"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 30 December 2011



Called, at least in Russia, "Mother of God of the Sign", a reference to Isaiah 7, 14: The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and she will give birth to a son who will be called God-with-us," and to the text from Revelation 12, 1: A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman adorned with the sun and standing on the moon..."   

In this icon Our Lady is seen principally as a sign of Christ's saving presence.   She is called in Byzantine hymns "more spacious than the heavens because That which the heavens cannot contain has been contained in your womb."   Such are the marvels of the Incarnation that she contained Jesus who contained the whole of creation.   You cannot separate Jesus from the whole creation including all human beings from the start of the human race until the end whom he enlightens as they come into the world, any more than you can separate his humanity from his divinity.   Thus he could die for all and rise for all.   The Blessed Virgin, in containing him, became , indirectly but really, the source of all holiness.   Thus, she is never called "Saint Mary" as in the West.   She is called "Panagia" which means "All Holy" that acknowledges her unique relationship to Christian holiness.

In this icon the Mother of God is portrayed in apparel typical of the Byzantine royal family, with a purple-red cloak that veils her head and falls away smoothly to her feet.   She wears red shoes which rest on a red coloured carpet.   To the left and right there are medallions which portray two angels who serve as her escorts.

In a gilded medallion over Mary's bosom is depicted Christ in the features of Emmanuel, the long awaited Messiah.   As in all icons of Mother and Child, Jesus is portrayed more as a little adult or youth than as a baby.   He is holding his hands out to embrace all humanity and the whole of creation as their lord.

In Eastern Christianity they do not call Our Lady "Mother of the Church".   She is the Church itself in its relationship to Christ; just as Christ is the Church in relation to the Father.   In this icon, this is suggested by the raised hands of the Blessed Virgin.   One of the seers at Medjugorje was asked what was the main characteristic of the Blessed Virgin that impressed her, she replied, "Mary is one who prays."   In this icon, the Virgin is praying with raised hands: she is interceding, asking for mercy for the human race as does the Church in the Liturgy and as does each Christian in his heart.   This is further suggested by the fact that the raised arms form the silhouette of a chalice in which there is the eucharistic presence of Christ.   Mary as the Church will also be seen in the next icon.

Like every other icon, this is really a theophany, a manifestation of the divine-human nature of Christ, manifested through his own humanity and through that of the saints.   Mary is great because her holiness is the presence of Christ in her, brought about by the action of the Holy Spirit working in and through her own freely given "I am the handmaid of the Lord".


the Theotokos of Vladimir
The Council of Ephesus decreed that Mary is "theotokos".   Jaroslav Pelikan translates this as "she who gives birth to the one who is God".   This differs from the title "Mother of God" because it puts emphasis on physical childbearing.   "Mother of God" is principally about a family relationship - in one text Joseph and Mary are called "Parents" of Jesus, even though Joseph wasn't the physical father of Jesus.   Ephesus wants to leave no doubt that Mary is the physical Mother of Jesus who is personally God, so that she is physically Mother of God.

This 11th Century icon of the "Theotokos of Vladimir" in the Ukraine is one that belongs to the category of "Eleusa" or tenderness.   The emphasis of this icon of Our Lady of Tenderness is the intimate and tender relationship between Jesus and Mary.   Jesus is looking intently on his Mother, and his arm is around her neck.   The Blessed Virgin is looking at us, not leaning out to us to form a relationship with us, but inviting us to share her relationship with Jesus.   She is quite steady because her love is stable; but she is sad because she knows how much our sharing in this intimate and tender relationship is going to cost her Son.  

 Our relationship with Jesus in the Church is a share in the relationship between Jesus and his Mother, a relationship which was cemented by the Holy Spirit working through the "Behold the handmaid of the Lord.   Be it done to me according to your word" of the Blessed Virgin.   This union between Jesus and us is not less strong than a protestant type unity with Jesus and without the Virgin as an essential component: it is many times more intimate and tender; though I am sure that Protestants share in the same relationship, even if they do not know it.

.To find a post completely dedicated to Our Lady of the Passion as the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is called, click here.


The WAY is Jesus who is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.   In this icon, Our Lady is looking directly at the observer, straight into his heart, and she is pointing at her Son with her right hand. 

  Jesus is wearing gold-white clothes, which is the colour of royalty; and he is wearing a stole, a sign in icons that he has been sent by the Father.  He has his right hand raised in blessing, while, in his left hand is a scroll, the Good News, which he is yet to open and announce to the world. Christ's halo has a cross which indicates his destiny, and there are letters in Greek which stand for the Name of God. 

 The Blessed Virgin is wearing a Jewish bonnet under her veil to stand for her roots in Judaism as "Daughter of Sion".   She wears three stars, two on the shoulders and one on the head.   These stand for her virginity which remained intact before, during and after the birth of Jesus.  She is fulfilling her role that she had at the Marriage feast of Cana, and is telling us that we must listen to him and do whatever he tells us: he is our salvation.


The centre of attention in this icon is Jesus in swaddling clothes which could be grave clothes.   He is in a manger that could be a coffin, and in a cave that could be a tomb.   The Word of God, Creator of the universe, has been born and is totally dependent on those around him, on Mary and Joseph and others.   This reminds us of his total dependence and helplessness during his Passion.  The ox and the ass warm him with their breath. They are a scriptural reference to "My yoke is easy" (the ox) "..and my burden light" (the ass that carried Our Lord on Palm Sunday).  

The Blessed Virgin has finished giving birth and is now lying watchful..   Sometimes she is looking towards the lower left hand corner where an old man (the devil) is tempting St Joseph, trying to  make his admit that no divine being could possibly be as helpless as the Baby Jesus and thus deny the Truth.  Mary is offering moral support to Joseph and, by her intercession, delivers him from temptation.   St Joseph is facing some women who are midwives and who indicate to us by their presence that the birth of Jesus was a normal human birth, and that he needed being washed afterwards like any other new-born baby.

Next to Mary on the right are some shepherds with their sheep by a bush which is tree of Jesse from which Jesus was descended.   Across from the shepherds are angels  adoring God in human flesh.  Further up on the right are more angels: two are adoring the invisible Glory of God symbolised by the star over the manger, and one is about to descend to the shepherds to announce the Good News.   Angels are a sign to adoration and proclamation. .  

 The whole scene of the Nativity is set in a world of sharp rocks, inhospitable and cruel, made so by sin.

