Oratory Reflection 560: Commandment of Love: Reflection on Romans 13:8-10
“Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” -Romans 13:8-10
There’s only one thing we owe to other people, St. Paul says: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” If we owe it to other people to love them, then why do we so seldom look for opportunities to help each other?
St. Benedict describes this “fervent love” in his Rule: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.”
Love does no evil to the neighbor, concludes St. Paul. Maybe I see something in my brother that can’t be put right, because of either his physical or his moral weakness. Then why do I not bear patiently with him, loving him and caring for him with all my heart, and so fulfilling the law of Christ? Perhaps I lack the love that St. Paul describes: a love that is patient and kind, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, but bears all things and endures all things.
Isaac of Stella has some strong words about what was happening in the monastery back in the 12th Century. He wrote: “The man who shows himself to be aggressive and overbearing towards his brother who is in difficulties, who thinks of his weakness as a threat, what can I say of him except that he has clearly given himself over to the law of the devil and is showing it? My brethren, let us have compassion for one another, and be filled with brotherly love; let us bear with the weaknesses that there are among us, and try to get rid of our own vices.” Evidently, the monastery at Stella encountered the same problems that we do in our communities today.
Whatever personal practices or devotions we may follow, it’s not those things, but sincere love for God and for others that is really pleasing to God. Love. That’s the only reason we should do (or not do) anything. Love is the whole way and purpose of life. May God grant us this love, because without it we can do nothing good, and it’s the one thing we owe to one another.
-Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
Oh, Lord Jesus, in the cruel scourging at the pillar, streams of Blood flowed from your body, all of which you offered to the Eternal Father in payment of our impatience and our softness. How, then, do we not curb our anger and love of self when faced with the iniquities of others? Henceforth we will try our best to bear our troubles well, and, despising self, take peacefully the injuries which men may consciously or unconsciously do us.
Alas, how much I stand in need of patience! I shrink from every little trouble; I sicken under every light affliction; I fire up at and resent every trifling contradiction; never setting myself to learn that the road to Paradise lies amidst the thorns of tribulation. Yet was this the path you deigned to tread. And so let me follow you, Lord, that by bearing with patience the afflictions of this world, I may have a share of your glory in the next. Amen.
Quote from a Saint:
“When God is our strength, it is strength indeed; when our strength is our own, it is only weakness.”
What happens when we focus on the law of God more than the purpose behind the law?
How can we focus on love above the law? What habits can we form to help us do this?
What does it look like to love our brother in his weakness? How can we do so without becoming an enabler?
How can we work on ridding ourselves of vices?
The members of the Body of Christ have sicknesses and weaknesses. How can we each help the Body of the Church to heal and grow?
Where one is weak, God makes another strong. How can we be better about turning to our brothers and sisters in our own weakness?
St. Paul writes that, “Power is made perfect in weakness.” How does the Lord transform our weaknesses into strengths?
What the world sees as weak, the Lord often sees as strong. What are some examples of this in the life of Christ? Of the saints? In your own life?
Oratory Reflection 559: Wind of the Spirit: Reflection on Luke 5:1-11
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’ Simon said in reply, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.” -Luke 5:1-11
Think of the image of letting the Holy Spirit fill one’s sails. In the Hebrew language, the word ruah conveniently has three meanings: breath, wind, and spirit. When we think of allowing God to fill our sails, it fits to allocate that to the Holy Spirit. The basics of sailing are that the boat has a mast, a sail, and a rudder. If the sail is spread out, the wind can catch it, and then all you have to do is steer. If you don’t want the wind to fill the sails, then you furl them up and tie them.
Allowing God to fill our sails involves teamwork. He is not going to force himself on us against our will. The wind is available, but we can choose to ignore it and rely on our own resources instead. Paddling or rowing is much slower and more arduous. And of course, there is always the choice to do nothing, to remain motionless or just drift.
Putting out our sails can be scary and unsettling. You never know where the Holy Spirit might take you or what it will require of you. You have the rudder, and to some extent, you’re in control of where you’re going, but with sails out, it’s the Wind that ultimately takes you where it wants. We should have our hand on the rudder, but also be sensitive to where the Holy Spirit would like to lead us. Yes, it’s teamwork – but God does most of the work. We put out the sails and steer, but it’s the wind that powers the vessel.
The image of sailing again comes to my mind in the gospel reading. Peter could have remained an insignificant fisherman in Galilee and been soon forgotten after his death. Instead, he allowed God to use him and now, he is still known throughout the world and has been the inspiration for so many.
How charismatic Jesus must have been. The people were captivated by his preaching and teaching. They flocked to him. They followed him around. They abandoned whatever they were doing. He was so magnetic that they pressed in to get closer to him. They didn’t want to miss a word.
