Sunday, December 25, 2011

God has come down from on High to appear as a Baby. Let us too come down from our high horse and bend down to see Him.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Midnight Mass
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
December 25, 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit,” which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – “there has appeared.” This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas.

Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of Him in all sorts of different ways. God Himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 – Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: He has appeared. He has revealed Himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which He dwells. He Himself has come into our midst.

This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is He merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of Him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared.”

But now we ask: how has He appeared? Who is He in reality?

The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God Himself might not be good either, that He too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany,” the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world.

“The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.

In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail:
“A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Is 9:5f.).
Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: His name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father.

We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And His peace “has no end.” The prophet had previously described the child as “a great light” and had said of the peace He would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4).

God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that He pits Himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace.

At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord:
O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.
Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of His great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings.

In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.).

For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection, Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: He had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God.

And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart. This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made Himself dependent, in need of human love, He put Himself in the position of asking for human love – our love.

Today, Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471).

Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – His goodness creates the true feast.

Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway, five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained.

The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down.

It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals Himself in the humility of a newborn baby.

In this spirit, let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals Himself to the simple of heart.

And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of His Son in a stable. Amen.

Venite Adoremus

Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte Regem angelorum.

Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,

Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Gestant puellae viscera.
Deum verum, genitum non factum.

Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,

Cantet nunc io chorus Angelórum
cantet nunc aula caelestium:
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,

Ergo qui natus die hodierna.
Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Patris aeterni Verbum caro factum.

Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Birth of He Who Makes All Things New is Not Something from the Past, but is Ever in the Present

Catechesis of Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, 21 December 2011

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am happy to welcome you to the General Audience just a few days from the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. The greeting on everyone's lips these days is 'Merry Christmas! Best wishes for the holidays!"

Let us do it in a way so that, even in our present society, the greeting we exchange does not lose its profound religious value, and that the celebration does not get absorbed by its exterior aspects but that they should touch the heartsrings.

Of course, the external signs are beautiful and important, as long as they do not take away from Christmas, but rather help us to live Christmas in its truest sense -- the sacred and Christian sense -- and cause our joy to be not superficial, but deep.

With the Christmas liturgy, the Church introduces us to the great Mystery of the Incarnation. Christmas, in fact, is not a mere anniversary of Jesus' birth -- it is also this, but it is more -- it is the celebration of a mystery that has marked and continues to mark mankind's history -- God Himself came to dwell among us (cf. John 1:14), He made Himself one of us; a mystery that concerns our faith and our very lives; a mystery that we experience concretely in the liturgical celebrations, especially in the Holy Mass.

One might ask: How can I live out now an event that took place so long ago? How can I take part fruitfully in the birth of the Son of God which took place more than 2000 years ago?

In the Holy Mass on Christmas Eve, we say the following refrain in the Responsorial Psalm: "Today the Savior is born to us." This adverb of time, "Today," which is used repeatedly throughout the Christmas celebrations, refers to the event of Jesus' birth and to the salvation that the incarnation of the Son of God comes to bring.

In the liturgy, this event transcends all the limits of space and time and becomes actual, present. Its effect continues, even amidst the passing of days, years and centuries. In indicating that Jesus is born "today," the liturgy does not use a meaningless phrase, but underscores that this birth affects and permeates the whole of history -- even today, it remains a reality to which we may attain, precisely in the liturgy. For believers, the celebration of Christmas renews our certainty that God is really present with us, still "flesh" and not far away: being with the Father as well as with us. In that Child born in Bethlehem, God drew near to man: we can encounter Him now -- in a "today" whose sun knows no setting.

I would like to stress this point, because modern man -- a man of "the sensible," of the empirically verifiable -- finds it increasingly more difficult to open his horizons and enter the world of God. The Redemption of mankind certainly took place at a precise and identifiable moment in history: in the event of Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus is the Son of God -- He is God Himself, who not only spoke to man, showed him wondrous signs and guided him throughout the history of salvation -- but became man and remains man. The Eternal entered into the limits of time and space, in order to make possible an encounter with Him "today."

The liturgical texts of Christmas help us to understand that the events of salvation wrought by Christ are always actual, and of interest to every man and of all mankind. When we hear or proclaim in the liturgy the words "Today a Savior is born to us," we are not using an empty conventional expression, rather, we mean that God offers us "today" -- now -- to me, to each one of us, the possibility of acknowledging and receiving Him like the shepherds in Bethlehem, so that He might be born in our lives and renew them, enlighten them, transform them by His grace, by His Presence.

Christmas, then, while commemorating Jesus' birth in the flesh of the Virgin Mary -- and numerous liturgical texts put before our eyes this or that event -- is an efficacious event for us. Pope St. Leo the Great, in presenting the profound meaning of the Feast of the Nativity, issued an invitation to the faithful with these words:
"Let us exult in the Lord, o my dear ones, and let us open our hearts to the purest joy, because there has dawned for us the day of ever-new redemption, of ancient preparation, of eternal bliss. For as the year rolls round, there recurs for us the commemoration of our salvation, which promised from the beginning and accomplished in the fullness of time, will endure for ever." (Sermon 22, In Nativitate Domini, 2,1; PL 54,193)
And again, in another Christmas homily St. Leo the Great affirms:
"Today the Maker of the world was born of a Virgin's womb, and He who made all things made Himself the son of a woman whom He Himself had created. Today the Word of God has become clothed in flesh, and That which had never been seen by human eyes was made visible and palpable. Today the shepherds learned from angels' voices that the Savior was born in the substance of our flesh and soul." (Sermon 26, In Nativitate Domini, 6,1; PL 54,213)
There is a second aspect that I would like to touch upon briefly. The event of Bethlehem should be considered in the light of the Paschal Mystery: The one and the other are part of the one redemptive work of Christ.

Jesus' incarnation and birth invite us to direct our gaze to His death and resurrection: Christmas and Easter are both feasts of the Redemption. Easter celebrates it as the victory over sin and death: It signals the final moment, when the glory of the Man-God shines forth as the light of day. Christmas celebrates it as God's entrance into history, His becoming man in order to restore man to God: It marks, so to speak, the initial moment when we begin to see the first light of dawn.

And just as the dawn precedes and presages the light of day, so Christmas already announces the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection.

Even the two times of year when we mark the two great feasts -- at least in some parts of the world -- can help us to understand this aspect. So, just as Easter comes at the start of spring, when the sun triumphs over fog and cold, and renews the face of the earth, Christmas falls at the start of winter, when the light and warmth of the sun are unable to reawaken nature, wrapped in cold. Under this blanket, however, life throbs and the victory of the sun and warmth begins again.

The Fathers of the Church always interpreted Christ's birth in the light of the whole work of Redemption, which finds its summit in the Paschal Mystery. The incarnation of the Son of God appears not only as the start and condition for salvation, but as the very presence of the mystery of our salvation. God becomes man, He is born a babe like us, He takes on our flesh to conquer death and sin.

Two important texts of St. Basil illustrate this well. St. Basil tells the faithful:
"God assumes flesh precisely to destroy death, which is hidden in all flesh. Just as the antidotes to a poison annul its effects once they are ingested, and just as the shadows in a house are dissipated by sunlight, so death which dominated human nature was destroyed by the presence of God. And as ice remains solid in water as long as night endures and darkness reigns, but melts at once by the sun's heat, so was death -- which had reigned until the coming of Christ -- as soon as the grace of God our Savior appeared, and the Sun of Justice arose, 'swallowed up in victory' (1 Cor. 15:54), being unable to coexist with Life." (Homily on the Birth of Christ, 2: PG 31,1461)
And again, in another text St. Basil issues this invitation:
"Let us celebrate the world's salvation and mankind's birth. Today Adam's guilt has been remitted. Now we need no longer say: 'you are dust and to dust you shall return' (Genesis 3:19), but rather: united to Him who descended from heaven, you shall be admitted into heaven. (Homily on the Birth of Christ, 6: PG 31,1473)
At Christmas, we encounter the tenderness and love of God who stoops down to our limitations, to our weaknesses, to our sins -- He lowers Himself to our level. St. Paul affirms that Jesus Christ "though He was in the form of God ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7). Let us look upon the cave of Bethlehem: God lowers Himself to the point of being laid in a manger -- which is already a prelude of His self-abasement in the hour of His Passion. The climax of the love story between God and man passes by way of the manger of Bethlehem and the sepulcher of Jerusalem.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us joyously live the feast of Christmas, which now draws near. Let us live this wondrous event: The Son of God again is born "today"; God is truly close to each one of us, and He wants to meet us -- He wants to bring us to Himself.

