Monthly Archives: June 2011

Love Your Mother

I’ve used this icon of Our Lady of Vladimir in several posts already, but she’s worth seeing again. And if you look into her eyes, you will see that she thinks you are worth seeing too, for those eyes full of love and compassion.

The Mother of God is one of the most beloved figures of all time, even though many have tried (and still try) to denigrate or ignore her, unknowingly depriving themselves of a fruitful relationship with their own spiritual Mother. They ought to be honored, as was St Elizabeth, that the Mother of our Lord should come to them. But they have made her out to be an enemy, as it were, a supplanter, a stealer of the glory due to God. They are afraid to turn to her, and when they speak about her it is only to warn everyone not to speak to her! But look at her. Is she pushing Christ aside, robbing Him of his light? Is she not rather receiving his love, and showing unto us the blessed Fruit of her womb? How can anyone disdainfully look the other way in the presence of the one who gave flesh to the Son of God and Savior of the world?

A friend of mine who used to be a Protestant (a Wheaton graduate, no less!), and who is now a devout Catholic, told me recently of the way the above icon opened her heart to Our Lady. “You see that little hand around her neck? That’s what drew me to love the Mother of God. If Jesus could love her so tenderly and intimately, then I wanted to do the same.” This style of iconographic representation of the Mother and Child is called the “tenderness icon.” Jesus is cheek-to-cheek with her and is embracing her lovingly. Mary looks at us, showing us the Savior, holding Him up for our adoration, calling us to repentance and holiness. Their love is not a closed circle. When she experiences the love of her Son, she invites us to share in it.

Why is it, though, that so many who call themselves Christians reject this feminine, maternal dimension of the Faith? In many non-Catholic (and non-Orthodox) churches, there’s something sterile about their approach to God. It is either hyper-spiritualized and cerebral (i.e., disincarnate, the word without flesh, so to speak, devoid of sacraments and sacramentals), or it is characterized by unbalanced emotion. One of the reasons for this is the exclusion of the Mother, that gentle, profound, sweet, nurturing, guiding, protecting, praying presence offered to the Church by Christ, who experienced it in his own life. To exclude the Mother is to break up the family. To exclude the Mother is to produce a spirituality that is “masculine,” individualistic, suspicious of mysticism and of the deeper dimensions of spiritual life as well as those that are most profoundly human.

So the modern response to the absence of the feminine, maternal dimension in their forms of Christianity is to cast women in the roles of men, make them more prominent, put Roman collars on them and send them to officiate at altar or pulpit. This is like wresting a woman from hearth and home and telling her to get out there and act like a man, for she needs to be better represented in a man’s world, a patriarchal church. But trying to make women fathers does nothing to restore the gift of femininity in the Church. Rather, it obscures it. And the Mother remains excluded.

It is men that need to be told to act like men, for many have been cowed and emasculated by the arrogant brutality of modern radical feminism, and so they in turn act like women and finally end up wanting to marry other men. Men want to be women and women want to be men, but the Mother of God still looks at us with those sad eyes, full of sorrow over our missing the whole point of our calling, our creation.

Mothers, sisters, brides, the Church needs your courage, your grace, your tenacious fidelity, your creativity, femininity, and love! We need to you be icons of the Mother, whose beauty and inner strength is all too often obscured by the noise and smokescreens thrown up by the witches, barracudas, baby-killers, and gender-benders of our bizarre and pathetic culture. We need you to be the contemplative heart of the Church. Mary didn’t complain that she wasn’t chosen to be one of the Twelve, who would be priests of the New Covenant. She didn’t demand it as a right. She was the Handmaiden of the Lord, and therefore his will alone was her sanctification. (And what about that twelve? One betrayed Christ, one publicly denied Him, and they all deserted Him in his hour of need in Gethsemane. And they were in fearful hiding when the women, who alone dared to brave the enemies of Christ, brought them the news of the Resurrection. The women didn’t need to be priests to be heroines of the Faith.)