Jesus deftly hit on a solution with Peter’s boat. It was perfect. His voice bounced and amplified off the water. The crowds were sloping gradually upwards on the banks like an amphitheater. Everyone could see him. Jesus could sit down and not get weary and speak longer, but still be seen. Maybe the crowds were sitting too.
Afterwards, Jesus, never outdone in generosity, tells Peter to put out into deeper water and let down their nets. Left to their own devices, Peter and his companions caught nothing. At Jesus’ request, they could have objected and said it was the wrong time of day to catch fish. In fact, he did put up some resistance. But Peter obeyed instead of stubbornly insisting that this was his trade and he knew more about fishing than Jesus did.
And the results were astounding. So much so that Peter is blown away. “Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” If Peter’s attitude would have been that of entitlement – like, “Aren’t I a good fisherman, Jesus? You are really lucky to have me on your team!” – then he would not have had the capacity to follow Jesus as he did.
In response to Peter’s humility, Jesus tells him, “Peter, you’re not dreaming big enough. Your current dreams and plans for your life are just about catching these paltry fish. My dreams for you are so much bigger. If you abandon yourself to my plans for you, you could be catching immortal souls instead – tons of them! This large catch of fish today will come to seem like nothing. Your dreams are too shallow, Peter. Put out into the deep.”
God meets us where we are – in Peter’s case, his daily work – and makes use of it to catch souls. Of ourselves, we can’t hope for very big results. Our dreams are small. But with God in our sails, the sky is the limit.
-Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
Omnipotence of the Father, help my frailty, and rescue me from the depths of misery. Wisdom of the Son, direct all my thoughts, words, and actions. Love of the Holy Spirit, be the source of all the operations of my soul, so that they may be entirely conformed to the divine will. Amen.
Quote from a Saint:
“Man by himself is nothing, but with the Holy Spirit he is very great. Man is all earthly and all animal; nothing but the Holy Spirit can elevate his mind, and raise it on high. Why were the saints so detached from the earth? Because they let themselves be led by the Holy Spirit. Those who are led by the Holy Spirit have true ideas; that is the reason why so many ignorant people are wiser than the learned. When we are led by a God of strength and light, we cannot go astray.”
-St. John Vianney
How does the Holy Spirit speak to us so that we know what direction the Lord wants us to take?
Why should we trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Why do we sometimes resist?
What can we do when there seems to be no “wind in our sails”?
Does the Lord ever tell us to “furl our sails”? What does our life become if we always keep our sails furled?
What happens when we rely on our own human efforts instead of the Lord’s?
The simple act of obedience to the Lord works wonders, like the abundance of fish in Peter’s boat. What are some other examples of this in the Gospels? In the life of the Church? In your own life?
How should we respond when the Lord is generous towards us?
Oratory Reflection 558: Memento Mori: Reflection on Wisdom 3:1-9
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.” -Wisdom 3:1-9
In the fourth chapter of his Rule, St. Benedict wrote: “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” (RB4.47) While he is not advocating an obsession with death, he is indicating the best way to embrace life. We can only turn our gaze to the one thing that matters by owning our mortality. While confronting our human frailty, it is important to keep in mind that we are mortal creatures who have been created for immortality. This awareness is addressed by the Psalmist: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps. 90:12). How different would our lives be if we kept death daily before our eyes? By keeping the reality of death before us, we free ourselves to live richer lives.
Scripture that helps us contemplate death counterbalances our tendency to simply read texts that make us feel good. By remembering the souls of those who have gone before us and visiting their graves, we are forced to admit that we are dust, and we shall return to dust. The Letter to the Hebrews states, “We have no lasting city here, but we are seeking one that is to come.” (Heb. 13: 14) The more we remember the past, the more accurately we’ll be able to set our gaze on the future. “For our citizenship is in heaven from where we eagerly await the return of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20) While we rightly grieve the loss of loved ones, faith tells us that Christ has conquered death. Each of us will die someday, but none of us is subject to death’s power, because in Christ, God has conquered death.
There is a reassuring line in the Rite of Christian Burial: “In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend our loved one to almighty God.” Faith tells us that what we commend to the earth is a clay vessel that contains the seed of immortality. The faithful departed see God face to face and are absorbed into God’s love. Having been consumed by the fire of divine love, they are purified from the contagion of sin. Having abandoned themselves to God’s infinite mercy, they are drawn into communion with the Trinity.
The church invites us to pray for the souls of the faithful departed and to prepare for our own death. It is important that we maintain a relationship of love and faith with the deceased, and that we view the afterlife in the light of the Scriptures. At the end of life, death can deprive us of what is mortal, but it can never deprive us of what is divine. Having been stripped of mortality, we will be clothed in a robe of immortality. Remembering our death allows us to be grateful for the life we have been given, and for the people who have shared it and who have loved and supported us through it. Saint Ambrose wrote, “We loved them in life, let us not forget them in death.”
-Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
O Divine Heart of Jesus, grant, we beseech Thee, eternal rest to the souls in purgatory, the final grace
to those who shall die today, true repentance to sinners, the light of the faith to pagans, and thy blessing to me and mine. To Thee, O most compassionate Heart of Jesus, I commend all these souls, and I offer to Thee on their behalf all thy merits, together with the merits of thy most holy Mother and of all the saints and angels, and all the sacrifices of the holy Mass, Communions, prayers and good works, which shall be accomplished today throughout the Christian world.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Quote from a Saint:
“What does ‘Christ’ mean but to die in the body, and receive the breath of life? Let us then die with Christ, to live with Christ. We should have a daily familiarity with death, a daily desire for death. By this kind of detachment our soul must learn to free itself from the desires of the body. It must soar above earthly lusts to a place where they cannot come near, to hold it fast. It must take on the likeness of death, to avoid the punishment of death.”
In light of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, how should we view our own death?
What does Scripture and Church tradition tell us about the afterlife? What is it like?
Think of the martyr saints. How did God redeem their death?
We have a natural instinct to preserve our own lives. When is it appropriate to go against that God-given instinct?
Though few are called to be martyrs in the flesh, we are all called to mortify ourselves for the sake of Christ. What are some ways this can be done? How do those ways vary depending on your state in life?
St. Ambrose said, “The law of our fallen nature is at war with the law of our reason and subjects the law of reason to the law of error.” How can we be spared from this error?
Suffering and death have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. How then, should we act when suffering and death disturb our lives?
Oratory Reflection 557: Marriage and Childhood: Reflection on Mark 10:2-16
“The Pharisees approached and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He said to them in reply, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’ But Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’ In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.’ Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.” -Mark 10:2-1
In the second letter to Timothy St. Paul wrote: “...from your infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, the source of wisdom which through faith in Jesus Christ leads to salvation. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in holiness so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:15-17)
St. Paul’s teaching was never just theory; it came from his own experience of the Scriptures, from his profound love of the Word, first as a Pharisee, then as a follower of the Lord. He listened to, meditated on, and prayed about these passages. In Mark’s writing, he heard more than the account of God’s creation of marriage. He heard more than Jesus’ teaching about the sacredness, the seriousness of the union of a man and woman.
We hear the fruit of his patient, prayerful listening in his Letter to the Ephesians. After quoting the same passage from Genesis that Jesus quotes in Mark, Paul adds: “This is a great foreshadowing; I mean that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:31) The love of Jesus is revealed, manifested in a human union. Paul perceived this union to be much more than human attraction and commitment. All over the Gospels, we hear proclaimed this love of Christ, love that suffered death for our sake.
Through his prayerful listening, St. Paul himself becomes a living teaching. This is what life in the Baptism of Christ entails: reading, listening, and reflecting on God’s sacred Word so that through it, our Lord can captivate us more and more, and lead us deeper and deeper into the Divine Mystery.
The scene of Jesus with the children at first appears to be a recounting of Jesus’ popularity, His attractiveness. It does not seem to have anything to do with Jesus’ teaching on marriage, but it does. His teaching on marriage is demanding. He calls spouses to faithful, loving commitment, to receive each other, day in and day out, for life.
Through His welcome and blessing of the children, He is saying that unless one is receptive, trusting in His wisdom and truth, one cannot accept His Word, himself. A person must be childlike. One must have the openness, trust, and receptivity of a child in order to be in union with him. It is a matter of grace and light given, and whether that same grace and light is welcomed and lived.
But there is even more to the meaning of Jesus and the children; it is a reflection of what happens when we listen and reflect on the Sacred Word. We receive more than a teaching. We receive the blessing, the touch of the Lord. We are anointed with the very presence of the Lord. Like marriage, it is an encounter, a union of persons, a sacrament. In our childlike receptivity of the scriptures, we carry away something of the Word, and we bear in our depths the sacred Presence of incomprehensible mercy, of unspeakable love. In truth, we become a living tabernacle, more sacred and dear to the Lord than we can imagine.
-Fr. John Denburger, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
Lord God Almighty, you have humbled yourself by becoming a little child. Help me too, by your example, to live with perfect acceptance of all that I am given, in both trials and consolations. May I keep always before me my littleness, and my inability to do anything without your guiding hand. Mary, Daughter of the Father, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Mother of Christ, teach me to be in perfect union with God, and humble myself, that, like you, I may be exalted.
Quote from a Saint:
"Remaining little means to recognize one's nothingness, to await everything from the Goodness of God, to avoid being too much troubled at our faults; finally, not to worry over amassing spiritual riches, not to be solicitous about anything. Even amongst the poor, while a child is still small, he is given what is necessary; but, once he is grown up, his father will no longer feed him, and tells him to seek work and support himself. Well, it was to avoid hearing this, that I have never wished to grow up, for I feel incapable of earning my livelihood, which is Life Eternal!"
