Filed under: Christmas
The Virgin and St. Joseph Refused Shelter in Bethlehem Jan Massys 1558
We want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
As many of you know this is the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict spoke eloquently this Christmas Eve asking us to find time for Jesus in the room of our hearts and minds. Here is the what he said:
“Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him,”
“The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the ‘God hypothesis’ becomes superfluous,” he said. “There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so ‘full’ of ourselves that there is no room left for God.”
I know when I read this it struck me as so true. Our world is structured in such a way that it seems to squeeze Christ out of our lives. There was no room for Christ at the Inn in Bethlehem 2000 years ago – let us resolve anew to open our hearts and minds to make room for Him in this Year of Faith.
Filed under: Advent, Christmas, How are we to honor Unborn Jesus, Incarnation, Pro-life
Our Lady of Hope, is renowned for her beauty. The image is from the second half of the 16th century but later restorations (one by Castillo Lastrucci), added to it‘s beauty and unmistakable Sevillian style. The Virgin wears a green coat with sterling silver lining, highlighting her magnificent crown. All year – except Advent – Mary holds the infant Jesus with her left hand and arm.
Below the statue (see above photos), in front of the basket appears an oval ”O” iconographic detail of the Unborn Christ Child (reminiscent of the Advent “O” antiphons).
During Advent, the oval with the Unborn Christ is placed upon the Virgin, in front of her womb. (The infant Jesus is taken down from Mary’s left hand during Advent and placed in an ornate casing.) See photos below.
Then, on Christmas day the unborn Christ oval is returned to its place below the statue and the infant Jesus returned to Mary’s hand. These rituals give a unique charm to this statue and the Incarnation event.
Iglesia de San Martín de Tours de Sevilla
Filed under: Advent, Christmas, How are we to honor Unborn Jesus, Incarnation, Unborn Jesus
Over the last number of years, we have found over 100 images of Christ in Mary’s womb from around the world. Recently, we discovered that 2 of these images are part of an Advent Tradition that surprised us. The St. Phillip Neri Institute in Berlin has a wonderful statue that a friend of theirs carved for them. It is a copy of a miraculous statue of “Maria Gravida” that is in the Church of Maria Hilf Assumptio in Malta, Austria. This miraculous statue dates from around the 1400′s.
Below are a few views of the statue of Maria Gravida at St. Phillip Neri Institute in Germany
During Advent this Maria Gravida statue is placed on a pedestal in front of a blue curtain – behind the curtain is a Nativity scene. At Midnight on Christmas eve, the statue of Mary Pregnant is taken off the pedestal and the Nativity scene is unveiled.
We have also discovered a similar tradition for the statue of Our Lady of Divine Hope in the Iglesia de San Martín Sevilla in Spain which we will highlight in a future post.
Filed under: Christmas
WHAT DO I SEE IN THE CHRISTMAS MANGER?
When I kneel down and gaze upon Bethlehem’s Manger what do I see?
I see the Word of God – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jn 1:1 The Word is a Presence; a Revelatory Presence. We all listen, He speaks to me.
I see Life – “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jn 1:4 Life as ‘Source’; the Divine Life in union with human life – a New Creation offering Eternal Life.
I see Light – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” Jn 1:5,9 A light ‘that enlightens’. And what speaks to the conscience and heart of a person more, and enlightens more, than the innocent mystery of a baby?
I see Power – “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” Jn 1:12 John Paul II said that from the moment of the Incarnation, Creation “is permeated by the powers of the Redemption, powers which fill humanity and all creation” (DV #52).
I see humble Flesh – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” Jn 1:14 When we recall this mystery in the recitation of the Creed, we bow or kneel: “…and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” One with us.
I see the fullness of God – “…full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Jn 1:14 In this newborn baby we see the salvation of the world; a truth revealed and accomplished through grace, for our good, and to the glory of God!
I see Grace – “And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.” Jn 1:16 Grace like gentle life-giving rain, Grace like a river of living water, grace upon grace like an overflowing fountain; blessing human hearts with faith, hope and love.
All of this in the humble newborn baby lying here in His Manger; the fullness of the Incarnation – Divine redemptive powers issuing forth from His face, from His heart, from His tiny clenched fists as they open to the world!
