STATIONS OF THE NATIVITY: Birth Of The Baptist, by Raymond Chapman

From Stations of the Nativity: Meditations on the Incarnation of Christ

Before the Stations

Almighty God, whose blessed Son took our human nature so that we might regain our lost innocence and be restored to the divine image that was disfigured by sin, grant that as we meditate on the mystery of his humanity we may share the glory of his divinity, who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Amen.


A hymn may be sung: the familiar Christmas hymns tell of the wonder of the Incarnation and the following is particularly suitable (click on hymn title to be directed to the YouTube video of its performance):

There is No Rose of Such Virtue


4: Birth Of The Baptist

V: We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee.
R: Because by thy wonderful Nativity thou hast given us new birth.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.  But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.”  Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him.  He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”  And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.  Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judaea.  All who heard them pondered them and said, “What will this child become?”  For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 2: part of verses 57-66)

The first son would be likely to take his father’s name, or one already known in the family.  John’s parents obeyed the command of the angel and gave him a name which in its Hebrew form means, “God has been gracious.”  This child was to be the forerunner of God’s most gracious gift to the human race.  As soon as the name was given, Zechariah spoke again in the words of the Benedictus:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
And has raised up a mighty salvation for us
in the house of his servant David.

We give thanks for the revelation of God’s will in what may seem unimportant.  We praise him for his loving preparation for the coming of his son, until the day when John would declare the good news of salvation.  We pray for grace to discern when our lives are being prepared for new service.

We do not trust in the fulfillment of the divine promises.  We take the easy, familiar decision, thinking that we know what is best.  Help us to listen more earnestly for God’s word to us and to follow it more faithfully.

V: God sent his Son into the world.
R: To bring us to eternal life.
V: Let us bless the Lord.
R: Thanks be to God.

It seemed there would be no greater wonder than a son of their old age, named by divine decree.

Prophecy became reality, the dumb spoke, the power of God came among his people, the true light was coming into the world, and the best was still to be revealed.

The witness-bearer, now weak and speechless, first token of redeeming love, was waiting for the time to be fulfilled, wilderness years, healing water, the new land of promise.

His work accomplished, the good news proclaimed, he would decrease and pass into the shadows, rejoicing, as the sword fell, that God’s ancestral promises would be faithful forever.

Lord, deliver me from evil and let me serve you without fear,
Lord, deliver me from the shadow of sin and give light in my darkness,

Lord, deliver me from error and guide me into the way of peace.


birth-of-the-baptist

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: A Job To Be Done

From The Spiritual Life

More is required of those who wake up to reality, than the passive adoration of God or intimate communion with God.  Those responses, great as they are, do not cover the purpose of our creation.  The riches and beauty of the spiritual landscape are not disclosed to us in order that we may sit in the sun parlor, be grateful for the excellent hospitality, and contemplate the glorious view.  Some people suppose that the spiritual life mainly consists in doing that.  God provides the spectacle.  We gaze with reverent appreciation from our comfortable seats, and call this proceeding Worship.

No idea of our situation could be more mistaken than this.  Our place is not the auditorium but the stage – or, as the case may be, the field, workshop, study, laboratory – because we ourselves form part of the creative apparatus of God.  He made us in order to use us, and use us in the most profitable way; for his purpose, not ours.  To live a spiritual life means subordinating all other interests to that single fact.  Sometimes our positions seem to be that of tools; taken up when wanted, used in ways which we had not expected for an object on which our opinion is not asked, and then laid down.  Sometimes we are the currency used in some great operation, of which the purpose is not revealed to us.  Sometimes we are servants, left year in, year out to the same monotonous job.  Sometimes we are conscious fellow-workers with the Perfect, striving to bring the Kingdom in.  But whatever our particular place or job may be, it means the austere conditions of the workshop, not the freelance activities of the messy but well-meaning amateur; clocking in at the right time and tending the machine in the right way.  Sometimes, perhaps, carrying on for years with a machine we do not very well understand and do not enjoy; because it needs doing, and no one else is available.  Or accepting the situation quite quietly, when a job we felt that we were managing excellently is taken away.  Taking responsibility if we are called to it, or just bringing the workers their dinner, cleaning and sharpening the tools.  All self-willed choices and obstinacy drained out of what we thought to be our work; so that it becomes more and more God’s work in us.


 

THE ADVENT EUCHARIST: Grace, by John Hampsch

From The Healing Power of the Eucharist

How do we receive grace?  There are three major avenues.  First of all, we can receive grace through some form of prayer: prayer of blessing and adoration, prayer of petition, intercessory prayer, prayer of thanksgiving, or prayer of praise.  Likewise, it can be any expression of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, contemplative prayer, community prayer, liturgical prayer, or psalm prayer.

The second major source of that spiritual energy we call grace comes from practicing the virtues, such as faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  In fact, some 56 virtues have been cataloged over the years.  (Even suffering could be considered a virtue when it is motivated by love, since it could be a manifestation of the virtues of fortitude, perseverance, mortification, temperance, and self-control.)

The third source of grace is the seven sacraments.  Of the seven sacraments, only two – the sacraments of reconciliation (penance) and the Eucharist – may be received frequently.  And of the seven, the Eucharist is the greatest source of grace.  When we receive the Eucharist, we receive not only grace but the very Author of Grace; in receiving the Eucharist, we do not receive a thing but God himself in his human nature as Christ and his divine nature as God.  Consequently, the Eucharist transcends any other source of grace, and as Saint Thomas Aquinas asserts, it is the ultimate focal point of all the other sacraments.

We can attain great holiness by prayer alone.  We can also attain advanced holiness by practicing any one of the virtues, since the full spectrum of virtue grows, as Saint Thomas explains, the way the hand grows – not one finger at a time but all together.  As one finger grows, the other fingers grow simultaneously.  Likewise, as we practice any one virtue, the other virtues will grow too.  But when it comes to maximizing our holiness, nothing exceeds the sacraments as a source of grace.  The seven sacraments are designed by God to be the main avenues of our encounter with him, and among the sacraments, the Eucharist is the greatest in terms of conferring grace and having the power to make us holy.


grace-and-peace

 

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Spiritual Life

From The School of Charity

A genuine inner life must make us more and more sensitive to that molding power, working upon his creation at every level, not at one alone: and especially to the constant small but expert touches, felt in and through very homely events, upon those half-made, unsteady souls which are each the subject of his detailed care.  A real artist will give as much time and trouble to a miniature two inches square, as to the fresco on the cathedral wall.  The true splendor and heart-searching beauty of the Divine Charity is not seen in those cosmic energies which dazzle and confound us; but in the transcendent power which stoops to an intimate and cherishing love, the grave and steadfast Divine action, sometimes painful and sometimes gentle, on the small unfinished soul.

We are so busy rushing about, so immersed in what we call practical things, that we seldom pause to realize the mysterious truth of our situation: how little we know that really matters, how completely our modern knowledge leaves the deeps of our existence unexplored.  We are inclined to leave all that out.  Christ never left it out.  His teaching has a deep recurrent note of awe, a solemn sense of God and the profound mysteries of God: his abrupt creative entrance into every human life, coming to us, touching us, changing us in every crisis, grief, shock, sacrifice, flashing up on life’s horizon like lightning just when we had settled down on the natural level, and casting over the landscape a light we had never dreamed of before.  The whole teaching of Christ hinges on the deep mystery and awful significance of our existence; and God, as the supreme and ever-present factor in every situation, from the tiniest to the most universal.  The span of his understanding goes from the lilies of the field to the most terrible movements of history.  He takes in all the darkness and anxiety of our situation, whether social or personal; and within and beyond all, he finds the creative action of God, the one Reality, the one Life, working with a steadfast and unalterable love, sometimes by the direct action of circumstance and sometimes secretly within each soul in prayer.  And this creative action, so hidden and so penetrating, is the one thing that matters in human life.


jesus-teaching

POETRY: The Candle Indoors, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
I muse at how its being puts blissful back
With yellowy moisture mild night’s blear-all black,
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye.
By that window what task what fingers ply,
I plod wondering, a-wanting, just for lack
Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack
There God to aggrándise, God to glorify.—

Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire
Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault:
You there are master, do your own desire;
What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbor deft-handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?


candle-indoors

POETRY: Judgment, by Thomas Celano

Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets’ warning,
Heaven and Earth in ashes burning.

