Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Third Joyful Mystery

Him, Virgin, To Whom You Gave Birth
The Nativity
The Nativity by Gerard David, ca. 1510-15

Much todo is made about the presents and the family gatherings and the like around Christmastime, but often we get "Christmased out" by the 26th, even before the actual end of the Christmas season rolls around at Epiphany.  

This event is so important, that every Sunday, except during Advent and Lent, we proclaim the Gloria, the song of praise the angels sung in the skies outside Bethlehem, and yet we often feel overwhelmed by the stress of finals, travel, finances, and I for one feel so unprepared for this feast year after year.  The gift of this being a mystery of the rosary is that we can detach from the stress associated with that time of the year, and we can take a few minutes to really enter into the meaning of this event.

There are two scriptures that I wish to drawn on for this reflection, both from John the evangelist.  The first passage is the beginning of his Gospel, and the second is, perhaps surprisingly, from his Apocalypse - Revelation.

Before we read the first passage, I invite you to put yourself in the mind of Mary.  So often, when she appears in the scriptures, it is said that she watches, listens, and holds the events in her heart to ponder upon.  She is our model of contemplation, and it might be nice to think of these words as being from the fruit of her reflection.  After all, John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, took Mary into his home, and cared for her until she died.  It is not much of a stretch to believe that living in her presence bore great fruit for this author of scripture.

John 1:1-4,12-14,16-18
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.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.
And the Word became flesh  and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.
The Greek word Λογοσ (Logos) is what is translated as "Word."  It means a little more in Latin and Greek than it does in English, conveying the sense of not just the letters or sounds, but the meaning, the essence, the reality behind what is expressed.  This is another name for Christ, the Second Person, the WORD of God.  

In verse 14, we find one what I believe to be the most beautiful verses in all scripture, "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."  There's a sense in the original of "making one's abode," or "pitching one's tent" in the word that translates to "dwelt" or "made his dwelling."  

God is on our team.

Let me say that again.  The God who we disobeyed in the garden, Whose law we ignored, lost, disregarded, is for us, in our camp, on our team.  Et habitavit in nobis.

Emmanuel - God With Us.  The Word of God, the Second Person, taking on a human nature, to lead us out of bondage by lowering himself.  That's the truth of Christmas, about the mystery of the nativity, we're talking about God being born as an infant to a virgin.

While we know the nativity story, and are given by this an insight into what this means for us, there is still another aspect about this mystery which John tells in Revelation 12,
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
The  whole of this chapter tells the spiritual side of the Nativity, because from the very beginning, Our King in exile was under attack.  He was born in the dark, and within his first two years of life had the king of Judea (Herod) out for his blood, resulting in the massacre of all male children under the age of two.

The "Revelation Nativity," as it is sometimes called, goes on to describe another sign in the heavens, the huge red dragon who waited to devour the woman's child, and his rage when he was denied.  Imagine the great rage of defeat that Satan must have felt as he watched his Lord, against whom he has been in rebellion from since before the creation of the world, coming to these pitiful humans to redeem them, and bring them to Himself.  

There is a line from verse 17 here that is particularly interesting.  Verse 17 reads, "Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus. "

I think it is very hard to deny that this woman is Mary, but it then speaks of "the rest of her offspring," whereas we know that Mary remained a Virgin inviolate after the birth of Christ. So who are these other offspring John speaks of?

The next line tells us: "...those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus."  Literally, the rest of the Body of Christ.  It is important to remember that when on the cross, Christ gazed upon his mother, and John, and said to Mary, "Behold your son," and to John, "Behold your mother."  He was not just giving John His mother to take care of, but was giving all of us to Her, and her to all of us.

The offspring that John speaks of are us.  Mary was given to us as our mother, that just as she gave Christ His body, bearing Him to the world, we may be born of her into the Body of Christ, born by her, to her Son.

Mary, Mother of the Word Incarnate,
Let us be born of you into the mystical body of your son,
that you would be our mother, 
as you were mother to Christ, 
and mother to John.
Mary, Mother most Loving,
Pray for us!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow!

So, as the title of the post implies, I've had a bit of a style change where my hair is concerned...  This is a bit of documentation for y'all, with some commentary, thoughts, and fun facts.

Basically what we have here is me with long hair.

From the back so you can see just how long it is.  
Not sure exactly what that curling on the end is... Whatever.

Seriously, I was one shaggy cat...

A little more standard here, what with the ponytail and debonaire look.  
What can I say, I like it not being in my face.

And here's that ponytail from the back...  From the ties at the back of my head to the base in the middle of my back, that thing measured 22".  This of course means that the hair being pulled back from the front was over 2'.  Longer than my daughter is tall.

Anyway, fun fact I learned from the gal who cut my hair is that on average, human hair grows at the rate of ¼" a month, or 3" a year.  I shaved my head bald Spring semester of my freshman year, which is to say in the beginning of 2006, 5 years ago ± a month or so.

