Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Holy Family: Fr. Andersen's Homily

A Homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR

December 30, 2012 Sunday in the Octave of Christmas: The Holy Family

A little over a week ago, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI gave his annual pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia (Dec 21st, 2012). In his talk, he said that the family is in crisis not only because of a false understanding of freedom, but from a defective belief in what it means to be human. This is where we must begin. What does it mean to be human? This is probably one of the most important questions being debated today. He cites Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of Paris, France who has raised awareness against a philosophical shift which has replaced the distinguishing word ‘sex’ to identify either male or female, with the word ‘gender’. There are consequences for this change of verbiage.

He begins by recalling a quote from Simone de Beauvoir who said: “ ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes so.’ We can easily be drawn to this quote because it is witty, it is romantic, and it shows a sense of confidence. But it betrays a shallow knowledge of what it means to be human. “These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society” (Benedict XVI). The Holy Father is referring here to a denial of the basic anthropology of man.

The Ecumenical Council of Vienne in the year of our Lord 1312 defined and decreed that the substance of the rational and intellectual soul is the form of the human body (cf. Denzinger, 902; Council of Vienne, Constitution Fidei catholicae). The soul is the form of the human body. Why was it necessary to define such a thing? Because in the previous century, a certain Franciscan by the name of Peter John Olieu, OFM, had proposed otherwise. So you see, there are no new ideas. There are no new heresies. Every heresy that arises in our day is just the revision of an old one. What was false then is false now. What is true is always true. The soul is the form of the human body.

Our Holy Father has cited a new philosophy of gender in which certain people believe that “sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of” but rather they believe that “it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society” (Benedict XVI). Our Holy Father comments:

“The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves” (Benedict XVI).

You see, the Holy Father is referring to the fact that our nature is decided for us by our physical bodies. If my physical body is male, then my nature is male. That means that my soul is male because, remember, the soul is the form of the body. My physical body determines my soul. There is no such thing as being a woman trapped in a man’s body. There is no such thing as a neuter soul. There is no such thing as an androgynous soul. My soul will be male after my body dies and my male soul will await the reunion of my male body at the General Resurrection and Last Judgment. This is because the soul and body are so intimately united that they cannot be separated. My soul will never belong to another body. The body I will receive at the Resurrection will be the same body I have now, albeit perfected and glorified. So, the nature of my soul is not up to me to decide. It is given to me by God. It is a fact. It is who I am physically and therefore who I am.

The Holy Father continues:

“According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will” (Benedict XVI).

This brings us back around to the family. A family is defined as husband and wife and children. A husband is a man and a wife is a woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony. Through the sacramental act between husband and wife God may grant children to that marriage and a family grows out of that. This is defined by God. It is not a social construct, nor can it be changed even if one rejects society or changes society. But this is a bigger issue than society. It is about God and it is about the identity of being human. Our Holy Father continues:

“Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain” (Benedict XVI).

It is a subject of great sorrow when a husband and wife cannot conceive and bear children. But that also is decided by God and we cannot treat the child as an object which people have a right to obtain by any means.

Our Holy Father concludes on this topic:

"When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man" (Benedict XVI).

On this feast of the Holy Family, I wanted to share with you these words of Pope Benedict. It is important today as Catholics that we are literate. I want to encourage every person in this room to read something this year written by Pope Benedict XVI. Here he is writing on something important about family life. The family is defined and created by God for us. At Christmas we can look at the beauty of the Holy Family: Joseph and Mary and the Holy Child Jesus. They are an example to us of what family life looks like.

As Catholics we are called to defend authentic family life. We must understand authentic family life in order to defend it. Our Holy Father’s address to the Roman Curia helps us to understand some of the issues being disputed today. During this Year of Faith, let us resolve to become literate Catholics and grow in our faith. We need to be reading our Bibles and reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Let us do so as families for ages upon ages have done. St. Joseph certainly read to his family from the Holy Scriptures and from the teachings of the Rabbis. Fathers today are called to imitate St. Joseph as the spiritual heads of their families. Fathers: read to your families at the dinner table. Read to them out loud each night a chapter from the Holy Scriptures and a section from the Catechism. By doing so, you will set a good example for your children and you will show your love for God and your love to your family as a provider of God’s loving words, a protector of their souls, and a teacher of divine wisdom for a blessed life. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

Below are lessons 4, 5, and 6 from the Divine Office of Vigils (Matins) for the feast of the Holy Innocents. One aspect that strikes me is that there is an emphasis on the fact that Heaven is our homeland.

Even if we suffer severely here on earth, it is only temporal suffering. It will end. It may seem unbearable in our immediate experience, and indeed, we may die of it, as have countless martyrs through the centuries. And yet, it will end. Eternity lies beyond that end, and we have the hope of spending that eternity in Heaven, with all the saints, adoring and praising God endlessly.

I think that’s one of the things we forget when we suffer ourselves, or when we read of others’ sufferings (as in the children of Newtown, who must of course come to mind today).

Here are the lessons, combined:

From the Sermons of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. 10th on the Saints.
Dearly beloved brethren, to-day we keep the birthday of those children, who, as we are informed by the Gospel, were massacred by the savage King Herod. Therefore let earth rejoice with exceeding joy, for she is the mother of these heavenly soldiers, and of this numerous host. The love of the vile Herod could never have crowned these blessed ones as hath his hatred. For the Church testifieth by this holy solemnity, that whereas iniquity did specially abound against these little saints, so much the more were heavenly blessings poured out upon them.

Blessed art thou, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, which hast suffered the cruelty of King Herod in the slaughter of thy children; who art found worthy to offer at once to God a whole white-robed army of guileless martyrs! Surely, it is well to keep their birthday, even that blessed birthday which gave them from earth to heaven, more blessed than the day that brought them out of their mother's womb. Scarcely had they entered on the life that now is, when they obtained that glorious life which is to come.

We praise the death of other martyrs because it was the crowning act of an undaunted and persistent testimony; but these were crowned at once. He That maketh an end to this present life, gave to them at its very gates that eternal blessedness which we hope for at its close. They whom the wickedness of Herod tore from their mothers' breasts are rightfully called the flowers of martyrdom; hardly had these buds of the Church shown their heads above the soil, in the winter of unbelief, when the frost of persecution nipped them.

And here is the hymn for Morning Prayer for today’s feast. I found it very touching!