O what fear man’s bosom rendeth
When from Heaven the Judge descendeth
On whose sentence all dependeth!

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
Through Earth’s sepulchers it ringeth;
All before the throne it bringeth.

Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.

Lo! The book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded:
Thence shall judgment be awarded.

When the Judge his seat attaineth
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.


jesus-descending

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: God’s Agents In The Real World

From The Spiritual Life

We are the agents of the Creative Spirit in this world.  Real advance in the spiritual life, then, means accepting this vocation with all it involves.  Not merely turning over the pages of an engineering magazine and enjoying the pictures, but putting on overalls and getting on with the job.  The real spiritual life must be horizontal as well as vertical; spread more and more.  It must be larger, richer, fuller, more generous in its interests than the interests of the natural life alone can ever be; must invade and transform all homely activities and practical things.  For it means an offering of life to the Father of life, to whom it belongs; a willingness – an eager willingness – to take our small place in the vast operations of his Spirit instead of trying to run a poky little business on our own.

So now we come back to this ordinary mixed life of every day, in which we find ourselves – the life of house and work, tube and airplane, newspaper and cinema, wireless and television, with its tangle of problems and suggestions and demands – and consider what we are to do about that; how, within its homely limitations, we can cooperate with the Will.  It is far easier, though not very easy, to develop and preserve a spiritual outlook on life, than it is to make our everyday actions harmonize with that spiritual outlook.  That means trying to see things, persons, and choices from the angle of eternity; and dealing with them as part of the material in which the Spirit works.  This will be decisive for the way we behave as to our personal, social, and national obligations.  It will decide the papers we read, the movements we support, the kind of administrators we vote for, our attitude to social and international justice.  For though we may renounce the world for ourselves, refuse the attempt to get anything out of it, we have to accept it as the sphere in which we are to cooperate with the Spirit, and try to do the Will.  Therefore the prevalent notion that spirituality and politics have nothing to do with one another is the exact opposite of the truth.  Once it is accepted in a realistic sense, the Spiritual Life has everything to do with politics.  It means that certain convictions about God and the world become the moral and spiritual imperatives of our life; and this must be decisive for the way we choose to behave about that bit of the world over which we have been given a limited control.


gods-agents

 

STATIONS OF THE NATIVITY: Visitation, by Raymond Chapman

From Stations of the Nativity: Meditations on the Incarnation of Christ

Before the Stations

Almighty God, whose blessed Son took our human nature so that we might regain our lost innocence and be restored to the divine image that was disfigured by sin, grant that as we meditate on the mystery of his humanity we may share the glory of his divinity, who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Amen.


A hymn may be sung: the familiar Christmas hymns tell of the wonder of the Incarnation and the following is particularly suitable (click on hymn title to be directed to the YouTube video of its performance):

Of the Fathers Heart Begotten


3: Visitation

V: We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee.
R: Because by thy wonderful Nativity thou hast given us new birth.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judaean town in the hill country where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior. (Luke 1:39-47)

We read of a movingly natural and human response to the message of the angel.  Mary goes to tell the strange story to her cousin Elizabeth, who is already expecting a child.  As the two women greet each other, the presence of the divine brings a response from Elizabeth’s unborn son: the Baptist, still in the womb, already acknowledges the coming of one much greater than himself.  Mary, no longer fearful, breaks into a song of joy and praise.

We give thanks for the mutual support of family and friends, for their love and sympathy in the great moments of life.  Give us grace to value human love more deeply, to show it in our concern for others and to see in it a shadow of the divine love.

We fail to recognize the presence of holiness in our daily lives.  We do not reverence life itself as a miracle of God’s bounty.  Help us to acknowledge the divine spirit in other people and to honor them because they are created in love.

V: God sent his Son into the world.
R: To bring us to eternal life.
V: Let us bless the Lord.
R: Thanks be to God.

Did the sun shine, there among the hills, casting light on the young girl filled with such amazing news?

Now that angels were gentle as well as powerful, there was no fear, only awe and wonder and the need to confide in that kind, wise woman, nearer in blood, older in generation.

They embraced, Mary whispering her secret, and Elizabeth felt the strange stirring – not the usual movement, but a joy that ran through all her being that her child was sharing the time of growth with his Maker, and that this girl, known and loved from her own childhood, was to be the mother of the Lord.

As Mary went away, the hills kept the secret for a season, that two women had shared woman’s greatest joy and the whole world was coming again to birth.

Savior God, let me rejoice in you:

I rejoice in the holiness of your name,
I rejoice in your mercy to those who acknowledge you,
I rejoice in your love for the humble and meek,
I rejoice in the bounty of your spiritual food,
I rejoice in the assurance of your promises.

But when I fail to rejoice with all my heart,
Please, do not send me empty away.


visitation

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: A Plan Of Life

From The Spiritual Life

It is this constant correlation between inward and outward that really matters; and this has always been the difficulty for human beings, because there are two natures in us, pulling different ways, and their reconciliation is a long and arduous task.  Many people seem to think that the spiritual life necessarily requires a definite and exacting plan of study.  It does not.  But it does require a definite plan of life; and courage in sticking to the plan, not merely for days or weeks, but for years.  New mental and emotional habits must be formed, all our interests rearranged in new proportion round a new center.  This is something which cannot be hurried; but, unless we take it seriously, can be infinitely delayed.  Many people suggest by their behavior that God is of far less importance than their bath, morning paper, or early cup of tea.  The life of cooperation with him must begin with a full and practical acceptance of the truth that God alone matters; and that he, the Perfect, always desires perfection.  Then it will inevitably press us to begin working for perfection; first in our own characters and actions, next in our homes, surroundings, profession, and country.  We must be prepared for the fact that even on small and personal levels this will cost a good deal; frequently thwarting our own inclinations and demanding real sacrifice.

Here the further question of the relation of spiritual life to public life and politics comes in.  It must mean, for all who take it seriously, judging public issues from the angle of eternity, never from that of national self-interest or expediency; backing our conviction, as against party of prejudice, rejecting compromise, and voting only for those who adopt this disinterested point of view.  Did we act thus, slowly, but surely a body of opinion – a spiritual party, if you like – might be formed; and in the long run make its influence felt in the State.  But such a program demands much faith, hope, and charity; and courage too.


perfection

 

ADVENT MEDITATION: God Has The Keys Of Death, by John Donne

From Death’s Duel

To God, the Lord, belongs escape from death. (Psalm 68:20)


This whole world is but a universal churchyard, but our common grave, and the life and motion that the greatest persons have in it is but as the shaking of buried bodies in their graves by an earthquake.  That which we call life is but a week of death, seven days, seven periods of our life spent in dying, a dying seven times over; and there is an end.  Our birth dies in infancy and our infancy dies in youth, and youth and the rest die in age, and age also dies and determines all.  Nor do all these, youth out of infancy, or age out of youth, arise as a phoenix out of the ashes of another phoenix formerly dead, but as a wasp or a serpent out of a carrion, or as a snake out of dung.  Our youth is worse than our infancy, and our age worse than our youth.  Our youth is hungry and thirsty after those sins which our infancy did not know; and our age is sorry and angry, that it cannot pursue those sins which our youth did.  And besides, all the way, so many deaths, that is, so many deadly calamities, accompany every condition and every period of this life, that death itself would be an ease to those who suffer them.  Yet God has the keys of death, and can let me out at that door, that is, deliver me from the manifold deaths of this world, the every day’s death, and every hour’s death, by that one death, the final dissolution of body and soul, the end of all.

