"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

Wednesday 14 December 2011

CONSECRATION AND SACRIFICE A meditation by Abbot Joseph, abbot emeritus of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Redwood Valley, CA; USA

This reflection concerns the mystery of consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially to her Immaculate Heart, which is the form it usually takes, and which is based on the revelations given at Fatima. The context here is that of sacrifice, which is an essential element of this consecration, if it is a genuine consecration. There is also a certain connection with the Holy Eucharist that I will explain. I have grown into this understanding of consecration to Our Lady through my own reading, prayer, and experience, and I apply it here to my own vocation as a priest, though it has its application to anyone who would thus serve the Blessed Mother in her mission, which is to win souls for the Lord by obtaining the grace of repentance and conversion for them, thus preventing them from going to Hell.

 Saving souls from Hell is the specific reason why God willed the establishment of worldwide devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as she explained at Fatima. After she showed the children a vision of Hell, Our Lady told them that in order to prevent sinners from going there, God wants us to practice devotion to her Immaculate Heart. This doesn’t mean souls could be prevented from going to Hell in no other way, but it does mean that Jesus loves his Mother so much that He has willed to involve her intimately in his ongoing work to bring souls into his Kingdom, and this is a way that specially pleases Him. Mary’s numerous apparitions in other places and times bear this out as well. Personally, I find this very important for my spiritual life, and I hope it will be of some benefit to you as well. 

 First of all, let us understand that something that is consecrated is set apart from profane use so that it is reserved exclusively for sacred use. Thus various objects are consecrated, like chalices, which can be used only for the Holy Eucharist and nothing else. Persons can be consecrated as well, in an official, ecclesial and public manner, as in ordination to the priesthood or the profession of religious vows, and also in a personal, private manner as a way of permanently devoting oneself to the service of Our Lord and Our Lady. (The term “consecration” is also used for what happens to bread and wine when they are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but this usage is unique and means more than setting apart for sacred use, for the Lord transforms them into his very self.) In volume 2 of Pope Benedict XVI’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, he shows how the term “consecrate” (sometimes translated “sanctify”) has a specifically sacrificial dimension. It means “to make holy” in the sense of “to consecrate for sacrifice.” So when Jesus says, in his high-priestly prayer, “I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated” (Jn. 17:19), He is speaking of his own Sacrifice about to be offered, and He is also praying that the apostles may be made fit for sacrifice. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, it says that Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications” and that through his suffering, which is his Sacrifice, He was “made perfect” and “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (5:7-9). The Pope points out in his book that in the Greek Old Testament, every usage of the term here translated “made perfect” means “to consecrate as a priest.” This is borne out in the very next verse from Hebrews: “being designated by God a high priest…” (Also, the term “offered up” is a form of the verb prosphero, which, in the Byzantine tradition, has Eucharistic connotations, for the altar bread is called the prosphoron, the offering.)

 So it is the will of the Lord that his disciples, especially priests who have the most direct and specific share in his high-priesthood—but also all baptized persons who thereby share in the priestly dimension of Christian life—would be consecrated for sacrifice. Priests offer Jesus’ own Sacrifice mystically and sacramentally in the Holy Eucharist, while both priests and laity are called “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Peter 2:5). In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are called to offer the sacrifice of praise as well as almsgiving and, in general, doing good to others (see 13:15-16). St Paul goes even further than worship and works offered as sacrifices when he writes: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1-2). This is the total offering of oneself, and the Apostle immediately speaks in terms of the meaning of consecration when he writes, “Do not be conformed to this world [i.e., you must be set apart from “profane use”], but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may test and approve what is the will of God” [i.e., make yourself available only for “sacred use”]. Keep in mind also, when reading terms like “holy and blameless” (see, for example, Eph. 1:4 and Col. 1:22), that these are cultic, sacrificial terms that mean “set apart” and “unblemished,” i.e., fit for sacrifice. St Paul also gives it a salvific dimension, i.e., that this is for the spiritual benefit of others, when he says that he suffers for the members of Christ’s body, the Church (see Col. 1:24).

