The nativity according to St Bonaventure

‘At length arrived at the city of Bethlehem, they found there so great a multitude of people, who had resorted thither from all parts, on the same occasion, that, by reason of their extreme poverty and distress, they could find no room in the inn. Here let tenderness excite you to compassion towards the august personage of this young and delicate Virgin. Consider her at the age of fifteen, wearied with the labours of a tedious journey, confused, terrified and abashed amidst a crowded populace: she seeks, to no purpose, a place of rest; and being everywhere refused admittance for herself and spouse, is at last reduced to seek for a shelter in a homely shed, the usual refuge of persons surprised by sudden storms of rain. In this place, we may suppose St. Joseph, who was by profession a carpenter, might probably have made a land of partition, or small enclosure for themselves, in which he fixed a rack and manger for the convenience of their beasts. And now let me earnestly entreat you to be sedulously attentive to everything that passes, concerning this subject, chiefly because what I am now going to relate, I had from a devout and holy man of undoubted credit, to whom I believe it was revealed by the Blessed Virgin herself.

‘The expected hour of the birth of the Son of God being come, on Sunday, towards midnight, the holy Virgin, rising from her seat, went and decently rested herself against a pillar she found there: Joseph in the meantime, sat pensive and sorrowful; perhaps, because he could not prepare the necessary accommodation for her. But at length, he arose too, and taking what hay he could find in the manger, he diligently spread it at our Lady’s feet, and then modestly retired to another part. Then the eternal Son of God, coming forth from his mother’s womb, was, without pain to her, transferred in an instant from thence to the humble bed of hay, that was prepared for him at her feet. His holy Mother, hastily stooping down, took him up in her arms, and tenderly embracing him, laid him in her lap; then through instinct of the Holy Ghost, she began to wash and bathe him with her sacred milk, with which she was most amply supplied from heaven: this done, she took the veil off her head, and wrapping him in it, carefully reposed him in the manger. Here the ox and the ass, kneeling down, and laying their heads over the manger, gently breathed upon him, as if endowed with reason. They were sensible, that through the inclemency of the season, and his poor attire, the blessed infant stood in need of their assistance to warm and cherish him. Then the holy Virgin throwing herself on her knees, adored him, and rendering thanks to God, said: “My Lord and heavenly Father, I return thee most grateful thanks, that thou vouchsafest of thy bounty to give me thy only Son ; and I praise and worship thee, O eternal God, together with thee, O Son of the living God, and mine.”’

– St Bonaventure, Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

Happy 7th day of Christmas!

Lucifer’s justice compared to Mary’s

Why did Lucifer and his angels fall to pride, and the Blessed Virgin Mary not? Lucifer, prior to his fall, was the greatest and most beautiful of all God’s creatures. From her conception, Mary was the greatest and most beautiful of all God’s creatures. Lucifer was created without original sin, in fact he was created prior to sin even existing, and Mary was conceived without original sin also. So was Mary at risk of falling just as much as Lucifer was? I don’t think so.

The difference, I think, is that Lucifer was without sin because he was created in original justice, a justice that was his own justice. He was, simply from the way he was created, just, and ordered properly towards God. He had the justice natural to creatures.

But Mary’s Immaculate Conception did not give her a justice of her own: she was given the justice of the Christian, to share in Christ’s own justice, by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was not simply created fresh, without sin in the same way that Adam and Eve were, she was recreated in the divine recapitulation of Jesus, infused with the life of God. She is not just new, she is renewed. Her holiness belongs entirely and solely to God.

Lucifer’s justice was from God as its creator, to God as its end, but of Lucifer as its object.  Mary’s justice is from God, to God, and of God.

It is from God, but not as its creator, since the justice of Mary is the justice of Jesus, and the justice of Jesus is not created, but simply His being, His life of obedience and love to the Father from eternity to eternity. Jesus’s justice is His alignment with the Father, which is who He is.

It has God as its end, but not merely, as in Lucifer’s case, as the standard it is directed to, as an oven has cooking as its end. Mary’s justice has God as its end in a more perfect way, because Mary’s justice is her union with God, sharing His divine life, His very Godhead, and so its end is nothing less than for Mary to be made perfectly one with God.

It is of God, because it is Christ’s saving work upon the cross, and her being united to Christ crucified, Him living in her. It is not her work, but her union with Christ’s saving work. Lucifer had the justice of a servant: of doing what is required of him; Mary had the justice of a spouse: of loving and being loved, intimately and tenderly.

So we see just how great our salvation is, and how it leaves no room for pride.

God bless, and have a wonderful Christmas!

Discouragement

‘Most beloved sons, do not ever accept such a feeling. When you feel yourself to be at fault, even if it is a sin that is fully conscious, grave, and repeated many, many, many times, do not let yourselves be fooled by the devil into consenting to discouragement. But when you feel yourself to be at fault, offer your whole fault, without analyzing it and examining it, to the Immaculate as her property, pronouncing the sole name “Mary,” as I just did a moment ago, and worry yourselves about pleasing her with the action that immediately follows, as I am doing in this moment, adding for you, most dear sons, these few words.