But is that the end of all?  Is that dissolution of soul and body the last death that the body shall suffer? (for we do not speak now of spiritual death).  It is not.  Though it may be an issue from the manifold deaths of this world, yet it is an entrance into the death of corruption and putrefaction and vermiculation and incineration and dispersion in and from the grave in which every dead man dies over again.  Even those bodies that were “the temples of the Holy Ghost” come to this dilapidation, to ruin, to rubbish, to dust.  Truly, we must consider this posthumous death, this death after burial, that after God (with whom are the issues of death) has delivered me from the death of the womb, by bringing me into the world, and from the manifold deaths of the world, by laying me in the grave, I must die again in an incineration of this flesh, and in a dispersion of that dust; that that monarch, who spread over many nations alive, must in his dust lie in a corner of that sheet of lead, and there but so long as that lead will last; and that private and retired man, that thought himself his own forever, and never came forth, must in his dust of the grave be published, and (such are the revolutions of the graves) be mingled in his dust with the dust of every highway and of every dunghill, and swallowed in every puddle and pond: this is the most inglorious and contemptible vilification, the most deadly and peremptory nullification of man, that we can consider.

If we say, can this dust live? perchance it cannot; it may be the mere dust of the Earth, which never did live, nor never shall.  It may be the dust of that man’s worms which did live, but shall no more.  It may be the dust of another man, that concerns not him of whom it is asked.  This death of incineration and dispersion is, to natural reason, the most irrecoverable death of all; and yet “to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death”; and by re-compacting this dust into the same body, and reanimating the same body with the same soul, he shall in a blessed and glorious resurrection give me such an issue from this death as shall never pass into any other death, but establish me into a life that shall never pass into any other death, but establish me into a life that shall last as long as the Lord of Life himself.  Though from the womb to the grave, and in the grave itself, we pass from death to death, yet, as Daniel says, The Lord our God is able to deliver us, and will deliver us.


 keys-to-death

THE ADVENT EUCHARIST: Transformation, by Johnnette Benkovic

From Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life

Like Mary, our mother, we have been called by God to bring the life of Jesus Christ to the world.  And like our mother, we, too, must be impregnated by the spirit of the gospel, imbued by the one whose name is Jesus Christ.  We have considered the supreme degree to which our Holy Mother, assimilated to the Word of God, became a reflection of him whom she bore.  She models for us the degree of transformation to which each of us is called.

Prayer, obedience, and acting with the wisdom of God lead us on the path of transformation.  But it is when we receive into our bodies the one whose image we wish to reflect that we are most powerfully transformed.  As Mary conceived Jesus in the confines of her body, we, too, are to conceive him in the wombs of our hearts.  Through the gift of the Eucharist, we receive the very person of Jesus Christ, and in so doing become a chalice of his life.

To the extent we receive the Eucharist with faith and conviction and adore the heart of our Lord as given to us in the Blessed Sacrament, we encourage the transformation process God has begun in us.  Pope Paul VI tells us that anyone who approaches this august sacrament with special devotion experiences how great is the value of communing with Christ, for there is nothing more effective for advancing on the road to holiness.  At every moment of the day, throughout the world, Jesus offers himself to us in the form of bread and wine so that we might be nourished with his own body and blood.  And we, suffering from spiritual blindness, do not recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

Authentic catechesis on the real presence has been absent from many religion classes for many years.  This omission spans catechetical instruction from elementary schools to seminary courses.  Many people under the age of forty have never been to any form of Eucharistic Adoration.  However, they are not to be blamed.  They only need to be instructed so that the spiritual benefits of the Eucharist can become a transforming agent in their lives.


mary-mother-of-jesus

 

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Intimations Of Spiritual Depths

From The Spiritual Life

Many Christians are like deaf people at a concert.  They study the program carefully, believe every statement made in it, speak respectfully of the quality of the music, but only really hear a phrase now and again.  So they have no notion at all of the mighty symphony which fills the universe, to which our lives are destined to make their tiny contribution, and which is the self-expression of the Eternal God.

Yet there are plenty of things in our normal experience, which imply the existence of that world, that music, that life.  If, for instance, we consider the fact of prayer, the almost universal impulse to seek and appeal to a power beyond ourselves, and notice the heights to love – the power it exerts, the heroic vocations and costly sacrifices which it supports, the transformations of character which it effects – it is a sufficiently mysterious characteristic of man.  Again and again it is discredited by our popular rationalisms and naturalisms, and again and again it returns, and claims its rights within human life; even in its crudest, most naïve expressions retaining a certain life-changing power.  No one who studies with sympathy, for instance, the history of religious revivals, can doubt that here, often in a grotesque and unlovely disguise, a force from beyond the world really breaks in upon the temporal order with disconcerting power.

So, too, all who are sensitive to beauty know the almost agonizing sense of revelation its sudden impact brings – the abrupt disclosure of the mountain summit, the wild cherry-tree in blossom, the crowning moment of a great concerto, witnessing to another beauty beyond sense.  And again, any mature person looking back on their own past life, will be forced to recognize factors in that life, which cannot be attributed to heredity, environment, opportunity, personal initiative, or mere chance.  The contact which proved decisive, the path unexpectedly opened, the other path closed, the thing we felt compelled to say, the letter we felt compelled to write.  It is as if a hidden directive power, personal, living, free, were working through circumstances and often against our intention or desire; pressing us in a certain direction, and molding us to a certain design.


spiritual-depths

 

POETRY: Second Sunday In Advent, by John Keble

Not till the freezing blast is still,
Till freely leaps the sparkling rill,
And gales sweep soft from summer skies,
As o’er a sleeping infant’s eyes
A mother’s kiss; ere calls like these,
No sunny gleam awakes the trees,
Nor dare the tender flowerets show
Their bosoms to th’ uncertain glow.

Why then, in sad and wintry time,
Her heavens all dark with doubt and crime,
Why lifts the Church her drooping head,
As though her evil hour were fled?
Is she less wise than leaves of spring,
Or birds that cower with folded wing?
What sees she in this lowering sky
To tempt her meditative eye?

She has a charm, a word of fire,
A pledge of love that cannot tire;
By tempests, earthquakes, and by wars,
By rushing waves and falling stars,
By every sign her Lord foretold,
She sees the world is waxing old,
And through that last and direst storm
Descries by faith her Saviour’s form.

Not surer does each tender gem,
Set in the figtree’s polish’d stem,
Foreshew the summer season bland,
Than the e dread signs thy mighty hand:
But oh! frail hearts, and spirits dark!
The season’s flight unwarn’d we mark,
But miss the Judge behind the door
For all the light of sacred lore:

Yet is He there: beneath our eaves
Each sound his wakeful ear receives:
Hush, idle words, and thoughts of ill,
Your Lord is listening: peace, be still.
Christ watches by a Christian’s hearth,
Be silent, “vain deluding mirth,”
Till in thine alter’d voice be known
Somewhat of Resignation’s tone.

But chiefly ye should lift your gaze
Above the world’s uncertain haze,
And look with calm unwavering eye
On the bright fields beyond the sky,
Ye, who your Lord’s commission bear,
His way of mercy to prepare:
Angels He calls ye: be your strife
To lead on earth an Angel’s life.

Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up, and ply your heaven-ward feet.
Is not God’s oath upon your head,
Ne’er to sink back on slothful bed,
Never again your loins untie,
Nor let your torches waste and die,
Till, when the shadows thickest fall,
Ye hear your Master’s midnight call?


second-sunday-in-advent

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Discipline

From The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today

All normal men and women possess, at least in a rudimentary form, some intuition of the transcendental; shown in their power of experiencing beauty or love.  In some it is dominant emerging easily and without help; in others it is latent and must be developed in the right way.  In others again it may exist in virtual conflict with a strongly realistic outlook; gathering way until it claims its rights at last in a psychic storm.  Its emergence, however achieved, is a part – and for our true life, by far the most important part – or that outcropping and overflowing into consciousness of the marginal faculties which is now being recognized as essential to all artistic and creative activities; and as playing, too, a large part in the regulation of mental and bodily health.

All the great religions have implicitly understood – though without analysis – the vast importance of these spiritual intuitions and faculties lying below the surface of the everyday mind; and have perfected machinery tending to secure their release and their training.  This is of two kinds: first, religious ceremonial, addressing itself to corporate feeling; next the discipline of meditation and prayer, which educates the individual to the same ends, gradually developing the powers of the foreconscious region, steadying them, and bringing them under the control of the purified will.  Without some such education, widely as its details may vary, there can be no real living of the spiritual life.


discipline

 

THE ADVENT EUCHARIST: The Spiritual Hour Of Power, by Andrew Apostoli

From Walk Humbly With Your God: Simple Steps to a Virtuous Life

Devotion to the Holy Eucharist is at the very heart of Catholic life.  In his first message to the church after his election, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Eucharist is “the heart of Christian life and the source of the church’s evangelizing mission.”  As we know, Pope John Paul II also frequently emphasized the church’s Eucharist-centered spirituality.  In fact, he died during the Year of the Eucharist, a time he had set aside for the church to focus its attention on this sacrament, the center of our faith.

Every Catholic needs the vitality, wisdom, and strength that come forth from Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.  Whether encountering the Lord for the first time in conversion, returning to the Lord after leaving the faith, or encountering him daily in faithful, ongoing conversion, every true Catholic will end up at the tabernacle.

A Eucharistic holy hour is exactly as its name implies: an hour spent in prayer before Jesus in the tabernacle.  Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was one of the twentieth century’s greatest apologists and evangelists, as well as the National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for sixteen years.  He was so convinced of the importance of the Eucharist holy hour for his life and ministry that he made a holy hour daily for over fifty years, despite a demanding schedule and worldwide travel.  He called it, fittingly, the “hour of power.”

A former secretary of the archbishop told me that he always made his holy hour after breakfast.  (Archbishop Sheen once said that people should never try to make a holy hour before they’ve had their first cup of coffee!)  He then spent additional time near the chapel writing, drawing his inspiration from our Lord in the Eucharist.  When people congratulated him for his fine speaking and writing, telling him that he was very talented, he always answered that he had no such talent.  He said that the power of his words, written and spoken, came from Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.


fulton-sheen-in-prayer

 

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Humility

From The Fruits of the Spirit

Humility and moderation at the heart of our prayer quiet the soul and protect us against the spiritual itch.  It sometimes comes into my head, says De Caussade, to wonder whether I have ever properly confessed my sins, whether God has ever forgiven me my sins, whether I am in a good or bad spiritual state.  What progress have I made in prayer or in the interior life?  When this happens I say to myself at once, God has chosen to hide all this from me, so that I may just blindly abandon myself to his mercy.  So I submit myself and adore his decision.  He is the Master: may all that he wills be accomplished in me; I want no grace, no merit, no perfection but that which shall please him.  His will alone is sufficient for me and that will always be the measure of my desires.  Meekness and temperance taught out of his own experience by a very great master of the spiritual life.  In your soul’s life towards God, then, that humble moderation has, or should have, an important place and many special applications.  It is far better to realize a few truths, produce a few acts of worship, but do them well, leaving to others those truths and those practices which for you are dark or involve strain.  Do not entertain the notion that you ought to advance in your prayer.  If you do, you will only find out you have put on the brake instead of the accelerator.  All real progress in spiritual things comes gently, imperceptibly, and is the work of God.  Our crude efforts spoil it.  Know yourself for the childish, limited, and dependent soul you are.  Remember that the only growth that matters happens without our knowledge and that trying to stretch ourselves is both dangerous and silly.  Think of the Infinite Goodness, never of your own state.  Realize that the very capacity to pray at all is the free gift of the divine love and be content with Saint Francis de Sales’ favorite prayer, in which all personal religion is summed up: Yes, Father!  Yes! and always Yes!


humility

 

STATIONS OF THE NATIVITY: Annunciation, by Raymond Chapman

From Stations of the Nativity: Meditations on the Incarnation of Christ

Before the Stations

Almighty God, whose blessed Son took our human nature so that we might regain our lost innocence and be restored to the divine image that was disfigured by sin, grant that as we meditate on the mystery of his humanity we may share the glory of his divinity, who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Amen.


A hymn may be sung: the familiar Christmas hymns tell of the wonder of the Incarnation and the following is particularly suitable (click on hymn title to be directed to the YouTube video of its performance):

In The Bleak Midwinter


2: Annunciation

V: We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee.
R: Because by thy wonderful Nativity thou hast given us new birth.

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The angel said to her “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 2: part of verses 26-37)

In the Old Testament narratives angels are sent to make known a great work that God is about to perform.  The births of Isaac and of Samson are announced in this way.  Now the angel Gabriel comes to a young woman in a small town to tell her of the most wonderful birth in all history.  After her first alarm and incredulity, she calmly believes and accepts the will of God.

We give thanks for the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our pattern of purity, humility, and absolute trust.  As she knew by the message of an angel that she would be the mother of the Incarnate Son of God, give us grace to hear your word and follow your call, whether it be to little or great work in your service.

We do not trust in what the power of God can do with our weakness.  We think that we can find our own way, instead of seeking to follow where you are leading.  Forgive our slowness of mind and hardness of heart, and make us your servants according to your word in our own time and place.

V: God sent his Son into the world.
R: To bring us to eternal life.
V: Let us bless the Lord.
R: Thanks be to God.

On an ordinary spring day, she did not expect anything to happen because she was one of the quiet people who ask for little.

Lords of a higher creation did not pass that way until an angel, shafted in new season sunlight, spoke to her with the Heavenly salutation of her Maker, Father of all sending the uncreated, the only-begotten, to be the newly-begotten, the weak and vulnerable.

The power of the Spirit, unseen, overshadowing, the still small voice more powerful than thunder, breathed life into the womb of innocence, Son of the Highest, son of a virgin.

She bowed beneath the Word’s weight told and graciously accepted uncovenanted grace.

When we are too busy to notice them, angels may pass through the familiar room sometimes with human voices, sometimes in silent love, calling, promising, pointing the way – because things happen when God wills them and not when we think it is appropriate.

When the will is rebellious, may I know the obedience of Mary.

When pride builds a wall around me, may I know the humility of Mary.

When the flesh is weak and clamorous, may I know the purity of Mary.


annunciation-feast-virgin-mary-jpg

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Patience

From Light of Christ

Christ never seems at first sight to be giving pure truth; yet in the end he is the only teacher who manages to give it in a way that feeds souls of every level and type.  Whenever he comes, he brings the life-giving mystery of God: but giving the mystery in and with the homeliness, weaving together both worlds.

What a lesson for us!  And especially for those who have a secret arrogant craving for what they call “purely spiritual things.”  There is nothing abstract or high-brown about him.  To all he gives parables capable of simple interpretation and to some revelations within them of the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is no overfeeding or straining of souls and, above all, no hurry to enlighten at all costs everyone he can reach.  What a great supernatural art that is – that quiet, humble patience; whether of those who teach or of those being taught.  Whichever class we think we are in, we are all studying under the quiet eye of God; and we have got to learn the artist’s pace, never to hurry or scramble or lose our breath, yet never to wait too long; to put on a good primary coat and let it dry in spite of our eagerness to get on with the picture before the inspiration fades; the only result of which is a sticky mess.