-St. Thérèse of Lisieux
How does looking to children and married couples help us to understand the Word of God?
What kind of relationship does Christ want with us? How is this shown in the Gospel?
St. Paul writes that the scriptures will make us “fully competent and equipped for every good work.” What are some ways that we can encounter scripture throughout our day?
How can we remain childlike towards God into adulthood? How can we tell the difference between childlikeness and childishness?
In what way does St. Paul set an example of how to live in relationship with God?
Think of a saint who exhibits childlike trust in the Lord. How might they have learned that trust?
The Lord sees us as sacred and lovable beings. What are some things that can distort this God-given image of ourselves?
Oratory Reflection 556: A Call to Repentance: Reflection on Luke 13:1-9
“At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’
“And he told them this parable: ‘There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?” He said to him in reply, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”’”
The parable that St. Luke recounts stands alone; not much of an introduction proceeds it, and no explanation follows. Yet, obviously, it was important to St. Luke to include it in his Gospel, and it ultimately shows us Jesus’ call to repentance. Pope Benedict XVI wrote of Jesus: “As His preaching continues, it becomes ever clearer that in His parables He is talking about Himself, that the ‘Kingdom’ and His own person belong together, that the Kingdom is coming in His own person. The decision He demands is a decision on how one stands in relation to Him…”
So what can we learn from this parable for our own journey of faith? Under the figure of a fig tree, God looks for good fruit from us: the results of His grace. His mercy, love, and goodness are not throw-aways. They are most serious gifts, necessary for our journey into eternal life which God desires for us.
We can conclude then that the owner of the fig tree is God the Father, and the vinedresser is Jesus, His Son. Then this teaching might have something to say about God’s merciful and generous patience. He is patient with us as we struggle along in life with our victories and our defeats, with our daily labor of obedience to our faith.
This brings to mind what St. Benedict wrote in the Prologue of the Benedictine Rule: “The Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, His holy teaching...therefore our life span has been lengthened by way of a truce that we should amend our misdeeds.”
Then St. Benedict adds: “As the Apostle (St. Paul) says, ‘Do you not know that the patience of God is leading you to repent?’” And we can answer, “Yes, we do know!” And St. Benedict might pointedly ask, “And what follows from that?”
-Fr. John Denburger, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
My Jesus, I love Thee with my whole heart. I repent of having so many times heretofore displeased thy infinite goodness. By thy grace I resolve never to offend Thee more for the time to come; and at this present moment, poor sinner as I am, I consecrate myself wholly to Thee. I renounce for myself, and I give to Thee, my will, my affections, my desires, everything that I call my own. From this day forth do Thou with me, and with everything that belongs to me, whatever pleases Thee. I ask Thee only, and I wish only, for thy holy love, for final perseverance, and the perfect fulfillment of thy will. Amen.
Quote from a Saint:
“The scorpion who stings us is venomous, but when his oil has been distilled, it is the best remedy for his bite;—even so sin is shameful when we commit it, but when reduced to repentance and confession, it becomes salutary and honorable. Contrition and confession are in themselves so lovely and sweet-savored, that they efface the ugliness and disperse the ill savor of sin.”
-St. Francis De Sales
How are we to know that we are in need of repentance?
What does true repentance look like? What do the Gospels and Church teachings say about it?
The Lord offers us repentance as a gift. What does it take to be able to accept this gift?
How does repentance help us to come closer to God and the life he desires for us?
In what way does Christ intercede for us when we fail to produce good fruit?
How do the actions of the Son help us realize the patience of the Father?
Where in your life has God been patient with you? Are there areas in which you lack good fruit?
Oratory Reflection 555: Little Ones: Reflection on John 1:12-18
“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, “The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.”’ From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.” -John 1:12-18
Today, crossing international borders is a cold experience. You stand before a robotic machine. It asks for your passport, and you fumble around, reluctant, afraid it will gobble it up and spit it out in a mangled mess. It asks you to look into it so that it can slowly adjust its camera to your face to take a photo. Then it spits out your receipt. You grab it and run for your life.
This is the brave, new world of gigantic information and surveillance systems. In those, we are mere numbers, raw data. The bigger the system, the more abstract they must make us in order to function efficiently. When someone tells you the Creator of the Universe has a unique love for you and died for you, it can be easy to brush this off. We are programmed to understand that bigger power means that the little guy, like you and me, counts for little. So we discount God’s saving power. “That’s not for me,” says a hard, cold, reptilian voice in us. “The grace of God has appeared,” says St. Paul to Titus. “So what?” we may ask.
In the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, thousands of people are gathered to look at the horizon that is slowly brightening up. It brightens and brightens, and their faces are now lit up, their eyes fixed on the light. Then the light becomes a searing ball, and the huge mothership touches down. It disgorges people who were abducted and then takes on a passenger. Then it slowly leaves the earth. So what about the people watching all this? What about them? The light fades away. The show is over, the excitement is gone, and they are back to their hovels.
