Starting the Year with An Invisible Mother?

We thank the good Lord for the year gone by. We invoke His blessing on 2013.

immac-concepWe greet the passing of time not with hopeless dissipation, like the pagans, but with sober joy. Whatever it will please the Lord to send our way in the year to come, we know that all of it will serve to build up the eternal city of love—if only we have the grace to receive it all with faith, like humble children looking for good things from our Father.

Not that I intend to be polyannish about AD 2013. The year to come does not lie before us like a bed of roses; no new year ever does. 2013 could start bad, and go downhill from there. To be perfectly honest with you, I have very serious doubts about the Washington Redskins’ ability to beat the Seattle Seahawks—among other looming problems.

But: We begin the new year as Christians. We begin it in church, with our Lord. And with His Mother.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council declared:

The Virgin in her own life lived an example of that maternal love [which] should animate all who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church…Placed by the grace of God, as God’s Mother, next to her Son, and exalted above all angels and men, Mary intervened in the mysteries of Christ and is justly honored by special [devotion] in the Church. From the earliest times, [Christians have] honored the Blessed Virgin under the title of Mother of God, under whose protection the faithful take refuge in all dangers and necessities. (Lumen Gentium 65-66)

Pope Paul VI, following up on this, decreed:

The Christmas season is a prolonged commemoration of the divine, virginal, and salvific motherhood of her whose inviolate virginity brought the Savior into the world…The Solemnity of Mary the holy Mother of God…is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation…It is likewise a fitting occasion for…imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace. (Marialis Cultus)

Now, sometimes people wonder about our Catholic love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. After all—they try to maintain—the New Testament does not contain much information about her. Only about ten direct mentions, and most of those very brief. You Catholics have all these solemnities in her honor. But don’t we have to conclude from the Bible that she has only minor importance, since she is practically invisible?

mlk marchingWell, let’s see. Let’s try to think about other examples of people with “invisible mothers.”

Can any of us even name the mother of William Shakespeare, or George Washington, or Blessed Mother Teresa, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Probably not.

But are these women really so completely unknown to us? Don’t we know something about them all–simply by virtue of the fact that we know the children that they raised?

When we see Mother Teresa sweetly and lovingly wiping the brow of a sick poor man, don’t we have to think that she learned this tenderness somewhere? When we see Martin Luther King standing his ground peacefully in Birmingham, don’t we have to think that he learned this Christian courage somewhere?

The truth is that, if we know Christ intimately, then we know Our Lady intimately, too. The apple does not fall far from the tree, even when He is the Son of God. The gospels paint the picture of Christ. By doing that, they also paint a picture of the mother who bore Him and raised Him.

But, actually, we don’t even really need to worry so much about how well we know the Blessed Virgin Mary. We may know Our Lady well; we may not. But, either way, we can be sure that she knows us. We can be sure that she loves us with a mother’s love, and that she will spend 2013—as she spends every year—interceding on our behalf, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ her Son.

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Best Streetmap

nighthawks

Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that I had a “tortured hipster” phase approximately two decades ago.

You could have found me one night at 2 a.m., at the counter in a diner on York Avenue on the Upper East Side, drinking my sixth cup of coffee and writing a poem.

The poem narrated how a group of Manhattan Indians would have landed their canoes down the hill from where I sat, long before York Avenue, or FDR Drive, or 72nd Street were even thought of, when there were mountain lions in what became Central Park.

nyc-skylineThe idea of the poem was supposed to be: the streetmap we think we have for life does not in fact give us the true lay of the land.

Basically, my nineteen-year-old self was whining about not having been given a more comprehensive “blueprint” for life during my upbringing. I felt like I needed a better, a deeper, a more truly realistic existential map.

Then I crumpled up the paper in disgust. Because I realized: that was exactly the type of thing that my father would think.

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No Sentimentality, But Sublime Sentiments

You will have to forgive me. Getting sentimental about Christmas has never been part of my repertoire. And this year, I will miss one of the three people with whom I have spent every one of the past 39 Christmases. My dear aunt is spending this Christmas in her newly sealed grave. Not to mention all the little ones from Connecticut who spend this Christmas that way, too.

mary-mSo sentimentality won’t work. Sorry. No yuletide chestnuts right now.

But: Can we find some sentiments that suit the holy Solemnity of the Nativity—sentiments that fit, year in and year out, in good times and bad, no matter how cold the outside world may seem?

Yes, we can. We can find joy that conquers every evil. We know right where to look for it. In the immaculate heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council explained that Mary offers to the Church our perfect model, our consummate example, the full flowering of all our efforts to believe, to hope, and to love like Christ. In Mary, we the Church see ourselves as we most want to be.

One phrase which the Vatican-II Fathers used to describe Mary takes on, I think, a special light at Christmastime. They refer to Mary as—above all others and uniquely—the “generous associate” of Christ.