Sincere thanks to Brother Alex Echeandia for his advice and to various sources on the internet, including Wiki


Thursday 29 December 2011


St Isaac the Syrian has come into his own in modern times. Why God should use a seventh century saint to talk to Christians of today, a "Nestorian" to boot, though he shows no sign of the Nestorian heresy, is something known to God.   Perhaps it is because he shows us by his universal love what it means to be "Catholic" in a world of many faith and none.   We must reflect in our lives the universal love of God; this arising, not from a wishy-washy liberalism, a belief that one religion is as good as another, but from a belief in the Incarnation, that God took on the whole human nature, showing his love for the whole human race and for all creation, and looking at all human activity, including religious activity, in this context.

This is the third post in a series entitled "PEACE ON EARTH".    In the first, there was a video talk given by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on how the Divine Liturgy embraces the whole world in a universal love; and an article by Professor Olivier Clement on the Byzantine tradition on war and peace.   The second post gave examples of two great saints of universal love, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Catholic, and Mother Maria Skobtsova, an Orthodox nun who died in Ravensbruk.   In this third post on PEACE ON EARTH, after giving something of the vision of St Isaac the Syrian, using his own words, which provides a key to understand modern Catholic and Orthodox sanctity.   We shall look at another witness to the universal love of God, Dorothy Day and, in PEACE ON EARTH IV, another called Thomas Merton. Both are Catholics who drank deep from the well of Orthodox spirituality; and both strive to discover an authentic Christian way of living their faith in modern times   In this task I seek the help of Jim Forest, an Orthodox, who has written extensively about both people.

Words from St. Isaac of Syria
 source: Glory to God for All Things

 St. Isaac stretches love and mercy to it’s farthest limits, occasionally beyond the bounds of canonical understanding. He remains a saint of the Church and his words are very important to hear.

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.

Be crucified, but do not crucify others.

Se slandered, but do not slander others.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.

Suffer with the sick.

Be afflicted with sinners.

Exult with those who repent.

Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.

Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.

Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.

Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.

And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.

The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

Love is sweeter than life.

Sweeter still, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb is the awareness of God whence love is born.

Love is not loath to accept the hardest of deaths for those it loves.

Love is the child of knowledge.

Lord, fill my heart with eternal life.

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.

That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.

God’s recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection.

O wonder! The Creator clothed in a human being enters the house of tax collectors and prostitutes. Thus the entire universe, through the beauty of the sight of him, was drawn by his love to the single confession of God, the Lord of all.

“Will God, if I ask, forgive me these things by which I am pained and by whose memory I am tormented, things by which, though I abhor them, I go on backsliding? Yet after they have taken place the pain they give me is even greater than that of a scorpion’s sting. Though I abhor them, I am still in the middle of them, and when I repent of them with suffering I wretchedly return to them again.”

This is how many God-fearing people think, people who foster virtue and are pricked with the suffering of compunction, who mourn over their sin; They live between sin and repentance all the time. Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for.

When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil. The heavenly bread is Christ, who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of angels. The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal. …When we hear Jesus say, “Ye shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink, is sufficient to nourish a person. This is the wine “which maketh glad the heart.” Blessed is the one who partakes of this wine! Licentious people have drunk this wine and become chaste; sinners have drunk it and have forgotten the pathways of stumbling; drunkards have drunk this wine and become fasters; the rich have drunk it and desired poverty, the poor have drunk it and been enriched with hope; the sick have drunk it and become strong; the unlearned have taken it and become wise.

Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.

Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.

O my Hope, pour into my heart the inebriation that consists in the hope of you. O Jesus Christ, the resurrection and light of all worlds, place upon my soul’s head the crown of knowledge of you; open before me all of a sudden the door of mercies, cause the rays of your grace to shine out in my heart.

O Christ, who are covered with light as though with a garment, who for my sake stood naked in front of Pilate, clothe me with that might which you caused to overshadow the saints, whereby they conquered this world of struggle. May your Divinity, Lord, take pleasure in me, and lead me above the world to be with you.

I give praise to your holy Nature, Lord, for you have made my nature a sanctuary for your hiddenness and a tabernacle for your holy mysteries, a place where you can dwell, and a holy temple for your Divinity.

Adapted from Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev’s The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (Cistercian Studies 175), Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2000.

Interview with Jim Forest – Work Hard, Pray Hard. by US Catholic Magazine By editors of US Catholic Magazine Jim signing books at a talk in Washington DC at Catholic University on Oct. 23, 2011.Photo courtesy of Jim Forest

source: "In Communion" of "The Orthodox Peace Fellowship"

. Few have written authoritative biographies of the 20th-century spiritual giants Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, and Thomas Merton, the celebrated Trappist monk and writer. Fewer still knew them both. But Jim Forest, a former Catholic Worker himself, did, and his unique insight reveals the human side of two figures many Catholics revere as saints, if as yet uncanonized.

 Why the interest in these two people, both dead for decades? “Merton is just a perennial, like certain plants that refuse to stop blooming no matter how many years pass,” says Forest of the monk, who died in 1968, but whose writings are still not all published. “There’s a new book by him coming out every year or two.” As for Day, with whom Forest lived as a member of her staff, “Her canonization proceedings have gradually made people more and more curious: Who is this Dorothy Day?” The close friendship between Day and Merton, rooted in their common commitment to nonviolence and the works of mercy, is a fact known to few of their admirers. At heart, they shared a desire to restore to the church its early refusal of violence for any reason. “If you were to be baptized in the early centuries, you had to make a commitment not to kill anybody, period,” says Forest. “How did we lose that? Merton and Dorothy were two of the people in the 20th century who helped to unpack those boxes that had been pushed up into the attic.