For the quick of math, that means my hair – without being cut – should have been 15".  With being trimmed three times, with at least an inch or two being taken off each time, it still hit two feet.  

24" + 6" = 30" = 2 x 15".  How about that.  I am follicularly endowed.

Here's the braid she put it in to send it to locks of love...

..and here it is being shorn from my head...

Even with ~20" of hair cut off, I still have long hair... 
Farewell my hair, endow some bald person with confidence and such!!!!

And now, just because I can, I will put a gratuitous number of line breaks in just so you have to scroll down for the reveal!!!!!!!!

Nope, keep going!!!!

Just a little further!!!!!!!

Almost made it!!!!!!!!

Holy cow this guy's a stud!!!

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I am now a "Shorthair."  I know this bring great sadness to some, because let's face it, I had gorgeous long hair.  But rejoice that I again have Awesome Hair™!!

Fun fact: that little bald spot dates from when
I was accidentally pushed down the concrete 
steps to my Great Grandma's basement by one
of my cousins.

Good times.

So yeah, there's my before and after post.  End of an era and all that.  I'm liking it, and I must give props to my wife's favorite hairstylist who gave me this haircut.  She did a fantastic job, and quite honestly made my hair look amazing.

That's all for now, back to serious posts presently.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Second Joyful Mystery

Him Whom You Carried
When You Visited Elizabeth
The Annunciation

Before I get into the main reflection for this post, I'd like to take a minute to point out something that's just plain cool.  Luke highlights for us in his narrative of the birth of Christ that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, and her journey to the hill country gives us one of the easiest examples to see.  

When we read 2 Samuel 6:9-14, we find David receiving the Ark of the Covenant.  He at first exclaims, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" after which he sends it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (within walking distance of where Mary went to stay with Elizabeth).  Verse 11 tells us that the ark stayed there for three months, blessing Obed-edom and his whole house.

After those three months, he has the ark brought into the City of David, where David himself, "...came dancing before the LORD with abandon," much as the infant John leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb at the sound of Mary's voice.

Mary, Ark of the New Covenant, Pray for us!

And now, on to the main reflection.

After being greeted by her cousin, Mary proclaims the Magnificat (Magnificat anima Dei - My soul doth magnify the Lord):

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
First off, this is a beautiful hymn reminiscent of the praise of Hannah - the prophet Samuel's mother - when she gave him to the temple as she had promised (1 Sam. 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8):
...and as she worshiped the LORD, she said:  
"My heart exults in the LORD, 
my horn is exalted in my God. 
I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory. 
The bows of the mighty are broken, 
while the tottering gird on strength. 
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, 
while the hungry batten on spoil. 
The barren wife bears seven sons, 
while the mother of many languishes. 
"The LORD puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; 
he raises up again. 
The LORD makes poor and makes rich, 
he humbles, he also exalts. 
He raises the needy from the dust; 
from the ash heap he lifts up the poor, 
To seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage. 
He gives to the vower his vow, and blesses the sleep of the just. 
"For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and he has set the world upon them."
Secondly, it is also a look at the character of God, who He is insofar as the actions He takes in our world.  As cliché as we might feel that it gets sometimes to hear our pastors talking about how God's standards are different, and how he doesn't use the same measuring sticks we do (power, fame, 'importance,' et cetera), it isn't cliché, it's the truth.  He even says it through the authors of scripture: 
But the LORD said to Samuel: "Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)

There is a particular line in Mary's proclamation which sometimes troubles people, and which is often mistranslated - the first one.  Magnificat anima DEI - My Soul magnifies the LORD.  Some translations render magnificat as "proclaims the greatness of," or "exults," or "praises."  I'm sure the translation committees had their good intentions, but the literal translation is Magnifies.

This led to a question in a group lectio I was in over this passage - "If God is infinite, and magnification makes things bigger, how can Mary's soul magnify Him?  Doesn't that mean she would be making God bigger?"

The answer that I have found, both through the priest leading us at that time as well as in personal contemplation and discussion with my wife is twofold: yes, and no.

If we are to accept that Mary was correct, and that her soul did indeed magnify the Lord, then perhaps we should look at what magnification is, and what a magnifier does.  Magnification comes from the Latin words for "big" and "make," so in a literal sense it does mean, "make bigger."  However, if we look at the operation of a magnifier, say a magnifying glass, the physical object we look at does not actually become bigger - its appearance to us does.  

Stated another way, the sun is intense an very hot, and standing out in it for too long will give you a sunburn because it is so hot and intense.  That being said, it will not start things on fire.  If, however, you take a magnifying glass and focus the light of the sun to one spot on a leaf or a twig, if the conditions are right it will light up and start burning.  You didn't make the sun bigger, nor did you intensify the sun, you sort of... condensed it. 

