Category Archives: Mary

A Necessary Habit?

In an age of exaggerated ecumenism that is further fueled by a scientific witch hunt to burn all religious superstition, the Brown Scapular has lost much of its popularity.  With its innate connection to Marian devotion it remains one of the most powerful Catholic sacramentals even as it slides into disuse.  As a particular expression of Marian devotion, the Brown Scapular may have slid into disuse, but it remains a particularly powerful sacramental of the Church; one that is particularly needed in our time.  To place the Brown Scapular within the context of a healthy spirituality, we must first speak briefly about sacramentals in general.  It is not just the Brown Scapular that carries an air of superstition, but all sacramentals.  These sentiments are not unfounded as their patrons often treat them as such.  For many people, both Catholic and not, there seems to be little difference between sacramentals and something like a dream catcher.  Therefore it is fitting to lay the authentically Catholic foundation in hopes of returning the Brown Scapular to its primacy of place among these gifts of the Church.

The Church and Sacramentals

Each of the Seven Sacraments are an objective source of grace, even if the amount of grace a given individual receives is dependent upon their personal readiness.  Sacramentals, on the other hand, do not bestow grace, but rather aid those who are using them to receive grace.  The Sacraments have been instituted by Christ and the Church is merely the custodian of them while sacramentals are instituted by the Church as part of her binding and loosing authority.  In making the distinction between sacramentals and the Church’s Seven Sacraments, the Catechism summarizes, saying, “Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (CCC 1671).

If they don’t bestow grace, then why should we use them, especially since, as can often happen, they appear to be tools of superstition?  It is because in establishing (or blessing) a sacramental, the Church acts as an underwriter by attaching the prayer of the entire Church to that of the individual.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful indeed (James 5:16), but the prayer of a righteous man joined to the prayer of Christ’s Mystical Body carries with it divine assurance to be heard (c.f. Mt 18:19).  This makes each of the sacramentals a powerful aid in the pursuit of holiness, even if they do not bestow it directly.  At that, they always require certain conditions on the part of the patron in order to be effective helps.   This awareness must always be at the forefront of our use of sacramentals to keep from plunging into superstition.

In this regard the Brown Scapular is particularly conspicuous because it carries with it a promise from Our Lady that “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”  Properly situated within the Church’s understanding of sacramentals, we can see why this particular sacramental might be especially popular and in a certain sense necessary.  Like all sacramentals, the physical Scapular is a sign pointing towards a deeper reality.   It acts as a sign sealing the covenant instituted by Christ on the Cross of the mutual entrustment of the Blessed Mother and each of the Faithful (c.f. John 19:26).  In that way it is like a wedding ring (another Catholic sacramental) that both signifies and, in a certain sense, seals the covenantal commitment of spouses.

Backed by the commitment of the Church, the Brown Scapular guarantees her constant Maternal protection and the wearer has a growing confidence in her most powerful intercession.  Just as the wedding ring increases the sensitivity of the spouses to the presence of the beloved, especially when they are not seen or felt, the Brown Scapular makes the “wearer more sensitive to the Virgin Mother’s loving presence in their lives” Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to the Carmelites on 750th Anniversary of the Bestowal of the Scapular).  It is worn as a “habit” suggesting that it is meant to represent the habit of committing oneself to the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary both “now and at the hour of our death.”  Thus it also becomes a sign of the grace of final perseverance.

Just as it takes more than simply putting on a wedding ring to be married, so too with the Brown Scapular.  As Pius XII says, “For the Holy Scapular, which may be called the Habit or Garment of Mary, is a Sign and a Pledge of the protection of the Mother of God. But not for this reason, however, may they who wear the Scapular think that they can gain eternal salvation while remaining slothful and negligent of spirit, for the Apostle warns us: ‘In fear and trembling shall you work out your salvation.’” (Pius XII, Letter to the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel).  To guard against becoming “slothful and negligent of spirit” we should seek to bring about the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart by adopting her spirit of fiat as our own.

Why We Need the Brown Scapular Now

Given ratification by the Holy See in 1908, the so-called Sabbatine privilege can be invoked for those who in addition to being vested in and wearing the Brown Scapular like a habit, also practice chastity according to their state in life and daily recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.  Pope Leo XIII also gave permission for priests to commute the third condition and substitute a similar good work like a Daily Rosary to meet the conditions of modern life.  The promise, directly from the lips of Our Lady is that “as a tender Mother, I will descend into purgatory on the Saturday after their death, and will deliver them into the heavenly mansions of life everlasting.”

The point though is that the promise carries with it additional duties.  There is nothing superstitious about it, but both natural and supernatural encouragement to do those things that we know will lead to sanctity.  This is why one can’t help but see the coincidence in the timing of the ratification and Our Lady’s appearance to the visionaries at Fatima less than a decade later.  One of her great concerns that she expressed to the children was the number of souls who were going to hell because of lust—more than any other sin as a matter of fact.  Given the emergence of a hyper-sexualized culture, the problem has only become more acute in the century since.  So vicious has this attack become that it is only with help from above that we can even hope to achieve chastity.  The Brown Scapular becomes a pledge from Our Lady to jump in the foxhole with us and fight.  With close proximity to the heart, the habit will act as a protecting shield for those who wear it.

King Jesus and Queen Mary

Although the Church does not officially celebrate an Octave proceeding from the Solemnity of the Assumption, the timing of the liturgical celebration of the Queenship of Mary eight days later sets up what could still be viewed as an “Octave in spirit.”  The timing is especially apt because her coronation completes the picture first presented to us in the Assumption.  Quite literally, it crowns everything that we know about Mary and, even more importantly, about her Son, Jesus Christ.  It is in the spirit of entering more fully into these two Marian celebration that it is particularly helpful to reflect specifically on her role as Queen.

The Church often finds herself in a defensive stance when it comes to proclaiming the truth about Mary.  This posture mostly follows from a belief, even if only unconscious, that Our Lady’s greatness diminishes Christ’s greatness.  We grow anxious that we might love Mary too much and thus take away from Jesus.  But everything that we believe about Mary flows from the fact that she was predestined to be the Mother of God.  God never calls a person without also giving that person the necessary natural and supernatural endowments to carry out their mission.  Mary’s plentitude of grace comes from God because of her role as the Mother of God.  Her union with her Son was not just mystical but natural and His dependence upon her made her cooperation in His work of redemption wholly unique.

Mary’s Role as Mother of God and Its Consequences

There are consequences that follow from her role as Mother of God.  Related to our particular reflection, she was the mother of the One Whom God would give “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” (Lk 1:32-33).  In short, she is the Mother of the King of Kings.

St. Gabriel’s message confirms what we already find in many other places in Scripture, namely that the Davidic kingdom provides a blueprint for the Kingdom of God.  And like the other the other near-East kingdoms of the time, the Mother of the king or the Gebirah in the Davidic kingdom played a pivotal role in the management of that kingdom.

This unique role of the Gebirah has been studied and written about extensively (I especially recommend Dr. Edward Sri’s book called Queen Mother), so I won’t duplicate those efforts here (**see footnote).  Instead, I will point out two passages that are particularly illustrative.  Both involve David’s wife Bathsheba, the mother of future King Solomon.  Early in the First Book of Kings (1:6) when an aging David is coming to the end of his reign, she enters the royal chamber in a posture of obeisance and offered homage to the king.  While acknowledging her, he pays her no particular honor.  Fast forward a chapter (1Kings 2:19ff ) and we find that once Solomon becomes king she enters the royal chamber and the narrative finds him bowing before her, having a throne brought in and placed at his right hand.  She intercedes on behalf of Adonijah and the king says he cannot refuse her.

The juxtaposition of these two passages confirms for us two things and help us to see more clearly what role Queen Mary, as the Gebirah, plays in the fulfilled Davidic Kingdom.  First, Bathsheba has no authority as wife of the king, but once her son becomes king, she is given a throne.  Without her son on the throne, she has no authority so that her authority depends upon his royal authority.  Likewise, all that we say about Mary’s Queenship flows only from Christ’s authority.  She has only a share in His authority.  But as is always the case with the Church’s Marian beliefs, take away from Mary and you diminish Christ.  Mary’s exaltation puts flesh, literally and figuritvely, on what we believe about Christ.  Without those beliefs, the teachings about Christ gravitate towards abstraction.  If  you take away her queenship, you will be saying that Christ is not the true heir to the throne of David.  The throne of David always had a throne at the king’s right hand for the Queen Mother.

Second, the Queen Mother was no mere figurehead but had royal authority.  The king could not refuse her.  This helps us to shed light on what can otherwise seem like a rather odd interaction between Our Lord and Our Lady at Cana.  As Queen Mother, Our Lord could not refuse anything that His Mother asked even though His “hour had not yet come.”  She assumes He will do it, because she had such authority to “command” Him.

Why Mary Should Steal Your Heart

While this biblical proof-texting is necessary, we must always have the same goal in sight that Pope Pius XII had when he instituted the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, namely, to “renew the praises of Our Heavenly Mother, and enkindle a more fervent devotion towards her, to the spiritual benefit of all mankind.”  The reasons for our devotion might satisfy our heads, but unless it also engages our hearts it will remain sterile facts.  The aforementioned Pontiff helps us begin the longest 18-inch journey by summarizing what we have already said and pointing out that “…as His associate in the redemption, in his struggle with His enemies and His final victory over them, has a share, though in a limited and analogous way, in His royal dignity. For from her union with Christ she attains a radiant eminence transcending that of any other creature; from her union with Christ she receives the royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer’s Kingdom.”

Well-schooled in democratic logic, we reflexively dismiss monarchical terms and neglect their import.  We must not forget that we are citizens in the Kingdom of God, not in the Democratic Republic of the United States of Humanity and Divinity.  Christ is the benevolent King and seated at His right hand is the benevolent Queen.  You cannot have Christ as King without Mary as Queen.  You cannot honor Him while neglecting to honor her.  A man who pledged loyalty to the King while disrespecting the Queen would be labeled as a traitor.  Our devotion for Christ should overflow onto His Mother (which will always flow back on Him).  We must see her as both Queen and Mother.

A sure way to increase that devotion is to reflect upon the fact that Our Lady has a “royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer’s Kingdom.”  The role of Advocate and Queen are practically synonymous—the Queen Mother in her royal office in the kingdom of David exercised her role primarily as an advocate, interceding for the people of the Kingdom.  In fact she did not share in any way in the royal judicial power.  Our Lady is never referred to as the Mother of Justice, but Mother of Mercy because her role is to distribute from the treasury of her Son.  When we realize that she has real power and real authority and that she exercises it as a Mother to each one of us, it is hard not to fall more deeply in love with Our Queen.

In a very real way, then, we see why the Queenship of Mary completes the Assumption.  Although her earthly life came to an end at the Assumption, her throne reminds us that her mission was really only just beginning.  She is the Advocate who always makes an offer that can’t be refused and our celebration of her Queenship must be a time of gratitude to God for so solicitous a Queen and to her for her constant intercession before God.

**For those interested in looking up some further passages supporting this see the succession narratives from 1 and 2 Kings, when each of the kings is mentioned, his mother is also mentioned with him emphasizing her important place beside the king.  The Queen Mother is alsodescried as having a crown (Jer 13:18), a throne (1 Kings 2:19) and is a member of the royal court (2 Kings 24:12-15).

 

 

Inequality and God’s Love

It may be an obsession with equality or the extension of the trophy mentality to eternity, but I am often struck by the vehemence of those who protest that God does not love each of us equally.  On the one hand, we can sympathize with our protester—that God might love some more than others reeks of a superiority complex based on the all-too human tendency to exclude ourselves from the roster of the “others.”  This danger must be confronted head on because this “mere” theological exercise is not an excuse to say that one person is better than another, but a key component of a healthy understanding of God’s love for each one of us individually.  It is, in fact, an indispensable facet of the Good News, enabling us to see how God’s love of all mankind extends to each person individually.

To open our minds to at least the possibility that God may love some more than others, we begin by assuming the egalitarian viewpoint.  That is we must be willing to concede that God loves me just as much He does the Blessed Mother.  Framed within such a stark contrast, we must at least be willing to entertain the possibility; if God were to love one person more than another, it would be here.  If nothing else, this disparity would lead us to admit to the uniqueness of God’s love for each one of us.  God certainly would love the Virgin Mary differently than He would love me even if it does not imply that there is a difference in degree.

Why God’s Unique Love is Not Enough

To say that God loves us uniquely is certainly true, but my contention is that we must also hold onto the more/less distinction as well.  Calling it unique does not quite capture how it is Good News so we must continue on down this road, stopping at one detour along the way.  To say that God loves one person more than another does not preclude Him from loving each of us with the same intensity.  God is love, that is, love is of His essence and so He loves all things with the same vehemence or intensity of will.  He wills the good for all of His creatures and for each man the supreme Good that is a share in His abundant life. This detour also gives us a moment to examine our perspective.  When we do this, we realize we may be looking at the question from a totally human perspective.  Human love is only an analogy for the love of God, only revealing part of it.  It would be repulsive for a parent to love one of their children more than another.  That is because when we love, it is a recognition of the good in the other.  The good, in a certain sense, is the cause of our love.  For God, it is the opposite—it is His love that causes the goodness (for a more thorough treatment of this question see ST I, q.20, art 3).  With this paradigm shift comes a change in our focus to which we must ask, what exactly is it that makes us lovable?

In examining creation, both visible and invisible, we find that God willed a hierarchy in the natural realm.  We find that by nature, angels are above men, men above beasts, beasts above plants, etc.   This hierarchy means that no man, not even the Virgin Mary is above an angel by nature.  There is also an internal hierarchy within the different natures.  Some angels are above other angels and some men above other men.  In short, nature’s hierarchy is based on how much the thing images God.

God is not content with the natural realm, in fact the natural realm was created so that those creatures who most perfectly image Him, may share in the supernatural realm.  This we call the order of grace.  And while grace does not destroy nature, it does disturb the natural hierarchy.  A hierarchy remains but it is based on not so much on what the creature is, or, more accurately, who he or she is, but in how much he or she is “like” God.  God is, from all eternity, not just love, but because He is a Communion of Persons, lovable.  This means that the more “like” God the creature is, the more lovable they are.  The more lovable they are, the more they are loved by God.

The Question Reframed

With proper framing we find that it is almost common sense that God would love more those who are more lovable and that our lovability is based upon the degree of our “God-likeness.”  For sophisticated theologians, this “God-likeness” has a name—sanctifying grace or, as St. Peter puts it, the gift (gratis) by which we become “partakers of the Divine nature” (2Peter 1:4).  We are loved to the degree that we have sanctifying grace in our souls.  This is why we should ever be striving to increase in sanctifying grace (primarily through Prayer, the Sacraments, and acts of love for God), it makes us more lovable and thus more loved.  The difference in love is not so much in the way that God loves us, but in our capacity to receive.  That capacity is determined by one thing only—the amount of grace we have in our souls.  Thus the Virgin Mary is more loved because she who is full of grace is more lovable.  This is why we believe she occupies the highest realms of heaven.  She who is most “like” God, is most near God.

To see why this is Good News look at someone like St. John Vianney.  By all accounts he was not a man of any particular natural endowments and was probably quite simple at best.  He would never achieve any great things in his life and his chances of making any lasting contributions to this world were pretty slim.  Except, that he was inundated with grace and focused solely on growing in holiness (and all that entails including service of neighbor, etc.).  Why it is Good News is because it doesn’t depend on my accomplishments at all.  It doesn’t matter what great things I do, it only matters that “the Almighty does great things for me” only because I say yes, “be it done to me according to your word.”   This is incredibly freeing, especially to someone like me who is plagued by pride.  By humbling accepting this, it can gives us a laser focus realizing the desire each of us has for greatness and the call to holiness are the same thing.

