For the children

Since last year we have bought a couple of these magnets every time we visit Fatima. I think we probably enjoy them more than the kids! Here are the one’s we have so far:

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Left to right: St. Benedict (a well known Portuguese image, S. Bento da Porta Aberta); St. Anthony of Lisbon; St. Jude; St. Christopher; St. Therese of the Holy Face
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Left to right: Our Lady of Fatima; Senhor dos Milagres; Our Lady of Sameiro (which is actually of the Immaculate Conception); St. Michael the Archangel
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Pilgrimage

While on holiday back home I decided that, being the centenary, it was a good occasion to go on pilgrimage to Fatima. For several reasons the family could not accompany me so, as head of the family, I did the pilgrimage on their behalf as well.

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The pilgrimage took up all of one morning, as my wife’s city is not that far from Fatima. As traveling companions I had my Monastic Diurnal, a rosary, and a branch for a walking stick (and protection as well – lot’s of stray dogs on the way!). After praying the Itinerarium I set off. It took me about an hour to get to the city outskirts, out in the countryside. Once out there it was just the sounds of nature and the occasional automobile. Living in a big city and in a very small house with two little children, one doesn’t have many opportunities for complete silence during the day. The silence was like a breath of fresh air. You might say it was a very Marian/”Fatimite” pilgrimage. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so many consecutive rosaries in all my life! At the churches on the way, I would stop to make a “pilgrimage of the altars” (a somewhat forgotten practice in Portugal which, from what I’ve read, is of Benedictine origin), as well as visit the Blessed Sacrament to pray the prayers taught by the Angel of Portugal. One can still find many “Alminhas” – shrines to the Holy Souls in Purgatory – on the country roads; prayers were offered for them as well. When I finally arrived at Fatima I went to Mass at the basilica. After Mass I went to pray at the tombs of the “new” saints, Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto. The ambiance in the basilica left much to be desired, however. Instead of being a place of silence, of recollection, of prayer, there was incessant chatter, people answering their mobiles during Mass… Around the tombs were groups of people, each person shoving and groping, trying to get a better view… There is a certain irony in the fact that while these groups were there to pay homage to two young saints who had a deep understanding and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, they showed such a nonchalant attitude, passing in front of the tabernacle with no acknowledgement whatsoever, and even going so far as to turn their back on it to take selfies…

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At the risk of sounding cliché, the pilgrimage was a very much a condensed version of one’s life, especially the Christian life. My companions – the Wood, symbolic of the Cross, there to support me and to be my protection if there was any danger; the Rosary, the “poor man’s psalter”, the recourse to constant prayer, to recollection. The silence gave one time to reflect on life, especially recent events, of vices overcome, of other ongoing battles, of occasions to be thankful for. The unforgiving heat and the upward paths provided more than enough penance and mortification, symbolic of the hardship and struggles in daily life. The mind would occasionally wander; at times the thought “what do you think you’re doing? Are you crazy? What do you hope to accomplish with this madness?” would race through my mind, like a pesky gnat buzzing around; at others, thoughts of the world would make me forget why I was on this pilgrimage. Always, it was necessary to return to prayer, to focus on what was being done and why. At the end of the road the Eucharist, the Communion of the Saints, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

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Alminhas

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Church of St. Catherine

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Tombs of St. Jacinta Marto and Bl. Lucia
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The tomb of St. Francisco Marto

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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…?

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“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.

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.

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[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.

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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 each other so that we may find Christ in one another, and that others may find the love of Christ for His Church in us.

Benedictine roots

We returned home for my holidays, taking advantage of the time to do some Benedictine-related tourism. We visited two important places – the Royal Abbey of Alcobaça (formerly Cistercian) and the Monastery of Tibães. It is of this latter that I want to write about today.