Generous associate. Now, my dad was a lawyer. So the word “associate” makes me think of the name of the law firm he was in. Jones, Day, Reavis, Pogue, and Associates. Smart lawyers, savvy and streetwise. Brooks Brothers and BMWs—these “associates.”

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Mary the Cause + GS Notes 4

At this time of year, oftentimes non-Catholic family members accompany their Catholic spouses to Mass. Sometimes Protestants will come to take part in the ancient rituals by which the Roman Church marks the birth of the Christ. For whatever reason, at Christmastime many people who do not regularly find their way into Catholic churches come to Mass.

bl-virg-detailWe welcome all. This situation provides the preacher with a wonderful opportunity to try to explain, perhaps, some of the more misunderstood teachings of the Catholic Church.

So I’ve decided to go ahead and try to outline why we love the Virgin Mary, almost as if she were a god.

Seriously, though: fifty years ago, the Pope and all the Catholic bishops met together, and it was called the ________________.

One of the things the Fathers did was to explain, as carefully and thoroughly as they could, the Catholic doctrine regarding the Church.

In order to do this, they had to focus on the one whose faith began the life of the Church.

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The Hugeness of Mass on December 21

Ecce Agnus Dei

Well, we’re still here.

St. Paul wrote that all of creation groans with labor pains, even until now. Longing for fulfillment, completion. Longing for, dare we say it: consecration.

The groaning of the world continues for one more day at least. The New Agers at the foot of the Mayan temples caught the wrong vibe, apparently.

Also the first day of winter today. What is winter, if not the great longing for spring? Hidden germinations rooting in the soil, longing for—aching, itching, yearning, reaching out towards—the sun.

doomsday comingAnd, as we considered yesterday, Our lady longs. The perfect, pristine bosom of love, the renewed Garden of Eden in a shawl—she longs to dar la luz. To bring to light the hale and hearty babe.

Because His birth will consecrate her. His birth consecrates the entire earth. The earth groans in labor pains until she brings forth…the Christ.

And the Church, too, longs to bring forth this Christ. The Church longs for the consecration.

Everyone watching for the final consummation at the end of the Mayan Long Count should have come to Mass instead. The final consummation can be found nowhere else.

Qua Church, we obey the Word of God in its entirety. We say like Our Lady: Behold, Your handmaid, Your Church. You speak; we believe. You command; we do.

And God satisfies all the longing by coming in the flesh on the altar.

Our Longing Lady

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council proposed for us the Catholic doctrine regarding the Church. Christ, the light of the nations, gathers His flock into a single People of God.

Vatican II bas reliefIf we want to understand this perfectly visible, and yet profoundly mysterious, Church of Christ, we must focus our gaze on one human individual. We must contemplate the…

pre-eminent and singular member of the Church…its excellent exemplar…whom the whole People of God honors with child-like love. (Lumen Gentium 53)

Namely: _________________________________

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Conditions for Belief

The gospel tells us that Zechariah lived a holy, upright life. The angel came to visit him while he faithfully fulfilled his priestly duties. Gabriel found Elizabeth’s husband in the Temple, the most splendidly divine place imaginable. The humble priest busied himself burning incense, praying, surrounded by crowds of pious people praying in the Temple court outside.

In other words, the archangel came to the place most frequented by the holy heroes of Advent, the place where they came to await the fulfillment of the Lord’s ancient promises. Where Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, everyone knew Elijah was to come again, to direct the hearts of children to their fathers and to prepare a people fit for the Lord.

jerusalem_solomon_templeThe angel came to this most believable of settings, and proceeded to tell Zechariah something which hardly even defied the laws of nature. You and your wife will have a son!

Wonderful news, yes. Another instance of God’s fruitfulness, to which the Old Testament had borne so much witness through the centuries. But the rules of the birds and the bees would remain intact. Zechariah was not asked to believe anything too outlandish. Just that he and his wife would have an unexpected son.

Meanwhile, the archangel visited the Blessed Virgin in a much less holy city, in a part of the country as pagan as it was Jewish. Nazareth has a great name now. But at the time, as we know from reading the gospels, the Jews thought of the town as an unmentionable backwater, in a region over-run by distasteful foreigners who cared only about commerce.

And what Gabriel proposed to Mary demanded a much greater leap of faith. He told her that something would happen which had never happened before. She asked the angel an honest question, got an enormously mysterious answer, and humbly submitted.

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Dom Columba & MSW on Newtown

christ-weepingBlessed Columbia Marmion, OSB (from Christ in His Mysteries 2.6.1):

If you listen to the sacred oracles of the prophets of Israel, you will remark that the traits whereby God depicts the Person of the future Messias, and specifies the character of His mission, are at times so opposed that it seems as if they could not be encountered in the same person.

Sometimes the prophets attribute to the Redeemer prerogatives such as could only befit a God; sometimes they predict for this Messias a sum of humiliations, contradictions, infirmities and sufferings with which the last of men could scarcely deserve to be overwhelmed.

You will constantly be coming across this striking contrast.

…My old boss and friend has written the essay I needed to read this morning.