament when the Ark of the Covenant was entrusted to the house of the priest Obededom. King David conducted the Ark of the Covenant to Obededom’s house where it remained three months. And the Lord blessed Obededom and all his household (2 Kings 6:2). He bestowed many gifts upon it. Today, God conducts Mary, the living Ark of the Covenant, to the priestly house of Zachary. She too will remain three months. As a result God blessed this house. The Holy Spirit fills Zachary and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:67; 1:41). And John too is filled with the Holy Spirit though still in his mother’s womb, leaping and dancing as another David before the Ark of the Lord.” (St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church , +1619)

The story of the visitation is the story of a God who is busy working out our salvation. He came down from heaven to visit the house of men. And he blesses those who receive him into their homes. He blessed the priest Obededom and his household. He blessed Zachariah and his family. He blessed Zacchaeus who welcomed him in his house: “Today, salvation has come upon this house!” Let us sing the praises of the Lord as he deems us worthy to have him under our roof: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed!” Come Lord and save us!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Mother for God's Son

Having created the world, having chosen the nation, and having formed the family, the Father engages in a final preparation for the coming of His Son. He selects and prepares the mother of His Son: “the virgin’s name is Mary.” The greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin reveals the extent of the preparations which God undertook with regards his Son’s Mother: “Hail, Full of Grace!” Having willed that the Incarnation should take place only with the full consent and cooperation of a human being to His Divine Plan, God has exempted Mary from the destitution in sanctifying grace which afflicts all the children of Adam and Eve. He filled Mary with grace from the first moment of her conception to help her say “Yes” to his plan. Mary “is the Immaculate Conception, the one whom God made ‘full of grace’ (Lk. 1:8) and unconditionally docile to his word (Lk 1: 38). Her obedient faith shapes her life at every moment of God’s plan.” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 27.)

Mary’s complete openness to the will of God is, in a sense, the restoration of creation to its former beauty which was defiled by sin. The original openness of creation to the word of God was portrayed by the fact that God spoke a command and “it was made” The world is beautiful because everything in it is according to the masterful plan of God. But sin entered the world through man. “Sacred Scripture shows how man’s sin is essentially disobedience and refusal to hear.” (Verbum Domini, 26) “The root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord.” (Ibid.) This refusal is like covering one’s ear to prevent the word from being heard by it. Refusing to listen to God, humanity rejected God. It is not God who rejected man. Rather, it is man who rejected God. Being self-enclosed, man attempts to build for himself a world without God – but all is in vain because “unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do its builders labor.”

When Mary said “Yes” to God’s plan, she opened the door of the world so that God may enter through it. Her “yes” provided for God an opening, an access to our self-enclosure. Now, God is able to break through our stubborn hearts. “By her ‘yes’ to the word of the covenant and her mission, (Mary) perfectly fulfills the divine vocation of humanity. The human reality created through the word finds its most perfect image in Mary’s obedient faith.” (Verbum Domini, 27.) Because she listens attentively, the Word of God took flesh in her. “The incarnation of the word cannot be conceived apart from the freedom of this young woman who by her assent decisively cooperated with the entrance of the Eternal into time.” (Ibid.)

“In looking to the Mother of God, we see how God’s activity in the world always engages our freedom, because through faith the divine word transforms us. Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from Mary how to be shaped by the working of God within us…As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives. St. Ambrose reminds us that every Christian believer in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God: even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all. Thus, what took place in Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments.” (Verbum Domini, 28.)

O Oriens

Fr. Mark Kriby of Vultus Christi blog has this article on the O Antiphon "Oriens" and showed its significance in the orientation of Christian Prayer. He wrote:

From the earliest times, Christians at prayer have turned towards the East.
Christ is the Dayspring, the rising sun who dawns upon us from high “to give
light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:9). The eastward
orientation of churches and altars is a way of expressing the great cry of every
Eucharist: “Let our hearts be lifted high. We hold them towards the Lord.”

Ad Orientem

When, in the celebration of the liturgy, the priest
faces the “liturgical east,” he is “guiding the people in pilgrimage towards the
Kingdom” and with them, keeping watch for the return of the Lord. “This Jesus,
who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him
go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us that a powerful
witness is given in the prayer of a priest and people who stand together facing
eastward and giving voice to the same hope. “The Spirit and the Bride say,
'Come.’ And let him who hears say, 'Come’” (Revelation 22:17).

message of the Holy Father at Heiligenkreuz Abbey in September 2007 was clear
and compelling:

In all our efforts on behalf of the liturgy, the
determining factor must always be our looking to God. We stand before God - he
speaks to us and we speak to him. Whenever in our thinking we are only concerned
about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the battle is
already lost. Either it is Opus Dei, with God as its specific subject, or it is
not. In the light of this, I ask you to celebrate the sacred liturgy with your
gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living Church of every
time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the sublime beauty of
the God who has called men and women to be his friends.