The (former) Monastery of St. Martin of Tibães is located in Mire de Tibães, on the outskirts of the city of Braga, in northern Portugal. The monastery was founded in the 11th century, having been built upon an earlier cenobitic edifice. In the 16th century is was chosen as the “mother house” for the Benedictine order in Portugal and Brazil. Portugal had an agreement with the Holy See (much like Spain) called the Padroado, which, grosso modo, meant the state’s/crown’s resources were used in missionary activity in exchange for the crown chosing bishops for mission territory. Many of the bishops chosen for Brazil during this period were chosen from among the monks (of noble birth, it seems) of Tibães. I am curious as to the rationale behind this, as I’ve only ever heard of monastic bishops in the Eastern Churches. To accomodate the growing number of monks as well as its growing influence and prestige, the monastery underwent renovation up until the 19th century, ending up as an example of Portuguese Rococo. In the mid-19th century, with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Portugal, the monastery fell into the State’s hands and was auctioned (excepting the sacristy, church, and cemetery), resulting later on in its near complete ruin. It was bought by the State again in the 1980’s and has since been under renovation.

The monastery functions mostly as a museum now. Interested as I am in liturgical matters, it saddened me to find no mention of the Portuguese Benedictines’ liturgical rite – the rite of Tibães – which they used in all their monasteries and institutions up until the Dissolution. Given the rite’s relationship with the Bragan rite, I hope to write about it some time in the near future on my blog dedicated to the Bragan rite.

Given that we are novice Benedictine oblates, I wanted to visit our Portuguese Benedictine roots. The Benedictines were very important in the country’s history, especially in its foundation. It was a privilege to visit this former Benedictine house. Wandering through the corridors I tried to imagine what it might have been like in its heyday, what the sounds and smells might have been. It also saddened me to see it not serving its original function, to know that such a great house had reached such disrepair, that it was not allowed to “die” naturally, if it were to die at all. In the end, it serves as a reminder that all things in this world are fleeting…

I leave you with some pictures my wife took (I can’t be trusted to take any – I just gawk):

 

On Matrimony – the yoke and martyrdom

Our wedding anniversary is fast approaching and, as several friends’ marriages colapse and crumble, the meaning of Matrimony is something that is presently on my mind.

I proposed to my wife one year after we started dating. Before I met her, the married life was the farthest thing from my mind, but then the Lord has a way of pointing out the path when you continuously hit your head against the same wall. In a way, I was important in re-introducing her back to the Church, while she was pivotal in my becoming more “vocal” about my faith.
Our preparations hit a major obstacle which postponed our wedding 6 months. Not desiring to go into details, it should suffice to say that we had to run the metaphorical gauntlet because of the rite we desired. Over these 6 months I would frequently tell my (hopefully) wife-to-be that we would either come through this trial together, strengthened in our faith, or “we” would not come through it at all. The experience was not something I would wish on anybody getting ready to marry, but the Lord came through in the end (as He did in so many other ways for our wedding), and all that we suffered because of it – both before and after – helped to deepen the bond between us and to grow in faith and trust in Providence.

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While other liturgical matrimonial rites (I am thinking of, for example, the Mozarabic and Byzantine) are rich in symbolism, the Roman rite is rather restrained. And yet there is one very subtle detail about the vetus ordo matrimonial rite which, as rich as it is, may easily go unnoticed by the aliturgical eye. I am speaking of the bride and groom entering the sanctuary. This might not seem a big deal, but those familiar with the vetus ordo will know that laity are not allowed within the sanctuary. The only occasion that a layman might enter, apart from ordination, would be on their wedding day. What is the big deal about such an insignificant detail, you might ask. We must remember that, liturgically, the sanctuary represents the sancta sanctorum, the Holy of Holies. When the couple enters into the sanctuary, where the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice, to exchange vows, what are they doing? It is not a mere blessing that they are receiving up there (though there is a blessing in the Mass that follows). No, they are taking their eros – their natural love – and offering it to God, that He may take it and transform it into a supernatural love. The couple exchange their vows – they sacrifice themselves for one another, so to speak – before the altar, so that the Lord might take it up and reveal its true meaning. When they come back from the sanctuary, they are not merely “husband and wife”. They are now an icon of Chirst and the Church. Just as Christ offers up his body for the Church at the altar, so too does the couple offer eachother themselves.

