Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost; Comm. of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The resuscitation of the son of the widow of Naim, on which our thoughts were fixed last Sunday, has reanimated the confidence of our beloved Mother the Church; her prayer goes up all the more earnestly to her Spouse, who leaves her on earth, for a time, that she may grow dearer to him, by sufferings and tears. Let us, of course, enter into these her sentiments, which guided her in the choice of today’s Introit.

Such is our inability in the work of salvation that, unless Grace prevent, that is, anticipate us, we cannot have so much as the thought of doing what is holy; and again, unless is follow up the inspirations it has given us, and lead them to a happy termination, we shall never be able to pass from the simple thought to the act of any virtue whatsoever. If, on the other hand, we be faithful to Grace, our life will be one uninterrupted tissue of good works. Let us, in our Collect, ask both for ourselves and for all our neighbors, the persevering continuity of this most precious aid.

Tua nos, quæsumus Domine, gratia semper et præveniat et sequatur: ac bonis operibus jugiter præstet esse intentos. Per Dominum. May thy grace, we beseech thee, O Lord, ever go before us, and follow us; and may it ever make us intent upon good works. Through, etc.

My heart hath uttered a good word! I speak my works to my King! The enthusiasm of the royal Psalmist, when singing the glorious Nuptial Song, has taken possession of our Apostle’s whole soul, and inspires him with this marvellous Epistle, which seems to put into music, into a song of love, the sublime teachings of all his other Letters. When he wrote this to his Ephesians, he was Nero’s prisoner; but it shows that the word of God is anything but hampered by the chains that make an Apostle a captive.

Although the Epistle to the Ephesians is is far from being the longest of his Letters, yet it is from it that the Church borrows most, during these Sundays after Pentecost; and we may argue from such choice that it gives, more than any other of St. Paul’s Epistles, that leading subject, upon which the Church is particularly anxious to direct her children’s thoughts, during this season of the Liturgical Year. Let us, therefore, thoroughly master the mystery of the Gospel, by hearkening to the herald who received it, as his special mission, to make known to the Gentiles the treasure that had been hidden from eternity in God. It is as Ambassador that he comes to us; and the chains which bind him, far from weakening the authority of his message, are but the glorious badge which accredit him with the disciples of the Christ, who died on Calvary.

For God alone, as he tells us in the music we have just heard, can strengthen in us the inward man enough to make us understand, as the Saints do, the “dimensions,” (breadth, length, height, and depth) of the great mystery of Christ dwelling in man, and dwelling in him for the purpose of filling him with the plenitude of God. Therefore is it that, falling on his knees before Him from Whom flows every perfect gift, and who has begotten us in the truth by his love, he, Paul, our Apostle, asks this God to open, by faith and charity, the eyes of our heart, that so we may be able to understand the splendid riches of the inheritance he reserves to his children, and the exceeding greatness of the divine power used in our favor, even in this life.

But if holiness is requisite in order to obtain the full development of the divine life spoken of by the Apostle—let us also take notice how the desire and the prayer of St. Paul are for all men; and how, therefore, no one is excluded from that divine vocation. Indeed, as St. John Chrysostom observes, the Christians, to whom he sends his Epistle, are people living in the world, married, having children and servants, for he gives them rules of conduct with regard to each point. The Saints of Ephesus, as of all other places, are no others than the the Faithful of Christ Jesus, that is to say, they are those who faithfully follow the diving precepts, in the condition of life proper to each. Now, it depends on us to follow God’s grace; nothing else but our own resistance prevents the Holy Ghost from making Saints of us. Those sublime heights, to which the progressive movement of the sacred Liturgy has, since Pentecost, been leading the Church, are open to all of us. If the new order of ideas introduced by this movement strike us, at times, as being beyond our practical attainment, the probable reason of such cowardice is, and a short examination of conscience will bear witness against us—that we neglected, ever since Advent and Christmas, to profit, as we should have done, of the teachings and graces of every kind, which were given us as means for advancing in light and christian virtue. The Church, at the commencement of the Cycle, offered her aid to every one of us, and that aid she adapted to each one’s capabilities; but she could never remain stationary, because some of us were too lazy to move onwards; she could never consent, out of a regard for our laggings and sluggishness, to neglect leading men of good will to that divine Union which, they were told, crowns both the Year of the Church, and the faithful soul that has spent the Year under the Church’s guidance. But on no account must we lose courage. The Cycle of the Liturgy runs its full course in the heavens of the Church each Year. It will soon be starting afresh, again adapting the power of its graces to each one’s necessities and weaknesses. If, with that new Year of Grace, we learn a lesson from our past deficiencies; if we do not content ourselves with a mere theoretical admiration of the exquisitie poetry, and loveliness, and charms, of its opening seasons; if we seriously set ourselves to grow with the growth of that light (which is no other than Christ himself)—if that is, we profit of the graces of progress which that Light will again infuse into our souls—then the work of sanctification having been this time prepared, has a cheering and a new chance of receiving that completeness, which had been retarded by the weakness of human nature.”

