31 December 2011

Mary, Mother of Our Freedom

NB.  Nevermind about the whole confusing Zechariah with Simeon. . .I was right the first time.
Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (8.00am Mass)

We call her "Advocate of Eve," "Seat of Wisdom," "Cause of Our Joy," "Help of Christians," and "Mother of Sorrows." We greet her in prayer, “Hail, Mary! Full of grace!” And we call upon her intercession using a variety of names: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Knock, Queen of the Americas, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor. But all these titles and names are meaningless unless we understand the one title that makes all the others possible: Theotokos, God-bearer, the one who gives birth to God. Mary is who and what she is for us b/c she is first and foremost the Holy Mother of God. This title was settled upon in 431 A.D. by the Church Fathers at the Council of Ephesus. Fighting back a heresy that wanted us to believe that the Christ was actually two different persons—one human and one divine—the Fathers declared that Christ is just one divine person with two natures (human and divine). Mary gave birth to the divine person of Jesus Christ, making her the mother of God Incarnate. And since we never celebrate a Marian feast w/o remembering the One to Whom Mary always points us, we also celebrate her son, Jesus, the Messiah. Given all this, I'd like to propose another title for Mary: Mother of Our Freedom! Why this title? Paul writes to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. . .so that we might receive adoption as sons. . .So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.” 

We are no longer slaves but sons, heirs; and made so by God through the faithful cooperation of Mary. The Mother of Our Freedom cooperated (operated with) the Holy Spirit and received into her womb the seed of the Word, which grew into the divine person of Jesus. His birth into human history and his death into eternal life makes our salvation possible. He cuts a path through the thorny tangle of sin and death and draws us behind him to be taken up, made holy, and seated at our inherited place at the banquet table of God. Our release from the slavery of sin, our escape from the inevitability of death is accomplished by Christ through the cooperation of Mary. She is the Mother of Our Freedom b/c she gave birth to the only means of our freedom. From slaves to heirs, we move ever closer to the perfection of Christ.

Our perfection in Christ is both our work and the work of God. Just like our Blessed Mother cooperated with the work of the Holy Spirit to conceive and give birth to Jesus, we too are vowed to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit to conceive and give birth to the Word, making his flesh and blood our flesh and blood; surrendering our hearts and minds, and our hands and voices to the holy work of preaching and teaching the Good News to the world. The longer and harder we work at accomplishing this task, the higher we climb in holiness and the deeper we delve into divine wisdom. Like the shepherds who find the Holy Family in the manger and “made known the message that had been told them about [the Christ],” we too are vowed to finding Christ, following him, and making his message known. After seeing the Christ-child, the shepherds go home, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” And we too will return home, our heavenly home, glorifying and praising God, if we do what we have promised as followers of Christ to do. Mary held on the message of the shepherds, reflecting on it in her heart, remembering Simeon's warning in the temple that her heart would be pierced by the sufferings of her son. While the shepherds adored and the people were amazed, Mary quietly grieved, knowing the destiny of the one sent to redeem us all from the slavery of sin.

Mary's grief must have been nearly unbearable. Having assented to the conception of the Word and given him birth, she is left with the sure knowledge that her son is the long-awaited Messiah, the One who would suffer and die for the sins of men. To gain our freedom, the Mother of Our Freedom had not only to bear the Christ into this world, she had to witness his suffering and death for our sakes. And not only was she a witness to his passion, she suffered along with him as any mother would. Her heart, pierced by the sword of grief, bled out even as Jesus bled out on the cross. As painful as his death and her grief no doubt were, as a result, we rose as a race to be the adopted children of the Father, heirs to His kingdom. Granted the inheritance of the ages, in possession of God's promise of eternal life, and the possibility of perfection through His Christ, what do we do in order to give thanks? How do mere creatures show appreciation to the One who created and re-created them? There is nothing we can do or say that would equal this gift, that would express the enormity of this sacrifice for us. We are left to do only that which we have already vowed to do: bring the message of God's love and mercy to the world in all we do, say, think, and feel. Despite opposition, persecution, ridicule, and violence, we deliver the message that Christ is Lord! When we do as Christ did, and speak as he spoke, we grow closer to our perfection in him.

