Thursday, 26 December 2013

Nativity Hymn of Christ: Stichera of the Ninth Hour

The internet may have its nasty traps, but it also contains many hidden gems. I found this beautiful Byzantine chant of the Nativity in English. It's haunting and mystical, typical of Eastern Church hymns. In the spirit of fraternity and the likely union between the Eastern and Western Churches, I present you this Nativity Hymn of Christ: Stichera of the Ninth Hour.




He Who holds all creation in the hollow of His hand
today is born of a Virgin.
He Whose essence none can touch
is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mortal man.
God, Who in the beginning fashioned the heavens,
lies in a manger.
He Who rained manna on His people in the wilderness
is fed on milk from His mother's breasts.
The Bridegroom of the Church summons the Magi,
and the Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.
We worship Your Birth, O Christ.
We worship Your Birth, O Christ.
We worship Your Birth, O Christ.
Show us also Thy divine Theophany!

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Glory to God in the Lowest: 5 Christmas Poems by G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton is arguably my favourite Catholic writer of the modern times. His wit and wisdom have contributed a significant amount of thoughtful laughters around the literary world in general and the Christian niche in particular. It's no-secret that he was a devout man — and a jolly good one too! — and the following five Christmas poems stand as a witness to his wonderful conviction.

Enjoy, and have a blessed Christmas!

*

Gloria in Profundis

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate—
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

"O Menino Jesus Salvador do Mundo", by Josefa de Obidos

*

Joseph

If the stars fell; night's nameless dreams
Of bliss and blasphemy came true,
If skies were green and snow were gold,
And you loved me as I love you;

O long light hands and curled brown hair,
And eyes where sits a naked soul;
Dare I even then draw near and burn
My fingers in the aureole?

Yes, in the one wise foolish hour
God gives this strange strength to a man.
He can demand, though not deserve,
Where ask he cannot, seize he can.

But once the blood's wild wedding o'er,
Were not dread his, half dark desire,
To see the Christ-child in the cot,
The Virgin Mary by the fire?

"Joseph's Dream in the Stable in Bethlehem", by Rembrandt, 1645

*

The Wise Men

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise mert of yore,
And we know all things but the truth.

We have gone round and round the hill,
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And served the mad gods, naming still
The Furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly... it has hailed and snowed...
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(...We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone,...)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where tricks of words are never said.
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly; humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain,
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

"Adoration of the Magi", by Albrecht Dürer, 1504

*

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

"Adoration by the Shepherds", Joachim Wtewael, 1625

*

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light,
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all alright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

An icon of the Theotokos, by an unknown iconographer

Remember Your Dignity — Reading for the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord


Second Reading from the Office of Readings, 25 December 2013
From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope
(Sermo 1 in Nativitate Domini, 1-3: PI, 54, 190-193)

Christian, remember your dignity

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God's wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God's goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

*

Today true peace came down from heaven.
—Today the whole earth was filled with heaven's sweetness.

Today a new day dawns, the day of our redemption, prepared by God from ages past, the beginning of our never-ending gladness.
—Today the whole earth was filled with heaven's sweetness.


*

Image: "Return from the Harvest", by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1878

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Are You Afraid of the Dark?


Men have deep superstitions about darkness.

Throughout the ages, it's been nearly a universal human belief that evil forces gained potency after the sun went down. In many myths, folklores, and local beliefs, darkness is associated with strange occurrences and otherworldly beings, such as vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. Some nights, like full moon and Hallowe'en, are thought to contain increased level of grimness. There's even an entire study on how staying too long in the dark can make you lose your mind.

The Christian faith also makes use of this imagery, associating darkness with sin, death, and evil, as evil is the absence of good just like darkness is the absence of light. Vespers and Compline prayers reflect that awareness of evil lurking in the dark:

"Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace."
... 
"May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death." 
... 
"May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us into everlasting life."

There is of course a natural explanation for this phenomenon: darkness makes it easier for accidents to happen, for enemies to attack, etc., so deep down, people have learned to have a certain discomfort with it.

But it’s for this same reason that the desert is also a place of powerful encounters with God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book Journey to Easter:

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert…What does this surprising guide intend? Let us reflect a little on what is meant by “the desert.”

The desert is a place of silence, of solitude. It is the absence of the exchanges of daily life, its noise and its superficiality. The desert is the place of the absolute, the place of freedom, which sets man before the ultimate demands. Not by chance is the desert the place where monotheism began. In that sense it is a place of grace. In putting aside all preoccupations we encounter our Creator.

Great things have their beginnings in the desert, in silence, in poverty. It is not possible to share in the mission of Jesus, in the mission of the Gospel, without sharing in the desert experience, its poverty, its hunger. That beautiful hunger for justice of which the Lord speaks in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be born in the fullness of satiety.

The Prophet Zechariah spent nine months in physical silence, in muteness. This is a form of darkness that must be excruciatingly painful for a prophet whose job is to proclaim divine messages. But because of this, Zechariah had plenty of time to think and reflect — to contemplate — about what he was going to say if he ever gained his voice back.

So when he was miraculously cured and filled with the Holy Spirit, this is what he sang:

"In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."
(Luke 1:78-79)

Without first surrendering his voice to the Holy Spirit, perhaps Zechariah would never arrive at his canticle, the prophecy of prophecies. In that particular silence and particular darkness, Zechariah entered into the Mystery of Incarnation even before it took place; and the resulting proclamation was exactly when the Messiah, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is called "the Dawn" — or "Daytime"— for the first time ever.

In a moment, that same Dawn will rise for us who have faithfully waited. Let us persevere in hope, for this terrifying darkness will soon be banished and it will no longer have power over us.