ALL hail, ye little Martyr flowers,
Sweet rosebuds cut in dawning hours!
When Herod sought the Christ to find
Ye fell as bloom before the wind.

First victims of the Martyr bands,
With crowns and palms in tender hands,
Around the very altar, gay
And innocent, ye seem to play.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born to thee;
All glory, as is ever meet
To Father and to Paraclete.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fr. Andersen: Homily on St. John the Apostle

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, Oregon

December 27th, 2012 St. John the Evangelist, Apostle

It is said that the greatest sacrifice of love to God is martyrdom, but second to that is the sacrifice of virginity. Our saint today is called the beloved disciple. He is one who followed the Lamb wherever He went. But God did not demand his blood from him in martyrdom. St.   John lived out the white martyrdom, offering to God his virginity.  

Tradition tells us that St. John left “not only his father Zebedee, but even his betrothed, when everything was prepared for the marriage” (Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. 2, pg. 250).

The Old Roman Ritual contains in it two blessings of wine on the feast of St. John. This wine is blessed at the end of the Mass after the Last Gospel is read and is then to be drunk at dinner on the feast. The story comes to us that in Ephesus, St. John preached the Gospel and “idol-worshippers stirred up a riot among the populace, and they dragged him to the temple of Diana and tried to force him to offer sacrifice to the goddess. Then the saint proposed this alternative: if by invoking Diana they overturned the church of Christ, he would offer sacrifice to the idols; but if by invoking Christ he destroyed Diana’s temple, they would believe in Christ. To this proposal the greater number of the people gave their consent. When all had gone out of the building, the apostle prayed, the temple collapsed to the ground, and the statue of Diana was reduced to dust.”

In response, the high priest Aristodemus incited the people against the apostle. He then challenged St. John, saying: “If you want me to believe in your God, I will give you poison to drink. If it does you no harm, it will be clear that your master is the true God.” St. John consented. But first Aristodemus had two condemned criminals released from prison and, in the presence of the crowd, gave them the poison to drink so that St. John would have to watch them die and it would fill him with a greater fear for his own life. “Then the apostle took the cup, armed himself with the sign of the cross, drained the drink, and suffered no harm, and all present began to praise God” (Voragine, The Golden Legend. Vol. I., p. 53).
“St. Clement relates. . . that the blessed John once converted a handsome but headstrong young man and commended him as a ‘deposit’ to a certain bishop. Some time later, however, the young man left the bishop and became the leader of a band of robbers. Eventually the apostle came back to the bishop and asked him to return his deposit. The bishop, thinking that he was talking about money, was taken aback, but the apostle explained that he meant the young man whom he had so solicitously entrusted to his care. The bishop answered: ‘O my venerable father, that man is dead, spiritually at least; he lives on yonder mountain with a band of thieves and has become their chief.’ At that the saint tore his mantle, beat himself about the head with his fists, and cried: ‘A fine guardian you have been for the soul of a brother whom I left with you!’

“Quickly he ordered a horse saddled, and rode fearlessly toward the mountain. The young man, seeing him coming, was overwhelmed with shame, mounted his horse and rode off at top speed. The apostle, forgetting his age, put spurs to his mount and chased the fugitive, calling after him: ‘What, my beloved son! Do you flee from your father, an old man, unarmed? My son, you have nothing to fear! I shall account for you to Christ, and be sure I will gladly die for you, as Christ died for all of us. Come back, my son, come back! The Lord himself has sent me after you!’ Hearing this, the young man, filled with remorse, turned back and wept bitterly. The apostle knelt at his feet and, as though repentance had already cleansed it, began to kiss his hand. Then he fasted and prayed for the penitent, obtained God’s pardon for him, and later ordained him a bishop” (Voragine, 53-54).

“According to St. Jerome, Saint John stayed on in Ephesus into his extreme old age. He grew so feeble that he had to be supported by his disciples on his way to the church and was hardly able to speak. At every pause, however, he repeated the same words: ‘My sons, love one another!’ One day the brethren, wondering at this, asked him: ‘Master, why are you always saying the same thing? The saint replied: ‘Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this alone is obeyed, it is enough’” (54-55). 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Homily for Christmas Day: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, Oregon
December 25th, 2012 In Nativitatis Domini

“In the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,  the whole world being at peace…”

On the Ides of March, in the year 44 BC, Julius Caesar was murdered. His grand-nephew and principal heir, Octavian, came to Rome to claim his inheritance. The young Octavian allied himself with Marc Antony to secure the Roman Empire and take revenge on Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of his uncle. Octavian obtained great victories in battle and won his troops over to his side securing himself the title of Pontifex Maximus in Rome.

The vast Roman Empire was then split between Marc Antony in the East and Octavian in the West. Marc Antony married the sister of Octavian, but the marriage was not to last. He soon put away his wife having become infatuated with a woman named Cleopatra who brought about his downfall. Octavian declared war against Cleopatra and, upon his victory, Marc Antony and Cleopatra both committed suicide. Octavian ended up with the entire Empire at his command––East and West.

“In the year 27 B.C., three years after his assumption of office, the Roman Senate had already awarded him the title Augustus…meaning ‘one worthy of adoration.’” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives, p. 60). He was hailed as Saviour and Redeemer (cf. 60) because he ushered in the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. This was an era of so-called “universal peace” that lasted for about 207 years. It was a time of great prosperity in the vast Roman Empire. Caesar Octavian Augustus “was a patron of art, letters, and science, and devoted large sums of money to the embellishment and enlargement of Rome. It was his well-known boast that he ‘found it of brick and left it of marble.’” (Healy, “Augustus”, The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. II. 1913. p. 107).

During this time, “the Romans built a Temple of Peace and placed a statue of Romulus in it.” The Roman god Apollo was invoked for an oracle and asked how long the temple would stand, and the answer was that it would be until a virgin bore a child. Hearing this, the people said that the temple was eternal, for they thought it impossible that such a thing could happen; and an inscription TEMPLUM PACIS AETERNUM, was carved over the doors” ( Voragine,  The Golden Legend, Vol. I, p. 37).

And then, “In the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, …was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man” (Roman Martyrology for December 25th. Roman Missal. 3rd Ed. Appendix I). On that “very night when Mary bore Christ, the temple crumbled to the ground”(Voragine, 37). The Temple of Peace Forever, which crumbled on the day of Christ’s birth, was replaced by the Church of Santa Maria Nuova which stands upon that very site today.