‘Dearly beloved, every fall, even if it be very grave and repeated, serves us always and only as a little step towards a higher perfection. For this alone, in fact, the Immaculate permits a fall, in order to heal us of our self-love, our pride, in order to lead us to humility and render us in this way more docile to divine graces. The devil, on the contrary, tries to inject despair and interior despondency, which are nothing else but a new sign of pride. If we knew well our wretchedness, we would not wonder at all at our falls, but rather we would wonder and give thanks, after the fall, for not having fallen still lower and more often. There does not exist, in fact, a sin so grave into which we cannot fall if divine grace, that is, the merciful hand of the Immaculate, does not sustain us.’

St Maximilian Kolbe, ‘Let Yourself Be Led by the Immaculate’

The conquest of death

On Easter Sunday, Jesus conquered death. We dare to taunt death, ‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ [1 Cor 15:55]

Jesus didn’t just defeat death in His own case only, making Himself a special exception to the laws of life and death. He crushed death itself, abolishing its reign and dominion. He annihilated death at a metaphysical level.

The whole world was held in death’s grip, and no one could hope to escape it. It was known that eventually, each and every man, woman and child would come to be cut off from the land of the living and go down to join the dead. Everyone knew that this is simply our fate.

Everyone would eventually be cut off from the land of the living because we were all cut off already from God, the author of life. The body was subjected to corruption and death because the soul was subjected to sin. The death of the body was just a delayed reaction to the death of the soul.

But Jesus overcame both death and sin by uniting Himself to them. By becoming sin, identifying Himself perfectly with sinful humanity, and suffering death, He brought the fullness of love, and life, and righteousness down into the heart of sin and of death itself. He descended to the deepest existential depths of human misery and hopelessness, the darkness from which no one returns, and there He brought life to death and redemption to sin, utterly overcoming them from the inside.

As Christians we have already been baptised into Jesus’s death and resurrection. We have passed over from death to life already, and the grave will never hold us captive. Even after our bodily death, when we still await the resurrection of the body at the end of time, we will not be trapped in the grave, but alive in the spirit in Heaven.

‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’

Alleluia! God bless you!

Time

Yesterday morning the clocks went forwards an hour. Which sounds very dull, admittedly. But when you break down what is really happening, there’s something much more interesting going on.

Imagine if you didn’t understand our modern concept of time. If you understood time in terms of the natural rhythms of life, sunrise and sunset, full moon and new moon, birth and death. What would British summertime even mean? (and while we’re at it, what would British mean?)

It would mean that we all simultaneously agree to wake up one hour earlier/closer to sunrise, and move our schedules forwards an hour too. Incredibly, we all make this change at once, waking an hour earlier every day, so that we can enjoy one hour more of sunlight. Millions of people, most confessing that they are “not morning people”, all doing what they need to do to wake an hour earlier every single day.

It is astonishing that we think of it as losing an hour’s sleep and not as simply waking earlier every day. It says something about our separation from nature. For us, time has become something artificial, something primarily about other people’s rhythms, not the natural world’s. It has become something we create and define, a rhythm we dictate rather than dance to. In this note, thank God for the Church’s liturgical calendar, with its lumpy organic character, giving a bit of rhythm to the life of the soul. Thank God we don’t have a sterile religion, without feasts and seasons and God given rhythm.

We should also recognise the power of reframing our ideas. If we were all told to move our lives to be an hour earlier, we’d say no. If we asked those who wake up at 7 to suddenly start waking up at 6 each morning, they’d say it’s asking too much. But if we reframe it as just changing the clocks and missing one hour of sleep, we can all do that and we hardly even mention it (except for me, it seems). We have made a significant change consistently across a large population, just by a small change to our thinking, a slight shift to our frame of reference.

God bless you!

“The Cattle of the Levites”

“78. We give the name of Levites and priests to those who dedicate themselves totally to God, alike through the practice of the virtues and through contemplation. Those who do not have the strength to hunt down the passions may be called ‘the cattle of the Levites’ (Num. 3:41). They have a genuine and continuing thirst for holiness, and try to attain it so far as they can; but they frequently fail, hamstrung by sin. Yet we may expect that at the right moment God will grant the gift of dispassion to them as well, solely by virtue of His love; for ‘the Lord has heard the desire of the poor’ (Ps. 10:17. LXX).”

St John of Karpathos, ‘For the Encouragement of the Monks in India who had Written to Him – One Hundred Texts’

What is Advent?

I watched a great video from Ascension Presents today (link below) and just wanted to share my basic realisation from it.

In lent, we enter into Jesus’s poverty and join ourselves to Him on the cross; in advent, we enter into our own poverty, and pray for Jesus to come into our poverty. In lent, we die to ourselves in order to live truly in Christ; in advent, we experience the darkness of where Christ is not present, and we wait and beg Him to come. Our lenten penance is the expression of our Christian life, and sanctifies and perfects us; our advent practices are the best efforts of sinners, attempting to make space, to prepare a way, for the desperately needed saviour.

This may be why Christmas and its build up have retained their hold on a secular world far more than lent and Easter: advent and the hope of Christmas belongs to those who are still waiting for a saviour. And maybe we shouldn’t be concerned by the Christmas songs on the radio earlier every year, maybe that is a sign that our society is longing more deeply for Christmas with all its joys, with Jesus at the very centre of them all.

God bless you.