*

Daily Reading for Tuesday, 24 December 2013

First Reading — 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Gospel — Luke 1:67-69

*

Image: "Winter (The Flood)", by Nicolas Poussin, 1660-1664

Monday, 9 December 2013

Blessed once again — Reading for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception


Second Reading from the Office of Readings, 9 December 2013
From a sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop
(Oratio 52: PL 158, 955-956)

Virgin Mary, all nature is blessed by you

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night — everything that is subject to the power or use of man — rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God. The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary's womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing wold not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God's Son, nothing could exist; without Mary's Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.

*

Through one man sin came into the world;
in him all men have sinned.
—Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.

The Lord has rescued you from death
and sheltered you from all harm.
—Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.

*

Image: "Fresco of Pope Blessed Pius IX Proclaiming the Dogma of Immaculate Conception", photography by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Catatonia, and the Loss of Human Integrity


Yesterday a woman was brought to the ER by her family, because suddenly she "became all rigid". "Rigid", in patients' language, may mean anything from post-mortem rigidity to spastic paralysis to loss of muscle tone (i.e. weakness, but don't ask me why some would describe it as "rigid"). In my typical skepticism — a default position you'll automatically adopt when you work in a scientific environment — I approached the patient to check whether she was truly "rigid" as her family said.

This time the family was right: the patient's whole body was rigid, and although she was completely conscious, she was in a coma-like daze. She lied flatly on her back, eyes staring blankly onto the ceiling, mouth half-open as if in the middle of saying something. She didn't respond adequately to voice or pain stimuli, though she did produce some incomprehensible groans and mild twitching of some facial muscles. She looked like she was in a mental torture deep inside. I tried moving her arms into different positions, and her arms would stay in those positions, even in awkward poses against gravity (such as when I lifted up her left arm above her head to see whether it would drop down on its own). Her head and her legs, on the other hand, resisted any attempts to move them.

After I interviewed her husband to look for recent life stressors (there were plenty and rather significant stressors, according to the hubby) and ordered some blood tests (they all came back normal), so I concluded: this is a classic case of catatonia.

A bit about this condition:
Catatonia is a neuropsychiatric syndrome characterised by psychomotor symptoms, which may include mutism, gegenhalten rigidity, catalepsy ("waxy flexibility"), echolalia, and echopraxia.1 Catatonia may be caused by an organic etiology (diseases, brain injuries, drug side effects) or may be purely psychiatric. The syndrome exists on a spectrum in which it ranges from milder manifestations to life-threatening neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

Historically, catatonia was thought to be a unique manifestation of schizophrenia; however, it is now appreciated to be most commonly associated with affective (mood) disorders2, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, acute stress disorder, and PTSD.3-4
A catatonic patient often appears emotionless and unresponsive, but he's experiencing real emotional anxiety inside. Now imagine if this happens to the soul instead of the body. You become so depressed that you lose the ability to think, to move, to laugh, to cry, to pray. You experience extreme anxiety, you know or feel that there is something wrong, that you need to do something, but you are unable to express this need. Or, maybe your body does express it, yet in an unexpected and unorganised manner.

Or maybe catatonia IS the current state of man? After the Fall, we lost some of our preternatural gifts, one of them is Integrity. Integrity is when our human appetites and desires being completely submitted to reason; the loss of it leads to Concupiscence, that's when passions are no longer integrated under intellect.

Sin makes us cataleptic: now it is much more difficult for us to react accordingly and to discern properly; we are now less sensitive to God's warnings and callings, and to the sufferings of others; the power of the will has weakened because we tend to follow just about any external stimuli and be stubborn about it. Clearly, it is harder now to recognise good, and to repent and change. Without grace, even these become impossible.

What is sin but the absence or distortion of good? What is sin but catatonia, the soul and the flesh being misaligned in their will and purpose? "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (cf. Mat 26:41)  Good is a supernatural quality, and yet we must strive for it because it is actually our "normal" state; we are made for good, we are made for health and integrity, we are made for perfection.

*

Definitions of terms:
  • Mutism = inability to speak.
  • Gegenhalten rigidity = also called "paratonia", a form of hypertonia (excessive muscle tone) with an involuntary variable resistance during passive movement.
  • Catalepsy = muscular rigidity and fixity of posture regardless of external stimuli, as well as decreased sensitivity to pain. Symptoms include: rigid body, rigid limbs, limbs staying in same position when moved ("waxy flexibility", as if the body is made of wax), unresponsiveness, loss of muscle control, and slowing down of bodily functions, such as breathing.
  • Echolalia = immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases just spoken by others.
  • Echopraxia = involuntary repetition or imitation of another person's actions.

References:
  1. Daniels J. Catatonia: clinical aspects and neurobiological correlates. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 2009; 21:371–380.
  2. Philbrick KL, Rummans TA: Malignant catatonia. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 1994; 6:1–13.
  3. Smith JH et al. Catatonic disorder due to a general medical or psychiatric condition. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 2012; 24:198-207.
  4. Brasic JR. Catatonia. Medscape Reference 2013. [Online]. Accessed on 2013 Dec 5.

Image: "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans", by Salvador Dali, 1936

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Compline hymn, for Wednesday of the First Week of Advent


O love of God, how strong and true,
Eternal, and yet ever new,
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought!

O heav'nly love, how precious still
In days of weariness and ill,
In nights of pain and helplessness,
To heal, to comfort, and to bless!

O wide embracing wondrous love,
We read thee in the sky above;
We read thee in the earth below,
In seas that swell and streams that flow.