I say this because when we hear things like, “The grace of God has appeared,” we might think of some global system, some huge mothership. Nice. Impressive. But we remain the audience, the extras in the movie, paid a few bucks to show up, clap at the right time, and then slump back to the bottom of the heap after the show. What has this “grace of God” to do with my secret wishes and dreams? Dreams that nobody cares about, and they are so impossible that I don’t expect anyone to care about them. I can hardly bring myself to care about them. What has it to do with the secret stirring that tells me I am meant to dream big and hope big, that I somehow matter?
When I was young, I always hung back from the crib that held the Child Jesus. In my callow youth, there were bigger, more urgent problems in the universe for me. And a baby born to two peasants in some forlorn town seemed pretty irrelevant. Even embarrassing. I have now realized that the real answer is always hidden out at the peripheries, not with the glitz and the glamor.
The grace of God has appeared to save all. Not humanity as a big conglomerate of data, but you and me, personally. It has to make itself as small as we are, and then even smaller than we are, so that it can only wait for our response. It has, not the power we would expect from infinite systems, but an embarrassing helplessness that changes our hearts, a crazy need to win over our hearts instead of controlling them. It acts crazy enough to risk making a fool of itself and even crazier, we have the freedom to scorn, spit on, slap, strike, jeer at, crucify. Big systems revel in control of the small. Here, the Infinite is on its knees, tinier than the small. It makes no sense. This is intellectual vertigo material. This is the world of the true God.
The grace of God has appeared, and how? Not as a global system, but as a tiny bundle of flesh and blood that can die, tiny enough to awaken one unique and never-to-be-repeated soul at a time: you and me, the small guys. We are not the extras in the play as we have been programmed to believe so fervently. Christ has come to draw us all into this great drama where all of us are stars. This is the real thing, the only great and lasting drama. The huge, big, glittering things are footnotes to it, and we are so crucial to it that God became an infant. You can accept it, or you can sneer at the ludicrousness of it. It is a confounding, bewildering stretch of the mind and the imagination. But unless you embrace the improbable, you will miss the appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
-Fr. Gerard D'Souza, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
O eternal and incarnate Wisdom, O most sweet and adorable Jesus, true God and true Man, only Son of the Eternal Father and of Mary ever-Virgin, I adore Thee profoundly, in the splendour of thy Father through eternity, and in the virginal womb of Mary thy most perfect Mother during the time of thy Incarnation. Through the hands of thy Mother, bless me, thy servant, with the graces necessary to love thee with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength, that I may have a share in thy eternal glory.
Quote from a Saint:
“Every human being has a longing for God. Christians go one step further—not only do we long for God but we have the treasure of his presence always with us.”
-St. Teresa of Calcutta
Why does God reveal his glory in the form of a child instead of a great warrior or a column of flame like he did in the Old Testament?
How are we to understand the greatness of God if he reveals himself in things that seem so insignificant?
What about the world today makes it difficult to see our own worth? How can we counteract those things?
How can we help those who do not recognize their own worth to see the glory of God?
What does it look like to be a “star” in the great drama that God has laid out for the world?
How does the Lord dwell among us today? How does he live in your own life?
According to the gospel, we have the power to become “children of God.” What does this mean for us?
Oratory Reflection 554: Redemption in the Incarnation: Reflection on Isaiah 41:13-20
“I am the Lord, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, Do not fear,
I will help you.
Do not fear, you worm Jacob,
you maggot Israel;
I will help you says the Lord;
the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, full of teeth,
To thresh the mountains and crush them,
to make the hills like chaff.
When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off,
the storm shall scatter them.
But you shall rejoice in the Lord;
in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
“The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the Lord, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the wilderness into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
In the wilderness I will plant the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
In the wasteland I will set the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.” -Isaiah 41:13-20
In Chapter 6 of the Book of Isaiah, we hear his fear and reluctance to answer God’s call: “Woe is me, I am doomed. For I am a man of unclean lips yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Lords.” Isaiah accepts his vocation, yet there is a strong sense of foreboding; he will not be the one in control, for he will be given over to be God’s voice. And this voice, as we know from the prophecies, foretold doom and punishment both to the pagan nations and to Israel. In Isaiah 30, the prophet says, “Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out plans that are not mine, who weave webs that are not inspired by me - adding sin upon sin.”
And so it must have been a breath of fresh air, a welcome relief for the Prophet to speak in God’s name the message that we find in Isaiah 41. Ten times in the course of the passage he proclaims the love and mercy of God, the God who grasps Israel with His right hand, who says, “Fear not. I will help you, will answer you, I will not forsake you. Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”
In that word “Redeemer,” there is a very profound revelation of God’s love. In Hebrew, the word is goel. It means one who is responsible for avenging a crime or protecting from danger, the one who is the nearest kinsman. God speaks to Israel and to us: “I am your nearest kinsman because I am truly, faithfully, eternally related to you as the source of life. I am totally given to you!”
