29 December 2010

Heinz Variety and Eyes of Faith

If a marketing company wanted to do a spotlight for today's Gospel, they could borrow the slogan from the 1980's Heinz ketchup advertisements: "Good things come to those who wait!" Perhaps no one in the history of mankind experienced this more profoundly than Simeon, whom we meet in today's Gospel. One can only glean, from today's Gospel account, that this man had a deep and personal relationship with God to have received a revelation that, before death, he would behold the Messiah.

It is probably not unreasonable to presume that many parents brought their children to the temple to be presented. Only a man with eyes of great faith would have been able to see the Triune God, veiled in the humanity of a fragile infant. And only a man deeply in touch with the Lord could have the keen discernment to recognize the carpenter's son as the Messiah.

We may not spend our days in a temple awaiting the fulfillment of a promise but we might consider that we live in the promise that Simeon awaited. The Lord is come. He was born in time, took on the frailty of our flesh, was crucified for our sins and has risen from the dead. The promise is fulfilled and we are heirs to this great patrimony.

As baptized Christians we believe that the Lord is present to us in our neighbors. As humans -- with clay feet -- most of us probably cannot help but to notice that some of our neighbors do a masterful job of hiding the Lord's presence by their countenance. Still, however, with hearts of faith, we know that the Lord is present to us in those who may annoy or irritate us. We are called to be like Simeon; we are called to see with eyes of faith and to recognize, in the frailty of our neighbors, the presence of the Lord. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to be attentive to his presence, as Simeon was, in the most unlikely of places.

"We are told to love one's neighbor as one's self. In token that we love him, we must not avoid being with him."
St. Francis de Sales

25 December 2010

A "Technical" Christmas

Many readers will, no doubt, have already seen the very cleverly done video which depicts the Nativity using 21st century social media tools. One may well consider it a view of Christmas from a "technical" standpoint. What many may not realize, however, is that the very first Christmas day was also a highly "technical event" ... in the eyes of some.

In 325 at the Council of Niacea, the infamous Arian heresy was disputed and condemned. Arius, as well-intentioned as he was misguided, had proposed that Jesus was neither God nor man; he was, rather, somewhere in between: something akin to the demi-gods of the classical world. Arius used a "technical" term to describe Jesus: 'omoiousios, which means "to be like" or "to be similar." He asserted that Jesus was "similar in being" to God -- but not God. The Council Fathers, insisting that Jesus is truly God, countered with the term 'omoousios simply deleting the iota from Arius' term. This word means "the same as" -- as in "the same substance" or "the same being."

So, why all the fuss about a "technical," headache-provoking theological term on this happy and holy Christmas morning? Had it not been for the insight and perseverance of the Fathers of the Council of Niacea we would not be celebrating the Incarnation. One iota -- one little letter -- could have obscured this precious truth of our faith; it could have shattered all the Christmas balls on every tree and silenced all the "Glorias" which have been sung since that first Christmas night in Bethlehem. As we kneel before the creche today, let us whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for those heroic defenders of our faith who kept alive the legacy of this great mystery -- amid a very "technical" controversy -- 16 centuries before the advent of social media!

"God was united to our human nature by grace, as a vine to its elm, to make it in some sort participate in his fruit; but seeing this union undone by Adam's sin, he made another more close and pressing union in the Incarnation, whereby human nature remains forever joined in personal unity to the Divinity."
St. Francis de Sales

22 December 2010

O Rex Gentium!

The "Great O" which we sing today contains the only phrase in an O Antiphon which is traced exclusively to the New Testament:
O King of the Nations, and their desire, the cornerstone, who makes both to be one: Come and save mankind, whom you formed from clay.
The phrase "who makes both to be one" appears to be a reference to St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he describes the reconciliation between the Jews and the Gentiles. That Christ came to bring salvation to all, not merely the people of Israel and their descendants, is indicated in this antiphon. Just as the previous antiphons show the clear relationship between the Old Testament covenant and Christ's fulfillment of that promise, this antiphon carries the fulfillment a step further as it is extended to those traditionally excluded from the promises made to the Israelites and their heirs.
As we intone this antiphon we draw ever closer to the manger in Bethlehem. Fellow travelers along the road ask us where we are going and we reply that the King awaits us. He does. The real question is, perhaps, do we believe that he is our King? Do we act as though he is the King of our hearts? Let us, these last days of Advent, make known that the desire of the nations is indeed the desire of our hearts. Let our actions and our words speak of him and let us invite others to journey with us as we approach the newborn King in the humble manger of our hearts where He is born anew each year.