We read thee best in him who came
And bore for us the cross of shame,
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.

O love of God, our shield and stay
Through all the perils of our way—
Eternal love, in thee we rest.
For ever safe, for ever blest.

*

Melody: Bevor des Tages Licht begeht L.M.
Music: Mode VIII, Deutsches Psalterium für die Sonntage und Wochentage des Kirchenjahres
Text: Horatius T. Bonar, 1808-1889

Image: "Study for the Pilgrim of the Cross at the End of His Journey", by Thomas Cole

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Fruitful, Not Successful


In our fallen world, it's easy to confuse fruitfulness with successfulness, and thus also with worldly power and wealth. We young preachers are especially vulnerable to this mistake. When we set out to evangelise, we are often impatient to see results. We want to see immediate "Eureka!" moments in people, quick conversions, and ready acceptance of the Lord without hesitation. Perhaps there are even times when we compare the success of our preaching in terms of numbers: more conversions means more success, and more success means better preaching.

You see in the scenario above that the concept of success ends with praise to the doer, to the "I", not to God. But it is not so with fruitfulness. There is a reason why business folks never talk about when their newest branch office will produce "fruits", or how their latest financial deal shall be "fruitful": that is because, to be fruitful, one must die first.

This reality doesn't sound pretty, although it's true. The tree is not the same as the original seed. The tree is not the seed, and the seed is not the tree. In order to become a tree, this seed must undergo radical transformation, and radical transformation is radically painful. (Now you know why commercial business doesn't want to have anything to do with being fruitful.)

First, it starts with extreme humiliation: the seed is to be put so low inside the earth, buried. It is now trampled under the feet of men and beasts. Next, all the physical changes take place. Imagine your skin breaks off, your flesh cracks open and shrinks small in order to let a green projection shoots out of you. Good thing a seed cannot scream, right? All these have to happen. An unwilling seed is a fruitless seed.

Now that is the basic idea. But there are instances when seeds fail to sprout. A soil too dry, a soil too wet, too acidic, too basic, too many birds, too rocky, too thorny, too little sunlight, too hot, too cold. There are too many factors involved, and we cannot control everything. Fruitfulness is not a coldly calculated mechanics where variables are under our control. When planting seeds, we are putting our trust in the unknown, that is, nature, or more correctly, the Creator of nature.

I believe this is the proper outlook that we preachers must adopt. To a certain extent we can control the environment: we study good books, we contemplate seriously, we practise writing, we carefully choose words and gestures and timing. But when we actually sow the seeds, we are putting everything into the hands of God. We cannot know everything; we are dealing with a vineyard too vast and too rich for us alone to manage; thus we are to trust in His great providence. Let ourselves be humbled and die, let the words of our preaching be dispersed by the winds. But He, the Lord over winds and soils, shall see to it that our scattered words be used to work miracles in the hearts and minds of those who hear us, miracles that, however small, will add up to a great force that will bring out fruits and give harvest.

Just be glad that we are even permitted to work in His yard. That joy alone is enough.
There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame.

Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds.

Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.

—Henri Nouwen

*

Image: "Time of harvesting (Mowers)", Grigoriy Myasoyedov, 1887

Friday, 29 November 2013

The one that will never pass away


One of my favourite activities is stargazing.

Whenever I have some spare time in the evening, I always climb upstairs to the open attic to watch the night sky. Whenever I'm lucky enough to be standing on an open field or sailing in the open sea, where the horizon spreads to infinity, when night comes I always look up to the stars.

The grand view of a starry night sky is like a time machine. It's simply mind-boggling when I realise that the same scene has been perceived by generations before me. The same view has been watched by my great-grandparents and their great-grandparents. The same sky has shaded Gajahmada, Napoleon, and Lao Tzu. The same stars have blinked to pharaohs, ocean voyagers, lowly slaves, and great kings.

We too, stand on an ancient land. Nusantara and its ancient civilisations have existed since 200 BC. Even history tells us that the Java Man (Homo erectus) prowled the island around 1.6 million years ago, and is one of the oldest ancient men.

Seeing how far we've gone, how invincible mankind is on the great earth, it's hard to imagine that every one of these will come to an end. I'm sure that the ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, the Soviets, had never imagined that their strong civilisations and cultures would be obliterated. But that's what happened.

That one pencil on our table will slowly be degraded. Uneaten food will become stale or covered with mould. Riches will be used up. Borobudur will break down. Pyramids will be swallowed by dust. The stars I've been gazing at, that have been watched by previous generations, later, somewhen, will fade and die out.

It's frightening to think about it. But fortunately we have some relief for there is one thing that will never pass away: God's words.

Human word, as soon as it is uttered, disappears, as if it is nothing. But even then, human word, which is a mere vapour in the wind, already has tremendous powers. Human word creates history, form thoughts, yields emotions and hopes. Human word can console and destroy, can build up and overthrow, can nurture and kill.

If that is how strong human word that is meant to pass away, how much stronger is the word of God, the one that will never pass away! God is eternal, and eternal is His word. His word is the true reality, the only right foundational rock. And on this foundation must we build our lives, around this reality must our lives revolve. On this rock shall we find safety and peace, because "his rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, and his kingship will never come to an end." (Dan 7:14) Amen.


Bless the Lord, mountains and hills, praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, every plant that grows, praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, springs of water, praise and glorify him for ever!

*

Daily Reading for Friday, 29 November 2013

First Reading — Daniel 7 : 2-14
Responsorial Psalm — Daniel 3 : 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81
Gospel — Luke 21 : 29-33

*

Image: "Moon Light Sonata", Basuki Abdullah

Monday, 25 November 2013

Marian Monday: Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi)


Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring (Gr.: Zoodochos Pigi, Ζωοδόχος Πηγή), sometimes translated as Life-Giving Font or Fount, is a Byzantine icon and devotional title of the Holy Theotokos.

