Tuesday, May 31, 2016

20 Mysteries: Jesus is Baptized

Matthew 3:13-17:

[1] And in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea. [2] And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [3] For this is he that was spoken of by Isaias the prophet, saying: A voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. [4] And the same John had his garment of camels' hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey. [5] Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan: 
   
[6] And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. [7] And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? [8] Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance. [9] And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. [10] For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.

[11] I indeed baptize you in the water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire. [12] Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. [13] Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him. [14] But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me? [15] And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice. Then he suffered him.
    
[16] And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. [17] And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Mark 1:9-11:

[9] And it came to pass, in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] And forthwith coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit as a dove descending, and remaining on him. 
   
[11] And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

Luke 3:21-22:

[21] Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened; [22] And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.




Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.


We now move into the Luminous Mysteries, the five Mysteries of the Rosary that Pope St. John Paul II added to the traditional fifteen. These mysteries are called Luminous because these reveal in a new way the mission of Jesus. They encompass the whole of Jesus' teaching ministry right up to His Passion. Chronologically, these follow immediately after the Joyful Mysteries, which ended with Jesus being found in the Temple by Mary and Joseph during the last year of His childhood.

All of the Gospels include the Baptist, John's testimony regarding Jesus, but only the Gospel of John (different John) doesn't record Jesus' actual baptism. Nevertheless, John the Baptist, in all four Gospels, declares that, though he (John) only baptizes with water, there would be one who will come who will baptize with the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God.

John's Baptism


It might be strange for many readers to encounter John baptizing people in the Jordan when the Sacrament of Baptism hadn't yet been established. Sure, you might think that John understood the baptism to come, and this was a presage of Jesus' baptism, but that wouldn't answer why so many Jews were going to John for baptism.

The reason one might think it strange is because prior to the Gospels, we don't see the word "baptize" anywhere. It's not part of the Old Testament. But if that were true, then why are so many Jews participating in this activity, if for them it had no historical, traditional meaning? The answer is, quite simply, that there baptism was part of Jewish tradition, just not the kind of baptism we see in Christianity.

Do you remember the purification laws I referenced back when I was talking about Jesus' presentation in the Temple? Both women and children, immediately after childbirth, were considered unclean for a period of time. Well, the Jews had many purity laws. For example, if you came in contact with a corpse, you were considered unclean until you had completed the purification rituals. Another example would be if one had sinned, broken the Law, he would be considered unclean until having completed the purification rituals.

For many, but certainly not all, instances of uncleanness, washing in the Jordan was part of the ritual requirements for purification. A "baptism" of sorts.

Now notice, in Matthew 3:2, John says "do penance." Moreover, in Matthew 3:6, we see that those being baptized were confessing their sins. What we are seeing here is part of the ritual purification process involved in turning away from sins and becoming clean again, under the Law.

However, John's baptism was for Israel itself in order that the nation might "prepare the way of the Lord." He was specifically preparing the people for Jesus' coming, that they might be disposed to hear Him, and that they might be found worthy in His eyes. "For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire."

Jesus' Baptism


When Jesus comes to be baptized, John is hesitant, because He knows Jesus is far beyond need of purification. He is "mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear." Nevertheless, Jesus insists. And here we witness all three Persons of the Trinity: The Father, who speaks, saying "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Son, Jesus, about whom the Father is speaking, who is being baptized. The Holy Spirit, who descends from the Father to the Son in the form of a dove.

There is much here about which we may speak.

The Father

The Father's words here repudiate anyone who thinks that because Jesus insisted He be baptized, He therefore needed baptism for Himself. To the contrary, the Father says of Jesus that He is "well pleased." In other words, Jesus is already righteous. If He were not, the Father could not have said this, since unrighteousness is not pleasing to God.

Moreover, we have witness from God, Himself, that Jesus is His "Son." And not just any son, as we might think of the sons of God from the Old Testament, but rather, His "Beloved Son." This beloved-ness signifies a particular uniqueness of Son-ship that belongs to Jesus alone.

The Holy Spirit

As attested by John the Baptist, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now, this is strange, because John is the one who is baptizing Jesus here, and the witness is that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus during this baptism. In fact, I'm pretty sure we don't ever see Jesus baptizing anyone in the Gospels, which might seem to contradict what John the Baptist prophesied about Him. I'll get to this, but for now I want to say a brief word about the Holy Spirit in this scene.

The Holy Spirit is seen coming out of heaven "descending" on Jesus in the form of a dove. The dove has wide significance in the Old Testament. In Genesis, this was the bird sent out of the Ark after the flood to find dry land. Therefore, coming as a dove ties Jesus' baptism to the Flood: a sign of death, chastisement, and new creation. Having this sign, a Baptism of the Deluge, open Jesus' ministry signals to us that this is a saving (for those who climb aboard the Ark), and at the same time damning (for those who refuse the Ark) work.

"He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire."

There is a lot more I could say about the Dove, but I'm going to leave it at that for now.

The Son

In the baptism of Jesus, there is an immediate agent, and a principal actor. What do I mean by this? Remember that John prophesied about Jesus, that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit? Now, we see the Holy Spirit involved in Jesus' own baptism, being enacted by John, and we never actually see Jesus baptizing anyone in the Gospels. What this signifies is that Jesus baptizes through the baptismal actions of others. That is to say, John is the immediate agent of the baptism here, but Jesus is the principal actor, the one who is actually accomplishing the baptismal action.

And this is how we understand all of Jesus' Sacramental (that is, holy-making) work. In baptism, it is not you or I, or the priest, who accomplishes the baptismal work (of cleansing the soul from sin, as a continuation of the Jewish purity laws), but Jesus, through us. So, it is this scene that we understand to be the institution of the Baptismal Sacrament.

The Catholic understanding of such Sacramental works is that, Jesus being the infinite, Eternal Almighty, is capable of making present His saving and sanctifying work to us through time, and in unity with Him. That is, He makes present to us His own baptism through time such that we become one with Him, in His humanity, and receive the Holy Spirit as a single action taking place in that day and time, 2000 years ago.

This is why John is able to say that it is Jesus baptizes who with water and the Holy Spirit, and at the same time be the immediate agent of that action in Jesus' own life. The Eternal Being of God unites all things across space and time and substance.


Thanks for reading, and God bless!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

20 Mysteries: Jesus is Found in the Temple

Luke 2:41-52:

[41] And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the pasch, [42] And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, [43] And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not. [44] And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day' s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. [45] And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. 
   
[46] And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. [47] And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. [48] And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. [49] And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business? [50] And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. [51] And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. [52] And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.



Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.


This is this fifth of the five Joyful mysteries of the rosary. I received a special request from my mother, who recently started reading my blog, that I write about this particular mystery because, out of all the mysteries of the rosary, she has the most trouble meditating on this one. Of course, I explained that I was writing about the mysteries in sequence, so I would get to this in time, but I suspect what she said about it is true for most of us. I admit, I myself really only had a surface understanding of this mystery for a long time.

