Mary 11 – Our Lady of Sorrows

Posted: January 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 11 – Our Lady of Sorrows

This feast is a devotion of the Roman Catholic Church to the seven sorrows Mary suffered. Many Catholic Churches have Our Lady of Sorrows as their patron and name, so most of us have probably heard it before, even if we didn’t understand what it meant. The feast was officially added to the calendar of the Latin Rite in the 19th century, but it goes much further back than that. The seven sorrows are as follows.

  1. The prophecy of Simeon. (St. Luke 2: 34, 35)
  2. The flight into Egypt. (St. Matthew 2:13-14)
  3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. (St. Luke 3: 43-45)
  4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross.
  5. The Crucifixion.
  6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross.
  7. The burial of Jesus.

And there are seven graces Mary is said to bestow on those who pray seven Hail Marys daily while meditating on the seven sorrows.

  1. I will grant peace to their families.
  2. They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.
  3. I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
  4. I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
  5. I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
  6. I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will see the face of their Mother.
  7. I have obtained from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.

There’s much more to the feast and devotions, of course, but I’m just trying to provide a brief window into them in these posts, not an in-depth exploration. I will just note, since it’s an area that can become confusing, that Catholics and Orthodox don’t generally mean the same thing when they speak of grace or graces. And as a rule, neither of them usually mean what Protestants typically mean when they use the word. I know, it can be hard to communicate effectively when people use the same words, but mean different things when they use them. But that’s just the way language works sometimes. It’s just something to keep in mind.


Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

Posted: October 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Luke 23:26-49; John 18-19.

Scot explores the grotesqueness of the cross in a way that is impossible to summarize if you do not already understand it. But I love this bit:

Beginning to end, the crucifixion of Jesus is a grotesque scene, one that is far from the mind of most persons who wear crosses around their necks. No one, to use a modern analogy, has the macabre affront to wear a necklace with a guillotine or a gallows or a noose or an electric chair, or cells on death row.

Scot makes precisely a point I tried (and often failed) to explain to those who were Christian about one reason I became Christian.

In fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews explains something many Christians miss when it comes to the cross: Jesus suffers to sympathize with our sufferings.

Jesus with us. In our worst suffering, in our darkest hour, in our most hopeless moment, Jesus is right there with us. He understands it all and weeps tears of empathy and love for us. There is no place of sorrow, no depth of abandonment, no height of unwarranted cruelty and despite where Jesus has not gone and is not walking with us. For this he is named Immanuel.

The Cross is thus also, paradoxically, the revelation of the glory of God. It is the revelation of his love and his mercy and his faithfulness to his creation.

Glory to God!


For the Life of the World 24

Posted: January 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The series now moves to section 3 of the fifth chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  second podcast on chapter five.

We now can return to the sacrament of matrimony. We can now understand that its true meaning is not that it merely gives a religious “sanction” to marriage and family life, reinforces with supernatural grace the natural family virtues. Its meaning is that by taking the “natural” marriage into “the great mystery of Christ and the Church,” the sacrament of matrimony gives marriage a new meaning; it transforms, in fact, not only marriage as such but all human love.

Dn. Hyatt draws some observations about recent weddings he’s attended in this podcast and in the prior one. They are good illustrations. At their best, the symbolism in most of our modern marriages make marriage into something that is essentially between the individual man and woman before God. Basically, we are doing exactly what Fr. Schmemann points out above. We are adding a religious blessing to a natural marriage so God is somehow included. But there is no sense that we are speaking about Christ and the Church. The Church is not really even involved or engaged in any way. In some ways, I think that omission helps feed the rampant idolization of “family” in the circles in which I have moved these past fifteen years.

Fr. Schmemann also comments that as a separate rite or ceremony developed for marriage and as the Church gained the civil authority to perform legal marriages, marriage was gradually divorced from the Eucharist — the very thing which had formerly marked and transformed a marriage into a mystery of Christ and the Church. I find it significant that as forgiveness flows from baptism, and thus confession is linked to baptism, so marriage — or love — flows from the Eucharist. Fr. Schmemann weaves connections I had never considered before, but which seem obvious once he points them out.

From that history, the Orthodox rite of matrimony developed into two distinct services. The first service, the betrothal, is not performed inside the Church, but in the vestibule instead. This is where rings are blessed and exchanged. It’s the Christian version of the “natural” or “civil” marriage.