Legend tells us about the origin of this title:
Outside of Constantinople, towards the district of the Seven Towers, there was in ancient times a very large and most beautiful church named in honour of the Theotokos; it had been built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great. 
Before he became Emperor, he had encountered there a blind man, who, being tormented with thirst, asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water but found none. As he became downcast, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight. 
After Leo became Emperor as the most holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church over the spring, whose waters worked many healings and cured maladies by the grace of the Theotokos; from this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring".

Technically, then, the name "Life-Giving Spring" refers to said miraculous water source that was housed in a church built by Byzantine Emperor Leo the Great. The church was destroyed during a Turkish invasion 1000 years later, but the water survived and can now be accessed through the new church, the Zoodochos Pigi at the Baloukli, Istanbul, Turkey. The icon can be seen above the font as if pointing to it and guarding it.

Symbolically, the "Life-Giving Spring" is also a title of the Virgin Mary, as expressed in the Canon of the Akathist:
Hail, Sovereign Lady, never-failing spring of the Living Water!

The Living Water is, of course, Christ Himself, and the line is a reference to the Old Testament, when Moses in the wilderness struck the rock “and [God] brought water out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down as rivers” (Psalm 78:16; also Exodus 17). Jesus, referring to this miracle, said: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believes on me, according to the Scriptures, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

The Zoodochos Pigi icon is very easy to recognise because it is the only Theotokos icon where she and her Son is seated within a water font, from which streams of holy water gush forth to heal believers. The font is usually in the shape of a cross. The Theotokos may be shown in any pose—oranta (praying) as above, or else. There may or may not be a pair of angels by her sides.

The Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring is celebrated in the Eastern Church on Bright Friday, the first Friday after Easter.
As a life-giving fount, you conceived the Dew that is transcendent in essence,
O Virgin Maid, and you have welled forth for our sakes
the nectar of joy eternal,
Which pours forth the water that springs up unto everlasting life
in unending and mighty streams;
And so, taking delight, we all cry out:
Rejoice, O Spring of life for all men!
 
—Apolytikion for the Feast Day
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Enjoy this small gallery of the Zoodochos Pigi! (click to enlarge)







Monday, 18 November 2013

Marian Monday: The Unfading Bloom


The Unfading Bloom, the Unfading Flower, or the Eternal Bloom, is a Russian icon of Mary, Mother of God. The time of its appearance in Russia is unknown.

On this icon:
  • The Theotokos holds her Divine Son upon her left arm, and in her right hand is a bouquet of white lilies. This bouquet symbolically signifies the unfading flower of virginity and immaculateness of Mary.
  • The Theotokos is shown giving the flowers to her Son; she doesn't hold them as her own ornament. This means that Mary presents her purity solely as an offering to God; she is truly ever-virgin, the Spouse of God the Holy Spirit and Mother of God the Son.
  • Child Jesus is depicted holding a globe on His lap, and His right hand is shown in the classic benediction gesture, referring to His identity as the King of kings and the High Priest.

Lilies as a symbol of purity is widely recognised in both the Eastern and Western Church. This is probably what makes this icon one of the more familiar images to the eyes of Western Church faithfuls.

Alternatively, some copies of the icon depicts the Theotokos holding a rod from which roses and other flowers blossom. This points to a line in the Akathist hymn: "Rejoice, O thou who alone hast blossomed forth the unfading Rose" — in this case, the Rose is Jesus Himself.

Indeed, the Church Fathers as old as the 6th century have long named the Blessed Virgin as the "spotless lily who brought forth Christ the unfading rose", according to a compilation of titles by Sr. Marie Stephen, O.P.

The feast day for this icon is on April 3.


*

Hail, O you who alone gave rise to the unfading Rose! Hail, O you who bore the fragrant Apple in such perfume as to be pleasing to the King of All! Hail, salvation of the world, O you, the ever-Virgin! Now and always and for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Souls we forget to pray for


When praying for the dead, we often only pray for the souls of deceased family members and friends. While this is certainly a great and loving work of mercy, we really could do more for the poor souls in Purgatory! During my last Lay Dominican meeting, which took place on Nov 5, we held Mass specially dedicated to these souls. While we were invited to submit the names of our deceased loved ones, we also prayed for "forgotten souls", which include:
  • Souls whose bodies contribute to the learning of science (anatomy lab cadavers come into mind!)
  • Souls who died sudden deaths in accidents, natural disasters, and riots
  • Souls who no longer have living family members and friends

I would also like to add:
  • For medical professionals: souls of patients who died under their care
  • Souls of babies who died before being born (both from natural causes and from human intervention)
  • Souls of John and Jane Doe's
  • Souls of those who lived a noble life and died a noble death outside the Faith, for example, the souls of our national heroes

If you remember more "forgotten souls" to pray for, please remind us of them by filling out the comment box below! :)

Remember that the souls in Purgatory are holy! They are inheritors of Heaven, they are counted in the Communion of Saints! They only have to be purified a little more out of love for God. Let us Church Militant never forget our brothers and sisters the Church Suffering!

*

"Lay my body anywhere, only this I beg of you: remember me at the altar of God."
—St. Monica to her son, St. Augustine—

Monday, 11 November 2013

Marian Monday: Our Lady of La Naval de Manila


Our Lady of La Naval de Manila is a Marian devotional title most prominent in the Philippines. Its formal name is Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila (Nuestra Señora del Santíssimo Rosario de La Naval de Manila). This devotion is embodied in a 16th-century ivory and wood statue of Madonna and Child enshrined at the Dominican church of Santo Domingo, Quezon City.

