Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bethany

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity.
Like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, Which ran down to the skirt of his garment:
As the dew of Hermon, which descendeth upon mount Sion. For there the Lord hath commandeth blessing, and life for evermore.

Psalm 132
According to the Eighth Century commentator, Alcuin as quoted by St Thomas in the Catena Aurea, Bethany means House of Obedience. True obedience to the Lord, comes through love and knowledge of the Lord (which turns us completely away from sin and to a state of grace) and that night in the house in Bethany, three people so clearly demonstrated that deep knowledge and love of Our Lord. Lazarus dined with Him, Martha waited upon them and Mary anointed Him.  We can quite clearly understand the timeless meaning of Lazarus and Martha; the Communion of Lazarus and Service of Martha make sense, but the anointing of the Lord by Mary, what does that mean, what does it mean to us?

The anointing of the Lord was a necessary one off act *, to seal the fact that He was the Christ before he underwent His Passion.  Was there a priest worthy to anoint the Christ? No.  Could one of the disciples have done it?  Did they really understand at that moment who He was?  I don't think so,  Matthew's Gospel makes it clear that the disciples (not just Judas) were indignant at Mary's action. His Blessed Mother knew who he IS but she couldn't have done it, as His Mother she had to constantly let go of Him (this is Her Sorrow), she could not not claim Him. We must claim Him. The anointing is a claiming, a claiming of His sovereignty over us, a claiming of His kingship and His priesthood, and His sacrifice.  The Mother of God could not do this.  Mary sister of Martha, did it as an act of obedience.  She knew and loved the Lord and she knew He was the Christ, and as the Christ He needed anointing. And by claiming Him, perhaps she has the right to be the first person to see Him after His Resurrection.

The anointing of the Lord gives the great High Priest to His people.  They are unified.  As Psalm 132 makes clear, the anointing with precious ointment is good and pleasant and an act of unity.  The superfluity of oil, both running down Aaron's beard and clothing and on Mary's hair show the abundance of grace poured out on us through our unity to the great High Priest.  The fragrance will penetrate where it will.  The oil is the path of the Holy Spirit.

So is Mary a priest? No.  As I said, no priest could anoint the great High Priest.  Mary is all of us who believe and who will give abundantly and lavishly to the Lord, through our conversation with God, through our love shown in prayer.

For the laity, the communion of Lazarus and the service of Martha are not enough without the active, lavish and easily incomprehensible (to those who don't yet know Christ) worshipful prayer of their sister.  The three act as a dynamic.  The adult family at Bethany, the three siblings, show us a unity of action that must be in all of us if we are to build up the Body of Christ and be obedient to His commands.

For the priesthood, the descendants of the House of Aaron, Bethany ought to be a timely reminder that nothing the laity do will be sanctified unless they can represent the eternal Sacrifice as an alter Christus, hear our confessions, and feed and nourish our obedience through love and wise teaching. It was Jesus who sanctified all three siblings (an admonishing and a making of a confession of faith for Martha, a life after death for Lazarus and a forgiveness and healing for Mary) to make that evening possible. These days, Christ acts through the priesthood to do the same for us.

* I know this was the second time that he was anointed by the same woman, however, the first time, it was the lavish act of love that saved her, and now completely free from her sin, this second anointing to bring us the Christ, could take place.  Well, that is how I see it anyway.  Feel free to contradict....

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Our Lady Undoer of Knots

At the bottom of the laundry basket in the sacristy was a grubby, neglected cincture. I asked Father if he wanted me to wash it and give it some TLC, he enthusiastically gave me permission.  On getting it home I tried to untangle it only to find I was making the knotting worse.  There seemed to be much more complicating the tangling than the Roman Knot that the priest himself would have tied.  There is only one thing to do at times like this; pray to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.  Without a moment of hesitation, the cincture untied itself and placidly fell into my hands as a single rope.  I have many a tale of strengthening a priestly cuff or hem with bias and finding the thread I was using getting truly matted and argumentative.  Our Lady Undoer of Knots always comes to the rescue.

I am thrilled that the Holy Father is so fond of this devotion.  It is powerful because it is simple and also so profound.  It is more than just knotty threads and ropes that Our Lady sorts out.  It is a devotion to Our Lady; Bulwark Against Heresies.  It is a devotion of the love between Christ and His Church, in giving Her to us.  It is a devotion of true love between a man and a woman, united in Christ.  It is a devotion to Our Lady who undoes all the slithery, knotting and confusion wrought by the Serpent.  You can read the tale of this particular devotion here.  The image even alludes to the story of young Tobias and Sarah; what more could you want!
Of course there are times for proper knots; a properly tied cincture, the marriage knot, the tieing of the newly ordained priest's hands in the older rite and perhaps most importantly of all, the knot Our Lady ties in her removed mantle as she gives some dignity and modesty to Our Lord on the cross.