If you are still unconvinced that this really is Good News, then I offer one more example of a Saint who rode this doctrine all the way to Heaven and was declared a Universal Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux.  Happy to be the smallest of God’s flowers she knew He would fill her to the brim with grace and could offer herself as a victim to His love without any hesitation.  Her capacity to be loved may have been less than some of the other Saints, but she strove to have her cup filled to the brim.  The Little Flower shows us the other reason why this is also part of the Good News.  In the heavenly realm there is no competition.  Each person is perfectly happy in their place because they are filled and are part of a whole that shows the glory of God.  God is not simply trying to populate heaven, He is building a family, and like in all families, it glory consists in the whole and not the individual parts.  St. Therese, pray for us!

Prophecy and the Third Part of the Secret of Fatima

Tomorrow marks the 100th Anniversary of the third appearance by Our Lady to the children in Fatima, Portugal.  It was during this visit that Our Lady disclosed to the children what has become known as the “Three Secrets.”  The first two of these secrets included a vision into hell, a prediction of World War II and the spread of Communism.  The third secret remained hidden and was not disclosed until the year 2000.  At the end of the Mass of Beatification for two of the visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, Cardinal Angelo Sodano announced its release.  He mentioned that the time was ripe partly because “the events to which the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima now seem part of the past.”  This has not stopped many people from claiming otherwise, insisting on all kinds of apocalyptic interpretations and creating much controversy.

Shortly after Cardinal Sodano’s statement, the then Head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a Theological Commentary on the Message of Fatima  hoping to shine some light upon the third vision the children saw.  The Cardinal began by affirming Cardinal Sodano’s assertion saying,

“[I]nsofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the “secret”: the exhortation to prayer as the path of “salvation for souls” and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.”

Despite such a lucid statement, many still insist that the vision is pointing to something yet to happen even going so far as to insist that the Church is hiding something.  There are certainly a number of psychological reasons why a person might do this, but there are those whose insistence comes from a misunderstanding about the nature of prophecy.  Cardinal Ratzinger anticipated this aspect of it and spoke briefly about prophecy in hopes that some of the mistaken views could be put to rest and the focus could be placed on the message itself.  It is in this spirit that we should examine what the future Pope Benedict XVI had to say and supplement it with St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of prophecy.

St. Thomas Aquinas and Prophecy

In addressing the charism of prophecy in the Summa (ST II-II, q.173, art. 2), St. Thomas speaks of three different ways in which a prophetic vision is conveyed.  There is the ordinary vision in which something is presented to the exterior senses.  Second, there is an interior perception.  Finally there is a mystical vision that occurs without images.  Regardless of the means by which the vision is conveyed, there is always a subjective element to it. St. Thomas says that “whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver” (ST IA q.75, a5).  What he means by this is that although a person may receive light from on high, how they receive it and how they explain it is based upon their own capacity and experience.

Applying this to what we know of Fatima we can say that the vision was neither the first (only the children could see it) nor could the third (because Sr. Lucia describes it using images).  Through process of elimination we can conclude that the prophetic vision the children received would have been through an interior perception.  What this means is that the vision as Sr. Lucia describes it, even though it is authentic, uses images drawn from her imagination and memory.  This, by the way, is similar to what we see with St. John in the Book of Revelation.  Many of the images as he describes them are based on images that were familiar to him, especially things he had seen on Patmos (like the sea of glass).  In any regard, Sr. Lucia received an impulse from above that is then translated by her interior senses so that she can receive the message.

A thought experiment will make this more understandable.  When I say to you the word “telephone,” you cannot think of a telephone without drawing up an image in your imagination.  This telephone is likely drawn from something in your own memory.  In that way it is completely unique to you and if you began to describe it, it would like be very different from the image I had in mind when I said the word.   In this way, the vision as Sr. Lucia describes it describes is the product of her own imagination and memory.  Again, this is not to suggest that it is made up, only that the images themselves are drawn from her imagination.

Any interpretation has to factor how the prophetic light is received in because it is not like she has seen something on TV or a picture on a wall.  She has received a light and her imagination has attempted to match the light she received.  Of course, it is a prophetic light that is always beyond our natural capacity to know (St. Thomas says of prophecy that it  “first and chiefly consists in knowledge, because, to wit, prophets know things that are far removed from man’s knowledge” (ST II-II, q.171, a.1)) and thus much more complicated than my simple telephone example.  In other words, it is not the vision that matters so much as the interpretation, that is the explanation of what the actual light that was received consisted in.  This is why when asked by Cardinal Sodano whether the interpretation of the vision was correct, Sr. Lucia said she had been given the vision but not the interpretation.  She said it was up to the Church to interpret it, but once she was shown the interpretation she thought it corresponded with what she had seen.

Not only do we tend to focus too much on the vision itself, but we forget another important aspect of a truly Catholic understanding of prophecy.  Most tend to think of prophecy as a foretelling of future events, but the Catholic understanding of prophecy is broader than this. As Cardinal Ratzinger says in his commentary, “prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future.”  By overly focusing on the “prediction” piece of the vision, we can miss the message.

The Vision

With these principles in mind, we can turn to Sr. Lucia directly in her explanation of what she saw in the vision.  Just after seeing an angel with a flaming sword crying out “Penance, penance, penance!” at which point Sr. Lucia saw

“an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. ‘Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.’”

 

Cardinal Ratzinger offers the following points of interpretation based on similar Biblical images:

  • The angel with the flaming sword on the left of Mary represents the threat of judgment looming over the world, just as we see in Book of Revelation—a particularly apt image as today man “himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword.” The image shows the power that stands opposed to the force of destruction—the Mother of God and the seriousness with which we ought to respond to the call to penance
  • The mountain and city symbolize the arena of human history and how man is in great peril of bringing about his own destruction—the cross transforms destruction into salvation
  • Time is presented (the entire century is represented) in a compressed form, just as history is directed towards the Cross. It would be a century of a great suffering for Christians. Martyrs and even the Pope himself (“The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated.”  It is as Ratzinger says a “Via Crucis of an entire century”

Viewed through a wider-angled lens, prophecy is meant not primarily to clear up the incurable human blindness of the future, but the curable blindness of the present time.  This is why it is so important not to get caught up in controversies surrounding the secrets and lose focus on the prophetic message of Fatima.  While it is clear that the events depicted have come to pass, the prophetic nature of the message has not passed.  The events were signs pointing to both the events themselves, but also, and primarily to the overall message of Fatima which is to become a people of both profound penance and dedication to the will of God through an imitation of Mary’s spirit of fiat (that is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart).  The events not only add credibility to the authenticity of the message, but also are signs through the suffering of the martyrs (the extreme form of Penance) and the Bishop dressed in white who cheated death through his dedication to the Immaculate Heart—his spirit of fiat exemplified through his episcopal motto, Totus tuus.  As we recall this important Centenary, we can echo the thoughts of Pope Benedict that the events have passed while also saying “we would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.”   Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

 

 

The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart

With the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance to the visionaries in Fatima, there has been a renewed interest in meaning of her visit.  There has been much ink spilled, especially since the release of “Third Secret” in 2000, interpreting all that she did and said.  At the heart of all the visions, miracles and “secrets” is the perennial call to pray and do penance.  But there is one aspect that has, for the most part, remained a mystery.  What did Our Lady mean when she told the visionaries that “in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”?

To understand what Our Lady meant when she told the visionaries of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart we have to examine a most fundamental truth.  It is the Immaculate Heart that paves the way for the Sacred Heart.  This is not based on some pretended religiosity and obscure connection but the most basic truth that in the fullness of time, it was the Immaculate Heart, a heart completely open to God’s will that led to the creation of the Sacred Heart.  Not only does the Immaculate Heart pave the way in the fullness of time, but also at the end of time.  That is it was the Immaculate Heart that brought about the Incarnation and thus we should expect that it would be instrumental in His return.  Just was we know that it is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that is Our Lord both in His Divinity and His humanity that will reign in the end, we can also know that Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart will reign as well.

The Immaculate Heart

In his theological commentary on the Third Secret of Fatima, the future Pope Benedict XVI explained what it meant to have a devotion to the Immaculate Heart.  He said, in “biblical language, the “heart” indicates the center of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and his interior orientation. According to Matthew 5:8, the ‘immaculate heart’ is a heart which, with God’s grace, has come to perfect interior unity and therefore ‘sees God’. To be ‘devoted’ to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat—‘your will be done’—the defining center of one’s whole life.”  His point is that the Immaculate Heart reigns in our hearts when we allow our own hearts to be cultivated after hers.

Mary’s heart is one that is one that does not grow weary because she is always expecting God to act personally in her life.  Evidence her reaction to the appearance of St. Gabriel.  Throughout the Old Testament record, the appearance of an angel always elicits great fear in the visionary.  The first words spoken by the angel is “do not be afraid.”  But Mary seems to expect the angel and is clearly not shaken by his appearance; even if his manner of greeting her is troubling. Most of the artistic renderings of the Annunciation show her at prayer, but there is little proof of this other than pious tradition.  She was just as likely working as sitting in contemplation.  She knew God can and does come in either situation.  She travels to the Hill Country to visit Elizabeth “in haste” because she is excited to see the mighty power of God at work.  She believes and professes that nothing is impossible for God.  Her response to St. Gabriel’s proposal is “let it be done to me according to thy word.”  Later when she arrives at the home of her cousin Elizabeth she proclaims the “great things that God has done for me.”  It is this change in preposition that shows how deep her trust in God truly is.  A living faith like that of Our Lady is one that sees those things that God does to us, ultimately are for us.  But this is a radical trust that must come from the heart and be filled with fiat.

How the Immaculate Heart Triumphs

How is it that the Immaculate Heart will triumph?  Building on Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary we can say that the reign of the Immaculate Heart is not so much about the reign of Mary as Queen per se, but a devotion to her spirit.  It is by the wholesale adoption of this spirit of the Immaculate Heart.  The Kingdom comes when “Thy will is done on earth as it is in heaven.”  It is only this spirit of fiat, that is, the spirit of wanting nothing more than God’s will that will bring about the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

We might see how this is done individually, but how can an entire culture adopt this stance?  This is why Our Lady so vehemently desires the First Saturday devotion.  It is the Communion of Reparation that will bring about this reign.  When all the children begin to act like Mommy and willingly go to the foot of the Cross and stay with Jesus.  This is no symbolic gesture but instead a literal one.  We go to the foot of the Cross each time we go to Mass and on First Saturdays we go with Our Lady in reparation for the offenses against her Immaculate Heart—not because she is overly sensitive, but because without reparation by those children that love her, her spirit of fiat will never spread.  There are two things always at the heart of Christian culture—Mary and the Mass.  Where devotion to Our Lady thrives, so too does the Mass.  Where the Mass is seen as the “source and summit” love for the Immaculate Heart grows.

Ironically there has been so much controversy over whether or not John Paul II consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart or not, that we have neglected the other part of Our Lady’s request of the First Saturday Communion of Reparation.  While we have very little control over whether the Pope performed or has yet to perform the Consecration of Russia, we do have control over the spread of this practice.  The best way to bring about the reign of the Immaculate Heart and hasten the reign of the Sacred Heart is also the best way to heal our culture.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, reign in our hearts and show us the way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Miracle of the Sun

As the Church marks the 100th Anniversary of the six appearances by Our Lady to three young children in Fatima, Portugal with the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, one question associated with the apparitions has remained largely unanswered.  What exactly happened on 13 October 1917 when 70,000 witnesses saw the sun dance?  While accounts may vary in some ways, there is universal agreement among the witnesses about several key facts surrounding the event.  First, it had been raining hard for several hours and the sky cleared right as the children began praying.  One of the children, Lucia, instructed the crowd that they should look at the sun at which point the sun, covered by what looked like a thin silver disc, appeared to change color, spin like a fire wheel and plummet towards the earth 3 times.  Although it was bright, it seemed to have a filter (the thin silver disc) that made it possible to look directly upon it.  This was met by both reverential awe and fear especially because many of the pilgrims spoke of a heat emanating from the sun as it approached; a heat so intense that all of their clothes were dried.  All total, the miracle lasted about 10 minutes.  Despite the near unanimous agreement about this extraordinary event and its overwhelming evidential power, the miracle itself has been largely ignored by those outside the Church and misunderstood by those inside the Church.

Perhaps some of the reason why it has been ignored is because of the label of miracle.  Informed by a materialist philosophy, miracles are a priori impossible.  Any talk of them is usually met with ridicule and the charge of incredulity and superstition.  Such a public event as what the people in Fatima witnessed that October day is an open contradiction of this and therefore many pretend it did not happen.

The Church and the Miraculous

This may be compounded by the fact that the Church is extremely cautious in labeling something as a miracle.  Every conceivable natural explanation must be eliminated before declaring an event to be miraculous.  In the case of the so called Miracle of the Sun, the Church, even though she has deemed the message of Fatima as worthy of belief, has never declared that a miracle occurred that day.

This leads to confusion among those in the Church, especially because many take this as an indication that the Church is drinking scientism’s Cool-Aid.  Instead, it shows her access to Divine Wisdom.  She knows that if a natural explanation were to be found for what she had previously called a miracle, then it would shatter the confidence of many believers and destroy her own credibility.  Those steeped in a solely scientific worldview are always on the lookout for a the capital offense of placing “God in the gaps.”

What was witnessed that day may have a natural explanation.  To be sure, the Sun did not move that day.  For the sun to approach the earth (ignoring the problems of size, gravity, etc.) it would have been a global event and not something localized to Fatima.  In other words it would have been witnessed throughout the world.  God can do anything, but even He cannot make something that is a contradiction occur.  Contradictions are not things but nonsense.  A wholly material thing cannot be in two places at once.  The sun could not both be in the sky over Spain and approaching the earth in Portugal.  It will not do to say that God somehow played tricks on the minds of the pilgrims to make it seem as if they were seeing the sun.

Rather than placing God in the gaps, scientism’s adherents like to put Mesmer (the inventor of hypnosis) in the gaps.  Many have said that those present that day all were victims of mass suggestion.  Some people were not in the Cova that day and there were witnesses as many as 9 miles away that saw the event.

Certainly, whatever happened that day was unique.  But the meteorological conditions themselves were unique as well.  The atmospheric conditions may have been such that there is a wholly natural explanation for what happened.  Fr. Stanley Jaki in his book God and the Sun at Fatima offers one such possibility.

The point however is that even if we came up with a natural explanation tomorrow, it would not change the supernatural character of the event.  The “Miracle of the Sun” is not a miracle just because of what the people saw that day, but because three barely literate sheepherding children predicted the exact date and time that it would occur.  The children had told the people that Our Lady would provide proof of her appearance at Fatima on that day.  That is why most of the people were there—the children had called the shot.  They were given knowledge that goes beyond what could be known naturally—the definition of supernatural.  In that sense it was a wholly supernatural event, whether we find a natural explanation for the event itself.

We should not be surprised because Our Lord performed miracles like this in the Gospel.  He tells Peter that the fish he will catch will have a coin in it that can pay their tax.  As any fisherman knows, fish can often have some strange things in their mouths.  Even if you think that the fish at some point swallowed the coin, Jesus knew something that only God could know.  Likewise, with the prior identification of the man who would provide the lodging of the Upper Room to the Apostles.  No natural human knowledge could know that.  The miracle can be in the ability to know something that human reason could not have otherwise known.

“Not because you saw signs…”

Whether there is a natural explanation or not, does not mean it was not God Who did it.  He can act directly or He can use secondary causes.  Either way, it is God Who has manifested Himself.  The star over Bethlehem may have a natural explanation, but it is an explanation that falls under the power of Divine Providence.  It is the same God Who set the heavens in motion such that in the “fullness of time” they would declare the birth of the Messiah that also arranged things such that the “Miracle of the Sun” would occur.  It does not detract from His power to attribute it to a natural cause but instead shows Him to be more powerful in that He is able to use secondary causes (even those who are free) to bring about His plan of making Himself known.

This may be why the events of 13 October have not been well understood inside the Church.  In the haste to explain the miracle and defend it, we have forgotten that miracles are not just events, but signs.  In other words, we should not be so quick to look for explanations but for the meaning.  Our Lord invited those who had witnessed the multiplication of the loaves to see the meaning of what He had done and not so much the event itself— “Amen, amen, I say to you, your seek Me, not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of loaves” (Jn 6:26).