Well, here I am, finally writing on it. I hope that my mom approves of the exposition I am about to write on this.

Setting the Stage


Luke begins this event by setting the historical stage, as he usually does. We are told two key things about this scene: 1) it was the feast of the Pasch (or Passover), and 2) Jesus was 12 years old. These two pieces of context lend toward helping us understand the practical, historical framework for the episode, but also the mystical and theological underpinnings to it.

Because it was the feast of the Pasch, we are given to understand both why the Holy Family were in Jerusalem (because it's not where they lived), as well as why Mary and Joseph didn't realize Jesus was still in Jerusalem for a full day after they, themselves, had left.

According to the custom of the feast, Jews were to go to Jerusalem to offer the Paschal sacrifices, and join in the Paschal celebrations. When Luke says, "having fulfilled the days," he's referring to the length of the feast, which is eight days long, beginning on the 14th of Nisan (the first month of the Jewish Sacred Calendar), and ending on the 21st.

Now, given the fact that observant Jews travelled to Jerusalem for this feast, this really represents a mass movement of people from the surrounding areas to attend the celebrations there. So, as it happens, most people travelled in caravans of friends and relatives who were all travelling to (and from) Jerusalem for the same reason. This is why Mary and Joseph missed Jesus for a whole day, because it would have been normal for the children to be with their friends and or other family members both during the feast and as they travelled.

Now, given that Jesus was still only 12 years old, we are meant to understand that He was still considered a boy at this time. A boy was considered to enter manhood at the age of 13. This means He was still fully under His parents authority, as parents, and He would not yet be participating in certain religious rites that belonged to adulthood, especially those relating to the fact that He was the firstborn. So, what we see happening here should be understood as a contextual shadow of things to come.

In Preparation of the Pasch


This whole scene should be read as a preparation for the True Pasch, which is the sacrifice of the True Lamb for the salvation of souls wrought in completion on Calvary and signified by the Resurrection. The setting for this scene, again, is the Pasch. This should alert the reader to the theological significance of the passage. The first words from Jesus that we read in the Gospel occur after the last feast of the Pasch of His childhood, and before the Paschal work of His manhood begins.

There is an ancient Jewish tradition which precedes the Paschal feast, and is meant as a preparation for it. You can find a description of it at New Advent, which is the follow:

On the evening of the thirteenth, after dark, the head of the house makes the "search for leaven" according to the manner indicated in the Mishna (Tractate Pesachim, I), which is probably the custom followed by the Jews for at least two thousand years. The search is made by means of a lighted wax candle. A piece of ordinary, or leavened, bread is left in some conspicuous place, generally on a window-sill. The search begins by a prayer containing a reference to the command to put away all leaven during the feast. The place of the piece of bread just mentioned is first marked to indicate the beginning of the search. The whole house is then carefully examined, and all fragments of leaven are carefully collected on a large spoon or scoop by means of a brush or bundle of quills. The search is ended by coming back to the piece of bread with which it began. This, also is collected on the scoop. The latter, with its contents, and the brush are then carefully tied up in a bundle and suspended over a lamp to prevent mice from scattering leaven during the night and necessitating a fresh search. The master of the house then proclaims in Aramaic that all the leaven that is in his house, of which he is unaware, is to him no more than dust.

During the forenoon of the next day (fourteenth) all the leaven that remains is burnt, and a similar declaration is made. From this time till the evening of the 22nd, when the feast ends, only unleavened bread is allowed. The legal time when the use of leavened bread was prohibited was understood to be the noon on the fourteenth Nisan; but the rabbis, in order to run no risks, and to place a hedge around the Law, anticipated this by one or two hours.

In the case of this story, the Bread that Mary and Joseph are searching for is the True Bread, Jesus, Himself. Where do they find Him? In the Temple, His Father's house.

You can see much of this tradition both in modern Easter traditions, as well as in traditional Eucharistic practices.

So, in the final year before the work of Jesus' manhood is to begin, which is a work of Passover, Mary and Joseph prepare by searching for the Bread, according to the Jewish custom.

Three Days


The length of time it takes Mary and Joseph to find Jesus is also a foreshadowing of His Paschal work: 3 days. This should automatically bring the mind of the reader to Jesus' three days in the tomb. Imagine, Mary and Joseph discover that Jesus is not with their friends or family. What visions of His safety must have been rising before their eyes? They must have been terrified that He had been kidnapped, or taken by a wild animal, or some other terrible thing. In a sense, these three days of He being missing foreshadow His death.

Likewise, upon discovering Him in the Temple, and seeing that He lived, is surely a foreshadowing of His later Resurrection from the Tomb. I wonder if Mary remembered this very time as she mourned His death after the Crucifixion. What hope might she have seen there?

About My Father's Business


What may perhaps be seen as a strain of absurdity in the text is how Jesus responds to His parents' obvious worry (and perhaps anger?) after they found Him. He says, "How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?" It might remind us of the innocence of children, who don't quite understand the terror that their parents endure whenever their safety is at risk. Children just don't think about their safety in such terms. They don't think about death. Perhaps with Jesus, we might suppose He knew He would be safe until His appointed hour, and so He really didn't worry Himself over such things.

But, of course there is theological import here. Nothing Jesus says, even as a child, is without deep meaning. And, so from this we may derive three important truths. The first is that, as a foreshadowing of Jesus' death and Resurrection, we may understand that these things, and even that which Jesus did during His time in the tomb, all of these were the "Father's business." It was the work Jesus was sent to do.

The second is that, for those who seek Jesus, He is revealing where He may be found: in the Temple, and doing His Father's work. The Temple may be understood in two ways, both as the Church itself, which He founded and which replaces the Temple as the center of Divine Worship, and the Temple may be understood to be ourselves (we are the Body of Christ, which Jesus called the Temple, which He would destroy and rebuild in three days, and we are Temples of the Holy Spirit). So Jesus is found in the Church, in other people, and in ourselves.

And secondly, Jesus may be found in the work of the Father's business. Jesus identifies with those upon whom we act ("whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me," for example). Therefore, it is in the work that we do, specifically in the Holy Work that we do, that we find Jesus. But, it is also in teaching, and preaching the Gospel and sound Doctrine. After all, is that not what Jesus was found doing in the Temple?

The third thing Jesus' response reveals is Jesus' own knowledge of Himself. It is not clear to Mary and Joseph what Jesus meant by this (And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them), but Jesus clearly understands His own Divine origin, as He references His "Father," who He clearly does not mean to be Joseph.

