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Archive for the ‘De-Coding Mary Magdalene’ Category

I finally got off my tail and began the project of re-purposing as many of our out-of-print books as I can. It’s not as if I don’t have other things to do – homeschooling a 7th grader, writing a book that’s due on December 15, writing another shorter book for independent release…but it’s been weighing on me, so I decided it was time to begin. Plus, since I’ll be putting out the Guatemala book as a Kindle book, I thought it would be good practice to go ahead and start publishing books that had already been written and edited.

(For those of you who wonder about rights. Generally what happens – and this is the case with these books – once a book goes out of print, the rights revert to the author, so that she can do whatever she likes with them. The advent of digital has made that a bit more complicated – some publishers are reverting print rights back to authors but retaining digital rights, for example, so they can continue to benefit from that revenue stream. And some publishers are holding onto all rights, maintaining a large back catalog in theory, even though they’re not actually publishing the older books – frustrating a lot of authors who would really like to have the rights to their own books back….)

So here’s my first attempt – available for pre-order from Amazon. Once I get the hang of it, I might publish in other formats – Smashwords, etc, but this is it for now. For the moment, I have taken the free pdf off my website, mostly because I am not sure how Amazon feels about offering something for sale on their site while giving it away somewhere else. I’ll do this for a while and see what happens.

Why not just leave it up as a free pdf? Because I can reach more people this way, that’s why. There isn’t another book like this out there – a popular, non-wacky look at Mary Magdalene and her cultus with a bit of a devotional twist. I’ve mentioned the book to various publishers in passing, letting it be known that if anyone wanted to republish it, I’d be happy to discuss it, but no one’s interested…so why not do it myself?

(But no, I won’t be doing a print version. That’s a whole other level of hassle…..)

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  • Are you getting ready for school? Catechists, homeschoolers and Catholic school teachers are.  Pastors and principals, too. If you are a mind to, please take a look at all the resources I have available for catechesis.
  • Do you work in youth ministry? Please check out my books for teens and young adults here.

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  • Are you planning adult education? Consider these resources.

Or this:

  • Are you teaching First Communion children this year? Take a look at Friendship with Jesus and Be Saints. 
  • Are you teaching religion to elementary age students? Friendship with Jesus, Be Saints, Bambinelli Sunday, Adventures in Assisi, The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes. 
  • And…the new book:

 

Note: the Amazon listing indicates it will be released tomorrow. This isn’t correct. It will be 9/1, according to Loyola. 

  • Can you help catechists, Catholic schools and parish programs?  Consider gifting your parish, school or favorite catechist with copies of these books.  Click on the covers for more information.

I have copies of some of these – the Prove it books, the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days and the Book of Heroes as well as the Prove It Bible available in my bookstore. 

Again – even if catechesis isn’t something you are personally involved in, any catechist, parish school, library or program would welcome a donation as a beginning-of-the-year (no matter when it begins…) gift.

Also: Did you know that public libraries accept suggestions for books to purchase? Usually you have to have a library card in their system to be able to recommend a book – but do look into that – you could give a boost to a lot of Catholic authors in this way.

And don’t forget that I do have some ebooks – in pdf form – available at no cost.

Mary and the Christian Life

De-Coding Mary Magdalene

Come Meet Jesus

The Power of the Cross

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And here we go with chapter 4 of De-Coding Mary Magdalene. This chapter covers the earliest stages of patristic thinking about the saint. It’s shorter.

I hope what you notice that one of the things I try to do here (and in everything I write along this line, as well) is to help the reader understand not only Mary Magdalene herself, but broader (to use a big word) epistemological matters as well. How to read the Bible. How to understand early Church History. It’s one thing to throw factoids at people. It’s important in the long run, however, to open them up to the greater issues of, not just what to know, but how to know – especially about religious matters – in a culture in which they are told, repeatedly, that all knowledge, especially about religion, is fundamentally uncertain, relative, and ideological.

For previous chapters:

Chapter one: Introducing Mary Magdalene in the Bible

Chapter two: Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection

Chapter three: Mary Magdalene in Gnostic writings

As I have said before, feel free to use this material in any way you wish, even copying them for parish discussion groups. The full pdf is available here. 