The Miracle of the Sun was not just a sign that the apparitions were true, but fit into the overall message of Fatima itself.  Our Lady appeared to the children with a sense of urgency, inviting them (and us) to do penance.  It is a time of mercy, although that time is running is short.  Divine Justice will manifest itself.  The Miracle of the Sun portrayed the sun as rushing towards the earth three times, but there was something kept it from hitting the earth.  It was the thin silver disc, the same thing that allowed the pilgrims to look at it without hurting their eyes, that kept the sun from being fully exposed.  One of the visionaries, Lucia, saw Our Lady with her hands on the sun as if she was holding it back.

The message seems obvious, it is Our Lady of Mercy, that has obtained for us the reprieve from God’s Justice.  But even He grows tired of allowing her to do so because of the blasphemies against her Immaculate Heart.  If the time of Mercy is to last, then her Immaculate Heart must reign.  So then on this feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, let us rededicate ourselves to doing all that we can to make this a reality by following her commands.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

How Much Did Mary Know?

One of the most popular Christmas songs this past year was Mary Did You Know.  While the lyrics of the song may not be theologically sound, the song asks a most important question for us to meditate upon on this Feast of the Annunciation: What did Mary know when she consented to the angel?

In asking whether Mary knows that the Son she was soon to deliver, would one day be her Deliverer, the lyrics gloss over the Immaculate Conception.  Through a singular grace, Our Lady was redeemed pre-emptively her Son from the Fall.  But the Immaculate Conception is also important in answering the question because of its effects.  Our Lady was untouched by Original Sin and any of its effects.  Ignorance, properly speaking, is a lack of knowledge of something that one should know and is an effect of the Fall.  Our Lady, immune to this effect, would have lived her life in what, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange describes as, a “dark brightness, the darkness arising not from human error and ignorance, but from the very transcendence of the light itself.”  In other words, she would have known all things that were humanly knowable at the time about the mystery of the Messiah and the Incarnation.  Many of the Church Fathers thought she also was given a plentitude of infused knowledge that was directly related to the Incarnation.  Either way, she would have known more about the Mystery of the Messiah than the most learned of the Jewish scholars.  The rest would have remained in the darkness of faith.

How Mary Knew

For certain, Mary would have known all the prophecies of the Old Testament.  She would have known that the 70 weeks of years prophesied by Daniel were expiring in her day.  She would have understood that the Suffering Servant prophecies in Isaiah referred to the Messiah.  She would have known that the child she was to carry was both her Savior and her God.  There was no doubt in her mind as to the identity of the Child she was to conceive.  As Fulton Sheen says, “Mary’s mind was filled with the thought of Divinity in the stable.”

Rather than being surprised by the content of the message of the Angel at the Annunciation, instead she is surprised that St. Gabriel was speaking to her.  She did not know her mission prior to it being revealed, but once it is revealed to her she is fearful.  She is fearful because she knows what it means for her.  Like her husband Joseph, she believed in God’s Redemption through the Messiah, but because of her profound humility thought herself unfit to fulfill any role in it.  She knows her own nothingness and yet has no doubts that “nothing is impossible for God.”

Two Examples Among Many

We can point to two instances among many that show her specific knowledge of the mission of her Son.  The first is so subtle, that we can easily miss it.

When Our Lord is born, Mary wraps Him in swaddling clothing and lays Him in a manger.  At first glance this seems so common place that we even wonder why it was included in the account.  But then we realize that most mothers would not have placed their children in a hard manger with straw.  Instead, they would most certainly have kept the child comfortable by holding him.  But Our Lady knows her Son’s mission and that each and every act of suffering is redemptive.  There is never a time when He is not the Messiah, but there is a time when because of normal human limitations, He relies upon His Mother to complete His mission.  For her part Mary must always put the mission first, even though she could easily remedy His pain.  Her suffering at seeing Him suffer, not just on the Cross, but even in the manger, merited her the title of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The second “moment” is at Cana.  Here the connection with the Fall, Adam and Eve and redemption with the New Adam and the New Eve is made most explicit.  But notice that it is Mary who initiates Our Lord’s public ministry.  It is as if He once again asks her if she is willing to go with Him to His hour.  The Annunciation and the Miracle at Cana are inexorably linked.

Mary’s Freedom and Knowledge

There is also a more fitting reason Mary must have known what was to transpire.  The Angel Gabriel comes to Our Lady not with a demand, but with a request.  God has sent him because He seeks Mary’s cooperation.  He will not initiate salvation without her say-so.  It is God’s “dependence” on Mary and her unique role in His saving mission that has earned her the title of co-redemptrix.

Eve may have had no choice in becoming the mother of all the living, but the New Eve would have a choice.  God wanted a free cooperator.  The will as a blind faculty can only choose based on knowledge.  As knowledge grows, the freedom with which we act increases.  If Mary’s fiat was total, then her knowledge must have been as well.

God could have defeated sin in the beginning by limiting human freedom.  Given He chose the greater good of human freedom, why would He circumvent it when finally defeating sin?  Instead He secured salvation through a supreme act of human freedom. If Eve freely and with full knowledge cooperated in mankind’s downfall, then the New Eve would untie the knot freely and with full knowledge.

This is not to say that Mary did not need faith.  She did not know everything and she had to make an act of faith in order to jump from seeing that what God “does to me” (Lk 1:38) is really the thing that the “Almighty does for me” (Lk 1:49).   Nor was it all Mary—although it was a free act, she who was “full grace” cooperated fully with it.  Mary needed both faith and grace, but God did not want to pull the wool over her eyes.

“Mary, did you know?”  Yes, she most certainly did.

Our Lady of Fatima and the First Saturday Devotion

In the popular devotion of the Church, Saturday has long been a day set aside to honor the Blessed Mother.  It was the 8th Century Benedictine monk and Carolingian liturgical reformer, St. Alcuin, who first composed Votive Masses to honor Our Lady on Saturday.  These masses were so popular among the faithful, that they eventually became accepted into the Missal as the Common of the Virgin Mary.

It was no accident however that Alcuin chose Saturday, for there are deep theological reasons for doing so.  The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy  explains that Saturday is set chosen as a memorial of the Blessed Virgin as “a remembrance of the maternal example and discipleship of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, strengthened by faith and hope, on that great Saturday on which Our Lord lay in the tomb, was the only one of the disciples to hold vigil in expectation of the Lord’s resurrection; it is a prelude and introduction to the celebration of Sunday, the weekly memorial of the Resurrection of Christ; it is a sign that the ‘Virgin Mary is continuously present and operative in the life of the Church.’”

This devotion to Our Lady has been sorely tried in recent centuries, beginning with the Protestant Revolution.  Rather than being met with indifference, she was treated with contempt.  It was within this setting that a practice of receiving Communion in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary arose.  This devotion spread, catching the attention of Pope St. Pius X who attached an indulgence to the practice in 1904.  This practice was expanded when on June 13,1912 he offered additional indulgences for “All the Faithful who, on the first Saturday or first Sunday of twelve consecutive months, devote some time to vocal or mental prayer in honor of the Immaculate Virgin in Her conception gain, on each of these days, a plenary indulgence. Conditions: Confession, Communion, and prayers for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff.”

Fatima

Five years to the day, Our Lady appeared to the Fatima visionaries, showing them the Immaculate Heart surrounded with thorns.  Sr. Lucia would later say that she understood that the vision was “was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, which demanded Reparation.” It was also during this appearance that Our Lady told the children that Jesus wished to “establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Our Lady promised Lucia that she would return to explain the practice of the first five Saturdays.

Fast forward eight years and Lucia is now a postulant in a convent in Pontevedra, Spain.  Our Lady appeared to her and said “Look, my daughter. My Heart is surrounded with thorns that ungrateful men pierce unceasingly with their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, try to console me and announce that for all those, who for five consecutive first Saturdays, confess, receive Holy Communion, pray the Holy Rosary and accompany me for15 minutes by meditating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary with the intention to do reparation, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with the graces needed for salvation.

About a year later, she was taking out the trash when she encounters a little child.  She told the child to pray a Hail Mary which He refused to do.  So, she tells him to go to the Church and ask the Heavenly Mother for the Child Jesus.  When the child returns, she asks him if he did what she said to which He replied “And have you spread through the world what the heavenly Mother requested of you?”  She replied, knowing it was Our Lord, that she had met many difficulties in spreading the devotion.  He told her to rely on His grace and to “have compassion for your Mother’s Heart. It is surrounded with thorns that ungrateful men pierce at each moment, and there is no one who does acts of reparation to remove them.”

Our Blessed Lord appeared once again to now Sister Lucia on May 29, 1930. He explained that the devotion involved five consecutive first Saturday because it was five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary that required reparation, namely: blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, against her perpetual virginity, against the divine and spiritual maternity of Mary, blasphemies involving the rejection and dishonoring of her images, and the neglect of implanting in the hearts of children a knowledge and love of this Immaculate Mother.  Mary had asked Jesus for this to forgive those who “had the misfortune of offending her.”

Why does it Matter?

Why do all these details matter?  Because we are now closing in on the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance to the visionaries in Fatima.  The world has changed in ways the Fatima visionaries could hardly have conceived.  But many of the advances that have been made have left us less human.  Our Lady appeared in order to warn us of this and offered us a remedy to protect us from ourselves—“Penance, penance, penance.”  Many within the Church has chosen to focus on the consecration of Russia as the primary message, but it seems to me that any debate on whether that has actually been accomplished (Sr. Lucia herself said it had) misses the point when we fail to implement the simple call to do Penance.

Our Lady’s instructions are a reminder to all the Faithful of the communal dimension of sin and our obligation to make reparation. Christ came for no other reason than to make reparation.  A Christian is meant to continue His work throughout time and space.  Sure, He could have done the work Himself had He so willed, but He did not will.  Sure, His participation and ours differ immeasurably but He asked for our participation in it when He called upon us to take up our Cross.  We cannot be Christians while at the same time striving to live a comfortable life.  Christians must act redemptively by consciously making acts of reparation, not just for our sins but for the sins of others.  Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, provided we are willing to act like other Christs.  Our Lady’s very specific instructions to Sr. Lucia offers us a concrete means to make this happen.  She is ever the spiritual mother teaching us.  Can we not give to her Son, the First Five Saturdays in honor of His holy Mother?

Mary Mother of God

The essential activity of the Church’s teaching office, its reason for existence, is to keep and protect the contents of divine revelation.  It is only when there is a threat to the integrity and purity of the deposit of faith that she defines and exercises her Spirit-given gift of discernment.  Her powers of discernment were taxed during the first few centuries because of a string of challenges to her beliefs about Christ, true God and true man.  This came to a head in the early fifth Century when the Council of Ephasis (431) was called to address the question how Christ could have two natures (human and divine) and yet be a single Divine Person.  To address this, the Church developed the most important Christological dogma of the Hypostatic Union.  The Divine Son of God took to Himself a complete human nature and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.  Closely linked to this belief was the title given to Mary as “Mother of God.”  Many worried that calling her Mother of God, or Theotokos in Greek, would imply that she was the originator His divine nature.  Instead they proposed that she be called Christotokos or Mother of Christ.  The Church reasoned however that a woman is never a mother of a nature, but instead a mother of a person.  In this case, the Person is God and so it was proper to refer to Mary as the Mother of God.  The Council declared “If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel is truly God and therefore that the holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos) (since she begot according to the flesh the Word of God made flesh), anathema sit” (Council of Ephesis, June 22, 431).

The “anathema sit” stems from the fact that referring to Mary merely as the Mother of Christ, a fundamental truth of the Incarnation is threatened.  It is a perfect illustration of the principle that everything the Church believes about Mary follows from her predestined role as Mother of God.  Put another way, anytime we detract from Mary, we ultimately subtract from Christ.  In short, the Marian dogmas are the great protectors of Our Lord’s humanity.

The Roots of Mary’s Greatness

Everything that we say about Mary with respect to her greatness stems from her office as Mother of God.  It is this Marian dogma around which all the other Marian dogmas revolve.  It is like the center of a wheel in which everything we say about her connects back.  For example, in declaring the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX refers to her office of Mother of God as the reason for her greatness—“And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent” (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854, emphasis added ).

Keeping in mind her office as Mother of God also helps us maintain a balanced view of Mary.  When God calls, He always equips.  Being called to the greatest of roles—Mary also received the greatest gifts.  As St. Thomas says, all the glory and grace given to her was to make her the worthy Mother of God (ST III, q.27, a5, ad2).

God permitted man’s fall to bring about the greater good of the Incarnation.  The Bad News was followed immediately by the promise of the Good News to come (Gn 3:15).  This promise yoked the Redeemer with His Mother—the seed and the offspring were a package deal.  In other words, it was by the same eternal decree that the Son was to take flesh, that Mary was predestined to give birth to the “Son of the Most High.”  Everything we say about Mary, redounds to God and His plan to manifest His goodness—her soul always “magnifies the Lord.”  To mark this predestination, the Church has always viewed Proverbs 8:22-35 as referring to Our Lady—“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning.  I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made…when He prepared the Heavens was present…when He balanced the foundations of the earth, I was with Him…”

It is God who makes her worthy to be the Mother of God, but only so that she would be empowered to perfectly unite her will to His.  Therefore we cannot look upon Mary simply as consenting to the use of her womb for nine months and little else.  She had first conceived the Son in her soul through a perfect union with the divine will and then conceived Him in her body as St. Augustine said.

Mary’s Divine Motherhood

Mary is no mere figurehead to make Our Lord look “normal.”  He was obedient to her as all children are to their parents.  Unlike all parents however, she was preserved from the possibility of making an error and leading her child into sin.  One can readily see why the singular grace of the Immaculate Conception flows from her calling as Mother as God.  She must be infallible in her decisions and impeccable in her moral example if Our Lord was to submit to her as Mother.  As an aside this is also why some theologians have posited (although the Church has not spoken definitively one way or the other) that St. Joseph too must have at some point been freed from the effects of Original Sin.

One might argue that Our Lord was not obedient to her when He was left behind in Jerusalem.  But the exception proves the rule.  Our Lady was quite perplexed as to why He would do such a thing because she knew Him to be obedient to her in all things.  Our Lord reminds her that when His divine mission came in conflict with His natural sonship, He must always “be about His Father’s business” (Lk 2:49).  Nevertheless, it was still a shock when He appeared to not obey His parents.

The Blessed Mother’s relationship with Jesus is entirely unique and is worthy of our admiration.  He is truly flesh of her flesh and her flesh alone.  All who are in Christ enter into a spiritual or mystical relationship with Him.  Only Our Lady has a relationship based upon a consanguine relationship with Our Lord.  The divine maternity imposes upon God obligations of justice upon Him which confers upon her the natural rights that accompany motherhood.  In other words, she is the only one who God “owes” something to.  Even if  the obligation is self-imposed because of His divine plan, still it is an entirely unique relationship based upon this plan.

This is why we ultimately cannot be in Christ while simultaneously remaining indifferent towards Our Lady.  He extended her motherhood from the natural Son of God to all the adopted sons of God (Jn 19:27).  We cannot be sons of the Father while rejecting the one Whom He chose from all eternity to be our mother.  It is why the Church closes the Octave of Christmas with the great Feast honoring her as Mother of God.  As the Second Vatican Council affirmed, “Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium, 53).

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

A Perfect Marriage?

In a letter to the Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffara, the Fatima visionary Sr. Lucia prophesied that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.  With marriage and the family under attack from so many fronts, her words are truly prophetic.  But it is her commentary on the prophecy that is worthy of consideration.  She added, “Don’t be afraid because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue…however, Our Lady has already crushed its head.”   What she was implying is that it is Mary, specifically in her marriage with Joseph, that crushed the Devil’s head.  To put it more succinctly, it was Christ Who redeemed marriage and the marriage of His parents shared the first-fruits.

In order to see their marriage as the prototype of a redeemed marriage, it is necessary to clear up some misconceptions regarding the Holy Family, most of which have arisen more recently.  The most common misconception is that Mary was an unwed mother, her child somehow being conceived outside of wedlock.

