Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Novena to Our Lady of the Rosary

From Vultus Christi:

Immaculate Virgin Mary,
Our Lady of the Rosary,
Queen of the Cenacle,
and Mother of all who unite themselves
to your Immaculate Heart
in a prayer that is persevering and full of confidence,
look graciously upon the beginnings of this little monastery
dedicated to you,
and set apart for the adoration of your Divine Son,
hidden in the Sacrament of His Love.

Intercede for the men whom you have chosen
to live in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and to abide close to His Open Heart
together with you and with Saint John the Beloved Disciple.
Let nothing discourage them
as, day by day, they seek the Face of your Son,
and through Him offer themselves to the Father,
by the grace of the Holy Spirit,
for the healing and sanctification of priests.

Keep them humble and joyful in fidelity to the wisdom of Saint Benedict
and to the teachings of his Holy Rule.
Fill their dwelling with the sweet fragrance of your virginizing presence
so that all who enter there
may experience the happiness of the pure in heart
and the joy of those whose sins have been blotted out
in the Blood of the Lamb.

Be to them a Mother of Perpetual Help,
ready at every moment to assist them in their needs,
both spiritual and material,
so that with you, they may magnify the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Whose mercy is from age to age to those who fear Him,
and Who, even in our day, does wonders for His lowly servants. Amen.

Three Hail Marys.

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for them.
Our Lady of the Cenacle, pray for them.
Mediatrix of all graces, pray for them.

Saint Michael and all Angels, pray for them.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, pray for them.
Blessed Columba Marmion, pray for them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Good King Wenceslaus

Actually, he was a duke, not a king. The saintly Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, held fast to the faith in the face of intransigent paganism. He was killed at the instigation of a family member while going to church to assist at the matins of Michaelmas. He is the patron saint of the Czech people. According to an old Slavic legend:
At the death of Vratislaus, the people of Bohemia made his son Wencelsaus their king. He was by God's grace a man of utmost faith. He was charitable to the poor, and he would clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and offer hospitality to travelers according to the summons of the Gospel. He would not allow widows to be treated unjustly; he loved all his people, both rich and poor; he also provided for the servants of God, and he adorned many churches. The men of Bohemia, however, became arrogant and prevailed upon Boleslaus, his younger brother. They told him, "Your brother Wenceslaus is conspiring with his mother and his men to kill you." On the feasts of the dedication of the churches in various cities, Wenceslaus was in the habit of paying them a visit. One Sunday he entered the city of Boleslaus, on the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, and after hearing Mass, he planned to return to Prague. But Boleslaus, with his wicked plan in mind, detained him with the words, "Why are you leaving brother?"

The next morning when they rang the
bell for matins, Wencelaus, on hearing the sound, said, "Praise to you, Lord; you have allowed me to live to this morning." And so he rose and went to matins. Immediately Boleslaus followed him to the church door. Wenceslaus looked back at him and said, "Brother, you were a good subject to me yesterday." But the devil had already blocked the ears of Boleslaus, and perverted his heart. Drawing his sword, Boleslaus replied, "And now I intend to be a better one!" With these words, he struck his brother's head with his sword. But Wenceslaus turned and said, "Brother, what are you trying to do?" And with that he seized Boleslaus and threw him to the ground. But one of Boleslaus' counselors ran up and stabbed Wenceslaus in the hand. With his hand wounded, he let go of his brother and took refuge in the church. But two evil men struck him down at the church door; and then another rushed up and ran him through with a sword. Thereupon, Wenceslaus died with the words, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."
An old English Christmas carol celebrates "King Wenceslaus," as the following describes:

The carol tells about a miracle said to have happened on December 26 wherein the good king sees a poor man gathering wood for his fire. Learning from his page where the man lives, he bids the page:

Bring me flesh and bring me wine; Bring me pine logs hither; Thou and I shall see him dine When we bear them thither.

And without ado he tucked his royal robes into his boots and trudged through the cold to the hut underneath the mountain.

