Martírios

For the past few years I have particularly enjoyed this version (by the same choir that sung at our wedding and our children’s baptisms) of a traditional Portuguese Lenten hymn. Here is the refrain:

Padeceu grandes tormentos
Duros martírios na cruz
Morreu para nos salvar
Bendito seja Jesus

He suffered great torments;
Severe afflictions upon the Cross;
He died to save us;
Blessed be Jesus.

The hymn speaks of Jesus’ suffering for us out of love, but it focuses mainly on His Passion, describing the terrible suffering He underwent. I am not exactly sure in what context it was formerly sung: if in the Senhor dos Passos processions (which are a form of Via Crucis), or with the Ementação das Almas (a practice of praying for the Holy Souls of Purgatory at night during certain days of Lent, while also reminding the living to convert while there is time).

Fasting in light of the Liturgy (I)

While at Mass this past Sunday there were certain prayers that jumped out at me, particularly those that speak of the bodily fast. This prompted me to put my thoughts down in writing, if only to get them in some sort of order. I will be dividing this into two posts.

montreal1

After my return to the Church, almost every single Lent (and Advent), I have heard repeated time and time again, be it from laymen be it from clergy, that bodily fasts are not important; that what matters, what God “really wants”, are spiritual fasts; those who propose this view generally tend to waive bodily fasts completely.

Whence this emphasis on the inner over the outer? It seems that lately we are suffering the effects of an exacerbated Cartesian dualism. In secular society one hears such insane claims as that one can decide one’s own sex; that biology plays no influence; that one’s sex is what one believes it to be at any given point, and that it is independent of the physical sex (“sex” having now been relegated to designating an act, being substituted for “gender”, a grammatical term/concept. Another way of implying that “gender is a social construct”?). In an age of rampant materialism, should it come as a surprise that there should appear this insane kind of dualism? Are we reaping the fruits of bad philosophy, of philosophy divorced from theology, divorced from Revelation? This mindset seems to have even spilt over into the Church, where one finds a somewhat subtler divide between body and soul, of one having no influence on the other (at least not the body on the soul).

I admit that in the beginning I held a similar view, that what mattered most was the inner. Yet the more I studied, the more I immersed myself in the Church’s perennial tradition, the more I came to understand that this is not what the Church teaches. The Church may have become lax, almost to the point of dismissing them completely, but she does not teach that bodily fasts are negligible; to the contrary, one need only look at her Liturgy to see how important bodily fasting is.
Being a Roman Catholic I will focus solely on the Latin Liturgy; I am sure non-Roman Catholics, which still practice fasting to a greater degree than Latins do, are able to point to instances where their liturgies speak of fasting.
The Church’s teaching on fasting reveals its anthropology.

The liturgical texts which speak to us most about fasting are those of Great Lent. I will cite a few, from the vetus ordo, to show the importance that the Church places on bodily fasting, how bodily fasting is the main concern of the Lenten ascetical praxis, even if it is not the goal . Let’s start off with the Preface of Lent (emphasis mine):

It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God; Who by this bodily fast, dost curb our vices, dost lift up our minds and bestow on us strength and rewards; through Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, the Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with these we entreat Thee that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted while we say with lowly praise:

Here we have repeated in every single Mass during the Lenten season (apart from certain feast days that may arise: e.g., the Annunciation) what the fast is about. It is a privation of food which aims at: conquering the lower appetites; restraining vices; focusing one’s mind on prayer; fortifying one’s will; receiving God’s mercy. And that it not be ascribed to personal merit, we are reminded that if the fast effects these things in us, it is by the Father, through the Son.

The Collect and Secret of the 1st Sunday of Lent have this to say:

O God, You Who purify Your Church by the yearly Lenten observance, grant to Your household that what they strive to obtain from You by abstinence, they may achieve by good works. (Collect)

We offer these sacrificial gifts at the beginning of Lent, praying You, O Lord, that while we practice restraint in the use of bodily food, we may also refrain from harmful pleasures. (Secret)

Both of these prayers speak of the relation between the external – abstaining from eating – and the internal – doing good works (ordered will) and keeping from what is internally harmful (disordered will).