“…. if someone intends to build a house or a palace he must first consider whether it is to be a lodging for a vine dresser or peasant or if it is for a lord, since obviously he would use entirely different plans depending on the rank of the person who is to live there. Now the Eternal Father did just that when He built this world. He intended to create it for the Incarnation of His Son, the Eternal Word. The end or goal of His work was thus its beginning, for Divine Wisdom had foreseen from all eternity that His Word would assume our nature in coming to earth.” St. Francis DeSales Sermon for Christmas Midnight Mass
O My God, please bless us as we contemplate the newborn Baby Jesus, all holy, full of innocence, the Son of God. May we realize on this Christmas day, the absolute dignity of each human person who is “fearfully and wonderfully made” in Your ”image and likeness”.
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” Luke 12:49
An exciting piece of news is coming out of England. An advertising group called Church Ads is starting a campaign that will lead up to Christmas called Baby Scan Jesus. It is an ultra-sound picture of Unborn Jesus with the words, ‘He’s on His way: Christmas starts with Christ’.
Here are some links about this ad campaign:
This baby from England gives a thumbs up to this ad:
Tis the Season of ‘The Gospel of Life’
I have been really looking forward to being born in Bethlehem – just as Micah prophesied. I know my parents have been anxious. I wanted to take the same nine month journey in the womb that other unborn children take, in solidarity with ALL unborn children (and their mothers). Its all about love really…and I know my parents love me with a love beyond all telling. And my Father so loved the world that He sent me, His only Son… This will be a sign of great joy! But there will be a shadow – the shadow of bad politicians and bad judges who should know better – they have sent their forerunner Herod to destroy me, but they will all fail! My birth will signal a great victory for Life and Love!
“The sun sets on the twenty-fourth of December on the low roofs of Bethlehem, and gleams with wan gold on the steep of its stony ridge. The stars come out one by one. Heaven is empty of angels, but they show not their bright presences up among the stars. Rude men are jostling God in the alleys of that Oriental village, and shutting their doors in his Mother’s face.
Time itself, as if it were sentient, seems to get tremulous and eager, as though the hand of its angel shook as it draws on towards midnight. Bethlehem is at that moment the veritable centre of God’s creation. Still the minutes pass. The plumage of the night grows deeper and darker. How purple is the dome of heaven above those pastoral slopes duskily spotted with recumbent sheep, and how silently the stars drift down the southern steep of the midnight sky! Yet a few moments, and the Eternal Word will come.”
Rev. Frederick W. Faber, Bethlehem, Chapter Two, page 97.
Filed under: Christmas
Here is a beautiful quote about Christ’s birth from the Council of Trent.
“The faithful should also consider the salutary lessons which Christ at His birth teaches before he begins to speak. He is born in poverty; He is born a stranger under a roof not his own; He is born in a lonely crib; He is born in the depth of winter!
For St. Luke writes as follows: ‘And it came to pass, that, when they were there, her days were accomplished that she should be delivered, and she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (Luke 2: 6,7).
Could the Evangelist have described under more humble terms the majesty and glory that filled the heavens and the earth? He does not say, there was no room in the inn, but ‘there was no room for him who says: mine is the earth and the fullness thereof. (Psalm 50:12)’ As another Evangelist has expressed it; ‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not.’ (John 1:2) …
We must also take care lest to our great injury it should happen that just as there was no room for Him in the inn at Bethlehem, in which to be born, so likewise now, after He has been born in the flesh, He should find no room in our hearts in which to be born spiritually. For since He is most desirous of our salvation, this spiritual birth is the object of His most earnest solicitude.”
Catechism of the Council of Trent For Parish Priests. Second Part of Article III, “Born of the Virgin Mary”. (Thanks to Father Paul Donlan for bringing the Council’s teaching to our attention.)
Filed under: Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI, Quotes from Great Christians, Unborn Jesus
On this mosaic Joseph is depicted as taking the Virgin Mary to his home.