This spirit of serving is one of the things that needs to be restored to our society. Money is needed, and the needy are thankful for it; but the givers of the money need to do more for their own spirits than sign checks. Like King Wenceslaus, they would refresh their vision of Christ by the experience of serving, by the experience of looking into Christ's face in His poor and feeding Him, changing His sheets, bathing His sick body, shopping at the grocer's for His food. And for every act done with love for Him, He repays a hundredfold.

So this day the children may imitate both St. Stephen the deacon, who served, and St. Wenceslaus the king, who served, and set aside some of their Christmas toys or dollars to take to other little Christs less fortunate than themselves. This is hard, but there is an inner joy that children as well need to experience if they would know what we mean when we talk of serving. It is one thing to hear your parents talk about the blessedness of giving. It is quite another to part with something you do not very much want to part with, and then taste the peace and joy and contentment that come to the souls who have given up their own will for love of Christ.

This act of serving was hard for the little page too, but the carol tells what a marvelous reward was his:

In his master's steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted. Heat was in the very sod That the saint had printed.

Children love especially to sing this carol while walking outdoors in the snow. If there are enough who know it (do help them learn all the verses: it makes no sense otherwise) they can take parts, one being king, one page, one the poor man, the rest "voices." And afterward bid them remember, whenever they see footprints in the snow, the saint-king who journeyed to the poor man on the feast of St. Stephen, and bid them help someone that day in imitation of him.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Child Jesus

Here are the recent words of Our Holy Father Pope Benedict, spoken at the shrine of the Infant of Prague:
The image of the Child Jesus calls to mind the mystery of the Incarnation, of the all-powerful God who became man and who lived for thirty years in the lowly family of Nazareth, entrusted by Providence to the watchful care of Mary and Joseph. My thoughts turn to your own families and to all the families in the world, in their joys and difficulties. Our reflections should lead us to prayer, as we call upon the Child Jesus for the gift of unity and harmony for all families. We think especially of young families who have to work so hard to offer their children security and a decent future. We pray for families in difficulty, struggling with illness and suffering, for those in crisis, divided or torn apart by strife or infidelity. We entrust them all to the Holy Infant of Prague, knowing how important their stability and harmony is for the true progress of society and for the future of humanity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Smile from Eternity

Here are some extraordinary photos of an Orthodox monk, the Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, who recently died in the odor of sanctity. The late Elder's words on prayer are worth pondering, as follows:
by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

The question is always being asked, "Is it possible for those living in the world to occupy themselves with noetic* prayer?" To those who ask we answer quite affirmatively, "Yes." In order to make this exhortation of ours comprehensible to those interested, but at the same time to make aware those who are unaware, we will briefly explain this, so that no one will be placed in a quandary by the various interpretation s and definitions of noetic prayer that exist.

Generally speaking, prayer is the sole obligatory and indispensable occupation and virtue for all rational beings, both sentient and thinking, human and angelic. For this reason we are enjoined to the unceasing practice of the prayer*.

Prayer is not divided dogmatically into types and methods but, according to our Fathers, every type and method of prayer is beneficial, as long as it is not of diabolic delusion and influence. The goal of this all-virtuous work is to turn and keep the mind of man on God. For this purpose our Fathers\devised easier methods and simplified the prayer, so that the mind might more easily and more firmly turn to and remain in God. With the rest of the virtues other parts of man's body come into play and senses intervene, whereas in blessed prayer the mind alone is fully active; thus much effort is needed to incite the mind and to bridle it, in order that the prayer may become fruitful and acceptable. Our most holy Fathers, who loved God in the fullest, had as their chief study uniting with God and remaining continuously in Him; thus they turned all of their efforts to prayer as the most efficient means to this end.

There are other forms of prayer which are known and common to almost all Christians which we will not speak about now; rather we will limit ourselves to that which is called "noetic prayer", which we are always being asked about. It is a subject that engages the multitude of the faithful since next to nothing is known regarding it, and it is often misconstrued and described rather fantastically. The precise way of putting it into practice as well as the results of this deifying virtue, which leads from purification to sanctification, we will leave for the Fathers to tell. We paupers will only mention those things which are sufficient to clarify the matter and to convince our brethren living in the world that they need to occupy themselves with the prayer.

