Our Lady Awake

The Lord promised king David that the Messiah would spring from his loins. The house of David would produce the Savior and Redeemer, the everlasting king whose reign of peace would endure with the perpetual youthfulness of God Himself.

But, the prophet told the king, it would all come to pass at a future time, when David himself slept. Slept in death with his fathers.

king davidOn the other hand, when the time came, a thousand years later, for the fulfillment of this prophecy, the Blessed Virgin Mary was very much awake.

We don’t know what hour of the day or night the Archangel Gabriel arrived. Whenever it was–early morning, midnight, late afternoon, evening time–whenever it was, Mary was not snoozing.

The idea of the Blessed Virgin Mary sleeping–actually, it’s hard to picture. Did she snore when she slept? Hard to imagine the Blessed Virgin snoring. I, for one, do not think she snored.

Certainly, our Lady slept sometimes. I mean, people need sleep. Sometimes she would close her eyes for a little while, and St. Joseph would hold the baby.

But, of all the people who have ever lived, the Blessed Virgin Mary may well be the one we would least associate with the idea of snoozing. Lounging. Lolling around. Vegging. Binge-watching whole seasons of Law and Order, supine on the couch for hours. No.

When he came to speak with our Lady, the Archangel Gabriel found her alert and recollected. Reading, perhaps. Or meditating. Or praying for her family, or neighbors, or future husband. Reflecting on a passage of the Torah, or one of the books of the prophets. Or quietly chanting a psalm to God.

espressoNot anxious. Not agitated. Not stressed. Not buzzing on the first-century-Palestine equivalent of Starbucks or 5-Hour Energy. No. Calm. But altogether awake.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord has chosen you.”

She didn’t say, “What’s that?” or “Come again,” or “Huh?” She heard it very clearly the first time.

Now, what does it mean for a member of the human race to be truly awake?

Our survival of course demands our taking action to provide for our sustenance, so we cannot sleep all the time. We have to wake up and do something to keep from starving to death.

When we bestir ourselves, what do we perceive? Family, neighbors, the world around us. The buzz of tv or the ambient muzac. My own appetites. My own thoughts, my own meditations. My memories. My anxieties.

What about being awake like the Virgin Mary, at the moment the archangel chose to visit her?

Seems like she perceived all the elements of her environment, and her interior life. She perceived it all, and she perceived something else, too.

alarm clockSeems like Mary perceived that the day–or the night, whichever it was, at that moment; she perceived that the walls around her, her house, her town, her homeland, her family, her thoughts, her desires, her imaingation; she perceived that all of this had a Master. Everything has a Source and Guide and Goal. It all has a oneness, because everything is the work of the hand of one great Artisan.

And this Artisan communicates. This Artisan converses. This Artisan expresses with consummate eloquence the true meaning of… of existence, of why I am here, of why there is something, rather than absolutely nothing. Why there is light, and not absolute, endless darkness.

Listen, I am all for the traditional forms of Christian art and the famous depictions of the Annunciation. If we had eyes to see the Archangel Gabriel, we would probably see that he looks a lot like Fra Angelico painted him to look.

But angels are not material creatues, after all. And they communicate with each other in pure light, with a kind of harmony that makes the beautiful sounds, the most beautiful sonatas and symphonies we have ever heard sound like jangling gongs.

So, maybe when the Archangel came to the Blessed Virgin, it didn’t look like anything we have ever even imagined, nor did it sound like anything we have ever heard. Because we tend to snooze through life.

Maybe what happened was: She was awake and alert enough to hear a harmony in all the things she perceived. In what she could see and feel, in what she could remember and imagine and believe–in all of it, she heard a single song. All the elements of history produced at that moment a song, a sweet lay that opened the next moment up to her, like an eternity in an instant, with this invitation:

“Give birth to the One Who made all this. Give birth to the One Who will bring it all to fulfillment.”

She was awake enough to hold all this in her perception, awake enough to respond with everything–her entire self, completely at her command.

That’s who we are, as a race–the human race. Creatures who can wake up like the Virgin Mary. Who can be awake, like her, to God’s eternal Word.