While Gnostic writers were — or perhaps weren’t – – writing about Mary Magdalene, favored student of the Gnostic Jesus, orthodox Christian writers had a few things to say as well during those early centuries of Christianity.
She didn’t dominate the scene, but a few thinkers found her an intriguing figure, helpful in understanding the nature of faith and redemption. She’s represented in art from the period as well, most often in her role as “myrrhophore” — one of the women bringing oils and spice to Jesus’ tomb.

It’s that theme that we see most frequently: Mary Magdalene as faithful disciple and witness to the empty tomb, and then, digging a little deeper, Mary as the New Eve and Mary as the Church, symbolized with power and passion in the Old Testament Song of Songs.

Those who think that the Gnostics were more appreciative of Mary Magdalene than were orthodox Christians who were perhaps busy demonizing her might be in for a surprise. Many early Church Fathers had no problem identifying Mary Magdalene in quite exalted terms: “Apostle to the Apostles” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles,” titles which may be now neglected in the West, but which remain her primary identification in Eastern Christianity to this day.

‘Come, My Beloved’

It might be helpful, before getting to Mary herself, to set the scene. When we talk about the “early Church” and the “early Church Fathers” and their writings, what exactly do we mean?

For the purposes of this chapter, “early Church” means Christianity up to the late sixth century, at which point we start creeping into the early Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages, as they are quite unfairly called.

During this period, Christianity spread throughout the Middle East, into Africa, far into Europe, and even into India. The time began, of course, with most of that area (with the exception of India) as part of the Roman Empire, where Christianity was illegal. By the time the sixth century rolled around, the old Roman Empire had collapsed, new kingdoms and empires had taken shape, and Christianity was not only legal in all of them, but was the established religion in most as well, a situation that would last until the rise of Islam in the eighth century.

By the end of the first century, a basic church structure of presbyters (priests) and bishops was beginning to evolve (we can even see this in the New Testament: for example, in the First Letter of Paul to Timothy). The religious landscape was not the same as it is today: there were no seminaries, no universities, and of course, no publishing houses or religious newspapers. But there were theologians, spiritual writers, and bishops, who wrote and preached. Many of their works have survived and are available in English — even on the Internet — today.

Most commonly, the texts that we can read that give us an idea of what these Christians were thinking and how they believed and practiced their faith are:

  • Defenses of Christianity against skeptics and heretics.
  • Commentaries on Scripture.
  • Catechetical instructions.
  • And not coming from individuals but from church communities were liturgies and,beginning in the fourth century,
  • decrees from gatherings of bishops.

So you see, although there is much we don’t know, a great deal of evidence has survived that gives us an excellent picture of Christian life in its first five centuries of life. It is not as mysterious and ambiguous as some claim. Christian thinkers were seeking to deepen their understanding of the Gospel, in the context of a culture that was extremely hostile to them, as well as intellectually and religiously diverse.

There’s a good reason people still read the writings of these early Church Fathers. Their situation was not that different from ours. They were dealing honestly and tenaciously with the most fundamental aspects of Christian faith, and they were trying to make them understandable to a world that, while skeptical, was obviously deeply in need of Christ. Two thousand years is a long time — but not long enough for human nature and humanity’s need for Christ to change.

These early Christian writers viewed the literal truth of Scripture — in which they firmly believed, by the way — as a starting point. From that factual level, they routinely set off exploring nuance, making connections, and discovering useful analogies and allegories. Patristic writing is extremely rich in that way.

So for them, Mary Magdalene was more than a woman at a tomb, just as Jesus had been more than a man on a cross. In Jesus, all of history is redeemed and all of creation is reconciled to God.

Into this richness step ordinary men and women like you and me, people like Peter, Levi, John, and Mary. As they live and move in Jesus’ shadow, listening and responding to him, they, too, become more. Their actions evoke other figures’ responses to God’s out-stretched hand. Their doubt, faith, sin, and redemption become more than just their own, as we look at them and see echoes of our own lives and, in fact, of the whole human story.

So, for example, when some of these writers meditated on Mary Magdalene, they saw her responding to the Good News of redemption and eternal life — in a garden. It recalled another scene, at the beginning of salvation history, also in a garden in which a woman and a man disobeyed God, and humanity fell. And so, for some, Mary Magdalene became a sort of New Eve, long before the title had attached itself to the Virgin Mary.