He is the true light which dispels and dissolves the darkness enveloping our lives and mankind. Let us live the Nativity of the Lord by contemplating the journey of God's immense love, which raised us to Himself through the mystery of the incarnation, passion, death and resurrection of His Son, for -- as St. Augustine affirms -- "In Christ, the divinity of the Only Begotten was made a partaker of our mortality, so that we might be made partakers of His immortality" (Letter 187,6,20: PL 33: 839-840).

Above all, let us contemplate and live this Mystery in the celebration of the Eucharist, the heart of Christmas, in which Jesus becomes truly present, true Bread descended from heaven, true Lamb sacrificed for our salvation.

To you and to your families, I wish a truly Christian celebration of Christmas, so that even your exchange of greetings on that day will be expressions of the joy of knowing that God is near and wants to accompany us along life's journey.

Thank you.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas is Family Time -- So Come Be With Your Family For Christmas

We've got ten, count 'em, ten Masses to choose from.


Christmas Eve - Saturday, December 24th ~
4:00 pm - Vigil Mass
6:00 pm - Vigil Mass
11:30 pm - Lessons & Carols ~ 12:00 am - Midnight Mass
9:30 pm - Misa Noche Buena (Spanish)

Christmas Day - Sunday, December 25th ~
7:30 am, 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 12:30 pm, 5:00 pm
2:00 pm - (Spanish)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the Existence of Santa Claus

Over at Conversion Diary, the always great Jennifer Fulwiler asks the Santa Clause question.

Guilty confession: We do Santa at our house, but I have misgivings about it. In theory, I think it’s a great tradition. . . . I’m trying to like Santa here. But in practice it just feels kind of weird. On the one hand, I don’t want to associate Santa too closely with Jesus, since, well, one is more real than the other. On the other hand, it’s a constant battle not to let the guy with the shiny gifts overshadow the humble baby in the manger. As much as I try to emphasize Santa as Jesus’ helper, a Christian saint, etc. the pop culture images of him as THE AWESOME DUDE WITH THE INFINITE GIFT-GIVING POWER seem to trump in my children’s collective subconscious.

There are many good comments regarding children and Santa Claus. One mother pointed out a danger about Santa, when her daughter told her, "you told us the Tooth Fairy and Santa were real, and they’re not. So, it’s hard for me to believe God is real.” I responded,

Santa is real, just as God is real. But one is metaphor and the other is the real deal.

Properly understood, “Santa” is not the commercialized guy of the materialistic modern world, but is instead an icon of the Son of God Himself and, hence, a model for us.

Another comment said, "My husband said yesterday, 'This whole debate is crazy. No one is LYING. Santa IS real. He’s a mythical character who represents the spirit of anonymous giving.' Pretty wise, I thought." In response, I wrote,

This is largely right. A better word would be metaphorical or symbolic, rather than mythical.

“Santa Claus” is indeed real — he is representative of the giving and joy that we are each called to, and which originates in God giving Himself to us on Christmas morning.

The only problem is in not locking yourself in by presenting Santa in such a fashion that one cannot then later explain exactly who “Santa” is. Yes, he was an actual real historical person by the name of Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6 (see below). And the clothes that he wears (red suit, white lining) are the real historical clothes worn by bishops. But the “Santa” of today is you and me. Santa is us, who are called to give to others.

Thus, it is probably wise, when kids see all the various “Santas” at the mall, to explain that that is not really Santa, but “Santa’s helper.” That can bridge the gap to later telling the children that “Santa” is symbolic, that the real Santa is each of us and, more importantly, that they are Santa too, they are called to self-giving.

Maybe this is where the Easter Bunny can play an invaluable service.

Like Santa, the Easter Bunny is filled with Christian symbolism. But, generally, it is rather transparent that the "Easter Bunny" is mom and dad, what with him leaving the very same eggs that the kids were painting a couple of days before. Nevertheless, there is, in the Easter Bunny, that symbolism and message of giving (even if it is the giving of eggs and candy). And if kids can "believe" in the Easter Bunny without having a crisis of faith, knowing that it is really just fun and games, that he is really mom and dad, perhaps the example of the Easter Bunny can be used to later explain how Santa is really representative of Jesus and us.

If done right, parents can avoid the two extremes of teaching fantasy and lies to children on the one hand and being a grumpy wet-blanket Grinch on the other. Fostering a belief in "Santa Claus" can be a teaching tool if carefully done, a tool that leads children to Christ and His call to love one another.


The Real Saint Nicholas
Father, hear our prayers for mercy, and by the help of Saint Nicholas keep us safe from all danger, and guide us on the way of salvation. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
St. Nicholas was born in Lycia, Asia Minor, and died as Bishop of Myra in 352. He performed many miracles and exercised a special power over flames. He practiced both the spiritual and temporal works of mercy, and fasted twice a week.

He is undoubtedly one of the most popular saints honored in the Western world. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Peter Damian called him the glory of young men, the honor of the elderly, the splendor of priests and the light of Pontiffs. In the United States, his memory has survived in the unique personality of Saint Claus — the jolly, rotund, white-bearded gentleman who captivates children with promises of gifts on Christmas Eve. Considered primarily as the patron saint of children, Nicholas is also invoked by sailors, merchants, bakers, travelers and pawnbrokers, and with Saint Andrew is honored as the co-patron of Russia.

St. Nicholas was born in the last years of the third century in Asia Minor. His uncle, the archbishop of Myra in Lycia, ordained him and appointed him abbot of a nearby monastery. At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted the Christians, St. Nicholas was arrested, taken away from his home by the pagan soldiers, and thrown into a prison at the beginning of the fourth century. He suffered the hardships of hunger, thirst, loneliness, and chains. Released by Constantine the Great, he returned to his city, and he later attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. He died in Myra about 345.

Popular legends have involved Saint Nicholas in a number of charming stories, one of which relates Nicholas' charity. A man of Patara had lost his fortune, and finding himself unable to support his three maiden daughters, was planning to turn them into the streets as prostitutes. Nicholas heard of the man's intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. The three bags of gold are also said to be the origin of the three gold balls that form the emblem of pawnbrokers.

Saint Nicholas labored in his domains to stop the worship of false gods, still practiced there as elsewhere. With his own hands he cut down a huge tree, site of a sacrilegious cult of the goddess Diana. During a famine his prayers multiplied the provisions of wheat which he had ordered for the port of Myra, to such an extent that what would have sufficed for his people for only a few days, was found to be sufficient for more than two years. He rescued from death, just before they were hanged, three innocents condemned by a judge who had been corrupted by money, reprehended the latter for his crime and sent these liberated ones home, entirely exonerated.

After Nicholas' death on December 6, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra. It remained there until 1087, when seamen of Bari, an Italian coastal town, seized the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city.

By the year 1200 St. Nicholas had captured the hearts of all European nations. Many churches, towns, provinces and countries venerate him as their patron saint. Merchants, bankers, seamen and prisoners made him their patron, too. But his main patronage is the one over little children. Countless miracles were attributed to the saint's intercession. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari; an oily substance, known as Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them.

The story of Saint Nicholas came to America in distorted fashion. The Dutch Protestants carried a popularized version of the saint's life to New Amsterdam, portraying Nicholas as nothing more than a Nordic magician and wonder-worker. Our present-day conception of Santa Claus has grown from this version.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hanukkah and the Light of Christ
The Rededication of the Temple and the Festival of Lights

Hanukkah begins this evening, December 20, 2011, at sundown (remembering that the Jewish day begins at sundown).

The Jewish Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was instituted in the year 165 B.C. It is celebrated annually as a memorial of the rededication of the Temple with a new altar and purification of the sanctuary. Three years earlier, Antiochus Epiphanes had caused a pagan altar to be set up at the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple and sacrifices to be offered to his idol, called "Zeus Olympius."

The Maccabean revolt followed, led by Judas Maccabeus (Yehuda HaMakabi, "Judah the Hammer"). After many battles, the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple were recovered.

1 Maccabees 4:36-59
Judas Maccabeus and his brothers said, "Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it." So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion. They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts as in a forest or on some mountain, and the priests' chambers demolished.

Then they tore their clothes and made great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes and fell with their faces to the ground. And when the signal was given with trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Judas appointed men to attack those in the citadel, while he purified the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests, devoted to the law; these purified the sanctuary and carried away the stones of the Abomination to an unclean place.