 ”Dorothy Day lived in New York City among the poor, and Thomas Merton was a monk in rural Kentucky. How did you come to know them both?
 When I first came to the Catholic Worker in 1960, I was still in the Navy. I was 19 years old, working at the U.S. Weather Bureau as a young meteorologist and taking kids to Mass on Sunday from a little institution in Washington where I was volunteering in my spare time. I found copies of Dorothy’s newspaper, The Catholic Worker, in the library at this particular parish, Blessed Sacrament, and became curious about the woman. One weekend I went up from Washington to New York to see what the Catholic Worker was all about. In New York I was given a bag of mail to take to her in Staten Island. She was sitting there with a letter opener at the end of a table with a half dozen people sitting around. One of the rituals of life, as I discovered, was Dorothy reading the mail aloud to whoever happened to be there and telling stories. One of the letters was from Thomas Merton, and I was absolutely astounded that Dorothy Day, who was very much “in the world,” was corresponding with Thomas Merton, who had left the world with a resounding slam of the door. Of course, they were both members of the Catholic Church and both writers, but Merton had taken the express train out of New York City for good, and Dorothy lived at its very heart. Dorothy periodically got arrested; Merton certainly did not. Dorothy was very much under a cloud from the point of view of many Catholics because of her anti-war activities, and Merton was regarded as one of the principal Catholic writers in the world. But if they had been brother and sister they couldn’t have been very much closer. 

 How would you introduce these two figures to someone who doesn’t know them?I might start with a photo: Dorothy Day between two policemen, awaiting arrest at age 75. It was her last arrest, and you can see that this is a person worth knowing about, somebody who never stopped being disturbed about things that were disturbing, and she did it without hating anybody. She had a gift for seeing injustice and responding without rage but with persistence. She’s looking at these two policemen like a concerned grandmother of two kids who have their water pistols ready to open fire on grandma—but she’s definitely not in a state of enmity with these two boys and their big guns. 

In the case of Merton it’s more difficult because monastic life is so removed. The average age of a monk at Merton’s Abbey of Gethsemani now is 70. Today there aren’t a lot of young people thinking of becoming monks, whereas 50 years ago a lot of people were. I remember when I first saw Merton—there were no author photographs on his books, so you had no idea what he looked like—I sort of imagined some skinny person fasting all hours of the day, certainly not a person with a sense of humor. When I actually saw him for the first time in the monastery, he was on the floor with his feet in the air and clutching his tummy, laughing so hard that he was a shade of red. What was he laughing about? Merton had invited me to come down to the monastery, and I hitchhiked down because of my economic situation. It was in the middle of winter, 1962, and by the time Bob Wolf, one of my friends at the Catholic Worker, and I arrived, it had been two and a half days of the worst weather I’d ever experienced. When we finally got to the abbey, we hadn’t had a shower in two and a half days, so we probably had a pretty rich aroma. I had gone into the chapel loft at the monastery to pray, as I was excessively pious in those days. Bob more sensibly had collapsed on his bed in the guest house. Soon I could hear in the distance this funny sound that seemed like laughter but, of course, it couldn’t be laughter because this was a monastery. I followed the noise into Bob’s room, where I found both Merton and Bob laughing. It was, of course, the “Catholic Worker perfume” that had been inhaled by Merton that set him off.

 Why was meeting Merton such a big deal to you? I can only compare it to meeting someone like Oprah Winfrey today. You could not walk into a bookshop in America then without finding Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. For tens of thousands of people, it was a life-changing book. It’s a perennial bestseller, probably the most important religious autobiography that had been written in 200 or 300 years. It was the beginning of a succession of books by Merton, all of which were automatic bestsellers. Most of the people who read it didn’t become monks. But they did discover a kind of monastic place inside themselves where they could live a more coherent spiritual life. They found a core, a center, an anchor of some kind, and it opened their eyes in ways they hadn’t been opened before.

 Was Dorothy Day as well known? No, but on the other hand you could not walk into a Catholic church in America and not run into somebody who knew about the Catholic Worker. There were Catholic Worker houses of hospitality all over the country. The Catholic Worker newspaper was one of the most widely read Catholic publications in the United States with 100,000 copies printed every month. And once you became interested in Day, you were likely to read her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. 

How did Merton and Day become friends? It was a friendship of letters; they never actually met. Their oldest surviving letter is from December 1956, from Dorothy to Merton. She had received the news that he had offered Christmas Mass for her and the Catholic Worker and wanted him to know that “this has made me very happy indeed.” She goes on to say, “We have had a very beautiful Christmas here and quite a sober and serious one, too. There have been occasions in the past when the entire kitchen force got drunk, which made life complicated, but you must have been holding them up this year. Please continue to do so.” You get a sense of the frankness of their exchanges. The next letter that escaped the vicissitudes of time is also from Dorothy, from June 1959. It’s a reply to a letter from Merton, and she apologizes for not having answered more quickly and also recalls with gratitude the copies of The Seven Storey Mountain he had sent to her way back in 1948. That might have been the beginning, just Merton sending her a box of books. So Merton’s interest in Dorothy goes back at least to 1948.

 Why do you think Merton was interested in Day and the Worker? The big decision for Merton was whether to be part of Catherine Doherty’s Friendship House in Harlem near Columbia, where he was studying, which was like the Catholic Worker, or to go to Gethsemani and become a monk. Monastic life tilted heavily toward prayer, and ultimately Merton realized there was just something mysterious in him that pulled him toward that vocation. He didn’t feel it was necessarily as high a vocation as the works of mercy, but it was the one that God was calling him to. But that tension was always there, and he had a sense of gratitude that the Catholic Worker existed. Having a relationship with Dorothy allowed him to be a part of the work he hadn’t been led to do. As he wrote to Dorothy in December 1963, “If there were no Catholic Worker and such forms of witness, I would never have joined the Catholic Church.”

 How did they influence each other? I think Merton probably had less influence on Dorothy than she had on him, actually. Merton was trying very hard to write through the church censors— the abbot-general of his order blocked some of his writings about war and peace, for example. But Merton mainly wanted to reach Catholics who were bewildered by the idea of nonviolent, disarmed life, with works of mercy as a core of Christian life. I think he tried harder than Dorothy to communicate with people who didn’t completely share a pacifist view, and she was impatient with him for doing so. Dorothy was very outspoken: no footnotes, no commentaries, just bang, there it is. Merton would make a great effort to meet people midway, which I think was one of his talents. Merton’s voice changed all the time depending who he was talking to. If he was talking to a Quaker, he might use Quaker vocabulary. The same if he was talking to a Muslim. He created spaces in which dialogue occurred that might not happen otherwise. Merton had this facility to study and appreciate radically different points of view and somehow integrate them into his style with some people. Dorothy didn’t have a vocabulary for talking to Buddhists—she was so Catholic. I can remember having to argue Dorothy into publishing articles by Thomas Merton in The Catholic Worker because he wasn’t taking the pacifist position that Dorothy took. Can you imagine having to convince the editor of The Catholic Worker to publish an article by Thomas Merton? 

