Pax Christi [II]

Today I return to a theme I touched upon some time ago and which, even though I never got back to it, has been lingering in my mind. The Gospel pericope from two Sundays ago brought it to the fore once more, particularly this bit:

Jesus came, and stood in the midst and said to them: Peace be to you. And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you.

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This Pax vobis, along with the priest’s Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum, got me to thinking yet again about Christ’s peace. While for some time I thought that this might be some kind of interior peace, a kind of absence of struggle, reading the Fathers and the lives of other saints disabused me of such erroneous notions. Having written already about the interior struggle, I won’t go over that again; rather, I would like to focus this time on Christ.
Our Lord, in John’s Gospel, gives the Apostles His peace both before His betrayal (in the context of the institution of the Eucharist) and after His resurrection. In the context of the Mass the Pax comes right after the embolism, and before the Agnus Dei: both are entreaties to be free of sin. In the old rite, when the Pax is given, it descends from the altar – which is a figure of Christ as well – being given hierarchically as well as mediated.

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So what is this peace that Christ gives us? It is His salvific work, it is redemption. In short, it is the peace between God and Man, the broken relation having been restored.

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We read in St. Paul:

And through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, making peace through the blood of His Cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven. And you, whereas you were some time alienated and enemies in mind in evil works: Yet now He hath reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted, and blameless before Him [..] (Col. 1:20-22)

Being justified therefore by faith, let us have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: By Whom also we have access through faith into this grace, wherein we stand, and glory in the hope of the glory of the sons of God. (Rm 5:1-2)

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son; much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. And not only so; but also we glory in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rm 5:10-11)

For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in His flesh: Making void the law of commandments contained in decrees; that He might make the two in Himself into one new man, making peace; And might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, killing the enmities in Himself. (Eph. 2:14-16)

It is through Christ that Man can finally be at peace with God, that Man may be God’s “friend” once more, as it was in the beginning, when they walked together in the Garden. His peace is the shedding of His precious Blood, as the Paschal Lamb, which keeps the exterminating angel at bay, returning to us life everlasting; it is the outpouring of water from His pierced side, by which one crosses from the land of sin and death into that of milk and honey and life.
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Christ’s peace is the foundation of all the Instruments of Good Works, but I think especially of the last one – to never despair of the mercy of God. Being at peace for the Christian is not some inner feeling of tranquility or of stillness; it is not even being at peace with oneself. I would go so far to say that if one is at peace with oneself, if there is no inner struggle, then something is not right. As said above, peace for the Christian is being reconciled to God, it is living in a way that Christ lives within us. We should never despair of the mercy of God because Christ has bridged the chasm; He has redeemed us from bondage; He has manifested the Father’s hesed, His charitas towards Man. This is something worth meditating during Paschaltide.

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In media res

We find ourselves midway through Lent already! This Sunday, known as Laetare Sunday, is one of reprieve amidst the somberness of Lent (even if the Great Fast isn’t kept as rigorously as in former times), with the violet vestments giving way to rose, the ancient Roman colour of joy. Many of the texts for the Propers are taken from the Gradual Psalms (or, Songs of Ascent), psalms which are believed to have been sung by Jewish pilgrims as they reached Jerusalem and the Temple during the three great pilgrimage feasts of the Old Testament. While they are psalms of joy, they are intimately bound to Jerusalem; today’s stational church is that of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, a church built to house a relic of the True Cross and filled with soil brought over from Jerusalem!

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I found the imagery present in the Latin of today’s collect quite beautiful. The English gives us: “Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that we who justly suffer for our sins may find relief in the help of Your grace”; however, if one were to translate the final part of the oration – tuæ grátiæ consolatióne respirémus – literally, it would be something like “[we] may breathe the consolation of Your grace.” This “breathing grace which consoles” invokes in me images of the Divine Breath, the Holy Spirit, Who is the Paraclete, the Consoler; it is the Paraclete dwelling within us Who vivifies us; just as with Adam, so does God breathe back Life into us as we make our way through this earthly life. This reference to the Holy Spirit seems quite fitting at this particular stational church, as it is through Christ’s Passion and Death upon the Holy and Life Giving Cross that He then Resurrected and Ascended to the Father in order to send us the Consoler. Read more

A third regeneration (II)

As mentioned in the previous post, our third son’s baptism got me thinking about Baptism in general. I’d like to share some loose thoughts on this today.

Recently someone propose the following exercise: describe Baptism using only three words. While most of the answers heard were “original sin” and “washing” and “creation”, yet the words “death” and “resurrection” did not feature much. What happens at Baptism? Is it just an outward washing that effects an interior purification, a “cleaning of the stain of original sin”, or is it something much more? And are we looking at the Scriptures – especially Genesis – to find out what it is that we believe?