Some 1,600 years ago, a council of Church Fathers hashed out a theological statement that confirmed what most Christians at the time already believed: that Mary is the Holy Mother of God Incarnate. As the mother of God, she bore into the world the Son who grew up to teach and preach the saving word of his Father's mercy to sinners. Not only did he teach and preach his Father's mercy, he embodied that mercy; he gave that mercy flesh and bone and walked among us as a sign of contradiction, a rock upon which men's hearts and minds would be broken to reveal the truth inside. When confronted with the raw truth that your sins are forgiven and that you are no longer a slave to sin, the truth that dwells secretly within breaks out and flourishes in the light of Christ. The shepherds wandered the desert on the word of an angel until they found Christ. The truth in their hearts dropped them to their knees in adoration. Those near the manger, the ones who heard the shepherds' message, had their hardened hearts softened and exposed. They were left amazed by the Good News. Mary, Mother of Sorrows, had her heart broken on the knowledge that her son would suffer and die. The truth in her heart led her to a life of humble service to the Lord. Within the Body of Christ, his Church, there is a truth that will renew us, a truth that will bring us to remember our vows, and urge us to rededicate ourselves to the hard work that Mary started when she said Yes to God. That truth is this: each of us and all of us together are the flesh and blood of God's Word, not just people who believe or people who do good works, but the People of God who walk out into the world to be—however imperfect—Christs for one another. Mary, Mother of Our Freedom, gave birth to the only means of our freedom, Christ Jesus the Lord. Will you, will we say Yes to God, conceive His Word, and keep in the world the mercy and love that Jesus lived and died to bring to us? Do this holy work and the Lord will bless you and keep you! The Lord will let his face shine upon you. . .The Lord will look upon you kindly and give you peace!

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30 December 2011

Divinity Diva

As long-time readers of H.A. know, my time in the studium (seminary) was hit and miss.  Some of my profs wanted to hit me and most of them missed!

Anyway, it was all tolerable given the graces of God and my friendship with a fellow M.Div.'er, Deirdre Darr. 

Deirdre is a wife, mom, pastry chef, and now a blogger. . .check her out:  Divinity Diva.  And tell her that "her first husband" sent you.  

It's a long story. . .and a funny one.

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Misc. . .

Received Gary Taube's book, Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.  Started reading this afternoon.
So far, I can tell you that he's taking on the Nutritional Establishment and its "calories in/calories out" approach to losing weight.  

He's tackling the problem of fat accumulation, focusing on the role that insulin plays in our metabolism.  

For me, I can tell you that carbs are the enemy.  If I eat no carbs for breakfast, I am good to go until dinner time.  If I eat one piece of toast, I'm mowing through the fridge like a plague of stoner locusts by 10am. . .and anything not locked away or hidden is fair game until I pass out around 11pm.

Basically, Taubes is taking the Dr. Atkins approach w/o providing a specific diet plan. 

I'll keep you posted!

Also, I'm working on a short book review for The Art of Prayer by Fr. Martial Lekeux, OFM.  This is one of the books I rec'd from St Pius X Press

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Measuring the blessings of faithfulness

NB.  If you listen to this Mass you'll notice that I'm sputtering at the preface.  I think a bug flew in my mouth!

Feast of the Holy Family
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (5.30)

One of the first abstract concepts we learn as children is the difference btw “less than” and “greater than.” Three is less than four but greater than two. Ten pounds of sugar is more than five pounds of sugar. $100 is less than $1,000. When we compare the size, weight, height, width, depth, etc. of two or more things we are engaged in what's called “measurement.” Any physical object can be measured, and we have a long list of words to us when measuring: pounds, feet, leagues, miles, volts, minutes, years, etc. Because we are both rational and creative creatures, we even have the capacity to measure abstract nouns like happiness, sadness, beauty, and trust. Bob is happier than Sue. Mozart's music is more beautiful than the music of the Rolling Stones. As Catholics, we often find ourselves using the human obsession with measurement in our spiritual lives. Sometimes this helpful, sometimes not so much. How many of us attend two Masses in one day in order to get “more grace”? Or confess the same sin multiple times in order to receive “more forgiveness”? We often talk about “days or years in purgatory,” as if we experience time after death. Even though we sometimes use this kind of language in our spiritual lives, it's vital that we understand that there is no such thing as “more faith,” or “enough faith,” or “better faith.” Faith is the good habit of trusting in God's loving-care. You either exercise this habit or you don't. 