The Church, in her repetitious pedagogy, prays this theme over and over all throughout Lent. So as not to make this post too tedious, I will just cite a few more prayers which I think highlight the point:

May these sacrificial gifts, we beseech You, O Lord, be the more effective unto our salvation since they have been aided by wholesome fasting. (Secret, Thurs.  after 1st Sunday)

Sanctify our fasts by the sacrificial gifts here present, we beseech You, O Lord, that what our observance outwardly professes may be inwardly accomplished. (Secret, Sat. after 1st Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that Your servants who discipline the body by fasting from food, may strive after righteousness by abstaining from sin.(Collect, Mon. after  2nd Sunday)

Look mercifully upon Your people, we beseech You, O Lord, and grant that they whom You command to abstain from food, may also refrain from harmful vices. (Collect, Wed. after 2nd Sunday)

May the fasting dedicated to Your Name, O Lord, make us holy for the present sacrifice, that what our Lenten observance outwardly shows, it may work within us.(Secret, Thurs. after 2nd Sunday)

Grant that our fasting may be beneficial to us, we beseech You, O Lord, so that by chastising our flesh we may obtain strength for our souls.(Collect, Sat. after 2nd Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, O Lord, that, improved by wholesome fasting, and thus abstaining from harmful sin, we may the more readily receive Your mercy.(Collect, Wed. after 3rd Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that we who chastise our flesh by abstaining from food, may fast from sin by striving after righteousness.(Collect, Sat. after 3rd Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that we who are chastising the flesh by fasting, may rejoice in this holy practice, and thus, with earthly passions subdued, we may the more readily direct our thoughts to heavenly things. (Collect, Wed. after 4th Sunday)

(to continue in Part II)

Fátima and the Desert Fathers

I find myself writing today about a topic which I never thought I would – Fátima; specifically, the message of Fátima (or, at least, how I have come to understand it). Caveat: for those that came here expecting some comment on “the Consecration of Russia”, you can forget about that. That is a topic I’m not at all interested in touching. Let’s just say that I believe that that request was very time-specific, and is not necessarily what the “message” was all about, though it seems to me that to many it carries an almost messianic weight.

Love it or hate it, every Portuguese knows Fátima and has probably been there at least once in their life. In the minds of not a few, Fátima is something quite apart from the Church. How many times did I not hear from people (who even made regular pilgrimages there): “I don’t believe in the Church, but I have a lot of faith in Fátima.” I never understood what that was supposed to mean. What do those who profess such a belief understand Fátima to be? Does it mean you believe in some “miraculous” event, some “force” you keep a mercenary relationship with? Or does it mean that you believe in the message? If so, then you must necessarily believe in the Church. Our Lady cannot be understood apart of the Church; she is a type of the Church. If you believe in her, and not the Church, then there is something seriously flawed with your belief.

But I digress…

Fátima (Cova da Iria) is about an hour and fifteen minutes drive on the motorway from my home city. Now that I stop to think about it, I (providentially?) made my official return to the Church there 10 years ago. For almost two years I drove down every Sunday so as to be able to experience the vetus ordo of the Roman rite (and occasionally the Divine Liturgy at the local Ukrainian Greek Catholic chapel at Domus Pacis). When people found out that I would go to Fátima every Sunday they would say “Wow, you must have a lot of faith in Fátima.”, but it had never crossed my mind, in all those trips, that I was going there because of Fatima; if anything, in my mind, Fátima was accidental: the vetus ordo just happened to be celebrated there. As time went on, I began to have a bit more of a “sacramental” understanding of the place, and so the shrine (or at least the area of the chapel of the apparitions) became a kind of holy ground. The Deipara, the Dei genetrix, had appeared there; she had hallowed the ground (or at least the oak tree) by her contact. In my mind, that made the immediate vicinity a kind of contact relic, and so I would always stop by, even if just for 5 minutes, to say “hello” and entrust to her care my vocation, whichever it might be. Several years later, Sr. Maria do Rosário and I were received as novice Benedictine oblates at Fátima.

4091741924_111f4760f1

During these many years I had struggled to understand just what exactly was the “message of Fátima” or why “the world needs Fátima“. Searching for answers on the internet only served to further the confusion. I had never stopped to read any proper literature on the apparitions; I only got bits and pieces of the story from time to time from speaking with people who had purposely moved to Fátima from abroad, as well as from someone who had known Sr. Lucia for many years and served as an interpreter of sorts for her. However, it was only after Father Prior had spoken with the postulator for Bl. Francisco’s cause that things suddenly start to click in my head. To quote Father Prior’s own words:

I put the question to Dr Coelho. She explained that while little Jacinta was an extrovert, easily engaging with others and concerned in reaching out to all, especially to poor sinners, Francisco was a very interior soul, focused on God alone or, as he himself put it, on consoling the Hidden Jesus. In this way, the personalities and graces of Francisco and Jacinta are complementary. Jacinta is emblematic of the missionary impulse of the Church, while Francisco illustrates the call to the hidden life and total dedication to the “One Thing Necessary” (Luke 10:42). Francisco, explained Dr Coelho, was, from the very beginning of the apparitions, singled out as a contemplative soul.

