Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent, Baptism, and Holiness

Advent is the Season in which we prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our preparation for Christmas, in celebration of His First Advent, is a reminder for us to prepare ourselves also for His Second Advent, when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Through the Gospel Reading for today (Second Sunday of Advent, Year A), we are being reminded of this in a very interesting way. The Gospel Reading (Matt 3:1-12) ends with John the Baptist’s words:
“I indeed baptize you in water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire.
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
By selecting this reading for today, the Church is calling us to prepare for the coming of the Lord in a special way as we remember our baptism.
Coincidentally, over the past few weeks, I have been reading and re-reading Romans 6:1-14 as part of my own personal Penance following Confession; as a constant reminder to myself of the kind of holiness that I am called to by virtue of my baptism:
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid! For we that are dead to sin, how shall we live any longer therein?
3 Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death?
4 For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer.
7 For he that is dead is justified from sin.
8 Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ.
9 Knowing that Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth now no more. Death shall no more have dominion over him.
10 For in that he died to sin, he died once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
11 So do you also reckon that you are dead to sin, but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 L
et not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, so as to obey the lusts thereof.
Now, this is not a holiness that we can achieve in our own strength. Rather, it is something that comes about through God’s grace...and as we willingly co-operate with that grace. And this is why I think St. Paul sought to remind the Romans of the call to holiness in the context of baptism – because baptism is ALL about grace.

Baptism is not about what WE do...rather, it is about what God does to us. And the baptism of little infants, by virtue of the fact that they cannot accomplish anything for themselves, is a considerable testimony of the fact that salvation comes by grace alone.
Interestingly, in my days as a Baptist, I believed that baptism was nothing more than a step of obedience in imitating Jesus Christ – nothing more than a visible statement to others that I had chosen to follow Jesus. I certainly disagreed with the Catholic “notion” that baptism conferred any grace. I believed that only those who had made a credible profession of faith should be baptised, and that the only acceptable form of baptism was by immersion.

My belief of “immersion-only” baptism was primarily based on Rom 6:3-4 i.e. immersion was the only mode of baptism that adequately portrays the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus by the believer going under the water (death and burial) and rising up from the water (resurrection).  
The ironic thing was that I was so absorbed in my preconceived proof-texting that I completely missed what St. Paul was actually trying to say...

Couched within the principles of life and death, St. Paul’s argument is that it is precisely through the means of baptism that we die to sin and are raised to new life (i.e. what the Church calls “baptismal regeneration”). St. Paul’s clear teaching is that it is through baptism that we are united to Christ’s death on the Cross; through baptism, we are buried with Him; and through baptism we are raised to newness of life in Him.
It is in this context of being united to Christ through baptism that St. Paul can say that just as Christ died for sin once and for all and now lives unto God (v10); so too we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (v11). And because baptism has made us new creatures in Christ, the sin that has tainted the old creation should no longer have control over us (v12). Instead, we are called, by virtue of our baptism, to live in, through, and for God – knowing that oneday Christ will fully complete the work of the new creation that He has begun in us (Rom 6:21).

In this sense, our baptism is eschatological – through baptism we were made new creatures in Christ, but this work will not be fully completed until we attain the Beatific Vision. St. John, the beloved disciple, put it this way:
“Dearly beloved, we are now the sons of God: and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when he shall appear we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2)
So, as we continue through the Season of Advent, may we be reminded of the gift of God’s grace bestowed upon us in our baptism; and may we never cease to storm the gates of heaven with prayers for God’s continued grace in our that we can be prepared to greet our Lord, not only when we celebrate His arrival at Christmas, but also when He calls us home to eternity.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Duty of Forgiveness

Often, when we read the Bible, we just take it for granted that we understand what its saying. We can often become so familiar with texts that we gloss over what we read without really thinking about it. 

For me, the Gospel Reading for today was one such passage:

The apostles said to the Lord: Increase our faith.
And the Lord said: If you had faith like to a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree: Be thou rooted up and be thou transplanted into the sea. And it would obey you. 
But which of you, having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will say to him, when he is come from the field: Immediately go. Sit down to meat.
And will not rather say to him: Make ready my supper and gird thyself and serve me, whilst I eat and drink; and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink?
Doth he thank that servant for doing the things which he commanded him?
I think not. So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.
(Lk 17:5-10)

At first glance, it’s all familiar – it all makes sense...but does it really? The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. His answer was that faith the size of a mustard seed was powerful enough to command a mustard tree to uproot itself and plant itself in the sea...and then He started to talk about the expected duties of a servant.

As I was listening to the Gospel this morning, I really thought “That makes no sense. What’s the correlation here? What does expected duty have to do with faith the size of a mustard seed; much less with a request for increased faith?”

But this often happens when we really read the words of Jesus closely. What He says often appears to be completely unrelated to what He was originally asked...but, when we dig deeper, we find that Our Lord really answers our question in a way that is better than we could have ever imagined. This is always the way of Divine Wisdom.

To understand what Our Lord was getting at in the story of the dutiful servant, we have to go back to see the context of the disciples initial question.

In Luke 17:4, Jesus tells us that if someone sins and repents, as much as seven times in a day, we must forgive them. Let’s be honest – this certainly isn’t easy. So we can relate with the disciples’ response: “Increase our faith!”

But Jesus’ response to this request is interesting...and it shows that forgiveness is not a matter of faith; rather, it is a matter of duty.