Long after the Prophet speaks, Jesus reveals more of the depth and meaning of this special relationship. In becoming man, in taking on our flesh as the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, He is our goel, our nearest relative, the Son of God and the Son of Mary.
When Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth was moved to ask, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” We can take that question and reword it: “Who am I that my Lord, my God should be my kinsman, my nearest relative, closer to me than anyone else?”
God draws close to us in the Incarnation. He is our Redeemer, not only by wiping away our transgressions in His Passion, but by being present to us at every moment. We can share in Elizabeth’s awe as we consider that the same Lord who rules over the rivers and mountains, and has the power to scatter and to gather the people of Israel, should want to draw near to us in the form of a child.
-Fr. John Denburger, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
I adore Thee, Eternal Spirit, and I give Thee thanks for the infinite love with which Thou didst work the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation, and for the infinite love with which Thou didst form the sacred body of our Lord Jesus Christ out of the most pure blood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to become in the Blessed Sacrament the food of my soul. I beg Thee to enlighten my mind, and to purify my heart and the hearts of all men, that they all may know this great benefit of thy love, and receive worthily this most Blessed Sacrament. Pater, Ave, Gloria.
Quote from a Saint:
“The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men. For one who wanted to make a display the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders. But for Him Who came to heal and to teach the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it.”
-St. Athanasius of Alexandria
The prophet Isaiah so often speaks of the doom of Israel. How can we reconcile this with the mercy shown in the reading from Chapter 41?
In what way does the Incarnation of Christ fulfill the Prophet’s words?
Based on the prophets, how might the Jewish people have expected the Messiah to appear?
How do you expect God to appear to you? Does He meet those expectations?
What can we do in times that it seems we “seek water in vain”?
Human beings often look to their family first in times of crisis. What does this tell us about the Lord’s relationship with us as our goel, our Redeemer?
Elizabeth recognizes the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. In what ways does the Lord send the Holy Spirit to us so that we may recognize him?
Oratory Reflection 553: Light Divine: Reflection on Baruch 5:1-9
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on forever the splendor of glory from God:
Wrapped in the mantle of justice from God,
place on your head the diadem
of the glory of the Eternal One.
For God will show your splendor to all under the heavens;
you will be named by God forever:
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.
“Rise up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
Gathered from east to west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
carried high in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain
and the age-old hills be made low,
That the valleys be filled to make level ground,
that Israel may advance securely in the glory of God.
The forests and every kind of fragrant tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
For God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with the mercy and justice that are his.”
The Prophet Baruch exhorted the exiled people to clothe themselves in the glory of the Lord their God. Even though they were in a foreign land, he told them to wrap themselves in the garments of righteousness and walk in the presence of the Lord. Like our ancestors in the faith, we have been forced out of our comfort zones and separated from the people we love. We have been threatened by an unseen, pernicious enemy. Even as the threat of the latest COVID variant hangs over our heads, the prophet tells us to keep our eyes fixed on the radiant splendor of God. When the world was a formless waste and all was wrapped in darkness, the voice of God, his radiant glory, filled the earth. The people who walked in darkness and gloom saw a great light.
The uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, and all the circumstances that surround it, has shaken our confidence to the roots. Masking and social distancing have forced us to deal with isolation and loneliness. The winter chill that seeps into the marrow of our bones forces us to acknowledge our fragility and mortality.
Advent is a season of longing for the coming of the Light of the World, a season for those who wander in the darkness of the night to recognize and admit the truth about themselves. Advent is about the radiant glory of the Father becoming one of us so that we might become children of the Light. Like king Zedekiah of old, we are overwhelmed by the circumstances in our life. With him, we cry out, “Is there any word from the Lord?” (Jer. 37:17) Having asked the question, we must patiently open the ears of our hearts and listen for the gentle voice as it speaks: “The maiden is with child and will soon give birth to the Word Incarnate.” God who loves the world sent His Beloved Son to make us fully human again. In response to his love, we are called to prepare the way for God to enter into our lives.
The apostle Paul says to the church in Philippi: “I thank my God for you every time I think of you. Every time I pray for you, my heart overflows with joy.” (Phil. 1:3) Though he was separated from them, Paul held them close to his heart. Though they were out of sight, he saw them in the Light of Christ. The First Letter of Peter resonates with this sentiment in describing the disciples’ relationship to the Lord: “Though you have never seen him, you love him. Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an indescribable joy that has been touched with glory.” (1 Pet. 1:8)
Advent is a time for us to draw all who are separated from us close to our hearts with cords of love. It is a season of the heart. Nothing can separate us from the heart of Christ, because nothing can separate Christ from the heart of the Father. The Spirit at work in us enables us to rejoice in his presence in all people–those we see now, and those we will not see until a later time. Pope Francis declared it quite beautifully: “To Christians, the future has a name, and that name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean being optimistically naïve and ignoring the tragedies people face. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but can turn its gaze towards tomorrow.”