 So if our lives as Christians are by their very nature sacrificial, we have to see the sacrificial dimension in all areas. Since this reflection primarily concerns consecration to the Virgin Mary, let us look at how this relates to sacrifice. Our Lady appeared several times to Sr. Lucia long after the original apparitions at Fatima. Among other things, Mary said this to her, revealing the mystery of her Immaculate Heart: “Look at my Heart, surrounded with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce me at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, try to console me… There are so many souls whom the Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me, that I have come to ask for reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray.” Again, to a chosen soul in Beauraing, Belgium, named Fernande, Mary put this question: “Do you love my Son? Do you love me?” When the visionary responded, “Yes,” the Blessed Mother said: “Then sacrifice yourself for me.” In prayer recently I noticed a certain nuance, which helps with the understanding of sacrifice as an essential dimension of consecration to the Our Lady. Sacrifice as such is offered properly to God alone, so Mary doesn’t say, “sacrifice to me.” She only says, “sacrifice for me.” We offer sacrifice to God, but we give the fruits of it to Our Lady for the sake of the mission God has entrusted to her, which I described briefly above. Thus our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary bears fruit by giving to her the spiritual benefits of our sacrifices offered to God. To consecrate oneself to her is a serious (though richly blessed) act, and it shouldn’t be done simply because we find her presence sweet and we want to somehow get closer to her. Those things are good but only icing on the cake, as it were. To be consecrated to Mary means to belong to her, that is, to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to her mission in this world, being set apart and thus ready to be led by her according to God’s will. That is why she could say to Sr. Lucia, concerning reparation to her Immaculate Heart to spare souls a just condemnation: “sacrifice yourself for this intention.” And likewise to Fernande: “sacrifice yourself for me.” 

 We consecrate ourselves to Our Lady, so that the sacrifices we offer to God will bear fruit for her intentions, her mission, and the consolation of her Immaculate Heart, ever-wounded by the sins and blasphemies of men. I include these intentions every time I offer the Sacrifice of Jesus at the Divine Liturgy. When it comes to receiving Holy Communion, I always ask the Lord that I may receive Him through and for Mary. Here is what this means. First of all, when we offer sacrifices—whether priests offering the Sacrifice of Christ or anyone offering “spiritual sacrifices”—we offer them to God through Jesus Christ. Similarly, we know that God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ, “making peace through the blood of the cross” (Col. 1:20). But since we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we can’t ask Jesus to come to us through Jesus. Yet in the Byzantine tradition, we repeatedly pray during the Divine Liturgy that we may be able to receive Him “without blame or condemnation.” So we have no confidence in ourselves that we can worthily receive the Divine Mysteries. Therefore I much prefer that when Jesus comes to my heart, what He encounters is most holy and pure Heart of his beloved Mother and my heavenly Queen. To have Mary as the one through whose Heart Jesus comes to memeans that she prays for me and prepares my heart, making up for my unworthiness as a mother might clean and dress her careless and sloppy little boy, making him presentable. Thus she brings Jesus to me as she once placed Him in the arms of Simeon in the temple (Lk. 2:27-32). Like Simeon, I hold Him to myself as I receive Him, blessing God and giving thanks. And also like Simeon, I then give Him back to her! That is, I offer the abundance of grace I have received to her for the sake of the fruitfulness of her mission of winning grace for souls and gathering them for the Kingdom. This is part of what it means to be consecrated to her. I trust—and this is at the heart of St. Louis de Montfort’s spirituality of Marian consecration—that if I give to her whatever comes to me, she will in turn obtain even more for me and for all those entrusted to my prayers. Mary has asked, anyway, at Fatima, for Communions of reparation every first Saturday, but I’m happy to offer them every day. This is because I love her and am consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, which means her mission becomes mine. I’m not here for myself but for the salvation of souls, so I keep nothing for myself but rely on the Lord, through his Mother, to supply whatever I need for my life and salvation. I wrote the following in A Place Prepared by God, concerning the value of uniting ourselves to Mary in our relationship to God, and hence the basis of why it is beneficial for us to receive Holy Communion through her: “Mary’s assent to the Incarnation made possible Jesus’ human assent to the Father: in Gethsemane and on the Cross, on our behalf. Christ alone died and rose from the dead to save the world, but Mary has provided the very condition for the possibility of our redemption. God prepared a body for his Son: first the body of his Mother, in which would then be formed the Son’s own human body. The body of the Incarnate Son was sacrificed for our sins, and is made perpetually available to us—sacramentally in the Holy Eucharist—as his perpetual assent both to the Father’s will and to our cries for mercy. “As [Adrienne] von Speyr points out, for our own assent to God’s will to be perfect and fruitful, it has to be united to Mary’s. As the Immaculate Conception, hers alone was perfect, free from all calculation of sacrifice or benefit, free from all attachment to what is surrendered, free from self-interest, self-preservation, or compromise. She was divinely prepared to place herself absolutely at God’s disposal, to embody the entire essence of what it means to be a handmaid of the Lord. “Our lives are marked by original sin and our own personal sins. Hence our assent to God will always be somewhat flawed, tainted by some form of selfishness. But by turning to Our Lady, and first saying ‘yes’ to her as our representative in the perfection of holiness—for she was the first to respond to God’s initiative for our redemption—our own ‘yes’ to God will be purified and elevated, given strength and fruitfulness in union with her. Mary is the one who spoke in our name when she opened the way to our redemption by consenting to God’s will for the Incarnation of his Son. She is not only our Mother but also our model for discipleship, obedience, and surrender to God. Therefore she will gladly take our ‘yes’ into her own, so that in her the Lord will see gathered countless servants and handmaids of his, uttering their assent with a single and united voice.” 