Christ seems so often content to prepare souls by one great revealing truth and then just leave grace to act, to fertilize, to bring forth, to give light with that easy generosity and not ask about results.  To leave it to God, to make no effort to harvest one’s own corn and say, See what a lot of sheaves have brought in! – that asks for a self-oblivion which is very near the cross.


 

ADVENT MEDITATION: This Wondrous Future Must Come True, by R. W. Church

And Now Faith, Hope, and Love Abide, These Three (1 Corinthians 13:13)

The most literal fact that God has set before us, the most wonderful future, is within the certain reach of every single on of us: as certainly within our reach, as anything that we know of, which we could obtain tomorrow.  This is the plain, clear, certain promise, without which Christianity is a dream and delusion.  The life and destiny of each individual runs up to this; this is what we were made for; for this we have been taught, and have received God’s grace, and have been tried, and have played our part in the years of time.  It is the barest of commonplaces; and yet, I think, to any who have tried to open their minds to its reality and certainty, it must have come with a strange and overpowering force – new on every fresh occasion, like nothing else in the world.  For it is one thing to look forward to some great general event, the triumph of the saints of God, the final glory of the great company of the redeemed; one thing to look at all this from the outside, as a spectator by the power of imagination and thought, and quite another when it comes on your mind that you yourself in the far-off ages, you yourself, the very person now on Earth, are intended to have your place, your certain and definite place, in all that triumph, in all that blessedness, in all that glory.  Yet surely this is the prospect; this, and nothing less.  You may put Christianity aside; you may say that such hopes cannot be for human beings; but, if you are a Christian, this in its utmost fullness and reality is what you are to hope for.

This, as no one denies, is what scripture invites us to believe and to hope.  These are no idle exaggerations of rhetoric or fancy, they are the bare words of truth and soberness.  It is what we are living for, unless we are living in vain.  Have such things been told us for nothing?  Are they things to be without a meaning to us?  Is it not simply a duty to hope; a sin against God’s high goodness, a crime against the order of God’s teaching, not to hope?  Is it not a duty, in solemn and quiet self-recollection, to put before our thoughts that unbroken and continuous line, which joins this very present moment with that hour which certainly is to arrive, when we must be changed, when we may be changed into the spotless blessedness of the saints of God?  You – you yourself – with your trouble, your temptations, your sin, small or great, your conscious weakness, your insensibility and ignorance; yet you yourself are one of those of whom all this wondrous future must come true.  There is no blessedness of the human soul, no rest from weariness, no refreshment after toil, no opening of the eyes to beauty never seen by mortal eye, no delight in goodness, no rejoicing in perfect love, no ineffable sense of the sweetness and tenderness of God’s mercy – none of these that may not be hoped for; hoped for with all the warrant of the Almighty’s promise.  And is that great hope to be practically all a blank to us?

It is not to be told how much we lose of strength, of gladness and enlargement of heart, of power to God’s service cheerfully and happily, by not realizing and dwelling on the great hopes “set before us.”  We let ourselves be blinded, fretted, disheartened by the present, because we will not look up and see what is as certain as the present, in the not very distant future.

We, at least, if we are not Christian in vain, can pass on to the great hope which from end-to-end fills the Bible – the hope which ennobles and gladdens our mortal life; such a hope as carried Saint Paul in strength and joy through the long “daily dying” of his apostleship, and burst forth in such impassioned yet most reasonable conviction – I consider, he says, that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


faith-hope-and-love

THE ADVENT EUCHARIST: Prayer To Begin Eucharistic Adoration, by Peter John Cameron

From Jesus, Present Before Me: Meditations for Eucharistic Adoration

Loving Father, your beloved son has told us, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44)  Thank you for drawing me here to the Eucharistic presence of Christ, your son.  Thank you for allowing me to come close to the one who has come close to us in the Eucharist – who has become our companion on the way to you.

Accept my sacrifice of prayer and the adoration I offer to your son in the Blessed Sacrament.  Unworthy though I am, I come to behold Jesus Christ in this Sacrament of Charity, moved by the certainty that anyone who sees Jesus sees the Father.

What impels me to this place is the same hunger that sent the starving prodigal son back to the embrace of his father.  I come begging for a new beginning.  Like those present at the feeding of the five thousand, I have nothing to offer you except my nothingness.  But I look to your son and join him in the thanks he offers to you.

I come before the presence of your son filled with an attitude of expectation.  All my life, my heart has cried out with the psalmist, Bow your heavens and come down!  With unimaginable mercy you have answered that plea.  I have been made for this presence.

May I never be without wonder before the miracle of Jesus present in the Eucharist.  Let me relive the surprise of the attraction of Christ.

Give me eyes to see beyond all appearances.  Make me attentive to the encounter you offer me in this sacrament.

Please help me to offer this time of adoration with all my heart, without become weary or distracted.  United with the Mother of God, may I ardently adore the fruit of Mary’s womb so that my life may become fruitful in the say that best pleases you and that gives you unending glory.

I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.


eucharistic-christmas

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Shut The Door

From The Fruits of the Spirit

Now Christ, who so seldom gave detailed instruction about anything, did give some detailed instruction for that withdrawal, that recollection which is the essential condition of real prayer, real communion with God.

“Thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet – and shut the door.

I think we can almost see the smile with which he said those three words: and those three words define what we have to try to do.  Anyone can retire into a quiet place and have a thoroughly unquiet time in it – but that is not making a Retreat!  It is the shutting of the door which makes the whole difference between a true Retreat and a worried religious weekend.

Shut the door.  It is an extraordinary difficult thing to do.  Nearly every one pulls it to and leaves it slightly ajar so that a whistling draft comes in from the outer world, with reminders of all the worries, interests, conflicts, joy, and sorrows of daily life.

But Christ said, Shut, and he meant, Shut.  A complete barrier deliberately set up, with you on one side alone with God and everything else without exception on the other side.  The voice of God is very gentle; we cannot hear it if we let other voices compete.  Our ordinary life, of course, is not lived like that and should not be; but this bit of life is to be lived like that.  It is no use at all to enter that closet, that inner sanctuary, clutching the daily paper, the reports of all the societies you support, your engagement book, and a large bundle of personal correspondence.  All these must be left outside.  The motto is, God Only, God in himself, sought for himself alone.

The object is not Intercession or self exploration, but such communion with him as shall afterwards make you more powerful in intercession; and such self-loss in him as shall heal your wounds by new contact with his life and love.


prayer-closet

 

POETRY: Rinsed With Gold, Endless, Walking The Fields, by Robert Siegel

Let this day’s air praise the Lord—
Rinsed with gold, endless, walking the fields,
Blue and bearing the clouds like censers,
Holding the sun like a single note
Running through all things, a basso profundo
Rousing the birds to an endless chorus.

Let the river throw itself down before him,
The rapids laugh and flash with his praise,
Let the lake tremble about its edges
And gather itself in one clear thought
To mirror the heavens and the reckless gulls
That swoop and rise on its glittering shores.

Let the lawn burn continually before him
A green flame, and the tree’s shadow
Sweep over it like the baton of a conductor,
Let winds hug the housecorners and woodsmoke
Sweeten the world with her invisible dress,
Let the cricket wind his heartspring
And draw the night by like a child’s toy.

Let the tree stand and thoughtfully consider
His presence as its leaves dip and row
The long sea of winds, as sun and moon
Unfurl and decline like contending flags.

Let blackbirds quick as knives praise the Lord,
Let the sparrow line the moon for her nest
And pick the early sun for her cherry,
Let her slide on the outgoing breath of evening,
Telling of raven and dove,
The quick flutters, homings to the green houses.