The Fathers call it noetic because it is done with the mind, the "nous" , but they also call it "sober watchfulness"* which means nearly the same thing. Our Fathers describe the mind as a free and inquiring being which does not tolerate confinement and is not persuaded by that which it can't conceive on its own. Primarily for this reason they selected just a few words in a single, simple prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me" , so that the mind would not require a great effort in order to hold on to a long, protracted prayer. Secondly, the y turned the mind within, to the center of our reason, where it resides motionless with the meaning of the divine invocation of the most sweet Name of our Lord Jesus, in order to experience as soon as possible the divine consolation. It is impossible, according to the Fathers, for our all-good Master, being thus called upon continuously, to not hear us, He Who desires so much the salvation of men.

Just as a natural virtue that is aspired to can only be achieved by the conducive means, so also this holy work requires some nearly indispensable rudiments: a degree of quiet; freedom from cares; avoidance of learning about and spreading the "news" of things going on, the "giving and taking" as the Fathers put it; self discipline in all things; and an overall silence which stems from these things. Moreover, I don't think this persistence and habit will be unattainable for devout people who take an interest in this holy activity. The good habit of a regular prayer time, morning and evening, always about the same time, would be a good beginning.

With surety we have emphasized perseverance as the most indispensable element in prayer. Rightly it is stressed by St. Paul, "Continue steadfastly in prayer."{Col. 4:2} In contrast to the rest of the virtues, prayer requires effort throughout our entire lifetime, and for this reason I repeat to those who are making the attempt not to feel encumbered, nor to consider the need for endurance as a failure in this sober-minded* work.

In the beginning it is necessary to say th e prayer in a whisper, or even louder when confronted by duress and inner resistance. When this good habit is achieved to the point that the prayer may be sustained and said with ease, then we can turn inwardly with complete outer silence. In the first part of the little book {Way of the Pilgrim} a good example is given of the initiation into the prayer. Sound persistence and effort, always with the same words of the prayer not being frequently altered, will give birth to a good habit. This will bring control of the mind, at which time the presence of Grace will be manifested.

Just as every virtue has a corresponding result, so also prayer has as a result the purification of the mind and enlightenment. It arrives at the highest and perfect good, union with God; that is to say, actual divinization (theosis). However, the Fathers also have this to say: that it lies with man to seek and strive to enter the way which leads to the city; and if by chance he doesn't arrive at the endpoint, not having kept pace for whatever reason, God will number him with those who finished. To make myself more clear, especially on the subject of prayer, I will explain how all of us Christians must strive in prayer, particularly in that which is called monological* or noetic prayer. If one arrives at such prayer he will find much profit.

By the presence of the Jesus Prayer man is not given over to temptation which he is expecting, because its presence is sober watchfulness and its essence is prayer; therefore "the one who watches and prays does not enter into temptation." {cf. Matt. 26:41} Further, he is not given over to darkness of mind so as to become irrational and err in his judgments and decisions. He does not fall into indolence and negligence which are the basis of many evils. Moreover, he is not overcome by passions and indulgences where he is weak, and particularly when the causes of sin are near at hand. On the contrary his zeal and devotion increase. He becomes eager for good works. He becomes meek and forgiving. He grows from day to day in his faith and love for Christ and this inflames him towards all the virtues. We have many examples in our own day of people, and particularly of young people, who with the good habit of doing the prayer have been saved from frightful dangers, from falls into great evils, or from symptoms leading toward spiritual death.