For example, St. Cyril of Alexandria, who lived in the fifth century, said that because of Mary Magdalene’s witness at the empty tomb, all women were forgiven of Eve’s sin (Haskins, p. 89). St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nyssa also made the connection:

“She is the first witness of the resurrection, that she might set straight again by her faith in the resurrection, what was turned over by her transgression.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa,Against Eunomius3.10.16, quoted in The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, by Jane Schaberg [Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002], p. 87).

The image of a woman grieving and waiting in a garden evoked another image for Christians: that of the great love poem in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Song of Songs (also known as the Canticle of Canticles or Song of Solomon).

The third-century Christian writer Hippolytus made a great deal of this in his own commentary on the Old Testament book. He brings in not only Mary Magdalene but also the other women reported at the tomb in the various Gospels, and sometimes in confusing ways. The female image, rooted in specific figures, becomes more generally symbolic but, with Mary Magdalene as one of them, echoes the deep desire of the bride in the Old Testament book, her desire for her beloved, as they seek Jesus at the tomb:

“ ‘By night, I sought him whom my soul loveth’: See how this is fulfilled in Martha and Mary. In their figure, zealous Synagogue sought the dead Christ. . . . For she teaches us and tells us: By night I sought him whom my soul loveth.” (Hippolytus,third century, quoted in Haskins, p. 61)

Finally, writers during this period cited Mary Magdalene for her witness at the tomb and sharing the Good News with the apostles. Hippolytus, who was also a bishop, referred to her as “Apostle to the Apostles.” Other Church Fathers also praised Mary for her role as a witness, some holding that through her example, all women are honored and, in a sense, redeemed.

A fourth-century Eastern poet named Ephrem used this image, although, confusingly to us, he conflates Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the following (as we saw in the last chapter, this was a characteristic of Syrian Christianity in this period):

“At the beginning of his coming to

earth A virgin was first to receive him, 

And at his raising up from the grave

To a woman he showed his resurrection.

In his beginning and in his fulfillment

The name of his mother cries out and is present.

Mary received him by conception

And saw an angel at his grave.”

(Quoted in Haskins, p. 90)

 

In this early period of Christian reflection, theological and spiritual writers worked in a relatively simple garden. Scripture — both Hebrew and Christian Testaments — was their primary source. Their sense of who Mary Magdalene was and of her importance for Christians was derived completely from that. She was historically significant because she was the first to see the empty tomb and the Risen Christ. Her role evoked other women in other gardens, and another layer of reflection was woven, celebrating Mary Magdalene as a New Eve or as representing the Church as the expectant bride seeking her bridegroom, Christ — but all because of what the Christian tradition had testified about her role in the events of the Resurrection.

The story of Mary Magdalene obviously does not end here, for at this point — the fifth and early sixth centuries — some images, quite familiar to us today, have not yet appeared. What of the penitent Magdalene? The prostitute? The evangelizer of the French?

Where these came from we shall soon see, as we enter the Middle Ages, a period of intense creativity and legend-building, in which the evidence of Scripture was revered, but popularly viewed as only the beginning to far more interesting tales.

 

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why did early Christian thinkers refer to Mary Magdalene as the “New Eve?”
  2. Why did they connect Mary Magdalene to the Song of Songs?
  3. What do you think of this approach to interpreting Scripture? Do you find it helpful or not?

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This Sunday – the Third Sunday of Easter – gives us an excellent opportunity to consider the richness of ancient Christian tradition as it has flowed and coursed down to us over two thousand years in the East and West.

First, it should be said that in the most ancient Western rite, this Sunday was “Good Shepherd” Sunday – which was moved to the following week in the modern era.

In the present Ordinary Form lectionary, this Sunday doesn’t get a consistent Gospel every year, but rather varied accounts of post-Resurrection appearances. This year, as you should know, because you’ve been to Mass or are on your way – the Gospel is the narrative of the Road to Emmaus.