In Her Heart


There is a phrase we see here, which we have seen before (in Luke 2:19), which is that Mary "kept all these words in her heart." This is a signal to us about the origin of these stories, who is Mary, Herself. Often, you will hear the complaint that, since these events in Luke were not witnessed by the author of the Gospel, why should we accept them as true? How does he even know about them. The answer is found in the Gospel itself, included by the Gospel writer, that we might have an assurance of their accuracy. Mary kept all of these things in her heart and pondered them. It reveals her reflectiveness on these events, and also the fact that she remember them to the present day, and passed these stories on to the disciples, which is how they know about them.


I hope you enjoyed this mystery! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Presentation in the Temple

Luke 2:21-40:

[21] And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb. [22] And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: [23] As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: [24] And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons: [25] And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him.
    
[26] And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. [27] And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, [28] He also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said: [29] Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; [30] Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,     [31] Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: [32] A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. [33] And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. [34] And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; [35] And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. 
   
[36] And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. [37] And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. [38] Now she, at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel. [39] And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city Nazareth. [40] And the child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him.





Praised by Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.


If you're anything like me, you will have spent many years meditating on this mystery incorrectly. What I mean is, you probably imagined that the presentation of Jesus in the Temple was about His circumcision. If you did, no hard feelings. After all, the text does mention circumcision, and we're neither Jewish nor scholars of Jewish ritual practices.

Ceremonial Uncleanness


According to Levitical Law, after childbirth a woman was considered ceremonially unclean (among many reasons a person could be considered so), and had to endure a ritual purification period of 40 days from the birth of a male child (80 if the child was female). This comes from Leviticus 12:[2]-5. Generally speaking, to be ritually unclean meant that you were cut off from contact with your community. So, during this time, Mary would have been in general solitude with Jesus.

There are three principles at work here. First, the newborn child is not yet considered holy. In fact, we're told this directly, that they took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord because every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. So, prior to this presentation, the child is not yet considered holy.

The second principle, which you can find in Leviticus 10:[10], says that holiness and cleanliness (and likewise unholiness and uncleanliness) are really synonymous with respect to ritual purification laws. Uncleanness is a sign that one is not holy.

The third principle, which can be found throughout the Pentateuch (Leviticus 15:[20] for example), is that uncleanness is passed on through touch. Whether you touch a leper, or a corpse, or an unclean animal, or a woman during her period of uncleanness (after childbirth or during her menstrual cycle), the simple act of touching what is considered unclean makes you unclean.

And so, since a newborn is not yet presented to the Lord and made holy through ritual sacrifice, it is therefore to be considered unclean until that time. And since a woman has been in contact with the newborn since birth (since conception, yes, but there are "blood" considerations too that I don't want to get into), and so until the time when the child is presented in the Temple, she is also considered unclean.

Circumcision


However, because of the Covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:[10]-12), which stipulates that a male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, the ritual separation of the unclean is temporarily suspended in order to complete this act. This is a separate action from the presentation of the child in the Temple at the end of the purification period. Leviticus 12:[2]-5 makes it clear that the woman's purification period continues on for the remaining 33 days from the day of circumcision, and that these rituals are two separate activities.

So, Mary and Joseph fulfill the Law of the Covenant by having Jesus circumcised when He was eight days old. By this action, every male child was brought into the Covenantal relationship with God that was established with Abraham. Women did not undergo circumcision for two reasons. First, women already shed blood (menstruation) as a consequence of the Fall, and second, they were brought into Covenantal relationship with God through familial association. This is why the Covenant was always tracked through male lineage.

Thankfully, Bethlehem is only 10km south of Jerusalem, so they didn't have a very great distance to travel. Though, I'm sure it was arduous enough for Mary, who had just given birth.

Ritual Sacrifice


At the end of the purification period, the newborn was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord. At this time, sacrifice was offered and the priest would pray for them, and they would be made clean and holy before God. Unlike other forms of uncleanness, wherein it was necessary to wash to be made clean, uncleanness from childbirth did not require washing. This is indicative of its inner/ritualistic character, rather than a sense that the child and woman were actually unclean.

The prescription mentioned in Luke about the sacrifice offered was a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Technically, this is not correct. Levitical Law requires a lamb of a year old for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or a turtle for sin offering (Leviticus 12:[6]). The offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons is an allowance made for people who are too poor to be able to afford a lamb (and this allowance can be found in Leviticus 12:[8]). So, what we're seeing here is the fact that Mary and Joseph are poor, and they cannot afford a lamb.

But notice, there are two offerings being made here: a holocaust and a sin offering. A holocaust is a kind of sacrifice whereby the entire animal is burned on the altar. This is distinguished from other forms of offering whereby only a portion of the animal is burned, and the remainder is consumed. The ritual symbolism of the holocaust offering is thought to either be about the burning of the entire animal, as an act of highest honor to God (as opposed to a lesser offering of say, burned fat), or it is about the smoke that rises toward the heavens as a symbol of the mind of those offering the sacrifice being raised toward God. The Catholic in me wants to say it is a both/and matter.

So the holocaust is an act of worship, both as a physical offering of greatest quality, and as a turning of the spirit toward God. Notice also that the animal for the holocaust sacrifice, which Mary and Joseph could not afford, was a lamb. This may be considered a foreshadowing of Jesus' (who is the True Lamb) death on the cross, which was a perfect offering to the Lord.

The second offering is the sin offering. This is offered as atonement for sins against the community and the Lord. Usually, as with an offering made to remove ritual uncleanness, this kind of offering is made for inadvertent sins, as distinguished from guilt offerings. Thus, we may understand the Circumcision and the Presentation to be together accomplished in the Baptism of the New Covenant, which inducts us into the Covenant of Christ, and washes away our Original Sin, and making us holy before the Lord.

Note: Jesus needed neither to be "made holy" by these sacrifices, nor did he need a sin offering to remove sin, and likewise neither did Mary. This was a prescription of the Law which every righteous Jew had to fulfill. End note.

Simeon


Have you noticed how many people are filled with the Holy Ghost before the actual institution of the Church and Her Sacraments? Here, we have such a one, Simeon, who had been promised he would see the Messiah in his lifetime. And he immediately recognizes Jesus as this Messiah, being inspired by the Holy Ghost to go to the Temple that day.

Praising God, he calls Jesus the consolation of Israel, the Lord's salvation, the light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. And to Mary, who with Joseph was in wonder at these words, Simeon gave a prophesy about Jesus, that He would be the condemnation and resurrection of many in Israel, and a sign that would be contradicted. And regarding her specifically, he tells her that her own soul will be pierced, as it were, by a sword, by which the thoughts of many hearts would be made known.

This latter was a prophecy of the suffering she would endure by the suffering and death of her son. It is indicative of the role Mary would have in the work of Salvation wrought by Jesus. Her own suffering is efficacious, and causes hearts to shine forth, both the hearts who hate her, and likewise her son, and the hearts of those who love her, and likewise her son.

Anna


Besides Simeon, who made prophecies to Mary and Joseph about Jesus, there was also a prophetess named Anna, who made prophecies about Jesus. She confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel.