He does this by first addressing the matter of faith. Jesus tells us that faith as small as mustard seed is powerful enough to command nature; because the object of that faith is the One who created all things in the first place. So, if faith is that powerful, an increase in faith is not what is required for us to forgive.

Then Our Lord goes on to give the example of the dutiful servant. After a hard day’s labour in the field, it is expected that he will continue his duties by waiting on his master. And his duties don’t cease until such time as the master says so.

And that it is what forgiveness is like – sometimes it is really hard, like the servant’s hard day’s labour in the sun. But even when it’s hard, we are still expected to forgive. And just like the servant whose duties did not conclude with the setting sun, but continued at his master’s table; so too, if we are called upon to forgive is expected of us. Just as the servant is expected to serve until the master says his service is completed, we too are expected to forgive as many times as Our Master requires of us.

And all the while, as we forgive, forgive, and forgive again...the words on our lips should always be: “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Reflections on the Rosary - Part IV (The Glorious Mysteries)

In so many ways, the Catholic faith goes against the grain of our common notions of what it means to be successful and victorious in this life. One small example of this is the processions of the Church which are led by an elevated Crucifix. By doing this, the Church takes the ignominious symbol of the Crucifix – a symbol of pain, suffering, and defeat – and turns it into an ensign of glory and victory!
Why does the Church do this? Why does the Church hold the idea of suffering in such high regard? Is it simply for the sake of being contradictory? Or is there something more to it?
The Mission of Christ did not end with His humiliation on the Cross. As humiliating as His death was, it was not the end of the story – rather, it was just the beginning. That’s because three days later He rose again victorious from the grave – and His Glorious Resurrection is the crowning truth of our faith.
So it is that, as Catholics, we profess our constant faith in the Resurrection of Our Lord, and glory in our sufferings – not only because our suffering has been redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ and so becomes redemptive itself...but also because Jesus Christ has made our suffering necessary for us to share in His own glory (Phil 1:28-29).
And this is where the Glorious Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary come in…we don’t end our meditations with the events of Good Friday; rather, we go on to fill our minds and hearts with hope as we meditate on the glorious events which followed...
The First Glorious Mystery - the Resurrection of Our Lord
After having breathed His last, Our Lord was taken down from the Cross and laid in the arms of His Blessed Mother. Because the Sabbath was drawing near, proper preparations for the burial of Christ’s Body could not take place. As a temporary measure, His lifeless Body was wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in a tomb – and the embalming process would have to follow after the Sabbath. But when the women who had prepared the embalming spices and ointments came to Jesus’ tomb at the first opportunity (i.e. at dawn on the Sunday morning), they found the tomb open and no sign of Jesus’ Body because He had gloriously risen from the dead.
The Resurrection proved that Jesus was who He claimed to be – the Son of God. But it did more than simply vindicate Him and His message. Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven; and He rose again so that death could be swallowed up in victory. This victory is applied to us when we are made partakers of His Death and Resurrection through our rebirth in the waters of baptism – that moment when our sins are washed and we rise to new life in Jesus Christ (Rom 6:1-4).
As we meditate with Our Blessed Mother on the events surrounding the Resurrection of Our Lord, may she intercede for us so that we can learn to walk more faithfully as new creatures in this truly awesome power of the Resurrection.

The Second Glorious Mystery – the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven
Following His Resurrection, Our Lord spent 40 days with the Apostles instructing them concerning the kingdom (Acts 1:3). Sacred Scripture only gives us a few accounts of His post-Resurrection appearances; and even then, only a few details are provided. And that is one area where we rely on Holy Tradition – because not everything that Jesus taught and did was recorded in the Scriptures (e.g. Jn 21:25).
But one thing that was recorded was Jesus’ teaching that it was necessary for Him to depart bodily from this earth so that the Holy Spirit could be sent (Jn 16:7) which would guide the Church in all truth (Jn 16:12). And so, forty days after His Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven to take up His throne at the Father’s right hand, where He reigns over all that He has redeemed. The Church, as His Body, shares in His reign through the powerful proclamation of the Gospel by which souls are won for Christ, and sin is gradually defeated in our lives.
As we meditate on this Glorious Mystery, let us ask Our Lady to show us by her example how we may live victoriously in and through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Third Glorious Mystery – the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit which would be sent (Acts 1:4-5). After seeing Jesus ascend into heaven, they returned with joy to Jerusalem; and for the next nine days they prayed in the Upper Room with the Blessed Virgin for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12-14).
On the Day of Pentecost (the same day that the Law was given to Israel), the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles with the sound of a mighty wind and in appearance as tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-3). And from that moment, they were never the same again because they had now been filled with Fire from Heaven and proclaimed the Gospel with passion and conviction. In one sense, that was the birth of the Church – and just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit has remained with the Church through the ages to lead her into all truth. The same Spirit that inspired the Apostles in the inerrancy of the New Testament also continues to lead the Church so that she will never depart into error.
As we meditate upon this Mystery, let us ask Our Mother to pray with us that we might continually walk in the grace that was given to us at our Confirmation – the day that we were sealed with the Holy Spirit and given the strength to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12, 2 Tim 4:7).