The Postulator explained that had Our Lady said that Francisco was to become a “contemplative soul”, the meaning of her words would have completely escaped Francisco’s understanding. His was the simple vocabulary of a child, of a boy accustomed to the concrete realities of nature. Our Lady’s words that Francisco would “need to say many rosaries” before going to heaven was, in effect, her way of saying that Francisco was to become an entirely contemplative soul before going to heaven, and this by means of many rosaries. Understand by this that, for Francisco and for most ordinary people, many rosaries are the most simple and efficacious way to union with God.

a1ad21f13fc73601df2084821dcf38a3

For some time I had begun to see the message of “penance and prayer for the conversion of sinners” as synonymous with the Gospel, which made me wonder what was so unique about the apparition(s) and its message. Suddenly, with the postulator’s comment about Our Lady adapting her language to her interlocutors/audience, it made sense.

What was Our Lady trying to tell us? What had we forgotten?

Penance – mortifications; prayer for the conversion of sinners – intercession; pray the Rosary – the layman’s office par excellence in the West. Our Lady was reminding a simple people, a people of simple faith, of what it means to be Christian. I don’t mean simple in a pejorative sense; I mean simple in childlike, unable(?) to understand complex theological ideas, but faithful enough to intuit them, with a lively sensus fidelium. In very simple terms, she was reminding them of their baptismal priesthood. Sons in the Son, they could unite their sufferings, their mortifications, to Christ’s, to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24). As Our Lord had offered Himself up on the Cross for sinners, so they were to become icons of all mankind, offering in themselves all to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, especially for those who did not believe. The daily rosary was an injunction to “pray without ceasing”. For a long time the rosary had been an alternative to the Office for those who were unable to read. The Office, especially through the Psalms, shows us the vultus Christi; praying the Psalms helps one to acquire the mind of Christ. Being unable to do that, one turns to Mary, and in contemplating her, one can see in her face the face of her Son shining through.

“Fátima”, in my understanding of it, is nothing “new”. The message is the Gospel. It is the life that finds echo in the life of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Father’s lived a(-n extreme) life of penance, of mortification; one needs only to read their sayings to see how indispensable it was to them, how essential it was to cultivate humility. It was not something negative; rather it was liberating. See, for example, this saying of Abba Poemon:

A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, ‘I have committed a great sin and I want to do penance for three years.’ The old man said to him, ‘That is a lot.’ The brother said, ‘For one year?’ The old man said again, ‘That is a lot.’ Those who were present said, ‘For forty days?’ He said again, ‘That is a lot.’ He added, ‘I myself say that if a man repents with his whole heart and does not intend to commit the sin any more, God will accept him after only three days.’

Even on their deathbed penance was still (or should that be especially?) on their minds:

It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, ‘Look, Abba Anthony is coming.’ A little later he said, ‘Look, the choir of prophets is coming.’ Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, Look, the choir of apostles is coming,’ His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, ‘With whom are you speaking, Father?’ He said, ‘Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance.’ The old man said to him, ‘You have no need to do penance, Father.’ But the old man said to them, ‘Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet.’

Continual prayer was also a theme on the minds of the Desert Fathers. They knew, through their experience, that it required a great effort to become a habit, especially if one was to pray without ceasing, which in a goal of all Christians, which they will one day do perfectly united to Christ, the Eternal High Priest. The Psalms were their school of prayer.

Abba Agathon said, “Prayer is hard work and a great struggle to one’s last breath”.

Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’

The brethren also asked him, ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. What ever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’

We find as well stories of the Fathers’ intercession for sinners:

One day Abba Serapion passed through an Egyptian village and there he saw a courtesan who stayed in her own cell. The old man said to her, ‘Expect me this evening, for I should like to come and spend the night with you.’ She replied, ‘Very well, abba.’ She got ready and made the bed. When evening came, the old man came to see her and entered her cell and said to her, ‘Have you got the bed ready?’ She said, ‘Yes, abba.’ Then he closed the door and said to her, ‘Wait a bit, for we have a rule of prayer and I must fulfill that first.’ So the old man began his prayers. He took the psalter and at each psalm he said a prayer for the courtesan, begging God that she might be converted and saved, and God heard him. The woman stood trembling and praying beside the old man. When he had completed the whole psalter the woman fell to the ground. Then the old man, beginning the Epistle, read a great deal from the apostle and completed his prayers. The woman was filled with compunction and understood that he had not come to see her to commit sin but to save her soul and she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Abba, do me this kindness and take we where I can please God.’ So the old man took her to a monastery of virgins and entrusted her to the amma and he said, ‘Take this sister and do not put any yoke or commandment on her as on the other sisters, but if she wants something, give it her and allow her to walk as she wishes.’ After some days the courtesan said, ‘I am a sinner; I wish to eat every second day.’ A little later she said, ‘I have committed many sins and I wish to eat every fourth day.’ A few days later she besought the amma saying, ‘Since I have grieved God greatly by my sins, do me the kindness of putting me in a cell and shutting it completely and giving me a little bread and some work through the window.’ The amma did so and the woman pleased God all the rest of her life.