The Mother of God was not a “liberated” woman in the modern sense, yet the Truth set her free. She was not self-sufficient or independent of her religious tradition, but she rejoiced in God her Savior. She lived the unsung life of a simple disciple, yet all ages have called her blessed. She gave herself to humble service, and now she is the Woman clothed with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head. She is the Child-bearer, the God-bearer, the new Eve—Mother of all the living. Her whole life teaches us that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Her eminent place in the life of the Church is well-justified and is a source of consolation, peace, and strength for all those who rely on her prayer and protection, who know the blessing of the holy Mother’s love, who deeply appreciate and welcome her presence in their lives—her quiet, gentle, yet uncompromising encouragement to do whatever Jesus tells us.

So love your Mother. Go to her. It’s OK. Wrap your arms around her neck, just like Jesus did. You’ll see the divine compassion shining through her eyes. Just open your heart. You need a mother. The whole Church does. Jesus knows that. He loves you and so He shares with you that which is precious to Him, as he shared it with his beloved disciple at the moment of the consummation of his sacrifice: “Behold your Mother.”

Prosphoron

Prosphoron is Greek for “that which is offered,” or simply “an offering” (the verb form is literally: to bear or bring toward). It is the term used for the altar bread that is offered and consecrated at the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Churches.

The life and work of a priest is a prosphoron, an offering to God, for his glory and for the salvation of souls. The greatest offering he makes is that of Christ Himself in the Divine Sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist. Here the priest understands that he, like the prosphoron that becomes the Body of Christ, is “offered and consecrated,” he too is broken and sacrificed for the salvation of souls. We say of Christ in the Liturgy that He is the One “who offers and is offered.” He offers, because He Himself is the great High Priest of our salvation, and the Sacrifice is his once-for-all immolation on Golgotha, made sacramentally present during the Liturgy. He is offered, because he allows the priest to offer Him sacramentally for the accomplishment of this Mystery in the daily life of the Church.

But any baptized person can offer and be offered. A life that is one great offering is expressed in many smaller offerings, which may consist of trials, hardships, sufferings of body or soul, even the myriad inconveniences and irritations of daily life. I must choose to make an offering of all that makes up my life, and all that happens to me in my life, knowing that I am at the same time offered by Christ to the Father—hence the fruitfulness of the offering. One benefit of making this offering is growth in patience and in peace, as the awareness grows that nothing is wasted, that God can bring good out of any disaster, that my inevitable sufferings can be transformed into manifold blessings, that lasting contributions are being made toward increasing the population of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Many souls cannot be moved or converted by word or example, usually because they have chosen a path contrary to the Gospel, or because there is some other impediment, perhaps not of their own making. The Lord wishes to save them too. But they can only be touched from within by the hidden dynamism of grace working through the spiritual connections within the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus one soul can influence and positively affect another, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It seems that God expects us to pray and offer sacrifices for the salvation of our brothers and sisters, and that He even waits for this before intervening in another’s life. This is because God is love and wants to teach us to love. Loving is giving, offering oneself for the sake of another. Intercession, therefore, is a commitment of love, an offering of oneself for the good of others, especially for their eternal salvation.

The double dimension of the life of a prosphoron, a person who offers and is offered, is essentially that of the first apostles: to be with Christ and to be given a mission (see Mark 3:13-15). The prosphoron used in the Liturgy is pierced five times in honor of the major wounds of Christ. We should be aware that we will share in the sufferings of Christ if we desire to be united with Him, offered with Him. St Paul said his sufferings were for the sake of the Church, so obviously he believed there was benefit to be gained by the members of the Church through his own sufferings in union with Jesus.

Of course, one person can only do so much in the face of all the sin and suffering in the world. An awareness of even a tiny fraction of this is overwhelming. Only Christ is able to bear it all, but He still invites us to share in his mission, a mission that will not be completed until the end of time. So I pray and make my offerings for “those whom the Lord has given me” (see John 17:9), whether I know who they are or not. He will assign others to intercede for the rest.