Let the worm climb a winding stair,
Let the mole offer no sad explanation
As he paddles aside the dark from his nose,
Let the dog tug on the leash of his bark,
The startled cat electrically hiss,
And the snake sign her name in the dust

In joy. For it is he who underlies
The rock from its liquid foundation,
The sharp contraries of the giddy atom,
The unimaginable curve of space,
Time pulling like a patient string,
And gravity, fiercest of natural loves.

At his laughter, splendor riddles the night,
Galaxies swarm from a secret hive,
Mountains split and crawl for aeons
To huddle again, and planets melt
In the last tantrum of a dying star.

At his least signal spring shifts
Its green patina over half the earth,
Deserts whisper themselves over cities,
Polar caps widen and wither like flowers.

In his stillness rock shifts, root probes,
The spider tenses her geometrical ego,
The larva dreams in the heart of the peachwood,
The child’s pencil makes a shaky line,
The dog sighs and settles deeper,
And a smile takes hold like the feet of a bird.

Sit straight, let the air ride down your backbone,
Let your lungs unfold like a field of roses,
Your eyes hang the sun and moon between them,
Your hands weigh the sky in even balance,
Your tongue, swiftest of members, release a word
Spoken at conception to the sanctum of genes,
And each breath rise sinuous with praise.

Let your feet move to the rhythm of your pulse
(Your joints like pearls and rubies he has hidden),
And your hands float high on the tide of your feelings.
Now, shout from the stomach, hoarse with music,
Give gladness and joy back to the Lord,
Who, sly as a milkweed, takes root in your heart.


walking-the-fields

POETRY: All Shall Be Well, by Julian of Norwich

(Adapted from Revelations of Divine Love)

And so our good Lord answered
to all the questions and doubts
that I might make,
saying comfortingly:
I may make all thing well,
I can make all thing well,
I will make all thing well,
and I shall make all thing well;
and thou shall see thyself
that all manner of thing shall be well.

Where He says, I may,
I understand it for the Father;
and where He says, I can,
I understand it for the Son;
and where He says, I will,
I understand it for the Holy Ghost;
and where He says, I shall,
I understand it for the unity of the blessed Trinity;
three Persons and one Truth;
and where He says, Thou shall see thy self,
I understand the oneing of all mankind;
that shall be saved unto the blessed Trinity.
And in these five words
God wills we be enclosed
in rest and in peace.


julian-of-norwich

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Spiritual Life — Begin With Objective Fact

From The School of Charity

The spiritual life is a stern choice.  It is not a consoling retreat from the difficulties of existence; but an invitation to enter fully into that difficult existence, and there apply the Charity of God and bear the cost.  Till we accept this truth, religion is full of puzzles for us, and its practices often unmeaning: for we do not know what it is all about.  So there are few things more bracing and enlightening than a deliberate resort to some basic statement about God, the world, and the soul; testing by them our attitude to those realities, and the quality and vigor of our interior life with God.  For every one of them has a direct bearing on that interior life.  Lex credendi, lex orandi [the law of praying is the law of believing].  Our prayer and belief should fit like hand and glove; they are the inside and outside of one single correspondence with God.

Since the life of prayer consists in an ever-deepening communion with a Reality beyond ourselves, which is truly there, and touches, calls, attracts us, what we believe about that Reality will rule our relation to it.  We do not approach a friend and a machine in the same way.  We make the first and greatest of our mistakes in religion when we begin with ourselves, our petty feelings and needs, ideas, and capacities.  The Creed sweeps us up past all this to God, the objective Fact, and his mysterious self-giving to us.  It sets first Eternity and then History before us, as the things that truly matter in religion; and shows us a humble and adoring delight in God as the first duty of the believing soul.  So there can hardly be a better inward discipline than the deliberate testing of our vague, dilute, self-occupied spirituality by this superb vision of Reality.


 

lex-orandi

 

STATIONS OF THE NATIVITY: Zechariah, by Raymond Chapman

From Stations of the Nativity: Meditations on the Incarnation of Christ

Before the Stations

Almighty God, whose blessed Son took our human nature so that we might regain our lost innocence and be restored to the divine image that was disfigured by sin, grant that as we meditate on the mystery of his humanity we may share the glory of his divinity, who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Amen.


A hymn may be sung: the familiar Christmas hymns tell of the wonder of the Incarnation and the following is particularly suitable (click on hymn title to be directed to the YouTube video of its performance):

A Great and Mighty Wonder


1: Zechariah

V: We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee.
R: Because by thy wonderful Nativity thou hast given us new birth.

In the days of King Herod of Judaea, there was a priest named Zechariah.  Once when he was serving as priest before God, there appeared to him an angel of the Lord.  The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you will name him John.  He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.”  Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so?  For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  The angel replied, “Because you did not believe my words, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the days these things occur.”  (Luke 1: part of verses 3-20)

Zechariah was serving the worship in the Temple as it had been done for centuries past.  In those years many prophets had declared God’s purpose for his people and told of the Messiah who was to come.  Now the time was near, and Zechariah would have a son who would be the last prophet of the Old Covenant and the forerunner of the New.  It was too much for the old man to believe.  He was deprived of speech and sent to meditate in silence until the promise was fulfilled.

We give thanks to God for his patience, the constancy of his love, the assurance of his promises.  We give thanks for the teaching of his prophets, for all his words of preparation which were fulfilled in the gospel.  We give thanks for his gifts which continually exceed our expectations.

We too are slow to believe, because the good news seems impossible in human terms.  We lose hope too readily, grow weary of waiting and turn aside from the way that we should follow.  Teach us always to know the way that we should follow.  Teach us always to know that your ways are not our ways and that nothing will prevent the fulfillment of your living purpose.

V: God sent his Son into the world.
R: To bring us to eternal life.
V: Let us bless the Lord.
R: Thanks be to God.

The time of waiting is time wasted as we count time in this world.

We fret as we wait for the bus, for the examination result, for the surgery bell, and resent the time we could, as we think, use more to our advantage.

God’s time of waiting is different; it is patient, creative, purposeful.

It is the love of a father who knows when it is time to give and when to withhold.

It is the compassion that reveals itself when we are ready and open to receive it.

Centuries of our time passed until time and place were ready together.

Time passed in Jerusalem, the holy city, the chosen place, where the sacrifices were offered and the covenant kept, where the prophets were stoned and the covenant broken.

But always the patience of love, waiting itself to follow the way of suffering.

Waiting with God is not time lost but time of being truly alive.  Speech is silent as the wonder is revealed.

Patient God, turn my anxiety and anger into patience.

Unchanging God, turn my restlessness into quiet and constancy.

Faithful God, turn my doubts and fears into assurance.

Please show me when to speak and when to listen.


zechariah-2

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Starting Out

From The School of Charity

Everyone who is engaged on a great undertaking, depending on many factors for its success, knows how important it is to have a periodical stocktaking.  Whether we are responsible for a business, an institution, a voyage, or an exploration – even for the well-being of a household – it is sometimes essential to call a halt; examine our stores and our equipment, be sure that all necessaries are there and in good order, and that we understand the way in which they should be used.  It is no good to have tins without tin openers, bottles of which the contents have evaporated, labels written in an unknown language, or mysterious packages of which we do not know the use.