Is Fátima still “relevant”? I think it is particularly poignant a century later because it obliges us to ask “What have we forgotten?” It seems to me to be quite providential that our Blessed Mother should remind us of this supernatural aspect of the faith on the eve of a revolution of the “anti-Gospel”, of a materialistic “gospel” that promised an immanenitized eschaton. And yet, 100 years later, on the cusp of the anniversary of the apparitions, if one listens to the majority of the “testimonies” about the meaning of Fatima on this website (which is backed by the Sanctuary and a Catholic radio station), one will find that we have forgotten much. The majority of those testimonies of what Fátima means to those individuals is focused to much on me, on vague concepts of love and peace and feeling good with one’s self, a form of spiritual hygiene. God does not figure into the picture. The faith is primarily about the world here below, a convenient ethical system, but little beyond that.

We have forgotten the Cross. It is the Cross, the dulce lignum, that best encapsulates the Faith. In trying to make it more appealing, in applying so much cosmetic to sweeten the pill, we have gone so far as to forget what it is all about.

p8-filg

What is Fátima to me? Fátima is the unbroken tradition of the Church; Fátima is the life of monks and religious and clerics and lay alike; Fátima is the faith of the Desert Fathers –  Fátima is the Christian life in broad strokes, so simple enough even a child could understand it. And it is a reminder to make every day a beginning.

In what order the Psalms are to be said (I)

Let this verse be said: “Incline unto my aid, O God;
O Lord, make haste to help me,” and the “Glory be to the Father” then the hymn proper to each Hour. Then at Prime on Sunday four sections of Psalm 118 are to be said; and at each of the remaining Hours, that is Terce, Sext and None, three sections of the same Psalm 118. At Prime on Monday let three Psalms be said, namely Psalms 1, 2 and 6. And so each day at Prime until Sunday let three Psalms be said in numerical order, to Psalm 19, but with Psalms 9 and 17 each divided into two parts. Thus it comes about that the Night Office on Sunday always begins with Psalm 20.

Instead of writing something myself on today’s reading, I would like to share a passage from St. John Cassian’s Conferences which was brought to my attention on the Vultus Christi blog. The passage pertains to the introduction of the hours – Deus in adjutorium meum intende – a prayer that has been very dear to me ever since visiting Silverstream.

For keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you. O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me, for this verse has not unreasonably been picked out from the whole of Scripture for this purpose. For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults.

Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one’s own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that He is always at hand.

It contains the glow of love and charity, it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender. This verse is an impregnable wall for all who are labouring under the attacks of demons, as well as impenetrable coat of mail and a strong shield. It does not suffer those who are in a state of moroseness and anxiety of mind, or depressed by sadness or all kinds of thoughts to despair of saving remedies, as it shows that He, who is invoked, is ever looking on at our struggles and is not far from His suppliants. It warns us whose lot is spiritual success and delight of heart that we ought not to be at all elated or puffed up by our happy condition, which it assures us cannot last without God as our protector, while it implores Him not only always but even speedily to help us.

This verse, I say, will be found helpful and useful to every one of us in whatever condition we may be. For one who always and in all matters wants to be helped, shows that he needs the assistance of God not only in sorrowful or hard matters but also equally in prosperous and happy ones, that he may be delivered from the one and also made to continue in the other, as he knows that in both of them human weakness is unable to endure without His assistance.

I am affected by the passion of gluttony. I ask for food of which the desert knows nothing, and in the squalid desert there are wafted to me odours of royal dainties and I find that even against my will I am drawn to long for them. I must at once say: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I am incited to anticipate the hour fixed for supper, or I am trying with great sorrow of heart to keep to the limits of the right and regular meagre fare. I must cry out with groans: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Weakness of the stomach hinders me when wanting severer fasts, on account of the assaults of the flesh, or dryness of the belly and constipation frightens me. In order that effect may be given to my wishes, or else that the fire of carnal lust may be quenched without the remedy of a stricter fast, I must pray: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. When I come to supper, at the bidding of the proper hour I loathe taking food and am prevented from eating anything to satisfy the requirements of nature: I must cry with a sigh: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

When I want for the sake of steadfastness of heart to apply myself to reading a headache interferes and stops me, and at the third hour sleep glues my head to the sacred page, and I am forced either to overstep or to anticipate the time assigned to rest; and finally an overpowering desire to sleep forces me to cut short the canonical rule for service in the Psalms: in the same way I must cry out: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Sleep is withdrawn from my eyes, and for many nights I find myself wearied out with sleeplessness caused by the devil, and all repose and rest by night is kept away from my eyelids; I must sigh and pray: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. While I am still in the midst of a struggle with sin suddenly an irritation of the flesh affects me and tries by a pleasant sensation to draw me to consent while in my sleep. In order that a raging fire from without may not burn up the fragrant blossoms of chastity, I must cry out: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I feel that the incentive to lust is removed, and that the heat of passion has died away in my members: In order that this good condition acquired, or rather that this grace of God may continue still longer or forever with me, I must earnestly say: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