They deliberated what ought to be done with the altar of holocausts that had been desecrated. The happy thought came to them to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar. They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple hill, until a prophet should come and decide what to do with them.

Then they took uncut stones, according to the law, and built a new altar like the former one. They also repaired the sanctuary and the interior of the temple and purified the courts. They made new sacred vessels and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these illuminated the temple. They also put loaves on the table and hung up curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts that they had made. On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals. All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests' chambers and furnished them with doors. There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev. (see also 2 Macc 1:18-2:19; 10:1-8)
Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration", is also known as the Festival of Lights due to a miracle that allowed the Eternal Light of the Temple to burn for eight days, even though there was only enough oil to last one day.

This miracle is recounted in the Talmud (Shabbat 2),
The rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, Hanukkah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting (in commemoration of the dead) and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Asmoneans prevailed and conquered them, oil was sought (to feed the holy lamp in the sanctuary) and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and it fed the holy lamp eight days in succession. These eight days were the following year established as days of good cheer, on which psalms of praise and acknowledgment (of God's wonders) were to be recited.
The Eternal Light of the Temple represented God's everlasting presence, just as the sanctuary lamp placed before the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament in Catholic churches is always kept lit to indicate and honor the constant presence of Christ. In the synagogue, a perpetual lamp signifies the Lord's presence in the Torah, the Word of God. (Similarly, the candles at liturgical services, candles for the Advent wreath, votive candles, candles during Sabbath prayers, etc., are lit to signify the presence of God, as He was present in the burning bush, during those ceremonies.)

Although a Jewish holiday -- one celebrated by Jesus -- Hanukkah can also be a time for Christians to remember that it is God Himself who is a Light that is everlasting and can never be extinguished. These days of rededication and the manifestation of God's eternal light remind us that evil will be defeated and, even if the evil has defiled the good, in the meantime, God cannot be defeated. His light is everlasting. More than light from oil, which runs out, His is the Eternal Light which cannot be extinguished. Thus, this is a time of hope.

It is fitting, then, that we observe this celebration of the Light as we await in Advent the birth and revelation to the world of the Light Incarnate -- God from God, Light from Light.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why Christmas is Celebrated on December 25

The Gospel reading for today's Mass, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, is on the Annunciation. And a timely reading it is, too, because it provides an answer to the questions of --

Why is Christmas on December 25? Do we really know that that is the day when Jesus was born?

It turns out that the fixing of Christmas Day on December 25 is not an arbitrary decision, nor is it based on the widespread modern belief that the date was picked in order to displace the celebration of a pagan festival on that date. Rather, the date of Jesus' birth was determined by reference to Jesus' conception which, in turn, was calculated by determining His crucifixion and death.

Now, if you subtract nine months from December 25, you get March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. On that day, the Church reflects upon Mary's fiat, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me acccording to your word," and upon the Incarnation, the mystery of God coming down from heaven and merging Himself with Man, making Himself small and becoming flesh in the temple and virgin womb of Mary the Immaculate.

So, the question presents itself --
Why do we celebrate the Annunciation on March 25?

Well, that date was fixed in ancient tradition and it is based upon a widespread belief in Judaism at the time of Christ that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception. By the time of Tertullian, scholars researching the various dates of Passover had concluded that Jesus died on the Cross on March 25. Wrote St. Augustine,
"He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since." (On the Trinity, Book IV, Chapter 5).
Additionally, some Jewish scholars had calculated that the date of Creation was March 25, and it made sense to believe that, since a new creation began upon the Incarnation, Jesus was conceived on the same day as the first creation.

Hence, the tradition arose that, because He was crucified on March 25 and the universe was created on that date, Jesus was conceived on March 25. The day that Mary took her Son's Body into her arms beneath the Cross is the same day that she had taken His Body into her womb at the Annunciation.

And if you add nine months to the date of conception, March 25, you get . . . December 25, Christmas Day.


See also: Andrew McGowan, How December 25 Became Christmas
William J. Tighe, Calculating Christmas

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pray for Christopher Hitchens

We previously considered the question of praying for one such as the late Christopher Hitchens, who at times was not merely atheist, but antitheist.

Love Your Enemy, Pray for Those Who Persecute You
Today, the Anchoress raises again The Hitchens/Prayer Debate. Recently, Christopher Hitchens has learned that he has cancer of the esophagus. Now, Hitchens is a writer who is not so much an atheist as he is an antitheist, he does not simply not believe, he attacks the belief and believers, and often disingenuously so. Nevertheless, we are called to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. On that issue of whether to pray for Hitchens or not, the Anchoress writes:
It seems the New York Times has noticed the debate as to whether people of faith should pray for Christopher Hitchens. I like this; it reflects my feelings, exactly:
    Jeffrey Goldberg, a colleague of Hitchens’s at The Atlantic Monthly, consulted the rabbinical authorities and decided that prayer was O.K. On his blog, Goldberg quoted the advice of David Wolpe, a Los Angeles rabbi who has publicly debated Hitchens on a number of occasions: “I would say it is appropriate and even mandatory to do what one can for another who is sick; and if you believe that praying helps, to pray. It is in any case an expression of one’s deep hopes. So yes, I will pray for him, but I will not insult him by asking or implying that he should be grateful for my prayers.”
The Anchoress wrote on this earlier, Hitchens' Challenge, where she said that she had been called to pray for him, and her post generated a lot of comments, including some opposition.

So, to pray or not to pray? What should one do?

The New York Times story notes, "While Hitchens himself doesn’t seem to have issued any official directives, prayers have rolled in from [the Anchoress] Elizabeth Scalia (no relation to the Supreme Court justice) at First Things, Greg Kandra at The Deacon’s Bench and Pat Archbold at The National Catholic Register."

“While Hitchens himself doesn’t seem to have issued any official directives . . .”

This is the real sticking point.

There are at least three points or perspectives, all of which need to be considered, in answering this question –
(1) Us, the one potentially offering the prayer. That is, do we have a moral obligation or permission to pray (or to not pray)?
(2) Hitchens (or any other person for whom it is to be offered). Is the prayer welcome or unwelcome? Is he receptive or at least neutral, or is he adamately opposed?
(3) The content of the prayer. Just exactly what does one pray for? His physical health, his spiritual health, his conversion?
We are obligated in faith to be charitable toward Hitchens, i.e. to love him, as we love ourselves and as Jesus loves us. BUT, part of love is respecting the free will of the other person. Love, even when expressed by prayer, cannot be forced upon the other against his will. The Samaritan dragging the wounded man out of the ditch when the man demands to be left alone is not “good”; what he does is an act of violence, not charity. Not even God forces His love upon people.

Hence the dillema. Does our prayer end up being a true act of love or an act of unlove against the will of the person? It depends.

Of course, the Samaritan can both love the man in the ditch and still respect his will by doing something else, call 911 perhaps, and let the EMTs come and offer their assistance. Perhaps the man will accept it then.

So, we have an obligation to love Hitchens. The question is how? For many people, we might in good faith and conscience simply assume that our prayers are welcomed. And since Hitchens has not publicly said “no,” perhaps we might assume the same for him, but we might be presuming too much. Which get us to (3) the content of the prayer.

Just exactly what do we or should we pray for in the case of Hitchens? If he welcomes prayer, then we have no problem, we can pray all out for whatever good thing we might want.

But if he does not welcome prayer, what then? We can still be charitable, and still pray, but we would seem to be limited in what we pray for, or at the very least, would need to make the petition conditional (e.g. “if he is willing to accept it Lord . . .”). We cannot go so far as to drag him out of the ditch and pour oil on him against his wishes, but we can call 911. We can stand by, ready to assist if he later wants it. We can tell him that lodging is available to him when and if he is willing to accept it.

It is not as easy a moral question as it might seem. It would be a lot easier if all we had to consider was (1) us. But (2) and (3) are factors we must consider as well.

The one thing that we CANNOT do is reflexively and arbitrarily say, “to hell with Hitchens, he’s only getting what he deserves.”

Love Your Enemy, Pray for Those Who Persecute You: Part Two
Some questions and objections have arisen with respect to the prior post Love Your Enemy, Pray for Those Who Persecute You.

You're confusing me. How do you pray for someone like Hitchens?

That's what I mean, it's not as easy a question as it first looks.

Love means respecting the other person as a person, as one with free will, and not as an object, a thing that we can manipulate or ask God to manipulate.

Hitchens is a person, not a puppet, and we should not treat him like a puppet. And God is Love, and we should not pray that God act contrary to Himself.

