St. Bernard

We remember St. Bernard August 20th, a spiritual teacher who never goes out of date. Here he summarizes the two stages of contemplation.

“The first involves humbling ourselves before God: “Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved. And again, Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you.

Then, leaving sorrow and ourselves behind, it’s time to “abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. No longer do we consider what is the will of God for us, but rather what it is in itself.

Under the guidance of the Spirit who gazes into the deep things of God, let us reflect how gracious the Lord is and how good he is in himself. Let us join the Prophet in praying that we may see the Lord’s will and frequent not our own hearts but the Lord’s temple; and let us also say, My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.

These two stages sum up the whole of the spiritual life: when we contemplate ourselves we are troubled, but our sadness saves us and brings us to contemplate God. That contemplation in turn gives us the consolation of the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Contemplating ourselves brings fear and humility; contemplating God brings us hope and love.”

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20th Sunday A: A Woman’s Strong Faith

For today’s homily, please play the video below:

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Friday Thoughts: The Height Of Stars

by Howard Hain

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My constant companion.

My acting partner, my motivational coach.

Sometimes I forget you’re there.

Such lack of gratitude, such empty graciousness.

But you remind me, lest I forget.

There you are once again.

Right beside me.

Center stage.

All the world to see.

Hard to imagine you any other way.

My constant companion.

My antagonist. My adversary.

Middle of the night, just you and me.

Another standoff. Another scene.

Good or bad, there’s always drama.

One day we’ll part ways I suppose.

But for today, this hour, you continue to goad.

Pestering and probing.

A reaction, any, is what you want.

Like a needle in my hay stack

Pricking my limbs.

Especially my heart.

Weakness.

That’s who you are.

You play your role.

Upstaging the stronger, more noble parts of man.

Clever, cunning, looking for the upper hand.

Curtain up or curtain down.

You’re a character for sure.

Smile or frown.

Jester or clown.

Your disguise is basically the same.

Some sort of wise man, a plot all your own.

But you, Sir Weakness, you are important.

Like tragedy.

Like divine comedy.

You give good measure.

You give the chorus something to say.

And despite your best intentions.

You help establish strength.

You remind people the height of stars.

Without you, my dear Weakness, no hero could ever be.


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Joshua

Our Old Testament readings for the next few days tell the story of Joshua, the successor of Moses. We think of him as a man of battles and wars, leading the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan and their possession of the Promised Land. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down.”

We expect him as a warrior to be concerned with preparing troops for battle, getting weapons ready, strategizing for the battle, but Joshua begins his campaign by reminding the people what’s more important before all that: “Remember who you are.”

Gathering the Israelites before the Jordan River, Joshua orders the priests to bring before them the ark of the covenant, God’s pledge that they are his people, bring the jar of manna that reminds them that God sustains them. They are God’s people, not insignificant slaves. They’re God’s children, cared for, with rights and privileges and promises.

Only by remembering who they are will they be able to cross the Jordan and break down the walls of Jericho and take possession of the land.

Remember who you are.

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Morning Thoughts: Up and Away

by Howard Hain

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“In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

—Luke 14:33


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Butterflies fly.

They sail beautifully and somewhat clumsily at the same time.

It’s as if even their own weight is almost too much to carry.

Hard to imagine them bringing anything else along for the ride.

Paper-thin wings—watercolored and air-dried—the rain keeps them tucked away, hidden, out of sight.

Even little drops of morning dew keep them from flight.

But the hour will come.

Just wait and see.

Still. Quiet. Like an upright leaf.

They position their wings just right.

The sun to burn away all unwanted drops.

———

Have you dew-covered wings?

Does the dew of life weigh you down?

Do you want what’s unwanted to be burned away?

Have you tried pointing your wings toward the sun?

Or do you really not want to float above?


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“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.”

—Galatians 5:13


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Blessing Herbs and Fields

Mario Righetti in his massive Storia Liturgica adds a note to his study of the Feast of the Assumption. In medieval times, the Feast of the Assumption, especially in northern Europe, was a day for blessing medicinal herbs. In other parts of the Christian world the fields were blessed this day.