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The Spirit hovering over the waters

Let us look at what the Liturgy has to tell us. I have previously written about the blessing of the baptismal font during the Paschal Vigil.  The blessing mentions the Spirit hovering over the water; the admixture of the Holy Oils emphasize visually the presence of the Holy Spirit within the waters (oil being a symbol for the selfsame Spirit); the prayer mentions over and over regeneration. If we are paying attention to all this, and if we have a decent foundation in the Scriptures, we should realize that Baptism is pointing us back to Genesis, back to the very beginning of Creation. In the first chapter of Genesis, the Spirit hovers over the primordial waters and brings life from them. In fact, throughout the Scriptures we see this motif of death/water-new creation/life repeated several times, most notably in the story of Noah, as well as in the Exodus. So, in Baptism, we are not just being washed of our sin – we are being made anew. The image and likeness of God, marred by the Old Adam’s sin, is regenerated in us thanks to our participation in the Death and glorious Resurrection of the New Adam. The New Adam is the obedient son, sent to fulfill the Father’s plan for Creation that the Old Adam, in his disobedience, caused to go wrong.

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The Spirit hovering over the waters

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A third regeneration (I)

This past Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, saw the baptism of our third child. I find it providential that he should have been baptized at the beginning of this penitential season for two reasons.

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The first reason is that our child’s middle name is Ezequiel, a saint of the Old Covenant during the Babylonian exile who called upon Israel to repent, especially those who were already in exile and were still hard of heart and stiff necked.  In the Book of Ezekiel we are told of how the Lord took the prophet, who was in Babylon, by the hair, to the Temple in Jerusalem. There the Lord showed him how the people of Israel continued to provoke Him – through His priests – by committing adultery with foreign gods: i.e., by offering sacrifices and worship to idols in the Temple alongside the Lord.

And he said to me: Surely thou hast seen, O son of man: is this a light thing to the house of Juda, that they should commit these abominations which they have committed here: because they have filled the land with iniquity, and have turned to provoke me to anger?

The priests then lead the people astray:

Because they have deceived my people, saying: Peace, and there is no peace: and the people built up a wall, and they daubed it with dirt without straw.

I don’t think it is stretching it here to see an application of lex orandi, lex credendi: the priests, no longer worshiping as they should – as the Lord commanded of them – then began to believe and practice abominable things, leading those they were in charge of, those whom they were supposed to lead to God, down a path that pushed the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence) from out of their midst. As a novice oblate belonging to a Benedictine community which has as one of its charisms to pray for priests and to make reparation for them, and looking at the situation of the Church in my home country, this message of Ezekiel resonates deeply with me.

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Alleluia, dulce carmen

After I Vespers of Septuagesima Sunday the family had a small burial service for the Alleluia at home. The eldest helped out with the arts and crafts side of things. We put a paper with the word “Alleluia” written on it into a “coffin”, then processed to the place where the “coffin” will lay until the Paschal Vigil; all the while incense was burned to the sound of the ancient hymn Alleluia dulce carmen. At the end we sang a triple Alleluia (such as can be heard here, and was pretty much the only Gregorian chant one heard in the parishes we attended back home). We hope with these small things to start inculcating in the children a sense of the liturgical year, of getting them to measure the seasons by the Church’s feasts.
Forelent is upon us; the Great Fast will soon be here!

Castitatem amare

The recent birth of another child as well as the reading of Chapter IV (Tools of Good Works) made me think once more upon the 64th tool: “to love chastity”. Why does St. Benedict dedicate so few words to this topic? I suspect it has to do with the time-tested advice of the Fathers: in the case of temptations to unchastity, one must simply flee; to engage thoughts of this nature expecting to overcome them is to have already lost the battle. There is no need to list ways for the monks to be chaste; to do so might bring up thoughts that would endanger it.
Our holy father simply asks that we “love chastity”. St. Thomas lists 8 effects of unchastity and chastity:

Unchastity
1) blindness of mind; 2) rashness; 3) thoughtlessness; 4) inconstancy; 5) inordinate self–love; 6) hatred of God; 7) excessive love of this world; and 8) despair.

Chastity
1) spiritual clearsightedness; 2) prudence; 3) reflectiveness; 4) constancy; 5) self–sacrificing love; 6) affection for God; 7) detachment from this passing world; and 8) hope.