In Christ, God draws near to us with the offer of forgiveness. The loving Father does for us what we could never do for ourselves. In Christ, God seeks out and finds his scattered and lost children. We are reminded that the Light of the World became one of us so that we may radiate his light, his love, his justice, and his mercy to people who find themselves trapped in darkness.
-Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
edited by Erica Faunce
Lord of Light Divine, send unto us poor creatures thy Son, that in looking upon his face, we may look upon yours. May we be filled with charity, hope, wisdom, and joy beyond all telling. Jesus Christ, Child of Mary, draw us with tenderness towards yourself and give unto us the Love and Light of the Father, infinite in its source, that we may be the light of the world, and join you in the luminous glory of Heaven forever. Amen.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world . . . Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”
-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
The world began in darkness, and the Lord brought forth light. What are some other ways that he has brought light to his people throughout history?
Why do we call Jesus the “Light of the World”? How does this apply to him specifically during Advent?
What forms does darkness take in our lives today? How does the Lord bring forth light from it?
St. Paul and St. Peter both describe an overflowing joy caused by something or someone unseen. How did they find joy like this?
What visible signs does the Lord give us so that we might better know the love that he has for us? What can we do when we are separated from these signs?
Pope Francis spoke about hope as “the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness.” Why does the human heart have a tendency towards darkness?
In this time of Advent, how can we become “children of Light”?
Oratory Reflection 552: Mary Immaculate: Reflection on Luke 1:26-38
“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.’ But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply,
‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” -Luke 1:26-38
Over a hundred years ago, the first words that Our Lady, “brighter than the sun,” said to the children of Fatima were, “Do not be afraid.” Afraid is what frail humans so often feel when confronted by evidence of divine power. The Lord himself said it on the morning of his Resurrection: “Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 28:10) When Our Lady appeared on that stony, arid field at Cova da Iria, she spoke to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta in the local Portuguese dialect, but she was also addressing the people of our own age, with its underlying anti-Catholicism and its broader antagonism towards those who cling to God.
There's a certain kind of progressive Christian who balks at the very phrase, “Mother of God.” If you explain that Jesus is God and so his mother Mary is the Mother of God, they give you that sort of sideways look that implies they know you're playing some sort of trick on them, but they can't quite spot the catch. Well, of course, there is a catch: it’s that they don't live with a real faith that Jesus is God. As St. John Henry Newman once analyzed it, liberal Christians demote our Lord Jesus Christ into the slot reserved for Mary, which we might call the "Top Creature Slot," and then they're upset when orthodox Catholics situate Mary in exactly that place. The doctrine of the Incarnation means that God was in the womb of a Jewish peasant girl who is also Queen of Heaven.
The Immaculate Conception is another doctrine that can scare some people. Is it perhaps because it is a reminder that conception is designed to result in a birth? Not the sort of thing pro-choice Christians want to think about. C. S. Lewis points out that the devils too are fastidious in their horror at the flesh. In his Screwtape Letters, a demon refers to a human as “this animal, this thing begotten in a bed.” Even the point of view of a demon gets at least one thing right: what is begotten is a human, and not a tumor in a woman’s body. Or perhaps some people are put off by the word “Immaculate” because it suggests something religious, whereas they are strictly spiritual, and non-religious.
“Immaculate” is a completely biblical concept in its Hebrew and Greek equivalents: it means “spotless,” that only what is without blemish is truly for God (for example, a spotless, sacrificial lamb). Because Mary is to be wholly for God–to give God his body, to give God his genes, to give God the food of her breast–so Mary, by God's gift, is to be the Immaculate, the one without blemish, the one in whom the Divine likeness has never been marred.
It is because Mary alone in the roots of her being is unmarked by sin, that Mary alone is truly and wholly free. In our hearts, too, we should make her free and “fear not.” She is never to be locked down in our churches and homes like someone whose name must never be mentioned in public. If Mary is the Mother of God Incarnate, she is our Mother too, because we are in Christ, limbs of his body by our baptismal incorporation.
Mary comes to us this day, and what would a true mother bring to hungry children except food? Food for her children in this, our exile, food packed for our journey. Mary comes to this place and to this moment of time. Mary comes, bright with all the beauties known by men and angels. Mary comes to set upon our lips the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.
-Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
Behold me at thy sacred feet, O Immaculate Virgin. I rejoice with thee, because from all eternity thou wast elected to be the Mother of the Eternal Word, and wast preserved stainless from the taint of original sin. I praise and bless the Most Holy Trinity, who poured out upon thy soul in thy Conception the treasure of that privilege. I humbly pray thee to obtain for me grace effectually to overcome the sad effects produced in my soul by original sin; make me wholly victorious over them, that I may never cease to love my God. Amen.