Abraham shows us the way. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called. . .By faith he received power. . .By faith Abraham offered up Isaac, his son. . .” Why did he obey the call, receive power, and offer up his son? Because “he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” Abraham exercises the good habit of trusting in God's loving-care and the results speak for themselves. He receives from God an inheritance: though he was “himself as good as dead,” from him and his sterile wife, Sarah, came “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky as countless as the sands on the seashore.” Because Abraham exercised the good habit of trusting in God's loving-care, he and his wife produced a holy family, a holy nation, a people dedicated to the love and service of the Lord. And some few thousand years later, we honor him still as “our father in faith.” 

Abraham believed and acted “by faith” and he received a bounty from the Lord. His faith was not measured in pounds or feet or volts. He didn't pray for “more faith,” or “extra trust.” He heard the Lord's call and he acted, knowing that his God would not fail him. Though your own faithful relationship with the Lord may not produce “descendants as numerous as the stars,” you are still poised to follow after the Christ-child and his family when you trust His love. Luke tells us that after Mary and Joseph fulfilled the requirements of the Law by presenting the Baby Jesus in the temple, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Mary and Joseph obeyed the Lord's commandments; they trusted in His Word, and they and their child found favor with God, growing in wisdom and strength. They did not measure their trust nor did they quibble over the niceties of the Law. They simply did what God asked them to do and b/c they trusted His promises and acted accordingly, they came to know God and grew in His divine love. This same inheritance awaits us, awaits anyone who will listen to God's Word, trust in His promises, and act according to His will. His blessings for faithfulness are immeasurable.

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29 December 2011

What truth will Christ reveal for you?

NB.  OK. . .I confess:  this one is a little weird.  Too much afternoon coffee!

5th Day of the Octave of Christmas
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (5.30 Mass)

A devout and righteous man named Simeon went into the temple and laid eyes on the child Jesus. Having been promised by the Lord that he would not see death until the coming of the Messiah, Simeon blessed God for allowing him to be a witness to the Christ. Simeon sings out his praises to God, turns to Mary and Joseph, blesses them, and says to Mary, “Behold, this child is destined . . .to be a sign that will be contradicted. . .so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Just what every mother wants to hear about her son! A warning that he will grow up to be a sign of contradiction whose very presence will reveal the true nature of every man's heart! Of course, this warning is not original with Simeon. The prophet Isiah reports that the Lord encouraged him to “conspire with the Lord of hosts; [I] shall be your fear, [I] shall be your dread.” Similar to the warning Simeon offers to Mary about Jesus, Isiah reports that the Lord said to him: “[I] shall be a snare, a stone for injury, A rock for stumbling. . .A trap and a snare"(Is 8). The Christ is a sign of contradiction and the Lord of Hosts is a stone of injury. We are left to wonder how we got from the tender manger scene of the Nativity with the adoring Magi to this ominous scene in the temple with Simeon warning Mary about the destiny of her child. How does the Baby Jesus become a sign of contradiction that reveals men's hearts?

As we have already noted, Simeon's warning to Mary echoes the warning given to Isiah about the Lord of hosts. From this parallel we can see that Simeon is pointing to the Christ-child and saying, “This child is the Lord of hosts!” In the same way that the Lord of hosts is a stumbling block and a snare, so the Christ will be a rock upon which men will break their hearts. How is this possible? Because Christ is the Lord of hosts who gave this warning to both Isiah and Simeon! The child is the Lord but he has yet to become a sign of contradiction b/c his public ministry is still some thirty years down the road. What Simeon sees and declares is that the arrival of the Messiah into human history is like a gigantic boulder being dropped into a settled pool. Many have seen the splash but few have yet felt the waves. When those waves come to crash against hardened human hearts and closed human minds, the contradictory nature of the Messiah will split them wide open, revealing for all to see the truth buried within. Just yesterday, we read about Herod's heart and mind being cracked open by the arrival of the Christ. The truth revealed within lead to the slaughter of thousands of innocent children, all murdered to placate one man's fear.