Consequently, the prayer is a duty for each one of the faithful, of every age, nationality, and status; without regard to place, time or manner. With the prayer di vine Grace becomes active and provides solutions to problems and trials which trouble the faithful, so that, according to the Scriptures, "Everyone that calls on the Lord shall be saved." {Acts 2:21}

There is no danger of delusion, as is bandied about by a few unknowledgeable people, as long as the prayer is said in a simple and humble manner. It is of the utmost importance that when the prayer is being said no image at all be portrayed in the mind; neither of our Lord Christ in any form whatever, nor of the Lady Theotokos, nor of any other person or depiction. By means of the image the mind is scattered. Likewise, by means of images the entrance for thoughts and delusions is created. The mind should remain in the meaning of the words, and with much humility the person should await divine mercy. The chance imaginations, lights, or movements, as well as noises and disturbances are unacceptable as diabolic machinations towards obstruction and deception. The manner in which Grace is manifested to initiates is by spiritual joy, by quiet and joy-producing tears, or by a peaceful and awe-inspiring fear due to the remembrance of sins, thus leading to an increase of mourning and lamentation.

Gradually Grace becomes the sense of the love of Christ, at which time the roving about of the mind ceases completely and the heart becomes so warmed in the love of Christ that it thinks it can bear no more. Still at other times one thinks and desires to remain forever exactly as one finds oneself, not seeking to see or hear anything else. All of these things, as well as various other forms of aid and comfort are found in the initial stages by as many as try to say and maintain the prayer, in as much as it depends on them and is possible. Up to this stage, which is so simple, I th ink that every soul that is baptized and lives in an Orthodox manner should be able to put this into practice and to stand in this spiritual delight and joy, having at the same time the divine protection and help in all its actions and activities.

I repeat once again my exhortation to all who love God and their salvation not to put off trying this good labor and practice for the sake of the Grace and mercy which it holds out to as many as will strive a bit at this work. I say this to them for courage, that they don't hesitate or become fainthearted due to the bit of resistance or weariness which they will encounter. Contemporary elders that we have known had many disciples living in the world, men and women, married and single, who not only arrived at the beginning state but rose to higher levels through the Grace and compassion of our Christ. "It is a trifle in the eyes of the Lord to make a poor man rich." {Sir. 11:23} I think that in today's chaos of such turmoil, denial and unbelief there exists no simpler and easier spiritual practice that is feasible for almost all people, with such a multitude of benefit and opportunity for success, than this small prayer. Whenever one is seated, moving about, or working, and if need be even in bed, and generally wherever an d however one finds oneself, one can say this little prayer which contains within itself faith, confession, invocation and hope. With such little labor and insignificant effort the universal command to "pray without ceasing" {1 Thes. 5:17 is fulfilled to perfection. To whatever word of our Fathers one might turn, or even in their wonderful lives, he will encounter hardly any other virtue given so much praise or applied with such zeal and persistence, so that it alone constitutes the most powerful means of our success in Christ. It is not our intention to sing the praises of this queen of virtues, or to describe it, because whatever we might say would instead rather diminish it. Our aim is to exhort and encourage every believer in the working of the prayer. Afterwards, each person will learn from his own experience what we have said so poorly.

Press forward you who are doubtful, you who are despondent, you distressed, you in ignorance, you of little faith, and you who are suffering trials of various kinds; forward to consolation and to the solution to your problems. Our sweet Jesus Christ, our Life, has proclaimed to us that " without Me you can do nothing." {Jn. 15:5} Thus behold that, calling upon Him continuously, we are never alone; and consequently " we can and will do all things through Him." {cf Phil. 4:13 Behold the correct meaning and application of the significant saying of the Scripture, " Call upon Me in your day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." {Ps. 49(50):15} Let us call upon His all-holy Name not only "in the day of trouble" but continuously; so that our minds may be enlightened, that we might not enter into temptation. If anyone desires to step even higher where all-holy Grace will draw him, he will pass through this beginning point, and will be "spoken to"* regarding Him, when he arrives there.