So who is the true Prince of Peace? At that time, the world claimed it to be Caesar Octavian Augustus. He was hailed as a Savior. But the Pax Romana was only a relative peace. “Romans regarded peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation that existed when all opponents had been beaten down and lost the ability to resist” (Wikipedia, “Pax Romana”). So the Roman Peace was maintained by worldly means and by force.

But true peace cannot be obtained by man. The United Nations will never achieve world peace because peace cannot be regulated. It must first dwell in the heart of every man. The United Nations cannot bestow that gift. In fact, peace is not a gift at all. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Peace requires man’s cooperation, but it does not originate from man, nor can man achieve such a thing. True peace can only come from God. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. He sends His Holy Spirit to fill us with His gifts. Peace then is a fruit which is borne from one cultivating the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Peace “is the tranquility which follows upon joy arising from charity” (Ripperger, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. p. 422). “When one’s heart is made perfectly peaceful in one thing…he is not able to be…disturbed, for he thinks of other things as nothing. As a result, as one’s heart comes to rest in God alone through charity, then peace arises as the …fruit of the Holy Spirit of peace” (422). St. Augustine defined peace “as the tranquility of order. When various parts within a society or a person are rightly ordered among themselves, then tranquility arises” (footnote 38, p. 422).

Contrary to peace is idolatry: “Anything which goes contrary to the teachings of revelation, resulting in man committing idolatry by having something other than God as his good, goes contrary to peace” (422). This is why the Fathers of the Church stressed detachment from worldly things and love for God alone. St. Augustine taught that one should use and enjoy those things of creation that God has given, but one should not love such created things. One should love God alone above all things. This protects one from idolatry.

Peace in itself became an idol to the Romans during the time of the Pax Romana. They wanted to achieve peace at all costs. It was preserved by means of might, and therefore it was not true peace. True peace is not obtained overnight, even by the most fervent of souls. The spiritual life is a lifelong commitment. If we cooperate with God, we grow ever so gradually towards perfect union with Him. Peace is a fruit which means that it must be ripe before it can be enjoyed. The soul must be cared for, watered, fertilized, and pruned. Fruit comes at harvest time. We cannot be in too much of a hurry to harvest, or else we may end up with unripe and bitter fruit.

Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, has come to us in such a gentle way at Christmas, as a baby. He is so lovable. We can approach Him as a baby and immediately feel His peace. This Christmas let us put away any idols that have crept into our lives, especially the idol which promises a false peace at any cost. Let us demolish the false Temple of Peace Forever in our own lives in favor of the true God who gives us real peace in our souls. In other words, let us clean up our lives, put things in order, live by the laws of Christian morality, make holy the Lord’s day every Sunday, and give true worship to Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, here in this Temple of God. Let us pray that our bodies will be worthy temples of God, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that be cultivating that gift, we may bear the ripe fruit of peace in our souls forever.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fr. Andersen's Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR

December 23rd, 2012 Dominica IV Adventus, Anno C

Roráte caeli, désuper, et nubes pluant iustum. . .

“Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior” (cf. Isaiah 45:8).

The prophet Isaiah greets us in today’s Entrance Antiphon and helps us to prepare for Christmas. Dr. Pius Parsch writes that “(Isaiah’s) cry must become our own. Before God comes to us, He demands preparation. He will not force His gifts upon us. We must desire them, we must be spiritually hungry.” Parsch makes this great statement: “Advent desire means that we must cultivate a fruitful soil for the seed of grace, that we become receptive to God’s kingdom” (The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. I: Advent to Candlemas, p. 134). This applies directly to these words from the prophet Isaiah: “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.” This prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled with the coming of the Divine Child. By analogy, we can say that He has come down from heaven as a drop of dew from the clouds.

Though this is an analogy, this imagery is quite accurate. Remember the Gospel of the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel said to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” She is full of grace. She is filled with the Holy Spirit to overflowing. Because the Lord is with her in a singular way, she is the soil that is receptive for the dew which drops down from the clouds of heaven. In fact, it is a cloud from heaven that dropped down upon her. The angel announced: “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” It was the glory cloud of the Holy Spirit. That same cloud descended upon the Holy of Holies in the Temple. When the cloud descended, God took His seat on His throne upon the Cherubim. And when that cloud descended upon Mary, God claimed His throne in the Immaculate cloister of her womb. The drop of dew which is the Word of God, found a receptive soil in her. “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.” Mary was the Immaculate rich soil which brought forth the Savior.

The Eternal Word entered into human flesh. That is really the meaning of the word ‘Advent’. Ad means ‘into’ and vent from the verb ‘venir’ means to come. So, the Eternal Word came into this world, into human flesh, into the womb of Mary, so that He could come into our hearts.

The consequence of the Eternal Son of God entering into human flesh, is that He has entered into time. Time is fleeting. So, the moment Mary has heard these words, she begins planning her journey. She sets out in haste. Immediately, the Word of God sends out His Holy Spirit to those around Him. From the womb, Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to the infant John in the womb. “St. Augustine is even of the opinion that the unborn Baptist was miraculously endowed with the use of reason and will so that he could joyfully recognize, believe in and say Yes to his Lord” (Saward, Redeemer in the Womb, p. 25). Whether this is true or not, the Church has not defined; but it is certain that this event fulfills the prophecy made by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah promising that “[John] will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). “The grace of the Holy Spirit flows from Jesus through Mary to John and from John to Elizabeth” (Saward, 26).

And where does this happen? It happens on a mountain. Mary hastens to the hill country. She ascends the mountain in order to meet the Just One in the clouds whence He came, having dropped down like dew from above. He has come to her from heaven and she now goes to be near heaven to prepare and to be of service to her Son’s first disciple, still in the womb himself.

Mary makes haste. We too must make haste. Time is short and God has given us these last days of Advent to prepare. In those days, Mary came to the mountain. This day we have come here to this holy mountain: the altar of God; as near to heaven as we can come in this life. Mary received the Word of God and she conceived and bore fruit in her womb. We have received the Word of God in this Mass. Let our souls now be prepared as rich soil for the Word of God that will drop down like dew from the clouds of heaven.

