"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

"We need to remain silent as we gaze upon the crib." 8th Day of Christmas 2018

Pope Francis at Christmas Mass:

This same faith impels us to make space for a new social imagination, and not to be afraid of experiencing new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this earth. Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity, into power for a new imagination of charity. The charity that does not grow accustomed to injustice, as if it were something natural, but that has the courage, amid tensions and conflicts, to make itself a “house of bread”, a land of hospitality. That is what Saint John Paul II told us: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ” (Homily for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, 22 October 1978).

In the Child of Bethlehem, God comes to meet us and make us active sharers in the life around us. He offers himself to us, so that we can take him into our arms, lift him and embrace him. So that in him we will not be afraid to take into our arms, raise up and embrace the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned (cf. Mt 25:35-36). “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ”. In this Child, God invites us to be messengers of hope. He invites us to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors. In this child, God makes us agents of his hospitality.

Moved by the joy of the gift, little Child of Bethlehem, we ask that your crying may shake us from our indifference and open our eyes to those who are suffering. May your tenderness awaken our sensitivity and recognize our call to see you in all those who arrive in our cities, in our histories, in our lives. May your revolutionary tenderness persuade us to feel our call to be agents of the hope and tenderness of our people. 

The year opens in the name of the Mother.  Mother of God is the most important title of Our Lady.  But we might ask why we say Mother of God, and not Mother of Jesus.  In the past some wanted to be content simply with the latter, but the Church has declared that Mary is the Mother of God.  We should be grateful, because these words contain a magnificent truth about God and about ourselves.  From the moment that our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity.  There is no longer God without man; the flesh Jesus took from his Mother is our own, now and for all eternity.  To call Mary the Mother of God reminds us of this: God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb.

The word mother (mater) is related to the word matter.  In his Mother, the God of heaven, the infinite God, made himself small, he became matter, not only to be with us but also to be like us.  This is the miracle, the great novelty!  Man is no longer alone; no more an orphan, but forever a child.  The year opens with this novelty.  And we proclaim it by saying: Mother of God!  Ours is the joy of knowing that our solitude has ended.  It is the beauty of knowing that we are beloved children, of knowing that this childhood of ours can never be taken away from us.  It is to see a reflection of ourselves in the frail and infant God resting in his mother’s arms, and to realize that humanity is precious and sacred to the Lord.  Henceforth, to serve human life is to serve God.  All life, from life in the mother’s womb to that of the elderly, the suffering and the sick, and to that of the troublesome and even repellent, is to be welcomed, loved and helped.

Let us now be guided by today’s Gospel.  Only one thing is said about the Mother of God: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).  She kept them.  She simply kept; Mary does not speak.  The Gospel does not report a single word of hers in the entire account of Christmas.  Here too, the Mother is one with her Son: Jesus is an “infant”, a child “unable to speak”.  The Word of God, who “long ago spoke in many and various ways” (Heb 1:1), now, in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), is silent.  The God before whom all fall silent is himself a speechless child.  His Majesty is without words; his mystery of love is revealed in lowliness. This silence and lowliness is the language of his kingship.  His Mother joins her Son and keeps these things in silence.

That silence tells us that, if we would “keep” ourselves, we need silence.  We need to remain silent as we gaze upon the crib.  Pondering the crib, we discover anew that we are loved; we savour the real meaning of life.  As we look on in silence, we let Jesus speak to our heart.  His lowliness lays low our pride; his poverty challenges our outward display; his tender love touches our hardened hearts.  To set aside a moment of silence each day to be with God is to “keep” our soul; it is to “keep” our freedom from being corroded by the banality of consumerism, the blare of commercials, the stream of empty words and the overpowering waves of empty chatter and loud shouting.