History

In 1593, on the death of his father, the Spanish Governor General Luis Perez Dasmarinas commissioned Captain Hernando de los Rios Coronel to have a Marian statue sculpted. He wished to give a religious imprint to his regime in the Philippines. A non-Catholic Chinese sculptor was found to make the statue. This sculptor later became a convert through the intercession of the virgin. The beautiful image was presented to the Manilla Dominicans and enshrined in the old Santo Domingo Church by the Pasig.

The Battle of La Naval

In the Philippines of 1646, there were not only hostile Muslims in the South, but also Dutch privateers under the banner of VOC attempting to seize the Filipino archipelago. Beside colonisation and unfair trade, with the Dutch invaders there was also the danger of the spread of Calvinist Protestanism.

In the spirit of the Battle of Lepanto, the Spanish-Filipino crew fervently sought the aid of the Blessed Virgin through the Holy Rosary. There were five bloody naval battles between the Dutch Navy and the greatly outnumbered Spanish and Filipino joint forces. At the end, only fifteen of the defenders of Manila were lost in all of the battles. The Dutch, then political enemies of the Spanish, retreated, and never again threatened to destroy the integrity of the islands.

The victorious defenders petitioned official church recognition and declaration of the naval victories of 1646 as divine miracles. The Ecclesiastical Council in Cavite deliberated and examined written and oral testimonies from all eye-witnesses. On April 9, 1662, the Council ordered that the five naval victories of 1646 be declared as miraculous: "granted by the Sovereign Lord through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin and devotion to her Rosary, that the miracles be celebrated, preached and held in festivities and to be recounted among the miracles wrought by the Lady of the Rosary for the greater devotion of the faithful to Our Most Blessed Virgin Mary and Her Holy Rosary".

Detail of the La Naval, by robbyandharry
The image

The La Naval statue, standing at 4'8" tall, is known for its regal appearance and fine craftsmanship. Pure ivory made up the face and hands of the Blessed Virgin, and the entire body of Child Jesus. Both figures wear large golden robes with highly intricate embroideries, complete with a queenly and kingly crowns. The statue is covered with jewels, tributes from devotees through the ages, and the halo is surrounded by 24 stars. The statue's brilliant appearance recalls the image of Mary as the Woman of the Apocalypse, "clothed with the sun".

What makes La Naval different from other similarly majestic-looking statue of Our Lady—such as Our Lady of Manaoag—is La Naval's unique oriental face. The face is rounded, almond-shaped, with high-set cheekbones and slanting eyes; the typical features of an Oriental-Filipina face. For this reason, La Naval alone is lauded as a "native virgin" by the Filipinos, despite her strongly Spanish-style adornment.

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Prayer to Our Lady of La Naval

Holy Mary, at the sound of your voice, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the baby in her womb leapt for joy. Visit us as you visited the home of Elizabeth. During our earthly pilgrimage towards God's kingdom, may we magnify the Lord whose greatness endures from age to age, who lifts up the lowly, fills the starving with good things, and comes to the help of His servants.

Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval, Our Mother, first disciple of your Son Jesus, intercede for us in our most earnest request: [offer your petition].

May we, in turn heed your unceasing call to do whatever your Son tells us to do. With your powerful intercession, we believe that what is most difficult can be done, what we have overlooked, you cannot miss, what is meaningless, bitter or painful can be transformed into fulfillment, gratitude and joy.

Amen.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Jesus in the Kitchen


Well here's the thing: I have almost zero problem with religious stuff. As a natural introvert, I have virtually no difficulties staying silent, contemplating, having internal dialogues with myself. It's actually what I do during every waking minute. And I certainly don't need slow music and hypnotising commands like "Focus... focus..." in order to focus (if anything, they make me sleepy).

The spiritual life isn't what I struggle with. What I struggle with, is the practical life. People need help to ascend the mountain, but *I* need help to descend. If I could, I would stay all day in front of the Blessed Sacrament and not have to go check on my patients at the hospital. If I could, I would write long letters, essays, and reflections on spiritual matters all day every day throughout the year, rather than going to the bank, the market, the post office, the gas station. The "contemplari" part of the Dominican principle "Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere" is easy, but the "contemplata aliis tradere" part always needs an extra oomph.

Anyone have the same issue?

I found the following quote from the Ignatius Press page on Facebook. It's a piece of advice from my patron saint, the great Teresa of Avila. She reminds us that there is a time for interior matters, and there's a time for exterior matters. More importantly, she also reminds us that leaving the pew does not mean leaving Jesus; Jesus is walking with us all the time, yes, even "among the pots and pans", to help us work in the world, out of obedience and love for Him.

Martha is a saint too, isn't she? :)

"Well come now, my daughters, don't be sad when obedience draws you to involvement in exterior matters. Know that if it is the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly."

