Sunday, February 19, 2017

What do you seek?

John 1:38:

[38] And Jesus turning, and seeing them following him, saith to them: What seek you?

Luke 12:31:

[31] But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I attended a retreat for singles yesterday, here in my home city of Edmonton, called "Come and Sit with Me". It was a day of reflection, and vocational discernment for single people aged 18-40. I won't go through what the whole retreat entailed, but I did want to share a part of it.

We had a two-hour silent reflection time, during which we were asked to reflect on the question that Jesus poses to two of His disciples in the first chapter of John, which I have quoted above. "What seek you?" Or, what do you seek, or what are you looking for?

In this exercise, we had to imagine Jesus standing before each one of us, and asking us this question, and how would we respond to Him?

As I was reflecting upon this, I found myself answering the question with things like inner peace, and virtue (which is really to say righteousness), and acceptance by others, and other things like these. After a while, I realized quite starkly that I hadn't answered this question with "Jesus", or "God", or "the Lord." This realization really hit home. After all, what were the two disciples in John's Gospel doing if not following after Jesus?

In the principle of "first things" (which, if you're not familiar with this, asserts that for there to be proper order and harmony in the world, first things must be attended to first, and second things second, and third things third, etc., and that it is by attending to things out of their right order that we introduce discord and destruction into the world, and that this is essentially what sin is: placing lower things above higher things, and higher things below lower things), we understand that God, being primary above else, ought to be pursued first, before all else, and to do otherwise is harmful to us.

And here I was, realizing that all the things I was looking for in my life were not the most important things. They were good and important things, no doubt, but they were not the most important things. And indeed, by seeking these things before first seeking God, I was actually keeping myself from attaining these things. I am keeping myself from attaining those things that I desire because I am not first desiring Him.

Jesus teaches us in Luke, seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. In fact, that was the whole point of this exercise, as this is precisely the passage that the retreat leader quoted after we had completed our reflections.

As a result of this realization, and still during the 2 hour silent reflection time, I sat before Jesus in the Eucharist, in the Tabernacle, and simply spent time with Him. He offered to me as simple exercise, that I wish to take up, in light of this realization: to offer each activity of the day, at the beginning of each activity, to Jesus to bless and sanctify it. It's very simple, and very quick. I jump in the vehicle, say "Jesus bless and sanctify this trip," and I'm on my way. I sit down for a meal, "Jesus bless and sanctify this meal," and I dig in. I sit down to write a blog post, "Jesus bless and sanctify this blog post." It takes about 2 seconds, but I think it's going to be entirely worth it.

What do you seek?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

20 Mysteries: The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth

Revelation 12:1-5:

[1] And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: [2] And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. [3] And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: [4] And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. [5] And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.

Wisdom 5:16-17:

[16] But the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the most High. [17] Therefore shall they receive a kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty at the hand of the Lord: for with his right hand he will cover them, and with his holy arm he will defend them.

Baruch 5:1-4:

[1] Put off, O Jerusalem, the garment of thy mourning, and affliction: and put on the beauty, and honour of that everlasting glory which thou hast from God. [2] God will clothe thee with the double garment of justice, and will set a crown on thy head of everlasting honour. [3] For God will shew his brightness in thee, to every one under heaven. [4] For thy name shall be named to thee by God for ever: the peace of justice, and honour of piety.

Peter 5:4:

[4] And when the prince of pastors shall appear, you shall receive a never fading crown of glory.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Salve et gratus. We have arrived at the final Mystery of the Holy Rosary, the fifth of the Glorious Mysteries, the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. This has been a long series of posts. I didn't think it would take me this long to cover them all, but here we are. I suppose it's fitting, though. This final Mystery is about the glory that awaits God's faithful ones. For some, that comes quickly. For others, they live long lives, all according to the will and plan of God. In our case, we have arrived at this Mystery after what I, at least, think was a long time.

But, I will arrive at this Mystery in truth, upon my death, in the blink of an eye in comparison to eternity. It is a glory that I hope for, in Jesus, a glory which has been promised. For our Blessed Mother, though, there is a distinct glory belonging to her that belongs to no other of God's creatures. The crown that we will receive will be a share in the same crown of glory that is Jesus' own crown. We share in it even now, in His Kingship, but the crown of eternal glory we will receive in Heaven.