At the end of Mass, herbs brought into the church were blessed with holy water and prayers were said thanking God for the fruits of creation that feed and cure us. After Mass, the herbs were brought home and a sprig was placed on the wall as a reminder of the gifts we receive from creation. Sprigs were placed over the places where children slept, asking God to keep them strong and healthy.

Righetti remarks that the medieval world had a more lively connection to the natural world than we do. Why bless herbs and fields on the Feast of the Assumption? Righetti recalls that Mary is often described in terms of flowers: she’s the “flower of the field and the lily of the valley”, but also she represents the promise of life and healing God has made to humanity and all creation.

“Our life, our sweetness and our hope.”

I can remember as a kid being told on the Feast of the Assumption to go into the water (in those days  the Newark Bay, polluted waters now). There’s a cure in the water! Same connection I think.

We’re connected to creation. Don’t we need to be reminded of that today? Let’s bless herbs and fields on the Feast of the Assumption.

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Where did the Mystery of the Assumption come from?

Mary’s Tomb, Jerusalem

Where in scripture or elsewhere do you find the story of the Assumption of Mary?

There’s no account of Mary’s death in scripture. The first accounts are found in the apocryphal body of literature called the Transitus Mariae, popular in the Christian churches of the east from the 5th century, which describe the return of the apostles to Jerusalem for Mary’s burial and their discovery that her body was taken up to heaven. The writings witness to a early interest in the death of Mary in some parts of the early church.

The first liturgical celebrations of Mary’s death and assumption to heaven took place in Jerusalem at her tomb (above) on the Mount of Olives about the 5th century.

The Roman Catholic church. believing that Mary is “wholly united with her son in the work of salvation” looks to scriptural sources like Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians–the second reading at Mass for August 15th–to understand Mary’s Assumption.

In this letter Paul writes to Christians in Corinth about the year 56 AD who have questions about the resurrection of Jesus. Their precise difficulty seems to be that they saw only the soul surviving death and not the body, a common conception of the Greek mind-set of the day. With that belief came a low appreciation of the resurrection of the body and the place of creation itself in the mystery of redemption.  The created world wasn’t worth much and was passing away. Let it go.

Paul counters that opinion with the belief he has received, a belief preached from the beginning:  “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” ( 1 Corinthians 15, 3-6)

Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, Paul affirms, and we will rise bodily too. Jesus is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Mary’s bodily assumption is a consequence of the mystery of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. She’s among the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”, because of her unique role in the drama of redemption. Her assumption  affirms that we follow in the steps of Jesus who rose body and soul. Her assumption, body and soul into heaven, is a resurrection story.

In her prayer, the Magnificat– the gospel read on the Feast of the Assumption – Mary accepts her mission from God to live in this world, the world of time,  of human limitations, sharing in the mission of her Son, the Word made flesh, who came to redeem the world.

The church understood the mystery of Mary’s Assumption gradually over time. Some factors, like the rise of Gnosticism in the 3rd and 4th centuries, certainly promoted Christian appreciation of this mystery. As a world view, Gnosticism promised an escape from the limits of this bodily life through a higher knowledge. Human life and creation itself didn’t matter. Mary’s Assumption claims they do.

Though the Roman Catholic church formally defined the dogma of the Assumption November 1, 1959, on the Feast of All Saints, the mystery was a firmly held belief for centuries before:

“…the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians: ‘In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death'”                             Catechism of the Catholic Faith  966

The dogma of Mary’s Assumption into heaven was defined during a century when human life and the planet itself were in danger.  World War I ended in 1918 after four years of bloody conflict when millions perished. World War II ended in 1945. Conventual war and later nuclear weapons brought the real threat of mass destruction to the human race. Millions of lives were taken in the Holocaust.

Threats to human life and creation itself continue. Besides threats of war and terrorism, our planet faces new dangers from climate change and widespread poverty.

Far from a pious legend the Assumption of Mary is a sign that God holds human life and creation itself sacred. We believe in the resurrection of the body.  God’s command is to honor and preserve the human body and all creation for its final destiny, a share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our bodily life and creation itself are important.

The Feast of Mary’s Assumption is the oldest and most important feast of Mary in our church calendar.

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