The Fourth Glorious Mystery – the Assumption of Mary into Heaven
The last time the Scriptures speak of Mary in her earthly life is when we see her in the midst of the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. The next time any allusion is made to her, it is when St. John sees her in his great vision of the Apocalypse (Rev 11:19 – 12:1). It is especially fitting that Our Lord would grant for St. John to behold her in this way, since it was he who had been given the charge of caring for her following Our Lord’s death on the Cross (Jn 19:26-27).
According to tradition, St. John and Mary remained at Jerusalem for some time. But remaining in Jerusalem would not be safe especially as the persecution of Christians intensified and the Jewish religious leaders tried to take out the most prominent people within the Christian community (e.g. Acts 8:1; 9:1-2; 23:12). St. John then moved with Our Lady to Ephesus to ensure her safety – and it was probably for the same reason that the authors of the New Testament remained silent on her whereabouts. Given their track record, if the Jewish religious leaders knew where Mary was, they would not have rested until they had found and either imprisoned or killed her.
So, according to Tradition, the Blessed Virgin remained in Ephesus until she died a natural death in the presence of the Apostles. When the Apostles later came to visit her tomb they found that it was empty; and so it has been held as Apostolic Tradition ever since that she was assumed, body and soul, into heaven by the Lord. In affirmation of this, St. John records the vision of her in heaven, the New Ark of the Covenant.
What relevance does the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin hold for us? Why is it important? Mary is a “type” of the Church – not only in her example of holiness and obedience, but also in all that happens to her. By assuming her up into heaven, God gave Mary as a sign to us that if we walk in humility and obedience as she did, then we can be sure in the hope that we too will share the Beatific Vision with Our Blessed Mother.
So, as we meditate on this Mystery, may we ask Mary to point us to Christ; and to show us, by her example, how to walk in humble obedience to His will.

The Fifth Glorious Mystery – the Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven and Earth
When our Lord ascended into heaven, He sat down on the right of the Father as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This was in fulfilment of the promise that the Messiah would sit upon the throne of David for all eternity (Lk 1:32-33). In the Davidic kingdom of old, the queen was not usually the wife of the king – rather, it was the mother of king who was considered the queen [which is why the Old Testament line of Davidic kings makes such a big fuss of mentioning the mothers in their geneaologies]. The title that the queen assumed was Gebirah – or Queen Mother.
Since Jesus fulfils the Davidic kingdom in every sense, it is only fitting that His Kingdom has His Mother for its Queen. Thus, upon her assumption into heaven, Our Lord – who is King of Heaven and Earth – bestowed upon Our Lady the honour of being crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth.
The vision of Our Lady that St. John saw is a most striking one. He sees her resplendent in glory as the Queen of Heaven – clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars upon her head (Rev 12:1). But he also reminds us that she is our Mother – the Mother of all those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17).
So as we meditate upon this Mystery – indeed, whenever we pray the Rosary – may we be reminded of the efficacy of the prayers of the Most Chaste Virgin (e.g. Jms 5:16 b). May we be reminded that as our Mother, her intercession for us is most loving; and as our Queen, her intercession for us is most powerful.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn then, O most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.



For related posts on this topic, click the links below:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Good Samaritan and the Cross

In the Gospel Reading for today (Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C), we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan:
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied,
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10:25-37)

Jesus spoke the parable in answer to a conversation that He was having with one of the scholars of the Torah, who was concerned about what he ought to do to inherit eternal life.
[Incidentally, contrary to Luther’s notion of “Sola Fide”, when the man asked Jesus the question, He did NOT answer by saying: “Silly man...don’t you know that you can’t DO anything to inherit eternal are saved by faith alone”. Rather, Jesus’ response to this man is evidence that we are not saved by faith alone; but rather that we are saved by faith AND works].

After correctly answering that the way to inherit eternal life is through love of God and neighbour, the man asked Jesus “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answered his question through the parable of the Good Samaritan; and then instructed the man to go and do the same.
As I was listening to the Gospel Reading in the Mass this morning, I looked up at the Crucifix and it occurred to me that the parable of the Good Samaritan is ultimately a parable of the Cross.

We see that it is a parable of the Cross of Christ when we realise that the man attacked by the robbers is an image of fallen mankind. W have been mortally wounded by sin and left destitute on the side of the spiritual highway to die in our trespasses and sins. But it is Christ who, like a Samaritan (despised and rejected by men – Isa 53:3), comes to our aid, heals our wounds, and pays our way with His own Blood. In this way, He shows His love for His Heavenly Father by resigning Himself to the Father’s will (Lk 22:42). In the selfsame act of obedience, He also shows His love for us – made His neighbours through the Incarnation – in that He laid down His life for us (Jn 15:13).
But Christ’s Cross is not the only one that is referred to in this parable. We see a glimpse of another cross in Jesus’ words “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). The second cross is our own, which Jesus tells to pick up daily if we want to be His disciples (Matt 16:24). In taking up our own cross every day, we show our love for God and our neighbour by denying ourselves and giving ourselves instead to God’s will, and sacrificially giving ourselves to the service of others – firstly those closest to us (our families, our fellow-parishioners, and our work colleagues); and also to others that God might place in our path every day.

So, as we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, may our desire be to imitate our Good Shepherd in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and loving our neighbour as ourselves. We do this when we unite ourselves with Him in His Crucifixion – when we die to ourselves and live for God and our neighbour.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reflections on the Rosary – Part III (The Sorrowful Mysteries)

Of all the Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries might be the hardest to write about. I think that this is partly because, as Christians, we have largely become desensitised to the reality of Christ’s Passion. We can often be guilty of over-romanticising the Passion to the point where we miss the gruesomeness and sheer agony of Our Lord’s suffering. By this I don’t only mean the physical suffering that Our Lord endured as His bloodied and beaten Body was cruelly nailed to a rugged splintery cross. As gruesome as this was, the real gruesomeness of Christ’s Passion was that we, His own creatures, in wicked rebellion murdered the Creator that gave us life.