Anna was of the tribe of Aser, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel). This is noted because her father was Phanuel. That might be confusing because there's a Phanuel mentioned in the genealogies of Juda (another of the 12 sons of Jacob). These are not the same Phanuels.

Incidentally, there is an ancient place called Phanuel mentioned in Genesis 32:[30], which means I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved. It is fitting that Anna's father should be named thus, since her daughter did, in fact, see God face to face, by whom her soul was saved.

Anna was quite old. She had been a widow already for 84 years, and she lived with her husband for seven years from her virginity, which I'm going to take to mean that he died when she was approximately 20 years old. That makes her, at this point in the Gospel, about 104 years old.

But if you think that's crazy, what we learn about this woman is awe-inspiring. About her, we're told that she departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. At 104 years old, and presumably for many years prior, she served at the temple day and night through fasting and prayer! What devotion! I've talked about the importance of fasting and prayer in previous posts. What we see here is a wonderful example of the kind of blessing God grants to those who devote themselves to Him in such a manner. She was blessed, for her devotion to God, with seeing the Saviour in her old age, and being allowed to prophecy on His behalf. What a gift!


But this is really what Jesus does for people as He enters their lives. He blesses them with such graces. Yes, He asks us to bear our crosses. Remember that Anna was a widow for over 80 years, and devoted her time and energy to fasting and prayer, true crosses indeed, so such blessings may take time in their arrivals, but they will come, if we have but the patience and devotion and the fidelity to Him and the Covenant He makes with us.

Praise God!

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Birth of Jesus

Matthew 1:25-2:18:

[25] And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

[1] When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. [2] Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him. [3] And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. [4] And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. [5] But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:
    
[6] And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel. [7] Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; [8] And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come to adore him. [9] Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. [10] And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.     [11] And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. [12] And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country. [13] And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him. [14] Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod: [15] That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son.     [16] Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. [17] Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: [18] A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Luke 2:1-20:

[1] And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. [2] This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. [3] And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. [4] And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, [5] To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.
    
[6] And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. [7] And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. [8] And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. [9] And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. [10] And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people:
[11] For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. [12] And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. [13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: [14] Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will. [15] And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.     [16] And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. [17] And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child. [18] And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. [19] But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. [20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

John 1:14:

[14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.




Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.


This is the third Joyful Mystery in these 20 reflections on the mysteries of the rosary: the Birth of Jesus. The passages I'm gong to be looking at, which regard this event, are laden with meaning, and, quite frankly, there's a lot of text here to go through, as you can see. I will try to touch on some of what I consider to be the more important highlights of this story.

You will notice that there are two birth narratives, each situated within its own historical context, and each highlighting its own specific portents. In Matthew's narrative, we're reminded that Herod is the ruling king of the region, a minister under the rule of Caesar in Rome, and we're told the story of the visiting wise men, and the slaughter of the innocents. In Luke's narrative, we're told there is a census being taken, as ordered by the emperor, which is why Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem, and there are no vacancies at any of the inns, and we also see the story about the shepherds who visit Jesus after He is born.

Herod and the Census


Firstly, in Matthew's account, we witness the death of Herod after the birth of Jesus. Since, from Roman records, we know Herod died in 5 B.C., this has to imply to us that, if Jesus was born late in the year (December), then Jesus must have been born 6 B.C., and John the Baptist conceived in 7 B.C. This still works, for keeping our timeline with Jesus being born in December, because between 7 and 5 BC, Zachary's Temple service would still have fallen within the March/April, September/October periods.

Luke's account doesn't mention Herod by name in this scene, but it should be understood that he was the ruler at the time, as he is mentioned as such in the previous chapter during the time when Zachary received his vision.

In Luke's account, we're told that Caesar Augustus issued a decreed that a census (or enrollment) of Roman citizens across the empire be taken. This accounts for two things: first, it gives us reason for Jesus and Mary being in Bethlehem, which was not their home (they lived in Nazareth). Apparently, the law was that in order to complete the census, one had to return to one's ancestral home to enroll. And since people had scattered throughout the region, there were a lot of people travelling for the same reason they were. Hence, no room at any of the inns.

Second, the mass movement of people would have made determining who the Christ child was nearly impossible for Herod. Sure, he's told that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem, and under normal circumstances it should have been a simple matter to figure this out, because there would have only been so many children born at any given time. However, because of the preponderance of visitors, an effective investigation would have been difficult. Soldiers would have been tied up keeping the peace, and managing the crowds as they filled out the census. This gives us cause to understand why Herod asked the Wise Men to attempt to locate the child, since that's what they were doing anyway.

Jesus, Her Firstborn


Just a quick word on this. Both Matthew and Luke mention that Jesus was "her firstborn." This is neither to establish that Mary didn't have children before Him, nor to imply that she had other children after Him. Rather, the Firstborn was a particular status within Jewish tradition, and it wasn't always the child that was born first.

Firstly, a female child could not hold this status. The Firstborn always belonged to a male child. Furthermore, if you had children from both a wife and a concubine, it was the firstborn male of the wife who held this status, even if there were other children born before him by the concubine. Also, if you were a widower who took a second wife, the firstborn from the first wife continued to hold this status, even if the second wife had a son. So, the best we can determine from Jesus being named firstborn, was that Joseph didn't have children from a previous marriage.

More importantly, to be the Firstborn meant that you would carry the blessings and responsibilities of the Covenant. This is why the Firstborn features so prominently throughout the Old Testament. Establishing Jesus as the Firstborn is an indication that He carries in His person the responsibilities and blessings of the Covenant, which He is to fulfill.

The Blood of the Innocents and the Swaddling Clothes


You may be wondering why I've linked these two images, from the two Gospels, together. Allow me to explain. Each of these establish two things about Jesus: His mission and His humanity. After Herod realizes that the Wise Men have skipped town, he goes into a rage and kills all the boys in the area who were of an appropriate age. During this time, the angel commands Joseph to leave to Egypt for safety. This should immediately recall to our minds the massacre of the firstborn of Egypt at Passover, which allowed the People of God to leave Egypt, and be freed from their slavery. This establishes Jesus' mission: it is a salvific work of God; out of death, new life.

This also shows Jesus' dependence on His parents. He really is an infant who can be killed like any other, and there is certain need for them to flee the wrath of Herod. This is a clear demonstration of His humanity.