This is one of the world famous mosaic depictions of Chora museum.*
“We should like to penetrate into those remaining six months, which Mary and Joseph spent together, before the birth of the Holy Child. Scripture is silent about them, but it is not difficult for a sanctified imagination to picture something of what was taking place…
The house at Nazareth was in very deed God’s Sanctuary, containing the Altar of Repose, where the Savior of the world was resting. Angels were in constant adoration before their King. The faithful consisted of Mary and Joseph, whose thought and conversation could be about nothing else but the Child Who was coming into the world. And who shall measure the graces and blessings, which that Child was showering upon Mary and her faithful spouse, during those months of waiting and prayer and holy converse,while they planned and arranged with such care and minuteness, as parents are wont to do, every detail connected with the birth of the firstborn?” Mother St. Paul, Ortus Christi
“Joseph realized how great was the blessing which God had bestowed upon him, a poor carpenter, in decreeing that from his house and family should come the hope and salvation and remedy of all generations and that he should be guardian and putative father of the Savior and the spouse of His blessed Mother. When a heart so pure and holy sees itself enclosed and inundated by such mysteries, what must it feel? How astonished and enraptured it must be amidst such marvels and blessings, especially since the Holy Spirit usually gives to the just an experience or taste proportionate to the knowledge which He gives them. What must have been the state of Joseph’s will when his intellect was enlightened concerning the great marvels and mysteries?” Venerable Louis of Granada (1505-1588)
“In these last days of Advent the liturgy invites us to contemplate in a special way the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, who lived with unique intensity the period of expectation and preparation for Jesus’ birth. I would like today to turn my attention to the figure of St Joseph…
The beloved Pope John Paul II, who was very devoted to St Joseph, left us an awesome meditation dedicated to him in the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, “Guardian of the Redeemer”. Among the many aspects it highlights, particular emphasis is placed on the silence of St Joseph. His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to his divine wishes. In other words, the silence of St Joseph was not the sign of an inner void, but on the contrary, of the fullness of faith he carried in his heart, and which guided each and every one of his thoughts and actions…
Let us allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God. In this time of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate interior meditation to welcome and watch over Jesus in our lives.” Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Message, Dec. 18, 2005.
* The Chora (Museum) Monastery is located in the northwest part of Istanbul, in a district called Edirnekapi. The word “Chora”, as widely accepted, means land, country, a suburb, or suburban area, and countryside in Greek language. As the building lay outside the city walls built by emperor Constantine, it was thus named Chora. Chora also means “womb” in ancient Greek. Some historians have thought that the church might have been dedicated to Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus from her womb.There are two etymological approaches to the word “Chora” 1- Geographical (land, county, suburb), 2- religious and mystical (womb).
Here is a wonderful quote from Mother St. Paul (1861-1940) about Mary’s Pregnancy.
“She was ever holding colloquies with her God within her, pondering things over in her heart, that is, talking them over with Him from Whom she had no secrets and between Whom and her soul she put no obstacles.
Her life was spent with Him; whatever her duties might be, everything was done with Him, which is prayer. If duties or conservation demanded all her attention for a while, did it matter? No, for He was there all the same. He, in her, carried on the blessed converse with His Father; there was never any separation between Mary and the Blessed Fruit of her womb, Jesus. She would come back to Him…
…When we think of Jesus praying for nine months to His Father, when we think of Mary’s nine months colloquy with Jesus, we begin to think that there is something wrong about our methods of prayer, that they need re-modeling.
Let us try to understand something of what His prayer was. We think of Him, and quite rightly, as talking over with His Father all His plans for man’s salvation, praying for each individual thing that would be connected with it through all time. We love to think that He prayed particularly for each one of us.“
From Ortus Christi:meditations for Advent (1921) by Mother St. Paul
The Trinity with Mary and John the Baptist – detail from The Triumph of the Christian Faith fresco by Raphael – Stanzo della segnatura – Vatican
During Christmas season we meditate on the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem – but in fact, according to Cardinal Berulle (1575-1629), Our Lord had three births. In his book, Discourse on the State and Grandeurs of Jesus, he states:
“We find in the book of life three wondrous births of Jesus, who is the life of God and men. They are his birth in the womb of his Father in eternity, his birth in the womb of the Virgin in time, and his birth in the tomb to immortality.“
The words “Today I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7, Heb 1: 5) are associated with each of these births.
1. St. Paul in the first chapter of Hebrews (Heb 1: 5 ) applies these words to the eternal generation of the Son by the Father. Cardinal Berulle goes on to explain: ‘Through a clever use of words, the present is joined to the past, Today I have begotten you. This expresses him who is forever born and is forever being born and whose procession is such that it is without end or beginning.”
“In these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe…For to which of the angels did God ever say: ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you‘ “ (Hebrews 1:2,5)
2. Cardinal Berulle explains that this phrase found in Psalm 2 and Heb 1 is also used by the Church in its ‘office’ for Christmas day. This Christmas 2007, the Heb. 1 passage was the second reading for Christmas Day Mass (see above). Thus the Church applies these words to Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.
