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Shoot of Jesse

TREE of JESSE

 

From Daniel Mitsui:

The Tree of Jesse is a visual elaboration of a prophecy of Isaiah: And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root, applied to the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

Its major figures are (from the top of the image) Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and David, all sitting on branches of the tree; and the sleeping Jesse, from whose body its trunk emerges. Seven doves representing the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost surround Christ, in reference to Isaiah’s following words: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.

The genealogy of Jesus Christ, as given in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, lists forty men from Abraham to St. Joseph, divided into three groups of fourteen (evenly, if David is included in both the first and second divisions and Josiah in both the second and third).

Between the major figures in the central column I placed small scenes in quatrefoils that indicate the start, division and end of the list. Abraham and Isaac are the first names, so I drew the Sacrifice of Isaac, which the Fathers of the Church identified as a prefigurement of the Crucifixion of Christ. The starry sky in the scene refers to God’s promise to Abraham: Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only-begotten son for my sake, I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven.

The Transmigration into Babylon (which is the event separating the second and third divisions) appears in the quatrefoil above David. Specifically, I illustrated Zedekiah, King of Judah, blinded and chained. This seemed to me the best representation of the royal lineage taken into exile in Babylon (even though Zedekiah’s name is skipped in St. Matthew’s list).

Because the list ends with St. Joseph, I drew his espousal to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a way to connect the genealogy more securely to Mary and Christ. The scene follows traditional accounts of the event, with Joseph holding a flowering staff (that here resembles the flowering Tree of Jesse). One of the doves representing the Seven Gifts I drew in flight, above the quatrefoil to suggest also the dove that landed on Joseph’s staff to signify his election by God to be Mary’s spouse.

Fitting all of the ancestors into one composition was a challenge. Late medieval paintings that have them perched haphazardly on the branches of the tree always seemed somewhat comical to me, whereas more orderly depictions from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries reduced the tree to a stylized, almost geometric pattern. I wanted the tree instead to resemble a living thing.

My solution was to create a framework of Gothic tracery in which the figures could stand in an orderly manner, and then to weave the branches of the tree through it, like a plant climbing a trellis.

The tree is an Almond tree, chosen for its connection to the flowering rod of Aaron (a prefigurement of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus Christ) and for symbolism that I found in the poetry of Adam of St. Victor (here translated by Digby S. Wrangham):

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From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols:

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a great deal of presentism in the current Ecclesial Moment – and by that I mean:

There’s not a lot of attention paid to the depth and breadth of Catholic experience, past and present. It is all suggested  to be at best, irrelevant to the present moment or at worst, an obstacle to authentic faith in the present moment.

It’s an interesting method, since many involved in teaching Catholic Stuff take a slightly different approach:

Beginning with a teaching, doctrine or practice and explaining how this truth expresses the Real, whether we see it clearly in this present moment or not.

Freedom  = realizing who I am in this Big Picture, that this is Real Life, not the burdens that my own sin and and a sinful, limiting, narrow world lay on me.

Bottom line: Is this deep, wide, broad, rich, complex Catholic Thing the doorway to meet Jesus, or is it an unnecessary obstacle to encountering him?

It’s an important question. Asked, of course, frequently in the past, and answered with reform within the Church when deemed necessary as well as tragic and unnecessary Reformations spinning into division and schism at other times. But even with the understanding of the necessity of reform and moments of clarification within the Church, what remains consistent is a fundamental stance that Me (or the Pope or bishop or anyone) and Scripture and what I Guess I’ll Define as the Holy Spirit Right Now is not sufficient for doing the Catholic Thing. 

It’s a whole, big thing – this Catholic thing. That involves far more than the present moment.

So, to St. Ambrose and mercy.

Let’s look at one particular work:  On Repentance.

As is the case with most theological writings of the Patristic era, On Repentance was St. Ambroseprompted by a problem and a challenge. Specifically, here, it was against the Novations, who were a very interesting heresy/sect, which you can read about here.  

(Short version: Novatian was a 3rd century theologian and anti-Pope who believed that those who had apostasized could not be reconciled by ordinary means and must be rebaptized. His followers were widespread, sometimes co-existed, even peacefully with orthodox Catholics  – one of their bishops attended the Council of Nicaea – but they preached an increasingly strict line on reconciliation, grew further and further apart and eventually died out in the early 7th century, it seems.)