18 December 2010

Christmas Begins with an O!

Well, not really, but one could say that the Christmas season begins with an O. Seven of them, in fact. We know very little about these ancient antiphons which serve as a liturgical harbinger of the nativity of Our Lord. The little we do know, however, is as charming as it is fascinating: ledger books of ancient monasteries show large expenditures of money for items such as eggs, flour and other provisions beginning on the 17th of December. One can only imagine the feasting that accompanied these solemn days of preparation -- and celebration!

Today we sing the second of these Great "O" Antiphons:

O Adonai
O Lord, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the red fire of flame and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

This antiphon takes the believer to the book of Exodus where God revealed Himself to Moses. The old covenant is ratified and the exchange between God and man is filled with imagery of fire and light. The fire which the Israelites saw atop the mountain was but a suggestion of the light that was to come in Christ. The second part of the antiphon, "come and redeem us with outstretched arm," is an echo of Yahweh's promise to Moses that "I will free you from the burdens which the Egyptians lay on you. I will release you from slavery to them, and with my arm outstretched and my strokes of power, I will deliver you" (Ex 6:6). The promise made to the people of Israel is seen in its fullness when it is considered in the light of Christ's redemptive death. As the people of Israel awaited freedom from their captors, so the Church awaits the birth of the Messiah.

The promise to be freed from one's captor may not seem relevant to most of us today. The temptations to become enslaved can be subtle. Sometimes we are tempted to make a "good thing" the center of our lives: be it our work, our ministry, our studies, a particular project, etc. It may seem impossible to be "tempted" by something good. When we replace Christ as the central focus of our life, however, we take a great risk of becoming a prisoner. This is not to suggest that we should not apply ourselves diligently to our work, our responsibilities, our studies -- and even our play. Indeed, we should! Whether we are religious men and women, parents with children, single Christians, etc., Christ is the end of all we do. He blesses all that we do in his name and for his glory -- it matters little whether it is sweeping a floor, changing a diaper or working at a desk. We are freed from becoming prisoners of our work, our responsibilities or our hobbies when we keep Christ at the center of all we do. We have only to let Him in when he comes, for he comes with arms outstretched.

"Trifling temptations . . . flit around one like flies or gnats, now settling on one's nose -- later stinging one's cheek -- it is wholly impossible altogether to free one's self from their importunity; the best resistance one can make is not to be fretted by them. All these things may worry one, but they cannot really harm us, so long as our wills are firmly resolved to serve God."
St. Francis de Sales

14 December 2010

Jubilee Year Ends!

Last January we began our 400th Anniversary year complete with special Masses, celebrations, gatherings, pilgrimages, a decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary granting plenary indulgences, and untold graces for many who shared in this celebration. Although the jubilee year *technically* ended on Sunday 12 December, the anniversary of the death of St. Jane de Chantal, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is personally closing the jubilee with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Tuesday 14 December. By the time most patrons of our blog read this, he will have celebrated Mass for the community of Visitation sisters who are living in Vatican city as part of the jubilee celebration.

Below is an excerpt from an English translation of the Pope's letter to the Superior of our Monastery of Annecy and entire Order, worldwide:

"During this year when the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary is celebrating the fourth centenary of its foundation, I am happy to unite myself in thought and in prayer with the Visitation nuns throughout the world who are living a life of prayer and work in the spirit given to them by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal. . . . At the heart of the spirituality of the Visitation of Holy Mary is the seeking of holiness in one's daily occupations through gentleness and humility, simplicity and peace of heart and by doing 'all through love, nothing through constraint.' . . . This heritage given to you by your Holy Founders contains great significance for today's world where men and women feel more and more burdened as they cope with the crushing weight of self-fulfillment at any cost and with the hedonism which makes everyone, especially our young people, fragile and without defense. . . . Confiding to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and to that of Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal, I send to each community, to each sister, and to all the persons who are in spiritual relation with you, a most cordial apostolic blessing."

