Monday, December 21, 2009

Prayers today: Soon the Lord God will come, and you will call him Emmanuel, for God is with us. Isaiah 7:14; 8:10

Lord, hear the prayers of your people. May we who celebrate the birth of your Son as man rejoice in the gift of eternal life when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597)

The energetic life of Peter Canisius should demolish any stereotypes we may have of the life of a saint as dull or routine. Peter lived his 76 years at a pace which must be considered heroic, even in our time of rapid change. A man blessed with many talents, Peter is an excellent example of the scriptural man who develops his talents for the sake of the Lord’s work. He was one of the most important figures in the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Germany. His was such a key role that he has often been called the “second apostle of Germany” in that his life parallels the earlier work of Boniface. Although Peter once accused himself of idleness in his youth, he could not have been idle too long, for at the age of 19 he received a master’s degree from the university at Cologne. Soon afterwards he met Peter Faber, the first disciple of Ignatius Loyola, who influenced Peter so much that he joined the recently formed Society of Jesus. At this early age Peter had already taken up a practice he continued throughout his life — a process of study, reflection, prayer and writing. After his ordination in 1546, he became widely known for his editions of the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Leo the Great. Besides this reflective literary bent, Peter had a zeal for the apostolate. He could often be found visiting the sick or prisoners, even when his assigned duties in other areas were more than enough to keep most people fully occupied. In 1547 Peter attended several sessions of the Council of Trent, whose decrees he was later assigned to implement. After a brief teaching assignment at the Jesuit college at Messina, Peter was entrusted with the mission to Germany — from that point on his life’s work. He taught in several universities and was instrumental in establishing many colleges and seminaries. He wrote a catechism that explained the Catholic faith in a way which common people could understand — a great need of that age. Renowned as a popular preacher, Peter packed churches with those eager to hear his eloquent proclamation of the gospel. He had great diplomatic ability, often serving as a reconciler between disputing factions. In his letters (filling eight volumes) one finds words of wisdom and counsel to people in all walks of life. At times he wrote unprecedented letters of criticism to leaders of the Church — yet always in the context of a loving, sympathetic concern. At 70 Peter suffered a paralytic seizure, but he continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in his hometown (Nijmegen, Netherlands) on December 21, 1597.

Peter’s untiring efforts are an apt example for those involved in the renewal of the Church or the growth of moral consciousness in business or government. He is regarded as one of the creators of the Catholic press, and can easily be a model for the Christian author or journalist. Teachers can see in his life a passion for the transmission of truth. Whether we have much to give, as Peter Canisius did, or whether we have only a little to give, as did the poor widow in the Gospel (see Luke 21:1–4), the important thing is to give our all. It is in this way that Peter is so exemplary for Christians in an age of rapid change when we are called to be in the world but not of the world. When asked if he felt overworked, Peter replied, "If you have too much to do, with God's help you will find time to do it all."

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1.39-45)

At that time Mary rose up and went in haste to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!

Mary in the Christian religion
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the most intriguing, to say the least, of the features of the Protestant Reformation was its putting down of devotion to the Virgin Mary. This was something new in Christian practice and thought. In neither the East nor the West had this been done before. In common with almost all other features of Christian thought and practice, there had been a gradual development in the Church’s understanding of what God had implicitly revealed of the mother of Jesus Christ. With this growing perception there had been a corresponding growth in appreciation and devotion. The Reformers regarded such developments as corruptions. But as John Henry Newman would point out in his landmark book, The Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), doctrine — understood as the Church’s formal understanding, teaching and expression of revelation — develops. Doctrine should be expected to grow and deepen, as would any idea over time. The distinctive thing about the development of Christian doctrine is that the Church’s dogmatic formulation of this development is guided by the Holy Spirit. It does not merely change over time in response to random historical forces. Of course, the Reformers were reacting against many popular abuses in which the centrality of Christ himself was obscured. Mary and the saints occupied centre stage in the religious imagination of many. Many in effect had forgotten that Christ is our high priest and mediator, ever interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. But in reacting as they did to this popular distortion, the Reformers in their turn forgot that the whole Church by divine appointment shares in Christ’s high priestly mediation, especially those who are most deeply in union with Jesus. All the faithful are members of Christ’s body which is the Church, and as such they share in his saving work and in his intercession. This is pre-eminently the case with the sinless Virgin Mary. In union with him she is our model of discipleship, and in union with him she intercedes for us. In Christ she is our mother and our model, and as Christ loved and honoured her, so should we.

In our Gospel today (Luke 1:39-45), we have a strong expression of this profoundly Christian sentiment in respect to the Virgin Mary, and undoubtedly the inspired author meant it to be understood as such. Mary, having obediently assented to the divine plan that she be the mother of the Redeemer, hastens to the hill country of Judea to assist her kinswoman Elizabeth who herself is likewise a protagonist of the plan of redemption. Mary arrives, virgin mother of the Lord, and upon her arrival the Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth and upon the child she is bearing. Mary bears the Redeemer within her, and the Redeemer’s Gift of the Holy Spirit is given. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she cries out with a loud voice in praise of the virgin Mary. Notice that! The Holy Spirit himself prompts Elizabeth to cry out in a loud voice — a loud voice! — in praise and honour of Mary the mother of Christ. It is a pointer to what the Holy Spirit will prompt the Church to do down through the ages, with mounting crescendo. The Church will sing from generation to generation the praises of the virgin Mary and will declare itself honoured to be visited by the mother of the Lord. In a loud voice — a loud voice! — Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The authentic thought, teaching and practice of the Church never separates Mary from her divine Child: Blessed are you, Mary, and blessed is the Child you bore. True devotion to Mary never obscures Christ. Mary helps the Christian know and love him. Elizabeth, standing for all God’s people, herself a grand representative of the holiness of the Old Testament and positioned at the dawn of the New, professes to be deeply honoured and favoured by the coming of Mary to her. She welcomes her with exultation and her child, the Forerunner, leaps with joy. Of course, both Elizabeth and her unborn child are welcoming first and foremost the Christ-child whom Mary is bringing with her, but honour rendered to Mary is inseparable from this. Blessed are you among women, Elizabeth declares, blessed are you! This has been the cry of Christ’s faithful ever since.

As we approach Christmas, let us be profoundly imbued with what is so evidently the teaching of Scripture, the singular place in Christ which Mary occupies in the Christian life. Our Gospel scene today giving the words of Elizabeth is a template of the attitude of the Church and her members to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ the Son of the living God. She is the blessed one, blessed among women — above all for her faith, but also for her singular calling as mother of the Lord. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Let us pray those very Scriptural words every day of our life.

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