Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Anecdotal Accounts of the Incarnation

Madonna of Port Lligat, Marquette University

During an excellent Christmas Eve homily from a Redemptorist priest, we were challenged to reconsider the miracle of the Incarnation, both from our own vantage points and reflecting on the mystery through great art.

As for a contemporary take on the Nativity, I must commend a Portuguese advertising agency for coming up with an anachronistic retelling of the Greatest Story:

Another approach to better appreciate the miracle of the Word becoming flesh is through depictions in great art.  Hence the Madonna of Port Lligat (1949) by Salvador Dali from the Marquette University Haggerty Museum of Art.  Fr. Jim Wallace, C.Ss.R., also commended a short poem by the American poetess Denice Leterov:  “On the Mystery of the Incarnation”

It's when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

That’s a lot to chew on while savoring some tryptophan inspired shut eye.

A “Happy Christmas” to all and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Immaculate Conception Metanoia

Although both the Eastern and Western Churches have ascribed to the sinless conception of Mary the Mother of God, it dogmatically proclaimed as the Immaculate Conception until the 1854 ex cathedra papal bull  Ineffabilus Deus by Pope Pius IX.

Due to unclear contemporary catechisis, a minimization of Mariology and its place on the liturgical calendar near the start of Advent, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception can be mistaken as the sinless conception of Jesus rather than His mother Mary.  As a child of Vatican II, I struggle with mystagogical necessity of the Immaculate Conception--how can our sinless savior be born from a Mother with sin? Nevertheless, I accept it as a mystery of faith which I may not wholly appreciate but that I believe.

Perhaps a better way to understand the Immaculate Conception is through an Eastern approach.  On December 9th, Orthodox Christian Churches celebrate the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokis by St. Anne.  Celebrating St. Anne should have significance to the City of Detroit, which the Vatican named as its patroness in 2011.

 One of the common synonyms for Mary the Mother of God is as Theotokis or god-bearer.  To me, that semantical construction  god-bearer calls to mind the Ark of the Covenant from the Book of Exodus, where God dwelled among His people. This is rich with symbolic significance and points to our Savior.

Typically we think of the Immaculate Conception as Mary, the Mother of God, being born without sin (the unblemished Tabernacle for the Incarnation).  That being said, it seems more useful to consider Mary as being full of the Holy Spirit.  So rather than focusing on herself, she could magnify the Lord through her son Jesus Christ.

So to celebrate the Conception of the Theotokis by St. Anne and its consequence, we can reflect upon portions of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy as scored by Arvo Part.

Rejoice, O virgin Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessedart thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, forthou hast borne the Saviour of our souls.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Some visitors at the door yesterday.

Yes, I had a couple of visitors come calling unsolicited while I was working on a quilt yesterday.  The dog began to bark and the cats all went scattering as the doorbell sounds. I peer out the front room window to find 2 ladies with books in their hands.  Interesting, so I decided to answer the door.  "Hello," the spokesperson of the team says, with a pamphlet in her hand ready for me to accept, and introduces them as wanting to spread the Christmas joy.  They are Jehovah Witness members.  I quickly let her know that we are active and devout Roman Catholics.  Her next question rather shocked me.  "So, do you celebrate Christmas?" Whoa!  Really, I thought to myself.   This needed to be addressed, kindly with civility and Christ-like patience.

Making the decision to step out, both physically and in courage, I come out to the porch.  I smiled and let them know I wanted to enlighten them.  "First off, may I say that with so many different churches and beliefs, if we took the time to learn about each other's faith, if for only to agree to disagree, we would have so much more peace in our world."  The both nodded in agreement, smiling.  Then I went on to explain that the Roman Catholic Church is Christ-centered, the Christ that is the second in the Blessed Trinity.  That God, the amazing being that created us from His imagination, who is bigger than anything we could ever humanly conjure up."  Both women now nodding aggressively and smiling widely.  "In His amazing wisdom," I went on, "God, sent His son Jesus to be among us in flesh and blood in order for us to know Him and know that He knows us.....Isn't that amazing, Ladies?"  "Oh yes!" they both said in unison.  "We believe in this Christ who was born of the virgin Mary, in the summertime, not winter, hahaha!"  They both laughed and agreed, looking at each other smiling.