Did he influence her in terms of prayer? Dorothy was there already. She wouldn’t have lasted five years at the Catholic Worker if she didn’t pray. Of all the people I’ve known in my life, including Thomas Merton, I haven’t known anybody with a more disciplined spiritual life than Dorothy Day: Mass every day, rosary every day, confession every week. A community of Benedictine monks sent us prayer booklets for use during the day at the Worker—lauds, vespers, compline. We used them until they were worn out and then they’d send us more.

 How was Day’s approach to war and peace different from Merton’s? I can remember going with Dorothy one night when she was speaking at New York University on Washington Square. I was impressed by how much hostility there was from some of the students because of her antiwar stance. The Cold War was very cold, and anybody who was seen as a little short on the patriotic side—which meant an uncritical, enthusiastic support of the military activities of the United States government—came under suspicion. One of the students said, “Well, Ms. Day, you talk about loving enemies, but just what would you do if the Russians were to invade?” Dorothy said, “I would love them the same as I love anybody else that comes here. Jesus has said to love your enemies; that’s what I try to do. I would open my arms and do my best to make them feel welcome.” It was an absolutely scandalous answer, but it was straight out of the New Testament. It was like a lightning bolt, this shocking simplicity of the gospel. Dorothy knew enough by that time to be able to speak that way without apology or embarrassment. I suppose the young man who asked that question has never forgotten the answer. He probably will come back to it again and again and move from scandal and shock to maybe even thinking she was onto something. It wasn’t just words. Dorothy was in situations time and time again when she was confronted with people who were dangerous, and she did exactly what she hoped to do. She responded to them in a caring, motherly way.

 How do you think Merton and Day would respond to today’s wars? Dorothy would be doing the kind of things Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and other peace activists are doing: going to Iraq, going to Afghanistan, meeting with people, helping them, making known through writing and photography what the world is doing to human beings in these situations. I saw a picture on a poster in Milwaukee a couple of days ago that peace activists use at a weekly vigil on the Marquette campus. It is an American soldier—helmet, battle fatigues, gun at his side—holding the dead body of a child, the soldier obviously weeping. That’s the kind of imagery we’re not seeing on the front page of any newspapers in America, but that’s the reality of war, and Dorothy would be encouraging young people to bring it out. One of the things Merton stressed that we’re missing in our discussions of war is what he called the human dimension. We have to try to bring the face of suffering people to the fore and see what we can do to make that suffering happen less often, with less dreadful consequences. 

You’ve talked about Thomas Merton’s sense of humor. What about Dorothy Day? Was she ever funny? One of my favorite stories of Dorothy was the moment when a quite well-dressed woman came in to the Worker. She took a diamond ring from her finger and handed it to Dorothy. Why she was moved to do that, I have no idea. Dorothy thanked her politely with no more fuss than she would if the woman had brought a dozen eggs. A little while later a woman that we didn’t particularly enjoy seeing showed up. I think her name was Catherine, but we called her “the weasel.” She was, as far as we could tell, genetically incapable of saying thank you. Dorothy reached into her pocket and said, “I have something for you”—and gave her the diamond ring. I don’t know if it was me or somebody else who went to Dorothy afterward and said, “You know, Dorothy, I could have taken that ring up to West 47th Street to the Diamond Exchange, and we could have paid her rent for years to come.” She responded, “Well, if she wants to sell the ring and go to the Bahamas, she can do so. But she might also like to just wear the ring. Do you think God made diamonds just for the rich?” 

 Despite their differences, how are Day and Merton most similar? You would think that they wouldn’t have much in common, but the more you look the more you see how much they complement each other. I think they both represent a radical search for a deeply rooted spiritual life that is not separate from the world. We always hear the commandment, “Love God, and love your neighbor,” but one or the other usually takes priority. Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day were both remarkably successful in finding that balance point in terms of their own unique identities. The balance is slightly different, but the scales are very similar, which makes them convincing to us today, each in their own way.

 USC ? IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011
click on DOROTHY DAY AND THE LIGHT FROM THE EAST: Eastern Christianity, the Fathers of the Desert and Dostoievsky

Sunday 25 December 2011

BBC News - Queen's Christmas Day message focuses on family

BBC News - Queen's Christmas Day message focuses on family:

'via Blog this'




Christmas Eve 2011

            “Today a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.”

            In the name of the monastic community I welcome you all to this Midnight Mass of Christmas.  I know that many churches have now given up this traditional practice and gone for the soft option of an evening Mass. I don’t blame them but it seems to me that it is important still to keep vigil through the night together with those shepherds watching their flocks who were the first to hear the good news of the Saviour’s birth. “Today a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.” Today.

            I welcome our regular worshippers and give a warm welcome to our visitors. I know that many people only come to Mass at Christmas, so a very, very special welcome to you. Remember, this church is your home, you belong here and there will always be a welcome no matter how long it’s been since you last set foot in a church, no matter what it is that prevents you from practising your faith. God loves you, he always will and Christ was born today for you.

It’s interesting how in the History of Salvation all the important things happen at night, in darkness.  Go back to Creation: there was nothing but darkness and void until God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. It was in the middle of the night that, under the leadership of Moses, God led the People of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land and it was at night that he gave them the Law on Sinai. We often walk in darkness and don’t know where we’re going or even why. Life is a dark mystery without the light of faith. Yet the prophet Isaiah wrote long ago, “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” We are that people. Each one of us walks in darkness when we walk without the light of Christ.

It was in the middle of the night that Christ was born. Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.” Not only the darkness of night when Jesus was born but the darkness of rejection and exclusion. How many of us feel like that! And yet it is when the night is darkest that the angel of the Lord appears and the glory of the Lord shines brightest. Like the shepherds we are often more frightened of the light than of the darkness. “Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy, news to be shared by all the people. Today a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds run to the manger and, seeing the baby, are filled with joy. Darkness evaporates and they return home rejoicing. The same happens with the Three Kings or Wise men. In their darkness they are guided by a star that leads them to Bethlehem, where they bow down before the Christ Child and worship him, offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Like the Magi we often journey through life in darkness with just a star to guide us, though at times the cloud is thick and we see nothing. All we can do then is hang on for dear life and persevere in hope.