What is the meaning of life? What do we want from life, and for whom do we live? What do we want to see when we look back on our lives? How is one to make a contribution in this world that will cross the threshold into the next? In the end, what matters but the salvation of souls unto eternal happiness and the glory of God?

Let us offer and be offered, allowing ourselves to be “brought toward” the Lord in a sacrifice of love and joy and spiritual fruitfulness. Someday in Heaven we shall meet the fruits of our offering, souls rescued by grace through prayer and self-giving. All will be borne up by the Risen Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us, and who stands eternally before the Father, bearing the shining wounds of his pure sacrifice. Then we will know fully the meaning of our lives, offered and consecrated to God for the eternal salvation of souls. And we shall rejoice.

On Mary and the Holy Spirit

[The following are a few snippets from my book on Our Lady, as we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.]

After Jesus ascended to Heaven, the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, as He told them.  “You shall receive power,” He said, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).  Mary was with them, having already been designated by Jesus, with John at the foot of the Cross, as an indispensable member of the “core group” of his Church.  So, the disciples gathered in the upper room, devoting themselves to prayer, “together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus…” (Acts 1:14).

Mary, of course, already enjoyed an intimate union with the Holy Spirit, who had “come upon” her to effect the Incarnation of the Son.  The same Greek word (eperkhomai) is used by St. Luke in the Gospel of the annunciation and in the passage quoted above concerning Pentecost.  The smaller group of apostles who were with Jesus at the Last Supper and to whom He appeared on the evening of his resurrection had also received the Holy Spirit for the specific purpose of their priestly ministry.  At the Last Supper Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me,” empowering them to offer his sacrifice in a sacramental manner, and after his resurrection He said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven…” (Jn. 20:22-23).  So Mary had received the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Incarnation and all that was required of her during Jesus’ earthly life, and the ordained apostles received the Spirit for the sake of their sacramental ministry and the leadership of the Church.  Finally, the wider group of disciples (120 were present on Pentecost, including Mary and the Twelve) received the Holy Spirit for the sake of evangelization and the exercise of the various charisms that would be needed to build up and sustain the Church.

What must it have been like for the assembly of the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit in the visible manifestation of the wind and fiery tongues?  For most of them the experience was probably a mixture of fear and wonder and exhilaration.  Probably it was something different for Mary, as she surely recognized with joy this new presence of the One who had already so powerfully worked within her from the moment of her conception, through her receiving the Son of God in her womb, miraculously giving birth to Him, and experiencing his presence all her life.  I have this mental image of her seated among the disciples: eyes closed, smiling, her dark hair blown this way and that by the Mighty Wind.  Yes, she knew Him very well and was undoubtedly delighted with the renewed in-filling of his divine love, grace, and power.

Pentecost is often considered the “birth of the Church,” and so the Mother, to whom the Spirit was handed over with the dying Breath of Jesus, not only was necessarily present at this moment, but she also began a new relationship both to the Holy Spirit and to the whole Church.  This was already indicated by Jesus at the Cross when He made her the Mother of all his disciples, represented by John.  Many Eastern icons of Pentecost depict the apostles seated in a semi-circle with Our Lady in a central position that manifests her as the primary recipient of the Spirit and hence as the Spiritual Mother and Mystical Heart of the newborn Church of Christ…

Since the moment of her immaculate conception, Our Lady has been wholly united to the Holy Spirit.  The moment of the Incarnation of the Son of God is the most obvious manifestation of this union.  Once having united Himself to the Virgin Mary, however, the Holy Spirit never left her, and therefore He continued his mission with and through her.  At Pentecost, Mary was set apart as the contemplative Heart of the Church, since it was not her mission to evangelize the world like the apostles who received the same Spirit.  The mission of the Holy Spirit in union with the Mother of God achieved its fullness and universality when she was glorified in Heaven and could thus effectively exercise the motherhood of all mankind that Jesus bequeathed to her from the Cross.  It is the mystery of her assumption into Heaven, body and soul, that inaugurated her mission as Mediatrix for the whole Body of Christ on Earth…