Although we meant it for evil, God meant it for good...and in His rich mercy He turned our evil to good for by His Cross and Resurrection He has redeemed and reconciled the world to Himself, and so restored us to His Divine Life.
As we meditate on these Sorrowful Mysteries, may they remind us of the great price that was paid to wash away our sins...and the sins of the whole world.

The First Sorrowful Mystery – the Agony of Our Lord in the Garden
After instituting the perpetual memorial of the Holy Eucharist, the Lord and His disciples sang an hymn and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane on Mount Olivet (Matt 25:30).

[Interesting, the “hymn” referred to in the Gospel is the Hallel Psalms (Ps 115 – Ps 118) which are traditionally sung by Jews as part of the Passover liturgy. As Our Lord sang these Psalms, His Blessed Mother was on His mind:

“O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant,
The son of your handmaid” – Ps 116:16 (Cp Lk 1:38)]

In the Garden, Our Lord began to endure such intense spiritual suffering that He told His disciples that He was sorrowful “even to the point of death” (Mk 14:33-34). In the midst of this suffering, He prayed three times that, if it was the Father’s will, that the Cup of the Passion  pass from Him.

As the Lord’s felt the weight of the sins of the world upon His shoulders, His agony became so intense that He sweated great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). He had not yet received His first physical blows, and already He began to pour out His Precious Blood to wash away the sins of the world.
Despite Jesus' great agony, He was resolved to relinquish His will; and He would willingly drink of the Cup that the Father had willed for Him (Matt 26:39).
Following Our Lord, we need to learn resignation to the will of God in our own suffering. When any member of the Church suffers, He suffers in Christ because the Church is the Body of Christ. Sometimes God wills that Christians suffer for Christ (Phil 1:29) because it is through our suffering that we complete the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24). And as we suffer for and in Christ, we can rest assured that He will send His angels to comfort and strengthen us (Lk 22:43).

The Second Sorrowful Mystery – the Scourging of Our Lord at the Pillar

Following His arrest, Jesus was led away to a mock trial presided over by Caiaphas, the High Priest. In his Gospel, St. Matthew was determined to account for Jesus’ innocence – the original Greek reads best in the King James Version:

“Now the chief priests and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put Him to death; but found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses...” (Matt 26:59-60 KJV)

The atrocity of the false condemnation against the innocent Jesus was compounded by the fact that He was led to for examination to Pilate – to Herod – and back to Pilate...and still no fault was found against Him. Yet, Pilate, in a play of politics, sought to appease Jesus’ accusers by having Him scourged at the Pillar.
This was not a simple whipping with a leather strap or a rod – it was a brutal lashing carried out with an instrument constructed of sharp bones, glass, and rough stones. As the victim was scourged, his flesh would literally be torn from his body, and his muscles shredded to the point of exposing his bones.

We need to understand that Jesus’ scourging wasn’t something that was only incidental to His Passion – rather, it too was redemptive; for in His scourging Our Lord suffered in His Body for the sins that we commit in our bodies. As Isaiah prophesied:

“...He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and His stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24)

As we meditate upon this Mystery, may we remember the sufferings of Our Lord in His Body, and be resolved to mortify our sensual pleasures and seek to glorify God in our bodies (Rom 8:13; 1 Cor 6:20).

The Third Sorrowful Mystery – Our Lord is Crowned with Thorns
Having endured the cruel torments of His scourging, Our Lord was led back to Pilate. But before delivering Him over to Pilate, the soldiers wished to have one last laugh at His expense. In mockery of the accusation against Him, the soldiers dressed Jesus in a scarlet robe, placed a sceptre in His hand, pressed a crown of thorns on His Head, and “bowed” before Him in adoration. Having reached the depths of depravity, they mercilessly beat Him again with the sceptre – driving the thorns deeper into His brow.
What cruel irony – the King of Glory was being mocked as if He was no king. But rather than call His own soldiers – ten thousand legions of angels – to His aid, He humbly and silently endured their mocking.

The King who deserved to be crowned with the finest gold and precious stones was instead crowned with our curse – the First Adam felt the pain of sin’s curse every time he tread upon a thorn (Gen 3:17-18); the Last Adam now felt the pain of sin’s curse upon His Brow.
Every time that we sin, it is as if we ourselves are pressing the thorny crown deeper into Our Saviour’s Holy Brow. So, may we learn by this Mystery to flee from sin; and even if this attracts the mockery of the world, may we humbly unite the ridicule we experience to the most ridiculous mockery that ever took place in human history – when Our Lord was crowned with thorns.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery – Our Lord Carries His Cross to Calvary
“Ecce Homo – Behold the Man” was Pilate’s cry to Jesus’ accusers. Unmoved by pity at His now-mutilated Body, they demanded that He be crucified. And so Jesus, sentenced to that ignominious death, was forced to carry His cross to the place where they would finally execute Him.

The heavy beam upon His shredded back would have been a source of intense agony. The pain and blood loss were almost too much for Him to bear, so much so that He fell three times on the way to Golgotha.
Not wanting Him to die before His execution, the Roman soldiers commanded a man called Simon, from the region of Cyrene, to carry the cross for Jesus. Little did Simon know that, in this way, he was playing a part in the redemption of the world.