The Gospels tell us that darkness had covered the earth when Christ died crucified on Calvary and it was at night, at that darkest hour just before dawn, when on Easter Sunday he rose from the dead. The darkness of death and the prison of the tomb could not hold him back. “Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings,” we sing tonight, already thinking ahead to Easter, because Christmas and the Epiphany are in fact Paschal feasts. We know that the Child lying in the manger is the Crucified Christ, our Risen Lord. The night of death most surely awaits each one of us and we mourn the death, untimely and undeserved, of our loved ones, but in Christ and in the power of his Resurrection we know that death opens out into glory and that darkness gives way to light.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts with joy and may he, the Saviour born for us today, bless you and your loved ones this Christmas and always. Amen

These photos were taken at the Christmas Day Mass at 11.00am.   We have a really beautiful liturgy which is novus ordo, "facing the people", but fully within the Tradition of the Church: it can be done!!

Christmas Day 2011

            “All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.” Wonderful words taken from St John’s Prologue, this morning’s Gospel.

            On behalf of the monastic community I welcome you all to this Mass of Christmas Day. A particular welcome to our guests and visitors and a very special welcome to those who only come to Mass once a year or who might have come today out of curiosity or in compliance with the wishes of a relative or friend. Perhaps not all of us really want to be here and would rather be somewhere else. And there must be some of you who are thinking more about getting your Christmas dinner ready than plumbing the depths of St John’s Gospel. For whatever reason we happen to be here this morning and no matter what else is going on in our minds, Christ was born for us today. We have life in him. He alone is the light that shines in the dark, a light than not even our own darkness can put out.

            You either love Christmas or you hate it, and there are some of us who both love and hate it at the same time. I must confess that I love everything about Christmas, even all the stuff that’s really got nothing to do with religion or faith. I love it all and always have. But at the heart of Christmas there has to be Christ, the Word made flesh, he who lives among us, he whose glory we behold even today. In the darkness of our world, and this past year we really have come to see how dark it can be and how much suffering and hardship there is, even in the Church, Christ alone shines out as a light in the darkness, a light that darkness cannot overpower.

            At the Midnight Mass we heard in St Luke’s Gospel of the birth of Jesus, the quintessential Christmas story of shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks by night and of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest.” We heard of the babe in the manger, of Mary and Joseph, the ox and the ass, and all the other bits we associate with Christmas. And, of course, we sang lots of carols, most of them going way beyond what we read about in the Bible, but all of them trying to figure out what Christmas means for us.

This morning we have the profound reflexion of St John’s magnificent Prologue, as the Lord invites us to stand back for a moment and take stock of what Christmas really means for us and for the whole of creation, what it’s all about. I know it’s too much to take in when you’re worrying about your Brussels sprouts, but, don’t worry, almost nobody knows how to get them right!

            “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In Jesus Christ we see God and know him; in Jesus Christ God sees us and knows us. From the moment of the Incarnation, when God took human flesh of the Virgin Mary and became a man like us in all things but sin, he chose to see us in Christ and to love us in his Only-Begotten Son, the Beloved. We often worry, “How can God possibly love me?” We consider ourselves to be wretched sinners, hopeless cases, good-for-nothing. Alternatively, pride takes over and we become defensive, arrogant and self-righteous. Now Christ came to set us free from all that and to show us how much God loves us and longs for our happiness and salvation. That is the peace Christ came to share with us, the saving knowledge that God loves us and wants only what is best for us, ultimately, what will make us happy for all eternity.

We can see God’s glory reflected not only in the face of Christ, but, if we just open the eyes of faith, we can see his glory in the face of those with whom we live, in the face of those we love, even in the face of those we hate. For you see, “from his fullness we have all received grace in return for grace.” Salvation has got nothing to do with what we think we can do or should do for God, but rather it is God’s gift to us, his gift to us in Christ. It is what we allow God to do for us in Christ, “the light that shines in the dark, the light that darkness cannot overpower.”

            A very Happy Christmas to you all and may Christ, the Word made flesh, he who is our light and our life, bless you and your loved ones this Christmas and for ever. Amen
The above pictures are from 2nd Vespers of Christmas, 2011.   The "hoods" of the cantors' copes are very ancient and are supposed to have belonged to the royal chapel of Queen Catherine of Aragon, but we have no proof of this..

Thursday 22 December 2011


On the Nativity of Christ
Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being,
and the earth offers a cave to him whom no one can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory,
and magi journey with a star,
for to us there has been born
          a little Child, God before the ages.

Bethlehem has opened Eden, come, let us see;
we have found delight in secret, come, let us receive
the joys of Paradise within the cave

The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. | Pre-Christmas Reflection Preached in Munich, December 22, 1942 http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2006/fradelp_mystery_dec06.asp 

 The following is an excerpt from Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings by Alfred Delp, S.J., priest and martyr.

 The meaning of our Christian holy days is not primarily our external holiday celebration, but that particular mysteries of God happen to us, and that we respond. Something in the deepest center of our being is meant here, more than the exterior symbols can even indicate. Anyone who lacks spiritual eyes, and whose soul has not become open and watchful, will not understand the reason we are so often festive in the cycle of the liturgical year. The Church stands before us with great gestures and great pomp and ceremonial rites. This is only an attempt to indicate something that reaches much deeper and must be taken much more seriously.

 We need to celebrate holy days in three ways. First, by recalling a historical event. The feasts are always based on verifiable, historical facts. We should not just get carried away with unbridled enthusiasm. What is really going on? This is a question of discernment and recognition. Seen from God's perspective, there is always a clearly defined event connected to the mystery, a clear statement intended, a fact. This brings us to the second point. Within all of the foregoing, a great mystery--the Mysterium--is hidden. Something happens between Heaven and earth that passes all understanding. This mystery is made present to us, continues in the world till the end of time, and is always in the process of happening--the abiding Mysterium. These two points are followed by the third way in which we must consider the feast to be serious and important. Through the historical facts and through the workings of the mystery, the holy day simultaneously issues a challenge to each individual life, a message that demands a particular attitude and an interior decision from each person to whom it is proclaimed.

 The Christmas celebration is the birth of the Lord. It is verifiable that Christ was born on this night. The great mystery behind this is the marriage covenant of God with mankind; that mankind is fulfilled only insofar as it has grown into this covenant. Concretely, it is meaningful to establish what this covenant, which began between divinity and humanity on that Holy Night, signifies as a challenge and message for each one of us.