Mary and Joseph were already married at the time of the Incarnation.  Our Lady was not an unwed mother.  For proof of this, we need only look at the words of the angel to Joseph when he tells him not to fear to take his wife into his home (Mt 1:20).  A divorce does not break off an engagement.  Joseph’s consideration of divorce is because they are already married.

If Joseph and Mary share what would be the prototype of marriage, then why would Joseph consider divorcing her in the first place?  When Joseph considers divorcing Mary, the angel appears to him and tells him that the child has been divinely conceived and that he should not fear to take her as his wife.  Some have taken Joseph’s decision to divorce her as a sign that he thought her to have been guilty of adultery, but that he did not want to expose her to the shame publicly.  However, this does not really fit with Joseph being a “righteous man.”  A righteous man would have followed every precept of the law of Moses including the requirement that if a wife was found in the act of infidelity by her husband then he was forced to divorce her and make her crimes known.  Anyone who hid the crime was also guilty (see Lev 5:1).  Therefore, if Joseph did not denounce her then it is because he did not suspect her.

Instead the more compelling explanation is the one that is offered by Aquinas.  He contends that Mary told Joseph what had happened and out of a sense of religious awe he thought himself unworthy to serve as the earthly father of the Son of God and husband of Mary.  Aquinas says “Holy Joseph pondered in his humility not to continue to dwell with so much sanctity.”  This explains the angel’s response to Joseph that he should not “fear to take Mary his wife into his home.”  It is the angel who affirms Joseph’s vocation as head of the Holy Family.

Establishing that they were married at the time of the Annunciation is also important for another reason.  Properly understood we should say that Jesus was given not just to Mary but within the marriage of Joseph and Mary.  God always respects the nature He has created and children are to be given as a fruit of marriage.  Therefore St. Joseph and Our Lady had a true and valid marriage.  There was never any suggestion that Our Lord was illegitimate, despite what some contemporary theologians may say.  The Incarnation was to be brought about through the Holy Family and not just through Mary.  It has been the constant tradition of the Church that prior to their marriage that both Joseph and Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity, but in their humility chose to keep it hidden.

This leads one to ask how if the marriage was never consummated that they could have a valid marriage.  Pope St. John Paul II addressed this question in a General Audience in 1996 (21 July) when he said:

“Precisely in view of their contribution to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, Joseph and Mary received the grace of living both the charism of virginity and the gift of marriage. Mary and Joseph’s communion of virginal love, although a special case linked with the concrete realization of the mystery of the Incarnation, was nevertheless a true marriage.”

For a marriage to be valid, consummation is not necessary.  All that is necessary in matrimony is mutual consent and fidelity—both of which is found in their marriage.

st-joseph-and-mary-marriage

This non-consummation presents a further obstacle in that it makes it seem like the marriage was a mere façade.  After all some might say, if they were lacking a sex-life, then it was missing something that is a fundamental part of all healthy marriages.  It is this pattern of thought that reveals exactly why our perception of marriage has gone awry.

Sexual love is not the same thing as genital contact.  Sexual love may include that, but it does not exhaust it.  As proof of how narrow our thinking about this has become, Professor David O’Connor points out in his book Plato’s Bedroom that a modern reader would be scandalized to read a 19th century novel in which a man and woman are “making love” in a room full of other people.  The term “making love” would have referred to the couple creating intimacy through conversation and planting the seeds of enduring love.  Modernity however have taken this much broader meaning and reduced it to nothing but a physical act.

To be clear, this is not meant to imply that the marital embrace is just like conversation and all the other ways in which married couples “make love.”  It is most assuredly a part, but it is a foundational part.  That is why, even if it is not strictly necessary, consummation is an important part of marriage.  But, and this is a big but, it is important not in itself but because of its inner meaning.

The marital embrace is a sacrament—a sign of the couple’s total gift of self to each other.  Because we are fallen, we are unable to make a total gift of ourselves to each other in marriage.  All of our efforts at “making love” will always be tainted, even if in diminishing amounts, with self-love.  The marital embrace is an expression of the desire to make this gift by making a complete and total gift of ourselves physically to our spouses.  This is why contraception is so damaging to marriage—it obscures this sign.

Mary and Joseph on the other hand were capable of making this total gift of self.  In other words, they didn’t need the sign because they were already capable of the thing signified.  Certainly they could have expressed their total gift to each other through a marital embrace, but they didn’t need to like the rest of us do.  As if to offer proof of this, they share the fruit of a consummated marriage, a child.  This child comes about without the act itself.  In other words, their unity of hearts which is shown by the sign of consummation in all other marriages is actually given in the sign of Our Lord.  Summarizing, Mary and Joseph share the fruit of consummated marriage without the act itself.

While the sacrament of marriage had yet to be instituted, the marriage of Our Lady and St. Joseph remains a perfect sign or type of the union of Christ with the Church because it is the Church as a virginal bride wedded to the Virginal Christ.  This is why some Church Fathers have referred to Joseph as the “Virginal Father of Christ.”  This is an especially apt title given that God could not deny Joseph the paternal right to the fruit of his wife’s womb.  Joseph was no mere figurehead, but a husband and father in the truest sense, even if not biologically so.

Looking around society today it seems Sr. Lucia is right—Satan has set his sights on marriage and the family.  This is what makes the Feast of the Holy Family such an important celebration within the Church and serves as an opportunity for us to consecrate our family life to the Holy Family.

Mary and St. Joseph, pray for us!

Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary

Are we living in the End Times?  Many people think the Second Coming imminent, finding signs of the Apocalypse everywhere.   One of those signs, according to St. Louis de Montfort will be a great number of souls who have been consecrated to Mary.  In True Devotion to Mary St Louis de Montfort says:

“that this will happen especially towards the end of the world, and indeed soon, because Almighty God and his holy Mother are to raise up great saints who will surpass in holiness most other saints as much as the cedars of Lebanon tower above little shrubs…These great souls filled with grace and zeal will be chosen to oppose the enemies of God who are raging on all sides. They will be exceptionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Illumined by her light, strengthened by her food, guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection, they will fight with one hand and build with the other. With one hand they will give battle, overthrowing and crushing heretics and their heresies, schismatics and their schisms, idolaters and their idolatries, sinners and their wickedness. With the other hand they will build the temple of the true Solomon and the mystical city of God, namely, the Blessed Virgin, who is called by the Fathers of the Church the Temple of Solomon and the City of God. By word and example they will draw all men to a true devotion to her and though this will make many enemies, it will also bring about many victories and much glory to God alone.”

If the great Marian saint is correct, then we should expect to see more and more people giving themselves to Jesus through Mary in consecration.  For many of us though, Marian consecration remains a mystery.  With that in mind, we will examine exactly what Marian consecration consists in.

The term consecration can lead to some initial confusion.  In the proper sense, to be consecrated means to be set aside and made holy.  Only God can make someone holy.  As a lover though God does not force anything upon us.  Instead He freely offers Himself to us and awaits our response.  This response is usually called Devotion.  It involves a decision to dedicate yourself to God and to allow this decision to give direction to all of your thoughts and actions.  This back and forth exchange between God and ourselves is usually described using the term Consecration.

Admittedly, the idea of consecration to anyone other than God, even to Mary seems antithetical to the Gospel.  We would be no better than the Israelites and their Golden Calf in that regard if our consecration were to anything other than God.  So to be clear, when we speak of Marian Consecration, we mean “giving ourselves entirely to the Blessed Virgin, in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her” (St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, No. 121).  In other words, Marian Consecration is more about how this consecration to God can best be accomplished.

JPII and Mary

God consecrates us through Baptism.  By being baptized into Christ, we become partakers of the divine life.  He became humanly divine so that we might become divinely human.  As Scripture and the Church testify, the only means of consecrating ourselves to God is by giving ourselves to Jesus so that all facets of His life might be reproduced in us.  We must do as He said and do as He did.  We must become not just hearers of His word, but doers.  But nearly all the saints have testified that the surest commandment He gave was to “Behold your Mother.”

What Our Lord was doing was not merely making a plan so His Mother would be taken care of but setting up a relationship between His disciples and His Mother.  John, like the rest of her offspring has been entrusted to the Woman (Rev 12:17).

This relationship is a true relationship of mother and child and not merely a metaphorical one.  St. John Paul II, emphasizing how true motherhood always involves the child entrusting himself to the mother said:

“Of the essence of motherhood is the fact that it concerns the person. Motherhood always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: between mother and child and between child and mother. Even when the same woman is the mother of many children, her personal relationship with each one of them is of the very essence of motherhood…It can be said that motherhood ‘in the order of grace’ preserves the analogy with what ‘in the order of nature’ characterizes the union between mother and child. In the light of this fact it becomes easier to understand why in Christ’s testament on Golgotha his Mother’s new motherhood is expressed in the singular, in reference to one man: ‘Behold your son.’  It can also be said that these same words fully show the reason for the Marian dimension of the life of Christ’s disciples. This is true not only of John, who at that hour stood at the foot of the Cross together with his Master’s Mother, but it is also true of every disciple of Christ, of every Christian. The Redeemer entrusts his mother to the disciple, and at the same time he gives her to him as his mother. Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. The Redeemer entrusts Mary to John because he entrusts John to Mary…And all of this can be included in the word ‘entrusting.’ Such entrusting is the response to a person’s love, and in particular to the love of a mother” (Redemptoris Mater, 45).

So, while the method of consecration may be humanly instituted, Marian Consecration itself is divinely instituted. The Marian Pope’s emphasis on the word “entrusts.”  This sets up a special kind of relationship that is entirely personal.  Like all personal relationships, it requires a personal response, namely, “taking her into his own home.”

Summarizing, Pope St. John Paul II said that, “Consecrating ourselves to Mary means accepting her help to offer ourselves and the whole of mankind to Him who is holy, infinitely holy; it means accepting her help – by having recourse to her motherly heart which, beneath the Cross was open to love for every human being, for the whole world – in order to offer the world, the individual human being, mankind as a whole, and all the nations to Him who is infinitely holy” (Homily at Fatima May 13, 1982).

Practically speaking, how does one do this?  It starts with reading St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary.  Many saints (including John Paul II) read this book because it lays out the reasons why Marian consecration is vital to the Christian life, especially in the more troubling times.  After reading that, you pick a Marian feast day on which you wish to perform the act of consecration.  Then you should pick one of three methods of preparation.  You can use St. Louis de Montfort’s 33-day plan detailed with all the daily prayers in this link (see Step 3).  Fr. Michael Gaitley has simplified the 33-day preparation plan in a book called 33 Days to Morning Glory.  There is also a 9-day plan laid out by St. Maximilian Kolbe.  The main difference between the two sets of plans is that St. Maximillian’s is more apostolic and corporate in nature since it involves enrolling in the Militia Immaculata confraternity.

We close with one of the earliest consecration prayers—St. John Damascene’s Prayer of Consecration from 720 AD:

“We are present before you, O Lady, Lady I say and again Lady, binding our souls to our hope in you, and as to a most secure and firm anchor, to you we consecrate our minds, our souls, our bodies, in a word, our very selves, honoring you with psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, insofar as we are able-even though it is impossible to do so worthily. If truly, as the sacred word has taught us, the honor paid to our fellow servants testifies to our good will towards our common Master, how could we neglect honoring you who have brought forth your Master? In this way we can better show our attachment to our Master.” (St John Damascene, First Sermon on the Dormition)

Why the Assumption Matters

Many well intending Christians will argue that the Catholic Church goes too far in honoring the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Rosary, the Marian Dogmas, and the Brown Scapular all seem to take something away from Jesus and His act of Redemption.  In an attempt to protect themselves from falling into a Marian pitfall they reject it all.  After reflection however we find that it is the exact opposite that happens—every privilege that you take away from Mary actually diminishes Christ and ourselves.  This principle has been articulated with respect to the Immaculate Conception already, but in this regard, the Assumption is no different.

It is instructive first of all to speak of Marian dogmas in general.  Everything that we believe is based on the fact that she was chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of God.  When God calls, He equips.  In His Providence He had the redeeming mission of the Son depend upon her in a wholly unique way.  One could say that it would not have been accomplished without her in the same way that we would say that once a man decides to go to England it is necessary for him to take a boat or a plane.  She may not be absolutely necessary but God’s plan makes her relatively necessary.

We should then understand her to be the most necessary of all those who cooperated with Him.  When we say that among all Christians she is the most vital and therefore the most equipped, any detraction of her is really a subtraction of the Goodness, Power and Wisdom of God.  It was the “Almighty who did great things” for her precisely so that she might cooperate most fully with Him.  Therefore anything we say about Mary’s Assumption is first and foremost flows as a consequent of her mission of Divine Motherhood.  We can then offer reasons why it is fitting that the Church has always believed that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

First, we can appeal to the greatness of Christ’s act of redemption.  With the Immaculate Conception Christ’s redeeming act is greater when He preemptively redeems at least one member than if He redeemed everyone after their fall.  Likewise we can say that His act of redemption is more glorious if at least one member shares in the fullness of His Resurrection now.  If Mary’s soul only is taken to heaven awaiting the general resurrection for its body then we have imagined at least one scenario where Christ’s act is greater.  The Assumption proves that His power over death is not limited in any way.  He could have reunited body and soul at death immediately for us all (because He did so in one case) but chose not to according to His Wisdom.  Again to take away the Assumption takes away from God the surety on our part that He trampled over death by His death.

Mary Assumption

There is also a just reason for belief in the Assumption (about Mary’s death you can read more here).  The “wages of sin is death” really means two things.  First, as a result of the first sin, man was rendered back to his natural state in which death was possible.  God preserved Adam and Eve from death as a preternatural gift only.  When Adam sinned this gift was forfeit for all mankind.    Technically speaking though the curse of the covenant is not death per se but corruption— “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3:19).  This means that one of the punishments for sin is bodily corruption.

Whether Mary was free from death or not is not theologically certain, what is certain however is that she would be free from the corruption of the grave because she was without sin.  Because she had total enmity with the devil (Gn 3:15) she was immune to his two weapons—sin and death.  He could have no power over her.  God, ever faithful to His promises would have to assume Our Lady, body and soul to heaven.  To deny the Assumption, is to deny that God is faithful (1Cor 1:9).

It is also her role as “the Woman” that merits consideration of the Assumption.  As the new Eve and Mother of all those alive in Christ, she must precede her sons and daughters on the new Earth.  To deny the Assumption is to deny her true motherhood and disobey Our Lord’s last will and testament for His disciples to “behold your Mother” (Jn 19:27).

In the introduction it was mentioned that when we subtract from Mary we end up with a reduced understanding of ourselves.  In this we can see God’s Providence in the Church operative once again.  Since the formal declaration of the dogma of the Assumption a cult of the body has arisen that has no historical precedent, not even in the most pagan of cultures.  While we spend untold amount of time and money to remove every spot and blemish, Mary’s Assumption reminds us that it is only in glory that we will be without spot and blemish (Eph 5:27).  It is the radiance of holiness that will make our bodies shine.  To deny the Assumption is to attack Our Lady who is “Our Hope.”  The Assumption is the seed of supernatural hope because we know that Christ really is the first fruit and not the only fruit.

It is also the false cult of the female body that the Assumption attacks.  We are literally bombarded with images of the perfect (mostly photo-shopped) female body trapping “ordinary” women in an imaginary world and men in the cult of pornography.  The Assumption is a reminder to us all of the dignity of women.  As John Paul II put it: “In the face of the profanation and debasement to which modern society frequently subjects the female body, the mystery of the Assumption proclaims the supernatural destiny and dignity of every human body, called by the Lord to become an instrument of holiness and to share in his glory” (GA, July 9,1997).