Quote from a Saint:
Not only is it difficult” but it is not possible to approach Jesus without Mary. Why? Without even mentioning the fact that it is She who gave birth and brought Jesus up for us, approaching Jesus is without a doubt a grace, and all graces come to us through Her, just as Our Lord Himself came through Her.
-St. Maximilian Kolbe
Why is it difficult for human beings to accept the reality of the Incarnation?
Our Lady of Lourdes said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Why does she phrase it this way instead of simply saying, “I was immaculately conceived.”?
Mary received everything from the Father as a gift, and gave herself as a gift in return. What are some ways we can follow her example?
How does the Blessed Mother bear Christ in our lives? In the life of the Church as a whole?
Like her Son, Mary tells us not to be afraid. What is it that we are afraid of, and how can the Blessed Mother help us to overcome those fears?
In what ways has Mary demonstrated that she is the mother of us all?
Aside from God himself, Mary alone is spotless, but the Lord calls us to make a perfect sacrifice of our lives. How does He perfect our imperfections through the intercession of Mary?
Oratory Reflection 551: Living Advent: Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 and Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Finally, brothers, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God—and as you are conducting yourselves—you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” -1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
“‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand. Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.’” -Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
This holy season of Advent affords us a triple vision: We look to the past when the Lord came in the ﬂesh. We look to the future when He will come again in glory. And we especially look to the present as the Lord comes to us in various ways, especially in the Holy Eucharist, in the Sacred Word, and through us, His Body, the Church.
In the early days of the Church, as the ﬁrst believers grew in number and in faith, Jesus’ disciples clearly saw the need for a formulation of sound doctrine based on the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church. It was quite a task, a labor of love - praying, listening, studying, and even arguing - because the unfathomable mystery of God’s love, manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ, always exceeds human words and thoughts no matter how noble, spiritual, or how wise or saintly the teachers.
We know that our ancient leaders in the faith borrowed terms from their culture to express the beliefs of Christianity. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of Truth, they reﬁned concepts to teach with as much clarity as possible the great mysteries they embraced, believed so strongly, and passionately wanted to pass on. Such was their charity, their sense of fellowship.
One such word is parousia, a Greek word meaning “presence” or “arrival.” It denoted the arrival of an official like a king or an emperor. So the early Christians took this word to express their relationship with the Lord Jesus. Translated into Latin, the word becomes adventus, or Advent. It proclaims a presence, the Presence of God here and now. With that in mind, Advent cannot really be limited to the four weeks before the Nativity of the Lord. For us Christians, all of life is one Advent, living consciously with faithful love and obedience in the Divine Presence.
In the Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul gives us a prayer, his ardent desire for us: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all...to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” Quite an all-embracing prayer!
The verbs “increase and abound” in the Greek have the sense of being something over and above, something superlative, something that is in the greatest fullness. Such must be the love that we have if we live as men and women of faith. Our model, of course, is the Lord Jesus Himself who loved His own “to the end.” Those words proclaim loudly and clearly the extent of His love. But that same phrase, “to the end,” can also mean “perfectly.” From this, we know that our love in Christ can never be something measurable. It cannot be quantiﬁed or limited if it is to be of Christ, who “loved to the end.”
This is the work and goal of the Christian life, our life: to love as Christ loved. This is truly Advent life, and because of our humanity, we will always fall short in this life. But we can keep trying “to the end.” Our willingness, our desire is a form of love, and therefore a gift of grace. And as a love even imperfectly lived, it is well-received by our God in His mercy. Our God readily receives with love whatever we try to do, like a parent receives the efforts of a child.
In the Gospel, St. Luke recounts Jesus’ call to us to be vigilant and to pray for strength to escape tribulations. May that vigilance and prayer also be directed to our Advent life, that of being and becoming more and more people who love “to the end” as Christ our Lord did on the Cross, and does on the altar.
-Fr. John Denburger, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.
Quote from a Saint:
“We know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life. We know that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”
-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Jesus refers to his second coming as our redemption, yet it is accompanied by signs of terror and power. Why does the great gift of redemption come in such a way?
How should we think of the Advent season in light of the words parousia and adventus?
Jesus condemns carousing and drunkenness, but also succumbing to the anxieties of daily life. How can giving in to anxiety prevent us from being prepared to receive Jesus?
No words are sufficient to fully explain the wonders of God. How then can we pass on our faith to others?
What can we do in this imperfect world to “increase and abound” in love? How can we reach towards perfection?
St. Paul writes that as we are conducting ourselves, we should do so even more. What sort of conduct is he speaking of? How should we act in order to live a life of faith?
Jesus loves us “to the end.” What does this mean as we reflect on Jesus in the past, present, and future?