I am disturbed by the pangs of anger, covetousness, gloominess, and driven to disturb the peaceful state in which I was, and which was dear to me: In order that I may not be carried away by raging passion into the bitterness of gall, I must cry out with deep groans: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I am tried by being puffed up by accidie, vainglory, and pride, and my mind with subtle thoughts flatters itself somewhat on account of the coldness and carelessness of others: In order that this dangerous suggestion of the enemy may not get the mastery over me, I must pray with all contrition of heart: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

I have gained the grace of humility and simplicity, and by continually mortifying my spirit have got rid of the swellings of pride: In order that the foot of pride may not again come against me, and the hand of the sinner disturb me, and that I may not be more seriously damaged by elation at my success, I must cry with all my might, O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I am on fire with innumerable and various wanderings of soul and shiftiness of heart, and cannot collect my scattered thoughts, nor can I even pour forth my prayer without interruption and images of vain figures, and the recollection of conversations and actions, and I feel myself tied down by such dryness and barrenness that I feel I cannot give birth to any offspring in the shape of spiritual ideas: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to be set free from this wretched state of mind, from which I cannot extricate myself by any number of sighs and groans, I must full surely cry out: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

Again, I feel that by the visitation of the Holy Spirit I have gained purpose of soul, steadfastness of thought, keenness of heart, together with an ineffable joy and transport of mind, and in the exuberance of spiritual feelings I have perceived by a sudden illumination from the Lord an abounding revelation of most holy ideas which were formerly altogether hidden from me: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to linger for a longer time in them I must often and anxiously exclaim: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

Encompassed by nightly horrors of devils I am agitated, and am disturbed by the appearances of unclean spirits, my very hope of life and salvation is withdrawn by the horror of fear. Flying to the safe refuge of this verse, I will cry out with all my might: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Again, when I have been restored by the Lord’s consolation, and, cheered by His coming, feel myself encompassed as if by countless thousands of angels, so that all of a sudden I can venture to seek the conflict and provoke a battle with those whom a while ago I dreaded worse than death, and whose touch or even approach I felt with a shudder both of mind and body: In order that the vigour of this courage may, by God’s grace, continue in me still longer, I must cry out with all my powers: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

We must then ceaselessly and continuously pour forth the prayer of this verse, in adversity that we may be delivered, in prosperity that we may be preserved and not puffed up. Let the thought of this verse, I tell you, be conned over in your breast without ceasing. Whatever work you are doing, or office you are holding, or journey you are going, do not cease to chant this. When you are going to bed, or eating, and in the last necessities of nature, think on this. This thought in your heart maybe to you a saving formula, and not only keep you unharmed by all attacks of devils, but also purify you from all faults and earthly stains, and lead you to that invisible and celestial contemplation, and carry you on to that ineffable glow of prayer, of which so few have any experience. Let sleep come upon you still considering this verse, till having been moulded by the constant use of it, you grow accustomed to repeat it even in your sleep. When you wake let it be the first thing to come into your mind, let it anticipate all your waking thoughts, let it when you rise from your bed send you down on your knees, and thence send you forth to all your work and business, and let it follow you about all day long. This you should think about, according to the Lawgiver’s charge, at home and walking forth on a journey, (Deuteronomy 6:7) sleeping and waking. This you should write on the threshold and door of your mouth, this you should place on the walls of your house and in the recesses of your heart so that when you fall on your knees in prayer this may be your chant as you kneel, and when you rise up from it to go forth to all the necessary business of life it may be your constant prayer as you stand. (Conference X, Chapter 10)

As a Bridegroom having come forth from the chamber

And so, another Advent season has come  to an end. As I write this, I Vespers of the Nativity of Our Lord have already been said, beginning the liturgical festivities of Christmastide.

Advent this year was marked by sense of eagerness, of expectancy, of urgency. It seemed as though Advent this year was a seamless continuation of the end of the liturgical year. For the first time, I was able to pray most of the Hours of the Office throughout the 4 weeks of Advent. I believe it was this assiduousness in praying the Office that impressed me with the sense of apocalyptic (in the biblical sense) urgency.

All the propers for the season speak of the coming of Christ, of the promise of the redemption of Israel.

Taking a sample from the antiphons:

“Behold, the great Prophet shall come; and He shall renew Jerusalem, alleluia.”

“The Lord will come and not delay. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will manifest Himself to all nations, alleluia.”

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, with great joy, for thy Saviour will come to thee, alleluia.”

“Behold, our Lord shall come with power, to enlighten the eyes of His servants, alleluia.”