Mary, though, has a crown that belongs to her alone. It's authority and power derives from Jesus' own Kingship, it is true, but her crown is that of the Queen Mother, the Great Lady of the Davidic Kingdom. So, her glory is unique among creatures, and so the honor we offer her is likewise unique among creatures.

A New Creation

In John's vision, which he reveals in the book of Revelation, we read of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars upon her head. She is giving birth to the ruler of nations, and the dragon comes to battle her and her child.

There is much Biblical scholarship on this passage. It is interpreted either as a sign of the Church, the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and as Mary, Jesus' mother. In Catholic theological tradition, this sign is interpreted as both, since Mary is understood to be the complete archetype of the Church; being revealed as the true Ark, of which the Ark of Noah, and the Ark of the Covenant were signs.

Given that, I won't go into detail regarding the interpretation of this Woman as the Church, but focus on her as Mary. She is the woman travailing in the birth pangs of delivering Her Son to the world, as ruler and King.


A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.     

This is the great sign that John saw in heaven. The language here is laden with new creation imagery. In Genesis, when God created mankind, He created Adam and Eve, but Eve (meaning, Mother of the Living) wasn't so named until after the Fall. Before the Fall, she was called Isha, or Woman, a name given to her by Adam. Adam (meaning Earth) was so called before Eve was created, and when God brought her to him, and he named her Isha, he simultaneously named himself, Ish, or Man.

Jesus repeated calls Mary Woman throughout the Gospels, and again we see here John sees a Woman clothed with the sun. This should immediately draw our attention back to Genesis. We have here a new Woman, and a new Man, and by them we being a new creation.

With Child

This woman was with child. We read later that this child is to rule the nations with an iron rod. This, we understand to refer to Jesus, who is King over all, and whose justice and mercy will govern the eternal destinies of all people.

The connection of the Woman and her being with child should once again draw our attention back to Genesis. After the Fall, we receive the Protoevangelium, the promise of the Gospel. Jesus says to the serpent:  I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. (Note: the underlined portion may be translated as "he shall crush". The meaning is the same, in either translation, since it is by the work of her seed, that is, her Son, that the head of the serpent will be crushed.) So, the connection between the woman and her seed (which, again, is unusual phrasing given that women don't have seed--this is a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of this promise in Mary who conceived Jesus not by a man, but by the power of God) should also point us back to Genesis. In this Woman we see the Protoevangelium fulfilled, and the new creation begins.

Sun, Moon, Stars

The imagery of the sun, moon and stars surrounding this woman once again draws us back to the creation account of Genesis, wherein God creates the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day.

This imagery is particularly important, because in Genesis we are given a reason for the creation of the sun and the moon: let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. This is important, because what's being referenced here are the Jewish ritual festivals and seasons. Remember, the book of Genesis was written after the Hebraic exodus from Egypt, and after the Law was handed down to them by Moses. So, the Hebrews had already received the Laws governing ritual seasons and festivals when this was written, and the author made a point to reference these here, since it is by tracking the cycles of sun and moon that they knew what times of the year to offer particular ritual worship to God.

So, in the Jewish tradition, God's creation is directly linked to worship of Him, and there is a particular order to it. The sun and the moon rule the natural world, along with the stars, giving light during the day and the night.

The sun is understood the be the source of light and rules the day, and the moon reflects the light of the sun and rules the night, along with the stars. The moon and the stars are seen as lesser lights, and the glory of the moon is that it reflects the light of the sun. But both the sun and the moon rule the skies together.

A particularly pernicious error of the ancient world was the worship of the moon, and even the Jews fell into this error at times in their long history. The imagery of the Woman in Revelations, then, has a two-fold meaning as it relates specifically to the moon.

The moon lies under her feet. Firstly, this symbolizes that she has conquered it, vanquished it. What has she conquered? The error of moon worship. She has conquered to the pagan religions which worship the moon falsely. But how has she conquered it?

This is the second part of the symbolism. By standing upon the moon, she stands in its place. What does this mean? Go back to the previous phrase: clothed with the sun. The true dignity of the moon is that the light that it gives is actually the same light that the sun gives, it is a reflection of the sun's rays. She has conquered the false religion of moon worship by revealing the true nature of the moon. In the order of the Kingdom, Jesus is the Sun, the source of all light and truth and power and authority. He rules together with the Moon, who is Mary, who has no light or truth or power or authority of her own, but only that which is given to her by her Son, Jesus. She fulfills, truly, the type which the moon in its natural order conveys.