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From B16 in 2008:

The locality of Emmaus has not been identified with certainty. There are various hypotheses and this one is not without an evocativeness of its own for it allows us to think that Emmaus actually represents every place: the road that leads there is the road every Christian, every person, takes. The Risen Jesus makes himself our travelling companion as we go on our way, to rekindle the warmth of faith and hope in our hearts and to break the bread of eternal life. In the disciples’ conversation with the unknown wayfarer the words the evangelist Luke puts in the mouth of one of them are striking: “We had hoped…” (Lk 24: 21). This verb in the past tense tells all: we believed, we followed, we hoped…, but now everything is over. Even Jesus of Nazareth, who had shown himself in his words and actions to be a powerful prophet, has failed, and we are left disappointed. This drama of the disciples of Emmaus appears like a reflection of the situation of many Christians of our time: it seems that the hope of faith has failed. Faith itself enters a crisis because of negative experiences that make us feel abandoned and betrayed even by the Lord. But this road to Emmaus on which we walk can become the way of a purification and maturation of our belief in God. Also today we can enter into dialogue with Jesus, listening to his Word. Today too he breaks bread for us and gives himself as our Bread. And so the meeting with the Risen Christ that is possible even today gives us a deeper and more authentic faith tempered, so to speak, by the fire of the Paschal Event; a faith that is robust because it is nourished not by human ideas but by the Word of God and by his Real Presence in the Eucharist.

In the East, this Sunday is, and has from ancient times, celebrated as the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women.

Both East and West, then, emphasize encounter. Encounters with the Risen Lord. Encounters which are surprising and mysterious.  We are still on the road. What keeps us from recognizing him as he draws near? We still draw near to the tomb. What do we bring along? What do we bear?

An excerpt from my book, De-Coding Mary Magdalene. You can download a pdf of the book here. 

 

‘Myrrh-bearer’

To put it most simply, the Eastern view of Mary Magdalene, although marked by some unique legendary material, in general cleaves much more closely to what the Gospels tell us about her. The East never adopted St. Gregory the Great’s conflation of the Marys, and their commemoration of Mary Magdalene on her feast day has always been centered on her role as witness to the empty tomb and her declaration, “He is risen!”

The title with which Mary is honored in Eastern Christianity, while unwieldy to English speakers, makes this association clear. She is called “Myrrh-bearer” (she is also known as “Equal-to-the- Apostles,” or Isapostole, and by the term mentioned earlier, “Apostle to the Apostles”). As a myrrh-bearer, she is also honored in Orthodoxy on the second Sunday after Easter (Pascha), the “Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women,” along with seven other women who are mentioned by the Gospel writers as having an important role at the cross or at the tomb:

“You did command the myrrh-bearers to rejoice, O Christ! By your resurrection, you did stop the lamentation of Eve,

O God!

You did command your apostles to preach:The Savior is risen!”

(Kontakion, Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women)

Two weeks before, on Pascha itself, it is traditional to sing a hymn in honor of Mary Magdalene, one written, intriguingly, by a woman.

Kassia, the composer of this hymn, was born in Constantino- ple in the ninth century. She married and had children, but even tually established and led a monastery in that city. She is believed to have composed more than fifty hymns, thirty of which are still in use in the Orthodox liturgy today. She also wrote secular poetry, and she was the author of a number of pithy epigrams (“Love everyone, but don’t trust all” is one of many).

Her troparion, or short praise-hymn, puts us in the heart of Mary Magdalene as she approaches the tomb:

“Sensing your divinity, Lord, a woman of many sins

takes it upon herself

to become a myrrh-bearer and in deep mourning

brings before you fragrant oil

in anticipation of your burial; crying: “Woe to me! What night falls on me, what dark and moonless madness

of wild desire, this lust for sin.

Take my spring of tears

you who draw water from the clouds, bend to me, to the sighing of my heart, you who bend the heavens

in your secret incarnation,

I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair; those very feet whose sound Eve heard

at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.

Who shall count the multitude of my sins or the depth of your judgment,

Savior of my soul?

Do not ignore your handmaiden, you whose mercy is endless.”

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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

It’s a good day to download a free e-book on Mary – Mary and the Christian Life, which I wrote a few years ago, and is now out of print…you can have it!  Go here for the pdf download.

Also, today is a good day (as is every day!) to think about the rosary.  

Now for the good stuff, from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about…a few selections from “Father Benedict” – on this feast.

2005:

In Mary shines forth the eternal goodness of the Creator who chose her in his plan of salvation to be the mother of his Only-begotten Son; God, foreseeing his death, preserved her from every stain of sin (cf. Concluding Prayer). In this way, in the Mother of Christ and our Mother the vocation of every human being is perfectly fulfilled. All men and women, according to St Paul, are called to be holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love (cf. Eph 1: 4, 5).