The motherly mission of Mary has its source not only in Jesus’ words from the Cross, but in the grace and the mission of the Holy Spirit.  According to St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Mother of God is the chief instrument of the Holy Spirit in his work in the world, and she can be considered Mediatrix of Grace because the Holy Spirit can be considered the Mediator of Grace.  It is Christ alone who redeemed the world and reconciled man to God, thus performing the task of the unique Mediator that is his alone.  But Jesus shares with the Holy Spirit the communication of the grace and fruits of his mediation between God and man, and thus the Spirit works through the motherhood of Mary for all the children of God.  This mediation of grace by the Holy Spirit through Mary can be understood as the fulfillment of what Jesus said of the Paraclete in John 16:14—“He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and will declare it to you.”  So even though Jesus is the unique Mediator, it is evidently his will that what is his may be taken and communicated to others.

It is clear throughout the Scriptures that God chooses to work through persons, for He is a personal God.  That is why He often communicated his will through angels, in both the Old and New Testaments.  He could have spoken directly to the ears or hearts of those for whom He had some important message, but He wanted the angels to be mediators of his word and will.  God chooses to have other persons involved in his work.  That is simply his way, as the whole of salvation history testifies.  The Son, not surprisingly, is like the Father.  Throughout the history of the Church, but especially in the last several centuries, the Lord Jesus has communicated special messages, warnings, and graces to the world through his Mother.  Sometimes He Himself appears to chosen souls, but in the vast majority of cases, He sends Mary, because this is part of the motherly task He has entrusted her.  She will always be the Mother of the children of God…

We are Mary’s children.  Gifts are given to the Mother to give to her children as needed.  The Lord said that we must become like children if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  If Mary is the Mother of the children of God, this entails for us a certain free and loving dependence upon her to whom is entrusted what we need to live as faithful disciples of Christ.  This is not to be understood as a passive or immature relationship to the Mother of God, but rather one that is based on love, trust, and humility.  We are to be mature Christians, but we need to abandon any sense of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, or self-anything, for that matter, since self-absorption of any kind breeds arrogance and resists the humility that is essential to the spiritual childhood to which Christ calls his disciples.  Why not receive, in all simplicity, what is offered to us?  God’s grace is entrusted to Mary for us, and she will see to it that we receive it as we need it—as the good steward of the Gospel, whom “the Master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time” (Lk. 12:42).  She can rightly say, in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews… “Here I am, with the children God has given me” (2:13).

Our Lady and the Holy Eucharist: Quotes from the Saints

From a reflection on St Maximilian Kolbe:

Considering the importance of the Eucharist in the spiritual life, Maximilian offered his own preparation and thanksgiving to the Immaculate. He addressed this point, first in a letter written in Nagasaki in 1935, and subsequently in an article for the Polish edition of the Knight of the Immaculate written in 1938.

“There is no better preparation for Holy Communion other than offering it to the Immaculate…She will prepare our heart in the best way possible, and we will be sure to give Jesus the greatest of joys and to show him the greatest of loves.

“After Holy Communion let us pray to the Immaculate once more, so that she herself may welcome Jesus into our soul and make him happy as no one ever before has been able to do.”

These citations reveal the Polish martyr’s attention to prepare himself to the utmost for the celebration of the Mass and follow it with a serious and devout act of thanksgiving. All of this is done with the help of the Immaculate, whose loving presence guarantees a fervent and fruitful participation in the liturgy through which the believer is called to give maximum glory to God. Love for the Immaculate also has a Eucharistic purpose, since through drawing close to her and thanks to her example and intercession, the believer can experience the mystery of the Lord’s real presence in the sacrament with greater attention and, therefore, with greater freedom, conviction and concentration.