Even now, though our dispositions may not be all they should be, yet the Holy Ghost, that Spirit of loving mercy who reigns over this portion of the Cycle, will not refuse the humble prayer we make to Him, and will supply, at least in some measure, our sad shortcomings. Great, after all, has been our gain in this, that the eye of our faith has had new supernatural horizons opened out to it, and that it has reached those peaceful regions which the dull vision of the animal man fails to discover. It is there that divine Wisdom reveals to the perfect that great secret of love, which is not known by the wise and the princes of this world—secret, which the eye had not before seen, nor the ear heard, nor the heart even suspected as possible. From this time forward, we shall the better understand the divine realities, which fill up the life of the servants of God; they will seem to us, as they truly are, a thousand times preferable, both in importance and greatness, to those vain frivolities and occupations, in the midst of which is spent the existence of so-called practical men. Let us take delight in thinking upon that divine choice which, before time was, selected us for the fullness of all spiritual benedictions, of which the temporal blessings of the people of old were but a shadow. The world was not as yet existing, and already God saw us in his Word; to each one among us he assigned the place he was to hold in the Body of his Christ; already his fatherly eye beheld us clad with that grace, which made him well pleased with the Man-God; and he predestinated us, as being members of this his beloved Son, to sit with him, on his right hand, in the highest heavens.

Oh! how immense are our obligations to the Eternal Father, whose good pleasure has decreed to grant such wondrous gifts to our earth! His will is his counsel; it is the one rule of all his acts; and his will is all love. It is from the voluntary and culpable death of sin that he calls us to that Life which is his own Life. It is from the deep disgrace of every vice that, after having cleansed us in the Blood of his Son, he has exalted us to a glory which is the astonishment of the Angels and makes them tremble with adoring admiration. Let us then be holy for the sake of giving praise to the glory of such grace. Christ, in its divinity, is the substantial brightness and eternal eternal glory of his Father; if he has taken to himself a Body, if he has made himself our Head, it was for no other purpose than that he might sing the heavenly canticle in a new way. Not satisfied with presenting, in his sacred Humanity, a sight most pleasing to his Father—that is, the sight of the created reflex of divine, and therefore infinite, perfections—he wished, moreover, that the whole of creation should give back to the adorable Trinity an echo of the divine harmonies. It was on this account that he, in his own Flesh, broke down the old enmities existing between Gentile and Jew; and then, bringing together these that were once enemies, he made of them all one spirit, and one body, so that their countless human voices might, through Him, blend in unison of love with the angelic choirs, and thus, standing around God’s throne, might attune the one universal song of their praise to that of the infinite Word Himself. Thus shall we become forever to God, like this divine Word, the praise of his glory, as the Apostle thrice loves to express himself in the beginning of this his Epistle to the Ephesians. Thus, too, is to be wrought that mystery which, from all eternity, was the object of God’s eternal designs, mystery, that is, of divine union, realized by our Lord Jesus uniting, in his own one Person, an infinite love, both earth and heaven.

The Church, which is showing herself in the midst of the Gentiles, bears on herself the mark of her divine Architect; God shows himself, in her, in all majesty; and by her, his fear is made to be felt by the kings of the earth.