And we know this is true when we examine the Kingdom of David, which is the Kingship with God established with Israel, and the Kingship which Jesus, Himself, took up in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to man. In the Davidic Kingdom, the Queen was not the bride of the King, but the mother, and her authority is drawn from the authority of the King. It is not hers, of herself, but derives from the king, but she has the authority to exercise it with the same force as the king, himself. He and she rule the kingdom together, but he is the source of her authority.

And on her head, a crown of twelve stars. This is the final piece that establishes the Woman as the Great Lady, the Queen Mother. She is crowned. Once again, the stars draw us back to the Fourth Day of Genesis, demonstrating that with the advent of the King of Nations, Jesus, we have the arrival of a new creation. But She is not just crowned with stars, she is crowned with twelve stars. This firmly establishes her within the tradition of the Kingship of Israel. Why? Because there were twelve sons of Jacob, Israel. And these twelve sons established the twelve tribes of Israel. And it was over these twelve tribes that David ruled.

And it is no accident that Jesus selected twelve Apostles to become the foundation of His Church, His Kingdom. In choosing twelve as the foundation, He firmly establishes His own Kingdom within the tradition of the Davidic Kingship. It is a new kingdom, though, not founded on Tribes, but upon the Apostleship of His Chosen. Mary, as Queen Mother, along with Jesus Her Son, and through Him, bridges the Old Jerusalem to the New Jerusalem; Israel to the Church.

Justice and Glory

One promise, which I have reference above in Wisdom, Baruch, and Peter, and which runs throughout the Old and New Testaments, is that God will give crowns of glory to His just and righteous people. In my last post, I made mention that Mary's assumption into heaven was the firstfruits among us, His people, of His saving work. This is the second. At the end of time, our bodies will all be raised from the dead, and God's elect with be taken to Heaven. And there, God will grant each of us a crown of glory, each according to the justice of our own works.

Mary's crown exceeds all others (except the Lord's of course), because above all others, her work was the greatest. Her yes was the most effective, and allowed the saving work of God to enter the world. The Christian tradition widely accepts that Mary was sinless throughout her life. Her work, therefore, being righteous in all things and in all ways, is worthy of the greatest glory among God's creatures. Her crown, therefore, on the basis of her virtue, will be the greatest among us, not even considering that she is the Queen.

If Mary is our Queen, and at the same time she fulfills completely what we strive to be as Christ's Church, then I will give her the final words in this series on the Rosary. Fitting, I think, as this prayer-gift was given to us by she, herself.

  • My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
    • Luke 1:46-55

Sunday, February 5, 2017

20 Mysteries: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven

"St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven."
~St. John Damascene

"And thus the immaculate (panagion) [191] body was laid in the tomb. Then it was assumed after three days to the heavenly mansions. The bosom of the earth was no fitting receptacle for the Lord's dwelling-place, the living source of cleansing water, the corn of heavenly bread, the sacred vine of divine wine, the evergreen and fruitful olive-branch of God's mercy. And just as the all holy body of God's Son, which was taken from her, rose from the dead on the third day, it followed that she should be snatched from the tomb, that the mother should be united to her Son; and as He had come down to her, so she should be raised up to Him, into the more perfect dwelling-place, heaven itself. It was meet that she, who had sheltered God the Word in her own womb, should inhabit the tabernacles of her Son."
~St. John Damascene, Homily II on the Assumption/Dormition

"To-day the living ladder, through whom the [203] Most High descended and was seen on earth, and conversed with men, was assumed into heaven by death. To-day the heavenly table, she, who contained the bread of life, the fire of the Godhead, without knowing man, was assumed from earth to heaven, and the gates of heaven opened wide to receive the gate of God from the East. To-day the living city of God is transferred from the earthly to the heavenly Jerusalem, and she, who, conceived her first-born and only Son, the first-born of all creation, the only begotten of the Father, rests in the Church of the first-born: the true and living Ark of the Lord is taken to the peace of her Son. The gates of heaven are opened to receive the receptacle of God, who, bringing forth the tree of life, destroyed Eve's disobedience and Adam's penalty of death. And Christ, the cause of all life, receives the chosen mirror, the mountain from which the stone without hands filled the whole earth. She, who brought about the Word's divine Incarnation, rests in her glorious tomb as in a bridal-chamber, whence she goes to the heavenly bridals, to share in the kingdom of her Son and God, leaving her tomb as a place of rest [204] for those on earth."
~St. John Damascene, Homily III on the Assumption/Dormition

Genesis 5:23:

[23] And all the days of Henoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. [24] And he walked with God, and was seen no more: because God took him.