 In view of these preconditions, we want to read some passages from the Holy Scriptures about the mystery of Christmas--the three readings of the three Christmas Masses. 1. The Epistle for the Third Christmas Mass: "In many and various ways God spoke in times past to our fathers through the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us through a Son, whom He appointed the heir of the cosmos, through whom also He created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His Word of power" (Heb 1:1-3). Basically, before moving on to personal devotions and contemplation or reading stories of the Holy Night, one should read these weighty verses of Saint Paul to be spiritually touched by the impact of this holy day we are celebrating. We Germans run the risk of concealing Christmas behind bourgeois customs and sentimenta1ity, behind all those traditions that make this holiday dear and precious to us. Yet perhaps the deep meaning is still hiding behind all those things.

 What this celebration is about is the founding of a final order for the world, a new center of meaning for all existence. We are not celebrating some children's holiday, but rather the fact that God has spoken His ultimate Word to the world. Christ is the ultimate Word of God to the world. One must let this idea really sink in these days when people are seeking new values. If you take God seriously--this relationship between God and the world--and if you know how important God is to society as well as to private life, then this has to touch you. The ultimate Word of God to the world! God does not contradict Himself and does not repeat Himself. One must use every ounce of willpower to comprehend this, and let this concept sink in: Christ, as the ultimate Word of God to the world. And Christ came and placed Himself before us as a message. That He came as a child proves how much it matters to God that the message be accepted. From this Holy Night onward, the world has had the possibility of living in nearness to God or living apart from God. The entire Epistle wants to communicate one thing: take this, take what has happened here, really seriously. 

What came into the world is the very image of the Divine Being, is God Himself. He lifted mankind out of every false order in this consecrated night, in this blessed night. What is said to us here gives life its meaning, individual life as well as the life of all mankind. The ultimate Word of God to mankind. This idea is expanded upon as follows: 2. The Epistle of the Second Mass of Christmas: "The goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared; He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but by virtue of His own mercy" (Tit 3:4-7).

 The impact of these facts is further developed in two ways. What does this mean for man's inner reality, where he must come to an understanding of himself? And what does it mean for the fundamental attitudes toward life, the point at which the mystery becomes present and calls for a concrete response? To begin with the first question: What has happened to the measure of our being, through this Word that God has spoken into the world? The goodness and loving-kindness of God have appeared, so that we know and seriously must recognize ourselves as the substance of a divine commitment to man. Since then, God has taken no other position in relation to us than this "benignitas et humanitas [goodness and lovingkindness]". Because God's commitment upholds each and every one of us, even to the extent of His sharing in the very poorest and most helpless phase of human infancy, He has fully realized and made Himself accessible in the Incarnation. And now, in the background, our great, gruesome time stands up. "Not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but by virtue of His own mercy" (Tit 3 :5). The second tiling we need to know is that it is not because man is proud and worthy, but because God upholds us. Man needs to know that we live from grace; we live from God's merciful commitment to mankind, from His mercy. Not as miserable wretches, however, but renewed in spirit; so that we know our intrinsic dignity, know that we are raised up above and beyond all else, because we mean so much to God. This is how we attain maturity in the presence of God. 

 3. Now--in the Epistle of the First Mass of Christmas--the effect of the foregoing is described. We will not be abused and violated, not even forced to be good or forced to love. We are challenged to do so, but it calls for a decision. The grace of God our Savior "teaches us to renounce godlessness and to live moral, upright, and pious lives in this world" (Tit 2:12). There are three great fundamental attitudes there, three great, foreign qualities of Christians in the world, three great commandments for perfection of life. First [renouncing godlessness]: if the meaning of our lives is that God is really in covenant with mankind, then there can be no more godlessness--that would be loss of being--there is no more will to live. Godlessness is a calumniation of the divine life. Second [regarding moral, upright, and godly living]: man should recognize that his innermost purpose is to find the way home to God and to be caught up in His life, to seek God for Himself. The fundamental concept of man in this world never can be that of certainty, but rather that of wait- ing for this ultimate revelation of that which began in the Holy Night. Such people, who know they are hastening to meet a great fulfillment, are always people under way. Third [to become His own followers]: [1] these are people of loneliness, the people whom God wanted to have as His people, gripped by a great passion that God be well pleased, and ablaze with the divine fire that will be cast upon the earth. 

 And now, here is the last question: What does all of this mean today--the message of the great Kyrios, the Lord, the message of the fundamental attitude that the Holy Night demands? This is no Christmas life today. Neither is it a Christmas life according to people's inner attitude. Neither is it a Christmas holy day according to a religious perspective. The world is hostile and rejects everything. But we are experiencing the other side of Christmas. All of these blessings have already been taken away, and the night has descended again. The first message is that the Kyrios, the Lord, is coming. The Lord does not stand in the center anymore. He is replaced by the power brokers. How man keeps lapsing into heresy! The power brokers, under whose power man has gone astray, stand in the center. One no longer sees God as the center of the world, as the foundational support.

 And what has developed out of this? We are standing without any foundation--we have nothing permanent anymore. There is no more talk of man's life being dependent upon mercy. Therefore the world has become so unmerciful. When has anyone taken away more from man than this? This is a time in which "apparuit benignitas et humanitas [the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appearing]" is no longer acknowledged. What has become of man, that he does not want to be human in relation to God anymore? Beforehand, the Christmas words were sent packing. [2] This is a world in which it no longer can be said that "we await the great revelation of the Lord", a world that must cling to each day because it already knows that, in mere seconds, everything can be over. There is nothing left of peace and security. This is a world that no longer knows of the Holy Night, of the Consecration-Night, the Christ-Mass. [3] That is the one thing that we honestly have to see. The world in which we stand is un-Christmaslike, not because God is unmerciful, but rather because man has outlawed the message, and there is no room anymore for the promise. 