Holy Church here tells us, and in a most unmistakable way, what has been her chief aim for her children ever since the Feast of Pentecost. The Wedding spoken of in today’s Gospel is that of heaven, and of which there is a prelude given here below, by the Union effected in the sacred banquet of Holy Communion. The divine invitation is made to all; and the invitation is not like that which is given on occasion of earthly weddings, to which the Bridegroom and Bride invite their friends and relatives as simple witnesses to the union contracted between two individuals. In the Gospel Wedding, Christ is the Bridegroom, and the Church is the Bride. These nuptials are ours, inasmuch as we are members of the Church; and the banquet hall, in this case, is something far superior that that of a common-place marriage.

But that this Union be as fruitful as it ought to be, the soul, in the sanctuary of her own conscience, must bring alone with her a fidelity which is to be an enduring one—a love which is to be active, even when the feast of the sacred mysteries is past. Divine Union, when it is genuine, masters one’s entire being. It fixes one in the untiring contemplation of the Beloved Object, in the earnest looking after His interests, in the continual aspiration of the heart towards Him, even when He seems to have absented Himself from the soul. The Bride of the divine Nuptials—could she be less intent on her God, than those of earth are on their earthly Spouse? It is on this condition alone that the christian soul can be said to have entered on the Unitive Life or can show its precious fruits.

But for the attaining all this—that is, that our Lord Jesus Christ may have that full control over the soul and its powers, which makes her to be truly His, and subjects her to Him as the Bride is to her Spouse—it is necessary that all alien competition be entirely and definitively put aside. Now, there is one sad fact, which everyone knows: the divinely noble Son of the Eternal Father, the Incarnate Word whose beauty enraptures the heavenly citizens, the Immortal King, whose exploits and power and riches are beyond all that the children of men can imagine—yes, He has rivals, human rivals, who pretend to have stronger claims than He to creatures whom he has redeemed from slavery and, that done, has invited them to share with Him the honors of his throne. Even in the case of those whom his loving mercy succeeds in winning over wholly to Himself, is it not almost always the way, that He is kept waiting, for perhaps years, before they can make up their minds to be wise enough to take Him? During that long period of unworthy wavering, he loses not his patience, he does not turn elsewhere as he might in all justice do, but he keeps on asking them to be wholly His, mercifully waiting for some secret touch of one of his graces, joined with the unwearied labor of the Holy Ghost, to get the better of all this inconceivable resistance.

Let us not be surprised at the Church’s bringing the whole influence of her Liturgy to bear on the winning souls over to Christ, for every such conquest she makes for Him is a fresh and closer bond of union between herself and her Lord. This explains how, in some of these previous Sundays, she has given us such admirable instructions regarding the efforts of the triple concupiscence. Earthly pleasures, pride, and covetousness, are really the treacherous advisers, who excite within us, against God’s claims, those impertinent rivals of whom we were just now speaking. Having now reached the sixteenth week of this Seaosn of the reign of the Holy Ghost, and taking it for granted that her Sons and Daughters are in right good earnest about their christian perfection—the Church hopes that they have fairly unmasked the enemy. She comes, therefore, to us today hoping that her teaching will not fail to impress us, and that we shall no longer put off that most loving Jesus of ours, whose great mystery of love is preached to us in the allegory of our Gospel, and of which he himself said: The Kingdom of heaven is likened to a King, who made a marriage for his Son.

But after all, her anxiety as Mother and Bride never allows her to make quite sure of even her best and dearest children, so long as they are in this world. In order to keep them on their guard against falling into sin, she bids them listen to St. Ambrose, whom she has selected as her homilist for this Sunday. He addresses himself to the christian who has become a veteran in the spiritual combat, and tell even him that Concupiscence has snares without end, even for him! Alas! yes, he may trip any day; he has got far, perhaps very far, on the road to the Kingdom of God, but even so, he might go wrong and be forever shut out from the Marriage Feast, together with heretics, pagans, and jews. Let him be on the watch, then, or he may get tainted with those sins from which, hitherto, he has kept clear, thanks to God’s grace. Let him take heed, or he might become like the man mentioned in today’s Gospel, who had the dropsy; and dropsy, says our saintly preacher of Milan, is a morbid exuberance of humors, which stupify the soul and induce total extinction of spiritual ardor. And yet, even so, that is, even if her were to get such a fall as that, let him not forget that the heavenly physician is ever ready to cure him. The Saint, in this short Homily, condenses the whole of St. Luke’s 14th chapter, of which we have been reading but a portion; and he shows, a little further on, that attachment to the goods of this life is no less opposed to the ardor which should carry us on the wings of the spirit, towards the heaven where lives and reigns our Love.