To this day, Our Lord desires that we be His co-workers in the work of redemption by calling us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matt 16:24). Whatever suffering we bear as Christians, we must bear it united to Our Lord – remembering always that our suffering has redemptive value.
Moreover, as we carry the cross with Christ, we can be assured that it will change us. Simon of Cyrene had come to Jerusalem as a pilgrim unaware of who Jesus was. But after he carried Jesus’ cross, he was changed and forever united with Him. He became a man who taught his own children the Way of Christ so that they themselves became recognised as eminent Christians in the Church in Rome (see Mk 15:21; Rom 16:13). This should be the desire of every Christian parent – that their children grow up loving and serving the Lord with everything that they are. And a sure way to do this is by teaching them the Most Holy Rosary, because as we take our children to Mary, she will unfailingly point them to Jesus.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery – the Crucifixion of Our Lord
We come finally to the climax of Our Lord’s Passion. Atop Mount Calvary, nails are driven through the Precious Hands and Feet of the Lord Jesus to fasten His mutilated Body to the cross...which is then bone-jarringly dropped into a hole. Despite the soldiers’ fear that Jesus might die on the Via Dolorosa, the Lord continued to suffer for six more agonising hours as He hung on that cross.
Through the Cross we learn the meaning of forgiveness – not only because it is the Instrument of the forgiveness of our own sins; but we also learn by the Lord’s example to forgive those who have wrongfully abused us (Lk 23:34).

Through the Cross we also learn the meaning of love – for it was at the height of His suffering that Our Blessed Lord gave us His Mother to be our Mother. Despite His torment and imminent death, He wanted His disciples to know that they were not left alone. He had already promised them the Holy Spirit to comfort them...but as He hung on the Cross, He also lovingly gave them a Mother to comfort them in their distress – since nothing is able to console a hurting child better than a mother’s loving embrace.
Mary’s acceptance of this role tells us much about her sacrificial love – despite the pain that she was experiencing at the loss of her Child, she willingly accepted His call for her to be a Mother for all those He was redeeming by His Passion.

After six gruelling hours on the Cross, the Lord gave up the ghost and commended His spirit into the hands of the Father (Lk 23:46). His limp Body was taken down from the Cross and laid in the arms of the Blessed Virgin. As at His Birth, so at His death – ever close to the breast of His Blessed Mother.
And so let us never fear to approach our Blessed Mother to lean upon her for comfort, because when we do, we lie in the arms of her who so lovingly held our Saviour at the beginning and end of His earthly life.

Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary
As much as the Sorrowful Mysteries are about Christ, they are also about Mary. This is not only because Jesus and Mary cannot be separated; but also if you consider Mary’s role in the Lord’s Passion.

A mother bears no pain as intense as that of watching her child suffer. Any mother witnessing brutality against her child would be completely justified in the most vehement of protests. How much more intense would this protest be if she knew that her child was innocent of any wrong-doing deserving of such brutality?
Mary knew that her Child was not only innocent; no...she knew that He was Innocence Incarnate. The silence of the Blessed Mother in the Lord’s Passion is deafening because it is in her silent resignation to her Son’s suffering that she boldly proclaims her loving obedience to the will of her Heavenly Father.

If we want to imitate Our Blessed Lord in His Passion, we could do no better than to seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. And what better way to do this than in the recitation of the Rosary, in which we really do take up our cross and follow Christ.

For related posts on this topic, click the links below:

Reflections on the Rosary - Introduction

Reflections on the Rosary - Part II (The Luminous Mysteries)

Reflections on the Rosary - Part IV (The Glorious Mysteries)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Reflections on the Rosary - Part II (The Luminous Mysteries)

The Rosary traditionally has consisted of three sets of Mysteries – the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Mysteries.

The Luminous Mysteries, or the Mysteries of Light, were first suggested by Blessed Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Rosarium Virginis Mariae”, and were heartily taken up by the majority of Catholics. One reason for the Holy Father’s suggestion was that  it was fitting to include meditations on the ministry of Christ, given that the traditional Rosary jumped from His Infancy to His Passion...and there is so much that can be gleaned from meditating on the ministry of Our Blessed Lord.
It was no mistake that the Pope suggested calling these the “Mysteries of Light” because they reveal the Lord Jesus Christ (who is the Light) and His Kingdom in a special way.

The First Luminous Mystery – the Baptism of Our Lord
In His Baptism, the Lord Jesus teaches us total resignation to the will of God. When Jesus came to be baptised, John the Baptist wanted to prevent it. John’s message was one of penance (or repentance) i.e. turning away from sin and self; and turning towards God. We know that Mary and Elisabeth were kinswomen (Lk 1:36); so it is very likely that Jesus and John the Baptist knew each other. This means that John would have known what kind of person Jesus was; which makes sense of his response to Jesus’ request for baptism: “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt 3:14). John’s message was about turning from sin, and he knew Jesus well enough to know that he, a sinner, had need to be baptised by the One whom he had never seen given to sin.

But Jesus’ response to John was “Suffer it to be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). This is an interesting response in light of the fact that John’s message was about righteousness – and here is Jesus, the living example of true righteousness, which is total abandonment to doing the will of His Heavenly Father. The Father Himself attests to this when, after Jesus’ baptism, He declares “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.
As we meditate upon this first Mystery, we ask Our Lady to pray for us so that we can be Christ-like in being totally committed to doing the will of God. And when we imitate Him in this way, we are assured of God’s promise that He will be well-pleased with us, those whom He makes His beloved sons and daughters through the waters of baptism. Jesus tells us that when we do what God desires, His words to us will be:

“Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt 25:23)

The Second Luminous Mystery – Our Lord turns water into wine
Many theologians regard the Lord’s Baptism as the start of His public ministry – and it is, to a degree. His Baptism was His commissioning by His Heavenly Father. But still His public ministry hadn’t yet begun, because He first had to undergo the forty day Temptation in the Wilderness.