Our Lady and the Muslims

In his Life of St. Francis of Assisi St. Bonaventure tells of his spiritual father’s “glowing charity” toward the Muslims that “urged his spirit unto martyrdom.”  He gained entrance into the presence of the Sultan of Babylon. “When the Sultan inquired by whom, why and how they had been sent, Francis replied with an intrepid heart that the Most High God had sent him to point out to the Sultan and his people the way of salvation and to announce the Gospel of truth.  Inspired from heaven, Francis continued: ‘If you wish to be converted to Christ along with your people, I will most gladly stay with you for love of him. But if you hesitate. . .then command that an enormous fire be lit and I will walk into the fire along with your priests so that you will recognize which faith deserves to be held as holier and more certain.’”  While the Sultan never took Francis up on his offer for conversion or martyrdom, the saint did earn his admiration and was eventually released  The frustration that Francis experienced in preaching the Gospel and leading Muslims to conversion is something that the Church as a whole has long struggled with.  It seems that, with very few exceptions, Muslims as a whole are unconvertable.

Certainly there are within the Islam  corpus of teachings that help to explain this.  First of all, the death penalty for apostasy is deeply ingrained in Islamic culture to the point that it is often the family of the convert who turns them over to the authorities.  This practice has its root in both the Qur’an and the Hadith of Muhammad.  In Surah 9:11-12, the author of the Qur’an declares that “But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then are they your brethren in religion. We detail our revelations for a people who have knowledge. And if they break their pledges after their treaty (hath been made with you) and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief — Lo! they have no binding oaths in order that they may desist.”  While there is some difference in opinions as to whether this particular verse applies to apostates particularly, it is the Hadith (the sayings and teachings of Muhammad) that make this particular teaching binding.  “Abdullah reported Allah’s Messenger as saying: It is not permissible to take the life of a Muslim who bears testimony (to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah, but in one of the three cases: the married adulterer, a life for life, and the deserter of his Din [Islam], abandoning the community” (Chapter 6,  Bk.16, no. 4152).

Fear is not the only reason why conversion has been slow.  More fundamentally, conversion is blocked for the same reason that few Christians convert to Judaism—Islam is believed to be the fullness of God’s revelation and to convert to Christianity (or even Judaism) would be a step backwards.  Muslims believe that the history of the world is divided into periods of different prophets.  First there was Moses and Torah (Tawrat), then Jesus and the Gospel (Injil) and then definitively, Muhammad and the Qur’an.  A core Islamic belief regarding the “People of the Book”, that is Jews and Christians, is that they corrupted God’s Revelation.  The Old and New Testaments contain fragments of what used to be a legitimate form of revelation but has been tampered with.

Despite these difficulties, conversion is still a possibility.  When the Church in Mexico could make no evangelical inroads with the natives to the point that he feared armed resistance, Bishop Zumarraga called on Our Lady’s help  In short order, Our Lady of Guadalupe intervened and there were 9 million converts in less than a decade.  So too does she desire to bring Muslims to her Son and home to the Father.

In setting aside some of the apocalyptic interpretations, the number of Marian apparitions in the Middle East has taken a decidedly steep uptick in recent decades.  What makes these particular apparitions so powerful is that they are fully visible to all present, and can even be captured on camera.  While the Church has yet to authenticate them, it might serve as a sign that Our Lady is ready to act in a miraculous way.

Why might we be looking at a situation similar to what was witnessed on this Continent in the 16th Century?  Because of the Muslim regard for Mary.  Just as she served as the bridge between God and Man by lending her humanity to God’s own Son, she may serve as a bridge between Christians and Muslims.

In his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton said that what made St. Thomas such a great evangelist and defender of the faith was the principle “that we must either not argue with a man at all or we must argue on his grounds and not ours.”  So if we are to win Muslims to the Faith we must find bridges between their beliefs and ours.  Realistically, Jesus is not that bridge.  Their beliefs regarding Isa render the true Jesus practically unrecognizable.  But when it comes to the Mother of God, they are surprisingly close to the Christian belief.

Our Lady and Our Lord infant

Surah 19 bears the name “Mary” and in it we find a narrative of the Annunciation and the Islamic defense of the Virgin Birth.  Clearly drawing from apocryphal sources like the Protoevangelium of James, the Qur’an also says much with regard to Mary’s childhood.  She is portrayed as constantly under direct divine protection, nourished by angels and blessed with heavenly visions regularly (Surah 3:32).  All of this detail serves as confirmation of Mary’s greatness.

The Muslims even believe in a reduced form of the Immaculate Conception.  In Islamic theology, man is incapable of entering into a relationship with Allah and therefore there is nothing like the Christian doctrine of Original Sin.  However they do believe that mankind has a natural defectibility which makes each member impure from birth.  In Hadith 4506 it is said that ” “When any human being is born, Satan touches him at both sides of the body with his two fingers, except Jesus, the son of Mary, whom Satan tried to touch but failed, for he touched the placenta-cover instead.” From this Hadith and from Surah 3:35-37 Islamic commentators have put forth the principle of Mary’s original purity.

While there are some inconsistencies related to the fact that Mary is portrayed as unwed at the time of the Annunciation and a confusing narrative which seems to suggest that she is Moses’ sister (Surah 19:28), these differences are far outweighed by the similarities.  Why is this?  Because one of Mary’s titles in the Old Roman Missal was the “Destoyer of Heresies.”  Wherever she is honored, heresies are destroyed.  All Mary does is lead people to her Son.  When we honor her, she responds by leading us more fully to her Son.  Venerable Fulton Sheen in The World’s First Love says

“Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ Himself is born. In an apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which people already accept. Because the Moslems have a devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and to develop that devotion, with the full realization that Our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a traitor, in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, but will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the divinity of Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.”

To the extent that we are faithful to Jesus’ command to take His Mother into our homes and consecrate ourselves to her and her evangelical mission of converting Muslims then we will begin to see waves of Islamic conversions.  For Muslims too have a devotion to Our Lady.  After the Virgin Mary, Muhammad’s daughter Fatima is held in the highest regard among women.  Let us then follow Our Lady of Fatima’s command to pray the Rosary daily and offer it for the conversion of Muslims.

The Star of the New Evangelization

In his 1999 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pope St. John Paul II referred to Our Lady of Guadalupe as the “Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization” (Ecclesia in America (EA), 11).  In referring to her as the Star of the New Evangelization the Holy Father was calling to mind the profound effect on the evangelization of Mexico after her appearance to St. Juan Diego in 1531 and her guiding role in evangelization today.  With the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe upon us, it is instructive to look at least two ways in which we can look to her to guide us.

The first  is that Our Lady uses lay people who are specially devoted to her as instruments in the spreading of the message of Guadalupe.

At the time of the apparitions, the spreading of the Gospel to the Mexican people was largely unsuccessful.  Even though Cortes demolished all the blood soaked temples where human sacrifice to demons was going on, conversion was virtually non-existent because of a deeply rooted paganism.  Further slowing the process was a fundamental mistrust among the native peoples of the Spaniards because of abuse at the hands of the First Audience, the five administrators appointed by Charles V after Cortes returned to Spain.  Charles V also appointed Bishop Juan Zumarraga as the first bishop of the new world and the Bishop worked to protect the Indians against the harsh rule.  This brought the Bishop himself and his friars under persecution that he described as “worse than that of Herod and Diocletian.”  Eventually he was able to smuggle a message back to Charles V he immediately replaced Guzman with a Second Audience headed by Bishop Don Sebastian Ramirez y Fuenleal.  Knowing that the Aztecs were about to take up arms against the Spaniards Bishop Zumarraga begged Our Lady to intervene.  Secretly he asked her to send him some Castilian roses as a sign of her intercession.

Enter Juan Diego, a simple farmer who was on his way to Mass one Sunday.  When he passed a small hill named Tepeyac, six 6 miles north of Mexico City and the location of a former temple to the great mother god Torantzin (whose head was a combination of serpent heads and dress a mass of writhing serpents), he began to hear music and the voice of a woman bidding him to come to the top of the hill.  She told him she was the Virgin Mary and that he was to present himself to the Bishop and ask him to build a Church on the hill.  After two visits the Bishop and two additional apparitions, she eventually gave him the sign the Bishop had asked for in the form of roses and the beautiful image on the tilma (more on this below).

What makes St. Juan Diego a model for our collaboration with Our Lady’s work of evangelization is what he did after the apparitions.  He was appointed as custodian of the chapel on Tepeyac where the image was kept and he tirelessly explained the significance of the image to wave after wave of pilgrims.  He emphasized the providential location of the apparition as formerly the site of pagan temple and this had such an effect on them that they referred to the image as Teonantzin (God’s Mother).  It was His ability to re-tell his story in the Indian language that served as a major source of conversion.  In fact when many of the Indians presented themselves to the missionary priests for instruction and baptism they had already been converted.

A major obstacle to the spread of the New Evangelization has been a lingering clericalism.  Our Lady of Guadalupe shows us what happens when lay people live their vocation in the Church properly and when clerics live theirs.  Juan Diego, despite being a widower, did not become a priest.  Instead he remained as a lay person and embraced his role as the primary evangelizer of the pilgrims that came to the chapel to venerate the image.  It was only after they had been evangelized that he sent them to the missionary priests for further instruction to prepare them for the sacraments.  Like St. Juan Diego, laity need to see themselves as the primary evangelizers of culture.  We cannot abdicate that role to priests and bishops but instead must embrace it.

When the laity are living out their vocation to evangelize those outside the confines of the Church (and even those who need it within the Church), Priests and Bishops are able to focus on tending their flock through catechesis and the Sacraments.  They also will not feel the need to abdicate this role in order to change the culture.  They can comfortably focus on the formation and sanctification of the laity and support them in their mission to the world.  I dare say that Bishop Zumarraga and his friar priests understood that their role should be to support Juan Diego in his evangelizing mission and they reaped the fruit of it, sometimes baptizing up to 6000 people day—most of whom they had not evangelized.

The second lesson we can learn from Our Lady of Guadalupe is the power of images.

Like our culture today, the Aztec culture was one of the image.  In his account of the apparitions, the missionary Fernando de Alva Ixtilxochitl recalled:

“The Indians submerged in profound darkness, still loved and served false little gods, clay figurines and images of our enemy the devil in spite of having heard about the faith…But when they heard that the Holy Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ had appeared and since they saw and admired her most perfect Image, which has no human art their eyes were opened as if suddenly day had dawned on them.”

The devil in inspiring the creation of the little idols knew that the Indians found them visually appealing and he exploited that even after the destruction of the temples and human sacrifice.  That is why Our Lady did not haphazardly leave the image on St. Juan Diego’s tilma but instead every element was wrought with meaning.  The people were familiar with using glyphs rather than written language and so Our Lady offered them an evangelizing image.  Not only is it edifying for us to discover the meaning of this image but it increases our reliance upon her (for more detail on the image, see Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Civilization of Love by Carl Anderson and Msgr. Eduardo Chavez).

Guadalupe

 

  • Clouds — in the image, the Virgin is surrounded by clouds, showing that she is from heaven. The indigenous greeted people they believed came from God with the expression: “Among fog and among clouds.” which is why Montezuma thought Cortes a god at first when his ships came through the fog into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Sun —golden rays from the second sun, behind her, signify that she is the “Mother of Light” and greater than the dreadful Aztec sun god, Huitzilopchtli, whom she eclipses.
  • Cross medallion — around her neck, Mary wears a gold medallion engraved with a cross. For indigenous people, the medallion symbolized consecration, so the medallion around Mary’s neck meant that she was consecrated to Jesus. It was also the same black Cross that appeared on the banners and helmets of the Spanish soldiers.
  • Hands — the indigenous people expressed prayer not only by the hands, but by the whole body. In the image on the tilma, Our Lady of Guadalupe is shown in a position of dancing prayer, with her knee bent in movement. Presented in the position of prayer, it would  have shown that despite the fact that she was greater than all the Aztec gods and goddesses, she herself was not God.
  • Mantle and tunic — Mary’s rose-tinted, flowery tunic symbolizes the earth, while her turquoise, starry mantle represents the heavens. The mantle also indicates that she is royalty since only the native emperors wore cloaks of that color.
  • Moon — the Virgin stands on a crescent moon. The Aztec word for Mexico, “Metz-xic-co,” means “in the center of the moon.” She is standing upon it as their mother. The moon also symbolizes the Aztec moon god, fertility, birth and life.  This was the serpent-god Quetzalcoatl.
  • Angel — an angel with eagle’s wings appears below Mary’s feet. According to Aztec belief, an eagle delivered the hearts and the blood of sacrificial victims to the gods. The angel holds up the pregnant Virgin, signifying that the child in her womb is the offering that pleases God and only those with eagles wings could go to god
  • Black ribbon — the black ribbon around Mary’s waist shows that she is expecting a child. For the Aztecs, the trapezoid-shaped ends of the ribbon also represented the end of one cycle and the birth of a new era.
  • Four-petaled jasmine — the only four-petaled flower on Mary’s tunic appears over her womb. The four-petaled jasmine represents the Aztecs’ highest deity, Ometéotl. It shows that she is carrying the true deity within her womb.
  • Flowers — nine golden flowers, symbolizing life and truth, adorn Mary’s dress. The flowers are made up of glyphs representing a hill and a river. The indigenous people considered hills the highest points of encounter between God and people. Viewed upside down, the flowers take the shape of hearts with arteries coming out, representing life, which originates from God and that sustains creation not by blood of sacrifice but shedding of His own blood.

One of the most amazing things about the image is the eyes.  In the eyes of Mary miniscule human figures were discovered.   Using digital technology, the images in the eyes were enlarged many times, revealing that each eye reflected the figure of the Indian Juan Diego opening his tilma in front of Bishop Zumarraga.  Obviously no merely human artist could have painted these.

Guadalupe_eyes

With nearly 9 million converts in 8 years (that’s an average of 3260 per day), this approach can be a very powerful force.  I have written about the importance of evangelizing the culture through media before, but I want to re-emphasize just how important that is.  Ultimately the grip that pornography has on many men (and an increasing number of women) is like the little idols that the natives in Mexico turned to.  But the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe also offered a antidote the fear from the horrific images of human sacrifices that they had all seen.  We are surrounded by violent images all day long and it creates a culture of anxiety and ultimately distraction.  As Christians we need to offer different images to the culture—one based on what is objectively beautiful not beauty that has been objectified.  Only Catholics truly know the difference.

In closing, it cannot be emphasized enough how much we can do when we give ourselves over to the hands of Our Lady.  On the day of the third apparition, Juan Diego’s uncle grew deathly ill.  Rather than turning to her to help him, he avoided Tepeyac hill and sought help elsewhere.  When he came close, she came down the hill and confronted him saying,

“Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest son, that what frightened you, what afflicted you, is nothing; do not let it disturb your face, your heart; do not fear this sickness nor any other sickness, nor any sharp and hurtful thing. Am I not here, I who have the honor to be your Mother? Are you not in my shadow and under my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more?”

The gentle rebuke is for all of us.  We may be anxious about our culture, but for those who in her shadow and protection, we have nothing to fear.  It is ultimately she who will help us lead our culture back to her Son.  In fact, Pope St. John Paul II called upon Catholics in the Americas to rely on the power of Our Lady of Guadalupe to evangelize the culture.  “In America, the mestiza face of the Virgin of Guadalupe was from the start a symbol of the inculturation of the Gospel, of which she has been the lodestar and the guide. Through her powerful intercession, the Gospel will penetrate the hearts of the men and women of America and permeate their cultures, transforming them from within” (EA, 70).

 

 

Why the Immaculate Conception Matters

Throughout the history of the Church, the challenge to orthodoxy of heretical teachings has always brought with it the fruit of a development in doctrine.  Nearly every dogmatic definition has come when a particular teaching was challenged.  At first glance however, the feast that we celebrate today, the Immaculate Conception, appears to be an exception to this rule.  As the 19th Century emerged, many in the Church called for a dogmatic definition of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception.  By the middle of the Century, Pope Pius IX began consulting theologians and convoked a “council in writing” asking bishops around the world about the possibility of its definition.  The response was overwhelmingly positive and in 1854, he issued the Bull Ineffabilis Deus which solemnly proclaimed that “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” Despite its relatively recent history and the elevation to a Feast Day and Holy Day of Obligation, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is little understood today.

When Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he was merely declaring something that the Church has believed from the beginning.  It wasn’t as if he suddenly realized the Church believed this.  It was always believed, but without a direct challenge to its orthodoxy, the Churched lacked some of the necessary clarity to explain how it fit into the deposit of faith.  In other words, it was always a part of the deposit of faith—that which the Apostles left us—but how it connected to the other truths of the faith still needed to be worked out.