This is similar to how Mary acts in our lives.  She does not make God "bigger" insomuch as she makes Him more apparent to us.  She is the voice saying, "Do whatsoever he tells you."  Also, through her intercession and prayers, she can "intensify" His love and actions in our life by adding her desire that our prayer be granted.  As James said: "The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful," and who is more righteous than the ever-sinless, ever-virgin Theotokos?

That's the "No," here's the "Yes."

I just said that Mary's action as magnifier is to intensify His light and love, to make it more apparent, not necessarily in making Him bigger.

However, how better to make a person bigger than to carry them in your womb for 9 months, and then to nourish and care for them as they grow from infant to adult?  While she models for us how to magnify Him in the first sense, she received the special blessing of being able to magnify Him in reality, giving the Word-made-Flesh His Flesh.  This "Light from Light" who became "True God and True Man" was incarnated into our nature through her fiat, and through her maternity was brought closer to us, the very thing a magnifying glass seems to do.

So, Mary does magnify the Lord, both by physically giving Him life and raising Him, and also by interceding for us before her Son.   This is one of the many reasons for which which the infant John the Baptist leapt for joy in His mother's womb.

Mary, Ark of the New Covenant, 
Whose Soul Magnifies the LORD,
Draw us closer to your Son,
the Word-made-Flesh.
Let us dance before him in joy as did John the Baptist,
and let us imitate you by bringing Him to others.
Mary, who carried Christ in your womb when you visited your cousin, pray for us!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The 28th Amendment

I, Jeremiah Evans,
do hereby submit a petition to include
a 28th amendment to the Constitution
of the Republic
of the United States of America

  1. All future amendments and bills submitted to Congress assembled ("submissions") must fit on 1 (one) piece of legal sized paper ("the paper").
  2. Submissions may fill both sides of the paper.
  3. All submissions must be in 9 (nine) point font or larger.
  4. All submissions must have a minimum of 1" (one inch) margins in all directions.
  5. No submission will be accepted for consideration to either house of congress which does not adhere to these stipulations.
  6. All congresspersons shall be mandated to read any and all submissions before voting on them.
  7. No congressperson shall be allowed to vote on the submission if they are unable to successfully pick it out of a lineup.
  8. The president shall be mandated to read any and all submissions before signing or vetoing them.
  9. The president shall be ridiculed soundly if they are unable to successfully pick the submission out of a lineup.
  10. While being unable to successfully pick the submission out of a lineup shall not be an impeachable offense, it may be used in impeachment hearings as proof of incompetence.

Yeah. I think that should just about take care of it... Anyone else sign that petition?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

More Happiness!!

The Blessed Virgin Mary
Mother of God

What better way to start out the New Year, than by spending a little time with Our Mother?

While this solemnity is a Holy Day of Obligation under normal circumstances, at least in my diocese it is absorbed onto the weekend.  However, as Fr. Seda said, it's still a Holy Day of Opportunity!

The great thing about this feast, the great thing that so many Catholics even don't get, is that we are celebrating today how Our Lady protected her son, Our Lord, and how she continues to protect him for all eternity.

I know, I know, how can a human protect God?

Well, the thing is, the conciliar declaration of Mary as Θεοτοκοσ (Theotokos - God Bearer) is very important to our understanding of who Christ is, the hypostatic union and all that.  See, back then, and even today, many people are tempted to call Mary the "Mother of Christ," or Χριστοτοκοσ (Christotokos - Christ Bearer).  Much of this today comes from an unwillingness to put Mary in such a high position, to give her so much honor.

Lucky for us, her Son already did that for us!

Mary didn't just clothe Christ in a human nature.  She is not just the mother of His human part.  His humanity is a nature (he has both human and divine natures).  Natures don't have mothers, though they are given to us by our mothers (and our fathers).  She gave that to Him when He chose her as His Mother.

Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus Christ is God.

Mary is the Mother of God.

In her maternity, she does what all mothers do, protect their children.  Naming Mary as Mother of God does not exalt her, but rather verifies and confirms that Jesus the Man is God.  Saying that she is the Mother of Christ, while easier to comprehend, allows us to say such silly things as "God used a puppet," or "God put on a human suit," et cetera, saying basically that Mary gave birth to something that wasn't really him, just a nature, just a body. 

Bodies don't have mothers, natures don't have mothers, people do.  Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, God, is the son of Mary, in His entirety or not at all.  Saying that Mary is the mother of God is just another way of saying that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man.

We give Mary no greater honor that that given to her be her son, rather we recognize that all generations shall call her blessed, for the Almighty has done great things to her, and Holy is His Name.  To honor Mary is to join with her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ever-Virgin Mary,
Theotokos Full-of-Grace,
As Our Savior was born to you, 
So let us be born into his mystical body by your intercession.
Teach us to truly love your son,
And give us the strength to echo your "Fiat" when He calls.
Mary, Mother of the Word-Made-Flesh, Pray for Us!