Follow the link: O Oriens

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Family prepared for the Son

“When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Lest the impious amongst us say that the situation in which St. Joseph and Our Lady found themselves is similar to many young couples in our times who procreate first before getting married, allow me to make it clear from the beginning that Mary was with child not because she engaged in pre marital intercourse with St. Joseph. Rather, she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and remained a virgin. Our Creed professes that Jesus Christ “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.” In fact, the virginity of our Lady was emphasized four times in today’s reading: first it said: “before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Second, the angel told St. Joseph in a dream: “It is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Third, this event was shown as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son.” Fourth, the reading’s conclusion was: “Joseph had no relations with her until she bore a son.” No where in the Bible could the Virginity of Mary be more emphasized than in this text.

Contrary to the immediate perception of many, St. Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary was not due to any suspicion of infidelity on her part. Surely, when asked for an explanation about her pregnancy, Our Lady would have told him of the apparition of the Archangel Gabriel. Difficult as it may have been, St. Joseph took Mary’s word because were it be otherwise, he would definitely not have decided to “divorce her quietly.” He had no doubts about her integrity. Obviously, God had plans for his would-be wife for the unlikely combination of both virginity and motherhood in one and the same woman was definitely a sign of a calling to some eminent greatness. And so, St. Joseph decided to walk away because he saw himself as a possible hindrance to whatever plan God had for our Lady. St. Joseph steps aside in order to give God absolute freedom to bring his plan into fulfillment. He thought he had no place in this plan.

But the angel said to him in a dream: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” God did not want St. Joseph to walk away because there was a place for him in this plan. God wanted St. Joseph to marry our Lady and exercise the full responsibility of fatherhood over the child to be born of her. In other words, God wanted St. Joseph to form a family. I hope that you see the pattern: God created a world for his Son; God chose a people for his Son; and now, God forms a human family for his Son. A world, a nation, and a family – such were the preparations God made for the incarnation of his only Son. And the family in which his Son will be born should be formed on the very foundation on which all human families are built: the foundation of marriage. Thus, the angel tells St. Joseph not to fear to take Mary as his wife. This admonition St. Joseph took seriously as the Scripture said: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took his wife into his home.”

The Son of God would live in a human family on earth as He lived in a communion of Divine Persons in heaven. Both the Trinity and the Holy Family would be counterparts of each other in the life of Jesus who is truly Divine and truly human. The Blessed Trinity is the communion of Divine Persons to which the Son of God belongs. The Holy Family is the communion of human persons to which the Incarnate Word would belong. In the one Person of the Son of God made man the Divine community of the Blessed Trinity and the human community of the Holy Family would encounter and mingle with each other. Jesus, who is God, is not alone – He is with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus, who is Man, is also not alone – He belongs to the family of Joseph and Mary.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A People Chosen for His Son

Going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was not simply an occasion to travel to another country and see places but it was more of an opportunity to make a journey in time in the same way that we did when we heard proclaimed to us the genealogy of our Lord Jesus. The only difference is that in the proclamation of the genealogy, we heard faceless names. In the Holy Land, one appreciates the genealogy more because there, you see Jewish faces. When I was there, I realized the obvious: there are many Jews in Israel! It might sound funny but while I was there, it dawned on me that I was amongst the chosen People of God – the children of Abraham. Looking at the beautiful faces of the Jews, I thought to myself: Jesus looked like them, Our Lady looked like them. There was even an instance when I looked at a bearded Jew and I thought that I was looking at St. Joseph himself! It really helps to see Jewish faces because now I appreciate the genealogy by being able to associate names with faces.

The genealogy begins by calling Jesus as the Son of David, Son of Abraham. Being Son of David, Jesus belongs to a royal family. Being Son of Abraham, Jesus belongs to the Chosen Race. Being of the tribe of Judah, Jesus is a Jew. Pope Benedict says: “We affirm that ‘Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew and the Holy Land is the motherland of the Church’: the roots of Christianity are found in the Old Testament and Christianity constantly draws nourishment from these roots.” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 40.)