The Swaddling Clothes establishes the same things. There are only two other references to swaddling in the Bible. The first is Job 38:9. Set within the context of Job, a faithful servant who nevertheless struggles with God's will (as sure an image of Israel as there can be), the fuller context of the verse is the following:

[4] Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding. [5] Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
[1] The Lord: That is, an angel speaking in the name of the Lord. [6] Upon what are its bases grounded? or who laid the corner stone thereof, [7] When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody? [8] Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth as issuing out of the womb: [9] When I made a cloud the garment thereof, and wrapped it in a mist as in swaddling bands? [10] I set my bounds around it, and made it bars and doors:

As a rebuke to Job's anger, God is basically putting him in his place. God has been around for a long time, from the foundations of the Earth. More than that, though, God, Himself, laid the foundations of the Earth. He created it. More than that (in verses 8-10) God references the great Flood "the sea... broke forth" as out of a womb, and He "swaddled" the sea in bands of cloud. The sea here is both the instrument of Salvation (mankind steeped in wickedness was destroyed that the Covenant be preserved), and the instrument of a new creation, and God handles it like a baby.

So, by specifically making reference to the fact that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes (which... of course you would do with a newborn baby), Luke is linking Jesus to another image of salvation, the Flood waters (Baptism), but this time it's God who is being swaddled, rather than Him doing the swaddling. And just as God was making the point with Job that His work and vision spans millennia, and therefore beyond human comprehension, so too ought we to see the great Providence in God's plan coming to fruition in this altogether unlikely scenario.

The other instance we see swaddling in the Bible is from the book of Wisom 7:4. The wider context is as follows:

[1] I myself also am a mortal man, like all others, and of the race of him, that was first made of the earth, and in the womb of my mother I was fashioned to be flesh. [2] In the time of ten months I was compacted in blood, of the seed of man, and the pleasure of sleep concurring. [3] And being born I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, that is made alike, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do. [4] I was nursed in swaddling clothes, and with great cares. [5] For none of the kings had any other beginning of birth.

Take a moment and imagine that Jesus is speaking the words. I hope this is enough to help establish His true humanity.

Bethlehem and the Manger


Bethlehem is derived from two Aramaic words which together mean "House of Bread." A manger is a feeding trough for animals. These two images taken together foreshadow the Eucharist. Jesus is laid in manger after He is born. This signifies that He is the True Food that comes from Heaven, and that He is born in the House of Bread indicates to us that this food is as the Manna that fed His forefathers in the desert. After the primary work of salvation takes place, passage through the Red Sea, Baptism, the symbol of death and rebirth, God sustains His people with Manna. Likewise, are we sustained, after the primary work of Salvation, our Baptism, by the Eucharistic meal in which we partake at each Mass.

The Wise Men and the Shepherds


Though the Messiah was given first to the Jews, through prophecy, and Covenantal Relationship, the first people to recognize the Messiah were foreigners and the lowest caste of Jewish society. It was not the Jewish High Priest, or priests, or the Scribes, neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees, the ruling and teaching classes of Judaism. It was outsiders and the humble. People, incidentally, that nobody would believe.

The Shepherds were given a vision of angels singing the glory of this wondrous work. They were given clear direction of where to find their Saviour and Messiah. Their humility and simplicity afforded them a most awesome gift: to be among the first to witness the coming of the Messiah.

The Wise Men were given Divine guidance by the light of their own religious beliefs and scientific pursuits. They witnessed a star of such importance that they understood it as signifying the birth of a king. By this, we see that even non-believers may come to the truth as revealed by God in their own pursuits of truth and righteousness. For this, they were likewise given a gift afforded even to those most stringent of believers, considered the most righteous of their time. They were allowed to offer gifts and adoration to the king of the universe.

Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh

I'm going to finish with this. These are the gifts given to the Infant Jesus by the Wise Men. Each signifies an important truth about Jesus.

Gold - The first is gold. This symbolizes kingship, and is given to Him in recognition of the fact that He is a King.

Frankincense - This was a resin product that was burned as incense during religious ceremonies in the Temple. This gift was a symbol and recognition of Jesus as High Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek.

Myrrh - Like frankincense, myrrh was also a resin product. It was an oil that was used as an embalming agent in Jewish burial rites for it's pleasing aroma. This was a prophetic gift, signifying the kind of death Jesus would suffer.


I sincerely hope you made it this far. I know this was a large post, but I wanted to get to as much as I could. Thank you so much for reading!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Visitation

Luke 1:39-56

[39] And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. [40] And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. 
   
[41] And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: [42] And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. [43] And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.     [46] And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. [47] And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. [48] Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. [49] Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. [50] And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.        [51] He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. [52] He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. [53] He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. [54] He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: [55] As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. [56] And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house.




Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

After the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive He who would be called the Son of God in her womb, Mary immediately makes a trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth, whom the angel has said was already in her sixth month of pregnancy. Remember that Elizabeth is in her old age, and hadn't previously been able to bear children. She was past her child-bearing years, and was known (had a reputation) to be a barren woman. So, her cousin's pregnancy, like her own, was also miraculous.

Earlier in this chapter of Luke, we see the same angel, Gabriel, bring news to Elizabeth's husband, Zachary, that she would conceive and bear a son. He had been struck dumb and mute for his disbelief, even as he was offering up incense on the altar of sacrifice within the Temple. That happened six months prior to the scene above. Elizabeth was no doubt in a difficult position, being an elderly woman who was pregnant, and with a husband who could not speak, which would have made daily living problematic.

A visit from her younger cousin must have been a welcome blessing and help.

Elizabeth was Filled with the Holy Ghost


Upon hearing Mary's greeting, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. This points to the Doctrine that says Mary is the Mediatrix of All Graces, which is held by the Catholic Church. This is the teaching that Mary dispenses the Graces of God according to the authority that He has bestowed upon her as Jesus' own mother.

This has a lot to do with Jesus being a king in the line of David. In the Davidic Kingdom, the Queen Mother held a high status, not the Queen. The Queen Mother had an official title, Gebirah, which means "Great Lady." The Gebirah was the most important woman in the royal court, and the king's chief advisor. Of the 20 Davidic kings after Solomon, 16 of the Gebirah were listed alongside the names of the kings.

Along with acting as chief counselor to the king, the Gebirah also acted as intercessor to the king on behalf of the people, she held royal authority in times of warfare, and she also distributed goods out of the royal treasury to the people.

In the Eternal Kingdom, the royal treasures are the graces merited by the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. Mary, in her position as Gebirah, dispenses these graces in union with the will of Her Son. We see that happening here, in this passage, whereby the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth by virtue of the greeting of Mary. Mary continues even now as Gebirah, and devotions to Our Lady yield great fruit, as she intercedes for us to Jesus, and graciously gives us the graces we need to come into union, or deeper union, with Her Son.

The Mother of My Lord


Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit through the greeting of Mary, Elizabeth is inspired with the knowledge of both Mary's pregnancy, which must have only been a few days old now, and also who it is she is pregnant with. Elizabeth immediately recognizes the Divinity of Mary's Son ("Lord" is a reference word for "the Lord God"), this is very much like the inspiration that Simon Peter receives from the Father when he says "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God" in Matthew 16:16.

