And so begins "the Christmas novena", as it is known:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother.
Imprimatur: +MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York, New York, February 6, 1897.
(It is piously believed that whoever recites this prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of Saint Andrew on November 30th until Christmas will obtain what is asked.)
"Brethren, knowing that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is past and the day is at hand."
--Epistle for the First Sunday of Advent, Rom. 13. 11-14
"Virtue is necessary for the attainment of our natural desires." So began today's sermon of the young priest whose ordination I was privileged to witness this past June. His simple words struck such deep chords in me that I wished then as I wish now to be able to remember everything he said; but I know that I won't. Still, I can share some of what I do recall: so here are are some of the gems I received from him today.
So many times well-intentioned people are mistaken in their understanding of God's provision for our lives. Our Heavenly Father wants so much more for us than we can possibly imagine for ourselves. We are taught that we must practice virtue, but do we really understand what this means? Virtue is necessary to our happiness but, far from quashing it, a life of virtue potentiates our happiness, and not just in the next world. The good God wants us to be happy in this world as well as in the next; and He wants to insure this happiness through our practice of all of the virtues, but particularly that of purity.
Father explained this morning that purity is the guardian of love because it is the antithesis of selfishness, selfishness which is manifested in impurity. Our Lord said in the sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God." And I believe that sometimes they see Him even in this life in extraordinary ways. The examples of Saint Francis and Saint Therese come quickly to my mind. Father said that if each of us had pure motives, purity of intention, then all would be well with us. A clean heart, a heart without guile, a heart so pure in its love that it fears nothing except hurting the ones it loves. The heart of God.
"Unless you become as little children..." Little children who have been baptized and are allowed to retain their supernatural, God-given innocence are simple and pure in their motives. They are not afraid to love: they love with no thought of the risk, the cost, the pain of possible rejection. They desire two things which Father reminded us pertain to the will and the intellect: these are love and truth. A love which is true, a love which endures, a love which never dies: that is love, and that is God. We humans are made for love, to love and to be loved, and we are made for the truth. And it is why falsehood and love cannot coexist, for only love is good enough for truth, and only truth is good enough for love. Is it any wonder that the betrayal of what seemed to be love causes the greatest pain, a pain which can only begin to be fathomed in the scene between Our Lord and Judas in the Garden of Olives. The kiss of Judas and the words of Our Lord, "Friend, how came you to this?" And then Judas hanged himself: for despair rushes in to fill the void which God intended to have been filled by love.
Someone I used to know once wrote, "Love is ever about risk." This is so, but the love which is true does not mind taking the chance. Human love which is genuine is the embodiment of the parable of the merchant who, when he found the pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had to possess it. True love between human beings is one of the greatest gifts which God bestows on His children. However, the greatest love of all can only be found in the greatest Love of all: in God Who is Eternal Truth. In Him, and only in Him, are Love and Truth perfectly and inseparably united; in Him may we find the deepest reciprocation of all of the love within us, the love which He placed there with His very hands when He first fashioned us. And all the risks are His: we risk absolutely nothing but absolute nothingness without Him.
Today is a new beginning, the beginning of the new liturgical year and "it's always best to begin at the beginning." I sometimes wonder how it is that every day brings more happiness to me, but the secret is not so hard to discover after all. It is this: Love is. God is, and God is Love. Love is, and because of Him we may all live happily ever after. And happily ever after starts in the here and now. I know it , and I live it. For "the night is past and the day is at hand." "Arise, shine, for your Light is coming." It is the Light of Eternal Love which leads me, and I cannot falter because He guides me every step of the way; "and I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that "with God all things are possible," even love that never ends.
"Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all’. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness." - J.R.R. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring
"Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic and generous actions and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world."
--Kenelm Henry Digby, author of Mores Catholici et al.
“Wilbur was merely suffering the doubts and fears that often go with finding a new friend. In good time he was to discover that he was mistaken about Charlotte. Underneath her rather bold and cruel exterior, she had a kind heart, and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end.”
In one of his essays, J. R. R. Tolkien distinguishes between different kinds of climaxes. The tragic tale, with its sorrowful ending, he calls a "dyscatastrophe"; for "the Consolation of the Happy Ending" he coins the word "eucatastrophe": the blessed cataclysm by which lovers are reunited after many tests and trials, or the true king is separated from all pretenders and finally ascends the throne. "In such stories," Tolkien says, "when the sudden turn' comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of the story, and lets a gleam come through."