So, what was the starting point of Jesus’ public ministry then? It was the performance of His first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – when He turned water into wine. It is no mistake that this miracle was performed at the request of His Blessed Mother. God, in His Divine Wisdom, saw it fit that the Lord Jesus would begin His public ministry with the commissioning of His Heavenly Father and the request of His Blessed Mother.
The narrative of the Lord turning water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) is an instructive one, because it shows us the nature of Mary’s role in the life of the Christian. Firstly, she sees the needs of her children, the children that God has given to her (Jn 19:27), and intercedes on their behalf. Secondly, she always points us to Jesus and tells us to “do whatever He says” (Jn 2:5). And thirdly, she reveals the glory of her Son so that people might believe in Him. Whilst it is true that Jesus performed this first sign to reveal His own glory (Jn 2:11), we must remember that He performed it at the request of His Blessed Mother. She knew that by this request, her relationship with her Son would be changed. Yet she requested it anyway – for the sake of others, and so that Jesus’ glory could be revealed.

As Mary points us to Jesus and tells us to follow Him, she does so by the example of her own willingness to say “Yes” to God in her Fiat. She is also our example in glorifying God, when we echo her words “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46).
As we imitate Our Lady, we can be assured that we, like her, will be conformed into the image of her Divine Son. Jesus’ promises to change us, just as He changed water into wine.

The Third Luminous Mystery – the Proclamation of the Kingdom
After performing His first miracle, Jesus went out and started proclaiming the Gospel. His message was a call to repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand (Matt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15).

As already mentioned in the First Luminous Mystery, repentance is turning away from sin and self; and turning towards God. But Jesus doesn’t just call us to repentance; He also gives us the means that we need to accomplish it. We cannot approach God in our own strength, for in our own strength we often stumble and fall. Rather, Christ calls us to embrace Him and His free gift of grace so that we might have our sins forgiven and be reconciled with our Heavenly Father.  
It has often been said that Jesus promised the Kingdom but gave us the Church. But the truth is that the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom:

But what does the Church have to do with repentance and grace? It was to the Church that the Lord Jesus Christ gave the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:23; Matt 18:18). And it is through the Church that the Lord pours out His grace – specifically by the means of the Seven Sacraments.

As we meditate upon this Mystery, may we hear the voice of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Catholic Church calling us to a life of continual conversion and growth in holiness – because when we hear the Church, we hear Jesus (Lk 10:16). And as we listen to the Church, and make ourselves available to the Sacraments, we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[For another reflection on the Third Luminous Mystery, click here.]

The Fourth Luminous Mystery – the Transfiguration
The episodes in Christ’s life that we meditate upon in the Luminous Mysteries are those where Christ revealed His glory. In this Fourth Luminous Mystery, we meditate upon that very visible display when His face shone like the sun and His clothes became dazzling white (Matt 17:2). As His three closest disciples gazed upon His unveiled glory, He was accompanied by the two great Old Testament Saints, Moses and Elijah. To the Jewish people, these men were the “icons” of the entire Old Testament Scriptures – Moses, the Law; and Elijah, the Prophets.

Peter, not knowing what to say, made the suggestion that three tents (or tabernacles) be erected – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (Mk 9:5-6). At this point, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from heaven proclaimed “This is my Beloved Son; listen to Him!” (Mk 9:7). The disciples became so afraid that they fell to the ground; but Jesus came to them and touched them saying, “get up and do not be afraid”. When they looked up, they saw that Moses and Elijah had disappeared, and Jesus was standing alone before them.
One interpretation that the Church has given this passage is that the “disappearance” of Moses and Elijah was God’s way of saying that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. Lk 24:27). There was no need to make tabernacles for Moses and Elijah, because all that they had spoken about was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, when He made His tabernacle amongst men (see Jn 1:14 – where the word  translated as “dwelt” or “lived” is in fact means “to tent or tabernacle”).

It is interesting that the words spoken by the Father to the disciples were “Listen to Him!”; because just a few days prior, Jesus had prophesied His Passion and they would not believe Him (see Matt 16:21-22; Mk 8:31-32). The disciples overheard Moses and Elijah speaking to the Lord about His Passion (Lk 9:31). Now, the Father is basically saying to them: “You are prepared to listen to Moses and Elijah. There is one greater than Moses and Elijah here. Listen to Him!”
In the Second Luminous Mystery, Jesus revealed His glory through His first miracle, and we hear His Mother’s words “Do whatever He says”. Now, Jesus reveals His physical glory, and we hear His Father’s words “Listen to Him!”

If we listen to Jesus and do whatever He says, we can be sure that we will meet with persecution. After all, if the world persecuted Him, we can expect that it will persecute us. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His Passion. Listening to Jesus means that we will somehow be called to share in His Passion, for He tells us that if we want to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matt 16:24). But that is not where the story ends. After His Passion, Jesus rose again in glory – and this is His promise to us – that if we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17).