And it is this fact, that Mary is the mother of God ("my Lord"), which is the reason Elizabeth can say "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Her motherhood is the source of her blessing. But, her blessing has another source: "blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord." Her belief, her "yes," her assent to the will of God is the source of her blessing. Her belief was a positive act of the will, the cooperation with the will of God, and assent to His will allows Him to accomplish His will through her, and by this she is blessed.

And it is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that reveals this to her in such a moment of joyful reunion.

The Babe Leapt for Joy


However, even before we're told that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, we're told first that the babe in her womb (John) leapt for joy. And then afterward, we are told Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and in that same inspired declaration about the Divinity of Jesus, Elizabeth says that the babe in her womb leapt for joy. Remember, this is an inspired declaration, so it has import. This is not a simple movement of the child, like feeling the child kicking, which she must have felt many times before this.

There is a tradition in the Church, not an official teaching, but an old tradition that says that this was the moment that John received his mission as Baptist. Whenever we speak of Elizabeth's son, it is always with the title "the Baptist" attached. This indicates mission, in the same way that Simon is normally referred to as Simon Peter, or Mary is called Kekaritomene. The tradition holds that, upon hearing the greeting of Mary, John was baptized in Elizabeth's womb, and that, though he was not conceived without original sin, he was born without it.

So not only did Mary's greeting inspire Elizabeth to make a profession of Faith, but it also effected Sacramental Baptism upon John. This is another demonstration of the dispensational capacity of Mary as Gebirah in the Eternal Kingdom.

And Mary Said


Following these exclamations made by Elizabeth, we see Mary's Magnificat, the most amount of talk we see in Scripture from Mary. This passage gives us the most insight into the mind of Mary, and it is revealing, indeed. She first begins speaking about herself, and God's activity with her. Then makes pronouncements about the future, and then about the past.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Here, Mary explains her role in God's plan, and why it is that these miraculous things take place by her greeting (Inspiration and Baptism). Mary's soul magnifies the Lord. She does not take away from Him, from His majesty, goodness, mercy and love. She magnifies Him, making Him grow and take up a larger place in our lives. And this has been the consistent experience of those who carry on a devotion to Our Lady: that Jesus becomes a greater priority and focus in their lives. This is what she does.

My Spirit has Rejoiced in God my Saviour: Knowing that Jesus is our Saviour, we see here once again that Jesus is identified as God. But, Mary also identifies as someone who needs salvation, otherwise she would not call God her Saviour. This passage is often used to demonstrate that Mary was, in fact, not sinless. But, to say this is to suggest that her title, Kekaritomene, is false. But Scripture does not contradict Scripture. In order to understand that Mary was indeed in need of a Saviour, we must realize that it is by the grace of Jesus' Sacrifice that Mary was preserved from sin. In other words, she was saved "before the fact" and everyone else is saved "after the fact", but whether before or after, we all need to be saved. The work of Jesus is Eternal because He is Divine, not just human. Therefore, His graces may be dispensed during any period of time, either before or after the historical event, according to His will. This is why, for example, even though Jesus had not yet established His Kingdom within the context of history, Mary was Gebirah even at this moment, while He was yet in her womb, because His Kingdom exceeds the bounds of time.

All Generations: Mary then makes two pronouncements about the future: "all generations will call me blessed" and "his mercy is from generation to generation." The reason for both of these statements is the same: Jesus. "Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name." Jesus is the reason Mary is blessed, and by her assent to the will of God to bring Jesus into the world to accomplish His mission, we acknowledge her blessedness. And Jesus is the reason God's mercy extends from generation to generation, because His work is Holy, and is for all generations. But not for all people: only those who "fear him." Remember that.

He has Received Israel: Mary then recalls all that the Lord has done for His people, drawing our attention to the fact that this work God has worked with her, the Child in her womb, is the fulfillment of all His work throughout the Old Testament--it is the fulfillment of all His covenants. There are two virtues she highlights in particular: humility and hunger (for Righteousness). These speak to a recognition of one's own need for God (as opposed to those who are proud and think they do not need Him), and a desire to have that need fulfilled. That first, we recognize we cannot be Righteous of our own work, and second that we have this desire to be Righteous, and it is for these people, the humble and hungry, that Jesus comes. He has received Israel upon whom He may lavish His mercy, as He promised to Abraham and his descendants.


And Mary stayed with her cousin for three months before returning home. Remember, Elizabeth was already in her sixth month. In other words, Mary stayed with her cousin until John was born, at which time Zachary was healed of his dumb/muteness, and her help was no longer needed. What a thoughtful cousin. What a thoughtful mother she must also be.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Annunciation

Luke 1:26-38

[26] And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, [27] To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin' s name was Mary. [28] And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, Kekaritomene, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. [29] Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. [30] And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. 
   
[31] Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. [32] He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. [33] And of his kingdom there shall be no end. [34] And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? [35] And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

[36] And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: [37] Because no word shall be impossible with God. [38] And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.




Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I have decided to offer some reflections on the mysteries of the rosary, a series which I am calling the "20 Mysteries" after the twenty mysteries found in the devotion of the rosary. I will go in the same order that these mysteries appear in the rosary, beginning with the Joyful Mysteries, then proceeding through the Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries respectively. So, I will begin today with the Annunciation, the first Joyful Mystery.

The Annunciation refers the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel, that she was to bring forth a son whom she would name Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This scene is recounted for us in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 to 38, as shown above. It is situated as part of a larger passage about the conception and birth of John the Baptist, wherein we see the stage set, both from a prophetic point of view, as well as a historical point of view, about the situation into which Jesus would be born.

The Sixth Month


We see the phrase "the sixth month" used twice in this passage. This gives us a historical setting for Mary's conception of Jesus. In the first case, the sixth month refers to the calendrical month in which this scene occurs. In the second case, the sixth month refers to how far along Elizabeth is with John. We can infer from her term of pregnancy and that this scene takes place in the sixth month of the year, that Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist during the first month of the year.

This has caused no shortage of confusion, particularly in trying to determine when Jesus was actually born. For, if Jesus was conceived in the sixth month, well, nine months later is the third month, and on the Jewish calendar, that looks like it's in May/June, with the Jewish calendar starting (1 Nisan) in March/April (there is drift between the Jewish calendar and our calendar because theirs is lunar and ours is solar, so in order to "realign" the months, there are Jewish "leap years" which include an additional month).

However, Zachary was from the class of Abia, the eighth of the twenty-four priest classes, and so served one week at a time, twice a year, in offering incense at the temple twice each day. Now, because of the presence of leap years, the weeks of the year that each class serves are not fixed, they change over time. But, we know that he will have fulfilled this service twice a year.

We do know, however, that the Temple was destroyed on 9 Av (Av is the fifth month) in 70 AD (the generally accepted date), on which day the first priest class, Jojarib, was serving. Luke establishes Zachary's service during Herod's rule. Since we know Herod died in 5 BC (A.U.C. 749 - Julian calendar), this year will be the latest that this event could have taken place. So, assuming that the priestly classes served correctly in this capacity from this time up to the destruction of the Temple, we can determine that Zachary served in 5 BC during the weeks of April 17-24 and October 2-9.