We find seeds of the Immaculate Conception throughout Salvation History, beginning with just after the Fall of Adam and Eve when God promised not to abandon mankind but that He would send them a new Adam and a new Eve (Gn 3:15).  The woman and her offspring (a prediction of the virgin birth) will gain ultimate victory over the Serpent by crushing his head and will enjoy enmity with the Evil One.  This enmity, according to John Paul II, is “a hostility expressly established by God, which has a unique importance, if we consider the problem of the Virgin’s personal holiness.  In order to be the irreconcilable enemy of the serpent and his offspring, Mary had to be free from the power of sin, and to be so from the first moment of her existence.”  In other words, enmity means that the devil could have no power over Mary at any point of her existence.

Likewise, we catch a glimpse of the Immaculate Conception during the Annunciation.  The angel Gabriel in his greeting addresses Mary as “full of grace.”  This strange greeting is the name that she possesses in the eyes of God.  The name that God gives is the essence of the person (like Peter being the rock upon which the Church was founded) and so Mary is truly the one who is full of grace.  The Greek word kecharitomene is often translated as “full of grace” but it is more nuanced than that.  It is in the passive participle and is more accurately translated as “made full of grace” to indicate the gift that God gave to the Virgin Mother.

With such strong Scriptural support for the Immaculate Conception, why did it take nearly 1800 years for the Church to declare it as binding dogma?  Using both the liturgy (the law of worship is the law of belief—lex orandi, lex credenda) and the writings of the Fathers of the first millennium it is clearly among the things that the Church believed.  But before it was to be defined, it needed to be better understood.

Ss Ann and Joachim with BVM

The first obstacle was coming to a deeper understanding of Original Sin.  Because of Adam’s transgression, Scripture speaks of all of us as “born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:7).  But rather than seeing Original Sin as something merely tacked on to human nature, the Church came to understand it as a lack.  Specifically it is a lack of the seeds of eternal life or sanctifying grace.  The removal of sanctifying grace also brings with it other effects on human nature such as concupiscence.  In order for one to be “free from the stain of Original Sin” she would need to be conceived with sanctifying grace.

Providentially, we can begin to see what the Holy Spirit had in mind when He waited so long.  Nearly all the philosophical anthropology of man in the 18th and 19th C rejected the idea of Original Sin—it was society that somehow corrupted man, not something that is a result of his fallen state.  In other words, it became widely believed that every man was immaculately conceived.  By declaring that only one such human person was born that way, the Holy Spirit was speaking truth not just about Mary but about mankind.

Once the doctrine of Original Sin was better understood, the main theological problem that needed to be explained is related to St. Paul’s dictum that “all men have sinned” and in need “of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:12,17).  What the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proposing was actually two things.  The first is that somehow Mary was exempt from the “all” men who have sinned.  Secondly it would also appear that because of this exemption, she was not in need of the “gift of justification.”

To explain the exemption, we must first acknowledge that the Supreme Authority has the power to offer exemptions to universal laws in particular cases.  So that when St. Paul says that all men have sinned, he is acknowledging a universal law and like all universal laws there can be exceptions.  The Immaculate Conception means that Mary is the singular exception to this law.  This is why the Church has always seen in Esther a type of Mary.  She alone among all the Jews was to escape the edict of King Ahasuerus that all the Jews in his kingdom must be killed.

If Mary was without Original Sin then it seems on the surface that she did not need a Redeemer either.  This question was the most difficult to address because as a true daughter of Adam, she was still in need of justification.  To explain this, Blessed Duns Scotus developed the idea of her redemption being preventative rather than restorative.  He said that “The Perfect Redeemer, must in some case, have done the work of redemption most perfectly, which would not be, unless there is some person, at least, in whose regard, the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased.”

Blessed Duns Scotus is saying two very important things here.  First is that there are two ways of “saving” someone from falling into a hole.  The first is to rescue them once they are in the hole.  The second is to keep them from falling in beforehand.  He also says that a perfect deliverer would have done both.  A more perfect redeemer is the one who not only rescues mankind from the effects of sin once they are in them but also preserves from falling altogether.

This approach to explaining doctrine is a favorite of St. Thomas and he calls it “fittingness.”  I have also found it a powerful tool to use in order to open Christians (Catholic and non-Catholic) up to important theological truths.  With respect to the Immaculate Conception, it is fitting that Our Lord’s act of Redemption is so powerful that it could redeem at least one member of the human race before she fell.  It also points out how everything we believe about Mary points back to Jesus.  To take away the Immaculate Conception is ultimately taking away the greatness of Jesus’ redemptive act.

The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed this teaching about Mary saying, “Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God” (Lumen Gentium, 53).  But in the fallout from the Council there has been a movement to de-dogmatize the Immaculate Conception in an attempt to be more “ecumenical.”  The argument goes that belief about the Immaculate Conception is not necessary for salvation so therefore it is relatively unimportant.is based on a false understanding of the idea of hierarchy of truths.

The Catechism says that “In Catholic doctrine there exists an order or hierarchy of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith” (CCC 90).  Cardinal Schönborn in his introduction to the Catechism is quick to point out that “the ‘hierarchy of truth’ does not mean ‘a principle of subtraction,’ as if faith could be reduced to some ‘essentials’ whereas the ‘rest’ is left free or even dismissed as not significant. The ‘hierarchy of truth . . . is a principle of organic structure.’ It should not be confused with the degrees of certainty; it simply means that the different truths of faith are ‘organized’ around a center.”  In other words, the idea of a hierarchy of truths is that there are certain beliefs around which all other beliefs orbit.  These other beliefs support the belief in the core truth.

The truth around which the Immaculate Conception orbits is the true humanity of Jesus.  In order for the Son to become man, He must take on human flesh and be born of a woman (Gal 4:4).  This means that in order for Mary to be a true mother, she must provide Jesus with all that a mother normally gives to her children, namely her flesh.  What happens if her flesh is fallen?  Then Jesus too would inherit a fallen human nature which is an impossibility for God.  God could not take to Himself something that was sinful.  Yes, He could miraculously intervene but then the flesh no longer comes from the woman and she is not a true mother—just an incubator.  But the One who was like us in all things but sin, is a true man and like all men born of a woman.  All of this makes clear why the Immaculate Conception matters—it protects the true humanity of Jesus.  Take away what we believe about Mary and our faith in Jesus begins to crumble.

The Deposit of Faith is truly a seamless garment—tug at any string, no matter how seemingly inconsequential it is, and it falls apart.  Tug the string of the Immaculate Conception and the garment of our faith will be left in tatters.

 

The Death of Our Lady

According to some traditions dating back to the 4th Century, the tomb of the Virgin Mary sits in the valley of the Cedron, near Jerusalem.  In the past few centuries however there have been some scholars that insist that her tomb is actually in Ephesus.  For any other person the controversy might be relatively easy to solve, but because she was assumed body and soul into heaven, her tomb would necessarily be empty at this point.  In fact there are many who believe that she did not actually die.  When Pope Pius XII formally declared the doctrine of the Assumption in 1950, he left the question as to whether she died or not still open, referring to her moment of passing as a dormition.  The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, while referring to the Assumption as well, did not address the question either (Lumen Gentium, 59).  Although this question still remains open, it is helpful for us to look at the reasons why it is likely that she did die before being assumed into heaven.

A fair question to ask at the outset is why we should even care about what only may amount to theological speculation.  If her body is not in either tomb, then why venerate those locations?  For that matter, why does the Assumption matter?  I would answer by responding as Fr. John Saward says about all Marian doctrines—Mary keeps the truths of the faith from becoming entirely abstract.  She is the first sharer in everything that Christ won for us and therefore the Assumption sprinkles seeds on our own hope for Heaven.

Mary’s Assumption helps us to escape the body/soul dualism in which many Christians are trapped.  Heaven is meant to be a bodily experience and we know this to be true because at least one human person is experiencing it now.  We can say that souls go to heaven, but could we actually prove it?  Her Assumption gives us proof not only that souls go to heaven but that bodies do too.  In other words, the privilege of the Assumption makes the promise of heaven palpable for all of us.  This is why we call Our Lady “Our Hope.”

To see why it matters whether she actually died or not, we must first examine why it is probable that she did.  St. John Paul II took up this question in a Wednesday Audience on July 2, 1997.  To understand his argument, it is first necessary to look at death itself.  By returning to “the beginning” in the Book of Genesis, we can learn a number of things.  First, in his natural state man is capable of death (i.e. separation of the body and soul).  God warns Adam when He enters into covenant with him that he will die if he eats from the Tree of Good and Evil (Gn 2:17).  This is not to be interpreted as a threat so much as it is one of the terms of the Covenant that God is making with Adam that God will preserve him from death.  This of course means that Adam without this preternatural gift would have died naturally.

The other important point to take into account is the specific covenantal curses that are invoked.  When God tells Adam that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3:19), He is not only telling Adam that he will die, but also that his body will suffer corruption.  One can infer then that one of the punishments for sin is bodily corruption.

Dormition

Returning now to the Holy Father’s 1997 Audience, we can understand why he says Mary suffered death.  By the “singular privilege” of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady was preserved from the stain of Original Sin.  This however does not “lead to the conclusion that she also received physical immortality.”  She suffered death as a result of having a human nature and not as a punishment for sin.  Being exempt from all sin, her body would not have seen corruption.

Could she not have remained in the grave, incorrupt?  Certainly this could have been a possibility, but there are other saints who have done so.  If she really is “full of grace” then her privileges as the Mother of God would have to be completely unique.  Add to this a recent finding of science that shows how a child’s DNA remains within the mother’s body for many decades after its birth and it is only fitting that the body that not only carried Christ for 9 months, but continued to carry parts of Him in her body, should be reunited to Him in heaven.  It is almost as if His own Ascension was not complete until all the parts of His body inside her returned to Heaven as well.

So far, it has been shown that she was capable of death, but why was her death probable?  Obviously, only someone who has died can share in Christ’s Resurrection.  Of all Christians, Mary most closely made Christ’s life her own.  It is only fitting then that she share in His physical death too, especially since Christ underwent death to give it a “new meaning and changing it into a means of salvation.”

While we do not know the biological cause of her death, we can say that her death was unlike any other in its sweetness.  The peaceful manner in which she passed has earned a special term—the Dormition (or falling asleep).  St. John of the Cross says that once one has achieved the highest level of prayer (spiritual marriage) death comes about through an act of love so full that it stops the lover’s heart.  This is why St. Francis de Sales says her death was a “transport of love” (Treatise on the Love of God, bk. 7, ch. 13-14).  In short, she died of love.

To answer why her death matters to us, we turn one last time to the Marian Pope—“The experience of death personally enriched the Blessed Virgin: by undergoing mankind’s common destiny, she can more effectively exercise her spiritual motherhood towards those approaching the last moment of their life.”

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. O Refuge of sinners, Mother of the dying, do not forsake us at the hour of our death.

 

Jesus and the Terrible Twos

Many a young mother and father’s aspirations for living a re-incarnation of the Holy Family has washed up on the shores of their child’s second birthday.  Something is in the birthday cake that turns them into little monsters—it is the beginning of the “Terrible Twos.”  As the child becomes more mobile, the world has opened up before them.  With greater access to their surroundings and a constant curiosity, defiance sets in.  Lacking adequate language skills to express themselves, they master the art of the dramatic tantrum.  Most parents comfort themselves with the idea that it is a normal developmental stage and will soon pass.  Some turn to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph for help and understanding.  But can they really understand?  They were truly parents of Our Lord and they were truly a family, but did Jesus go through the “Terrible Twos?”

For the first five or six centuries of the Church, the Magisterium had to wrestle with the Person of Christ.  There was little question as to His divinity, but how He could also be fully human was something that needed to be hashed out.  The fruits of this discussion were borne in the ideas of the Hypostatic Union and the philosophical idea of a Person.

During the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Church declared that the two natures of Christ are joined “in one person and one hypostasis” where hypostasis simply means a single substance. The Church followed with the expression “hypostatic union” to express the belief that in Jesus Christ there are two perfect and real natures, divine and human.  The Eternal Son of God took to Himself a true human nature.

From this the Church was led to make the necessary distinction between person and nature.  It is necessary at the outset to make two important distinctions.  The first is between nature and person.  The nature that a rational being has decides what that being is and can do.  However it is the person that actually exists and does the action.  The nature is part of the person, but does not exist outside the person.  The nature may answer the question what, but it is the person that answers the question who.

Recall that because of the Hypostatic Union, Christ has two natures.  This means that He has two principles of action; Divine and human.  Because He is Divine, He could raise Lazarus from the dead.  Because He is human, He asked the woman at the well for a drink to quench His thirst.   However, it was always the Divine Second Person of the Trinity that performed these actions.

All of this is necessary because there is a new tendency to do away with the divinity of Christ.  In fact in his book on spiritual Christology called Behold the Pierced One , Pope Benedict XVI says that it is ultimately the attempt to cancel out the divinity of Christ that is most damaging to faith today.  He says that the linguistic change from the name “Christ” to the personal name “Jesus” in referring to Christ reveals a spiritual process with wide implications.  It is an attempt to get behind the Church’s confession of faith and reach the purely historical figure of Jesus.

With this (over) emphasis on Jesus’ humanity, we attempt to apply modern psychology and stages of development to Christ.  If He is fully man then He too had to go through a process of growth in human nature.  He had to grow physically, He had to learn to speak, and He had to experience things so as to learn new things.  All of this is true, but for Christ is means something entirely different.  Surely He is “like us in all things but sin.”  The problem in our thinking however is that Our Lord’s “but” is much bigger than we initially think.

The “but sin” that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is referring to is not just personal sin (after all God is incapable of sin, even if He takes on human flesh) but the effects of sin—namely the Fall.  With the Fall came a darkening of the intellect (which we call ignorance), a weakening of the will and disintegration in the emotional life (or the heart).  This is one of the reasons why He was so desirous of leaving us the Eucharist.  It literally infuses His human nature to ours so that we are healed through this “medicine of immortality” through a share in His divinity.  If His human nature was in any way defective then it no longer serves as our medicine.

Baby Jesus walking on Water at Bathtime

To understand the question about Christ’s “Terrible Twos” we need to go a little deeper into His human nature.  Because the human nature of Christ is united to the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ always had the beatific vision. In Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John’s Gospel, He says that eternal life is that the blessed should know God.  This is what beatific vision is—eternal union with God.  Christ’s soul had this from the moment of conception because it was more closely united to God than any other soul.  It was only by a miracle that it did not also spill over into His body.  In fact He lets the “governor” off so to speak at the Transfiguration where the Apostles see the glorified humanity of Christ.  To have the beatific vision means that He knew all past, present and future things.

One might ask however why, when Christ is asked about the end of the world, He responded by saying that only the Father knows that?  What Aquinas says is that He means that it could not be known through human reason or the natural light of the created intellect but by this knowledge of vision.  This seems plausible since the saints in Heaven surely have this knowledge.  Augustine goes even further in commenting on Christ’s not knowing the end of the world that there are two types of divine knowledge.  Christ had communicable knowledge which is related to His mission as Redeemer and that which was noncommunicable.

Aristotle said that the human mind has the capacity to know all created things.  Aquinas picked up this theory and said that there are two ways in which we come to know anything; either by divine revelation (infused knowledge) or by acquired knowledge.  Bearing in mind that Christ had a perfect human nature, there would have been no ignorance in Him.  He would know all things that could be known by the human intellect.

If Christ knew all things, how could “He grow in knowledge and wisdom before God and man” (Lk 2:40)?  This is because he grew in acquired knowledge.  By “acquired knowledge” St. Thomas means that knowledge which proceeds from the combination of sense perception and the abstracting activity of the intellect that produces universal concepts and ideas.  For Christ to grow in knowledge would mean that what He learned by acquired knowledge, He already knew by infused knowledge.  It was not new content so much as it was new in the way He came to know it.  We do this ourselves anytime we formulate arguments for things that we already know to be true.