From St Peter Julian Eymard:

“Where on earth shall we find Jesus but in the arms of Mary!  Was it not she who gave us the Eucharist?  It was her consent to the Incarnation of the Word that inaugurated the great mystery of reparation to God and union with us which Jesus accomplished during His mortal life, and that he continues in the Eucharist. Without Mary we shall never find Jesus, for she possesses Him in her heart. There He takes His delight, and those who wish to know His inmost virtues, to experience the privilege of His intimate love, must seek these in Mary… We can only go to Him through her. The more we love the Eucharist, the more we must love Mary.”

[The following are a few excerpts from the book, Jesus Living in Mary—Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, by Rev. Corrado Maggioni, S.M.M.]

The French school had a deep insight into the role of Mary at the Incarnation and, therefore, in all the mysteries of Christ. It is not surprising that Montfort experienced a further deepening of the mysteries through the Blessed Virgin. St. Louis Marie highlighted the Mary/Eucharist relationship. The Sacraments, rooted in the economy of salvation, are essentially the actualization of the historical mysteries of Christ. Since Mary gave the Redeemer his flesh and blood, it follows that she cannot but be involved in the mysteries that are a unique memorial of the same flesh and blood, that is, the Eucharist.

In light of these theological principles, Montfort elaborated his teaching, which is full of grateful admiration for the Father, that the Father through the Holy Spirit has entrusted His Son to Mary. This praise extends to Mary as well, as her fiat made it possible for us to share the Eucharistic body and blood of her Son: “It was you, Virgin Mary, /Who gave us this body and blood / Which raises our status so high / that it is beyond the reach of the angels. May you be blessed throughout the world / For giving us such a great gift” (H [Hymns] 134:11).

The Blessed Virgin’s motherly care and concern for her faithful servants is epitomized in the fact that “she gives them the Son she has born, the Bread of Life” (TD [True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin] 208, which is full of scriptural quotations and allusions and is concerned with this particular term)… With great sensitivity and in great depth, Montfort draws attention to the presence and action of Mary in the Eucharist without detriment to the excellence of the redeeming work of Christ. Mary is mediatrix of Communion: “As Mary is the treasurer and dispenser of the gifts and graces of the Most High God, she reserves a choice portion, indeed the choicest portion, to nourish and sustain her children and servants. They grow strong on the Bread of Life; they are made joyful with the wine that brings forth virgins. They are carried at her breast” (TD 208).

In the conviction that sacramental Communion necessarily involves the presence of Mary, Montfort concludes TD with an exhortation to receive Holy Communion in union with Mary. She receives in us and for us the Word of God made Bread. The reason for this is that she received the Word of God “in her heart and in her body,” as the Church Fathers put it. In the last few pages of TD (266-273), Montfort tells us why and how we should unite ourselves with Mary before, during, and after Holy Communion; his aim is to demonstrate clearly that in us and through us Holy Communion binds Christ and Mary together again. In other words, the union between Christ and Mary, which took place at a definite time and place, is repeated in a sacramental way when the faithful united with Mary receive Holy Communion.

In accordance with the thinking of the time, Montfort made no explicit mention of the ecclesial aspect of Holy Communion; if we make allowance for this, we can safely say that Montfort’s teaching on the Christ/Mary/faithful relationship is extraordinarily clear from the theological standpoint. In practice, the relationship reflects the mystery of the oblation and communion that united in one heart Christ, Mary, and John at the time of the supreme sacrifice, which redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 19:25-27). It was precisely because he had in mind the conformity of the faithful to Jesus Christ, with Mary playing an all-important role, that Montfort envisaged and introduced the Consecration to Jesus through the hands of Mary, which he meant to be made in close connection with Holy Communion…

Finally, a theme dear to the heart of the missionary: the Eucharistic life of Mary, which he mentions in the hymn to the Blessed Sacrament on Saturdays (H 134). Jesus instituted the Eucharist in order to remain with Mary even after his death on the Cross and his Ascension; so he keeps coming back to her “nourishing her with his own body which she nourished when he was an infant”; “in exchange for the milk of her most pure breast, he strengthens her with his divine Blood”; the Blessed Virgin is the perfect model of all who receive Holy Communion.