Now, since April 17-24 would have been during the month of Nisan, the first month, it seems like we have a winner for John's conception month, and also Jesus' birth month as being in June the following year. However, it might interest you to know that at the time, there were actually four Jewish calendars, each having their own "new year's day." These were: Nisan 1 (first month of the Sacred Calendar by which their feast days were calculated), Elul 1 (sixth month of the Sacred Calendar), Tishri 1 (seventh month of the Sacred Calendar), and Shevat 15 (eleventh month of the Sacred Calendar).

The Civil Calendar, which begins Tishri 1, was instituted after the destruction of the second Temple. This is why Tishri 1 is called Rosh Hashana, which means "head of the year." Incidentally, the Civil Calendar is the calendar that was typically used to track birth dates. Tishri occurs in September/October, and since we know Zachary would have served October 2-9 of that year, and that Luke would have used the civil calendar to track the births of John and Jesus, as was typical at the time, it seems clear that the first month, in this context, will have been Tishri, occurring in October.

This places the Annunciation by Gabriel in the month of Nisan, the start of the Sacred Calendar, but the sixth month of the Civil Calendar, and therefore Jesus' birth in the month of Kislev, which would have been December that year, near the feast of Hanukkah. Now, what major Holy Day occurs during Nisan, around the time of Jesus conception? The Pesach, or Passover, a day that has very strong associations with "the first born". The is a clear overshadowing of Jesus' mission.

Kekaritomene


The angel Gabriel addresses Mary as Kekaritomene, which is a Greek word. Typically, you will see this translated in one of two ways: 1) full of grace, and 2) highly favored daughter, and how your Bible translates this word typically depends on whether you're Catholic/Orthodox, or Protestant, and this is due to differences in theological opinion.

In the Catholic prayer, "Hail Mary," the first part of the prayer quotes this passage. However, in the prayer, there is an addition to the quote. Namely, Mary's name, Mary. Gabriel does not address Mary as Mary. He simply addresses her as Kekaritomene, which does not mean Mary. In fact, he didn't refer to her as Mary until after perceiving that she was troubled by the way he greeted her, in this way.

This is interesting, because throughout the Old Testament, what we find is that whenever God changes someone's name, something momentous is taking place. Think of Abram being named Abraham, or Jacob being named Israel, as examples. So, the fact that Gabriel addresses Mary with a new name should immediately alert us to the fact that something important in salvation history is taking place here, and that Mary, herself, is an important figure in that history.

So, what does this name mean, Kekaritomene? The root of this word is Karito, which is a verb that means, variably, "to receive grace, make gracious, charming, beautiful, nice, examine with grace, honor with blessings, encourage, gratify." The prefix "ke" places this word in the perfect tense, and the suffix "mene" indicates the form of passive participle.

Being a passive participle, Kekaritomene indicates that Mary is not the source of the "grace received" that she did not make herself gracious, or that she in any way is responsible for the blessings of grace giving to her by God. She is the passive participant in the graces received.

Being a perfect passive participle, indicates a completeness to the verb. This is why St. Jerome translated this word as "Full of Grace," to indicate a fullness, a completeness, to the received graces. According to scholars, the perfect, is interpreted differently according to the kind of Greek being used. In Classical Greek, the perfect had exact and momentary value. In other words, in Classical Greek, Kekaritomene would be saying something about Mary at that exact time without reference to her state of grace before or after that moment. However, in Koine and New Testament Greek, the perfect had continuative, permanent and durative value.

This means that in the Greek that this was written in, the word Kekaritomene indicated that Mary's grace, that grace given to her by God, was perfect, complete, full, and that it was not grace received by her work effort or work, but perfectly initiated by God, and that it is a is continuous from a past position, and that it is a permanent and durable state. The implication of this title, this name that Gabriel addresses her by is indicative of the Doctrine held by the Church of Mary's Immaculate Conception (conceived in a state preserved from Original Sin, and remained sinless throughout her earthly life).

Perpetual Virgin


In this passage, Mary is called a virgin twice. In the first case, we are given her situation: espoused to a man named Joseph, and in the second case we are given her name: Mary. Some translations use the terms "betrothed" or "engaged" rather than espoused, in order to give clarification that May and Joseph were not yet married at this time.

You may be wondering why, if they weren't married, did Joseph decide to "divorce her quietly" after finding out she was pregnant? The reason is that the Jewish marriage custom of the time was that when two people became "engaged" (I prefer espoused, but I'm using engaged for explanative purposes), they signed a contract of marriage, but it wasn't ratified immediately. The groom would "go away" for one year in order to get his affairs in order, to be establish a home in which they would live, with a stable income and source of wellbeing. After that one-year period, the man would return to retrieve his bride, and the marriage would be ratified, and then consummated.

During the one-year period prior to ratification, the couple's union was held as strongly as though they were married, but intercourse was forbidden since the marriage hadn't been finalized. So, for example, if infidelity during that period was discovered, the couple would have to go through the divorce process just the same as if their marriage were already ratified and consummated.

So, it might seem odd to state clearly that Mary was a virgin and at the same time indicate that she wasn't yet married. Maybe in our day, the loss of virginity prior to marriage might not be a significant thing, but in their day, not being married, it would have been taken for granted that you were still a virgin.

It might seem odder still, for a woman who is betrothed to be married to ask how she will become pregnant, since she "know[s] not man" (note, "know" in Biblical terms can be understood as a colloquial term to refer to marital intercourse). After all, she's going to be married, so pregnancy is a normal, natural and expected outcome.

Some scholars have suggested that Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity, and that this can explain the oddities mentioned above. In this context, Mary's betrothal to Joseph would not be one of normal matrimony, but rather Joseph would have fulfilled more of a protective role for Mary, that he would guard her and care for her, and provide estate for her after his passing. This is part of the reason Joseph has traditionally been understood to be older, because there wouldn't have been any expectation of raising a family together.

This lends further support to the idea that Mary and Joseph did not have any children together. Not because Mary had become espoused to the Holy Spirit (after all, are we, as members of the Church, not also espoused to the Christ?), but because Mary had sworn a vow of perpetual virginity. So, we see the sense of Jesus passing on the care of Mary to John at His death, because she had no other children to take care of her.

Thou Shalt Call His Name Jesus


So, what does the angel Gabriel tell Mary about this child she is to conceive? Gabriel makes seven pronouncements about her child: 1) Thou shalt call his name Jesus, 2) He shall be great, 3) [He] shall be called the Son of the most High, 4) the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, 5) [H]e shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, 6) [O]f his kingdom there shall be no end, and 7) [T]he Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Thou shalt call his name Jesus: Jesus is the anglicized version of the Latin Jesu, which itself is a transliteration of the Greek Iesous. Iesous is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means "He will save," and this may be a shortened version of Yehoshua, which means "the Lord saves." Therefore, Gabriel's naming of Jesus here is a declaration of His mission.