It is good to hear the genealogy every year during the Simbang Gabi because it enables us to get in touch with the roots of our religion. The genealogy makes us realize that the Father did not just create the world and then simply allow events to take a directionless course. In preparing the path towards the incarnation, “God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them.” (Verbum Domini, 42.) God chose a people not for their own sake but for the sake of his Son who will be born to them and be one of them. When we look at Jewish history, we realize that God guided this small nation through a very difficult journey: He led them through famine, through slavery, through a 40 year wandering in the desert, through wars, through exiles, through captivity, and through foreign oppression. Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of all these which happened to them. If Pope Benedict says that in the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people have found their perfect fulfillment, it is also true to say that the long and difficult path that the Jewish history took finds its true significance in the same mystery of Jesus. It was to purify an entire nation and to help it receive the promised One that the events of Jewish history took place as they did. St. Paul acknowledged the blessing of the Jewish people: “as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable!” (Romans 11:17-24)

But this family tree does not end with Jesus, the Son of Mary. Rather, the Lord Jesus extends the branches of this tree so that the whole world may rest under its shade. “The Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the good olive tree that is the people of the Covenant (cf. Romans 11:17-24).” (Verbum Domini, 43) In so doing, through Jesus, Son of Abraham and Son of David, God allows us to draw our nourishment from the same spiritual roots – he gives us access to the blessing of Abraham. He allows us to sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in his heavenly Kingdom.

The Benefits of offering Mass "Ad Orientem"

Fr. Mark Daniel Kirby of the Vultus Christi blog has a short article on his own experience of offering Mass "ad orientem'.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Universe Created for the Son

We begin today preparing for the Solemnity of the Birth of our Savior. The highly revered Filipino tradition which we call the Misa de Aguinaldo is a novena of Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is offered for the preservation of the Catholic Faith in the Philippine Islands. In a time when our faith is vehemently attacked from all sides, it is good to take this intention very seriously.

Let us spend these remaining days of Advent in pious meditation of the events that took place in preparation for the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father. When we speak of preparation for Christ’s birth, we often think of the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and the prophets who were part of the preparation for the mystery of the Incarnation. However, we ask: when did the Father begin preparing for the incarnation of his Beloved Son? We dare to give the answer: When he created the heavens and the earth!

In his encyclical Verbum Domini, our Holy Father Benedict XVI said: “When we consider the basic meaning of the Word of God as a reference to the Eternal Word of God made flesh, the one Savior and mediator between God and humanity…we are led by the biblical revelation to see that it (the Word of God) is the foundation of all reality. The Prologue of Saint John says of the Divine Logos, that ‘all things are made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made’ (Jn. 1:3); and in the Letter to the Colossians it is said of Christ, ‘the first-born of all creation’ (1:15), that ‘all things were created through him and for him.’ (1:16)” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 8.)

The words of St. Paul were remarkable: “All things were created through him and for him.” Often, we mistakenly think that God created all things for man, for us. That is why we think we can do things at our pleasure and get away with it without any sense of accountability. St. Paul disagrees: “all things were created for Him (for Christ).” It is Christ, and not man, who is at the center of all creation. The entire creation is the gift of the Father to his only begotten Son. Creation is the sign of the Father’s love for his Son to whom He gave everything he had and everything he was. “Reality is born of the Word, as creatura Verbi, and everything is called to serve the Word.” (Verbum Domini, 9.) Being created through Him and for Him, we must listen to the word of God which leads us to value the need to live in accordance with the natural law which is “written in human hearts” (Rom. 2:15; 7:23). “Jesus Christ gives mankind the new law, the law of the gospel, which takes up and eminently fulfills the natural law, setting us free from the law of sin…(and) enables men and women, through grace, to share in the divine life and to overcome their selfishness.” (Ibid.)

“If all things ‘hold together’ in (Christ) the one who is ‘before all things’ (Col. 1:7), then those who build their lives on his word build in a truly sound and lasting way. The word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral. Possessions, pleasure, and power show themselves sooner or later to be incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart. In building our lives we need solid foundations which will endure when human certainties fail.” (Verbum Domini, 10.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Questions on the Simbang Gabi

The much revered Filipino Christmas Novena, which is known as Misa de Aguinaldo, is a novena of Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is celebrated from December 16 to 24 and is intended for the preservation of the Catholic Religion in the Philippine Islands:“pro constantia Indorum in fide et pro religionis conservatione in his partibus, quae causa gravissima sane et pubblica est; quippe maxima est ratio quae pro Religione militat”.