When people ask me what marriage is about I tend to reply: “martyrdom”. It always elicts surprise and shock. And while I might say it for the shock effect, (hopefully) the person asking will then ask what I mean by such a cryptic answer.
In my language, we can refer to our spouse as “conjuge”; the English language has “conjugal” as an adjective that relates to the married state. Why do I bring this up? Because of the etymology of the word. These words derive from the Latin conjungere – to be joined. A litteral translation would be “co-yoked”. The married couple is now “co-yoked”. They have both put on that same easy yoke which is the Cross. The couple’s life in common is now supposed to be an image of Christ and the Church. They must give witness – martys – of this reality in their everyday life. And everyday married life, especially after children come along, provides abundant occasions for mortification.

While there are plently of natural reasons for why Matrimony is indissoluble and must be open to life, I prefer to take a different approach to the matter, which I think is a valid approach.
If the couple now represents Christ and the Church, then it necessarily follows that their union must be indissoluble, for the Church is born of Christ’s side, just as Eve was of Adam’s, and Christ is ever-faithful to the flesh of His flesh. As for openness to life, just as the Church is generous in generating spiritual children, bringing them forth from her womb which is the baptismal font, so the couple must be generous.
Why this approach? I think part of our current crisis of faith is the inability to look at things liturgically. We do not see our lives as liturgy.

Is this just fanciful thinking? I think not.

As we prepared for that blessed day, the ill-reputed Ephesians pericope became the lense through which we were to see and understand the sacrament we were to “confect”, so much so that we had inscribed in the interior of our wedding bands “Ephesians 5”. I think it is worth recalling the pericope in question:

Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church.

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It is from here that we get the understanding of Matrimony as icon. Hearing subjection refered to in the above-mentioned pericope might make some cringe and think it out-dated, but that would only be in the case of a faulty reading. One reads “women be subject to their husbands” and stops right there; one does not see the context in which it is said. Because we have a fallen understanding of subjection, we see it as a question of dominance, of power, of injustice. Yet if we don’t stop there, if we continue the reading we will see that the Church is subject to Christ as well. Does Christ “lord it over” the Church? Is the Church’s subjection to Him a humiliation, an injustice? Matrimony is about a mutual submission (and the Ephesian pericope’s greater context is just that – mutual subjection, though there may be heirarchical distinctions). Even in the Holy Rule we see that the Abbot must adapt himself to his monks for their salvation – is this not a form of subjection, even though they are subject to him? It is not, as certain would say, misogynistic, for even though both are helping the other in their sanctification, the greater burden seems to be placed on the husband. And if one reads the encyclicals on Matrimony (Arcanum and Casti Conubii, for example), the woman’s dignity and companionship is always stressed, as well as the husband’s responsibility to be as Christ.

We need to figure out how to apply this in our specific circumstances.

It surprises me that however often the subject of the Mandatum, the washing of feet, comes up, one rarely, if ever, hears mention of Matrimony to it. The washing of feet is rich in layers of meaning, especially depending on its context, so I don’t see why one cannot “adopt” it into the matrimonial context. When we finally got home on our wedding day it was something that came to my mind quite naturally. While it was done in silence, I think we both knew the meaning of what was being done in that context, especially given that part that Ephesians 5 plays in the understanding of our matrimonial vocation.

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Not us.

In closing, I would like to share this beautiful exhortation from the end of the Bragan rite’s Missa pro sponso et sponsa. At the end, the priest places the bride’s hand into the groom’s and says:

Frate, accipe conjugm tuam, et delige eam ut carnem tuam. Et trado tibi uxorem et non ancillam: tu autem custodi et dilige eam sicut Christus Ecclesiam: et ambulate in Pace. In nomine Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Brother, receive your wife and love her as your own flesh. For I give you a spouse  and not a slave: you, then, must guard and love her as Christ the Church. Go in peace.

Thy face, O Lord, will I still seek.