But above all, it is the constant attitude and exercise of Humility, to which he must especially direct his attention, who would secure a prominent place in the divine Feast of the Nuptials. All Saints are ambitious for future glory of this best kind; but they were well aware that in order to win it, they must go low down during the present life into their own nothingness; the higher in the world to come, the lower in this. Until the great day dawn, when each one is to receive according to his works, we shall lose nothing by putting ourselves, meanwhile, below everybody. The position reserved for us in the kingdom of heaven depends not in the least either upon our own thoughts about ourselves, or upon the judgment passed on us by other people; it depends solely on the will of that God who exalteth the humble, and bringeth down the mighty from their seat. Let us hearken to Ecclesiasticus. The greater thou art, the more humble thyself in all things, and thou shalt find grace before God; for great is the power of God alone, and he is honored by the humble. Were it only a motive, then, from a motive of self-interest, let us follow the advice of the Gospel and, in all things, claim, as our own, the last place. Humility is not sterling, and cannot please God unless, to the lowly estimation we have of ourselves, we join an esteem for others, preventing everyone with honor, gladly yielding to all in matters which do not affect our conscience; and all this from a deep-rooted conviction of our own misery and worthlessness in the sight of Him who searches the reins and heart. The surest test of our Humility before God is that practical charity for our neighbor, which in the several circumstances of everyday life, induces us, and without affectation, to give him the precedence to ourselves.

On the contrary, one of the most unequivocal proofs of the falseness of certain so-called spiritual ways, into which the enemy sometimes leads incautious souls, is the lurking contempt wherewith he inspires them for one or more of their acquaintance; dormant, perhaps, habitually—but which, when occasion offers, and it frequently offers, they allow it to influence their thoughts and words and actions. To a greater or less extent, and it may be with more or less unconsciousness, self-esteem is the basis of the structure of their virtues; but as for the illuminations and mystical sweetnesses, which these people sometimes tell their intimate friends they enjoy, they may be quite sure that such favors do not come to them from the Holy Spirit. When the substantial light of the Sun of Justice shall appear in the valley of the Judgment, all counterfeits of this kind will be made evident, and they who trusted to them and spent their lives in petting such phantoms will find them all vanishing in smoke. The having then to take a much lower place than the one they dreamt of may have this one solace, that some place may be still given them in the divine banquet. They will have to thank God that their chastisement goes no further than the one of seeing, with shame, those very people passing high up in honor above them for whom, during life, they had such utter contempt.

The greater the conquests made by the Church, the greater are the efforts of hell to destroy the souls of her dear children. This fearful danger calls for her fervent prayers; and our Offertory-Anthem is one of these. The Secret reminds us how the Sacrifice, at which we are present, and which is to be consummated in a few moments by the words of Consecration, is the most direct and efficacious of all the immediate preparations that we can make for the Communion of the Body and Blood which that Sacrifice produces on the Altar.

Munda nos, quæsumus, Domine, sacrificii præsentis effectu, et perfice miseratus in nobis, ut ejus mereamur esse participes. Per Dominum. Cleanse us, O Lord, we beseech thee, by the efficacy of this present Sacrifice: and, by thy mercy, make us worthy to partake thereof. Through, etc.

Now that the Church is filled, by the holy Communion just received, with the true substantial Wisdom of the Father, she promises God, as her thank-offering in the Communion Antiphon, that she will keep his justice, which is his law, and that she will labor to make his divine teaching produce its fruits. In the Postcommunion, let us pray, with the Church, that we may be renewed by the purity, which these heavenly Mysteries bring to us, who are well prepared for the gift: the effect of such a gift tells upon our bodies, both in this and the next life.