The same Jesus that said “pray for your persecutors” also said “shake the dust from your feet.”

To pray for a gross violation of another person’s free will is NOT an act of love. It is an act of violence.

Love cannot be forced upon another and still be love. And we are called to love, not to force ourselves on others. That means respecting their free will.

God gave them free will. We should respect His will to give them their will.

By no means am I saying “screw him, I’m not praying for him, period.” No, we should pray. But what I am suggesting is that we should actually think about what we pray for. That we make our prayer an act of love, and not an act contrary to love.

Of course, EVERY prayer of ours should include the proviso — “if it be thy will.” Maybe that in itself solves the dillema?

I respectfully disagree that it is not an easy moral question. On the contrary, it is quite simple to pray for Christopher’s mercy and forgiveness. We should even pray that God forgive against Hitchens’ will. After all, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Jesus did not simply say, “forgive them,” and stop. He added “they know not what they do.” This additional aspect is important.

He previously taught on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Church has understood this to mean that forgiveness is something that must be accepted in order to be accomplished, and consistent with the understanding that God is Love, and love cannot be forced upon someone, and that God gave us free will precisely for that reason, to freely choose to love Him or not to love Him, the Church has consistently taught that God will not, indeed, cannot forgive such person (Mt. 12:31-32).

Sure, pray that God forgive Hitchens — but NOT against his will. That is not love, that is the theological equivilent of rape. It is contrary to Love, it is contrary to Truth, the truth of God.

Rather, pray that God forgive Hitchens, but adding the proviso, if and when Hitchens accept it. Pray that God offer forgiveness, but do not pray that God act contrary to Himself and impose that love upon Hitchens. God cannot do so, being Love, He cannot act contrary to love, and it is important that we understand that.

Okay then – specifically – tell me how you would offer a prayer to God for him. And how does that differ from, say, someone who has left the church but maybe not left God?

One could simply pray that God be who He is — Love and Truth — and that He act accordingly. One could pray that God be there for him, that God, who is Divine Mercy, be merciful and loving and compassionate.

I would suppose He can be compassionate (from the Latin “to suffer with”) with or without Hitchens’ consent, but implicit in that prayer is our understanding that love and mercy, from the Latin miserere, meaning to allievate misery, cannot be imposed. Those who have chosen Hell over Him must be respected in that choice. Of course, it is still not yet a definitive choice for Hitchens, but it is his choice to make, not ours.

Or I suppose one could pray for whatever one wants to pray for, so long as there is the added provisos of “if it be Thy will Lord” and “if he is willing to accept it Lord . . .” That might accomplish the requisite need to respect the other’s free will.

I disagree that the other person’s feelings should be considered. Hitchens’ free will is not involved in this matter. Nobody is pointing a gun at him or conning him into anything.

If someone tells a non-believer that they don’t care what he thinks or wants, that they are going to “pray” for him even against his wishes and consent — does that sentiment cause him to want to draw closer to God? Or does it cause resentment and drive him away?

Respect for the other person -- which is a part of love -- requires that one consider his wishes. To be sure, "love" means seeking the good of the other, and not necessarily what makes him happy, but if going against his wishes leads him away from the good, then it obviously needs to be taken into account.

Consider the younger son who asked his father for his inheritence and then left home. What did the father do? He gave the son his interitence and let him go. He did not bind the son in chains, he did not lock him in his room. And the father did not go after him and drag him back home. Rather, the father respected his son's decision.

Had the older son implored their father to go after his brother and forcibly try to bring him home, it may have only served to set the younger son permanently against their father.

Sorry, I think you are over-thinking this one. We should not have to think twice about this one: pray for Hitchens, and trust God’s wisdom.

Ours is not an unthinking Faith. Rather, ours is a Faith that seeks understanding, that seeks to know the Logos.

Believer #1: “I’ll pray for you.”
Nonbeliever: “What does that mean?”
Believer #2: “Yeah, I’m curious too. What does that mean?”
Believer #1: "It means . . . um . . ."

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” 1 Pet. 3:15. Furthermore, we should be ready to give ourselves a reason for our hope, for our faith.

It is not enough to simply hear Jesus say, “love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you.”

We should ask “What does that mean?” Before praying, we should actually think about what it is we are praying for and why. We should think about what “love” is, what it means.

As set out in the prior post and above, I submit that “love” is not self-centered; it is not merely a matter of what we do. We MUST consider the other person. We cannot simply stop at (1) ourselves, we must also take into account (2) the other, in this case, the non-believing if not anti-believing Hitchens. But that brings into our consideration (3) as well — what to pray for and how and why.

Maybe the first prayer of petition we offer should be for ourselves, to ask for the grace to understand how best to love, how best to simultaneously offer up prayers on behalf of another and still respect them as a person, that is, respecting their freedom to reject us and our love expressed in prayer.

But we cannot, I further submit, not even bother to think about such things.

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Number One!

Love! Love is number one. And there's lots of love over at Cinema Catechism at 11:11 on 11/11/11.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

"The Bridegroom is coming."

In Act Two of his play, The Jeweler's Shop, Blessed Karol Wojtyla tells the story of Anna, whose marriage to Stefan began with promise, but has turned to the bitterness of disappointment and disillusionment. They have become like strangers in the same house, and she believes that their love is dead. But the mysterious jeweler will not take her wedding ring when she tries to sell it -- her husband still being alive, her ring alone does not weigh anything when he places it on his scales, which "weigh not the metal, but man’s entire being and fate." Ashamed, but still desperate for love, she leaves the jeweler's shop and meets a "chance interlocutor" who speaks to her of the Bridegroom who is coming.

In the parable of the Bridegroom and the Ten Virgins, which is the Gospel reading at Mass for this Sunday (Mt 25:1-13), we usually think of its lesson of constant readiness, but Pope John Paul uses it to add a couple of insights to our understanding of love.

Adam – I told Anna, “The Bridegroom will come shortly.” I said this thinking of the love which had so died in her soul. The Bridegroom passes through so many streets, meeting so many different people. Passing, he touches the love that is in them. It if is bad, he suffers for it. Love is bad when there is a lack of it. . . .

Anna – Isn’t what one feels most strongly the truth? . . . Is not love a matter of the senses and of a climate which unites and makes two people walk in the sphere of their feeling?
Adam, however, did not fully agree with this. Love is, according to him, a synthesis of two people’s existence which converges, as it were, at a certain point, and makes them into one. And then again he repeated that the Bridegroom would walk down this street shortly. This news, heard for the second time, not only fascinated me, but suddenly awoke a longing in me. A longing for someone perfect, for a man firm and good, who would be different from Stefan -- different, different . . . And with the feeling of this sudden longing, I must have started running, looking closely at the men I passed.

[Anna begins to encounter various men passing by.]

Adam – This is just what compels me to think about human love. There is no other matter embedded more strongly in the surface of human life, and there is no matter more unknown and more mysterious. The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama. It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence. The surface of love has its current – swift, flickering, changeable. A kaleidoscope of waves and situations full of attraction. This current is sometimes so stunning that it carries people away – women and men. They get carried away by the thought that they have absorbed the whole secret of love, but in fact, they have not yet even touched it. They are happy for a while, thinking that they have reached the limits of existence and wrested all its secrets from it, so that nothing remains. That’s how it is: on the other side of that rapture, nothing remains, there is nothing left behind it. But there can’t be nothing, there can’t! Listen to me, there can’t. Man is a continuum, a totality and a continuity – so it cannot be that nothing remains! . . .

Anna – [meets a second passerby] I was almost ready to cling to his arm . . . I longed so much for a man’s arm and a walk along the avenue of wilting chestnut trees. He went on to say, “How about stepping into that club?” . . . “And then?” I asked. He did not reply, and I seemed to take fright at that “then.” He must have had a wife . . . Suddenly, I realized what the expression “a casual woman” could mean. . . . I kept walking, however, still thinking about the same thing, coming forward, as it were, toward every passing man. . . .
Now I’m on the edge of the pavement. On the curb.... There’s a car; an expensive one. The window is partly lowered, a man at the wheel. I stopped.

Adam – Love is not an adventure. It has the taste of the whole man. It has his weight. And the weight of his whole fate. It cannot be a single moment. Man’s eternity passes through it. That is why it is to be found in the dimensions of God, because only He is eternity. . . .