As an epilogue to that which has been written we repeat our exhortation, or rather our encouragement, to all the faithful that it is possible and it is vital that they occupy themselves with the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me" , the so-called "noetic prayer", with a sure faith that they will benefit greatly regardless of what level they may reach. The remembrance of death and a humble attitude, together with the other helpful things that we have ment ioned, guarantee success through the grace of Christ, the invocation of Whom will be the aim of this virtuous occupation. Amen.

As several of the Greek words used in this text do not have direct English equivalents, it was decided to add a small glossary at the end to help the reader understand with more preciseness the meaning of text.

noetic - of the "nous", the intellect. The intellect in this case is not simply the reasoning faculty of man, but the faculty of the heart that is able to compr ehend natural and spiritual realities through direct experience. It is the faculty by which one may know God through prayer. Thus noetic prayer is also often called the "prayer of the heart."

the prayer - "efhi". When used with the article "the", as opposed to a general type of prayer, it refers to the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." The Jesus Prayer is rooted in the early monastic tradition of the Church, with the words having been drawn from the New Testament.

sober watchfulness - " nipsis". Often translated as both "sobriety" and "watchfulness" it in fact incorporates both. It is a non-morbid seriousness in which the "nous", the intellect, maintains an alertness and awareness of its immediate state.

monological - In this instance it refers to the fact that when the prayer is being said by the person, on the humanly observable level it appears as if only the one praying is speaking; doing a monologue, that is. The activity of God usually remains imperceptible, especially for those in the beginning stages.

"spoken to" - refers to the numerous biblical instances of God speaking to the hearts and minds of His righteous ones, communicating Himself directly to those who were pure of heart and seeking Him through prayer.

This text was extracted and translated by the Brotherhood of the Monastery of Vatopaidi from the book by the Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi. It is hosted here on the internet by St. Gregory Palamas Monastery as part of an effort to make available in English the teaching of contempory monastic Elders. The Monastic Brotherhood of St. Gregory Palamas expresses its gratitude to Abbot Ephraim of Vatopaidi for making this text available.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eucharistic Adoration and Père Augustin-Marie du Très Saint Sacrement

Amid some recent controversy over Eucharistic Adoration, Pentimento recalls Father Hermann Cohen, a.k.a. Père Augustin-Marie du Très Saint Sacrement, a Carmelite priest of Jewish descent. Venerable Augustin-Marie promulgated Adoration of Our Lord's Real Presence in France during the late eighteenth century.

Pentimento offers a fascinating article about Hermann Cohen's life, from his days as a pianist in the company of Listz to his dramatic conversion to Christianity. The following is an excerpt:
In May, 1847, Prince Moscowa asked Hermann to substitute as choral director for a service at the church of S. Valère (now demolished). At the close of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, (le Salut), when the priest raised the monstrance in blessing Hermann experienced a deep motion, sweet and powerful. Overwhelmed, he felt like the Prodigal Son, totally unworthy and in need to return home. Liszt had once given him a bible when they were in Geneva. In it the Master had inscribed, "Blessed are the pure of heart." Hermann knew he did not qualify.

The same phenomenon occurred the following week and, even when he was off to Germany for a concert at Ems, Hermann burst into a flood of tears as he attended services in a little country church. Hermann had never known any priest except the Abbé Lamennais and was apprehensive about approaching one. A series of positive experiences, however, eventually led him to Father Theodore Ratisbonne, also a Jew, who would become his confidant and confessor.

At his baptism on August 28, 1847, Hermann experienced what he called an "apparition" of Christ, Mary, and the saints in a "brilliant light" and an "ecstasy of love." By November of that year he had already resolved to become a priest. Before he could undertake this whirlwind venture, however, it was necessary to wipe out the considerable gambling debts he had acquired. It took him two years of teaching at the Collège Stanislas and private lessons with young ladies who were not at all happy at his turn from the world. During this time he lived in modest quarters and spent hours in prayer with young men who shared his enthusiasm. Once during this period he chanced to meet George Sand who formerly had lavished such affection on him. She turned away in disgust, "Get lost! You’re nothing but a vile monk."