Purifica, quæsumus Domine, mentes nostras benignus, et renova cœlestibus sacramentis: ut consequenter et corporum præsens pariter, et futurum capiamus aulilium. Per Dominum. Mercifually, O Lord, we beseech thee, purify our souls, and renew them by these heavenly mysteries; that we may receive help thereby, both while we are in these mortal bodies, and hereafter. Through, etc.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Let us celebrate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary; let us adore her Son, Christ our Lord. Such is the invitation addressed to us today by the Church. Let us hearken to her call; let us enter into her overflowing joy. The Bridegroom is at hand, for his throne is now set up on earth; yet a little while, and he will appear in the diadem of our human nature, wherewith his Mother is to crown him on the day of the joy of his heart, and of ours. Today, as on the glorious Assumption, the sacred Canticle is heard; but this time it belongs more to earth than to heaven.

Truly a better Paradise than the first is given us at this hour. Eden, fear no more that man will endeavor to enter thee; thy Cherubim may leave the gates and return to heaven. What are thy beautiful fruits to us, since we cannot touch them without dying? Death is now for those who will not eat of the fruit so soon to appear amid the flowers of the virgin earth to which our God has led us.

Hail, new world, far surpassing in magnificence the first creation! Hail blessed haven, where we find a calm after so many storms! Aurora dawns; the rainbow glitters in the heavens; the dove comes forth; the ark rests upo nthe earth, offering new destinies to the world. The haven, the aurora, the rainbow, the dove, the ark of salvation, the Paradise of the heavenly Adam, the creation whereof the former was but a shadow: all this art thou, sweet infant, in whom already dwell all grace, all truth, all life.

Thou art the little cloud, which the father of prophets in the suppliant anguish of his soul awaited; and thou bringest refreshment to the parched earth. Under the weakness of thy fragile form, appears the Mother of fair love and of holy hope. Thou art that other light cloud of exquisite fragrance, which our desert sends up to heaven. In the incomparable humility of thy soul, which knows not itself, the Angels, standing like armed warriors around thy cradle, recognize their Queen.

O Tower of the true David; citadel withstanding the first shock of Satan’s attack, and breaking all his power; true Sion, founded on the holy mountains, the highest summits of virtue; temple and palace, feebly foreshadowed by those of Solomon; house built by Eternal Wisdom for herself: the faultless lines of thy fair architecture were planned from all eternity. Together with Emmanuel, who predestined thee for his home of delights, thou art thyself, O blessed child, the crowning point of creation, the divine ideal fully realized on earth.

Let us, then, understand the Church when, even on this day, she proclaims thy divine maternity, and unites in her chants of praise the birth of Emmanuel and thine own. He who, being Son of God by essence, willed to be also Son of man, had, before all other designs, decreed that he would have a Mother. Such, consequently, was the primordial, absolute character of that title of mother, that i nthe eternal decree, it was one with the very being of the chosen creature, the motive and cause of her existence, as well as the source of all her perfections natural and supernatural. We too, then, must recognize thee as Mother, even from thy very cradle, and must celebrate thy birthday by adoring thy Son our Lord.

Inasmuch as it embraces all the brethren of the Man-God, thy blessed maternity sheds its rays upon all time, both before and after this happy day. God is our king before ages: he hath wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. “The midst of the earth,” says the Abbot of Clairvaux, “admirably represents Mary. Mary is the center of the universe, the ark of God, the cause of creation, the business of ages. Towards her turn the inhabitants of heaven and the dwellers in the place of expiation, the men that have gone before us, and we that are now living, those who are to follow us, our children’s children and their descendants. Those in heaven look to her to have their ranks filled up; those in purgatory look for their deliverance; the men of the first ages, that they may be found faithful prophets; those that come after, that they may obtain eternal happiness. Mother of God, Queen of heaven, Sovereign of the world, all generations shall call thee blessed, for thou hast brought forth life and glory for all. In thee the Angels ever find their joy, the just find grace, sinners pardon; in thee, and by thee, and from thee, the merciful hand of the Almighty has reformed the first creation.”