The Fifth Luminous Mystery – the Institution of the Eucharist
In this Mystery, Christ reveals to us how He will remain with His Church until the end of the ages (Matt 28:20). Whilst the Fourth Luminous Mystery is about Christ unveiling His glory, this Fifth Mystery is about Christ continuing to dwell amongst His people with His glory veiled under the appearance of bread and wine.

The Luminous Mysteries really come to a climax in the Fifth Luminous Mystery, because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. Ultimately, this Mystery is about faith.
If we believe that Jesus turned water into wine, as we have already seen in the Second Luminous Mystery, then it shouldn’t be hard for us to believe that He can turn wine into His own Blood.

If it is by faith that we believe that the world was framed by the word of God (Heb 11:3), then it is by faith that we believe the words of Institution change the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. If God says “Let there be light”, then there is light. In the same way, if God says “This is my Body” – then the bread that He holds becomes, by the word of God, His very Body.
As we meditate upon this Mystery, we are called to increase our faith in our Eucharistic Lord, who gives His flesh for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). And for all those who worthily share in the communion of the Lord’s Body and Blood, He assures that they will have eternal life (Jn 6:54) – because He is Life.

Obtaining the Promises through Jesus Christ
The Luminous Mysteries are about revelation – specifically the revelation of the glory of the Lord Jesus. That is why these Mysteries are called “Luminous” – because they are about giving light. Jesus said “I am the Light of the world” (Jn 8:12); but He also said that the Church is the light of the world (Matt 5:14). This is because His glory is not something that He keeps to Himself. His desire is to share His glory with His Bride and Body, the Church.

As we meditate upon these Luminous Mysteries, may we grow in our desire to share in Christ’s glory, mindful of the promise that we too will shine as bright as the Son (Matt 13:43).

For related posts on this topic, click the links below:

Reflections on the Rosary - Introduction

Reflections on the Rosary - Part III (The Sorrowful Mysteries)


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Reflections of the Rosary - Part I (The Joyful Mysteries)

As mentioned previously , since the month of May is devoted to Our Lady, my next few blog posts will be reflections on the Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary.  
Of course, it must be remembered that these reflections are by no means exhaustive. After all, they are reflections on the Mysteries of Christ’s Life, Passion, and Resurrection. The very definition of a Mystery in Christian theology is something that, whilst revealed and knowable, it is beyond the powers of natural reason. So, we are able to meditate upon the Mysteries of Christ’s Life, but we will never be able to exhaust or fathom them completely. So, these reflections that I present are nothing more than a tiny scratch on the surface of the Infinite.

The First Joyful Mystery – the Annunciation
In the Mystery of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38), we are reminded, first of all, of the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee”. We know from Scripture that angels do not speak their own words – rather, being the messengers of God, they speak His words. And this is how God chose to greet Mary: “Hail, full of grace!”

So, in one sense, the Rosary is an imitation of God Himself, as we greet Mary with the same words that He did.
But the Rosary is not primarily about Mary – just as Gabriel’s message was not primarily about Mary. Rather, Gabriel came bearing a message of salvation and hope. Gabriel presented to Mary the message of the Incarnation – that God would become Man to save His people from their sins...and that He would do this through the means of Mary, whom He had prepared for this purpose.

But Mary was not a robot; she was a free creature. And in this sense she was fully able to say “No” to God’s request. But, thanks be to God, Mary didn’t say “No”. Rather, she pronounced her “Yes” to God as she affirmed her desire to walk in humility and obedience to her God and Creator:
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to Thy word”.

The Church Fathers teach us that in this great act of obedience, Mary untied the cord of Eve’s disobedience – and so, as St. Irenaeus reminds us, Mary became Eve’s advocate.  
“...the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.”

“As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.”
In this way the First Joyful Mystery calls us to imitate Mary’s humility and readiness to accept God’s will in our lives. And given that we are all children of Eve, God calls us to accept Mary as our new Mother and Advocate as we seek to humbly obey His holy will.

The Second Joyful Mystery – the Visitation
Before the Angel Gabriel departed from Mary, he gave her a sign – he told her that her kinswoman, Elisabeth, would herself conceive a child despite the fact that she was already too old to be able to (Lk 1:7). What was Mary’s response to this message from Gabriel? We are told that she went with haste to the house of Elisabeth (Lk 1:39).

Why is this important? Mary could’ve adopted an introverted approach which focussed on her own needs as a new mother. But she didn’t. Instead, she rose up with haste, and risked a long and treacherous journey so that she could be with the aged Elisabeth in her hour of need.
Immediately upon hearing Mary’s greeting, the child in Elisabeth’s womb leaped for joy (Lk 1:41) and Elisabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, acknowledged the very Presence of Christ in Mary (Lk 1:42). But Jesus was not only in Mary in a physical sense (i.e. in her womb); He also filled her spirit with His very own.

We see this in Mary’s humility and willingness to deny herself for the sake of others. And it is this same spirit of Christ that this Joyful Mystery calls us to imitate.
The Third Joyful Mystery – the Nativity of Our Lord

The Third Joyful Mystery brings us to the birth of Our Lord in Bethlehem – the great event where Jesus Christ is born among men to fulfil His mission to redeem His people (Matt 1:21; Lk 19:10)
This mission was to take place in the context of God’s Kingdom. In his message to Mary, Gabriel said that Jesus would inherit the throne of David, and that there would be no end to His Kingdom. But what we see at the Nativity event in Bethlehem looks nothing like what we expect of kings and royalty. Jesus was not born with pomp and ceremony in the high palaces. No – He was born in Bethlehem, in the obscurity of a cave used as a shelter for animals.