Pray to Our Lady Undoer of Knots for our priests this Palm Sunday, some seem a little weary, hassled and even grumpy. May the knots in their hearts be undone to that they can walk the path of Holy Week in all humility and obedience and be drawn with total submission into the Passion of God's Love.

Pray to Our Lady Undoer of Knots for ourselves, as we recollect our helplessness and befuddled, bewildered selves, so that we realise that by ourselves we cannot make sense of anything.  It is the Grace of God so often wrought through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother that undoes the knots in our thinking and loving, smooths out the creases and makes things new again.



Monday, 18 March 2013

Charity

There follows a meditation on the collect of today's Vespers and the whole notion of charity as expressed in good works.

Da, quaesumus, Domine, populo tuo salutem mentis et corporis: ut bonis operibus inhaerendo, tua semper mereatur protectione defendi. Per Dominum nostrum.

We beseech Thee, O Lord, grant Thy people health of soul and body, that being devoted to good works they may deserve to be defended by Thy might.  Through our Lord.
I do take slight issue with the translation of "mentis" as soul, it can be translated as that, but I think "reason" and "intellect" do actually fit better here.

The collect asks that our health (physical and mental) be sustained by God and that as a people, our cleaving to good works will ever keep us defended by His power.

So here is a collect asking us to do good works.  Here is a collect that doesn't ask for any other expression of charity in prayer or love of God, but of good works.  Are good works enough? No, that isn't for a moment suggested.  Humility is needed first, the humility to realise that really only meritorious acts can bring us close to deserving Divine protection, if indeed we can ever really earn that.

I also think that whilst most of us are sickly individuals, in mind and body, the granting of health is to the Body of Christ as a whole and not to us as individuals.

Our cleaving to good works is as old as as the faith of the Jewish people.  We have been covering Deuteronomy at the Lenten Bible study at my local parish.  One thing shouts out from the pages of this book of scripture; that charity towards the stranger, widow and orphan trumps any other command (apart from the First Commandment) that has been placed upon the Jewish people.  Nothing should get in the way of this, especially not  rigid interpretation of the Law.  How else could the Moabite widow Ruth have gleaned outside Bethlehem when Deuteronomy makes it quite clear the Moabites are deserving of no pity?

So cleaving to good works, with our heart, our will and our intellect is a worthy way to merit the continual protection of the Church.  Indeed, we can't love God (His primary commandment to us) without our love of neighbour. Nor can we be presumptuous about that protection.  Yes, the gates of Hell with not prevail over us, but the strength of the Church and the degree of protection must involve some willing cooperation from us in God's designs.  And one of those masterpieces of design is charity towards our neighbour.

So how do we go about these good works?  Personally, I'm a "cloister" type.  I like the left hand to be unaware what the right hand is doing.  I like everything to be secret or atleast hidden from view.  I don't want people to know exactly what I get up to in the name of charity.  My confessor will know those aspects where penance is involved, nobody, not even me, knows the method or outcomes of my other acts of charity.

I find the very public demonstrations of charity as expressed in particular by that most ostentatious of orders, the Fransiscians, scary.  It doesn't mean that they or their founder are wrong.  People need to see charity in action, but it doesn't suit everyone to behave like that.  For it to be effective, the motivation must be total purity of heart, and the actions must never be premeditated.  Such charity is spontaneous, like Peter healing the cripple at the Gate Beautiful.  I'm not holy enough for that.  I still need to think about what I'm doing and make sure my intentions are pure and selfless.  But the Church needs both the visible charity and invisible charity.

It is just so important that God is given primacy of place in our hearts and our intentions otherwise our charitable gestures are little more than a Comic Relief head shave; the "church of me" doing something that makes "me" feel good because "you and me" both think it is brave and meritorious.
Does God find that defendable?  I doubt it.

St Francis, pray that I can learn to love you for those aspects of Christ you so passionately demonstrate.


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Err, have we forgotten....?

Dear brothers and sisters, have we forgotten that actually it is supposed to be Lent.  I'm just a little pigged off by those who want the Vatileaks dossier to be given to the Cardinals.  Err, I hate to say it but doesn't Holy Father Emeritus handing this completely over to his successor tell us something?

Yes, peeps, IT IS LENT; mortify thoses senses, mortify your curiosity, it is time to focus on Christ, in whom there is no intrigue or division.