—St. Teresa of Avila

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Image: "Kitchen Scene with the Supper in Emmaus", by Diego Velazquez, 1618.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Marian Monday: Axion Estin


The Axion Estin (It is Truly Meet) is originally the title of a theotokion (Marian hymn) popular in the Eastern Church. Tradition tells us that the hymn has an angelic origin:
During the reign of the emperors Basil and Constantine Porphyrogenitos, a certain Elder and his disciple lived near Karyes, the administrative center of the Holy Mountain. 
One Saturday night, the Elder went to Karyes for an all-night vigil. He instructed his disciple to remain behind and read the service in their cell. As it grew dark, the disciple heard a knock on the door. When he opened the door, he saw an unknown monk who called himself Gabriel, and he invited him to come in. They stood before the icon of the Mother of God and read the service together with reverence. 
During the Ninth Ode of the Canon, the disciple began to sing "My soul magnifies the Lord…" with the Irmos of St Cosmas the Hymnographer: "More honorable than the Cherubim…." 
The stranger sang the next verse, "For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden…." Then he chanted something the disciple had never heard before, "It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God…" Then he continued with, "More honorable than the Cherubim.…" 
While the hymn was being sung, the icon of the Theotokos shone with a heavenly light. The disciple was moved by the new version of the familiar hymn, and asked his guest to write the words down for him. When the stranger asked for paper and ink, the disciple said that they did not have any. 
The stranger took a roof tile and wrote the words of the hymn on its surface with his finger. The disciple knew then that this was no ordinary monk, but the Archangel Gabriel. Then he disappeared, and the icon of the Mother of God continued to radiate light for some time afterward.
*

The icon of Axion Estin can be recognised by the following specifics:

  • Mary and Child Jesus, both usually crowned, appear facing to the left side of the viewer, with eyes typically looking directly at the viewer, although some renditions may portray their eyes gazing upwards to the heavens, or downwards to the earth.
  • Mary's left hand supports the sitting Child Jesus, while her right hand holds Jesus's right arm or hand, which holds a parchment, open or rolled.
  • Alternatively, Mary's right hand and Jesus's right hand may be holding that same parchment.
  • If open, the parchment reads: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." (Luke 4:18)
  • There is usually a pair of angels near Mary's head who are touching Mary's crown, or crowning her. This indicates that the queenly status of Mary is bestowed upon her in Heaven, whereas Jesus's kingly status is inherent, not given.
  • If the icon is coloured, Mary is usually depicted wearing her usual Theotokos garments: red veil covering a blue robe underneath. In iconography, red is the colour of divinity and blue is the colour of humanity, a fitting representation of the human Mary clothed in divinity (adult Christ, such as in the icon of Pantocrator is usually depicted wearing the colours in an exactly opposite manner: the divine Christ clothed in humanity). However in this icon, Child Jesus usually wears white.

Below is an English-language rendition of the Byzantine hymn of Axion Estin — thanks to St. Peter's List for finding it and posting it first:


Lyric:

It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever blessed, and most pure, and the Mother of our God,
more honorable than the cherubim,
and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,
who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify thee!


The Eastern Church commemorates the icon on June 11 and July 13. The appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to a monk on Mt. Athos, and the revelation of the hymn "It is Truly Meet" is commemorated on June 11.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Last Diagnosis



Pope Francis, our meek, loving, liberal, progressive pope, has his own hidden skeleton: he firmly believes in the reality of the devil (surprise, he's a Catholic!).

Now this side of Pope Francis is never paraded in secular media's limelight. The reactions could've been interesting though, because il Papa didn't mention evil in an abstract (read: modern) sense, as if it is a negative energy that can be exhaled out during a yoga session. No, Pope Francis takes the devil very seriously and very literally, as a being, a spiritual creature, a fallen angel, an enemy. He implies that not acknowledging the presence and power of Hell poses a danger of "diminishing the power of the Lord" (yep, isn't that what's happening in this age of ours?).

Of people who claim that the Biblical scenes where Jesus casts out unclean spirits are actually Jesus healing a mental illness, Pope Francis insisted:

"It is true that at that time, they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession; but it is also true that there was the devil! And we do not have the right to simplify the matter, as if to say: 'All of these (people) were not possessed; they were mentally ill'. No! The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devil."

Look at how the Holy Father spoke: with a sense of urgency! He speaks as if he has ever beheld the devil with his own eyes (I wouldn't be surprised if he really has). The Pope rightly recognises that while mental illnesses do cause odd behaviours in people, demons also exist and likewise they can produce similarly broken personalities and bizarre attitudes. Like any other Catholic teachings, this is not an "either/or" issue, it's a "both/and" reality.

I'm reminded of one time during a morning shift at the ER. A young man was admitted because he suddenly dropped down and lost consciousness. We couldn't find anything wrong from physical examination, lab results, and CT images. Yet he constantly drifted between the twilight state and the comatose state. After 3 days trying to find a diagnosis, the mother gave up and told us she wanted to seek help from a "learned man" instead (a "learned man" is a local metaphor for a paranormal), because she believed her son was jinxed, or worst, possessed.

I reported this to the senior ER doc. She neither discouraged nor encouraged the choice; she simply said: "Well, we're doctors. We don't believe in that stuff."

Which made me think. Sure I'm a doctor, but first and foremost I'm a person of faith. I belong to a Church who has been battling the dark force since her Pentecostal birth. Our Master personally defeated Hell with His own blood. Heck, I'm supposed to believe in "that stuff"! Regardless of whether  the young man was really possessed or not, "that stuff" exists, is active, and is harmful. "That stuff" has to be acknowledged with a certain measure of respect, not because it is noble, but because it is beyond our humble understanding. The possibility of demonic activities shouldn't be scoffed at and dismissed as silly, but it should be silently taken into consideration; if not for immediate answer, it's for our last card, that "last diagnosis".

"Do not confuse the truth. Jesus fights the devil: first criterion. Second criterion: he who is not with Jesus is against Jesus. There are no attitudes in the middle. Third criterion: vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute. He is never cast out forever. It will only be so on the last day."

For Catholic doctors, I propose this: Do what you have to do. Follow the procedures. Find the right diagnosis and give the right treatment. But remember what Sir Conan Doyle said through the mouth of Sherlock Holmes: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Pray for all your patients. If you can, even, offer to pray together with them, not just privately in your room.