“Let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.” 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Reflection on Ember Saturday

The extraordinary form Mass for Ember Saturday (today) contains numerous readings and prayers, and they make a wonderful meditation as Christmas grows nearer and nearer.  I’m unable to find an easy cut-and-paste means of presenting them here, but if you go to this website, you will see them all, in English and Latin!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Vortex: Christmas Meditation

"Who really IS this Child?" asks Michael Voris. There are no "lies and falsehoods" exposed in this episode of the Vortex - just the simple, profound Truth of the birth of the Son of God, Our Savior.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ember Week in Advent: Wednesday

Words of wisdom from a priest correspondent:

Tomorrow (December 19, 2012) is Wednesday in Ember Week of Advent.

On the Wednesday of Ember week in Advent, the mystery of the Annunciation is commemorated by many churches. The Mass is sung early in the morning. That Mass is sometimes called the Golden Mass, Rorate Mass, or Messias Mass. On that occasion the church is illuminated, as a token that the world was still in darkness when the Light of the world appeared.

The Mass is called the Golden Mass possibly because in the Middle Ages the whole of the  Mass propers - or at least the initial letters - were written in gold on vellum or parchment, or on account of the golden magnificence of the solemnity, or more probably on account of the special, great, "golden" grace which, at that time, is obtained by the numerous prayers.

It is called Rorate Mass after the first words of the introit of the Mass: Rorate Coeli; and Messias Mass because the Church, like our Lady, expresses on that day her longing for the arrival of the Messias.

The Ember Fasts

At the beginning of the four seasons of the ecclesiastical year, the Ember Days were instituted by the Church to thank God for blessings obtained during the past year and to implore further graces for the new season. Their importance in the church was formerly very great.

They are fixed on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday:

  • after the first Sunday of Lent for spring,
  • after Pentecost Sunday for summer,
  • after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (Sep 14) for autumn,
  • after the third Sunday of Advent for winter.
They were intended, too, to consecrate to God the various seasons in nature, and to prepare by penance those who were about to be ordained. Ordinations generally took place on the Saturday of Ember Week. The Faithful ought to pray on these days for good priests; in our Diocese, to pray for vocations to the priesthood. Until 1960 the Ember Days were fast days of obligation.

I encourage you to spend Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week in fasting and abstinence in a manner that accords with your age and state in life.

Are You Ready? Advent Reflection

I posted this last year about this time, but it seems to be just as suitable this year – if not more so.

It’s Gaudete Sunday – we are joyful! The Lord is coming, and He is getting nearer! In our secular lives, we may be thinking, “Christmas is coming. It’s getting closer. Am I ready?” And maybe we are happy because Christmas is closer, or maybe we start to panic over the presents we haven’t bought yet. Too often, I think, we keep our devotional life from touching our secular life. We don’t let the joy of the nearness of the Christ Child overcome the anxiety of “Christmas stuff” – the decorating, the parties, the gift-giving.

The joy we feel at the thought of the first coming of Jesus, when he arrived as a little baby in the manger, is different from the joy we feel at the thought of the second coming. When the Lord comes again, it will be a time for awe and some trepidation. “Am I ready?” we must ask ourselves again. Am I truly ready to receive the Lord, to stand before the Just One who sees all my sins?

The following is from a homily of Origen on the Gospel of Luke; it’s not on this Sunday’s gospel reading, but I thought it was an interesting meditation, given all the indications that persecution of Christians, and especially Catholics, is on the increase in this country. Are we ready for that? Are we ready to stand strong for the Lord, even when our very livelihood is threatened by those who want to outlaw Catholic thought and teaching?

Origen says this [my emphases]:

“I suggest that the faithful are like a heap of unsifted grain, and that the wind represents the temptations which assail them and show up the wheat and chaff among them. When your soul is overcome by some temptation, it is not the temptation that turns you into chaff; the temptation simply discloses the stuff you are made of. On the other hand, when you endure temptations bravely it is not the temptation that makes you faithful and patient; temptation merely brings to light the hidden virtues of patience and fortitude that have been present in you all along. Do you think I had any other purpose in speaking to you, said the Lord to Job, than to reveal our virtue? In another text he declares, I humbled you and made you feel the pangs of hunger in order to find out what was in your heart.

“In the same way, a storm will not allow a house to stand firm if it is built upon sand. If you wish to build a house, you must build it upon rock. Then any storms that arise will not demolish your handiwork, whereas the house built upon sand will totter, proving thereby that it is not well founded.

“So while all is yet quiet, before the storm gathers, before the squalls begin to bluster or the waves to swell, let us concentrate all our efforts on the foundations of our building and construct our house with the many strong, interlocking bricks of God’s commandments. Then when cruel persecution is unleashed like some fearful tornado against Christians we shall be able to show that our house is built upon Christ Jesus our rock.

“Far be it from us to deny Christ when that time comes. But if anyone should do so, let that person realize that it was not at the moment of his public denial that his apostasy took place. Its seeds and root had been hidden within him for a long time; persecution only brought into the open and made public what was already there. Let us pray to the Lord then that we may be firm and solid buildings that no storm can overthrow, founded on the rock of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

(Selection from Journey with the Fathers: Commentaries on the Sunday Gospels, Year C, edited by Edith Barnecut, OSB; emphases added)

Are you ready?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete Sunday and Gregorian Chant: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric Andersen,  Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR

Dec 16th, 2012 
Dominica Adventus III, Anno C

“Gaudete in Domino semper! Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice!”

St. Paul exhorts us in these words and these words greet us in the beginning of this Mass. We call this day “Gaudete Sunday” based upon the opening words of the Entrance chant. We have been wearing violet, or purple during Advent as a reminder of the ancient penitential season in the Church. Violet is the color of the night sky at this darkest time of the year. The darkness rules the day in these last days of the year. But just before the dawn, the sky lightens with the color of Rose and it is a sign of hope for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. Rose is the color of this Sunday as a reminder that the dawn from on high shall break upon us at Christmas. You may recall that for weeks we have reflected on the second coming of Christ, on the Last Judgment, then on God’s promise of deliverance. Now the color Rose in our vestments is a sign of joy and hope that the time is almost here. From here on out, the readings in the liturgy become more and more filled with lightness and hope and joy. Therefore, Praise O daughter Zion. Sing joyfully, Israel. Iubilate, Israel!
Sing joyfully. There is a reason why music is such an important part of Advent and Christmas. Music expresses something deep in the soul. And music projects that expression of the soul far more powerfully than merely speaking. For instance, I can say to you, “rejoice in the Lord always!” or I can exhort you in song: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. . . In antiquity, it was unheard of that one would read sacred texts such as the scriptures or liturgical texts. These texts deserved to be elevated above common speech. They were too sacred to be spoken out loud so they were either whispered or chanted. Jewish rabbis were taught to chant the scriptures. The early Church did the same. The psalms of the Divine Office and the Mass and the Gospel were all chanted according to ancient tones that had been handed down, first from the Synagogue, then from the apostles who went out to all nations. Singing is a form of rejoicing. And so St. Paul says “gaudete!” Rejoice.