Chastity will help us be pure in heart; it will help us grow in charity towards our neighbor. We submit our will to the Word of God so that we might be shaped by It, revealing the Christ into Whose Death and Resurrection we have been baptized. We are to love chastity – to be chaste – because our Redeemer was chaste. Chastity in marriage enables one to see one’s spouse as a person, as one’s helper, and to reflect the chaste love of Christ and His Mystical Bride.
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‘Tis the season to say “Yes”

While Advent is quickly coming to an end this year, with even the final Sunday being suppressed by the Vigil of the Nativity, I’ve been wondering of late why the Church presents to us during this season the veterotestamental figures of the prophets Sts. Isaiah and John the Forerunner as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There is an obvious reason for this choice: the saints pointing directly to the coming Christ. St. John the Forerunner prepared the people of Israel, calling them to repentance in the imminent advent of the Christ; the Blessed Mother served as a worthy tabernacle to Our Lord; St. Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah through both – “a virgin shall conceive” and “the voice of one crying in the desert”.

I would, however, venture another reason. These saints are chosen by the Church for this season, not only because they point so intimately to the advent of Christ, but also because of their unreserved “yes” to God, their immediate self-oblation to the Lord as soon as he requires them. Read more

Advent and the Prologue

Advent has come once more, bringing with it a new liturgical year. In a sense, we start afresh, partaking yet again of the graces given to us by “Christ in His mysteries”, as Bl. Columba Marmion was wont speak of the events in Our Lord’s life. In the parlance of the Desert Fathers, it is time “to make a beginning”.

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Since becoming a novice oblate and reading the Holy Rule regularly I have come to see Advent as the season which best embodies the Prologue. From the first Epistle reading of the season we have St. Paul calling us to arise:

Understand, for it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe.

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Set a watch, O LORD, before my keyboard

Certain events over the last couple of weeks seem to have coalesced to bring about this post. Some time ago we received Father Prior’s “Benedictine Approach to the Use of the Internet & Social Media“; shortly thereafter our reading of the Introduction to the Devout Life brought us to the chapters on conversations and detractions; this past week saw some celebrations of the vetus ordo at the Fatima shrine, the main celebrant being a well known American cardinal. The flood of invective on Portuguese social media on the part of the laity and, even worse, priests has brought all the more to mind St. Benedict, St. Francis de Sale and Father Prior’s words on silence.

Perhaps it is the age we are living in, or perhaps it is just my impression, but it seems that we live in a time when most people seem to be very opinionated and they make a fact of letting everyone know their opinions whether others want to know them or not. Yet looking to the Holy Rule for guidance, what does the Holy Patriarch have to say about much speaking? In Chapter VI, after quoting the Scriptures St. Benedict puts the matter quite succinctly:

[I]f at times we ought to refrain from useful speech for the sake of silence, how much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin.

While the Rule is essentially directed at those living the cenobitic life, general rules can be taken from it that can be applied to the lives of those of us living in the world, as D. Mark Kirby shows the aforementioned commentary. One of the verses of Sacred Scripture that I am most reminded of is

In the multitude of words there shall not want sin: but he that refraineth his lips is most wise. (Prov 10:19)

Looking back at St. Benedict’s injunction to refrain from talking even for “useful speech” through the lens of Proverbs 10:19, I can look back at everyday situations in my life where conversations (be they in person or online) that start out innocent enough many times slowly begin to degrade: a complaint is made here, a fault of another is revealed there, and the conversation suddenly snowballs, leading either one or both parties to murmuring, sinning against charity, etc. And this is not even when the conversation has started off maliciously! On those occasions where one happens to be caught in a situation of gossip, I have found that if one doesn’t extract oneself immediately then one is easily sucked into a whirlpool of complaint, detraction, etc., even if one was initially unwilling to join in at all.

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Christ the King

Today was the feast of Christ the King for those of us following the vetus ordo calendar. To be honest, it is not a feast I ever really gave any serious consideration to either on the vetus or novus calendars. This year, however, for whatever reason, the feast has merited a bit more of my attention. This post will be a collection of lose thoughts about what we are commemorating today.

I suspect that the annual threefold reading of the Holy Rule might have something to do with the feast’s grabbing my attention as in the Prologue our Holy Patriarch says that those who submit to it take up arms “to battle for Christ the Lord, the true King”; later on in the Rule he mentions the acceptance of good monks from other monasteries because they “all serve one Lord and fight under one King everywhere”; the Kingdom of God is mentioned throughout the Rule, a kingdom that must be fought for.

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I must say that for a long time I understood this feast of Christ the King as just an “eschatological” feast, pointing to Chirst’s Parousia, His Second Coming, when He shall come as Judge to “judge the living and the dead and the age by fire” [this ending of quite a few prayers of exorcism has always stuck in my head]. Yet lately I’ve found myself wondering about the “immediate” implications of Chirst’s kingship, of what that means for us while we’re in the world. The Epistle reading today mentions:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him, and He is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together. [..]He, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the first place. For it has pleased [God the Father] that in Him all fullness should dwell […]

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