Looking at Mary, how can we, her children, fail to let the aspiration to beauty, goodness and purity of heart be aroused in us? Her heavenly candour draws us to God, helping us to overcome the temptation to live a mediocre life composed of compromises with evil, and directs us decisively towards the authentic good that is the source of joy.

2007

What a great gift to have Mary Immaculate as mother! A mother resplendent with beauty, the transparency of God’s love. I am thinking of today’s young people, who grow up in an environment saturated with messages that propose false models of happiness. These young men and women risk losing hope because they often seem orphans of true love, which fills life with true meaning and joy. This was a theme dear to my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, who so often proposed Mary to the youth of our time as the “Mother of Fair Love”. Unfortunately, numerous experiences tell us that adolescents, young people and even children easily fall prey to corrupt love, deceived by unscrupulous adults who, lying to themselves and to them, lure them into the deadends of consumerism; even the most sacred realities, like the human body, a temple of God’s love and of life, thus become objects of consumption and this is happening earlier, even in pre-adolescence. How sad it is when youth lose the wonder, the enchantment of the most beautiful sentiments, the value of respect for the body, the manifestation of the person and his unfathomable mystery!

2008

Dear friends, in Mary Immaculate we contemplate the reflection of the Beauty that saves the world: the beauty of God resplendent on the Face of Christ. In Mary this beauty is totally pure, humble, free from all pride and presumption.

2009

On 8 December we celebrate one of the most beautiful Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. But what does Mary being “Immaculate” mean? And what does this title tell us? First of all let us refer to the biblical texts of today’s Liturgy, especially the great “fresco” of the third chapter of the Book of Genesis and the account of the Annunciation in the Gospel according to Luke. After the original sin, God addresses the serpent, which represents Satan, curses it and adds a promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gn 3: 15). It is the announcement of revenge: at the dawn of the Creation, Satan seems to have the upper hand, but the son of a woman is to crush his head. Thus, through the descendence of a woman, God himself will triumph. Goodness will triumph. That woman is the Virgin Mary of whom was born Jesus Christ who, with his sacrifice, defeated the ancient tempter once and for all. This is why in so many paintings and statues of the Virgin Immaculate she is portrayed in the act of crushing a serpent with her foot.

Luke the Evangelist, on the other hand, shows the Virgin Mary receiving the Annunciation of the heavenly Messenger (cf. Lk 1: 26-38). She appears us the humble, authentic daughter of Israel, the true Zion in which God wishes to take up his abode. She is the shoot from which the Messiah, the just and merciful King, is to spring. In the simplicity of the house of Nazareth dwells the pure “remnant” of Israel from which God wants his People to be reborn, like a new tree that will spread its branches throughout the world, offering to all humanity the good fruit of salvation. Unlike Adam and Eve, Mary stays obedient to the Lord’s will, with her whole being she speaks her “yes” and makes herself entirely available to the divine plan. She is the new Eve, the true “mother of all the living”, namely, those who, because of their faith in Christ, receive eternal life.

2010

The mystery of the Immaculate Conception is a source of inner light, hope and comfort. Amidst the trials of life and, especially, the contradictions that man experiences within and around himself. Mary, Mother of Christ, tells us that Grace is greater than sin, that God’s mercy is more powerful than evil and it is able to transform it into good. Unfortunately, every day we experience evil, which is manifested in many ways including relationships and events, but whose root is in the human heart, a wounded, sick heart that is incapable of healing itself. Sacred Scripture reveals to us that the origin of all evil is disobedience to God’s will and that death has the upper hand because human freedom has yielded to the temptation of the Evil One.

But God does not fail in his plan of love and life: through a long and patient process of reconciliation he prepared the new and eternal Covenant, sealed in the Blood of his Son, who in order to offer himself in expiation was “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). This woman, the Virgin Mary, benefited in advance from the redeeming death of her Son and was preserved from the contagion of sin from the moment of her conception. Therefore, with her Immaculate Heart, she tells us: entrust yourselves to Jesus, he saves you.