Another word that the Church has used historically for this is iubilate. The word iubilate appears in the first reading. Iubilate, Israel. St. Augustine writes about this word, iubilate. It is the root of the word, Jubilation. Augustine uses the word Jubilus to describe an expression of the Holy Spirit: “a man bursts forth in a certain voice of exultation without words. . . because [he] is filled with too much joy, he cannot explain in words what it is in which he delights.” St. Augustine is referring here to speaking in tongues. Those of you who are involved with the charismatic movement in the Church may have the gift of tongues, or maybe you have heard someone speaking in tongues. This is a gift from God that does not belong to the individual but to the Church. In the most ancient days of the Church, the gift of tongues was manifested and employed in the sacred liturgy through music. This particular type of music is called “melisma”.

Melisma refers to a piece of music in which the words are sung to God so that He hears the praise, but those who are listening do not necessarily discern the words being sung. The words are important in that they are sung to God, but the words are not the point of the music for those listening. This melismatic Jubilus is normally sung in the Alleluia. But let me clarify this statement. The Alleluia of which I speak is not the same as that which we normally sing here at Mass. The Alleluia I refer to is not in our missalettes. When I refer to the Alleluia, I am referring to the Church’s official music for the Mass which comes to us from Rome. The official music is sung at the Pope’s Masses. It is called Gregorian chant. There are different categories of Gregorian Chant. There is the type we sing such as the Kyrie Eleison in Greek, or the Sanctus or Agnus Dei in Latin. Those are simple chants that anyone can sing.
But there is another category of chant that is little known and it is called Melisma. Most of you have probably never heard melisma before. We normally do not hear melisma sung at Mass because melisma is an art form that takes a lot of practice, a lot of prayer, and a great sensitivity on the part of the cantor. This is what it sounds like: (priest sings the Alleluia as an example from the Graduale Romanum). The congregation is not meant to sing along because this melisma is an expression of the Holy Spirit filling the room for us as a preparation for us to hear the proclamation of the Gospel. Those who listen must allow the Holy Spirit to speak to their souls without worrying about the few words that are the conduit for this holy utterance. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of understanding. This is the Jubilus of which St. Augustine writes.

Melisma is truly the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues through the ancient Church. It is an art, a gift, and a discipline that has been given by God and cultivated and handed down from generation to generation. It was done for centuries without music being written down. Every ancient culture has a version of it. All 24 liturgical rites within the Catholic Church have their own versions of this type of chant. Only after several centuries did this particular type of music begin to be written down and codified. It became codified or official under Pope St. Gregory the Great. He did not compose it, but it takes his name because he collected it together and he made each piece of music “official” in the Mass and the Divine Office. His name is honored by us calling this music “Gregorian Chant”.

So the Church has passed down to us an ancient memory of those apostolic utterances of the Holy Spirit. We can compare this to iconography. Iconography is not painting. An icon is not painted. It is written. It is not art, but rather a window into heaven. Those who write an icon are not writing it. They are praying and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide their hands. If they paint it, then it is not an icon. So it is with melismatic chant. Those who sing it are not singing it. They are chanting it. If they sing it, it is not a prayer. If they sing it, it is not speaking in tongues. But if they truly chant it, then they are speaking in tongues. When this happens they are emptying themselves and allowing themselves to be instruments through which the Holy Spirit utters. How humble that is! It draws no attention to the one who chants. The cantor disappears and the melisma draws attention only to the creator of music who is God.

As we are preparing for Christmas we are meditating on the mystery of the incarnation. The incarnation is the gift of the spirit entering into the flesh. We see this in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Spirit enters into the flesh of a piece of bread. Through the spiritual food, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, our spiritual food and our spiritual drink. We can say that the Holy Spirit also incarnates through one who sings the words of the Holy Spirit, uttering the melisma of the Church’s music.

This is different from singing hymns or singing good Christian music. It is important that we sing hymns and good Christian music. We do that at Mass here. Singing good and holy music reminds us of holy things, and it lifts our hearts and minds to holy things, but it is not the same as speaking in tongues. There are young people here in this parish who will be called upon by God to give their lives for this divine art. You know who you are. If God has given you the gift of music, offer yourself to Him so that you may be an instrument of the Holy Spirit through the singing of Gregorian Chant. God will demand much from you in prayer, humility, and discipline, and you will be a sign of contradiction in a world that rejects that which is sacred. But for you it will be a window to heaven through which you have Communion with the angels in the heavenly choirs who sing before the throne of God. As we prepare for Christmas, gazing upon the rose color of the winter sky before the dawn, let us be mindful of the angels who are preparing to sing the Gloria in Excelsis when dawn breaks on Christmas Day. Let us join our hearts and minds and voices with all of creation in adoration of the Christ Child on that great day. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Mini-Retreat II: Fr. Andersen

Because I was away on retreat, I was not able to post this “mini-retreat” at the appropriate time. But, for your retrospective pleasure, here it is now!

Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais

Dec 8th, 2012  Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Advent Mini-Retreat #2

Today’s gospel recounts the great moment of the conception of Jesus Christ. The Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive and give birth to a Son. But this conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary is not the Immaculate Conception which we celebrate this day. The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother St. Anne.

According to the tradition that has been passed down to us, Joachim and Anna, called “noble branches of the family of David”, were married for “twenty years without offspring and made a vow to the Lord that if he granted them a child, they would dedicate it to the service of God” (Voragine 152). One day, an angel appeared to Joachim and reminded him about all the instances of barren women in the scriptures who gave birth to the great patriarchs. He then announced that Anna would conceive and bear a daughter named Mary. The angel said: “As you have vowed, she will be consecrated to the Lord from infancy and filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb. She will not live outside among the common people but will abide in the Temple at all times. And, as she will be born of an unfruitful mother, so, miraculously, the Son of the Most High will be born from her. His name will be Jesus, and through him all nations will be saved. And let this be a sign to you: when you arrive at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, Anna your wife will be there waiting for you.