"Do not relativize; be vigilant! And always with Jesus!"
—Pope Francis


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Image: "The Exorcism", from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Folio 166r

Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Prayer for Priests


Keep them, I pray Thee, dearest Lord,
* Keep them, for they are Thine —

Thy priests whose lives burn out before
* Thy consecrated shrine.

Keep them, for they are in the world,
* Though from the world apart;

When earthly pleasures tempt, allure, —
* Shelter them in Thy heart.

Keep them, and comfort them in hours
* Of loneliness and pain,

When all their life of sacrifice
* For souls seems but in vain.

Keep them, and O remember, Lord,
* They have no one but Thee,

Yet they have only human hearts,
* With human frailty.

Keep them as spotless as the Host,
* That daily they caress;

Their every thought and word and deed,
* Deign, dearest Lord, to bless.

Our Father...
Hail Mary...

Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for them!

*

[+Imprimatur: D. Card. Dougherty, Archdiocese of Philadelphia]

The priesthood is the masterpiece of Christ's divine love, wisdom and power.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

My invaluable online faith community!


As a happy member of Generation Y, technology is my natural skill, like breathing. As someone who can be more than a little awkward at large social gatherings, technology is even more important for the sanity of my soul. And as someone who loves having friends from all around the globe, technology is just perfect.

And ever since I re-discovered the faith of my childhood around the year 2009, technology has been an inseparable part of my faith community. During my first days as a passionate revert in her faith-honeymoon period, it was the community at an online amateur apologetics forum that strengthened me. These people introduced me to my first Tridentine Latin Mass and the dazzling world of deep Catholic theology. Some of the forum members then became my Facebook friends. From these people I discovered awesome Catholic websites, both local and international, and since then my circle quickly grew.

Over the years, the online social media—which include Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere—has become instrumental in my personal formation towards holiness. I'm not kidding. Catholics are a minority in the country, and even more sadly, most of my offline Catholic friends are either lukewarm or inclining towards Protestantism. So great reading materials and meaningful discussions are mostly found online. I found Chesterton online. I found the Eastern Church online. I found the Dominican Laity online. I found chapel veil shops online. I found forgotten, beautiful ancient prayers online. I even found a faith-based writing job online!

I don't believe it one minute when someone says online friends are / can not [become] your real friends. Because, strangely enough, the relationships I formed online are the only real and lasting relationships in my world. The friends I first "knew" online have become my closest ones (especially after we finally met offline), while many of the ones whom I first met offline turned out to be fake and not having that much in common with me anyways. I think the online community has the benefit of unearthing a person's real intellect and interests, such as from the way he comments or what sort of things he posts or likes. Granted, they can fake things, and it's slightly easier on the internet, but my personal experience shows that offline folks can do as many, even worse, manipulations.

Additionally, the blogosphere has also influenced and encouraged my writings. For me, blogging is perfect: it's both personal and public, both a sandbox and a chronicle, both reflective and informative. I watch how my writing style gradually took flesh through committed blog writing. And I believe I don't publish my posts out of narcissism; I publish them publicly so that I'm responsible for what I write. If I knew my posts would get read by people, I would try to write carefully and meaningfully. Wouldn't you?

I thank God everyday for my online faith community. That means YOU, readers! :) Know that I value you and cherish you, and that without your presence I wouldn't be what I am now.

[Now I'm not saying that the internet does not have its criminals and weirdos—it absolutely does!—but in this age, the cyber world is not only very similar to the real world, it also supplements the real world! Just as we need to be careful on the streets, we too need to be careful when surfing the net. And just as we can find true friendships on the streets, we too can find true friendships on the net. How wonderful is God's work!]

I'm linking up this post over on Tiffany's blog. Linking up is an interesting blogging activity to foster good relationships between bloggers. Go join, it may make your day a little more fruitful!


Image: "Luncheon of the Boating Party", Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1881

Monday, 28 October 2013

How to Discern: a Guide by St. Alphonsus de Liguori


If we are truly going to discern by focusing on the Lord, whether it be what our vocation is in life or whether or not we should go on that weekend trip, there are some practical measures we can take so that His will in our lives remains clear. Our friend the great Italian 18th century saint and moral theologian St. Alphonsus Liguori has a few pointers to help us. Comments by me, mostly from my own reflections, as my practical experience probably only accounts for a poor percentage of all this.

Remain pure of heart. 
Go to confession regularly and exam your conscience daily—essentially St. Alphonsus is reminding us that it is the "pure of heart that see God". This quite fitting because, naturally, only the pure of heart seek God. Confession and examination of conscience are essential for allowing God’s grace to make us "pure of heart". The more you know His ways, the more you understand what He wants from you.

• Grow in virtue.
Do spiritual reading, ask for spiritual direction, discuss God with others regularly, establish a regular prayer schedule and try to be as faithful to it as you can. If you can, find a community where you can strengthen each other and pray for each other. Ideally, this community should be like your second family, a place where you can feel belong. It's easier to grow in virtue that way.

Ask the Lord to call you to a particular state in life.
Just as Peter asked the Lord to command him to come out on the water, humbly ask God to call you to approach Him. As you fall in love with Love itself let Him fill your intellect, will and heart with the desire for a particular state in life. Do not expect your journey of vocation to be the same as your neighbour's. In all likelihood, it'll be unique and surprising. God knows you better than you do, and He will call you the way only you and He can comprehend (isn't He just the romantic!). So stop concentrating on the heights of the mountains or on the depth of the ocean. Who knows, you might hear Him speaking through a random burning bush.