When the waves of the incarnation crash against heart and mind, what truth will be revealed? More importantly, what will you do with that truth? Will you surrender it to Christ and bend your will to his? Will you declare your truth to be uniquely privileged, entitled to respect and deference even if it means denying God's will for you? If the truth revealed in your heart and mind aligns with God's will, will you act on it in love, uniting yourself with the Christ? John writes, “. . .whoever keeps [Christ's] word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. . . whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.” Walk just as Christ walked and become a sign of contradiction for his sake. Just remember the martyrs: Stephen, John, and the Holy Innocents. For that matter, remember Christ Jesus. And you will follow him all the way to Jerusalem and the Cross.

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File Links to Masses at St Dominic's

The pastor of St Dominic, Fr. Michael O'Rourke, OP is a Techie Genius. 

He has started recording our daily and weekend Masses and linking them on-line.

Click here and pick a day. . .each Mass recording is linked through the preacher's name

For example, Pippenger and Huck are our deacons, so you might get a file that starts with my voice but the homily is given by one of our deacons. 

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A poll on religious freedom

Fr. Z. directs our attention to a poll on religious liberty:

Are religious rights being trampled on by the government?

I answered the poll.  Why don't you? 

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28 December 2011

More thanks!

My thanks to the HancAquam reader who sent me, Our Lady of Weight Loss by Janice Taylor.

Very funny book!

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". . .for this reason we also call Mary Mother of God. . ."

NB.  The coming Sunday, Jan. 01, is The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  Below you can read a bit about how the Church arrived at the title, Theotokos, "bearer of God." 

(Reposted from Jan. 01, 2009)

The Solemnity of the Mary, Mother of God, celebrates the decision taken at the Council of Ephesus (431) against the teaching of the Patriarch, Nestorius, who held that a human person could not be said to have given birth to God. The Patriarch of Alexander, Cyril, argued that Mary, as the chosen instrument of the Incarnation, conceived and gave birth to the Word, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, one person with two natures. Mary, then, is properly understood to be “Theotokos,” God-bearer.

Cyril wrote (in part) to Nestorius:

"And since the holy Virgin brought forth corporally God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh.

For In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God, and he is the Maker of the ages, coeternal with the Father, and Creator of all; but, as we have already said, since he united to himself hypostatically human nature from her womb, also he subjected himself to birth as man, not as needing necessarily in his own nature birth in time and in these last times of the world, but in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, and that that which sent the earthly bodies of our whole race to death, might lose its power for the future by his being born of a woman in the flesh. And this: In sorrow you shall bring forth children, being removed through him, he showed the truth of that spoken by the prophet, Strong death swallowed them up, and again God has wiped away every tear from off all faces. For this cause also we say that he attended, having been called, and also blessed, the marriage in Cana of Galilee, with his holy Apostles in accordance with the economy. We have been taught to hold these things by the holy Apostles and Evangelists, and all the God-inspired Scriptures, and in the true confessions of the blessed Fathers."

Cryril published twelve anathemas against Nestorius. Cyril's letters and his anathemas became the primary texts from which the council fathers drew up their canons for the council.

The first anathema reads: “If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, The Word was made flesh] let him be anathema.”

The fifth anathema reads: “If anyone shall dare to say that the Christ is a Theophorus [that is, God-bearing] man and not rather that he is very God, as an only Son through nature, because the Word was made flesh, and has a share in flesh and blood as we do: let him be anathema.”