Meanwhile the angel appeared to Anna and announced the same, telling her to meet her husband at the Golden Gate. The meeting at the Golden Gate is a famous theme in religious iconography and art. Mary was naturally conceived in the womb of Anna according to God’s plan for married couples. But this conception was unlike any other conception ever before or since. Joachim and Anna were not immaculate, but for God’s purposes, God made Mary immaculate from the first moment of her conception. …“at the very instant when God united the soul of Mary, which He had created, to the body which it was to animate, this ever-blessed soul, did not only not contract the stain, which at the same instant defiles every human soul, but was filled with an immeasurable grace which rendered her, from that moment, the mirror of the sanctity of God Himself, as far as this is possible to a creature” (Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. I., p. 378).

Soon after Mary was born, her parents brought her to the Temple to be presented, and then at the age of three, Mary was brought to live in the Temple precincts with the other virgins who lived there. She was dedicated to God. By tradition, we know that when she was betrothed to St. Joseph, they had an understanding that she would remain a virgin because she was vowed to God and to no other. So, now the angel Gabriel greets her. “Hail full of grace.” Full of grace is her title. Gratia plena. Isn’t that a beautiful name? Gratia plena. Grace can be defined as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His sevenfold gifts. In Mary’s case, she is not merely the recipient of grace as we all are at baptism, but her very being overflows with grace because she is immaculate. There is nothing to diminish grace in her because she never sinned.

We can say the Christ Himself is the fullness of grace, since He is God. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life and the communicator of grace. The Holy Spirit proceeds forth from the Father and the Son. So the grace of the Holy Spirit is given to Mary and she is full of grace. But her fullness is analogous to the fullness of grace in Jesus Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas describes it this way: “Whereas the Blessed Virgin Mary received such a fullness of grace that she was nearest of all to the Author of grace; so that she received within her Him who is full of all grace; and, by bringing Him forth, she in a manner dispensed grace to all” (ST IIIa, q. 27, a. 5 ad 1).

St. Bernard of Clairveaux says writes: “In the Acts of the Apostles we read that Stephen was full of grace and that the apostles were filled with the Holy Ghost, but in a far different way from that of Mary. In another way, neither in him (Stephen) did the fullness of the Godhead dwell bodily, in the way it did in Mary, nor did they conceived of the Holy Ghost, in the way that Mary did” (Hom. super Missus est, III, 2; PL CLXXXIII, 72). St. Peter Chrysologus writes: “Thou hast found grace. How much? As much as he had said previously: to fullness. Indeed, a fullness of grace which emptied itself in a heavy shower and flooded the whole creature” (Sermo 142; PL, LII, 579).

What differentiates us from Mary is that we are given sanctifying grace through baptism. Mary was given sanctifying grace at the moment of her conception in the womb. We lose sanctifying grace when we sin. If we commit a mortal sin, the Holy Spirit departs and will not dwell in us. God does not abandon us, but the Holy Spirit will not dwell in a defiled temple. So, in order to receive the Holy Spirit back as a guest in our soul, we must cleanse the temple of our body. We do this by going to Confession. At that point, we are absolved of our sins and the Holy Spirit fills us again. Grace grows in us when we pray, when we do penance, and when we avoid sin, detach ourselves from sin and grow closer in union with Jesus Christ. But Mary is different. She never lost sanctifying grace because she never sinned. The Holy Spirit continually filled her from the first moment of her conception and sanctifying grace continued to increase in her until she died. So she was singularly and uniquely full of grace among all created beings.

Not only is Mary full of grace, but she is the mediatrix of grace. She mediates grace to us. earlier I mentioned that St. Thomas Aquinas said: “she received within her Him who is full of all grace; and, by bringing Him forth, she in a manner dispensed grace to all.” Because Christ came to us through Mary, therefore she dispenses the gifts of God to us by giving us Christ. She is a creature, but she dispenses the gifts of God, including gifts of grace.

When Mary appeared to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830 in the chapel on the Rue de Bac in Paris, she announced to St. Catherine that she was the Immaculate Conception. She ordered Catherine to have a medal struck which came to be known as the Miraculous Medal. It is formally called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception. The medal is a sign of Mary’s promise to dispense graces to those who wear the medal and ask for the abundance of God’s grace which He wishes to give us through her.

This medal of the Immaculate Conception raised the awareness of a disputed doctrine in the Church. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had never been formally defined. So, Pope Pius IX began to circulate a request that all bishops in the world consult with each other and the people to come to a definitive doctrine on this point. The doctrine was not doubted, but the details had not been defined. On December 8, 1854, the dogma was proclaimed: “The 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 is said that because Mary is Immaculate, the devil cannot see her. She is invisible to him, therefore he is terrified of her. She is the woman whose seed crushes the serpent’s head. This Solemnity celebrates the crushing of the serpent’s head. In fact, every time Mass is offered, the serpent is crushed. Every time a sinner receives absolution in the Confessional, the serpent is crushed. Every time someone genuflects before the tabernacle; or calls upon the name of Mary, or prays the Rosary, or wears a scapular or Miraculous Medal, the serpent is weakened. Jesus Christ is always the victor. And He keeps his Mother at his right side. If we venerate her Immaculate Heart, pray to her for her intercession, ask her to dispense God’s graces to us, God will listen to her. She will shower us with the graces of heaven and protect us under her mantle. God preserved her from the beginning and with her Immaculate help, we will never be parted from Him. 

Advent Mini-Retreat III: Fr. Andersen

An Advent “Mini-Retreat” by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, St. Louis in St. Louis, OR.

Dec 15, 2012  2nd Saturday in Advent: Mini-Retreat #3

Joseph has no idea that Mary is born Immaculate and without sin. Joseph is betrothed to this beautiful and holy young woman, and he knows that she is holy, and he now knows that there is trouble ahead, but he has no idea what blessings God has in store for him. What he does know is that which every Christian man knows: that his vocation is to protect and guard the purity and reputation of all women, especially those entrusted to his care; whether a mother, a sister, a wife, or a daughter. In this case, Joseph is betrothed to Mary. This means that he is entrusted by God with her temporal well-being, and to guard and protect her reputation and the purity of her soul and body.

He tenderly loves his spouse and he blesses God for having entrusted such a treasure to his keeping. Little does he know that the angels crowd around the house in which she lives. Little does he know that she has been visited by the Archangel Gabriel and that she is bearing within her womb the Incarnate God of all Creation. Dom Prosper Gueranger writes that “God has decreed to visit (this family) with a heavy trial, in order that He may give an occasion to Mary to exercise heroic patience, and to Joseph an occasion of meriting by his exquisite prudence” (The Liturgical Year, Vol. I: Advent, pg. 30).