 Nevertheless, we must also look at this in a positive way. For us personally, this message of the Holy Night still does contain its great meaning and content. There are two things we need to have in terms of consciousness and attitude, and we should take possession of them today: we should not come to Midnight Mass as if we do not live in the year 1942. The year must be redeemed along with everything else. And from the Gloria, we have to take with us the peace and faith in the glory of God. There is nothing else that surpasses this night, and nothing that should be taken as more important than this event. Whatever may happen around us, let us not break down, for then we would not be taking the Lord seriously, or what we know about consecrated people seriously, or what we know about these messages. Therefore, deep down, we are the people who are comforted; and we are the last refuge for the homeless people who do not know anything about the Lord anymore. May we know about the indisputable fact of this Child and not let ourselves be disconcerted, not even by our own great un-freedom. "Apparuit benignitas et humanitas [the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appearing]" (Tit 3:4). That should find its expression in the positive attitudes we take with us from this experience of the Holy Night. May we impart the goodness. May we attend to humanity again, and witness to the Lordship of God again, and know of His grace and mercy, and have gentle hands for other people again. And may we go away from Christmas Eve with the consolation that we mean so much to God that no external distress can rob us of this ultimate consolation. Our hearts must become strong, to make the divine heartbeat into the law of life again. God's readiness is established, but our gates are locked. These should be the meaning of our wartime Christmas: -- that we petition Him, -- that He redeems us through the mystery, -- that we are rich and capable enough through God's comfort to give mankind the comfort that it needs so much, -- that we go away from this celebration as the great comforters, as the great knowers, the great blessed ones who know what it means to be consoled by God. 


 [1] The context of Tit 2:12 clarifies Fr. Delp's point. The complete text, translated from the Latin, reads: "The grace of God our Savior has appeared to all mankind. It teaches us to renounce godlessness and the worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. Meanwhile, we await, in blessed hope, the glorious coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself up for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify us so that we become His own: a people who are pleasing to Him, who follow in good works" (Tit 2:11-15). -- TRANS. 
 [2] References are to Nazi regulations restricting or forbidding Christian practice and customs. -- TRANS. 
 [3] The German word for Christmas is Weihnacht, but Fr. Deip wrote "WeiheNacht" (Consecration-Night). Compare "Meditation for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 1944", note 13, p. ii. -- TRANS.
"Hail, Full of Grace": Mary, the Mother of Believers | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger |

 An excerpt from Mary: The Church at the Source 

 "From henceforth all generations will call me blessed"–these words of the Mother of Jesus handed on for us by Luke (Lk 1:48) are at once a prophecy and a charge laid upon the Church of all times. This phrase from the Magnificat, the spirit-filled prayer of praise that Mary addresses to the living God, is thus one of the principal foundations of Christian devotion to her. The Church invented nothing new of her own when she began to extol Mary; she did not plummet from the worship of the one God to the praise of man. The Church does what she must; she carries out the task assigned her from the beginning. At the time Luke was writing this text, the second generation of Christianity had already arrived, and the "family" of the Jews had been joined by that of the Gentiles, who had been incorporated into the Church of Jesus Christ. The expression "all generations, all families" was beginning to be filled with historical reality. The Evangelist would certainly not have transmitted Mary's prophecy if it had seemed to him an indifferent or obsolete item. He wished in his Gospel to record "with care" what "the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (Lk 1:2-3) had handed on from the beginning, in order to give the faith of Christianity, which was then striding onto the stage of world history, a reliable guide for its future course. Mary's prophecy numbered among those elements he had "carefully" ascertained and considered important enough to transmit to posterity. This fact assumes that Mary's words were guaranteed by reality: the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel give evidence of a sphere of tradition in which the remembrance of Mary was cultivated and the Mother of the Lord was loved and praised. They presuppose that the still somewhat naive exclamation of the unnamed woman, "blessed is the womb that bore you" (Lk 11:27), had not entirely ceased to resound but, as Jesus was more deeply understood, had likewise attained a purer form that more adequately expressed its content. They presuppose that Elizabeth's greeting, "blessed are you among women" (Lk 1:42), which Luke characterizes as words spoken in the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:4 1), had not been a once-only episode. The continued existence of such praise at least in one strand of early Christian tradition is the basis of Luke's infancy narrative. The recording of these words in the Gospel raises this veneration of Mary from historical fact to a commission laid upon the Church of all places and all times. 

 The Church neglects one of the duties enjoined upon her when she does not praise Mary. She deviates from the word of the Bible when her Marian devotion falls silent. When this happens, in fact, the Church no longer even glorifies God as she ought. For though we do know God by means of his creation–"Ever since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20)–we also know him, and know him more intimately, through the history he has shared with man. just as the history of a man's life and the relationships he has formed reveal, what kind of person he is, God shows himself in a history, in men through whom his own character can be seen. This is so true that he can be "named" through them and identified in them: the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Through his relation with men, through the faces of men, God has made himself accessible and has shown his face. We cannot try to bypass these human faces in order to get to God alone, in his "pure form", as it were. This would lead us to a God of our own invention in. place of the real God; it would be an arrogant purism that regards its own ideas as more important than God's deeds. The above cited verse of the Magnificat shows us that Mary is one of the human beings who in an altogether special way belong to the name of God, so much so, in fact, that we cannot praise him rightly if we leave her out of account. In doing so we forget something about him that must not be forgotten. What, exactly? Our first attempt at an answer could be his maternal side, which reveals itself more purely and more directly in the Son's Mother than anywhere else. But this is, of course, much too general. In order to praise Mary correctly and thus to glorify God correctly, we must listen to all that Scripture and tradition say concerning the Mother of the Lord and ponder it in our hearts. Thanks to the praise of "all generations" since the beginning, the abundant wealth of Mariology has become almost too vast to survey. In this brief meditation, I would like to help the reader reflect anew on just a few of the key words Saint Luke has placed in our hands in his inexhaustibly rich infancy narrative. Mary, Daughter Zion–Mother of Believers 

 Let us begin with the angel's greeting to Mary. For Luke, this is the primordial cell of Mariology that God himself wished to present to us through his messenger, the Archangel Gabriel. Translated literally, the greeting reads thus: "Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). "Rejoice": At first sight, this word appears to be no more than the formulaic greeting current in the Greek-speaking world, and tradition has consistently translated it as "hail". But looked at against the background of the Old Testament, this formula of greeting takes on a more profound significance. Consider, in fact, that the same word used by Luke appears four times in the Septuagint, where in each case it is an announcement of messianic joy (Zeph 3:14; Joel 2:21; Zech 9:9; Lam 4:21). This greeting marks the beginning of the Gospel in the strict sense; its first word is "joy", the new joy that comes from God and breaks through the world's ancient and interminable sadness. Mary is not merely greeted in some vague or indifferent way; that God greets her and, in her, greets expectant Israel and all of humanity is an invitation to rejoice from the innermost depth of our being. The reason for our sadness is the futility of our love, the overwhelming power of finitude, death, suffering, and falsehood. We are sad because we are left alone in a contradictory world where enigmatic signals of divine goodness pierce through the cracks yet are thrown in doubt by a power of darkness that is either God's responsibility or manifests his impotence. "Rejoice"–what reason does Mary have to rejoice in such a world? 