Anna – I stopped and fixed my eyes on the car, the windows, the man. . . . The man looked. I approached. He had a low, warm voice when he said, “Won’t you join me?” He indicated the seat next to him. In a while, he will start the engine. We shall move off. We’ll drive into the unknown. . . . I shall be somebody again. . .
I want to, I think I want to very much. I think I had already put my hand on the door handle. I only had to press it. Suddenly I felt a man’s hand on mine. I looked up. Adam was standing above me. I saw his face, which was tired; it betrayed emotion. Adam looked me straight in the eyes. His hand was just lying on mine. Then he said, “No.” I felt the car moving past us. In a moment, it was gone. “It’s strange that you should come back; I thought you’d disappeared for good.”

Adam – I came back to show you the street. It is strange. Not because it is full of shops, neon lights and buildings, but because of the people. Look, on the other side of the street there are some girls passing by; they are walking, laughing and talking loudly among themselves. . . . Their lamps are out, so they are on their way to buy some oil. They will fill the lamps, and the lamps will burn again. . . .
They are the wise virgins.... And now look over there. Those are the foolish virgins. They are asleep and their lamps are lying by the wall. One has even rolled across the pavement and fallen into the gutter. To you it seems they are asleep in those recesses, but in reality, they too are walking down the street. They are walking in their sleep. They are walking in a lethargy – they have a dormant space in them.
You now feel that space in you, because you too were falling asleep. I have come to wake you. I think I am in time.

Anna – Why did you wake me? Why?

Adam – I’ve wakened you because the Bridegroom is to walk down this street. The wise virgins want to come forward and meet him with their lights; the foolish virgins have fallen asleep and lost their lamps. I promise you they will not wake in time, and even if they do, they will not be able to find and light their lamps. . . .
The Bridegroom is constantly waiting. He constantly lives in expectation. Only this is, as it were, on the far side of all those different loves without which man cannot live. Take you, for instance. You cannot live without love. I saw from a distance how you walked down this street and tried to rouse interest. I could almost hear your soul. You were calling with despair for a love you do not have. You were looking for someone who would take you by the hand and hug you.
Oh, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves which fill our lives, there is Love! The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street! How am I to prove to you that you are the bride? One would now have to pierce a layer of your soul, as one pierces the layer of brushwood and soil when looking for a source of water in the green of a wood. You would then hear him speak: “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love and my suffering” – because to love means to give life through death; to love means to let gush a spring of water of life into the depths of the soul, which burns or smolders, and cannot burn out. Ah, the flame and the spring. You don’t feel the spring, but are consumed by the flame. Is that not so?

Anna – I don’t know. I only know that you have been talking to my soul. Don’t be afraid! It goes with my body. How can it be embraced or possessed without my body? I am a foolish virgin. I am one of the foolish virgins. Why did you wake me? …
There they are again, those girls. Their faces are not even attentive. Are they really pure and noble, or is it just that they have fared better in life than I? …

Adam – The Bridegroom is coming. This is his precise hour. Oh, look – the wise virgins have just gone by, holding their freshly lighted lamps. Their light is bright, because they have cleaned the glass in the lanterns. They walk gaily, almost dancing as they walk. . . .

Anna – I went on looking. A man was walking, dressed in a light coat, he was not wearing a hat. I did not notice his face at first, because he walked lost in thought, his head lowered. On impulse I began to walk in his direction. But when he lifted his face, I nearly gave a shout! It seemed to me I clearly saw Stefan’s face. And I immediately withdrew ... I have seen the face I hate, and the face I ought to love. Why do you expose me to such a test?

Adam – In the Bridegroom’s face, each of us finds a similarity to the faces of those with whom love has entangled us on this side of life, of existence. They are all in him.

[Act Three - several years later, during which Anna had begun the process of healing her marriage]

Adam – That evening I saw Anna again. The memory of her encounter with the Bridegroom was still vivid to her. Anna had entered the road of complementary love. She had to complement, giving and taking in different proportions than before. The turning point occurred that night many years ago. At that time everything threatened destruction. A new love could begin only through a meeting with the Bridegroom. What Anna felt of it at first was only the suffering. In the course of time a gradual calm came. And something new that was growing, was still intangible, and, above all, did not “taste” of love. One day they may learn to relish the taste of that something new . . .

Excerpts from The Jeweler's Shop (1960), translated by Boleslaw Taborksi (1980)
In our exegesis of scripture, we know the Bridegroom to be Christ, and His Bride is the Church. In many parables, we are the guests at the wedding banquet or the virgins awaiting the Bridegroom's arrival. But although the Bride is the Church and we appear to be bystanders, who is the Church?

We the faithful make up the Church. We are the Bride. You are the Bride. "Oh, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves which fill our lives, there is Love! The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street! How am I to prove to you that you are the bride?" Each of us is the Bride that Jesus loves with such a fierce deep passion, if only we would realize it and accept it. “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love."

However, to be the Bride, one with Christ, means also to be one with His Passion. “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to . . . my suffering.” The spousal love of Jesus for us, and that we ought have for Him, passes through the Cross. But in that encounter of love comes not the death of love, but new life for our relationships of love with others. "A new love could begin only through a meeting with the Bridegroom."

At first, it may appear that there is only the suffering. But in the course of time, a transformation occurs, something new grows. At first, it may seem intangible and not have the “taste” of love that we are accustomed to. But in Him, in the Bridegroom, we can learn to relish the taste of that something new, the eternity and absolute of love.

(Cross-posted at Cinema Catechism)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Nature, Origin, and Cause of Love

(The following has been posted over at Cinema Catechism as a follow-up to an earlier post What is this thing called “love”? )

What is "love" and where does it come from?

Ultimately, love comes from God, who is Love, as do all things come from Him. But more immediately for the individual person, the question of "where" is illuminated by the question of "what." What is love? In its purest and truest and fullest, love is a gift, a gift of self, and it is something which is given unconditionally, without concern for whether the other "deserves" it, or what we may or may not receive in return, although it is a joy when it is reciprocated.

In recognizing that it is something selflessly given, not merely something experienced, we can also see that the immediate cause of love in us is our decision to give it. It is not something that overcomes us or is imposed upon us, or something that "just happens." That is, in the individual sense, love comes from our free choice of the will. And in choosing to love, in choosing to give of oneself, we ultimately are choosing to accept God, who is, after all, Love itself. Conversely, not loving is not something that "just happens," not loving is also a choice.

However, love in its fullest sense is not all about such agape love of noble self-sacrifice, which many might see as joyless duty, it is also about the brotherly, fraternal, friendship kind of love that is philia, as well as being about the love of purified eros, the thirsting kind of love that naturally seeks an “other,” a joyous, passionate, ascending, intimate kind of love, longing to be with the other.

And, as we have discussed in previous weeks and months, there is a spousal meaning in the human body, so we are all called to a spousal love that is both unitive and creative, as exemplified by husband and wife, God and Israel, Jesus and the Church, a loving communion of persons in one fruitful being. The fullness of love is, by its nature, dynamic and fertile, it bears fruit.

Still, in all of these, even in the attractive love of eros, there is an element of free choice. There is only one “love,” notwithstanding its multiple aspects and dimensions. And this is true whether it is love of a sweetheart or love of an enemy.
“Fundamentally, ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly.” – Deus Caritas Est
If love were merely a positive feeling, then how could we love our enemy, whom we do not even like?
“Love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love.” – Deus Caritas Est
The greatest gifts that God gave us in addition to our existence are reason, free will, and the capacity to love. We were created by God out of love, we were made through the Logos by an act of creative reason, and for love. Our purpose, the reason that we are here, is to love and be loved. Does it make sense that, in that area for which we are created, love, God would deprive us of those other gifts of reason and free choice of the will?

Love is not love if it is not freely given. Love is not love if it is not the fruit of a conscious decision. It may be suggested that love is a feeling, an emotion, an attraction, a desire for the other, a sense of fulfillment. And certainly these things often do accompany love, but they are not love in and of itself. Feelings come and go. Sentiments come and go. Attraction comes and goes. And yet love -- if it truly is love -- remains. Indeed, this is seen when Jesus tells us that we must love not only those close to us, but our neighbors, that is, total strangers we don’t even know, and even our enemies, people we don’t even like.

True love is not merely pleasure or sentiment. Love is more than just an emotional feeling, more than attraction and affection, and more than a desire for personal happiness or fulfillment. Love is a conscious, decisive choice of the other as the focus of affection, a commitment of the will to subordinate yourself, and to seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of yourself for the other’s benefit. In short, in all its aspects, love is a free choice.