El Greco Annunciation

Fast First from Sin

Maybe we could summarize our first reading at today’s Mass this way: Fast first from sin.

Hunger does not please God in and of itself. Hunger for justice pleases God, and bodily hunger offered justly pleases Him.

If we hunger for truth, then we will worry more about treating people right than we will about giving up chocolate. Giving up chocolate can please God well—provided I do the penance cheerfully and with greater love for my neighbor.

Some people try to give up coffee for Lent, and they wind up holier and healthier for it. Some people try giving up coffee, and by 9:00 a.m. on the first day, everyone within thirty paces wishes they hadn’t.

We have to strive for a higher life, so our Lent must include some bodily mortification. The more we deny our cravings for physical things, the more we learn to crave spiritual ones. But the greatest Lent a person can keep would actually be more simple: uninterrupted kindness, patience, and ready generosity, without a single thought given to what I will eat or drink and when.

The Lord gave us Lent to help us learn how to forget ourselves and focus on God and others. It would be a shame to waste this gift with nonstop fretting about “When will I finally get to have what I gave up?!” Better to give up giving things up than to have a Lent that is more about chocolate than it is about God and other people.


This morning I found myself in a church where I had been precisely once before–in 1994. Back then I was a 24-year-old nitwit, as opposed to the 40-year-old nitwit I am now.

Being back in this place, I realized: By the grace of God, I managed to spend most of my twenties praying. Then I realized: Dude, you pretty much spent your thirties praying, too.

So I may be a nitwit. But at least I have this going for me.

AND I know God loves me, because: Last year the Hoyas beat Duke. This year the Hoyas don’t even play Duke (except maybe in the NCAA tournament). But this year, the Hokies beat Duke!

Tech beating the little blueys was not the victory of the day yesterday, however. The victory of the day was Brigham Young marching into southern California, confronting an arena full of losers dressed-up as Mormon missionaries in mockery, and proceeding to whup San Diego State’s butt.

…Listen, I don’t mean to pester you. But we really have to deal with the metaphysics of morality. We have not begun to scratch the surface.

So far we have: the existence of God and religion. There is a moral law revealed by God, the Ten Commandments. We will face judgment and will either be punished or pitied. Faith is the foundation of morals.

But this is clearly not the whole story. There are non-believers with impeccable morals. Also, the Ten Commandments do not apply themselves to particular cases. One person may have a duty to act in one way, and another person in a different way, under identical circumstances.

And there is more: Don’t we perceive our options according to our habits? The question of whether or not to spend $2.50 for a cup of coffee is an altogether different question for someone who does so regularly versus someone who does not.

If we are going to be judged–and we are–then what are we going to be judged ON? Understanding how the Olympic judges score gymnastic routines is hard enough. What exactly are their criteria? But what about the all-knowing divine Judge? What are HIS?

Chime in, people.


espressoIn Italy, there are no Starbucks. No Dunkin Donuts. When you order “American coffee,” they give you espresso mixed with hot water. There are no carboard cups, no cup holders, no big tumblers. Italians do not take coffee to go. A “bar” is not a place for beer–it is a place for coffees. Italians drink their coffee standing, looking at glass cases full of pastries, which they often order and eat.

One nice thing about Italian coffee is that it involves less volume. A double espresso has enough caffeine to power Upper Marlboro for a couple of hours, but it occupies only two milliliters of bladder space.

On the other hand, I miss my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee!!!

Old Bests Retiring…

New Bests above.

Best team for the Redskins to beat: Dallas Cowboys!!
Second-best team for the Redskings to beat: Philadelphia Eagles!!!!

Best Coffee: Dunkin Donuts

Best Prince Album: Grafitti Bridge

Best Car for a Priest: Scion tC

Best Secret Recipe: Big Mac special sauce

Best Bridge over the Potomac River: Rt. 301 Potomac River Bridge

Best Public Oratory on the East Coast: St. Ignatius Loyola Church, 84th and Park Ave., Manhattan