For the Christian, natural does not mean either self-sufficient — a “nice little family” — or merely insufficient, and to be, therefore, strengthened and completed by the addition of the “supernatural.” The natural man thirsts and hungers for fulfillment and redemption. This thirst and hunger is the vestibule of the Kingdom: both beginning and exile.

The “natural” marriage unites the couple, but they are not united in the Kingdom. They stand outside it, in the vestibule. The imagery is powerful if you stop and try to inhabit it.

Then, having blessed the natural marriage, the priest takes the bridal pair in a solemn procession into the church. This is the true form of the sacrament, for it does not merely symbolize, but indeed is the entrance of marriage into the Church, which is the entrance of the world into the “world to come,” the procession of the people of God — in Christ — into the Kingdom. The rite of crowning is but a later — although a beautiful and beautifully meaningful — expression of the reality of this entrance.

I’ve heard of the Orthodox rite of crowning before. The couple do not exchange vows in this wedding. They make no promises to each other or to God. Instead they stand together and are blessed and crowned as king and queen of creation. For that is what were created to be and we cannot escape our reality. We can abuse it. We can turn the world we touch into a little hell. But we were created to reflect God into creation.

Each family is indeed a kingdom, a little church, and therefore a sacrament of and a way to the Kingdom. Somewhere, even if it is only in a single room, every man at some point in his life has his own small kingdom. It may be hell, and a place of betrayal, or it may not. … This is what the marriage crowns express: that here is the beginning of a small kingdom which can be something like the true Kingdom. The chance will be lost, perhaps even in one night; but at this moment it is still an open possibility. Yet even when it has been lost, and lost again a thousand times, still if two people stay together, they are in a real sense king and queen to each other.

As we’ll explore shortly, marriage is not easy. If it were easy, it would not change us, and we desperately need to be changed. But I like the image above. However often you lose it, together you can keep fighting back toward the reality of Christ and the Church.

Fr. Schmemann then points out that in our culture the “icon” of marriage is typically a young couple. But then he tells a story to illustrate the fallacy of that perspective.

But once, in the light and warmth of an autumn afternoon, this writer saw on the bench of a public square, in a poor Parisian suburb, an old and poor couple. They were sitting hand in hand, in silence, enjoying the pale light, the last warmth of the season. In silence: all words had been said, all passion exhausted, all storms at peace. The whole life was behind — yet all of it was now present, in this silence, in this light, in this warmth, in this silent unity of hands. Present — and ready for eternity, ripe for joy. This to me remains the vision of marriage, of its heavenly beauty.

This year will mark our twentieth wedding anniversary. It is my hope and goal to one day reach a place not unlike the one Fr. Schmemann describes above.

Then secondly, the glory and honor is that of the martyr’s crown. For the way to the Kingdom is the martyria — bearing witness to Christ. And this means crucifixion and suffering. A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not “die to itself” that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of “adjustment” or “mental cruelty.” It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God. This is expressed in the sentiment that one would “do anything” for his family, even steal. The family has here ceased to be for the glory of God; it has ceased to be a sacramental entrance into His presence. It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it. In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God. Yet it is the presence of God which is the death of the marriage as something only “natural.” It is the cross of Christ that brings the self-sufficiency of nature to its end. But “by the cross joy [and not “happiness!”] entered the whole world.” Its presence is thus the real joy of marriage. It is the joyful certitude that the marriage vow, in the perspective of the eternal Kingdom, is not taken “until death parts,” but until death unites us completely.

Wow. Read that a time or three. I confess that I could conceive of “doing anything” for my family. Lie (even in formal settings)? Steal? Kill? Curse Christ and offer incense to the emperor cult? I have no confidence that, if truly pressed, there’s a point beyond which I would not step. I may not be a particularly good husband or father, but I can’t recall any other serious or deeply held ambition I’ve ever had for my life. It’s not exactly the sort of Christian idolization that Fr. Schmemann describes and which I’ve certainly encountered, for it’s been my deepest desire even when I was as “anti-Christian” as they come. If the above does not trouble you, at least a bit, then you’re a better person than I’m ever likely to be.

The third meaning of the crowns in the Orthodox rite is that they are crowns of the Kingdom. Interestingly, as the priest removes the crowns from their heads, he says, “Receive their crowns in Thy Kingdom.” God alone is the end and fullness of perfected love.