So the reason you might want to look at what Ambrose has to say to the Novations is that he is writing against rigorism and in favor of the full embrace of the sinner in God’s mercy – he emphasized the “gentleness” with which the sinner should be treated – but at the same time, expresses what repentance means.  There is no sense of halfway measures. Jesus invites, “Come follow me.” And the repentant sinner does so, like the apostles leaving everything behind – at once. 

So, the point being: these are not new issues. The particulars of reconciliation have changed from Ambrose’s time, but not the general framework, and certainly not the understanding that we are doing is bringing Jesus’ work of reconciliation into the lives of people now. 

Some passages I’m highlighting, some because they bring out these theme, and others because they are moving and lovely:

37. We see how to repent, with what words and with what acts, that the days of sin are called days of confusion; for there is confusion when Christ is denied.

38. Let us, then, submit ourselves to God, and not be subject to sin, and when we ponder the remembrance of our offenses, let us blush as though at some disgrace, and not speak of them as a glory to us, as some boast of overcoming modesty, or putting down the feeling of justice. Let our conversion be such, that we who did not know God may now ourselves declare Him to others, that the Lord, moved by such a conversion on our part, may answer to us: Ephraim is from youth a dear son, a pleasant child, for since My words are concerning him, I will verily remember him, therefore have I hastened to be over him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.

39. And what mercy He promises us, the Lord also shows, when He says further on: I have satiated every thirsty soul, and have satisfied every hungry soul. Therefore, I awakened and beheld, and My sleep was sweet unto Me.Jeremiah 31:25-26 We observe that the Lord promises His sacraments to those who sin. Let us, then, all be converted to the Lord.

 

66. Show, then, your wound to the Physician that He may heal it. Though you show it not, He knows it, but waits to hear your voice. Do away your scars by tears. Thus did that woman in the Gospel, and wiped out the stench of her sin; thus did she wash away her fault, when washing the feet of Jesus with her tears.

This is beautiful, as Ambrose begins by drawing an analogy between the raising of Lazarus from the tomb and the raising of the sinner from his or sin, and then moves into a prayer related to his own surprising call to ministry:

70. Nevertheless if we are unable to equal her, the Lord Jesus knows also how to aid the weak, when there is no one who can prepare the feast, or bring the ointment, or carry with her a spring of living water. He comes Himself to the sepulchre.

71. Would that You would vouchsafe to come to this sepulchre of mine, O Lord Jesus, that You would wash me with Your tears, since in my hardened eyes I possess not such tears as to be able to wash away my offense. If You shall weep for me I shall be saved; if I am worthy of Your tears I shall cleanse the stench of all my offenses; if I am worthy that You weep but a little, You will call me out of the tomb of this body and will say: Come forth,that my meditations may not be kept pent up in the narrow limits of this body, but may go forth to Christ, and move in the light, that I may think no more on works of darkness but on works of light. For he who thinks on sins endeavours to shut himself up within his own consciousness.

72. Call forth, then, Your servant. Although bound with the chain of my sins I have my feet fastened and my hands tied; being now buried in dead thoughts and works, yet at Your call I shall go forth free, and shall be found one of those sitting at Your feast, and Your house shall be filled with precious ointment. If You have vouchsafed to redeem any one, You will preserve him. For it shall be said, See, he was not brought up in the bosom of the Church, nor trained from childhood, but hurried from the judgment-seat, brought away from the vanities of this world, growing accustomed to the singing of the choir instead of the shout of the crier, but he continues in the priesthood not by his own strength, but by the grace of Christ, and sits among the guests at the heavenly table.

73. Preserve, O Lord, Your work, guard the gift which You have given even to him who shrank from it. For I knew that I was not worthy to be called a bishop, because I had devoted myself to this world, but by Your grace I am what I am.

Go All In. No halfway measures:

But I have more easily found such as had preserved their innocence than such as had fittingly repented. Does any one think that that is penitence where there still exists the striving after earthly honours, where wine flows, and even conjugal connection takes place? The world must be renounced; less sleep must be indulged in than nature demands; it must be broken by groans, interrupted by sighs, put aside by prayers; the mode of life must be such that we die to the usual habits of life. Let the man deny himself and be wholly changed, as in the fable they relate of a certain youth, who left his home because of his love for a harlot, and, having subdued his love, returned; then one day meeting his old favourite and not speaking to her, she, being surprised and supposing that he had not recognized her, said, when they met again, It is I. But, was his answer, I am not the former I.