"Life is this simple: We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Himself everywhere, in everything - in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that He is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. It's impossible. It's simply impossible. The only thing is that we don't see it.”
eucatastrophe-a seeming disaster with a joyous end.
This word was coined by J.R.R. Tolkien; it will go before halcyon and serendipity on my list of favorite words.
(It is the perfect word, I think, to describe Our Lord's passion and death. "And I, if I be raised up, will draw all things to Me." Because of His seeming disaster, it is now possible for us all to live happily ever after. Really.)
"The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous "turn" (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially "escapist," nor "fugitive." In its fairy-tale - or otherworld - setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."
(Someone just sent this to me, and it was too beautiful not to share.)
The face is the mirror of the mind, And eyes without speaking Confess the secrets of the heart...
These words are ancient jewels mined from the quarry of life. Read them only if you dare treasure them. For it would be better to never know than to know and not obey. The hand that writes them now is old, wrinkled from the sun and labor. But the hand that guides them is wise – wise from years, wise from failures, wise from heartache. I travel from city to city. I buy jewels from the diggers in one land and sell them to the buyers in another. I have weathered nights in stormy waters. I have walked days through desert heat. My hands have held the finest rubies and stroked the deepest furs. But I would trade it all for the one jewel I never knew. It was not for lack of opportunity that I never held it. It was for lack of wisdom. The jewel was in my hand, but I exchanged it for an imitation. I have never known true love. I have known embraces. I have seen beauty. But I have never known love. If only I’d learned to recognize love as I learned to recognize stones. My father taught me about stones. He was a jewel cutter. He would seat me at a table before a dozen emeralds. “One is true,” he would tell me. ” The others are false. Find the true jewel.” I would ponder – studying each one after the other. Finally I would choose. I was always wrong. “The secret,” he would say, “is not the surface of the stone. A true jewel has a glow. Deep within the gem there is a flame. The surface can always be polished to shine, but with time the sparkle fades. However, the stone that shines from within will never fade.” With years, my eyes learned to spot true stones. I am never fooled. I have learned to see the light within. If only I’d learned the same thing about love. But I’ve spent my life in places I shouldn’t have been looking only for someone with beautiful hair, a dazzling smile, and fancy clothes. I’ve searched for a woman with outer beauty but no true value. And now I’m left with emptiness. Once I almost found her. Many years ago in Madrid I met the daughter of a farmer. Her ways were simple. Her love was pure. Her eyes were honest. But her looks were plain. She would have loved me. She would have held me through every season. Within her was a glow of devotion the likes of which I’d never seen since. But I continued looking for someone whose beauty would outshine the rest. How many times since I have longed for that farm girl’s kind heart? If only I’d known that true beauty is found inside, not outside. If only I’d known, how many tears would I have saved? True love glows from within and grows stronger with the passage of time. Heed my caution. Look for the purest gem. Look deep within the heart to find the greatest beauty of all. And when you find the gem, hold on to her and never let her go. For in her you have been granted a treasure worth far more than riches. Seek beauty and miss love. But seek love and find both.
Francisco's sister sent an e-mail to friends and family just a few days ago. Here are some excerpts:
"Because of his medical treatment of the policewoman and the gunman, Francisco has been in several interviews, including CNN, ABC News, LarryKing Live, and the Early Show, as well as in several newspapers, includingthe Wall Street Journal and NY Daily News. The best interview is this one by ABC News:http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=9026948 Francisco was in Iraq for one year and came back to the US on May 31. He has been stationed at Fort Hood, Texas since then. He most likely will be there until next summer when there is a good chance that he will be deployed to Afghanistan for his last year. I talked to Fran on Saturday and he is doing well, although extremely shookup and still stunned. He said he was praying the entire time, not just for himself but for those he was treating since he did not know if they were going to survive. My mom said he has not been able to sleep well, and that he is exhausted. We are all so proud of Francisco. We know Our Lady was protecting him most especially that day, since his life was spared several times - no doubt so that he could help save the lives of others. It is to Her and to Our Lord that we give infinite thanks for keeping him safe and we ask Them to continue Their protection for him and for all of us, and we pray for the victims and their families."
God bless, C-------
(And may God bless and reward all veterans who put themselves in harm's way every day so that we can live in this beautiful country in which He has placed us. May God bless the U.S.)