4 Kings 2:11:

[11] And as they went on, walking and talking together, behold a fiery chariot, and fiery horses parted them both asunder: and Elias went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

"Thou wert not taken into heaven as Elias was, nor didst thou penetrate to the third heaven with Paul, but thou didst reach the royal throne itself of thy Son, seeing it with thy own eyes, standing by it in joy and unspeakable familiarity."
~St. John Damascene, Homily I on the Assumption/Dormition

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

So, we come to the single mystery for which there is no historical account in Scripture. This mystery is, however, attested to within Christian Tradition, and has been defined as Dogma in the Catholic Church (Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus). This mystery is known as the Dormition (sleep) in the Eastern Churches, and has also been known as the Pausatio (pausing, or end), Mors (death), and Depositio (laying down) of Mary.

The tradition is that Mary reached the end of her life (the timing is uncertain--between three and fifteen years after the Ascension), and was put in a tomb by the Apostles, but when her tomb was opened later, it was found to be empty. Their conclusion, coming from both their Jewish tradition and from the revelation of Jesus Resurrection, was that her body had been raised and taken to Heaven.

I admit that I'm not going to delve too deeply into this mystery, but I do want to touch upon a couple of points. I want to explore the meaning of Mary's death, as well as to make the point that this idea of her being taken bodily to heaven is not a novelty within the Jewish tradition. However, if you want a more thorough reflection on this mystery, I welcome you to read the homilies by St. John Damascene, who lived in the 7th-8th century. They can be found here, here, and here.

Mary's Death

Throughout my childhood and youth and into my young adulthood, I had been taught the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and I had believed it. However, during all of that time, it had never been made known to me that it is part of Christian Tradition that Mary had died before being assumed into heaven. So, it came as something of a shock to me to find out this is something the Catholic Church has always believed and taught. I had even heard about the Eastern belief in the Dormition, but still, it wasn't clear to me that she had died.

When I learned about this, I was of course immediately curious. I had always understood Mary's Assumption as having occurred because of Mary's sinlessness, and that she was not subject to corruption and death. So, finding out that she did, indeed, die forced me to re-examine that belief.

So, I reflected on it. I had discussions about it with other believers. The conclusion I arrived at, and St. John Damascene affirms in his homilies, is that Mary was indeed free from corruption and death, but that she chose to accept the death of her body in conformity with the will of God, who declared the consequence for Adam and Eve's sin to be death. I concluded that, just as Jesus had accepted death, had accepted this consequence of sin, in order to restore right order to our humanity, so too did Mary accept death in unity with her Son.

St. John Damascene offers many other reasons, reasons from "fittingness", that Mary died. He demonstrates that Mary is the fulfillment of many types from the old testament, Jacob's Ladder, the Ark of the Covenant, the Living City, and others, and that it is fitting that she enter into God's abode as the fulfillment of these types.

It made me wonder about God's original plan for humanity. We know that God bestowed the preternatural grace of immortality upon Adam and Eve in their original innocence, but I wonder if, understanding the nature of the material world as temporary, that God intended them originally to submit themselves to the death of the body in respect of its nature. Ah, speculations....

Within the Jewish Tradition

The second thing I wanted to touch upon was the idea that Mary being taken up to heaven body and soul would not have been thought of as novel by the early Jewish Christians. Within Jewish Scriptures, there are two other figures who were also taken up into heaven bodily: Enoch and Elijah. These were known for their righteousness before God, and Elijah is arguably the most important prophet in Jewish history. It is not, therefore, out of place to believe that the woman who surpassed all Old Testament saints and prophets would also have been taken up into heaven, body and soul.

I think this makes all the more sense when we understand it in light of Jesus' own resurrection, and His promise of resurrection at the end of time. Mary's resurrection and assumption into heaven represents the first eschatological fruit of Jesus' promise, of His saving work on the Cross, and His victory over death. His resurrection is proof of His victory over death, and her resurrection is proof that His victory belongs to all of us, who live in His love.

In Him, we will rise to new life, and live in His joy for ever. Praise be to Him, the Ancient of Days! Blessed be His mother, who lives with Him even now!

God bless you, and gratias vobis ago!