The answer is: "The Lord is with you." In order to grasp the sense of this announcement, we must return once more to the Old Testament texts upon which it is based, in particular to Zephaniah. 

These texts invariably contain a double promise to the personification of Israel, daughter Zion: God will come to save, and he will come to dwell in her. The angel's dialogue with Mary reprises this promise and in so doing makes it concrete in two ways. What in the prophecy is said to daughter Zion is now directed to Mary: She is identified with daughter Zion, she is daughter Zion in person. In a parallel manner, Jesus, whom Mary is permitted to bear, is identified with Yahweh, the living God. When Jesus comes, it is God himself who comes to dwell in her. He is the Savior–this is the meaning of the name Jesus, which thus becomes clear from the heart of the promise. René Laurentin has shown through painstaking textual analyses how Luke has used subtle word play to deepen the theme of God's indwelling. Even early traditions portray God as dwelling "in the womb" of Israel–in the Ark of the Covenant. This dwelling "in the womb" of Israel now becomes quite literally real in the Virgin of Nazareth. Mary herself thus becomes the true Ark of the Covenant in Israel, so that the symbol of the Ark gathers an incredibly realistic force: God in the flesh of a human being, which flesh now becomes his dwelling place in the midst of creation. The angel's greeting–the center of Mariology not invented by the human mind–has led us to the theological foundation of this Mariology. Mary is identified with daughter Zion, with the bridal people of God.

 Everything said about the ecclesia in the Bible is true of her, and vice versa: the Church learns concretely what she is and is meant to be by looking at Mary. Mary is her mirror, the pure measure of her being, because Mary is wholly within the measure of Christ and of God, is through and through his habitation. And what other reason could the ecclesia have for existing than to become a dwelling for God in the world? God does not deal with abstractions. He is a person, and the Church is a person. The more that each one of us becomes a person, person in the sense of a fit habitation for God, daughter Zion, the more we become one, the more we are the Church, and the more the Church is herself. The typological identification of Mary and Zion leads us, then, into the depths. This manner of connecting the Old and New Testaments is much more than an interesting historical construction by means of which the Evangelist links promise and fulfillment and reinterprets the Old Testament in the light of what has happened in Christ. Mary is Zion in person, which means that her life wholly embodies what is meant by "Zion". She does not construct a self-enclosed individuality whose principal concern is the originality of its own ego. She does not wish to be just this one human being who defends and protects her own ego. She does not regard life as a stock of goods of which everyone wants to get as much as possible for himself. Her life is such that she is transparent to God, "habitable" for him. Her life is such that she is a place for God. Her life sinks her into the common measure of sacred history, so that what appears in her is, not the narrow and constricted ego of an isolated individual, but the whole, true Israel. This "typological identification" is a spiritual reality; it is life lived out of the spirit of Sacred Scripture; it is rootedness in the faith of the Fathers and at the same time expansion into the height and breadth of the coming promises. We understand why the Bible time and again compares the just man to the tree whose roots drink from the living waters of eternity and whose crown catches and synthesizes the light of heaven. Let us return once more to the angel's greeting. Mary is called "full of grace". The Greek word for grace (charis) derives from the same root as the words joy and rejoice (chara, chairein). Thus, we see once more in a different form the same context to which we were led by our earlier comparison with the Old Testament. Joy comes from grace. One who is in the state of grace can rejoice with deep-going, constant joy. By the same token, grace is joy. What is grace? This question thrusts itself upon our text. Our religious mentality has reified this concept much too much; it regards grace as a supernatural something we carry about in our soul. And since we perceive very little of it, or nothing at all, it has gradually become irrelevant to us, an empty word belonging to Christian jargon, which seems to have lost any relationship to the lived reality of our everyday life. In reality, grace is a relational term: it does not predicate something about an I, but something about a connection between I and Thou, between God and man. "Full of grace" could therefore also be translated as: "You are full of the Holy Spirit; your life is intimately connected with God." Peter Lombard, the author of what was the universal theological manual for approximately three centuries during the Middle Ages, propounded the thesis that grace and love are identical but that love "is the Holy Spirit". Grace in the proper and deepest sense of the word is not some thing that comes from God; it is God himself. Redemption means that God, acting as God truly does, gives us nothing less than himself The gift of God is God–he who as the Holy Spirit is communion with us. "Full of grace" therefore means, once again, that Mary is a wholly open human being, one who has opened herself entirely, one who has placed herself in God's hands boldly, limitlessly, and without fear for her own fate. It means that she lives wholly by and in relation to God. She is a listener and a prayer, whose mind and soul are alive to the manifold ways in which the living God quietly calls to her. She is one who prays and stretches forth wholly to meet God; she is therefore a lover, who has the breadth and magnanimity of true love, but who has also its unerring powers of discernment and its readiness to suffer. Luke has flooded this fact with the light of yet another round of motifs. In his subtle way he constructs a parallel between Abraham, the father of believers, and Mary, the mother of believers. To be in a state of grace means: to be a believer. Faith includes steadfastness, confidence, and devotion, but also obscurity. When man's relation to God, the soul's open availability for him, is characterized as "faith", this word expresses the fact that the infinite distance between Creator and creature is not blurred in the relation of the human I to the divine Thou. It means that the model of "partnership", which has become so dear to us, breaks down when it comes to God, because it cannot sufficiently express the majesty of God and the hiddenness of his working. It is precisely the man who has been opened up entirely into God who comes to accept God's otherness and the hiddenness of his will, which can pierce our will like a sword. The parallel between Mary and Abraham begins in the joy of the promised son but continues apace until the dark hour when she must ascend Mount Moriah, that is, until the Crucifixion of Christ. Yet it does not end there; it also extends to the miracle of Isaac's rescue-the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Abraham, father of faith-this title describes the unique position of the patriarch in the piety of Israel and in the faith of the Church. But is it not wonderful that-without any revocation of the special status of Abraham–a "mother of believers" now stands at the beginning of the new people and that our faith again and again receives from her pure and high image its measure and its path?

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