He shall be great: This is perhaps to class Jesus among all the great figures of the Old Testament. He is the new Adam, who will redeem the original Adam's sin. He is the new Noah who passes through death into new life, a new creation. He is the new Moses, who frees His people from slavery, giving then a new law. You understand my point.

He shall be called the Son of the most High: The "most High" is a reference name of God which is seen dozens of times throughout the Old Testament. The meaning here is explicit that Jesus will be called the Son of God. This links back to the previous declaration of Jesus as being "great." The great saints of the Old Testament are referred to as sons of God.

The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: Jesus is heir to the throne of David by right of adoption through Joseph, who is of the line of David. Mary is also in the line of David, but lineage is normally established through paternity, not maternity. So, for example, if Joseph were not of the line of David, Mary's lineage would not be enough to establish a right to David's throne. Adoption supersedes maternal lineage. Jesus is to be a king.

He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever: Though David united the Tribes of Israel, his rule began only with Judah. This declaration establishes Jesus' rule as belonging also to all of the Tribes of Israel (Jacob), and that this rule over all the tribes will be an everlasting one.

Of his kingdom there shall be no end: Mary's son will be greater even than King David, whose kingdom did come to an end.

The Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God: Here Gabriel reaffirms that Jesus will be called the Son of God (the most High). Except, whereas in the first instance this may have been understood after the manner of the other saints of the Old Testament, Gabriel declares this in relation to Jesus' paternity. He says this immediately after describing how Jesus will be conceived, that the Holy Spirit will come to her, and the power of the most High will overshadow her, and she will conceive. And he says the "Holy" which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Here, he is very clearly establishing the Divine Origin of Jesus, that He is Holy, that He is the Son of God, not in an allegorical sense, but in a real sense.

What an awesome thing to be told: you will bear a son who's mission it is to save, that He will be among the great heroes of your religion, that He will be a saint, a son of God, that He will be a King over all your people, that He will be greater than your greatest king, that He will rule forever... that He will be God, Himself! Your son! How awesome, and how terrifying a responsibility.

Be It Done To Me


And finally, we have the greatest response to God's invitation of His grace that has ever been given: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. She's just been told that she will become pregnant, but not by her husband, and in apparent violation of her vow of virginity. The scandal that will cause, but personally and publicly, would have been frightening. She's just been told that she going to give birth to the greatest man to ever live, and to God, Himself. How unworthy might she have felt in the face of such great pronouncements? Yet, she doesn't appear to hesitate: let it be done to me.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Hypostatic Union, Further Thoughts

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I would like to draw on my last entry to explore this reality more deeply. Specifically, I'd like to draw on the parallel I made between the Hypostatic Union and the body/soul union of the human person. I think this line of reasoning has some fruitful outcomes.

Paradox of Identity


An important teaching from the Church about the human person is that the body/soul union is a true union. We are not in the first place animals who have been given a gift of rationality. And we are also not spirits who are trapped in a body. We are not half bodies, half spirits, as though there were a "spiritual side of me" that is divorced from the body.

Rather, the Church teaches that you cannot separate our spiritual "side" from our physical "side". When you look in the mirror, you aren't seeing a "fleshbag". You're seeing you. You are your body as much as you are your spirit, and you are so because there is no division between your body and your spirit, they are one in quantity, and identity.

If we are to say that this union is similar to the Hypostatic Union, then we may draw the same conclusions about it as we do the body/spirit union of the human person. Namely, the Divine Identity of the Son cannot in any way be divorced from His human nature, His human identity. When Jesus looked into a mirror (or at the very least a pool of water on a clear day), He wasn't just seeing His humanity any more than He was just seeing His body. The human body reveals the human spirit, and Jesus' humanity reveals His Divinity. Thus, when He saw Himself in a reflection, He saw His whole self, including the Divine Godhood.

Paradox of Action

This leads us into the consideration of action. If there is no separation between body and spirit, this means that everything we do, we do through our bodies, including our intellectual activities, which are essentially spiritual works. All of our actions bear a spiritual and physical dimension. It is impossible for matter to reason, yet in humans this is exactly what happens. It is impossible for spirits to change the directions of their wills, yet in humans this is exactly what happens. This is because in us the union between these two realities is true, complete.

This can help us to understand the reality of Jesus' person, in the Hypostatic Union. Drawing the same parallels, we can say that everything the Son does, then, He does both out of His Divinity and His humanity. For example, it is impossible for a human to know everything, yet Jesus did. It is also impossible for God to be weak, yet He was (in certain human senses). This is because there can be no separation between His natures.

So, when Jesus spoke, He spoke as a man, and as God, simultaneously. When He ate, He did so as man and as God at once. The implication here is significant, because God is an eternal being, yet humanity is temporal. What this means is that Jesus, though temporal, has always been who He is, as the Incarnate Word. Thus, He speaks truly when He says, in John 8:[58] "Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am."

And Yet...


We often hear, regarding those strange passages in Scripture that seem to limit Jesus in ways (I'm thinking here of when Jesus says, for example, in Matthew 24:[36] "But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone."), that when Jesus speaks this way He is speaking out of His humanity, not His Divinity. But this seems to counter the arguments I have made above. If you can speak about Jesus' humanity in a distinctive way as compared with His Divinity, does that not imply that this Union is not like the human body/soul union?

To that, I answer this way: when we speak of human reason, we speak of a kind of intellect that is unique, being both spiritual and physical. However, reason, in principle, is a spiritual reality, not a physical one. Likewise, in principle, sex is a physical reality, not a spiritual one, yet in humans, there is something unique going on, because it is both a physical and a spiritual action.

But we can still speak about human reason as a spiritual reality because that what reason is, in principle, a spiritual reality. Likewise, when we speak about Jesus' humanity, we make speak of it in such a way. It is not Jesus' Divinity which makes it necessary for Jesus to sleep, for example, it's His humanity. The fact that when Jesus sleeps, it is both a human and Divine action without distinction, doesn't mean we can't speak about that need as arising from the human "side" of the Union.

So, when we say Jesus is "speaking out of His humanity" we should not mean to say that somehow He lacks because of the nature of His humanity. Rather, we should mean to say that because what He says is true, He is capable of saying it, even if it implies a lack, because He is not "God-only". This means that He is equally capable of saying "I also know" because He is equally also not "man-only." And because this is true, then we must discern that His point isn't about Divine knowledge (as in the example I quoted above), but rather it's about holding a healthy skepticism about end-time prophecies. In other words, you don't need to know.

Hmm... yes I think I'll stop there. Thanks for reading!