Note, too, the difference between Ambrose’s presentation of what Christ does for us and what our response is to so much of the current understanding, even among Christians. What we hear over and over again is that “salvation” is essentially accepting God’s love for you as you are. That being a believer means believing in yourself and accepting yourself. What Ambrose – and the bulk of Christian tradition – says about this is a little different.

He ends:

We have then learned that we must do penance, and this at a time when the heat of luxury and sin is giving way; and that we, when under the dominion of sin, must show ourselves Godfearing by refraining, rather than allowing ourselves in evil practices. For if it is said to Moses when he was desiring to draw nearer: Put off your shoes from off your feet,  how much more must we free the feet of our soul from the bonds of the body, and clear our steps from all connection with this world.

It’s the age-old tension, not new to anyone who ponders these things: God enters the world, and therefore our lives, through matter and flesh like our own. This is the moment for which we prepare during Advent, after all. We are creatures, and we know God through creation. But when we begin to love creation – even other people, even good healthy relationships –  with the kind of love properly reserved to the Creator, we are starting to wobble, wander and stray.

In that very rich landscape in which we know the transcendent through the immanent, and in which we are weak sinners, strengthened by grace and journeying towards home with the Lord, we live in tension. But this tension is just that – a tension between what seen and unseen, between what is imperfect and what is whole.

 

 

St. Ambrose

Some thoughts on St. Ambrose and repentance, here. 

ST. AMBROSE REBUKES THEODOSIUS

St. Ambrose, today.

Artwork: St. Ambrose rebukes Theodosius by Daniel Mitsui. More here.

In depicting this event, I wanted to give emphasis to the ideas of repentance and forgiveness; in a quatrefoil above the door of the church, I drew King David confronted by the Prophet Nathan (whose parable appears in a smaller quatrefoil). The postures, clothing, and positions of these figures relate them to those of St. Ambrose and Theodosius below. The beginning of the psalm expressing King David’s repentance I wrote on the lintel. On the door is a sactuary knocker (in the form of a green man, similar to that knocker on Durham Cathedral) which suggests again the idea of a church as a place for the repentant. Both St. Ambrose and the Emperor wear purple vestments; the color is a symbol both of repentance and of imperiality.

The crosier carried by St. Ambrose is my own fanciful design; it has a carved-ivory head in the shape of a seahorse with snails for crockets, and terminates in a narwhal tusk.

A narwhal tusk!

We might begin with his hymn, Veni Redemptor gentium:

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Source

A Clerk of Oxford has a wonderful, thorough post on the hymn. Go here for that!

 

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, under “Saints are People Who Change Their Lives for God.” 

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You can peek at the chapter here, at Google Books.

A few years ago, we did a spring break trip to Milan (freaky low airfare.  I’ll bet if you flew to Orlando that year for spring break and went to Disney, I spent less than you did on our trip.).  And of course, Milan=Ambrose.

(What you might not know is that Milan, as the center of Lombardy in northern Italy, has been the focus of so much attempted conquest and other warfare over the centures, has very little ancient, medieval or even Renaissance architecture or infrastructure.  The basilica of St. Ambrose is an anomaly in the city. Leonardo’s Last Supper barely survived the Allied bombing of WWII.)

But first, to the Duomo –
In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

A different type of modern transport juxtaposed with the ancient.   Some wheels from the city’s bike-sharing service in front of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio –

one of the four churches built by Ambrose. (of course what we see is not the original – but is the result of building and rebuilding on the site.)

In other places you can find photos of the body of St. Ambrose in the crypt.  I  didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

B16 at a General Audience, speaking about St. Ambrose:

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of “patristic icon”, which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents “the heart” of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader’s understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that “reading under one’s breath”, where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God – this is the “icon” to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part “by profession”. Rather – to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master’s heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose – who never tired of saying: “Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!” – continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light…. Taste and see how good is the Lord:  blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace.

 

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

I’m going to keep saying it…time flies. We left for Honduras a month ago Sunday...and have been back two weeks. So very weird. Anyway.

Happy feast of St. Nicholas!

Of course you can’t get physical copies of this in time – but perhaps consider it for next year, and check out the interior anyway:

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PDF sample

And please, please – check out the St. Nicholas Center. They’ve uploaded some fantastic older books about the saint. Begin here. 

