Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prayers today: The Lord is coming and will not delay; he will bring every hidden thing to light and reveal himself to every nation.
Hab 2:3; I Cor 4:5

All-powerful Father, we await the healing power of Christ your Son. Let us not be discouraged by our weaknesses as we prepare for his coming. Keep us steadfast in your love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It came to the West in the eighth century. In the eleventh century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. In the eighteenth century it became a feast of the universal Church.
In 1854, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

It took a long time for this doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as sinless—either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. Even such champions of Mary as Bernard and Thomas Aquinas could not see theological justification for this teaching.

Two Franciscans, William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, helped develop the theology. They point out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. Other members of the human race are cleansed from original sin after birth. In Mary, Jesus’ work was so powerful as to prevent original sin at the outset.

In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel, speaking on God’s behalf, addresses Mary as “full of grace” (or “highly favored”). In that context this phrase means that Mary is receiving all the special divine help necessary for the task ahead. However, the Church grows in understanding with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led the Church, especially non-theologians, to the insight that Mary had to be the most perfect work of God next to the Incarnation. Or rather, Mary’s intimate association with the Incarnation called for the special involvement of God in Mary’s whole life. The logic of piety helped God’s people to believe that Mary was full of grace and free of sin from the first moment of her existence. Moreover, this great privilege of Mary is the highlight of all that God has done in Jesus. Rightly understood, the incomparable holiness of Mary shows forth the incomparable goodness of God.

“[Mary] gave to the world the Life that renews all things, and she was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.

“It is no wonder, then, that the usage prevailed among the holy Fathers whereby they called the mother of God entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, fashioned by the Holy Spirit into a kind of new substance and new creature. Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the splendors of an entirely unique holiness, the Virgin of Nazareth is, on God’s command, greeted by an angel messenger as ‘full of grace’ (cf. Luke 1:28). To the heavenly messenger she replies: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word’ (Luke 1:38)” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 56).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (18.12-14)

Jesus said to his disciples, What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Our loving Father
(Fr. E.J. Tyler)

I am convinced that a very common struggle in the hearts of very many is that of bitterness. The vast majority of people in their heart of hearts have to struggle to a greater or lesser extent with anger, resentment and sadness. The bitter experiences of many begin when they are young, perhaps in their families, perhaps while being educated, perhaps during their early careers. Life brings its share of disappointments, mistakes, frustrations, tragedies and sorrows. Many would recognize that to an extent, such troubles as came their way were due in part to their own fault or limitations. Nevertheless they feel bitter at the injustice, the lack of consideration, the thoughtlessness, and the positive injuries which also came their way at the hands of various persons. This can carry over to their religion, and God — however he is conceived — can be gradually imagined as unconcerned, very distant, lacking in consideration and even vindictive. These attitudes to God may not be adopted formally and with full deliberation, but it is very likely that unless there is an effort to discipline one’s religious imagination according to right reason and objective revelation, one’s attitudes to life will shape one’s attitudes to God. If one resents what life has brought it is not unlikely that one will tend to resent God. I have often wondered whether the movements against God and religion initiated by various thinkers and individuals in history have their origins partly in their experience of, and attitudes to life. I present this as one factor among several for the ambivalent image of God which has characterized much of human history. Looking at man in the broad sweep and prescinding from the mighty fact of what God has revealed of himself in history, man’s image of God is uncertain. Man prays to God; he asks his favours and protection; he tries to make up with him by means of his cult and his sacrifices. But God or the gods seem distant and the world with its harshness and cruelty seem to be unchanged and unaffected in its course.

Ah! But not at all! It is a difficult world people would have every reason to be resentful with God if — only if — this broken world were to be a simple reflection of him. To an extent, of course, the world does reflect its Maker but this is why there is so much beauty in the world. Despite the pallor, despite the sweat and tears, despite the sword and the fire and the galloping across the helpless, there is love, self-sacrifice and holiness. There are the beautiful valleys and plains, the stupendous waterfalls and soaring mountains. The world in its beauty does reflect its Maker, whereas its ugliness both moral and otherwise reflects not God but the sin of man. So then, we must in all our experience of life and reality learn to discipline our thinking and our imagination in reference to the Ultimate behind all things, which is God. We discipline our thinking by holding fast to our Lord Jesus Christ and to all that he has revealed of God. He is the image of the unseen God, as St Paul writes. He who sees me, sees the Father, he himself declared. He tells us that the Ultimate and the Absolute of all things, visible and invisible, is nothing other than a most loving Father. Love is at the heart of all things, love is the Origin and the End. More astonishingly still, this Ultimate Love, this Father of all is so very near. He pursues us lovingly. He follows us anxiously. God our Maker is the ideal father, beyond any ideal that this life could offer. The length and the breadth and the height and the depth of the love of God for us is beyond imagining. But Christ our Lord used certain images to convey the reality of the Father’s love and we ought cherish the images he uses. “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18: 12-14).

God loves me. He loves each of us individually. As St Paul wrote, Christ loved me and gave himself up for me. As he wrote again, nothing can separate us from the love of God present in Jesus Christ. He will leave the ninety-nine and go after me if I stray from him. He is going after me now in all my strayings from his holy will. In my everyday life I fail him in so many ways, for as the Scriptures observe, the just man sins seven times a day. But God loves me and comes after me seeking my conversion in every aspect of my life. So then, I must recognize his love for me and turn back to him, entrusting myself to his keeping and to his holy will. Now I begin, then!

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