Mary is patient. She had to be patient because God allowed her to suffer so many sorrows and trials in her life. In her revelations, St. Bridget of Sweden recalls that an angel said to her: “As a rose grows up among thorns, so did the Blessed Virgin grow up among tribulations.” But St. Teresa of Avila writes: “Those who embrace the cross do not feel it…Once we have made up our minds to suffer, there is no more pain” (cf. St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, p. 354-355).

St. Bonaventure writes: “See how God permits His servants to be afflicted and sorely tried, that they may so receive their crown. . . . Now Joseph did look many times on Mary, and grief and trouble of heart fell upon him, and his displeasure was seen in his face, and he turned his eyes away from her as one that was guilty of that which he. . . suspected” (Gueranger, 31).

Let us consider Mary. She did not reveal anything to Joseph. She did not tell anyone, neither her cousin Elizabeth, nor her betrothed husband, about the Annunciation of the Angel: “Better did it seem unto her that evil should be thought of her than that she should reveal the divine mystery, and say aught of herself which would come nigh to boasting. Therefore did she beseech our Lord that Himself would right this matter, and make pass this grief from Joseph and herself” (31-32).

St. Alphonsus says that it is characteristic of humility to conceal heavenly gifts. Mary wished to conceal from Saint Joseph the favor which made her the Mother of God. At the same time it seemed necessary to reveal the secret to him, if only to remove from his mind any suspicions as to her virtue which he might have entertained on seeing her pregnant. Saint Joseph, on the one hand, did not wish to doubt Mary’s chastity; and yet on the other hand, being unaware of the mystery, he was minded to have her put away privately” (The Glories of Mary, 330).

Then God answered her prayer and the angel appeared also to Joseph in a dream. Mary did not have to boast to him, but was able to preserve the virtue of modesty in her soul. In this is an example of how God allows us to experience trials for the good of our soul. We know that after this, Mary and Joseph experienced many trials, including traveling to Bethlehem in the winter, not finding a place to stay and giving birth in a cave; fleeing to Egypt and many other trials that became swords of sorrow in their hearts.

When we consider the character of St. Joseph, we might ask how he endured such trials. We know that Mary was Immaculate and therefore she suffered no concupiscence. In other words, she was never even tempted to sin. But what about Joseph? He was not immaculately conceived. Joseph’s state of soul has not been formally defined by the Church. It is defined that St. John the Baptist was sanctified in his mother’s womb and born without original sin. St. John the Baptist was not immaculately conceived, but he was given the gift of the Holy Spirit in the womb. Therefore he enjoyed the gifts of the baptism without needing to be baptized. This was a privilege given to him for the purpose of preparing the way of the Lord.

It has been said that St. Joseph experienced a similar gift from God. This is not defined by the Church, and we cannot claim that it is Catholic doctrine either, but it is a consideration of the Theologians. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that “those whom God elects and designs for some great work, He also prepares and disposes so as to fit them for its performance”; and the Angelic Doctor adds that God gives to each grace proportioned to the office which he is chosen to fill. St. Bernardine of Siena lays down the same doctrine, and he then proceeds to say that this was verifed in the person of St. Joseph, who was the reputed father of Jesus, the true spouse of the Queen of the world and Lady of angels, and was elected by the Eternal Father to be the faithful guardian of His two greatest treasures. If, then, Joseph was elected to such an office, which, after the divine maternity, has none to equal it in Heaven or on earth, he must have received of God for its discharge a fullness of corresponding grace, superior to that vouchsafed to any other saint” (The Glories of Mary, 40).

Following this line of thought, there were theologians in history who have proposed that St. Joseph was also sanctified in his mother’s womb, and thus like St. John the Baptist born without Original Sin. This would help explain how St. Joseph was so courageous and pure in living out a virginal marriage with Mary. Joseph is said to have the purity of a holy angel. Giovanni di Caragena, preaching in the 16th century, devoted 13 homilies to honor St. Joseph. He wrote that “the office of the angels …is the guardianship of men; but to Joseph was committed a far higher and more excellent office, since he was chosen to be the guardian, not of a simple man, but of Christ the Lord, God and Man, and to be the most faithful spouse of His Mother” (Thompson, The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, 48).

So we reflect today on the patience, the humility, and the purity of Mary and Joseph during the time of expectancy. They experienced great trials and also great joys. Although Christmas is a joyful season, the Cross is present in it from the very beginning. We must remember that God came to us because we need a Savior. This is not cause for shame. It is cause to rejoice that God would love us so much that He would condescend to come down to us in such a humble manner. Let us be vigilant as we approach this last week of Advent. Let us prepare our souls with the virtues of patience, humility, and purity for the coming of God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, Oregon

Dec 12th, 2012 The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In 1505, when Montezuma II ascended the throne of the Aztec Empire, the capital of which was at Mexico City. His sister, Papantzin, governed the people of a nearby city. In 1509, she died and was buried in a cave in her garden. But after she was placed in the tomb, “she had an incredible experience. She found herself standing on the shore of a great sea. In her mind was the compulsion to reach the other side. When Papantzin was about to leap in, a beautiful young man with wings of exquisitely colored feathers and attired in a long snow-white robe stepped in front of her. On his forehead he had a sign - a cross. The young man spoke to her and said: ‘Stop, Papantzin! It is not yet time for you to cross this water. Do not fear. I have been sent by the true invisible God to give you a message. He loves you although you do not know him’ (Behrens, Helen. The Virgin and the Serpent God. p. 29).

“While the Angel was speaking, Papantzin saw a number of galleons sailing on the water. The men on the galleons were not Indians; they had white skin. They were wearing helmets and holding banners on which she saw the same sign as the Angel had on his forehead - a cross” (29-30).

The Angel continued: “The men whom you see will come from the other side of the great water. By the force of their arms they will conquer all this land, and with them (you) will come to the knowledge of the True God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Give this message to your brother. God wants you to live so that when the great change has taken place and peace is again established in the land, you, Papantzin, will be the first to receive the water that heals and washes away sin. Guide the inhabitants of this land to do likewise.”

“When the vision had faded away, Princess Papantzin became conscious and found herself enclosed in a tomb. She was unable to get out, but feeling strong and well she shouted loudly until servants came early in the morning and released her” (30).