So, this Mystery reveals the humility in Christ’s mission. Not only was His mission marked by the humble beginnings in the cave-stable; but even the proclamation of the Kingdom would continue in this humble vein, even as Christ – a man without a place to call home (Matt 8:20) – would later appoint unassuming fishermen to the high office of Apostles.
By virtue of our baptism, Christ continues to call each and every Catholic to proclaim the Gospel of His Kingdom. But as we meditate on this Joyful Mystery, we are reminded that we are to do so with the humility of Christ.

The Fourth Joyful Mystery – the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple
Under the Old Covenant, women were considered ceremonially “unclean” for a period of time following childbirth due to the discharge of blood. At the end of the time of her purification, the woman was required to bring an offering to make atonement so that she could be pronounced ceremonially “clean” again (see Lev 12). It was after this time of “purification” that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, together with their offering of two turtle doves (see Lk 2:22-38).

Given that God preserved Mary from sin, Mary had not have been subject to the labour pains and bloodletting which came about as a result of the Curse (see Gen 3:16). This is a logical conclusion of the Church’s teaching of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, which has been affirmed by the Church Fathers since the earliest times. Furthermore, St. John of Damascus affirms that the birth of Jesus “surpassed the established order of birthgiving, as it was without pain; for, where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow”.
If this is true, and Mary did not require purification, why did she succumb to this requirement of the Law? What we have already seen in the Second Joyful Mystery gives us a glimpse at the answer i.e. she was filled with the spirit of Christ. Since Jesus Christ was the Divine Lawgiver, He was, in principle, not subject to the Law.  However, to show obedience, He humbled Himself and made Himself subject to the Law. In the same way, Mary humbled herself to obey the Law of God, even though she could have argued that the way in which Christ had been born, without “tainting” her Virginity, repudiated her need for purification.

In imitation of Jesus and Mary, the Third Joyful Mystery calls us to subject ourselves humbly in obedience to God. Even when God’s requirements do not make sense, faith answers in humble obedience.  

The Fifth Joyful Mystery – Finding Our Lord in the Temple
The Fifth Joyful Mystery transports us from time of Jesus’ Infancy to his Young Manhood. When He was twelve years old, He accompanied St. Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem for the annual Feast of Passover (Lk 2:41-51). Once the Feast was over, they departed for Nazareth not realising that Jesus was not with them. At the end of the day’s journey they suddenly realised that He was missing and turned around to find Him. Three days later they found Him in the Temple in discussion with the learned Doctors of the Law.

Mary was no doubt puzzled by Jesus’ actions. The Boy had been lost for three days. Where did He stay? What did He eat? And yet, here he was, in the Temple, seemingly unconcerned about these things and that His parents had been frantically looking for Him.
Mary’s did what any mother would’ve done – she asked Him why He did what He did. At the same time, her question also surpassed any question a normal mother could have asked. The very way she asked the question seems to indicate that Mary remembered that Jesus was not an ordinary Boy. Rather than simply asking Him “Why have you done this?” she asks: “Son, why have you treated us like this?”  It wasn’t simply the question of a Mother to her Child – it was also the question of a creature to her God. Mary knew Christ was Divine...but she couldn’t understand why He would allow them to search for Him with sorrow and anxiety. It wasn’t a question asked in anger or disappointment. Rather, it was a question which, in humility, admitted a lack of understanding.

Jesus’ response was to remind her that they needn’t have searched for Him – they ought only to have looked in the place where He was most likely to be i.e. in His Father’s House. St. Luke tells us that Mary and St. Joseph still didn’t understand what Jesus meant (Lk 2:50)...but sometimes that’s still alright. Because even though they didn’t understand, Jesus went with them and remained obedient to them...and all the while, Mary treasured these things in her heart.
This Fifth Mystery exhorts us to humbly accept the limitations of our understanding, and to ask God to help us to understand better. And even though we may still not understand, we are encouraged to continue to treasure these things in our hearts. And when we feel like we have “lost Jesus”, we ought to search for Him in the place where He said that He would always be – if we want to “find Jesus”, we must look within His Holy Church.

Obtaining the Promises through Jesus Christ
As we meditate upon these Mysteries, we see that the common thread that runs through them is humility. And as we pray the Rosary, we ask Mary to show us more of the Lord Jesus so that we can be further encouraged in our imitation of Him.

As we persevere in imitating Christ, we can be sure of receiving the reward of our Heavenly Father. Elsewhere in Scripture, God promises us that if we walk in humility, He will exalt us:
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” – Matt 23:12 (NRSV)
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time.” – 1 Pet 5:6 (NRSV)
St. Paul exhorts us to have the same mind as Christ who, when He humbled Himself, was exalted by the Father to highest place – where every knee would bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:5-11).

The degree to which we suffer with Christ, is the degree to which we will be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17b). There is no creature who has suffered as much as the Blessed Mother suffered for her Divine Son, and because she shared in His sufferings, He has also made her to share in His glory by crowning her as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
Not only is the Incarnate Lord an example of God’s promise kept, but so too is His Blessed Mother. If we are faithful in imitating Jesus and Mary in humility, we can rest assured that God will also exalt us to share in Christ’s victory!

For related posts on this topic, click the links below:

Reflections on the Rosary - Introduction

Reflections on the Rosary - Part II (The Luminous Mysteries)

Reflections on the Rosary - Part III (The Sorrowful Mysteries)

Reflections on the Rosary - Part IV (The Glorious Mysteries)