 The Eucharistic Sacrifice is certainly the richest and sweetest one I could ever offer, but this does not exhaust my life of sacrifice, which is required by my life of consecration. As I was praying about all the above recently, another insight came to me, which helps me understand more deeply what it meant when the major renewal of my life in the Heart of Mary began a year ago, when I “heard” her say to me: “Come to me, and I will take you to Him.” It is more than a devotional invitation, as in “Come, take my hand [or better, “Come, let me take you into my arms”] and we will go together to the Lord.” It is this, and it is very beautiful, but there is more. It is even more than an expression of the way of Catholic spirituality that is “to Jesus through Mary,” though it is that, too, and is also blessed. Fundamentally, it is nothing less than this: consecration and sacrifice! “Come to me” therefore means this: “Give yourself to me by consecrating yourself to my Immaculate Heart, and learn the full depth of meaning of this consecration. This is not a mere pious practice or a prayer you say now and then. You must belong to me, all the time. You must grow sufficiently in love and trust so that, without hesitation or fear, you will allow me to lead you in the ways of Our Lord’s will for your particular vocation. You become mine through consecration to my Heart, and as such you receive special attention from me, but I also make special demands upon you. As soon as I am sure that you are mine, we take the next step…” Therefore “I will take you to Him” means this: “I will now offer you as a sacrifice to Our Lord. You are a priest and are configured to the High Priest, the Crucified One, so your life is already set apart for Him. But your consecration to me means that the fruits of your self-offering, the value of your prayers, works, sufferings, Holy Communions, and so forth, will be used for my intentions, my mission to rescue souls, and the consolation of my Heart, wounded by the sins of men who reject God and me. Our Lord is most pleased with the gift of your life and love when it is given to Him from my hands; this is my role as your heavenly Mother, and I am happy to do this for you. But if you want to benefit from this special grace, I must say to you what I said to the others: ‘Sacrifice yourself for me.’ I bring you to the Lord, and your ‘yes’ to Him in union with me expresses the offering of your life, to Jesus and for me, your Mother and Queen.” This mystery of consecration and sacrifice is expressed in a similar way in the locutions reportedly received from Our Lady by Fr. Stefano Gobbi, through whom the Marian Movement of Priests has spread all over the world. (The Church may or may not make some definitive judgment about their authenticity, but in the meantime, since the messages have received the imprimatur from several bishops, at least we know there is nothing against the Faith here.) This is part of one message he received: “As for one, so also for all the priests of my Movement. All little children, nourished, kissed, caressed and cradled by me. So that I may place them all, with much love, on the wood of the Cross, I must prepare them for this ineffable and painful moment. They, like my Son Jesus, will have to be immolated on the cross for the salvation of the world. Let them entrust themselves therefore to me like little children. The Heart of their Mother will be the altar on which they will be immolated, victims acceptable to God, for his triumph.” I must confess that I find the kissing and caressing part sweet, but the immolation [i.e., offering in sacrifice unto death] on the cross is rather intimidating. Yet we know from the Scriptures and the lives of the saints and the whole of Catholic tradition that suffering is inevitable if we are to be followers of Jesus. But Mary, being such a good Mother, offers herself to console and be with us, like a mother at the bedside of a sick or injured child. It is not for her to take the pain away, but her presence and the warmth of her love makes it bearable. Thus with this motherly consolation we take courage to offer ourselves in union with the Sacrifice of Jesus. So, those of you who are called to consecrate yourselves to Our Lady, know that sacrifice is an inseparable dimension of it. Know also that the richness of grace and joy and love that you will experience far outweighs whatever it might cost you in the way of self-denial or suffering. The sacrifices that are required are usually not extraordinary, though that doesn’t mean they aren’t difficult: faithfulness to the duties of your state in life (which covers a lot of ground), resolute and determined resistance of temptation and sin, making prayer (especially the Holy Rosary), the sacraments and your spiritual life a higher priority than the pursuit of even legitimate pleasures (notice I said “pursuit”; that doesn’t mean you can never enjoy legitimate pleasures!), and in general seeking to please God and the Blessed Mother in whatever you do. If there’s more, they will tell you. But souls are at stake, so don’t wait too long before you accept the abundant graces of consecration and sacrifice!

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