And such a love is secure because it does not depend upon and is not contingent upon the other person -- it only depends on you.
“The ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given [by God]. Some people object and say that love cannot be commanded, that it is ultimately a feeling which is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will. However, God has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. In God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings.” – Deus Caritas Est
So, how do you love – truly love? You make a conscious decision, an act of the will, that you will love no matter what, freely and unconditionally. Love is a gift of self, accepting the person who is loved as they really are, without the merits of whether or not they “deserve” to be loved. And if you feel that you do not have that power within you, ask for a little help, which we call grace, from God.

The paradox of love. It is by having such a complete loving disposition toward gift of self that we are able to obtain a level of contentment and happiness that is permanent. It is another one of those curious paradoxes -- by sacrificing yourself, even your personal happiness and security, you gain an even greater happiness and security; by letting go of your self-centered ego, you find yourself; by emptying yourself, you become fulfilled. Agape and eros in one.

Such love is not all drudgery and duty, but leads to joy, real heart-soaring joy and contentment and fulfillment. The more that you are disposed to love, the better you are able to love and find love in male-female and other interpersonal relationships. The more you are disposed to love, the more you will be able to see the good qualities in others. These others become more physically attractive, more intelligent, more humorous, more enjoyable. Such a loving disposition is also something which approaches the divine.

Let us consider the love of God -- God is perfect; He is Truth itself. Therefore, the highest and most perfect and truest love is God’s love. And what kind of “love” is that? Deus caritas est. God is caritas; God’s love is love as caritas, charitable gift. God does not love us because we are attractive and pretty, funny and smart, or because we are so likeable. He loves us regardless of these things, and even in the absence of these things. He loves us, God gives Himself to us, even though we do not deserve it. He gives us His love because He seeks the good for us, because we need love. Love is life.

Indeed, if we were to honestly and justly consider the matter, we must concede that none of us "deserve" such love. After all, mankind has given God little more than rejection and infidelity throughout history. And yet, He continues to love us, fully, completely, and unconditionally. He refuses to stop loving us, even when we torture Him and murder Him. He continues to give.

But it is through the Cross that one attains the Resurrection. It is by and through the Lord's gift of self, first by becoming man, and then on the Cross, that "all things are made new." Love is by its very nature dynamic and fertile, it is life itself, and it is this fullness of love that has the power to transform dull and social lifelessness to a new life of authentic happiness, true ecstasy, and even bring new life into a love that which was once dead. But we, like He, must first choose to make that gift of self.

If we would have others love us, if we would seek to enjoy the joyous fruits of love for ourselves, we must love perfectly and truly as He loves. We must choose not to be selfishly focused on our own wants and desires by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, but must instead freely choose to eat from the Tree of Love.

See also the comment section below in What is this thing called “love”?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

We Are All Called To Be Saints Day

Everyone's Call to Be a Saint
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience of April 13, 2011
The whole of the Church’s history is marked by men and women who, with their faith, with their charity, and with their life, have been beacons for so many generations, as they are for us too. These saints expressed in various ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One. They let Jesus so totally overwhelm their life that they could say with St. Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Following their example, seeking their intercession, entering into communion with them, “brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom, as from their fountain and head, issue every grace and the life of the People of God itself.” (Lumen Gentium 50)

What does it mean for us to be saints (holy)? Who is called to be a saint (holy)?

Often it is thought that holiness is a goal reserved for a few chosen ones. St. Paul, however, speaks of God's great plan and affirms: "[God] chose us in Him [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him. In love He destined us." (Ephesians 1:4) And He was speaking about all of us. At the center of the divine design is Christ, in whom God shows His Face. The Mystery hidden in the centuries has been revealed in the fullness of the Word made flesh. . . .

Therefore, the whole of Christian life knows one supreme law, which St Paul expresses in a formula that recurs in all his holy writings: Jesus Christ. Holiness, the fullness of Christian life, does not consist in carrying out extraordinary enterprises, but in being united with Christ, in living His mysteries, in making our own His example, His thoughts, His behaviour. The measure of holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, inasmuch as, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on His. . . .

However, the question remains: How can we journey on the path of holiness, how can we respond to this call? Can I do so with my own strength?

The answer is clear: A holy life is not primarily the fruit of our own effort, of our actions, because it is God, the thrice Holy, who makes us saints, and the action of the Holy Spirit who encourages us from within; it is the life itself of the Risen Christ, which has been communicated to us and which transforms us. . . .

Holiness has its main root in baptismal grace, in being introduced into the paschal mystery of Christ, with which His Spirit is communicated to us, His life as the Risen One. . . . However, God always respects our liberty and asks that we accept this gift and that we live the demands it entails. He asks that we allow ourselves to be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, conforming our will to the will of God.

How can we make our way of thinking and our actions become thinking and acting with Christ and of Christ? What is the soul of holiness?

Once again the Second Vatican Council explains; it tells us that Christian holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.
“'God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.' (1 Jn 4:16) Now God has poured out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (cf. Rom 5:5); therefore the first and most necessary gift is charity, by which we love God above all things and our neighbour through love of Him. But if charity, like a good seed, is to grow and fructify in the soul, each of the faithful must willingly hear the word of God and carry out His will with deeds, with the help of His grace. He must frequently receive the sacraments, chiefly the Eucharist, and take part in the holy liturgy; he must constantly apply himself to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service and the exercise all the virtues. This is because love, as the bond of perfection and fullness of the law (cf. Col 3:14; Rom 13:10) governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification.” (Lumen Gentium 42)
Perhaps this language of the Second Vatican Council is a little too solemn for us, perhaps we should say things even more simply. What is the essential?

The essential means never leaving a Sunday without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an additional burden but is light for the whole week. It means never beginning and never ending a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, on the path of our life it means following the “signposts” that God has communicated to us in the Ten Commandments, interpreted with Christ, which are merely the explanation of what love is in specific situations. It seems to me that this is the true simplicity and greatness of a life of holiness: the encounter with the Risen One on Sunday; contact with God at the beginning and at the end of the day; following, in decisions, the “signposts” that God has communicated to us, which are but forms of charity.

"Hence the true disciple of Christ is marked by love both of God and of neighbor.” (Lumen Gentium 42) This is true simplicity, grandeur and profundity of the Christian life, of being saints. This is why St. Augustine, commenting on the fourth chapter of the First Letter of St. John can affirm an astonishing thing: "Dilige et fac quod vis" (Love and do as you will). And he continued:
"If you are silent, be silent out of love; if you speak, speak out of love; if you correct, correct out of love; if you forgive, forgive out of love, may the root of love be in you, because from this root nothing can come that is not good" (Homily 7, paragraph 8: PL 35).
He who lets himself be led by love, who lives charity fully is led by God, because God is love. This is what this great saying means: "Dilige et fac quod vis."

Perhaps we might ask ourselves: Can we, with our limitations, our weakness, reach so high? During the liturgical year, the Church invites us to recall a line-up of saints, who have lived charity fully, have been able to love and to follow Christ in their daily lives. In all the periods of the history of the Church, in every latitude of the geography of the world, the saints belong to all the ages and to all states of life; they are the concrete faces of all peoples, languages and nations. And they are very different among themselves.

In reality, I must say that also, according to my personal faith, many saints, not all, are true stars in the firmament of history. And I would like to add that for me not only the great saints that I love and know well are "road signs," but also the simple saints, that is, the good persons that I see in my life, who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, so to speak, without a visible heroism, but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of the faith. This goodness, which they have matured in the faith of the Church, is for me a sure defense of Christianity and the sign of where the truth is.

In the communion with saints, canonized or not canonized, which the Church lives thanks to Christ in all her members, we enjoy their presence and company and cultivate the firm hope of being able to imitate their way and share one day the same blessed life, eternal life.

Dear friends, how great and beautiful and also simple, is the Christian vocation seen from this light! We are all called to holiness: It is the very measure of the Christian life. . . .

I would like to invite you to open yourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms our life, to be, we also, pieces of the great mosaic of holiness that God is creating in history, so that the Face of Christ will shine in the fullness of its brilliance. Let us not be afraid to look on high, to the height of God; let us not be afraid that God will ask too much of us, but let us be guided in all our daily actions by His Word, even if we feel that we are poor, inadequate, sinners: He will be the one to transform us according to His love.