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From the Clerk of Oxford, some medieval St. Nicholas carols:

 

— 2 —

Tomorrow? St. Ambrose. I’ll have a post, but check out the excerpts from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

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"Amy Welborn"

 

— 3 —

Just returned from a quick Charleston trip. Son #5 played 9am Mass Sunday morning while I dropped Son #4 off at the airport for his return flight to school, then back to the parish, wait for the end of Mass, then jump in the car, drive across a couple of states to see the newish (1-month old) grandson & nephew!  A brief visit, as I said, but we’ll go back after Christmas with Son #4 in tow, so he can meet his new nephew as well.

Other than than, no more travel except local jaunts until a NYC trip in a couple months.

 

— 4 —

Listening to a lot of jazzy, cocktail piano Christmas stylings – Son #5 has a gig in the near future and while he’s doing great in his preparation, he can always use some more inspiration. There’s no lack of them on Spotify, of course, but I will say that I was just a little pleased when he evidently got so weary of it all that..he turned to Haydn for a break.

— 5 –

The big read at the moment is 1984, which Son #5 is reading. I hadn’t read it in probably 40 years. For the first thirty pages or so, I found myself having to regularly set the book aside – like every couple of pages – and catch my breath. So prophetic. More when I finish.

— 6 —

This New Yorker article on the Park Slope Co-op is just….good writing. Interesting, fair-minded, insightful – taking in the quirkiness and weirdness without going full-out mockery. 

— 7 —

 

If you’re interested in ordering signed (or unsigned!) books as gifts from me…go here. 

Loyola books

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

St. John Damascene

Another great saint.

 B16 spoke about him at a General Audience in 2009.

It’s very appropriate that John’s feast falls during Advent, during our preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation.

(I have re-paragraphed it for ease of reading. Also bolded some key points.)

John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700.

He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.

In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, “In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?… But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?… And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?… And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible” (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90).

We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God. John Damascene remains, therefore, a privileged witness of the cult of icons, which would come to be one of the most distinctive aspects of Eastern spirituality up to the present day. It is, however, a form of cult which belongs simply to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and was made visible. The teaching of Saint John Damascene thus finds its place in the tradition of the universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine foresees that material elements taken from nature can become vehicles of grace by virtue of the invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the confession of the true faith.

John Damascene extends these fundamental ideas to the veneration of the relics of Saints, on the basis of the conviction that the Christian Saints, having become partakers of the Resurrection of Christ, cannot be considered simply “dead”. Numbering, for example, those "amy welborn"whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John states in his third discourse in defence of images: “First of all (let us venerate) those among whom God reposed, he alone Holy, who reposes among the Saints (cf. Is 57: 15), such as the Mother of God and all the Saints. These are those who, as far as possible, have made themselves similar to God by their own will; and by God’s presence in them, and his help, they are really called gods (cf. Ps 82[81]: 6), not by their nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by contingency and its participation in the fire. He says in fact : you shall be holy, because I am Holy (cf. Lv 19: 2)” (III, 33, col. 1352 a).

After a series of references of this kind, John Damascene was able serenely to deduce: “God, who is good, and greater than any goodness, was not content with the contemplation of himself, but desired that there should be beings benefited by him, who might share in his goodness: therefore he created from nothing all things, visible and invisible, including man, a reality visible and invisible. And he created him envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched with the word (logo[i] sympleroumenon), and orientated towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)” (II, 2, pg 94, col. 865a). And to clarify this thought further, he adds: “We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence (tes pronoias erga), to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, (adika), and admitting instead that the project of God (pronoia) goes beyond man’s capacity to know or to understand (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future” (ii, 29, pg 94, col. 964c).

Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.

The optimism of the contemplation of nature (physike theoria), of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it. From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, “should be strengthened and renewed” by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in “being”, but also in “well-being” (cf. The Orthodox Faith, II, 1, pg 94, col. 981).

With passionate eagerness John explains: “It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught (didachthenai aretes hodòn), the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life…. So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)”…. It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man. John Damascene continues: “he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example…. And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended… to his servants… achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God” (III, 1, pg 94, col. 981c-984b).

We may imagine the comfort and joy which these words, so rich in fascinating images, poured into the hearts of the faithful. We listen to them today, sharing the same feelings with the Christians of those far-off days: God desires to repose in us, he wishes to renew nature through our conversion, he wants to allow us to share in his divinity. May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our lives.