By 1848, he managed to pay off his debts. One final concert at the Saint Cecilia Hall bade his adieu to the world and helped square his accounts. He had had to practice from morning to night to prepare for it. According to one eyewitness, the concert was and "immense success" and the hall filled with "thunderous applause." Hermann wrote that in earlier days he would have been in the streets with a gun during the Revolution of 1848. Instead he was at his favorite devotion, spending the night in adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. This popular devotion was in great part pioneered by Hermann. Today visitors to the Basilica du Sacré Coeur in Paris will note that the Sacrament is continually exposed. Liszt himself wrote to Hermann’s first biographer, Abbé Sylvain, in 1882, that Hermann’s was a "life of burning and ecstatic perpetual adoration of the Bread of Angels."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Novena to St. Pio

Here is a novena in preparation for St. Pio's feast on September 23.

"I want to be only a poor Friar who prays... Pray, hope and don't worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer... Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God's heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips but with your heart. In fact on certain occasions you should speak to Him only with your heart...." ~Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cardinal Merry del Val

Of Irish, Scottish, and Spanish descent (oh, what an interesting combination!) Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val was a dynamic figure at the Vatican in the early 20th century. Here is a biographical account. He also wrote the famous Litany of Humility.

O Jesus meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I am a lifelong Catholic but am sad to say that I have seen devout people carelessly spread rumors, falsehoods and confidential information about others, causing untold harm. It is usually innocent children who suffer the most from rumors and calumny.

In my extended family there has been deep suffering caused by relatives who passed judgment and spread stories, stories which they should not have repeated even if convinced that what they were spreading was indeed the truth. As a young person I was reproached by relatives and people in the community about alleged behaviors of members of my family, as if it were all my fault. I see now it was a means of bullying me into questioning my faith and the path I had chosen. The young often do not see that such reproaches aimed at an innocent person are nothing but a cruel attempt at manipulation, and do not know how to respond. I did not know how to respond then, but I certainly do now.

At any rate, gossip and rumor-mongering have destroyed extended families and church groups; it takes great virtue to live through such an attack but it is possible. Not only is it possible, but it is necessary to be kind and forgiving to our detractors, even if they see kindness as either weakness or condescension, but that is a reflection of their own smallness.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


While reading The Heart of Motherhood by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle I came upon the following passage which struck me:
Saintliness is not pretentious or showy. It is not fanaticism or the practice of some bizarre religious belief. Holiness is actually very natural. It comes from God and requires only a desiring heart and soul. The effects of it radiate outward to others. We are all created to be holy. All of the graces to become holy are available for the asking. Each one of us in our own state of life is called to be holy.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta constantly professed that holiness is not reserved for a few, but is a duty for everyone. Holiness is really living our lives to the fullest potential within God's will. It is striving to reach our eternal destiny while living in God's providence. It is surrendering our wills to God and praying for the grace to fulfill our duties faithfully.

We are not perfect creatures. We fall many times, even throughout the course of one day. But the difference between a person striving for holiness and one who is indifferent to God's promptings in her soul is that the former will pick herself up, examine her conscience, ask forgiveness for her shortcomings, and strive to improve with prayer.

~from Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle's The Heart of Motherhood, p.112

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Tomorrow is the feast of the Nativity of Mary. So much of what the Church teaches has been distorted in our times. The teaching on Our Lady's perpetual virginity is often misunderstood, as Fr. Mark explains:
Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honoring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies.
Fr. Mark further discusses this beautiful and ancient teaching, as follows:
Ever since the Council of Ephesus in 431, icons of the Mother of God have been marked by three stars: one on her forehead, and one on each shoulder, The three stars signify her perpetual virginity: before, during, and after the birth of her Son....

Ancient liturgical texts reflect the language of the first great Christological councils of the Church. It was crucial, in the context of the prevailing heresies, to invoke Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God, or as Ever-Virgin. It was feared that by referring to Mary as a woman called simply by her ordinary name, something of the mystery of Christ, True God and True Man, might be obscured or compromised. The liturgy in both East and West reflects this ancient preference. While, in preaching and in works of devotion, we often hear the name of Mary without her theological titles, the liturgy calls her Sancta Dei Genetrix (Holy God-bearer) and Semper Virgo (Ever-Virgin).