Solemnity of All Saints

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
St. Joseph, pray for us
St. Augustine, pray for us
St. Bernadette, pray for us
St. Brother Andre Bessette, pray for us
All you Holy Angels and Archangels, pray for us
All you Holy Patriarchs and Prophets, pray for us
All you holy Apostles and Evangelists, pray for us
All you holy Disciples of the Lord, pray for us
All you holy Martyrs, pray for us
All you holy Virgins and Widows, pray for us
All you holy Saints of God, pray for us +

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Hallows' Eve

October 31 is Halloween. The word “Halloween” is a corruption of the words “Hallows' Eve,” and the word “hallow” is, in turn, derived from the word “holy.” In Latin, the word “holy” is “sanctus,” from which we get the word “saint.” Thus, October 31, Halloween, is actually “Saints' Eve.”

Accordingly, on November 1, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, both those who are known and formally canonized, and those who are known but to God. The Solemnity is a Holy Day of Obligation and, as Pope Benedict explained last year, it "invites us to raise our eyes to heaven and to meditate on the fullness of the divine life that awaits us. . . . Holiness – imprinting Christ on ourselves – is the purpose of Christian living."

In the Apostle’s Creed, we profess our faith in the “communion of saints.” And, as the name suggests, on this Solemnity, we celebrate all of the saints, that is, all of the holy men and women in heaven. (On Wednesday, November 2, we pray for all of the faithful departed in purgatory, All Souls Day.) Tomorrow, on All Saints Day, we also ask the saints in heaven to intercede on our behalf, to pray for us. The saints do not "rest in peace" - they continue to work in the vineyard of the Lord, loving us and praying for us.

Here is a very beautiful and traditional Litany of the Saints, which was prayed at the funeral for Blessed Pope John Paul II of happy memory (santo subito).

Holy Days of Opportunity

One of the precepts of the Church under canon law is to attend and participate in the Sacred Liturgy on Sundays and specified Holy Days of Obligation. The word "obligation" is unfortunate; it makes it sound as if Mass is a cumbersome duty or hassle or burden. But it is not really a hassle, it is not merely one of the "rules" that we must obey. Or, at least, it should not be. If it is, it’s not God’s fault.

It’s not a burden, and really need not be seen as an “obligation,” because it should rightly be seen an an opportunity. It should not be thought of as having to go to Mass, but as getting to go to Mass. An opportunity to be with God and love Him.

If we love God, and if we want to be with Him in heaven, then we should want to be with Him for a little bit while we are still sojourning down here on earth. If we purposely do not go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, we are saying that we do not want to be with God, we do not want to spend a measly one-hour in His presence, and that would be what we call "a sin." A serious sin that is necessarily mortal* since to not want to spend time with God is to not want to spend time with Life itself.

To purposely fail to go to Mass on these days would be contrary to the First Commandment (we would be putting our own earthly gods, including ourselves, before Him) and, in the case of Sunday Mass, it would be contrary to the Third Commandment (by failing to keep holy the Lord’s Day). And if we refuse to go to Mass, not because we do not love God, but because we cannot stand the other people at Mass (what they sing, how they act, how boring they are), then that is contrary to the commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us, and it would be a rupture of the communion of the Church. In any case, it would be a rejection of the Blessed Sacrament and Jesus’ request that we participate in the Eucharist in memory of Him.

Now, it is true that we don’t need to go to Mass to pray to God. We can pray to God at home. We can form a spiritual communion with Jesus at home. But one thing that we cannot do at home is to establish full communion with Him, communion in the entirety of our being. Prayer away from Mass accomplishes only a partial communion with Him, a spiritual communion. But we are more than spiritual beings, we have bodies as well. Only do body and spirit together make up the entire person.

And we can obtain full communion with Jesus, spirit and body, only at Mass in the Eucharist, the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Only at Mass can we be one with Him fully, and in a profoundly intimate way, our soul one with His, our body one with His. Holy Communion is the only true communion, everything else falls short.

Mass on Sundays and Holy Days and every other day of the year (technically Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday or Holy Saturday) are not “obligations,” they are unique opportunities for Communion with the Lord.

Moreover, ours is not an individual faith, but a communal faith. Our relationship with Christ is not a limited one-on-one relationship. Rather, we are one with Him, and He is one with everyone else, such that we are meant to be one in communion with all the other faithful in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory. When we pray at Mass, we celebrate one liturgy, we pray as one, with the entirety of the Church, both across geography and across time. (That is also why, as Catholics, even when we are alone, we often pray these standardized prayers, rather than always being extemporaneous. As good as individualized prayer is, the standardized prayers are the prayers of the Church, so when we pray them, we pray not alone, but with all the faithful.)

When we do our own thing, staying at home because we think that we do not “need” Mass to have a relationship with God, we rupture that communion with the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

If the liturgy is poorly done, or if the music is bad, or the homily is boring, or the other people are dressed inappropriately, or the priest/deacon/ministers are too liberal or too conservative or too this or too that, or you stayed out too late the night before, or you’ve done some things that you shouldn’t have done and thus are in a state of sin, or you don’t understand some of the teachings of the Church, or you think you know better and oppose the Church, or whatever million other excuses you can come up with, even when you are fully justified in your dissatisfaction, none of that is God’s fault. None of that is on Jesus. Maybe it is on other people, maybe it is on us. Maybe it is on YOU. Maybe it is on me.

But it’s not God’s fault. So don’t take it out on Him. He is the remedy to all these problems. He is the priceless pearl. The Eucharist is “the source and summit” of our faith. The Blessed Sacrament is Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how lousy everything else is, do not let that keep you from Him. If you must, go to a different parish, but do not go to a different “god.” Do not stay away altogether.

(By the way, if you do physically attend Mass (as it is good that you do so), but you spend most of the time angry or disgusted or resentful or grumbling, etc. about how lousy all these things are, then it is pretty close to not coming to Mass at all. "Coming" to Mass means coming with a proper disposition, especially if receiving Holy Communion, which means a warm and loving heart -- if not enthusiastically loving one another (which includes loving other people you don't like (it's easy to love people you like, but Jesus calls us to love everyone)), then leaving that anger, disgust, resentment, etc. at home, or at least in the car.)

Even if it is not proper for you to receive Holy Communion because you’ve done something you shouldn’t, but like it and intend to keep on doing it, so that you’re not ready to go to Confession yet, then don’t go up for Communion, but do still go to Mass! Jesus Christ is there!

If you have been away for a while, for whatever reason you left and/or have stayed away, do not be afraid to admit that you are starving. Come home. The father will slaughter the fatted calf and all of heaven will rejoice and celebrate.

Mass is not an “obligation,” if by obligation one means a burden or bother or hassle. Rather, it is an opportunity. It is the ability to receive the “medicine of immortality,” i.e. the Eucharist. It is hope, the hope by which we are already saved.

*There are some exceptions to this – if the Sunday obligation cannot be met due to illness, caring for someone sick, no Mass to attend, etc., then one is not under penalty of mortal sin because it is not intentional. (CCC 1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Marriage and Family at Cinema Catechism

Cinema Catechism concludes its three-part Fall 2011 season with the film The Jeweller's Shop: A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion into a Drama , together with catechesis and discussion on the theme of Marriage and Family: Nature and Sacrament.

The movie was adapted from the three-act play by Karol Wojtyla (Blessed Pope John Paul II) and it challenges us to reflect upon love and the relationship between man and woman in marriage.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Adoramus Te

All of us here at Vita Nostra in Ecclesia and our sister blog Cinema Catechism are pleased to welcome Adoramus Te, the blog of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, to the world of the blogosphere!

May you be a light of love and truth to a world sorely in need of it, and may the Lord bless and keep you always.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Marriage and Family: Vocation to Love

Marriage and family, vocation to love, theology of the body, and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, all over at Cinema Catechism.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

“Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ”

As most people know, the readings at Mass follow a three-year cycle. Today, we read from Is 55:6-9, Phil 1:20c-24, 27a, and Mt 20:1-16a.

These are the same readings that were said for the first papal Mass I attended, when Blessed Pope John Paul II came to Detroit in 1987. As such, I was keenly interested in listening to and remembering his homily. I can still remember his voice in giving this homily, with his characteristic Polish accent.

"Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ," this is something that we do well to remember and to repeat to ourselves constantly. It is so easy, so very easy, to conduct ourselves in a way unworthy of the Gospel of Christ, so we need to repeat to ourselves, again and again, "Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ."

Homily of Blessed Pope John Paul II
Apostolic Journey to the United States
September 19, 1987

Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27).
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. The apostle Paul addresses this appeal to the Christians of Philippi. And today the Church’s liturgy repeats this appeal to all who believe in Christ. As my visit to your country comes to an end, it is my special joy this evening to reflect on those words with you, the people of the Church in Detroit, as well as visitors from elsewhere in Michigan, from nearby Canada and from other areas.