More from Ellyn von Huben at Word on Fire

Every year I take a few minutes and collect links to some of the parishes around the world who are celebrating Bambinelli Sunday. This is just a quick survey, and it’s so very gratifying to see this traditional continue to grow in popularity. All kudos to Ann Engelhart for seeing the possibilities!

More on the book.

The group in Rome that sponsors the St. Peter’s event…has gone Lego this year. Ah, well:

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From B16 in 2008:

God, our Father
you so loved humankind
that you sent us your only Son Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing
these images of Jesus,
who is about to come among us,
may be a sign of your presence and
love in our homes.

Good Father,
give your Blessing to us too,
to our parents, to our families and
to our friends.

Open our hearts,
so that we may be able to
receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks
and see him in all those
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.

 

 

St. Robert Bellarmine, Bayside, NY

St. Benedict, Covington, LA

Divine Mercy, Hamden, CT

St. Aidan Cathedral, Ireland

Holy Family, Belfast

Incarnation, Bethlehem, PA

Elizabeth Ann Seton, Shrub Oak, NY

St. Leo’s, Elmwood Park, NJ

St. Mary Newhouse

Holy Redeemer Ellwood City, PA

Sacred Heart, Eldon, MO

St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mahanoy City, PA

Suggested by the Archdiocese of New Orleans (headline has an error – refers Lent, not Advent)

Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, Ankeny, IA

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

St. Pius X, Loudonville, NY

St. Sebastian, Greenbrae, CA

Assumption, St. Louis

St. Thomas Aquinas, Zanesville, OH

St. John Bosco, Hatboro, PA

St. Bridget, Framingham, MA

Transfiguration, Marietta, GA

All Saints, Milville, NJ

St. Jude, Atlanta

Mentioned in “Equipping Catholic Families.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catharines, ON, CA

Holy Ghost, Bethlehem, PA

Church of the Holy Family, Dunblane

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

Basilica of St. Mary, Alexandria, VA

St. Michael and All Angels, Diocese of Portsmouth, England

St. Michael’s Blackrock, Cork

St. Ignatius Loyola, NY, NY

St. Mark, Shoreham, NY

St. Thomas More, Somerset, MA

St. Francis Xavier

 

 

amywelborn

(He’s in it)

 

For an in-depth exploration, as well as a look at some of his letters, go to archive.org to this 19th century biography, in two volumes. (Of course his life and letters are published elsewhere, and in modern versions, but this is…free. )

What you will read about was a man who made tremendous sacrifices to travel across the world, endure great hardship….to teach fisherman and little kids the Creed.

Now think.

Why did he do this? Why did he think it was worth his life?

It seems, according to much of the current conversation in the air about how to spread the Good News which is not to be done by “proselytizing,” but rather by accompanying, that he was mistaken in his approach.

Was he?

Yes, the question of this encounter between Christian creed and various cultures is not uncomplicated. The question has rightly occupied Asian, African and European theologians for decades, and for literary shorthand versions, consider Black Robe and Silence.  Missionaries were not infallible. They made mistakes, they allowed themselves to become compromised, they were short-sighted.  All of that is true.

Even so – and not dismissing those questions – the 21st century observer who is anxious to diminish the importance of the particulars of belief in favor of a purportedly more pastoral engagement – who seems to believe that Jesus is more authentically and powerfully offered and encountered without much concern for the doctrine, and indeed that the specific articulation of belief functions more often than not as an obstacle to encountering Christ (for this is the essence, really of much of the direction of the current conversation ) – has a responsibility, as a Catholic, to engage this question in the context of the whole of Catholic tradition, which includes a lot of people making tremendous sacrifices, not only to live out the corporeal works of mercy, but the spiritual works as well.

Was Francis Xavier doing it wrong? What was the point – having the memorization of credal formulations and prayers, and baptism as the central focus of his missionary work? That model of “making them Christians” in this way…was it wrong?

Well, to explore the question requires us to go beyond simplistic categories, and to ask interesting, serious questions about the deeper spiritual dynamic that is engaged by this process of – dare we say it – making disciples –  the thinking behind it, and the cultural context.

It would require us to look to the past and..wait for it…engage in..dialogue, to listen and be willing to learn. It might even require…humility.