3. He then points out that: “Again Saint Paul guided by the same Spirit of God, …in Acts, chapter 13, presents this same text (Today I have begotten you) and applies it to the resurrection of the Son of God, which is a type of birth for Jesus into immortality.”
“We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our ancestors he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you.’ ” (Acts: 13:32-33)
Cardinal Berulle concludes:
“…God who is fecund and fertile in his works and in his words, wished that that this same memorable word be applied in the same spirit to these three different meanings, to these three states and mysteries of the eternal Word: to the mystery of his birth from his Father, to the mystery of his birth from his mother, and to the birth from the tomb, from which he is reborn like a phoenix to new life.”
This year the Vatican’s Nativity scene is in a huge house-like structure. Normally, the scene of Jesus’ birth is depicted in a traditional manger setting, but this time it’s a recreation of Joseph’s home in Nazareth. Perhaps by doing this the Holy Father wants to emphasize home and family.
Today, Sunday December 30 is the feast day of the Holy Family
“….I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named….” Ephesians 3:14-15
“If the Son of God had not come into our world we would not understand the Fatherhood of God, and if the Son of God had not been born into a family and lived so many years within His family we would not comprehend the full meaning of family life nor the compelling God‑given mission facing every family.
Adam and Eve, Mary and Joseph, indeed every married couple will together create a family culture, establish and develop its family “name”: identity, unique defining characteristics, emotional and intellectual traits, its own spirituality in relation to the Father in heaven. Discovering and building one’s family identity is a work in progress best attempted with a healthy focus on God, faith and devotion.
The First Christian Parents
Their family “name” or identity is hidden and will have to be discovered by a married couple, just as the unborn child too is hidden, and needs discovery by the parents. For around the child the family grows to become what it was destined to be. In the case of Joseph and Mary, their family was centered around Jesus Whom they learned to discover and love, day by day, even before He was born.
Many diverse consequences come in the wake of the revolutionary Incarnation of God ‑ a revolution of mercy. One of the major benefits was to the family as an institution, which was radically overhauled and strengthened from within, when this Divine Child entered into it. Redemption begins within the hidden recesses of Mary’s womb. Redemption begins in the family.”
From: Unborn Jesus Our Hope
Filed under: Christmas
The plan for the life of Christ on earth, and for our salvation was, as St Paul says, “a plan for the fullness of time” (Eph 1:10). The birth of the Savior manifests this perfectly. But there is also a fullness in Christ Himself, as St John tells us in the prologue to his gospel: “And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). Surely His pregnant mother, Mary, received “grace upon grace” while carrying Unborn Jesus. And unborn John the Baptist received his full share of (Unborn) Christ’s Grace during Mary’s Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:41-44).
At His birth Christ offers Himself as a gift to each person, and within this gift of Himself is contained an overflowing gift of Grace for each one of us. Figuratively speaking, we only need to go up to the newborn Christ and ask Him to give us our Christmas present of “grace upon grace”. It is ours to claim if we are Christ’s.
There are a 1,000 ways to understand the fullness of Christ and His gift of Grace for the Christian. In relation to the Church, St Paul refers to “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23). So in the Grace of Christmas we find a hint of all the graces to follow – if we will follow.
Here is an incomplete summation of that plentitude of graces Christ offers you while He is yet “a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). The following lists are expressions of the Graces God wants to pour into our lives. From Bethlehem Christ pours forth an endless wave of gentleness in the manner of supernatural Grace towards each soul. The following lists are not legalistic counting, rather they point to the “countless” ways God reaches out to us, to bathe us in His embrace of Grace:
7 sacraments of the Church – all of which were instituted by Christ Himself – beginning with Baptism which incorporates us into this beautiful Life of Christ. Also, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony.
7 gifts of the Holy Spirit – Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2).
12 fruits of the Holy Spirit – Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-Control and Chastity (Gal 5:22-23 Vulgate trans.)
3 theological virtues – Faith, Hope and Charity (I Cor 13:13).
4 cardinal virtues - Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance (Wis 8:7 and numerous other scriptural references).
So the newborn Baby in the manger comes to offer us fullness of Life: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
Under the Old Covenant God made His promises to the people of Israel. Then they waited. The prophets gave inspired prophecies. The people of Israel waited. Even in our own lives, we pray and wait for answers to our prayers. Promises, prophecies, prayers all lead us to the Messiah, to the Savior.