The common cup given to the couple after the crowning is explained today as a symbol of “common life,” and nothing shows better the “desacramentalization” of marriage, its reduction to a “natural happiness.” In the past this was communion, the partaking of the Eucharist, the ultimate seal of the fulfillment of marriage in Christ. Christ is to be the very essence of life together. He is the wine of the new life of the children of God, and communion in it will proclaim how, by getting older and older in this world, we are growing younger and younger in the life which has no evening.

Even the Orthodox rite, apparently has been divorced from the context of the couple taking the Eucharist in communion with the gathered people of God. I know in the Roman Catholic Church, it remains an option (though often not taken) for the marriage to take place within the context of a full mass, including the Eucharist. I wonder if it remains an Orthodox option or not.

Marriage is one of the things that Scripture expressly and literally calls a mysterion or sacramentum. It seems like that would give the more “literal-minded,” “bible-believing,” anti-sacramental sorts of Christian pause. For some reason, though, it doesn’t. I’ve never quite understood why that is so.


On the Incarnation of the Word 16 – Was the Cross the Sole Aim of Christ’s Birth?

Posted: September 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 16 – Was the Cross the Sole Aim of Christ’s Birth?

This section of On the Incarnation of the Word by Athanasius is a very short one, but I think critical for us today. I very much recommend that you read the entire section several times and reflect on it. It seems to me that some segments of modern Western Christianity have so emphasized the Cross that the life of Jesus simply becomes a preparation for it and the Resurrection is reduced to little more than an afterthought.

I was particularly struck by this fact some years ago when the SBTC Texan, the newspaper for our state convention, published a series of articles defending and discussing the Resurrection. They all strongly defended the historicity of the Resurrection and clearly held it to be important. However, when they tried to express why it was so important, the best that anyone could say was that it proved that the Father accepted the Son’s payment for our sins on the Cross.

It was one of those moments of crystalline clarity for me. I had been a part of this group of Christians for more than a decade and I had never until that moment really begun to understand how they perceived Christ. I thought I had, of course. But I realized then that I really hadn’t, after all.

In all of the ancient writings, as in Scripture, you will rarely ever find the Crucifixion separated from the Resurrection. If you’ve been reading the posts on my blog where we’ve been working through some of them, perhaps you’ve noticed that. Without the Resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth was simply another first century failed Messiah wannabe. In this section, however, Athanasius points out that we also can’t reduce the work of Christ to simply his death and resurrection.

Now for this cause, also, He did not immediately upon His coming accomplish His sacrifice on behalf of all, by offering His body to death and raising it again, for by this means He would have made Himself invisible. But He made Himself visible enough by what He did, abiding in it, and doing such works, and shewing such signs, as made Him known no longer as Man, but as God the Word.

When you look at it that way, it’s obvious. Of course, in one sense the Word did become flesh to die. That is he became fully human in every way and inherited the fullness of our mortal nature. At the same time, though, he joined it to the divine nature which could not die. And in the heart of that paradox, he defeated death on behalf of all mankind.

However, that was only part of his work. As Jesus said, he came to make the unknowable God known to us. In him, we know and experience the fullness of God. We are able to participate in the life of God. We can be one with God and with each other. We can know true communion. So Jesus also came to make God known in the only way we could know him.

For by the Word revealing Himself everywhere, both above and beneath, and in the depth and in the breadth—above, in the creation; beneath, in becoming man; in the depth, in Hades; and in the breadth, in the world—all things have been filled with the knowledge of God.

When we try to reduce the work of Christ to something simple which we can rationally grasp in its entirety, we render it meaningless. When we reduce the Incarnation of the Word to a single task, whatever that task might be, we strip it of its transcendence and mystery. The Incarnation transformed all creation in ways that go beyond any words we might use.

Christ was born to live, to die, and to rise uncorrupted and incorruptible from the grave. No single act is of greater purpose or necessity than the other. It is in the fullness of Christ that we find salvation. Had Christ not filled creation in a new way in the Incarnation, had he not made himself known to us through our senses, had he not recreated us as human beings in his death and resurrection, Pentecost could not have happened. Man has been united to God in Christ, thus God can particularly indwell man in the fullness of the Spirit through Christ without consuming us. (Remember, our God is a consuming fire.) And through the physical body and blood of Christ, we know the unknowable God.

Is your mind blown yet?