As is the case with all Marian dogma and doctrine, we are immediately directed back to Christ as our Lord and Savior. No Marian dogma or doctrine is declared or defined in isolation from Christ. She is always understood to be an exemplar for the Church and a sign through which we come to a more perfect union with Christ. Though our Blessed Mother is rightly revered and venerated, she is never worshiped as if she were divine. She is rightly understood as the Mediatrix of All Graces in so far as she mediated, through her own body, the conception and birth of Christ, who is Grace Himself. In no sense are we to understand our Blessed Mother as the source of grace. Rather, she was and is a conduit through which we benefit from the only mediation between God and man, Christ. In her immaculate conception and assumption into heaven, our Blessed Mother is herself a beneficiary of Christ's grace. As such, she cannot be the source of our blessedness, our giftedness in Christ.

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A favor?

After six years publishing this blog, I'm still learning stuff about blogging!

Do me a small favor?

If you like a post, please go to the post's footer and click the "Recommend this on Google" button.

In fact, do this on all your fav Catholic blogs. . .that way, Catholic blogging will get a boost on the Google search engine.

Thanks, Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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NB.  The "Recommend" button is directly below. . .


My thanks to T.M.P.S. for the Kindle Book!

Good choice. . .I needed something freaky to read.

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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Coffee Cup Browsing

An atheist asks whether or not the War Against Nativity Scenes present atheists as "killjoy blights on the polity who are only out to destroy joy and good cheer, and who would leave a vacuum in the human spirit. . ."   Um, why yes, it does.

Members of the Religion of Peace blow up Catholics in Nigeria on Christmas.

HA!  A cookie recipe written in the style of the new Missal translation. 

Muslim father dressed as Santa murders entire family in TX to prevent his daughter from dating non-Muslims.

This sort of thing is why indoor malls are closing. . .the trend now is toward outdoor malls. 

Austrian court upholds blasphemy conviction. . .against Islam, of course.

Speaking of the corruption of innocents. . .the Girl Scouts of America continues its leftist suicide.

Lying bunny. . .he's gonna lie.

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Holiness is a risk well worth taking. . .

Feast of the Holy Innocents
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

The incarnation of the Son in the birth of Jesus brings with it the promise of eternal life for all those who believe, pick up their cross, and follow Christ. Born along with Jesus is a dark promise of persecution and violence for those who walk his narrow way. Just two days ago, we honored Stephen who was brutally murdered for publicly praising God in the name of Christ Jesus. Stephen's death fulfilled our Lord's promise: “You will be hated by all because of my name. . .” But Stephen reaped the glory of another divine promise, “. . .whoever endures to the end will be saved." Suffering at the hands of those who hate us and dying while persevering in the faith is the Church's most profound witness to the truth of the gospel. It is one thing to endure ridicule, argument, and imprisonment in the name of Christ. It is quite another to die by torture, execution, or a terrorist bomb all the while loving and forgiving your murderer for Christ's sake. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. We honor those thousands of children slaughtered by Herod in a vain attempt to murder the Christ-child. Though they did not themselves profess the faith, they died horribly for Christ's sake. The Holy Family escaped into Egypt, while the children Herod massacred escaped into martyrdom: innocent of any crime, their lives were ended to assuage the political fury of a tyrant. We look to their innocence and their sacrifice to show us the way to holiness.

Herod's massacre of the Innocents reveals an ugly truth about human nature and the fallen order of creation: a man with nearly unlimited power will almost inevitably commit horrible crimes. The marriage of disordered passion and worldly power often gives birth to genocide, war, and the destruction of nations. But none of us here wields nearly unlimited power. That plague infects only a few. Most of us are burdened with a far less comprehensive but nonetheless potentially destructive plague—a wholehearted belief in our innocence. We believe that we are entirely free of sin. John writes, “If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . .If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make [Christ] a liar, and his word is not in us.” Make no mistake here! We are free from sin, but being free from sin does not mean that we are free of sin. The prison doors are unlocked and jammed open, but we sometimes stand in our cells refusing to walk free. John continues, “If we acknowledge our sins, [Christ] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” The first step on the way to holiness, true innocence, is the acknowledgment of our sins and the reception of God's forgiveness. The pretense of innocence—that we are without sin—prevents us from receiving the forgiveness we have been given. 