“Let us live justly and piously, looking for the blessed hope and the coming of the Lord.”

“Fear not, Sion, behold, thy God cometh, alleluia.”

“Behold, the King shall come, and He shall take away the yoke of our captivity.”

“Turn again, O Lord, at the last, and delay not to come unto Thy servants.”

“Be prepared to meet Thy God, O Israel, for He cometh.”

“Awake, awake, arise, Jerusalem; loose the chains from off thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion.”

The O Antiphons, addressing Our Lord by Old Testament titles, voice the prophets’ and the patriarchs’ deep desire for  the coming of the Messiah with their continual entreaty – “come”.

The Excita collects, which begin, not with the usual address, but with an audacious demand that the Lord arise and come, further inculcate the sense of urgency.

judgment

Finally, the hymns of Lauds and Vespers speak to us of the Second Coming:

Secundo ut cum fulserit
mundumque horror cinxerit,
non pro reatu puniat,
sed nos pius tunc protegat.

So that at the Second Coming when He will shine and dread will gird the world,
He will punish us not for sin,
but, merciful, will then protect us.
-4th stanza, Vox clara ecce

Te, Sancte, fide quaesumus,
venture iudex saeculi,
conserva nos in tempore
hostis a telo perfidi.

In faith we beg You, O Holy One,
You the Judge of the world about to come,
guard us in this era
from the weapon of the treacherous enemy.
-5th stanza, Conditor alme siderium

Praying more of the Office, and more continuously, has made me realize that just going to Sunday Mass is not enough to impress the “spirit of the season” upon one’s soul; that, if a wider picture is wanted, if one desires to live it more intensely, then one has to pray with the Church, to give primacy to Her words, to Her feelings. She is, after all, our Mother. It is she who educates us in the faith, that mediates the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to pray through her. Loving the Liturgy, praying with the Church, one inevitably finds that, with time, one comes back to it time and again to express one’s own prayer.

 

During these four weeks we read the chapter on Advent in Bl. Columba Marmion’s Christ in His Mysteries. There was a particular passage which lept out at me when reading it:

And nevertheless the Holy Spirit, who directs the Church and is first author of our sanctification, wills that the Church each year dedicate a period of four weeks to a remembrance of the amazing length of the divine preparations, and to put it all to work in order to redispose our souls to have the inner dispositions in which the faithful Jews lived when awaiting the coming of the Messiah.

[…]

[…] God wishes us to find in these preparations a confirmation of our faith.

For some time now the renewal of the baptismal vows during the Paschal Vigil has been a pet peeve of mine, as it seems to me to interrupt the natural flow of the liturgy. The aforementioned  description of Adventide by Bl. Marmion seems to imply, rather, that it is during this season that we “renew” our baptismal vows; that, as long as we live the season properly, as long as we do as the Church instructs us to, then those vows are renewed implicitly by our actions – we are living “liturgically”, and thus there is no need for an explicit renewal. This is just my take on the matter, so I could be wrong and am open to correction.

 

img_20161217_2107403
Our Nativity set. I especially like the seemingly Proto-Evangleium of James-inspired St. Jospeh.

This year we began what we hope will become a family Advent tradition. As of December 18th, the first day on which the O Antiphons are sung with the Magnificat at Vespers, the whole family gathered before the nativity scene to sing Veni veni Emmanuel by candlelight. We were, in a sense, the virgins with lamps awaiting the Bridegroom, anxiously awaiting for Him to come.

An Advent prose

To see the Cross is to see Life. To come  to the Cross is to come to Life. And yet why do I run from Life? Why am I so afraid of Life; why do I embrace Death? Oh sweet Death that comes to me by my mouth, my eyes, my ears, my nose, my hands and my feet! What manner of master are you that the slave loves the chains keeping him in bondage? And yet the sweetness soon turns bitter, and while once the chain was as a melodious chord, now it is yanked and one is dragged in the mire.

The lamps have gone out, their oil spent foolishly. The walls are in disrepair. The watchman has fallen asleep at his post, leaving the roaring lion to have free rein, prowling about. How long, O Lord, how long, will you leave the temple of my heart in abandon? Arise, oh my soul, awaken from your slumber! The Lord is coming, and shall not long delay! He is coming from the East, to enlighten your eyes! Your Saviour is coming, and He shall build up the walls again – open wide the gates!

Lord, that I may not fear the Cross. That the Life-giving Wood may be as a plough on this stony heart of mine. Work this arid soil, O Lord, that it may be found a worthy temple as that virginal womb which saw You come into this world; rain down on it your mercy and grace, that it may see You finally come to dwell therein.

jesse2btree2bst-2bdenis2babbot2bsuger2bdetail

A surprise from the King of Love

Today we received a surprise from our son’s godfather. When I opened the envelope I was quite astonished to see a representation of Jesus, King of Love, of which Silverstream Priory has a confraternity. When I inquired if he knew about the Silverstream connection, our son’s godfather was  quite ignorant of it. He mentioned it had caught his eye some months ago on Daniel Mitsui‘s website, as he found it semi-iconographic (our son’s godfather is a Romanian Greek Catholic, who also happens to be a monastic associate connected with Holy Resurrection Monastery).