I and Francis Mancias are now living amongst the Christians of Comorin. They are very numerous, and increase largely every day. When I first came I asked them, if they knew anything about our Lord Jesus Christ? but when I came to the points of faith in detail and asked them what they thought of them, and what more they believed now than when they were Infidels, they only replied that they were Christians, but that as they are ignorant of Portuguese, they know nothing of the precepts and mysteries of our holy religion. We could not understand one another, as I spoke Castilian and they Malabar ; so I picked out the most intelligent and well read of them, and then sought out with the greatest diligence men who knew both languages.. We held meetings for several days, and by our joint efforts and with infinite difficulty we translated the Catechism into the Malabar tongue. This I learnt by heart, and then I began to go through all the villages of the coast, calling around me by the sound of a bell as many as I could, children and men. I assembled them twice a day and taught them the Christian doctrine : and thus, in the space of a month, the children had it well by heart. And all the time I kept telling them to go on teaching in their turn whatever they had learnt to their parents, family, and neighbours.

Every Sunday I collected them all, men and women, boys and girls, in the church. They came, with great readiness and with a great desire for instruction. Then, in the hearing of all, I began by calling on the name of the most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and I recited aloud the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Creed in the language of the country: they all followed me in the same words, and delighted in it wonderfully. Then I repeated the Creed by myself, dwelling upon each article singly. Then I asked them as to each article, whether they believed it unhesitatingly ; and all, with a loud voice and their hands crossed over their breasts, professed aloud that they truly believed it. I take care to make them repeat the Creed oftener than the other prayers ; and I tell them that those who believe all that is contained therein are called Christians. After explaining the Creed I go on to the Commandments, teaching them that the Christian law is contained in those ten precepts, and that every one who observes them all faithfully is a good and true Christian and is certain of eternal salvation, and that, on the other hand, whoever neglects a single one of them is a bad Christian, and will be cast into hell unless he is truly penitent for his sin. Converts and heathen alike are astonished at all this, which shows them the holiness of the Christian law, its perfect consistency with itself, and its agreement with reason. After this I recite our principal prayers, as the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and they say them after me. Then we go back to the Creed, adding the Our Father and the Hail Mary after each article, with a short hymn; for, as soon as I have recited the first article, I sing in their language, “Jesus, Son of the living God, grant us the grace to believe firmly this first article of your faith : and that we may obtain this from you, we offer you this prayer taught us by yourself” Then we add this second invocation : “Holy Mary Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, obtain for us from your most sweet Son that we may believe without hesitation this article of the Christian faith” We do the same after all the other eleven articles.

We teach them the Commandments in the following way. After we have sung the first, which enjoins the love of God, we pray thus : ” Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, grant us the grace to love Thee above all things”  and then we say for this intention the Lord’s Prayer. Then we all sing together, ‘”Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, obtain for us from your Son the grace to observe perfectly the first of His Commandments” and then we say the Hail Mary. So we go on through the other nine, changing the words of our little invocation as occasion requires. Thus I accustom them to ask for these graces with the ordinary prayers of the Church, and I tell them at the same time that if they obtain them, they will have all other things that they can wish for more abundantly than they would  be able to ask for them. I make them all, and particularly those who are to be baptized, repeat the form of general confession. These last I question after each article of the Creed as it is recited, whether they believe it firmly ; and after they have answered yes, I give them an instruction in their own language explaining the chief heads of the Christian religion, and the duties necessary to salvation. Last of all, I admit them thus prepared to baptism. The instruction is ended by the Salve Regina, begging the aid and help of our Blessed Lady.

As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing : often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.

The fruit that is reaped by the baptism of infants, as well as by the instruction of children and others, is quite incredible. These children, I trust heartily, by the grace of God, will be much better than their fathers. They show an ardent love for the Divine law, and an extraordinary zeal for learning our holy religion and imparting it to others. Their hatred for idolatry is marvellous. They get into feuds with the heathen about it, and whenever their own parents practise it, they reproach them and come off to tell me at once. Whenever I hear of any act of idolatrous worship, I go to the place with a large band of these children, who very soon load the devil with a greater amount of insult and abuse than he has lately received of honour and worship from their parents, relations, and acquaintances. The children run at the idols, upset them, dash them down, break them to pieces, spit on them, trample on them, kick them about, and in short heap on them every possible outrage.