Now the living-out of the spiritual life, the inner life of the Christian – the secret correspondence of his soul with God – is from one point of view a great business.  It was well called “the business of all businesses” by Saint Bernard; for it is no mere addition to Christianity, but its very essence, the source of its vitality and power.  From another point of view it is a great journey; a bit-by-bit progress, over roads that are often difficult and in weather that is sometimes pretty bad, from “this world to that which is to come.”  Whichever way we look at it, an intelligent and respectful attitude to our equipment – seeing that it is all there, accessible and in good condition, and making sure that we know the real use of each item – is essential to success.  It is only too easy to be deluded by the modern craving for peace and immediate results, and press on without pausing to examine the quality and character of our supplies, or being sure that we know where we are going and possess the necessary maps.  But this means all the disabling miseries of the unmarked route and unbalanced diet, and, at last, perhaps, complete loss of bearings and consequent starvation of the soul.


starting-out

 

REVELATION: All Things New, by Douglas D. Webster

From Follow the Lamb: A Pastoral Approach to The Revelation

Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the first Heaven and Earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of Heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist anymore—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”

And the one seated on the throne said: “Look! I am making all things new!” Then he said to me, “Write it down, because these words are reliable and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)


We have a hard time imagining Heaven.  We live in a culture where most people believe that death ends all and the best that can be said at a funeral is that the memory of the deceased lives on.  Life is like a scene in Castaway, where the main character, played by Tom Hanks, digs a shallow grave to bury the dead pilot who has washed up on shore.  His two-word eulogy sums it up: That’s that.  Many have a hard time believing in life after death, let alone a whole new order of creation.  John’s vision of the new Heaven and the new Earth corresponds with the Apostle Paul’s vision of the new, glorified, resurrected body.  Without the resurrection, the gospel of the Lamb not only doesn’t make sense, it is in fact dishonest and deceptive.  If there is no resurrection from the dead then death ends all and “that’s that.”  If Jesus Christ is not “the firstborn from the dead,” then there is no hope of Heaven.  If the bones of Jesus disintegrated in a Palestinian tomb, the Christian faith dissolves in a sad delusion.  But Jesus was “not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.”  On this side of eternity, bodily death is part and parcel of biological living.  It factors into everything, from reproduction to digestion to circulation.  But in the new creation, bodily existence will be characterize by life, not death.  Life as we know it is characterized by death and dying, grief and humiliation, frailty and weakness – but a new day is coming when the key to life will not be death but life.  The inevitability of decay, shame, and weakness will be eliminated by the life, glory, and power of the resurrection.  And this new, glorified, resurrected body will surpass the limitations of a natural body.  It will embrace the fullness of personal identity and experience the richness of community life.  This risen body will include the whole person and will be nothing like the Greek notion of a bodiless, immortal soul or the modern idea of the spirit of a person living on in people’s memory.  The spiritual body will be no less real than the natural body.  The resurrection of Jesus is the “firstfruits” of a whole new harvest; it is the key that unlocks the door to a whole new order.  There are no humanistic resources that can transform the natural life into the spiritual life and triumph over death.  I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:56)  Christian hope lies in understanding that we were meant to move from death-defining natural life to death-defying spiritual life.  If the wonderful diversity of creation points to the power of God to create an entirely new mode of existence, then the message of salvation history declares that there is much more to life than the old Adam.  The first Adam stands for sin and death; he represents the fallen human condition.  The last Adam stands for salvation and life; he represents the “firstfruits” of the new creation.

A New Heaven

When Jesus entered the old order to fully embrace our humanity, he brought nothing with him – he emptied himself.  He transcended his transcendence for the sake of our redemption.  When he returns, he will bring a new Heaven and a new Earth.  He will rule and reign over a whole new created order.  John writes, I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  Anticipation is not based on our achievement.  New, glorified, resurrected bodies in a new Heaven or a new Earth are entirely the work of God.  The emphasis throughout the Revelation has been on faithfulness, not accomplishment.  We are not building Christ’s kingdom on Earth.  We are called to wait, pray, witness, and stay alert.  By the grace of God it is our responsibility to be a faithful presence for Christ and his kingdom wherever he has placed us.  We are to be vigilant and faithful.

The gospel is a countercultural movement that will remain a voice crying in the wilderness of an evil and broken culture.  The church will not – nor should it expect to – be a controlling voice of culture.  The church’s vision for human flourishing is always going to be different from the prevailing culture’s vision for success.  The world will never fulfill our dreams for human flourishing.  The faithful presence of Christians can hopefully make the world more livable, but the synergy of the beautiful and ugly sides of evil will only continue to intensify and fight against the church.  To misread this is inevitability to be misled and eventually disillusioned.  In the final analysis, the church is always offering the world something the culture as a whole rejects.

The Holy City and the Beautiful Bride

See, I will create new heavens and a new Earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and crying will be found in it no more. (Isaiah 65:17-19)

The convergence of these two images brings together everything that is important.  The apparent contradictory metaphors are necessary to capture the fullness of the presence of God and what it means for God to dwell among his people.  These two metaphors establish an inclusion that runs from the intensity of relational intimacy to the full extent of human flourishing in community.  John’s vision of the New Jerusalem is deeply personal and fully relational.  What comes down out of Heaven is not just a place, but a people.  As the great prostitute was synonymous with the great city, so the Holy City is synonymous with the bride of Christ.  Once again the relational impact of the Holy City dominates John’s description.

The presence of God and the absence of evil are the two controlling realities of this new order of existence.  John identifies two kinds of people: those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and those who don’t.  The former have finally found their place and the latter are categorically and eternally out of place.  When John first sees the Holy City coming down out of Heaven he likens it to a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  But when he is invited to see the bride of the Lamb he sees the Holy City, Jerusalem, “coming down out of Heaven from God.”  There is a perfect match between people and place.  Faith will give way to sight.  Heaven is not a mythical carrot on the end of a stick.  Heaven is very real and visible and down-to-Earth.  It is not a state of mind, but a place to live.  Heaven and Earth are united, merged into one God-filled reality.  Because of the Incarnate One, we are destined to experience the inauguration of God’s society.  The followers of the Lamb are citizens in this new reality, not spectators.  We are participants in a new social order.  Heaven is the grace-filled invasion of the garden city of God.  The hallmark of this city is not escapism, but engagement.  Our Earthly sojourn is inspired by our citizenship in Heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

The New Order

John hears a loud voice from the throne saying, I am making everything new!  We will let the theologians debate whether the old order is regenerated and restored or whether it is entirely recreated from scratch.  In any case, the old is gone and the new has come.  This qualitatively new order is defined negatively by what is no longer present.  There is no sea, no death, no mourning, no crying, and no pain.  The new order is defined positively by the real presence of God.  John announces that there will no longer be any sea.  If you are an ocean lifeguard who loves surfing and can’t imagine living away from the beach, Heaven may not look like such a cool place.  It is important to understand that John never intended for us to read our first impressions into these metaphors.  The meaning of the sea has to be drawn from what John meant throughout his prophecy.  What is missing in the new order is any hint of evil or the threat of tribulation.  To develop the metaphor we might say that what is missing in the new order are drownings, storms, and shark attacks.  What remains are beautiful ocean vistas, great swells, and a sea teeming with God’s creation.  We can hardly even imagine what life will be like without pain and suffering, grief and mourning.  Since our only experience has been life based on death, how can we begin to fathom life based on life?  This great reversal is beyond our ability to grasp; but then, there is a great deal in our immediate natural world that seems beyond our comprehension.  Life based on life instead of death is consistent with the new order of things.

Do we dare live our lives on the promise of the new order?  The followers of the Lamb are either delusional from the start or truly perceptive of the most real world.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:19-20)  Life’s true vantage point allows us to look beyond the brevity of life to eternity and inspires faithfulness, not fatalism.  From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him. (Psalm 103:17)

In response to the Sadducees, who were trying to put him on the spot, Jesus said that marriage is a temporary provision for life on this side of eternity.  They had posed the most complicated relational scenario they could think of: A woman had been married in turn to seven brothers.  Each time a brother died, the next brother in line married his widow according to Old Testament law.  Their question was simple: Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife shall she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?  Jesus replied, You are in error, because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God.  At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven.  In other words, If you think you’re going to take your broken, sin-damaged relationship into Heaven, forget it!