2011

The expression “full of grace” indicates that marvellous work of the love of God, who through his Only-Begotten Son incarnate who died and rose again, wanted to restore to us the life and the freedom, lost by original sin. Because of this, since the 2nd century both in the East and the West, the Church invokes and celebrates the Virgin who with her “yes” brought Heaven closer to earth, becoming “Genetrix of God and nurturer of our life”, as St Romanus the Melodus expressed it in an old song…

2012

The light that shines from the figure of Mary also helps us to understand the true meaning of original sin. Indeed that relationship with God which sin truncates is fully alive and active in Mary. In her there is no opposition between God and her being: there is full communion, full understanding. There is a reciprocal “yes”: God to her and her to God. Mary is free from sin because she belongs entirely to God, she empties herself totally for him. She is full of his Grace and of his Love.

To conclude, the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary expresses the certainty of faith that God’s promises have been fulfilled and that his Covenant does not fail but has produced a holy root from which came forth the blessed Fruit of the whole universe, Jesus the Saviour. The Immaculate Virgin shows that Grace can give rise to a response, that God’s fidelity can bring forth a true and good faith.

 And for even more substance from a homily he gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.

It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.

It was also foretold, however, that the “offspring” of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman – and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself – would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.

If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.

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This past week, the fruits of some past labors came to fruition all at once. That’s the way it is in writing, even in the age of so much instant publication. What you write today will come to light in a year or so, which means if you’re writing religious stuff, you’re often off, liturgical-year wise, writing about Christmas in May and Easter in November.

Last week, I mentioned that I received my copies of Praying with the Pivotal Players. Right now, you can get it as part of the entire study program and order it individually through the WOF website. It’s on Amazon, but I have no idea when it will actually be available.

"pivotal players"

Then on Saturday, I received a box containing my copies of the 2016 Advent devotional Daybreaks published by Liguori. This is an annual publication, and I’m honored to join the roster of authors who have contributed in the past. A Spanish language edition will also be available – and I also wrote the Lent 2017 devotional as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

 

Lent Daily Devotional

So if you are responsible for ordering such materials for a diocese, school or parish..please consider this!

Sunday the 18th, the Living Faith daily devotional was written by me.   Before that, I’d contributed the September 4 devotion.

Also last week, I made De-Coding Da Vinci available in pdf form. More here. 

Also …with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi coming up, remember that I have copies of Adventure in Assisi to sell – signed or not, your choice! Go here for information on that. 

assisi

 

And now…time to get to work this Monday morning on things that will be published next fall…

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

 

I usually try to get this 7 QT blog post done on Thursday night, but that didn’t happen. I couldn’t sleep at all Wednesday night, for some reason – too much Diet Coke too late in the day, a bunch of stuff happening over the next few days – all that combined to render the OFF button on my brain unusable. So for the first time in a very long time, I just got about an hour of sleep. Wow. I POWERED THROUGH, however, and actually didn’t feel bad at all during the day, but Thursday night..was useless.  All recalibrated now.

 

— 2 —

Yesterday morning, I received a shipment in the mail:

"pivotal players"

Yes, my new book – Praying with the Pivotal Players. It’s my contribution to Bishop Barron’s Pivotal Players series. If you go here, I have a short video on Instagram looking inside the book. It’s listed on Amazon, but is not available yet – I don’t know when it will be. If you have received a shipment of the entire program,entire program, it’s included in that, however.

— 3 —

 

Saints! Here are last year’s entries on today and tomorrow’s saints:

September 16 – St. Cyprian

September 17 – St. Robert Bellarmine

 — 4 —

Good listens this week while walking, both from the BBC In Our Time podcasts.

Sovereignty –  Which was excellent, but missing any serious consideration of how the loss of a sense of divine sovereignty over all impacted the development of the concept.

The Collapse of the Bronze Age – the beginning of which at least I am going to have my younger son listen to, as it deals quite efficiently with the tenuous nature of our understanding of the deep past and the almost arbitrary nature of periodization.

— 5 

Really great news for artist Ben Hatke – those of you with kids have perhaps (I hope) encountered his Zita the Space Girl series (You might have learned about him first years ago as the illustrator of Regina Doman’s lovely Angel in the Waters book.)  Well...Zita’s been optioned for the movies!!

6–

If you want to hear some of the kind of sacred music we have here at the Cathedral of St. Paul…here’s a tiny bit. 

— 7 —

For some reason, Dan Brown has released a “young adult” version of the Da Vinci Code.  I wrote about it earlier this week.  My De-Coding Da Vinci is now out of print, so I’ve put it online in a free pdf version. You can access it either at the previous link or more directly, here. It’s basically a short course in early Church history and formation of the Canon of the Bible…so have at it!

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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