Divine Providence pushing him along…?

15215977_10154969064565695_1848481575_o
“O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy loving mercy.”

 

If you would like to know more about Silverstream Priory’s Confraternity of Jesus, King of Love please click here.

Pax Christi [I]

This past Sunday’s Epistle reading managed to capture my attention much more than the Gospel, especially the following part:

Brethren: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Bear with one another and forgive one another, if anyone has a grievance against any other; even as the Lord has forgiven you, so also do you forgive. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts; unto that peace, indeed, you were called in one body.

Col 3:12-15

What was it about the reading that made me pause? While I try as best as I can to accompany the readings in the missal, looking after two fidgety children makes for a distraction-ridden Mass. Still, as  the priest intoned the words pax Christi, suddenly my attention re-directed from the kids to the reading. Since reading Chapter IV of the Rule some weeks ago, instrument no. 25 – “Do not give a false peace” – has stuck in my mind, almost as though a splinter, a source of constant “irritation”. What does it mean to give a false peace? And before we can even speak of a false peace, what is the peace that St. Benedict speaks of?

I will be dividing this topic into two posts as a matter of practicality, allowing me to flesh out the ideas as I write.

A much forgotten aspect (at least in the Western world) of the spiritual life is that it is a struggle, a combat. I say this at the risk of sounding repetitive, but it bears repeating again and again. The Christian spiritual life is not something merely therapeutic, a form of spiritual hygiene, the finding of an inner equilibrium. Our communion with God, our participating in the life of the Trinity is to be fought on three fronts – the Devil, the World, and the Flesh. It is a prize that does not come cheaply. If I was already aware of this, the reading of the Desert Fathers has hammered the lesson home quite emphatically. In the words of the Apostle Paul:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.

Eph 6:12

true-life-of-a-monk2

If we do think of the spiritual life of a struggle at all, then perhaps we relegate it to the monastic life. After all, aren’t monks and nuns the ones’ who have answered the call to remove themselves from the world to do spiritual battle? “I’m OK aren’t I? Sure I may gossip and get drunk and vent my frustration on others and completely forget to pray, but I haven’t killed anyone; I haven’t done any of that negative stuff explicitly stated in the Decalogue. I don’t notice any struggle at all…” In such a case, of course there is no struggle because the demons need not bother with one in such a state. Monastic literature speaks constantly of how material complacency is an enemy of the spiritual life, that it deadens the fear of the Lord, of how it lulls the soul into a torpor, and how one goes on to become little better than the beasts. I often wonder if that is not was has happened with us in the modern world, if we have not become too soft, too puny, too lethargic due to all the comfort that is available to us if only we have the ability to purchase it.

But if one does decide to be faithful to one’s baptismal vows, if one does decide to take up the standard of Christ, then one will see how much of a struggle the Christian life is, not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. Are there not days when one can almost feel the struggle within? Days when it is as if a fierce war is being waged in one’s heart, that temptations of all sorts come in wave after wave, that the passions inflame, either individually or in concert, and beat down relentlessly upon one’s heart? And in these moments one realises how utterly fragile, utterly weak one is, and one’s only defence is to cry out “O God come to my assistance; o Lord make haste to help me”! No, spiritual warfare is not only the portion of the monastic.

monk-crux

We fight then to attain peace, but this peace is not the absence of conflict. The conflict will be within till our last dying breath, for the Enemy is a relentless one and will not give quarter until then end. Paradoxically, we are fighting so that we may die in order to live. We are putting to death the Old Man each and every day, so that the New Man may be born within and, in His being born, bring us to life.

 

 

 

The Psalms and the married life [I]

The Introit of the Missa pro sponsis is one of my favourite Gregorian chants, perhaps since it made quite the impression on me on our wedding day (when I walked into the church the choir was rehearsing it, and the acoustics of the place really hit home).

Deus Israel conjungat vos, et ipse sit vobiscum, qui misertus est duobus unicis: et nunc, Domine, fac eos plenius benedicere te.  Ps. Beati omnes qui timent Dominum: qui ambulant in viis ejus.