The simplicity on the other side of our complex world will be characterized not by our mixed motives and hardness of heart, but by the truth and power of God.  Eternity with God opens up a whole new realm of relational fulfillment that is only hinted at in the best of human friendships and loving marriages.  On this side of eternity, at times, we can hardly imagine a love deeper and more fulfilling than that of our beloved.  We feel like the couple in the Song of Songs who are passionately in love.  Who could possibly imagine anything better than this?  But the answer comes back: God can.  Our expectations are too low.  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”  But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

We should not imagine Heaven as a place that is in any way less satisfying relationally than our friendships and marriages on this side of eternity.  I am confident that we will one day laugh about such thoughts, wondering how we could have been so skeptical about Heaven’s fulfillment.  What if in eternity all of our friendships are like the very best friendship we ever experienced – only better?  What if Heaven is not so much minus marriage but all marriage?  I expect that the intimacy, companionship, and fidelity that we desire in a good marriage is but a prototype of all relationships in Heaven.  The very imagery God’s word uses to describe the day of Christ – the marriage supper of the Lamb – anticipates a day when all loves will be empowered by the wisdom, purity, and holiness of our beloved Lord.  Followers of the Lamb anticipate that day with earnest expectation.


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PRAYER: Affirmation of Faith—New Creation

From Thirdspace

We believe that God creates all things,
renews all things
and celebrates over creation.

We believe Earth is a precious sanctuary,
a sacred planet filled with God’s presence,
a home for us to share and to care for.

We believe that God became fully human,
became a part of Earth,
shared family life,
and celebrated with friends and community;
suffered and died on a cross for all humanity
and for all creation.

We believe that the risen Jesus
is the Christ at the center of creation
reconciling all things to God,
renewing all creation and filling the cosmos.

We believe the Spirit renews life in creation,
groans in empathy with a suffering creation,
and waits with us for the renewal of creation.

We believe that with the Cosmic Christ we will rise,
and with the Creator God we will celebrate the new creation.


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ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: A Sense Of Need

From The Fruits of the Spirit

We should think of the whole power and splendor of God as always pressing in upon our small souls.  In him we live and move and have our being.  But that power and splendor mostly reach us in homely and inconspicuous ways; in the sacraments, and in our prayers, joys, and sorrows, and in all opportunities of loving service.  This means that one of the most important things in our prayer is the eagerness and confidence with which we throw ourselves open to his perpetual coming.  There should always be more waiting than striving in a Christian’s prayer – an absolute dependence on the self-giving charity of God.  As dew shall our God descend on us.

As we draw near Christmas, this sense of our own need and of the whole world’s need of God’s coming – never greater perhaps than it is now – becomes more intense.  In the great Advent Antiphons which are said in the week before Christmas we seem to hear the voice of the whole suffering creation saying, Come! give us wisdom, give us light, deliver us, liberate us, lead us, teach us how to live.  Save us.  And we, joining in that prayer, unite our need with the one need of the whole world.  We have to remember that the answer to the prayer was not a new and wonderful world order but Bethlehem and the Cross; a life of complete surrender to God’s will; and we must expect this answer to be worked out in our own lives in terms of humility and sacrifice.

If our lives are ruled by this spirit of Advent, this loving expectation of God, they will have a quality quite different from that of conventional piety.  For they will be centered on an entire and conscious dependence upon the supernatural love which supports us; hence all self-confidence will be destroyed in them and replaced by perfect confidence in God.  They will be docile to his pressure, and obedient to every indication of his will.


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ADVENT: The Origins Of The Season, by Philip H. Pfatteicher

From Journey Into the Heart of God

There is an almost innate pattern in human behavior of fast before feast, preparation followed by celebration, anticipation and preparation leading to feasting, but otherwise the origins of the season of Advent are obscure.  Liturgical historians have in recent decades become notably skeptical regarding our knowledge of the origins and development of the seasons of the liturgical year.  We possess little sure and certain knowledge, only fragmentary and isolated pieces of evidence.  It is like having a dozen or so pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and that basis attempting to imagine what the whole puzzle looks like.  We will see with regard not only to Advent but also to Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent competing hypotheses with little agreement.  Each hypothesis concerning the origins of Advent is of continuing interest: none is entirely credible.

Advent may have its origins outside of Rome in preparation for baptism at Epiphany.  There was in Gaul, attested by Hilary who died in 367, a three-week preparation for Epiphany and its baptisms.  The Council of Saragossa in Spain in the year 380 speaks of a three-week observance from December 17 to January 6.

Perpetuus, Bishop of Tours (d. 490), decreed a fast in preparation for Christmas beginning on St. Martin’s Day (November 11) consisting of three days of fasting per week.  Sixth-century synodical documents and episcopal decrees enjoin penitence from St. Martin’s Day (November 11) to the Epiphany, “St. Martin’s Lent,,” continuing for eight weeks (fifty-six days, but no fasting on Saturday or Sunday gives a fast of forty days).  These fasts had a penitential emphasis, suggesting that they were at least primarily a preparation for baptism.  The Mozarabic rite in Spain and the Ambrosian rite in Milan have a six-week preparation.  In the present Ambrosian rite Advent begins the Sunday after November 11.  Northern Italian sources suggest a focus on the Incarnation rather than the Epiphany.  Filastrius, Bishop of Brescia (d. 391), says that the church observes four fasts during the year: at Jesus’s birth, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.  The pre-Christmas fast may have been newly established or perhaps had been shifted from a preparation for Epiphany.  Maximum of Turin suggests that there are two Sundays of preparation for Christmas; the practice in mid-fifth century Ravenna is similar.

In pagan Rome there was a fast of the tenth month (December), one of the four season fasts of the year.  Advent may have been in part the church’s response to this pre-Christian winter fast.  The evidence suggests that until Gregory I (590–604), a six-week Advent was observed in Rome.  The church in Spain and Gaul perhaps gave the emerging season its penitential character.  Gaul emphasized the eschatological character of the preparation, Adolf Adam suggests, through the influence of Irish missionaries who emphasized the coming judgment and the need for repentance before the return of the Judge.  Advent became a penitential season like Lent with the use of violet vestments and the exclusion of the Gloria in excelsis and Alleluias from the Mass and the Te Deum from the Office.  The penitential character was brought to Rome in the twelfth century, but there the joyous Alleluia was retained, showing a less than complete acceptance of the penitential spirit.  The practice of fasting varied in local communities: three weeks in Gaul and Spain in the fourth century, four weeks in the Gregorian sacramentary, five or six weeks in older Roman practice, six weeks in the Mozarabic and Ambrosian rites, eight weeks in Gaul in the fifth century, and three months, from the conception of John the Baptist, September 24, which was once the beginning of the civil year in Constantinople and throughout Asia Minor.  This wide variation suggests a complex development of what began as more than a simple preparatory period before Christmas.

The seventh-century Comes (lectionary) of Würtzburg begins with the Vigil of Christmas, where the story began, and therefore the lessons at the end of the year tell of the end of the story: the last judgment and the reign of Christ.  The Gelasian sacramentary (the manuscript is mid-eighth century) is the oldest known sacramentary in which the feasts are arranged according to the church year.  That collection begins with Advent; collects, Epistles, and Gospels are provided for five Sundays before Christmas and also for the corresponding Wednesdays and Fridays.

Gregory the Great fixed the length of the preparatory period at four weeks, usually explained as a reliving of the four thousand years of waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Christ being widely thought to have occurred some four thousand years after creation began.  A Middle English lyric sings,

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter
Thought he not too long….

Thus there were propers provided for masses for the four Sundays before Christmas and for three Ember Day masses (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Third Sunday in Advent) that make use of Advent themes.  The season is oriented toward preparation for the celebration of the Nativity.


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