Andrew of Crete calls this day a solemnity of entrance, a feast of beginning, whose end is the union of the Word with our flesh; a virginal feast, full of joy and confidence for all. “All ye nations, come hither,” cries St. John Damascene; “come every race and every tongue, every age and every dignity, let us joyfully celebrate the birthday of the world’s gladness.” “It is the beginning of salvation, the origin of every feast,” says St. Peter Damian in his 45th sermon, “for behold! the Mother of the Bridegroom is born. With good reason does the whole world rejoice today; and the Church, beside herself, bids her choirs sing wedding songs.”

Not only do the Doctors of the East and West use similar language in praise of Mary’s birth, but moreover the Latin and Greek Churches sing, each in its own tongue, the same beautiful formula to close the office of the feast: “Thy birth, O Virgin Mother of God, brought joy to the whole world: for out of thee arose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God: who, taking off the curse, hath bestowed blessing; and, defeating death, hath given us life everlasting.”

This union of Rome and Byzantium in the celebration of today’s festival, dates back as far as the seventh century at least; beyond that we cannot speak with anything like certitude, nor is it known when the feast was first instituted. It is supposed to have originated at Angers, towards the year 430, by an apparition of our Lady to the holy bishop Maurillus in the fields of Marillais; and hence the name of Notre Dame Angevine often given to the feast. In the eleventh century Chartres, the city of Mary, claims for its own Fulbert, together with Robert the Pious, a principal share in the spreading of the glorious solemnity throughout France. It is well known how intimate the bishop was with the king; and how the latter himself set to music the three admirable Responsories composed by Fulbert, wherein he celebrates the rising of the mysterious star that was to give birth to the Sun; the branch springing from the rod of Jesse, and producing the divine Flower whereon the Holy Spirit was to rest; and the merciful power which caused Mary to blossom in Judæa like the rose on the thorn.

In the year 1245, in the third Session of the first Council of Lyons (the same session which deposed Frederick II from the empire), Innocent IV established for the whole Church not the feast, which was already kept everywhere, but the Octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (detailed in Giovan Domenico Mansi’s Sacrorum conciliorum, volume xxiii). It was the accomplishment of a vow made by him and the other Cardinals during the Church’s widowhood, which, throughout the intrigues of the crafty emperor, lasted nineteen months after the death of Celestine IV, and which was brought to a close by the election of Sinibaldo Fieschi under the name of Innocent.

In 1377, the great Pope Gregory XI, who broke the chains of captivity in Avignon, wished to add a Vigil to the solemnity of our Lady’s birthday. But whether he merely expressed a desire to this effect, as did his successor Urban VI with regard to a fast on the eve of the Visitation, or whether for some other reason, the intentions of the holy Pope were carried out for only a very short time during the years of trouble that followed his death.

Together with the Church, let us ask, as the fruit of this sweet feast, for that peace which seems to flee ever farther and farther from our unhappy times. Our Lady was born during the second of the three periods of universal peace wherewith the reign of Augustus was blessed, the last of which ushered in the Prince of peace himself.

The temple of Janus is closed; in the eternal City a mysterious fountain of oil has sprung up from the spot where the first sanctuary of the Mother of God is one day to be built; signs and portents are multiplied; the whole world is in expectation; the poet has sung: “Behold the last age, foretold by the Sybil, is at hand; behold the great series of new worlds is beginning; behold the Virgin!”

In Judæa, the scepter has been taken away from Juda; but the usurper of his power, Herod the Idumæan, is hastening to complete the splendid restoration which will enable the second Temple worthily to receive within its walls the Ark of the New Covenant.

It is the sabbatical month, the first of the civil year, the seventh of the sacred cycle; the month of Tisri which begins the repose of each seventh year, and in which is announced the holy hear of Jubilee; the most joyous of mohths, with its solemn Neomenia celebrated with trumpets and singing, its feast of Tabernacles, and the commemoration of the completion of Solomon’s Temple.

In the heavens, the sun in his passage through the Zodiac,has just left the sign of Leo to enter that of Virgo. On earth, two obscure descendants of David, Joachim and Anne, are thanking God for having blessed their long barren union.


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