Fr. Virgilio Hernandez wrote: "The First Plenary Council of the Philippines, in 1953, applied for a papal indult under the following conditions: 'On the nine days preceding the Nativity of our Lord, i.e., from December 16 to 24, the solemn votive Mass Rorate Coeli Desuper is sung especially in parish and convent churches, but only once a day with great solemnity and with a big attendance of the faithful'.[Acta et Decreta Primi Concilii Plenarii Ins. Phil., Manilae, 1953, n. 356; J. Ylla, OP, Indultos y Privilegios de Filipinas, UST Press, 1940, p. 24.] With the promulgation of the 1960 Code of Rubrics, the Philippine Hierarchy, under its president Archbishop Julio Rosales of Cebu, wasted no time and decided to elevate in the same year to the Holy Father a suppliant letter 'humbly asking that, in spite of the promulgation of the new Code of Rubrics, and for as long as the same grave reason, namely the conservation of the Faith [in the Philippines] continued, the Aguinaldo Masses be allowed to be sung for nine days preceding the Nativity'.[Cf. Ibid., pp. 470-471.] On 24 March 1961, the petition was granted for a period of five years."

However, while the Simbang Gabi on Sundays continue to enjoy the marks of festivities like the Gloria and the white vestments, the readings and prayers would have to be of the Sunday of Advent. Although this complies with the present liturgical rules, this has not been the case with how the Misas de Aguinaldo were celebrated for centuries. Even Fr. Hernandez said: "Both in Spain and in the Philippines, these Masses 'de Aguinaldo' were celebrated in the early hours of the morning. As early as the 17th century, they are said to be celebrated 'summo mane' (= very early in the morning), 'ad auroram' (= at dawn), and 'antequam dies illuxerit' (= before daybreak). They are celebrated, both on weekdays and Sundays, and, like solemnities, festive and solemn elements like 'Gloria' and 'Credo' are sung." Even in the past, the Mass Rorate Caeli Desuper is used even on Sundays on that one Misa de Aguinaldo. The Advent Mass was celebrated in all the other Masses of the day.

To my opinion, it is best to remain faithful to the directives of the original indult than to admit the present practice of using the text of the Sunday of Advent when the Simbang Gabi falls on the Lord's Day. Why do? It is because the present cycle of readings for Sundays is different from the Weekday cycle of readings. Thus, it is always happens that in the duration of one novena, there would be two annunciation narratives without a visitation narrative or two visitation narratives without an annunciation narrative. Admittedly, the weekday lectionary of the present liturgical reform is an improvement over the former practice when the same readings for the Sunday are repeatedly read during the weekdays. But when the Sunday lectionary is resumed in the Simbang Gabi, it becomes more of a break (and even a distraction)in the smooth continuity of readings that leads to the night of Christmas.

Besides, having the Mass of the Sunday of Advent with the external trimmings of the Gloria and the white vestments looks really absurd. Having the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin on a Sunday is more consistent with the continued singing of the Gloria and the use of white vestments. In fact, isn't this what an indult is all about? It is supposed to be a special permission to digress from the ordinary way in which the liturgy is celebrated. Both the documents of the Federation of Tagalog Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and of the Archdiocese of Manila constantly invoke the demand of pastoral care with regards the principles governing the Simbang Gabi. The continuity of readings is definitely beneficial for catechesis during the Simbang Gabi.

The Desert shall Bloom

Our pilgrimage in the Holy Land was done at a very appropriate time: Advent. The readings of this holy season constantly spoke of the restoration of the land which the Lord promised His people: "I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water; I will plant in the desert the cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive; I will set in the wasteland the cypress, together with the plane tree and the pine."

Looking at the desert terrain, I appreciated this promise of the Lord in a richer way. I realized that the desert waiting to bloom is truly the place to prepare for the holy feast of Christmas. John the Baptist prepared the people for the Lord's coming by preaching in the wilderness. It is in the wilderness that the prophet's voice is heard. And somehow, when we are distracted by the commercial preoccupations before Christmas, we miss the true significance of the holy day. The temptation to shop and to party lure us from truly preparing for this sacred feast of the Nativity. The Happy Holiday's spirit is like Las Vegas in the middle of the desert: filled with lights, enlivened by entertainment, but all are so artificial for when you leave the city, the desert will still be a desert. It is unlike the desert of Israel that is waiting for the action of God so that it may bloom again. And this is the true venue for our Advent preparations: the desert where there is silent anticipation , a gentle waiting for the coming of God. Let us not spend our Advent in the distractions of noisy revelry and shopping. Let our Advent nights be quieter as in the desert. Let them be spent in pious meditation of God's word. Let our Advent candles provide a gentle light for our nightly vigils. As Elijah waited on Mount Carmel and John the Baptist in the desert, let us wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Blessed Savior Jesus Christ!