“After some days had passed, Montezuma asked his sister to make a drawing of the vision. She complied with his request, and the court artists then made copies of her drawings. The Emperor sent the copies to his people along the coast with orders to notify him as soon as such ships made their appearance” (31).

Ten years later, in 1519, Hernan Cortez headed an expedition to Mexico. “One of the Spanish soldiers was wearing a gilded helmet …of the same shape as those worn by the white men in Papantzin’s vision. The Governor told Cortez that he wished to send the helmet to the Emperor” (39). Montezuma recalled the vision and proceeded cautiously.

The serpent god, named Quetzalcoatl, was the primary god worshipped by all of Mexico and possibly by all of Meso-America (cf. Behrens 13). This serpent god was identified with the morning star and the evening star, and is thought to have originally been identified with a comet that appeared at the time of Moses and Joshua, 1450 years before Christ (15). It was a common practice among the various tribes of Mexico to offer human sacrifice. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in 1519, 20,000 humans were sacrificed each year by the Aztec nation alone (18).

Cortez begged Montezuma to cease offering human sacrifice. He and his soldiers went into the Temple area and cleaned up one of the rooms, scraping human blood off the walls and pavements where it had dried (Behrens, 100). They constructed an altar and placed a Crucifix and a small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary upon it (47).

This act enraged the Aztecs and they determined to exterminate the Spaniards. Montezuma warned Cortez that he must take his men and escape in order to save their lives. A few years of wars and political intrigue followed, but Cortez managed to remain alive and in command. Montezuma relinquished his kingdom to the King of Spain, and the King of Spain sent twelve Franciscan missionaries in 1524 to Mexico. Cortez and a group of native nobles and chiefs went on horseback to meet the missionaries. The natives were dressed in beautiful native costumes. But the missionaries arrived on foot, barefoot, and dressed in rough brown habits. Cortez in his finery dismounted, took off his cap, knelt down and kissed the hem of the superior’s habit. All of those with him then did the same. The natives were astonished that such poor-looking men should receive such honor and determined that the missionaries were “superior and more perfect than the rest of mortal men” (147).

After 6 years of laboring, the missionaries met with little success and were becoming disheartened. Among the few whom they had baptized were a man who took the name of Juan Diego, his wife Maria Lucia, and his uncle who took the name Juan Bernardino. Meanwhile the bishop elect, His Excellency John Zumárraga, was troubled because the Spanish who had come to govern in Mexico were not virtuous men and did not treat the Indians well. He protested and “they planned to have him removed or killed…he suffered persecution, insults and false accusations, (but) continued faithfully in his pastoral duties” (Behrens 152). The Spanish governors intercepted his mail that he sent to the Emperor in Spain. So, the bishop began to hide his letters in a hollow cross that he sent to Spain. When the Emperor found out the trouble he was having, he removed the governors and sent a new team of virtuous men to Mexico in their place. But the Indians were not appeased, and the bishop felt like the whole venture was gravely threatened. The bishop prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for help and he asked her for a sign. Within days a native Mexican man named Juan Diego came to see him asking him to build a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill. Was this the sign? His Excellency had asked the Blessed Mother for a sign. The bishop was hopeful, but cautious.

Now, who was this man and why did he come to the bishop? St. Juan Diego was a native Mexican. He was not a poor man. He owned land. He belonged to the middle class and had been educated, but he lived very humbly. He had “offered himself for instruction and baptism only two years after the first Franciscans had landed in Mexico” (Johnston, The Wonder of Guadalupe, 24). In 1529 his wife died. He was alone and childless and decided to move to Tolpetlac to live near his uncle. On the morning of December 9th, 1531, the 57-year-old Juan Diego set out early in the morning for his 9-mile walk to attend Mass on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. “As he passed Tepeyac Hill, a blanket of warmth and peace overtook him. He could hear the sound of sweet angelic voices singing above him, coming from the top of the hill. …He was overcome by the angelic melody. After a short while there was silence again. Then one single voice rang out to him like a bell (Bob and Penny Lord, The Many Faces of Mary: A Love Story. p. 25).

“Little Juan, Juan Dieguito.”

“He darted up the hill as quickly as his legs would carry him. The sight he beheld filled his heart with such joy, he thought it would burst. But the dazzling beauty of what he saw made him freeze on the spot. He couldn’t catch his breath (Lord, 25-26).

She spoke: “Be it known and understood by you, the smallest of my children, that I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God…the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

“I ardently desire that a temple be built for me here, where I can show and offer all my love, compassion, help, and protection, for I am your Merciful Mother. …and in order to carry out what my mercy seeks, you must go to the bishop’s palace in Mexico and tell him that I sent you to make it clear how very much I desire that he build a temple for me here on this place” (26).

Juan visited the bishop. The bishop was cautious, but kind. He invited Juan to come back again and tell him the rest of the details. Juan returned the very next day and the bishop was not so kind this time, but while listening to Juan, His Excellency was in awe. How could this simple man, a new Catholic, have such a profound knowledge of our Lady if this story were not true? The bishop asked Juan many questions about the apparition and then he sent Juan away asking for a sign. He also sent a couple of servants to follow Juan and spy on him.

It was two days later that Juan, after having tried to avoid our Lady, was greeted by her and given the sign. She gave him roses in wintertime and instructed him to hold them in his tilma and not to show them to anyone until he presented them to the bishop.

Upon arriving at the bishop’s palace, guards refused him entry. The servants tried to get Juan to show them the contents of his tilma, but he would not. They harassed him and he finally showed them just one rose. They were surprised to see a rose and grabbed at it. “It disappeared and turned into a painting on the tilma” (Lord, 35). Finally their curiosity got the best of them and they ran to tell the bishop, who invited Juan to enter his residence. Juan told his Excellency all about the roses and knelt before him opening the tilma. He said, “Receive them!”

The bishop did not look at the roses, he looked at Juan’s chest. His expression changed from surprise, to awe, to reverence. He fell to his knees before Juan and shed tears. Juan looked down at his chest and he saw an image being painted by angels while they all watched. The image was not there when he first dropped the roses. It was painted by an invisible hand while they watched.
The miraculous image brought about 8 million conversions to the Catholic faith in Mexico within the next 7 years. St. Juan Diego lived out the rest of his life as a hermit, in a small room next to the church that was built to house the image. He cared for the shrine and greeted pilgrims until he died in 1548.