The Gospel goes on to say that Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  What were these things?  They were joys and sorrows.  On the one hand, the birth of Jesus, the love of Joseph, the visit of the shepherds, that radiant night.  But on the other, an uncertain future, homelessness “because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7), the desolation of rejection, the disappointment of having to give birth to Jesus in a stable.  Hopes and worries, light and darkness: all these things dwelt in the heart of Mary.  What did she do?  She pondered them, that is to say she dwelt on them, with God, in her heart.  She held nothing back; she locked nothing within out of self-pity or resentment.  Instead, she gave everything over to God.  That is how she “kept” those things.  We “keep” things when we hand them over: by not letting our lives become prey to fear, distress or superstition, by not closing our hearts or trying to forget, but by turning everything into a dialogue with God.  God, who keeps us in his heart, then comes to dwell in our lives.

These, then, are the secrets of the Mother of God: silently treasuring all things and bringing them to God.  And this took place, the Gospel concludes, in her heart.  The heart makes us look to the core of the person, his or her affections and life.  At the beginning of the year, we too, as Christians on our pilgrim way, feel the need to set out anew from the centre, to leave behind the burdens of the past and to start over from the things that really matter.  Today, we have before us the point of departure: the Mother of God.  For Mary is exactly what God wants us to be, what he wants his Church to be: a Mother who is tender and lowly, poor in material goods and rich in love, free of sin and united to Jesus, keeping God in our hearts and our neighbour in our lives.  To set out anew, let us look to our Mother.  In her heart beats the heart of the Church.  Today’s feast tells us that if we want to go forward, we need to turn back: to begin anew from the crib, from the Mother who holds God in her arms.

Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life.  Looking to the Mother, we are asked to leave behind all sorts of useless baggage and to rediscover what really matters. The gift of the Mother, the gift of every mother and every woman, is most precious for the Church, for she too is mother and woman.  While a man often abstracts, affirms and imposes ideas, a woman, a mother, knows how to “keep”, to put things together in her heart, to give life.  If our faith is not to be reduced merely to an idea or a doctrine, all of us need a mother’s heart, one which knows how to keep the tender love of God and to feel the heartbeat of all around us.  May the Mother, God’s finest human creation, guard and keep this year, and bring the peace of her Son to our hearts and to our world. 

Julian of Norwich, 14th century:

And so in our making, God almighty is our father by nature; and God all wisdom is our mother by nature, along with the love and goodness of the Holy Ghost; and these are all one God, one Lord....
For our whole life falls into three parts.  In the first we exist, in the second we grow and in the third we are completed.  The first is nature, the second is mercy, the third is grace.  As for the first, I saw and understood that the great power of the Trinity is our father, and the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our mother, and the great love of the Trinity is our lord; and we have all this by nature and in our essential being.  And furthermore, I saw that as the second Person of is mother of our essential being, so that same well-loved Person has become mother of our sensory being; for God makes us double, as essential and sensory beings.  Our essential part is the higher part, which we have in our Father, God almighty; and the second Person of the Trinity is our mother in nature and our essential creation, in whom we are grounded and rooted, and he is our mother in mercy taking on our sensory being.  And so our Mother, in whom our parts are kept unparted, works in us in various ways; for in our Mother, Christ, we profit and grow, and in mercy he reforms and restores us, and through the power of his Passion and his death and rising again, he unites us to our essential being.  This is how our Mother mercifully acts to all his children who are submissive and obedient to him.

But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that I needed to know, answered with this assurance: 'Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'

With this bare word 'sin" our Lord brought to my mind the whole extent of all that is not good, and the shameful scorn and the utter humiliation that he bore for us in this life, and his dying, and all the pains and sufferings of his creatures, both in body and spirit--for we are all to some extent brought to nothing and shall be brought to nothing as our master Jesus was, until we are fully purged:  that is to say until our mortal flesh is brought completely to nothing, and all those of our inward feelings which are not truly good.  Have me insight into these things, along with all pains that ever were and ever shall be; and compared with these I realize that Christ's Passion was the greatest pain and went beyond them all.  And all this was shown in a flash, an quickly changed into comfort; for our good Lord did not want the soul to be afraid at this ugly sight.

....And because of the tender love which our Lord feels for all who shall be saved, he supports us willingly and sweetly, meaning this:  'It is true that sin is the cause of all this suffering, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'


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