I had been living for nearly four months in a Christian village, occupied in translating the Catechism. A great number of natives came from all parts to entreat me to take the trouble to go to their houses and call on God by the bedsides of their sick relatives. Such numbers also of sick made their own way to us, that I had enough to do to read a Gospel over each of them. At the same time we kept on with our daily work, instructing the children, baptizing converts, translating the Catechism, answering difficulties, and burying the dead. For my part I desired to satisfy all, both the sick who came to me themselves, and those who came to beg on the part of others, lest if I did not, their confidence in, and zeal for, our holy religion should relax, and I thought it wrong not to do what I could in answer to their prayers. But the thing grew to such a pitch that it was impossible for me myself to satisfy all, and at the same time to avoid their quarrelling among themselves, every one striving to be the first to get me to his own house ; so I hit on a way of serving all at once. As I could not go myself, I sent round children whom I could trust in my place. Tliuey went to the sick persons, assembled their families and neighbours, recited the Creed with them, and encouraged the sufferers to conceive a certain and wellfounded confidence of their restoration. Then after all this, they recited the prayers of the Church. To make my tale short, God was moved by the faith and piety of these children and of the others, and restored to a great number of sick persons health both of body and soul. How good He was to them ! He made the very disease of their bodies the occasion of calling them to salvation, and drew them to the Christian faith almost by force !

I have also charged these children to teach the rudiments of Christian doctrine to the ignorant in private houses, in the streets, and the crossways. As soon as I see that this has been well started in one village, I go on to another and give the same instructions and the same commission to the children, and go I go through in order the whole number of their villages. When I have done this and am going away, I leave in each place a copy of the Christian doctrine, and tell ail those who know how to write to copy it out, and all the others are to learn it by heart and to recite it from memory every day. Every feast day I bid them meet in one place and sing all together the elements of the faith. For this purpose I have appointed in each of the thirty Christian villages men of intelligence and character who are to preside over these meetings, and the Governor, Don Martin Alfonso, who is so full of love for our Society and of zeal for religion, has been good enough at our request to allot a yearly revenue of 4000 gold fanams for the salary of these catechists. He has an immense friendship for ours, and desires with all his heart that some of them should be sent hither, for which he is always asking in his letters to the King.

There is now in these parts a very large number of persons who have only one reason for not becoming Christian, and that is that there is no one to make them Christians. It often comes into my mind to go round all the Universities of Europe, and especially that of Paris, crying out every where like a’ madman, and saying to all the learned men there whose learning is so much greater than their charity, ‘ Ah ! what a miiltiude of souls is through your fault shut out of heaven and falling into hell . Would to God that these men who labour so much in gaining knowledge would give as much thought to the ac- count they must one day give to God of the use they have made of their learning and of the talents entrusted to them ! I am sure that many of them would be moved by such considerations, would exercise themselves in fitting meditations on Divine truths, so as to hear what God might say to them,^-* and then, renouncing their ambitions and desires, and all the things of the world, they would form themselves wholly according to God’s desire and choice for them. They would exclaim from the bottom of their hearts : ” Lord here am I ; send me whithersoever it shall please Thee, even to India!” Good God ! how much happier and how much safer they would be ! With what far greater confidence in God’s mercy would they meet their last hour, the supreme trial of that terrible judgment which no man can escape ! They would then be able joyfully to use the words of the faithful servant in the Gospel : “Lord, Thou gavest me five talents; behold, I have gained beside them other five.” They labour night and day in acquiring knowledge, and they are very diligent indeed in understanding the subjects which they study ; but if they would spend as much time in that which is the fruit of all solid learning, and be as diligent in teaching to the ignorant the things necessary to salvation, they would be far better prepared to give an account of themselves to our Lord when He shall say to them : “Give an account of thy stewardship.” I fear much that these men, who spend so many years in the Universities in studying the liberal arts, look more to the empty honours and dignities of the prelature than to the holy functions and obligations of which those honours are the trappings. It has come to this pass, as I see, that the men who are the most diligent in the higher branches of study, commonly make profession that they hope to gain some high post in the Church by their reputation for learning, therein to be able to serve our Lord and His Church. But all the time they deceive themselves miserably, for their studies are far more directed to their own advantage than to the common good. They are afraid that God may not second their ambition, and this is the reason why they will not leave the whole matter to His holy will. I declare to God that I had almost made up my mind, since I could not return to Europe myself, to write to the University of Paris, and especially to our worthy Professors Cornet and Picard, and to show them how many thousands of infidels might be made Christians without trouble, if we had only men here who would seek, not their own advantage, but the things of Jesus Christ. And therefore, dearest brothers, ‘ pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He send forth labourers into His harvest.’

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