From the humble beginnings of the foundation of Detroit in the year 1701, the proclamation of God’s word in this region has continued unbroken, despite hardships and setbacks, and has reached a level of maturity and a fruitfulness unimagined by the early missionaries. Many years separate us from the first celebration of the Eucharist by the priests who accompanied Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, and yet we know that our communion this evening in the Body and Blood of Christ also links us with them and with all who have gone before us in faith.

With you I give thanks to God for the courage, dedication and perseverance of the many clergy, religious and laity who worked so hard during all these years, first to share their faith with the Native Americans of this area, and then to preserve and spread the faith among those of almost every race and nation who settled here. I also give thanks with you for the intrepid Catholic faith of so many of your parents and grandparents who came to Michigan in order to find liberty and in order to build a better life for themselves and especially for you, their children and grandchildren. Whatever may be the path by which you have received the gift of your Catholic faith, it is due in some measure to those who have gone before you here. Their voices are joined to that of Saint Paul when he says to us: "Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ."

2. We read this exhortation this evening in the light of the Gospel parable of the workers sent by the owner of an estate into his vineyard, after he has agreed with them on the daily wage. Our Lord often taught through parables like this one. By using images from daily life, he led his hearers to insights about the Kingdom or Reign of God. Using parables, he was able to raise their minds and hearts from what is seen to what is unseen. When we remember that the things of this world already bear the imprint of God’s Kingdom, it is not surprising that the imagery of the parables is so well suited to the Gospel message.

On the one hand, the vineyard of which Jesus speaks is an earthly reality, as is the work to be done in it. On the other hand, the vineyard is an image of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is described in the Gospel as "the vineyard of the Lord."

3. Let us reflect for a moment on the first of these realities - the earthly vineyard - as a workplace, as the place where you and I must earn our daily bread. As I said in the encyclical Laborem Exercens:
"Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Laborem Exercens, 16).
Accordingly, the Church considers it her task to focus attention on the dignity and rights of workers, to condemn violations of that dignity and those rights, and to provide guidance for authentic human progress (Cfr. ibid. 1). The Church’s goal is to uplift ever more the family of mankind in the light of Christ’s word and by its power.

Central to the Church’s teaching is the conviction that people are more important than things; that work is "for man" and not man "for work"; that the person is both the subject and purpose of all work and cannot be reduced to a mere instrument of production; that the person is to be valued for what he or she is rather than for what he or she owns (Cfr. ibid. 6. 12; Gaudium et Spes, 35). This last truth in particular reminds us that the only gift we can offer God that is truly worthy of him is the gift of ourselves, as we discover in the message of today’s Gospel parable.

4. That message, as I mentioned, has to do with a spiritual reality, the Kingdom of God, towards which Jesus seeks to raise the minds and hearts of his listeners. He begins today’s parable with the words: "The reign of God is like the case of the owner of an estate who went out at dawn to hire workmen for his vineyard" (Mt. 20:1). That our Lord is speaking about more than just human work and wages should be clear from the owner’s actions and the ensuing conflict between him and some of the workers. It is not that the owner refuses to honour the agreement about wages. The dispute arises because he gives the same pay to everybody, whether the person worked all day or only part of the day. Each receives the sum which had been agreed upon. Thus the owner of the estate shows generosity to the latecomers, to the indignation of those who had worked all day. To them this generosity seems to be an injustice. And what response does the owner give? “I am free,” he says, “to do as I please with my money, am I not? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt. 20:15).

In this parable we find one of those seeming contradictions, those paradoxes, that appear in the Gospel. It arises from the fact that the parable is describing two different standards. One is the standard by which justice is measured by things. The other standard belongs to the Kingdom of God, in which the way of measuring is not the just distribution of things but the giving of a gift, and, ultimately, the greatest gift of all - the gift of self.

5. The owner of the estate pays the workers according to the value of their work, that is, the sum of one denarius. But in the Kingdom of God the pay or wages is God himself. This is what Jesus is trying to teach. When it comes to salvation in the Kingdom of God, it is not a question of just wages but of the undeserved generosity of God, who gives himself as the supreme gift to each and every person who shares in divine life through sanctifying grace.

Such a recompense or reward cannot be measured in material terms. When a person gives the gift of self, even in human relations, the gift cannot be measured in quantity. The gift is one and undivided because the giver is one and undivided.

How can we receive such a gift? We look to Saint Paul for an answer. His words in the Letter to the Philippians are fascinating:
"I firmly trust and anticipate that I shall never be put to shame for my hopes... Christ will be exalted through me, whether I live or die. For, to me, ‘life’ means Christ; hence dying is so much gain" (Phil. 1:20-21).
With these words of Saint Paul we find ourselves at the very heart of that standard of measurement which belongs to the kingdom of heaven. When we receive a gift, we must respond with a gift. We can only respond to the gift of God in Jesus Christ - his Cross and Resurrection - in the way that Paul responded - with the gift of ourselves. All that Paul is, is contained in this gift of self, both his life and his death. The gift of a person’s life cannot be valued merely in terms of the number of hours spent in an earthly vineyard.

Saint Paul, and everyone like him, realizes that one can never match or equal the value of God’s gift of himself to us. The only measure that applies is the measure of love. And love’s measure, as Saint Bernard says, is to love without measure (S. Bernardi, De Diligendo Deo, I, 1). This makes it possible for the last to be first, and the first last (Cfr. Mt. 20:16).

6. There is another episode, in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus says to one of the Pharisees who is scandalized at the behaviour of a woman known to be a sinner: her many sins are forgiven "because of her great love” (Lk. 7:47). We do well to reflect upon the love in the heart of this woman, who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. We can imagine the bitter sorrow that led her to such an extravagant gesture. Yet by giving herself humbly to God, she discovered the far greater and underserved gift of which we have spoken, namely, God’s gift of himself to her. Through this exchange of gifts, the woman found herself once again, only now she was healed and restored. “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus says to her, “... go in peace” (Ibid. 7, 48).

For us too, sinners that we are, it is all too easy to squander our love, to use it in the wrong way. And like the Pharisee, we do not easily understand the power of love to transform. Only in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ do we come to see that love is the measure of all things in the Kingdom of God, because "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8). We can fully experience love in this life only through faith and repentance.

7. "Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ." As Christians we live and work in this world, which is symbolized by the vineyard, but at the same time we are called to work in the vineyard of the Lord. We live this visible earthly life and at the same time the life of the Kingdom of God, which is the ultimate destiny and vocation of every person. How then are we to conduct ourselves worthily in regard to these two realities?

In the Credo of the People of God proclaimed by my predecessor Paul VI, we find an answer to that question, an answer that reflects the faith of the Church in the light of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:
"We confess that the Kingdom of God... is not of this world... and that its growth cannot be confused with the progress of civilization, science or technology. The true growth of the Kingdom of God consists in an ever deeper knowledge of the unfathomable riches of Christ, in an ever stronger hope in eternal blessings, in an ever more fervent response to the love of God... But this same love also leads the Church to show constant concern for the true temporal welfare of people . . . Although the Church does not cease to remind her children that here they have no lasting city, she also urges them to contribute, according to their vocation and means, to the welfare of this their earthly home . . . and to devote themselves to helping the poorest and neediest of their brothers and sisters. This intense solicitude of the Church... for the needs of people, their joys and hopes, their griefs and labours, is nothing other than her great desire to be present with them in order to illuminate them with the light of Christ and gather them into one in him who alone is their Saviour" (Pauli VI, "Credo" Populi Dei, die 30 iun. 1968: Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, VI (1968) 289ss).
Dear brothers and sisters: these words tell us what is meant by conduct worthy of the Gospel of Christ - that Gospel which we have heard and believed, and are called to live every day. And today in this Eucharistic sacrifice we offer our work, our activities, our whole lives to the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. We call upon God to accept the gift of ourselves.

8. "The Lord is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth
" (Ps. 145(144):17-18).

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks in the name of the Lord, who in the Gospel parable is symbolized by the owner of the vineyard. The Lord says:
"my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways... As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above our thoughts" (Is. 55, 8-9).
And so, my brothers and sisters, “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ," that is to say, measure the things of this world by the standard of the Kingdom of God.
Not the other way around!
Not the other way around!

“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call to him while he is near" (Ibid. 55, 6).
He is near! The Lord is near!
The Kingdom of God is within us. Amen.