• Do not put any obstacles in the way of grace.
Be open and ready to do the Lord’s will in all things—we ask the Lord daily to help us with our selfishness and concupiscence. Sins, especially ones that have become habits, are obstacles to grace. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice" (Eph 4:31), "of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind" (1 Pet 2:1). Be humble. A full vessel cannot be filled without first be emptied. So be that empty vessel into which God can pour out His generous grace.

• Carefully avoid overindulgence.
In our present culture especially, be aware of overindulgence. It’s everywhere. Keep everything in moderation. Know your limits. Overindulgence can make things seem better than they really are, and it makes unnecessary things become deceptively necessary. It will deprive you of the freedom you need in order to follow the Lord. Remember, in medio stat virtus—virtue stands in the middle. With self-control, comes self-knowledge, and with good self-knowledge, comes proper discernment, and hopefully, the clarity of your vocation follows not far behind.

Go on retreat.
This not only benefits religious and priests (they are required by canon law to do so) but for any lay person as well. And, if your schedule does not permit it at least find some time to think reflectively. Meditate and contemplate. Go about your life a little more slowly, a little more considerately. Learn to see God in all things and to see all things in God. Establish your own cloister in your heart, a place of solitude into where you can retire every now and then.

*

But why do these sound like general instructions on how to become holy? Well yes, holiness is the ultimate calling for everyone, that's for sure. But the practical, day-to-day "how", this is the one that needs discernment, in order to effectively reach that final goal of holiness. Each facet of a diamond is different, and will reflect light differently. Holiness unites us to God without losing ourselves. Unlike the Buddhist idea of union in nirvana, we don't "disappear" in God, but rather, we learn to be one of the thousand facets of a sparkling diamond.

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Image: "Philosopher in Meditation", Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632

Saturday, 26 October 2013

It is She [Poem]


Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising,
fair as the moon, bright as the sun, 
terrible as an army set in array?

It is she, most lovely bride,
adorned with grace and Spirit.
She steps with courage,
and desire in her heart—
on her head, red and white roses,
blooms of tears and blood.
They her ardent work of faith,
for a husband long sought,
a union long lost.

Where has your lover gone, most beautiful of women?
Which way did your lover turn, that we may look for him with you?

She runs with longing to
her King, waiting across
the great ocean,
between two columns.
Watchful of dangers,
yet trusting
she walks on water,
and the waves are
frightened, by the sweep of her veil.

How beautiful you are
and how pleasing, O love, with your delights!

Fairest woman,
chaste in conduct, faithful in love,
strong in word, meek in deeds,
you were chosen by the King,
seated on a throne of rock
to shine above all others.
Most wise, most valiant,
you put all harlots to shame.
All sons nurse from you,
after their empires you buried;
princes follow you close,
held captive by your beauty.

Awake, north wind, and come, south wind!

Guided by the Star of Sea,
shielded by truth, commanded by love,
she sails,
angels at her side,
flaming swords light the way.
Her enemies fall around her,
like dry leaves and broken twigs;
she is untouched by death.
O Lady, within you is safety,
outside you only malicious storm;
so keep us tied to you. O Bride, O Mother, O Bark of Peter!

*

by: Anna E - 26.10.13

Image: "After the Wedding", Adrien Moreau, 1882.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Terrifying Love


Once, love was too heavy a word to be uttered casually at random people and objects. Once, love was the object of contemplation by the wisest and keenest philosophers. Once, the subject of love was treaded upon very carefully lest it would catch fire. Nowadays the word and the concept of love have been reduced dramatically to mean a silly, fleeting feeling of infatuation that produces nothing more than giggling girls and expensive boxes of Valentine's Day chocolate.

Yet the true Christian love is not so trivial. It is really rather frightening.

Love is the power that created the universe, the world, you and me. Love is the strength that encouraged the ancient patriarchs and prophets to proclaim the truth; it is the shield that preserved a Jewish girl from sin and thus made her the enemy of Satan. Love is the unfathomable mystery of the Lord's Passions, Crucifixion, and Resurrection; and love is the terrible final chastisement that will befall Satan and his angels and that will renew heaven and earth.

Love is also the beautiful ideal that pours forth those ugly, boring, stiff, orthodox laws and doctrines of the Church. Love chains souls close to her so that they may not fall over the tall cliff. And it is love too that gives birth to the dark chamber of confession, the Sacrament of Penance. Love is stern in truth and merciful in forgiving. If only my soul isn't so pained by the infernal darkness of my own sins as to embrace the uterine darkness of the confessional!

If we were able to perceive love as it is, we would die immediately. Man cannot contain the fullness of Love while he's on earth. The love he encounters in his life is but a dim reflection of that Original Love, a thousand times more brilliant and a thousand times more overpowering.

The most terrifying character of love, though, lies not in its stubborn faithfulness or its piercing radiance, but in its transforming power. When we love, we risk ourselves being transformed, changed, by the one who is now integral to our being, identity, and existence. When we love, we empty ourselves and take on the identity of the beloved. In essence, by loving we become the beloved. By loving we dare to die to our old selves and resurrect in a new birth, a new self. God became man out of love, and died out of love, and out of this given love we now strive to live for Him and die for Him, so we may be perfect just as He is perfect.

And there is a point of no return in this: a point where, losing the beloved will not mean returning to the state before the union, just like the husband without the wife is not a bachelor, but a widower. Likewise, I can give many intellectual reasons why I stay Christian, just like I can enumerate some favourite traits of the person I love, but here's the terrifying truth: I stay Christian because love has transplanted me into Christ and Christ into me. If I cease believing, I cease existing, for there is no me without Christ anymore.