The most ancient prayer to the Virgin Mother is the Sub tuum praesidium, found on an Egyptian papyrus from the 3rd century. It does not include the name “Mary,” but invokes her as Holy God-bearer (Sancta Dei Genetrix) and Virgin glorious and blessed, (Virgo gloriosa et benedicta).

The liturgy through the ages is consistent in confessing that God Himself is the author of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The same thought is carried over into the ancient rites for the Consecration of Virgins. Virginity, before being something offered to God, is a gift received from Him. It is a gift wholly ordered to union with Christ. Christ is the Spouse of Virgins; He is, at the same time, the blessed Fruit of a virginity received from God and offered back to Him. The liturgy does not separate virginity from motherhood. The virginity given by God is characterized not by sterility, but by an astonishing fecundity.

More on this de fide teaching in the Catechism:
The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it." And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin."
Here are some beautiful quotes from Fathers of Church:
Believe in the Son of God, the Word before all the ages, who was...in these last days, for your sake, made son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary in an indescribable and stainless way, -for there is no stain where God is and whence salvation comes.... (St. Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:45; 381 AD)
According to the condition of the body (Jesus) was in the womb, He nursed at His mother's breast, He lay in the manger, but superior to that condition, the Virgin conceived and the Virgin bore, so that you might believe that He was God who restored nature, though He was man who, in accord with nature, was born of a human being. (St. Ambrose of Milan, Mystery of the Lord's Incarnation, 6:54; 382 AD)
Who is this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-4), if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity. (St. Ambrose of Milan, The Consecration of a Virgin and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, 8:52; c. 391 AD)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mary in the Life of the Priest

Here is some profound wisdom from Our Holy Father:

When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes".

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.

Mary at the Heart of This Mystery

Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.

Saint John the Beloved Son

Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests.

Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27).

The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home".

Taking Mary Into One's Inner Life

This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being.

To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate.

It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them.

In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Here are some words from the Little Flower:
I was distressed at my want of courage, and Soeur Therese said to me: "You are complaining of what should be your greatest happiness. If you fought only when you felt eagerness, where would be your merit? What does it matter, even if you are devoid of courage, provided you act as though you possessed it? If you feel too lazy to pick up a bit of thread, and yet do so for love of Jesus, you acquire more merit than for a much nobler action done in a moment of fervor. Instead of grieving, be glad that, by allowing you to feel your own weakness, Our Lord is furnishing you with an opportunity of saving a greater number of souls."

~St. Therese: The Little Flower

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Shower of Roses

The mediation of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Spiritual Motherhood

Many women are dedicating themselves to the spiritual motherhood of priests, a beautiful and powerful devotion and commitment. It is very much in line with the dedication of Carmelites to pray for priests. According to Father Mark Kirby:
The nun, and indeed every woman living united to Christ, is called to spiritual motherhood, to a supernatural generativity that knows none of the limitations of biological fecundity, for it continues into old age and, indeed, into eternity. It is an historical fact that the widespread rejection of the title “Mother” among women religious coincided with the rejection of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in 1968. From that time on vocations to the consecrated life among women began to plummet except in those communities where there was a conscious decision to reject the mentality of spiritual contraception and affirm the call to motherhood.
To quote from WDTPRS:
The vocation of a spiritual mother, Father Kirby said, is to sustain and support the Church’s priests in the same way Our Lady loved and supported her divine Son and her adopted sons like St. John. Spiritual motherhood “has nothing to do with doting on or mothering a priest,” Father Kirby said. Rather, a priest’s spiritual mother would offer herself to God, praying in intercession and reparation for him, spending time in Eucharistic Adoration and becoming “a point though which an abundance of God’s graces might flow to bless the priest and sanctify his work.
There is a new blog for the Spiritual Mothers of Priests.
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