On Pascha we were finally able to set up our new vigil lamp for our Mandylion icon (or, as is quantly written on it, “The Holy Napkin”). (If the Mandylion is the same thing as the Veil of Veronica, I don’t know – I’ll leave that to the experts, as there seems to be disagreement on the matter.)
We had been thinking about getting an icon of the Holy Face for quite some time now, given our relationship with Silverstream Priory and its very apropos entitled blog Vultus Christi. As mentioned before, one of the Benedictines of Silverstream’s charisms is Eucharistic adoration. Father prior has spoken many times of the “Eucharistic face” of Jesus. Catholicism is a fulfillment of “Temple Judaism”. It is not a mere coincidence that the “shew bread”, or “bread of the presence” was also called “bread of the face”. Can we see this as a type of which the Eucharistic Body of Our Lord is an antitype? I believe so. But, I digress… To sum up, the relation between the Eucharist and the Holy Face was what led us to chose this icon (which was most graciously gifted to us by a dear friend); adding a vigil lamp before it serves us even more as a reminder of that relation, recalling to our memory the vigil lamps kept in the vicinity of tabernacles containing the sacred hosts.

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My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek.

Ps 26:8

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Adolescens juxta viam suam

Trying to bring children up in the Faith makes me realize just how much, more than words, example of life is necessary.

Saying grace before meals was something that neither I nor my wife grew up with. After we got married it was a habit that we both struggled to acquire, but eventually we got there. Who knew something so simple could take so much effort? Perhaps the greatest obstacle to overcome was human respect. “What will people think of us making the sign of the cross and praying before eating?”; “we will stand out”; “what will our families say?”… All these ideas echoed in our heads, as if pleasing others (or being accepted by them) was more important than giving thanks to the Lord. However, one’s brokenness and insecurities (especially if they are of a psychological nature) do not disappear overnight, and all one can do at times is to simply “face the beast”, putting the matter into the Lord’s hands, hoping He will strengthen our resolve.

Little did we know later on how much those observing eyes of our little daughter were taking in. As she grew she slowly started to try to start to cross herself when we sat down to eat (she’s almost got the gesture completely figured out), and with time she learned to mumble in her own little language something in which one can make out “Bless…Christ…Amen.” When her brother came along, in the beginning she would point an accusing finger at him, as though to say “look, he isn’t saying grace” (I think she’s now come to understand that he’s too young). When we had relatives over or were visiting them, she would look at them and not cross herself until they did as well… Saying grace has become something so second nature to her that if we do happen to forget she’ll remind us.

I can’t remember when she started going to the holy water font by herself, but I’m sure that she saw us do it over and over and realized that it’s something you do when you enter a church. She still hasn’t realized though that you’re only supposed to do it once and not keep going back to the font over and over  to splash holy water on your forehead (no matter how many times we shoo her away from the font). The same with genuflecting – she has now started to genuflect when entering a church (though not all the time). It was quite curious to see her in Wells’ cathedral this past week walking around genuflecting every few steps (until she finally realized that there was so much space that running was better…).

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How do children come to understand? What associations does she make in her mind to identify things as “religious things”? “Amen” is her word to identify “religious things”. If she sees icons, images of saints, or crosses she will say “amen”. She knows what books are, but if she sees our missal or breviary she won’t call them “book”, but rather “amen”. When she saw Wells’ cathedral from the outside she said “amen”, and then on another day she saw a church of completely different architecture and also called it “amen”. How does she know to distinguish? And what does “amen” even mean to her?

Examples of passing on the Faith aren’t only to be done with “pious gestures”, however important they might be. The spirit that gives them meaning must be cultivated and must become second nature to all of us. Examples of thanksgiving, of kindness, of forgiveness, and also of discipline. These things are a normal part of the upbringing of children I guess, but as Christian parents we have the obligation to give them a supernatural meaning, to help them see their life through the eyes of faith.

Obviously as she grows older she will need to be taught the meaning of these things, but the important thing at the moment is that good habits are developing at an early age. Hopefully as her brother grows he will learn not only from us but from her as well. In the meantime, their eyes are on us, for we are not parents for our own sake, but for Him who made the heavens and earth…