With all this serving as a foundation, we can finally answer the question.  Our Lady and St. Joseph never suffered through the “Terrible Twos” because Christ was incapable of it (as an aside, Our Lady would have no experience of the “Terrible Twos” because she too would not have gone through them).  Because Our Lord from the moment of His conception had perfect control over His heart, there would have been no temper tantrums.  Because He already knew all things He would not have been driven to curiosity.  He would not have been capable of defiance.  He would have seen His parents in their proper authoritative role and would have always obeyed them (more on this in a moment).

Does this also mean that Jesus came out of the womb talking?  Certainly it is possible, but I don’t think so.  In some respects talking depends on physical development as well as intellectual.  The intellectual development was always there but the physical would have occurred in the normal course of growing.  He learned to speak in a normal timeframe, although I would expect that it came all at once and not in fits and starts like we see in a “normal” child today.  Either way, I wouldn’t expect a papal pronouncement on this question any time soon.  But I think the principle is solid.  Anything that depended upon intellectual development would have been there at the moment of conception.  Anything requiring physical at the appropriate time.

The fact that He had the intellectual ability to communicate would also lend itself to the belief that He would have understood communication from the moment of His conception.  So while He could have felt some level of frustration at not being able to communicate by speaking with His parents, He would not have expressed that frustration beyond reason.

One objection might arise to what I said about Jesus always obeying His parents.  In fact one of the only episodes in Jesus’ childhood recorded in the Gospels gives the appearance of Him disobeying Mary and Joseph by remaining in the Temple after the rest of the caravan had left.  There is only one way to make sense of this and it is related to what I said earlier about Mary herself not having the capacity for the “Terrible Twos.”  Because Mary did not suffer from ignorance as an effect of Original Sin, then she should have known that Jesus was not in caravan.  The only way that she could not have known was if it related to His mission as Redeemer—which His rather veiled response tells her.  This is why Our Lady is surprised that He did what He did—she simply did not expect the “sword of sorrow” to pierce her so early on.

 

 

 

 

Reading Between the Lines

Catholics are often accused of reading between the lines of Sacred Scripture, especially when it comes to her teachings regarding Our Lady’s role in the Incarnation.  There is some truth to the accusation in that one way to look at Sacred Tradition is to see it as a reading between the lines.  But this does not mean that we ignore the lines themselves.  One place in particular where the lines are being ignored is directly related to the status of the marriage of Mary and Joseph at the time of the Annunciation.

Early in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-34), we are introduced to Mary, who is “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name is Joseph.”  To the modern ear, it is assumed that the word betrothed means that Mary was engaged to Joseph, but not yet married.  That is why some otherwise good translations (like the RSV Catholic Edition) have Mary responding to Gabriel’s proposal by saying, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”  What follows is the assumption that Mary’s yes meant that she was to become an unwed mother and that Jesus is somehow illegitimate.  Part of Our Lady’s share of the Cross would be to bear this shame.  Despite the fact that this understanding is contrary to the perennial teaching of the Church, it is amazing how many Christians accept this unquestioningly.

By turning first to Matthew’s Gospel we can see that Joseph and Mary are in fact married when the Annunciation takes place.  We are given an account of “how the birth of Jesus Christ took place.  When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph being a righteous man…resolved to divorce her quietly (Mt 1:18-19, emphasis added).  Clearly, Mary and Joseph are in fact married and not merely “engaged.”  The Evangelist introduces Joseph as Mary’s husband, Joseph contemplates divorce, and the angel tells Joseph not to fear to take Mary, “his wife” into his home.  The use of the terms husband, divorce, and wife all make it pretty clear that they were married.

St. Joseph and Our Lady Marriage

Some of the confusion stems from ignorance surrounding the Jewish marriage rite.  The Jewish matrimonial procedure was normally is divided into two distinct phases—an initiating phase and a completing phase.  The first phase consisted in the man presenting himself at the house of his desired bride to ask her (or her father) for her hand in marriage.  Once he received consent, a marriage contract was drawn up and the two were officially married.  This initiating phase was designated by the Rabbinic term kidushin, which referred to a marriage actually contracted.   The problem is that in modern languages we do not have an equivalent term that describes an initial phase of marriage and it is rendered as espoused or betrothed.  In this context however, it does not mean that they were merely engaged.  At this stage the couple was married with all the rights and duties that come with it.  The completing phase or nisuin, would occur when after a previously established time has passed, the man takes the wife into his home and fulfills all the promises of the marriage contract.  This second phase can be seen as completing or sealing the marriage.  Nothing new is added except the husband takes full possession of the wife and the wife is “husbanded” and given all the rights as his wife.  This is also when the marriage was normally consummated.

Analogously we could look at these two phases of marriage in a similar way to what we do today.  The couple exchange vows and are validly married (initiating phase) and the marriage is sealed through consummation that occurs sometime after the exchange of vows.

St. John Paul II affirms this understanding of the rite in his Apostolic Exhortation on St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer saying, “according to Jewish custom, marriage took place in two stages: first, the legal, or true marriage was celebrated, and then, only after a certain period of time, the husband brought the wife into his own house. Thus, before he lived with Mary, Joseph was already her ‘husband.’” (Guardian of the Redeemer, 18).

The reason why a proper understanding of the married state of Joseph and Mary is so important is because it serves as an example of the sanctity of marriage.  Mary and Joseph were validly married and the natural fruit of marriage is a child.  That is the place in God’s divine plan where a child is to be conceived and born.  Now certainly Our Lord’s conception is altogether different than any other, but that does not change the fact that He is conceived and given as the fruit of Joseph and Mary’s marriage.  What would it say if Jesus Himself were conceived out of wedlock and God performs a shotgun wedding of sorts through the Angel Gabriel?  It would be an affirmation to many that having children outside of marriage is no big deal, especially because the Mother of God did it.  Certainly there are many with diabolical intent who would like to promote this idea.

There was never any accusation against Jesus as illegitimate, which most certainly would have been the case had Joseph and Mary not been married.  The Pharisees spent a lot of time trying to find dirt on Jesus and He was called many things, but a bastard was not one of them.  Why would God allow the reputation of His Mother to be sullied in any way?

It is worth mentioning as well Joseph’s consideration of quietly divorcing Mary.  This is not at all because he suspects her of adultery.  Mary’s intention to remain a virgin was well known to Joseph prior to their marriage.  A proper translation of Mary’s response to the angel reveals this.  She asks “how can this be because I know not man?” (and not “how can this be because I do not have a husband?”)  to indicate that she intends to remain perpetually a virgin, a vow that she assumed precluded her from having a child.  The tense of the Greek suggests that her virginity was to be an enduring condition.

Given this knowledge Joseph would have had no reason to suspect her of adultery.  In fact if you correctly read between the lines of Matthew’s text, you can conclude that if Joseph was in fact a “righteous man” then he would have followed every precept of the law of Moses including the requirement that if a wife was found in the act of infidelity by her husband then he was forced to divorce her and make her crimes known.  Anyone who hid the crime was also guilty (see Lev 5:1).

He contemplated putting her away quietly because he did not think he was worthy of being married to her.  He knew she was completely given to God, but he could not have known that it was to such a high degree.  It is like a single man or woman who meets their ideal in a consecrated person and immediately knows they are not meant to be.  They do not want to interfere in the life of someone given to God.  As Aquinas says, “Holy Joseph pondered in his humility not to continue to dwell with so much sanctity.”  This explains the angel’s response to Joseph that he should not “fear to take Mary his wife into his home.”

One might rightly wonder why, if Mary had been inspired by God from her youth to remain a virgin, she would have been given in marriage at all?  This certainly speaks to the love and holiness of St. Joseph that he would take a woman with such a vow to be his wife.  It could only be explained by Joseph himself being inspired to make a similar vow to live a life of wedded continence.  Her father would have given her away because a father was obliged not to leave his daughter a virgin because it was seen as an inferior condition of a lack of fulfillment as a woman and mother.  This is why the daughter of Jephthah mourns her virginity after she becomes a victim of her father’s rash vow.  She is mourning not because of a lack of integrity but because of a lack of fulfilment (Judges 11:37-38).

In summary, Cardinal Burke as the following to say:

The reason for the virginal marriage of Mary with Saint Joseph was to secure the conception and birth of Jesus within wedlock, the normal context for all conception and birth. For all who are born of man and woman are intended eventually to be part of the Holy Family first constituted by Joseph, Mary and Jesus. For Jesus to have been born out of wedlock would, in fact, make the Holy Family something significantly less than holy. The fact that Jesus was virginally conceived and born after the marriage of Mary and Joseph means that Jesus was conceived and born within wedlock. This is contrary to what so many, even priests, are saying at the present time, namely, that Jesus was born out of wedlock, like the children of so many unmarried women today, and that this is not an ‘abnormal’ situation. A pregnant, un-wed mother is said to be, according to these people, in the same condition as Mary, who they claim was also un-wed at the time she conceived Jesus. This is false; it is indeed a very serious falsehood, for it undermines the sanctity of marriage and the reason for that sanctity. It is said by defenders of this position that Jesus was conceived after Mary and Joseph were engaged, but not yet married.

 

The Immaculata and St. Maximilian

St. John Paul II once called St. Maximilian Kolbe “the patron saint of our difficult century.”  He is best known as the “Saint of Auschwitz” who offered his life in exchange for the life of another prisoner.  What many do not know about him is that, like many of the saints of the 20th Century, he was also a great Marian saint.  He tells of Our Lady appearing to him at an early age, two crowns in her hands, “one white, the other red. She asked if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr.  I said that I would accept them both.” True to her word, Blessed Pope Paul VI beatified him a confessor and St. John Paul II canonized him a martyr.  From that day on, he was animated by a great desire to know Jesus through His Mother and to do “All for the Immaculata!”

In coming to know her, there was one thing he puzzled over his entire life.  This was Mary’s identification of herself as “The Immaculate Conception” when she appeared to St. Bernadette at Lourdes.  Specifically he asked why she did not simply say “I am immaculately conceived” but chose instead to call herself “The Immaculate Conception.”  He knew well the biblical importance of a name and so thought that she was saying more than just the fact that she was conceived without sin.  He thought she was revealing “something that belongs to her very nature” (Letter, Feb 28, 1933).  But he did not fully grasp what this meant until shortly before he was arrested a second time.  In fact, just a few hours before the Gestapo came to round him and four other friars up on February 17, 1941, Fr. Kolbe wrote what would be his last and definitive teaching on the Immaculata.

What Fr. Kolbe focused on was Mary’s unique relationship with the Trinity.  She is the beloved daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son and Spouse of the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed her in the Incarnation.  What Kolbe focused on specifically was her relationship with the Holy Spirit. Because the Immaculata is united to the Holy Spirit as His spouse, she is united to God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be said of any other creature (note that she is still a creature though).  He posited that if in human affairs the wife takes the name of her husband to show she belongs to him and is one with him then how fitting should it be that Mary take the name of her Spouse, Who is the Divine Immaculate Conception.

This is an extremely bold claim and one would be tempted to call it a heresy if not for the fact that it was the last spiritual testament of a man whom the Church calls Saint Maximilian.  For the Church not only canonizes a saint for his or her life, but also as a reliable teacher.  To be clear then, what St. Maximilian is teaching has to do as much with the Person of the Holy Spirit as it does Our Lady.

To begin to grasp this, it is first necessary to see if there is something like an Immaculate Conception in God and whether it is appropriate to call the Holy Spirit by this name.  When we speak of divine Conception we must first admit that we can only do so by way of analogy and that to understand this analogy you have to move beyond the idea of physical generation and think of conception in the manner that an artist conceives a painting.  In a spiritual sense “to conceive” has two primary meanings.  First as an intellectual act by which we form an idea.  By way of analogy, this describes the conception of the Son (as Logos) by the Father.  Secondly in the area of the will in which we say “I have conceived a deep affection for him” to describe the experience of a sentiment or passion.  Again, by way of analogy we can speak of the Holy Spirit as being “conceived” through the love of the Father and the Son (St Thomas has a fuller treatment of this in the Summa—ST I qq.44-45 for those who might want to try and tackle it ).

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If we work with this same analogical understanding of God and call to mind that it is the mother’s love that links the father and the son, then analogously we can say there is a certain motherhood appropriated to the Holy Spirit.  This is not by way of generation but by way of love and it links the Father and the Son.  This helps us to understand something of the maternal love that we find in God in the Scriptures.  Understanding this as well, helps us to avoid the trap that many revisionist theologians fall into in which they call the Holy Spirit a “she” or speak of God as Father and Mother.  That is not at all what St. Maximilian is saying.  He is simply saying that in God there is something like the love of a mother.  It also helps us to understand what John Paul II meant when he spoke of Mary sharing in the “the motherhood in the Holy Spirit” in his Encyclical Redemptoris Mater(RM, 43). All of this leads St. Maximilian to conclude that Mary is so completely overshadowed by the Spirit that when she says “I am the Immaculate Conception” she means “I am the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.”

There is a danger at this point to think what St. Kolbe is proposing is that the Holy Spirit took flesh in Mary—another Incarnation of a Divine Person.  However he went to great lengths to reject that and coined the term “quasi-incarnation” to describe what is going on.  Certainly we all agree that if a spirit of evil is capable of “possessing” a human creature to the point of identifying the latter with itself even in a sort of personal way (this is the anti-Christ) then surely the Spirit of God can take possession of his privileged creature Mary.  It is absolutely a marvelous mystery that a human person can be so taken up into the control of God so that her will is completely united to the divine will, but one must readily admit the possibility. The evil spirit enslaves the poor creature he takes over whereas the Holy Spirit stirs up and strengthens liberty deep in the soul of the one he deigns to possess.  Mary describes herself as the “slave of the Lord” but she is the freest human person that ever lived.

Mystery or not, we can begin to understand something of this “quasi-incarnation” if we look at the Christological heresy that led to the Church giving Mary the title, Theotokos, or “God-bearer”.  The Nestorian Heresy said that there were two persons in Christ.  These two persons were united in will and action.  They were also united by inhabitation.  Nestorius said the Word dwelt in Jesus as in a temple.  This is the same way that Lumen Gentium describes Our Lady’s relationship with the Holy Spirit calling her, “Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit” (LG, 53).  While we are all temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20) by virtue of our baptisms, the Immaculata was so by her very nature.

The point is that the Holy Spirit and Mary are two distinct persons, but that Mary is so fully possessed by the Holy Spirit that He acts in and through her perfectly.  This is where the title of Mary as Mediatrix comes from—her wholly unique relationship with the Holy Spirit Whose mission is one of sanctification.

Even if we are willing to concede everything said so far, why does it matter?  Aren’t these just theological ramblings that could easily lead us down into a heretical rabbit hole?  Not at all.  In truth Christians suffer greatly from not knowing the Holy Spirit.  He remains a great mystery to many of us and that greatly limits His ability to work in and through us.  After all, He is still a Person and to claim to love a Person while not really knowing Him is disingenuous at best.  What if we do not know Him because we are looking in the wrong place?  What if Catholics, in turning away from Marian devotion after the Second Vatican Council, also turned away from the Holy Spirit?  What if Protestants, in rejecting the unique role Mary plays in salvation, have also lost sight of the Holy Spirit, Whom they claim to need no mediator for?

Blessed Paul VI also recognized this danger when he wrote in his 1974 Apostolic Exhortation, Marialis Cultus:

It is sometimes said that many spiritual writings today do not sufficiently reflect the whole doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. It is the task of specialists . . . to meditate more deeply on the working of the Holy Spirit in the history of salvation, and to ensure that Christian spiritual writings give due prominence to His life-giving action. Such a study will bring out in particular the hidden relationship between the Spirit of God and the Virgin of Nazareth, and show the influence they exert on the Church. From a more profound meditation on the truths of the Faith will flow a more vital piety. (MC, 27).

 

The point is that we do not know the Person of the Holy Spirit because we fail to see Him in the one whom He overshadows.  As we develop our relationship with Our Lady, not only does she lead us to her Son, but she does so through the Holy Spirit that dwells uniquely within her.  When we offer her the unique honor due to the Mother of God, we are worshipping the Holy Spirit.  Or as Fr. Kolbe said “[W]hen we honor the Immaculata we are, very specifically, adoring the Holy Spirit.”