Vatican City
Benedict XVI

10 December 2010

A Peek into the Archives

We have a very special series to share with our readers. It is taken from the handwritten Book of Records Containing an Abridgement of the Lives and Deaths of the Members of this Community, located in our Monastery archives. The book contains 19 lives that we will post one at a time at the approximate pace of one per week. There is much more to say about each sister than can or should be recorded on this blog, but the series will offer a glimpse into the past. Our Sister Archivist is overseeing this project with a member of Georgetown University's faculty, who, although she will remain nameless, can easily be identified by the amazing homemade pizza (from down the "streetza") she provided for our September movie night.


Sister Charity McAtee was born 1782 in Charles County, Maryland, to parents of modest means. There was a nearby Carmelite convent, but she encountered unspecified obstacles attempting to join that order and instead turned to the Visitation house in Georgetown. With her parents' consent she entered on July 23, 1809, age 27. After four years her health began to decline, and she developed consumption (today known as tuberculosis), dying at age 32 or 33 on April 2, 1815, the first Sunday after Easter. She retained the rank of lay sister, which meant she did domestic duties, cooking, cleaning, etc. in the monastery and school. She might possibly have assisted in the domestic care of the students. It also usually meant that she lacked even a basic education; confirmation of this can be found when the annual vow book is signed with an X instead of her name. These handwritten biographies by surviving sisters are characteristically florid, but if one reads between the lines, she seems to be praised particularly for evenness of disposition, modesty, submission, and deeming others superior to herself.

As a note, the convent where she did not enter was the Carmel of Port Tobacco, founded in 1790 in Charles County and now located in Baltimore. It was founded by Charles Neale, brother to two other famous Neales: Archbishop Leonard Neale who founded our monastery and school, and Francis Neale who founded Holy Trinity parish two blocks away from us. Their cousin was John Carroll, founder of Georgetown University.

06 December 2010

Obstacle Removal Continues

If we might think of this most sacred season of Advent as a time of removing obstacles then today's Gospel offers us an inspiring example of this practice. The friends of the paralyzed man were not able to bring their lame companion to the Lord on account of the crowd. They went in the proverbial back door by lowering their friend through the roof and landing, as the Gospel tells us, in "the middle in front of Jesus."

How often do we feel at an impasse in a difficult situation? Perhaps we even feel paralyzed in some cases. Maybe we feel unable to respond in a loving way to someone who has hurt us; it may be the case that we feel unable to approach someone whom we have hurt, in order to apologize. Whatever our form of paralysis, let us follow the example of the "stretcher-carriers" in today's Gospel; let us go straight to Jesus to be healed. Let us put aside the obstacles that keep us from doing this: fear, busyness, preoccupation, etc., and let us run to the Lord.

We cannot, of ourselves, "get up and walk" when we have been injured and -- in some cases -- injured badly. We cannot "get up and walk" until we are healed. It is no different for our spiritual maladies. We cannot will ourselves to respond lovingly to one who has hurt us without the grace of God. We cannot ask for forgiveness when we have been wrong without the humility that comes from the Lord. So, let us take our wounds to "the middle in front of Jesus" and let us "go home glorifying God" because of His great mercy.

"The Lord will be as a healing balm to say and soothe our heart in time of spiritual sickness, --he will shield us from evil, and confirm that which is good in us, and when we fall through infirmity, he will avert the deadly nature of the evil, and raise us up again."
St. Francis de Sales

02 December 2010

Happy 5th Birthday, Blog!

Yesterday, on 1 December 2010, "Live + Jesus" celebrated its 5th birthday in the Catholic blog-o-sphere. It's hard to believe but we've been "parishioners" at St. Blog's parish since 2005 when we decided to make the foray into the world of push-button publishing.

We weren't sure exactly how to feel about having a blog and we did not know exactly what we would say on our blog or what kinds of things we might share with our readers. In fact, we weren't even sure we would have many readers. Five years, 570 blog posts 105,000 visits and 165,000 page views later, we are quite happy we took the plunge and decided to share a little window into monastic life here on Thirty-Fifth Street.

In fact, we were delighted to discover that some little robot from outer space found our blog and actually thinks it is worth reading. We're not exactly sure how he heard about us, but we think his news report is OUT OF THIS WORLD! Do enjoy a 2-minute chuckle.