The Church’s Liturgical Year is a marvelous cycle of anticipation, celebration and reflection, focused on the life of Christ yet sweeping us along with that Life, through His many experiences. Today we wait for the humble birth of that baby Divine. The world is dedicated to distracting us, the devil is intent on minimalizing Christmas so that we celebrate it with mere token gestures that will hollow and weaken within seconds or minutes of these dutiful acknowledgments.
How should we wait then? Now is the time to intensify our prayer. The 270 days of that hallowed pregnancy have almost run their course. The redemptive pregnancy is about to break into earthly Revelation. In those days, Mary and Joseph were anticipating eagerly and praying with heightened frequency. This is the pattern for the Christian. Advent, like pregnancy, is about waiting on the Lord and praying. If the waiting gets more intense, so too the praying!
Surely we are at that point now. Soon, Joseph and Mary (and the Unborn Child within her) will be turned away from the inn at Bethlehem, experiencing rejection like many unborn children today. Tension is mounting for Unborn Jesus (and unborn children today). Why must human society reject this trinity of strangers in need, sending them off to the house of the beasts; a darkened cave stable?
For our part, we can welcome them into our hearts. Waiting is transformed by praying into welcoming. We know what to do.
JUST 2 MORE PRAYING DAYS ‘TIL CHRIST’S BIRTH!
God has modeled our beginnings on the beginnings of His Son; and the tiny embryo … is infinitely precious in the mind of God, for such was once His Christ in the womb of Mary….
From all eternity the pattern of development of the embryonic Christ had been chosen as the pattern of development for all the sons of men. The Spirit was the architect of the flesh of Christ and is now the architect of the biological building which has its tender foundation on the mother’s placenta….
Over the waters of the amnion hovers the Spirit of God as once He hovered over the waters of the world in the primeval dawn of its creation. The love of God, the Spirit, breathes order … overshadowing with His wings the exquisite geometry of its growth.
Whole regiments of cells are marching at the whispered command of the Spirit; cells which are unconscious of the functions they will enjoy….
So the building progresses; so the windows of the senses are built; so the pattern of the embryonic Christ is followed. For the Spirit is the architect of His own Temple….
The Father creates. The Son is the Model. The Spirit is the Architect.
…. The unborn hands are clasped by the hands of the embryonic Christ.
At term the infant will have eyes like the eyes of the infant Christ, senses like the senses of Christ; ears, nose, the same humanity, the same reflexes.
From Neuroses and Sacraments by Alan Keenan, O.F.M.
Published by Sheed & Ward, 1950
JUST 4 MORE PRAYING DAYS ‘TIL CHRIST’S BIRTH!
As Jesus nears Bethlehem we can contemplate His life within Mary’s womb. Pride was the great sin of our first parents – but right at the beginning, in the womb, Jesus shows us the way of humility.
“We cannot contemplate this stage of Our Lord s life without being struck first of all by the humility and self-abasement of it, by the way in which in some sense He annihilated Himself that He might do His Father’s Will. St. Paul says : “He emptied Himself…. being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 11.7) . He stripped Himself, robbed Himself of all that He possessed: Semetipsum exinanivit.
We know that Mary, His created Home, was chaste and pure, that no breath of sin had ever touched her, that the Holy Spirit Himself had overshadowed her and had undertaken the preparation and the adornment of the earthly Tabernacle of the Word ; but pure and holy though she was, Mary was only a creature and He was the Creator. He was God and she was one of the human race. His place was on the highest throne of Heaven and yet “He abhorred not the Virgin s womb” but there lived hidden from the sight of all, like any other infant and yet wholly unlike, because He had full possession of His faculties and intelligence.
In the manger He will be seen, and so will be loved, pitied and worshiped ; there will be many consolations which will go far to lessen and soften His humiliations, but here, He is alone, hidden ; His very existence not even suspected. He has annihilated Him self, made Himself nothing. He could have taken our nature, had He so wished, without all these humiliations ; why then did He despise not the Virgin’s womb?
Because this is to be His principle all through His life, He will love “unto the end”. He will leave nothing undone that He could possibly do. He came to do His Father’s Will and He will do it thoroughly. He will bear all the humiliations because He wants to be my Model and to teach me that there is only one way of learning humility.”
Mother St. Paul, Ortus Christi
JUST 6 MORE PRAYING DAYS ‘TIL CHRIST’S BIRTH!