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!

 

Living the Message of Fatima

In the midst of a terrible world war that locked most of Europe in death and destruction, Pope Benedict XV sought to end the conflict of World War I by beginning a novena to Our Lady, Queen of Peace on May 5, 1917.  On the ninth day, Our Lady herself responded by visiting three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal on May 13.  This would be the first of six consecutive apparitions, each occurring on the13th day of the month each, in which Our Lady preached a message of penance and peace.  The most famous of these apparitions occurred on October 13, 1917 when 75,000 witnesses saw the sun dance across the sky and Our Lady identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary to the visionaries.  But it is the third apparition that contains the heart of the message of Fatima.  This is where Our Lady revealed the so-called “three secrets of Fatima,” the second of which predicted war, famine, and great persecution of the Church.  These dire circumstances could be prevented provided that two conditions were fulfilled, namely consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation.  Specifically she told the children, “[T]o prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”  As the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, it is a fitting time to reflect on these two conditions Our Lady set forth.

As most of us know, public revelation closed with the death of St. John the Apostle which means that “…no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries” (CCC 66).  This is the mission of the Church as Mother and Teacher; to aid us in grasping its full significance.  One of the tools she has at her disposal is what is commonly referred to as private revelation (e.g. the apparitions at Fatima).

Private revelation has the purpose of not revealing new doctrine but guiding humanity in its efforts to incorporate more fully the truths of the Gospel already contained in public Revelation.  This distinction is conveyed by Pope St. John XXIII during an address at Lourdes in which he said that private revelation is“…not proposing new doctrines but to guide us in our conduct.”  In general the Church deems that the messages of some apparitions as worthy of belief.  Therefore we are not strictly bound by them as we are other matters of faith.  But because the Church has declared their messages to be truly of God we are bound to them by reason, the way we are to all truths sufficiently proven.  In other words, even though we are not bound by faith to the messages of Fatima, we ought to take seriously its message because the Church has approved its message.  This is especially true when a cult arises around an apparition with the naming of a universal feast day like today—how we worship, reveals what we believe, “Lex Orandi, lex credendi.”

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What makes the message of Fatima so remarkable is that Our Lady called for action by the Holy Father and he complied.  While it is debatable as to which Holy Father actually fulfilled the requirements of the Consecration of Russia fully , the fact that a private revelation caused the Pope (or even several Popes) to respond is incredible.  When he renewed the consecration in 1984, Pope St. John Paul II went a step further and consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart.  Given that private revelation cannot add to public Revelation, this act must then be in accord with something already found in divine Revelation, especially considering that the Holy Father took the demand so seriously.

It seems that a great many people, Catholics included, recoil at the idea of consecration to Our Lady.  After all, no one can consecrate himself and only God can consecrate (i.e. make someone holy).  However, the common usage in the Church is that it means making a sacred commitment.  To say we are consecrating ourselves is to say that we are entering into this partnership in a solemn way.

But still, why would we be consecrated to Our Lady?  Shouldn’t this just be something we enter into with Jesus?  The short answer is that we consecrate ourselves to Our Lady precisely because we have already given ourselves to Jesus.  Those who love Him, keep His commandments.  Specifically, we are keeping His commandment to entrust ourselves to His Mother.

To see this more clearly, we turn once again to Pope St. John Paul II, this time by quoting from his encyclical on Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer:

“Of the essence of motherhood is the fact that it concerns the person. Motherhood always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: between mother and child and between child and mother. Even when the same woman is the mother of many children, her personal relationship with each one of them is of the very essence of motherhood…It can be said that motherhood ‘in the order of grace’ preserves the analogy with what ‘in the order of nature’ characterizes the union between mother and child. In the light of this fact it becomes easier to understand why in Christ’s testament on Golgotha his Mother’s new motherhood is expressed in the singular, in reference to one man: ‘Behold your son.’  It can also be said that these same words fully show the reason for the Marian dimension of the life of Christ’s disciples. This is true not only of John, who at that hour stood at the foot of the Cross together with his Master’s Mother, but it is also true of every disciple of Christ, of every Christian. The Redeemer entrusts his mother to the disciple, and at the same time he gives her to him as his mother. Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. The Redeemer entrusts Mary to John because he entrusts John to Mary…And all of this can be included in the word ‘entrusting.’ Such entrusting is the response to a person’s love, and in particular to the love of a mother” (Redemptoris Mater, 45).

I include this rather long quote not just because it proves that Marian Consecration is divinely instituted at the foot of the Cross, but also because of this great Marian Pope’s emphasis on the word “entrusts.”  This sets up a special kind of relationship that is entirely personal.  Like all personal relationships, it requires a personal response, namely, “taking her into his own home.”

What about the second request, namely, the Communion of Reparation?  One of the Fatima visionaries, Lucia, became a member of the Sisters of St. Dorothy.  One day, she was taking out the trash and there was a little child in the garden.  She asked him if he knew the Ave Maria and he said he did.  She then invited the child to pray it so she could hear it and he refused.  So she told Him to go to the church in town and ask the Heavenly Mother for the Child Jesus.  He later returned and she asked Him if he did what she said.  He replied, “And have you spread through the world what the heavenly Mother requested of you?”  She quickly realized that the child was Jesus Himself and He explained to her that the Communion of Reparation was specifically needed due to the five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Specifically they are: blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, against her perpetual virginity, against the divine and spiritual maternity of Mary, blasphemies involving the rejection and dishonoring of her images, and the neglect of implanting in the hearts of children a knowledge and love of this Immaculate Mother.

Not surprisingly like any good Son, Jesus Himself is offended when His Mother is offended.  So Mary promised to asked Jesus to forgive those who “had the misfortune of offending her” if those devoted to her would practice the devotion of Five First Saturdays (one for each of the offenses Jesus mentioned).  This devotion consists in doing the following on five consecutive first Saturdays:

  1. Confess and receive Holy Communion. Confession can be made within 8 days prior to or 8 days after the First Saturday.
  2. Recite the Rosary.
  3. “Keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on a mystery of the Rosary.” In other words, mental prayer on one of the mysteries.
  4. Do all this with the intention of making reparation for the offenses against the Immaculate Heart.

In this month of Mary, shouldn’t we all consider consecration to Our Mother and committing to showing her great love by compassion to her Immaculate Heart?

May: The Month of the New Eve

Each year the Church sets aside the month of May as a time to honor Mary.  This pious practice began in the 13th Century, but has been especially promoted by the Popes of our age (beginning in1830 with Our Lady’s gift of the Miraculous Medal to St. Catherine Laboure).  In his 1965 encyclical, Pope Paul VI said that May ought to be a time of “moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world [pay] to the Queen of Heaven.  During this month Christians, both in church and in the privacy of the home, offer up to Mary from their hearts an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. In this month, too, the benefits of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance” (Month of May, 1).  To many both in the Church and out, Marian devotion remains a great mystery, if not an absolute blasphemy.  If we are to receive “the benefits of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance” available to us during this month, then it is necessary for us to understand the Scriptural roots of Marian devotion.

Different forms of Marian devotion have been present in the Church since the beginning.  But one form in particular was found early on that serves as a foundation for all true Marian devotion that follows.  It is the idea that Mary is the New Eve.

In order to enable a firmer grasp on the idea of Mary as the New Eve, it is helpful to discuss an important principle for understanding salvation history—typology.  Typology is a method for interpreting divine revelation based on the principle that God providentially shapes the course of human events and fills those events with prophetic significance.  In essence, God uses persons and events in salvation history (called types) to foreshadow greater persons and events that are to come (called archetypes).  Reading the Salvation history using a typological lens can greatly enhance our understanding of God’s saving actions.  The goal of typology is not merely to draw parallels, but also to enable us to understand the archetypes more fully by always remembering the movement is always from lesser (type) to greater (archetype).  If we say something about the type is true then what we say about the archetype is always greater.  As an aside, this does not mean that the archetype is like the type is every conceivable way (Moses may be a type of Christ, but Christ did not murder someone).  Relevant to our discussion we can say that in calling Mary the New Eve what we really mean is that Eve is a type of Mary.

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To see where this idea comes from, we can draw on a number of biblical passages.  The best place to start is “in the beginning” right after man fell.  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gn 3:15).  This well-known passage, known as the Protoevangelium, contains God’s promise that He will ransom mankind.  But if we read it the passage carefully we see that God is not merely promising a Redeemer.  Instead He is promising a new Adam (Christ) and a new Eve (Mary).  Both the “woman” and “her seed” are linked together in crushing the serpent.

This is where typology becomes important.  God made the First Covenant with Adam and gave him Eve as a “helper” in fulfilling this covenant.  Even if Eve’s role is secondary in the First Covenant, she still plays an essential role in it.  St. Paul himself uses typology to identify Christ as the New Adam (see 1 Cor 15:45, Romans 5:12-21).   To refer to Christ as the New Adam without Him having a New Eve makes St. Paul’s analogy senseless.  In Christ, the New Adam, God makes the new and definitive covenant and Mary is to be His “helper.”   Everything that Eve was (in the good sense), Mary was and more.  If it was not good for Adam to be alone in fulfilling his mission then even more so would it not be good for Christ to be alone in fulfilling His.  If Eve is the “flesh of my flesh” of Adam then the New Eve too would be of the same immaculate flesh of the New Adam.  And most strikingly, if Eve was the “mother of all the living” then Mary must be that and more.  To see that “more” we need to look at the Gospel of John.

Although never explicitly said, St. John sought to highlight the Adam/Eve and Christ/Mary connection.  If you read his gospel, there is an obvious connection with Genesis.  He moves from “in the beginning” (day 1), to the next day ( Jn. 1:29—day 2), to the next day (Jn. 1:35—day 3)and finally to the third day (day 6—Jn. 2:1) where a wedding is mentioned.  The parallel is obvious for anyone who is familiar with the Creation account because a wedding occurred on the sixth day there as well.  In John’s account of the New Creation we see that there is a wedding in which the bride and groom are not mentioned but “the mother of Jesus” and Jesus are.  When asked to provide wine, Our Lord refers to His Mother as Woman.  With the parallel to Genesis we realize that in calling her Woman, Jesus is calling her the New Eve.  He is reminding her that once His mission as the New Adam begins with His first public miracle, her mission as the New Eve will begin as well.  She reveals the purpose of her mission—telling everyone to “do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5).

It is no literary accident that the last pre-Resurrection “whatever He tells you” is the command to “Behold your mother” (Jn. 19:27).  We know the divine commandment is not merely for John because Jesus once again invokes the name “Woman” to connect her to Eve, the mother of all the living.  This New Eve would serve as the mother of all the living, that is those who are alive in Christ as Beloved Disciples.

John shows us what it means for the individual believer to do this—“take her into his home” (Jn. 19:27).  What this means for the individual believer may be different, but it certainly starts by showing her the proper reverence.  Treating her as if she is somehow in competition with your affection for Jesus or as irrelevant certainly is not included in this.  The fact that Jesus entrusts Mary and the Beloved Disciple to each other means that there must be a personal relationship of some sort.  Later in the month I will discuss what this relationship should look like, but for the time being we need to spend time reflecting on Mary as the New Eve.  Everything that the Church believes about Mary flows from this most important doctrine.

 

 

On Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity

One of the most contested doctrines of the Catholic Church is Mary’s perpetual virginity.  Not only do many non-Catholic Christians not believe it, but a fair share of Catholics as well.  As the Church celebrates Our Lady’s yes to God, it is good to visit this doctrine because knowledge of Our Lady only serves to further “illumine our faith in Christ” (CCC 487).

In a hyper-sexed culture, it is easy to miss just what is meant when the Catechism says that the Church “confesses Mary’s real and perpetual virginity” (CCC 499).  We tend to think that it simply means that she never had sex.  While that is certainly true, this makes virginity a wholly negative thing and robs it of its richness.  We call Our Lady, “Virgin of Virgins” because her virginity is not just that she didn’t have sex, but something that defines her spirit of total purity.  This purity of course includes bodily integrity and purity but also touched her soul as well.  She had the virtue of virginity which means she was magnificent in her chastity by leaving herself free to be given completely to God.  Because she also had a virginity of heart (i.e. the Immaculate Conception) led to the fruit of her womb being the very Son of God.  So closely are these aspects of virginity related that Msgr. Scheeben in his book Mariology says that we may speak of Mary’s purity of both body and soul enabling her to have a bridal motherhood of Christ because she is able to share one flesh with her Son who is a divine Person.

Given this understanding of virginity, why is it necessary that Mary be perpetually a virgin?  To be clear, when the Church invokes Mary as “Ever-Virgin” she is saying that Mary was a virgin at the Annunciation, remained a virgin at the Nativity, and was a virgin at the Assumption.  First we will look at each of these three periods and show how divine revelation agrees with this.

When St. Gabriel visits Our Lady to announce the Good News, she responds by asking, “How can this be, since I know not man?” (Lk 1:34).  There is no other way to interpret this question from a married woman except that she did not have carnal knowledge of her husband and had taken a vow of virginity.  This particular aspect is what most people think is meant by the profession of the Creed that Jesus was “Born of the Virgin Mary.”  But there is a deeper and more important meaning to that particular profession that relates to the actual birth of Our Lord.

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The Catechism makes it a point to say that “Mary’s real and perpetual virginity (consists) even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man” (CCC 499, emphasis added).  Why does it point this out?  First it is meant to oppose the rationalist’s denial of the miraculous.  While Christ’s conception was miraculous, it remained hidden.  His birth too was miraculous and we know at least one other person (St. Joseph) witnessed this.  In order for Mary’s virginal bodily integrity to be maintained, Our Lord could not have passed through the birth canal.  Instead He must have been born in a miraculous manner.  Recalling that one of the curses that Eve was given after the Fall was that child-birth would be painful and that Our Lady did not have Original Sin and thus was not subject to this curse and suffered no birth pains, then we can see how it must be so that Our Lord’s birth was through the usual means.

Further in the Catechism paragraph I already quoted (CCC 499) it says that “Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.’”  This points out a very important principle.  Everything that God touches is made (or remains) whole and holy.  This shows the attempt to lower Mary necessarily diminishes God as well.

The second reason that supports the virgin birth is found in Isaiah’s prophecy in which he says, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman’u-el.” (Is 7:14).  Notice how it is the virgin who both conceives and gives birth.  This is why Matthew uses this as a proof-text supporting his Messianic claims about Jesus (c.f. Mt. 1:22-23).  The Jews were expecting a virginal conception and birth.

What about the maintenance of her virginity even after the birth of Our Lord?  There are many well written arguments showing how the claims that Jesus had brothers and sisters is easily explained by the broad use of the Greek word for brother (adelphos)  and the fact that Jesus turned His mother’s care over to someone who was not His brother as part of His last testament.  I will not rehash those here.  Instead the focus should be more “offensive” in nature by appealing to Sacred Scripture.  First, as was mentioned above, it is clear that Mary had the intention to remain a virgin.  There is no reason to think that she somehow changed her mind after the birth of Our Lord.  She had given herself totally to God, He had received that gift and made it fruitful and so that would have only strengthened her resolve.

The Fathers of the Church have always interpreted Ezekiel 44:3, “This gate shall be shut.  It shall not be opened and no man shall pass through it because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it” as referring to Our Lady as well.

Given this, why is it that I said the perpetual virginity of Mary must be so?  First, the Son came so that He could reveal the Trinity.  In revealing Himself as the only-begotten Son of the Father, He too must have been the only Begotten Son in time.  The second reason is even more compelling.  All generations call Mary blessed because she testifies “to the great things God has done for her.”  Perhaps the greatest thing done to her is bringing about the Incarnation while maintaining her virginity.  If that virginal integrity was lost, then she no longer testifies to this great thing.  Even in heaven Our Lady shows forth her splendor-filled virginity.  Let us praise God and seek the powerful intercession of His Mother—we fly to you, O Virgin of Virgins, Our Mother.