Unfortunately, I tend to glance over the psalm verse that goes with the Introit at Mass, paying more attention to the opening verse. Only very recently, then, did it dawn on me that I know the psalm from which the verse of this particular Introit was taken: I encounter it several times a week when praying None according to the Monastic Diurnal. The Psalm in question is Psalm 127, Beati omnes. This Psalm figures in a few of the Propers of the nuptial votive Mass and can be found in quite a few other uses’ and rites’ nuptial votive Mass: the Bragan use is very similar to the Roman, and as such the Psalm verse appears in the same places; a 16th century Ambrosian sacramentary shows the entire Psalm being said during the nuptial blessing, while the missal has some Propers taken from it; the Byzantine rite also has recourse to Psalm 127.

What is this Psalm then? What does it have to say about Matrimony that it should find its way into so many matrimonial rites? While the imagery about the married life is pretty straightforward, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to offer a Christological reflection.

icon2bof2bchrist252c2bthe2bbridegroom2band2bmary252c2bthe2bbride2bchurch2bsacro2bspeco-cropped

[1] Beati omnes qui timent Dominum, qui ambulant in viis ejus.
[2] Labores manuum tuarum quia manducabis, beatus es, et bene tibi erit.
[3] Uxor tua sicut vitis abundans, in lateribus domus tuae; filii tui sicut novellae olivarum in circuitu mensae tuae.
[4] Ecce sic benedicetur homo qui timet Dominum.
[5] Benedicat tibi Dominus ex Sion, et videas bona Jerusalem omnibus diebus vitae tuae;
[6] et videas filios filiorum tuorum, pacem super Israel.

[1] The bridegroom in this Psalm is Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom. He is the one that is Blessed, the Holy One; He is the one who not only walks in the ways of the Lord, but is the Way.

[2] To be content to eat the labours of one’s hands means that the fruit of one’s labours are good. This signifies that all that Christ does is good. Christ himself said that His food is to do the will of His Father.

[3] Because the Chuch is the Mystical Body of Christ she can be said to be the fruitful vine as well, as her Bridegroom is the Vine. She is fruitful because she abides in Him. The Church is Our Lord’s spouse, having been born of His side, just as Eve was taken from Adam’s, while both slept. And just as a vine can only grow having support, so the Church grows from the life-giving wound on His side from which she was born. The fruit of the vine is wine, which is His Blood, His Life, and that is which the Church mediates to all men. We adopted sons and daughters, though we are part of the Bride, are mystically the sons and daughters of the Church as well; we are the fruit of the love between the Bridegroom and His beloved. We are as young olive trees, that is, we are to give fruit which will become oil – if we be fruitful, then we will become conduits for the Lord’s grace. The table is a reference to that of the wedding feast of the Lamb, where all who are fruitful will gather around. We see here a reference to a garden – we are reminded of Eden. Christ is the New Adam, and just as the Old before the Fall, His is to guard and till it, so that it be fruitful and multiply.

[5,6] The Lord blesses Him from Sion, that is, from the most Holy of Holies, from the sanctuary not made by human hands. Christ is in the Father, and the Father in Him, and so these He receives all the blessings which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, but which are stored up for those who love Him. He is the Beloved, Only-Begotten Son. He shall see the good of the Jerusalem, that is, the heavenly Jerusalem, all the days of His life because Death has no dominion over Him; His children’s children are the multitude of the saints, which are with Him in this heavenly Jerusalem.

unknownchristthebridegroomandthechurchhisbridefrompetruscomestorbiblehistorialekoninklijkebibliotheekthehague1372

Linking this back to Ephesians 5 (specifically, the pericope which has had such an important impact on our understanding of Matrimony), what are we as a couple supposed to take away from the Psalm? As a husband (and at the moment the only bread-winner for the household), I have to provide for my family while walking the Lord’s ways. I may not being doing the job I’d love to, or even the one I studied for, but I have to do His will where I am now, in my concrete situation. The daily bread I earn must be gotten honestly, through honest work, no matter how “below me” I might at times be tempted to think it is (and it is during those times that the words of the Rule on humility come to mind, about accepting whatever task is set before one). To do what is right, to stay the straight and narrow, when all around one sees corners being cut, is not something within one’s own power. How many times do I fall because I think I can do it on my own? And yet, in accepting what is, in eating the sweat of the brow, a certain peace is to be found. My spouse is to be at my side, to find support in me, to grow in holiness, and in growing to help support myself as well. Our love is to be a fruitful one, open to life; children are to be welcome always. Though they be “ours”, in truth we are only their stewards; ultimately, they belong to God. We are to till and guard them, that they may grow and bear fruit. The most important part of that is passing on the Faith to them. We are the olive trees as well, and as olives are pressed to give  healing chrism, so through our daily trails, we hope to be channels of Our Lord’s grace to them, so that they in turn may be to others. We try to conform to one another, to love each other more perfectly, so that we too may one day, when we have reached the end of this time of trial, by God’s grace, may be introduced into the heavenly tabernacle; we try to love eachother so that we may find Christ in one another, and that others may find the love of Christ for His Church in us.