The spokesperson of the two asked me about the Greek Orthodox as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.  I explained to her that in the very beginning of the Church, we were Jews or gentiles and that the Christian movement was referred to as "The Way" and all believers in Christ were together building the Church Jesus left the keys for with St. Peter.  It is a human Church, run by a fallen people, but with the Holy Spirit, it has survived throughout these 2000+ years.  It wasn't until until about 1054, when the dispute about Rome and Constantinople divided the two in the "Great Schism" but that both Churches believe in the "Real Presence" in the Eucharist and have seven sacraments.  Then I went on to say that along came a Catholic religious named Martin Luther who took the helm in further dividing the Christian world if not intentionally.  Now we have so many different ways of thinking, it has distorted the truth."  Both agreed sadly...I think.

The spokesperson finally asked, "Then you do celebrate Christmas?" "Absolutely!  We celebrate life and all it's seasons!  We celebrate birthdays, Christmas, Easter, funerals, all that is life!"  "Well," she said, "we won't have to worry about you, then.  May I give you a little gift from us?" getting out that pamphlet again. I took it, "Sure" I said.   "You have a very Merry Christmas, we enjoyed talking with you today." She said.  The other lady introduced them to me and asked my name.  I told her, "Elizabeth, and you both have a very Merry Christmas and beautiful new year, as well."

 Who knows if I planted a seed within these ladies hearts, but one thing I do know, they left my porch smiling from the encounter at the Pillar household.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What are you waiting for?

... in the check out line at the grocery store?  Waiting for the gas to fill your tank?   Are you waiting in line at the movies?  Possibly, waiting on some test results, either medical or academic?  Do you know someone who is waiting on their SAT scores like here at the Pillars household?  Kids are waiting to grown up, teens are waiting to drive cars, graduate out of high school, adults are waiting to retire, possibly travel.

We are always waiting for something, aren't we?  Waiting seems to be just another task to complete each day, so why is waiting any different that any other activity we do daily?  Waiting takes on a very exciting rush of both fear and joy when one is expecting a baby; as the baby grows there is excitement about meeting a new person.  I remember how it felt each time I was pregnant, being excited, but also wondering about this new person; the anticipation of the delivery, the baby, and the health of both.

Waiting, it is what we do as a member of this world, but do we do it well?  Do we do it with the proper frame of mind?  Grouchy, impatient, or patient and good natured, as we stand in line or sit with a phone in our ear?  Can we be comfortable in the waiting mode for however long the waiting takes?

Waiting can be hard, especially when we aren't really sure why we are waiting.  

The season of Advent can be one of those times when we really don't understand what we are waiting for.  On the one hand, the commercial world is telling us "why wait to decorate" put up your Christmas tree the week of Thanksgiving and they hold "Black Friday" retail sales to get us in the gift-giving panic mode even before Advent begins.  All the while the Church is telling us it's not Christmas yet, and there is some waiting to do.  How do we go against the commercial tide that is everywhere around us to abide in the Church's practices and calendar?

Advent also marks the new year in the Catholic liturgical calendar and as we all know new years bring new beginnings; a chance to start over and possibly do better than last year.  A new year brings new adventures, possibilities, and events to ponder and wait for with excitement and some cautious curiosity; if not a tinge of fear.  There may be plans now that will come to fruition this new year that are already being waited for.  But wait, there is more!

More to wait for, something you don't hear about on the nightly news (ugh!), or in the newspaper, and it's not a something, but a someone.  No, it's not the baby Jesus, (or a sleigh full of toys being drawn by reindeer) that we are really waiting for, no.

It is the resurrected Jesus in total fulfillment of His saving glory.  It is the Kingdom of God that we are waiting for, the place of paradise that the thief at the cross spoke of.  It's the Return.  That is what we are truly waiting for.

In our day to day lives, we strive for reachable goals:  meeting a deadline at work, getting the laundry done and finishing papers, jobs, chores, and assignments.  But there is a reachable goal that we hardly ever think of, much less strive for:  Eternal paradise, the Kingdom of God.

Christ came to us as a human child to bring us the Kingdom of God.  He came to fulfill a mission that came to fulfillment at His passion and resurrection.  He said he was preparing a room for us in His Father's house.

In our busy days of waiting, are we preparing ourselves to be invited into these prepared rooms?