The Holy Innocents died at the hands of a sinful man seeking to prolong his corrupt rule. That innocents die everyday is a consequence of creation's fallen order and our own rebellion against God's Word. So long as we refuse to walk freely the narrow way of Christ—loving, forgiving, showing mercy—we prolong and give comfort to the corrupting rule of the Enemy. However, as Stephen and the Holy Innocents have shown us, choosing to step away from our culture's disordered passions and embracing the way of peace risks the dark promise of Christ's birth: we may die for his sake. Keep this truth close: “[Christ] is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” Holiness is a risk well worth taking.

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26 December 2011

-3 Monday

Almost forgot to post Ye Ole Weight on this Weigh-in Monday!

Down to 335lbs.  Not bad considering we just finished the first day of Christmas. . .

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Whoever endures to the end will be saved. . .

St. Stephen, Martyr
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

I hope you're not surprised that we are celebrating the martyrdom of Stephen the day after we celebrated the incarnation of the Word in the birth of Jesus Christ. Yes, it's a bit weird that we draw ourselves away from the frolicking fun of the Nativity in order to take solemn note of the Church's first death by stoning. Yes, it is a bit morose for us to turn our attention toward a bloody execution and remind ourselves—after a day's worth of feasting, gift-giving, and family time—that there was a dark promise delivered along with the Baby Jesus. Stephen is the embodiment of that dark promise, and we remember him and his death not to harsh the buzz of Christmas but rather to prepare ourselves for the consequences of Christ's birth. What consequences are those? When the life-giving light of the Christ entered the world through our Blessed Mother, the world's darkness drew back and its soldiers furiously blinked in surprise and disgust. Now, a day later, they've regain their senses and readied themselves for a new battle. For them, Stephen was the first casualty in this war, the first victory for their side. Praying with Mary, Joseph, and the Christ-child in his crib, we know better. Stephen's death was our victory; his death at the hands of our enemies was a divine promise fulfilled.

If Christ's birth into the world of men frightened the forces of darkness, putting them on alert to the fact that their days are numbered, then those who follow Christ are just as frightening. Unable to do battle with God Himself, the armies of deceit and destruction will settle for laying waste to the lives of those of us who pick up the cross and follow Christ. Am I being a little too dramatic here? Maybe. Luke reports in Acts that certain members of a local synagogue debated Stephen, and he won against them b/c he was filled with the Holy Spirit. When they heard him praise God “they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. . .they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.” Did they insist on a respectful dialogue? Or suggest a inter-religious prayer meeting? No. “They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.” So vile to their hearing was Stephen's praise that they murdered him. Stephen must've said something horribly insensitive or intolerant or divisive. What did he say to these men that provoked their murderous rage? He said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” And for this Stephen was beaten to death with rocks. Christ's dark promise to his Church is fulfilled: "Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake. . .”

Following the light of Christ comes with a promise of eternal life. Not as a reward for doing the right thing but as a consequence of setting aside failure, anger, and revenge, and embracing the liberating power of mercy granted in love. We are free b/c the Son of God was born a Man and died a Man. And when the appointed time came, he was raised from death to sit at the right hand of his Father. He opened for us the way to peace. For the Enemy and his allies, even the chance that God's children might be free is almost too much to bear. That we are in fact free provokes a murderous rage. In the face of this rage we have only one credible response: preach the truth of God's freely offered mercy; love those who hate us; and endure to the end. This was Stephen's victory, and it is ours as well if we persevere in holiness.

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25 December 2011

Becoming Theotókos

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

In 431 A.D., our Church Fathers gathered in Ephesus for a council and decreed that the Blessed Virgin Mary would be honored with the title, Theotókos, God-bearer or the one who gives birth to God. For a majority of Christians at the time, this decree was yawn-inducing b/c Mary had been known as Theotókos for a couple of centuries. However, one bishop, Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, objected to the title because he thought it was irrational to believe that a creature of God—a human woman—could be the mother of the God who had created her. He preferred the title, Christotokos or bearer of the Christ. This title makes it clear that Mary is the mother of Christ, the man, but not the mother of Christ, who is God. Nestorius was credibly accused of dividing Christ into two persons—a human person and a divine person—and thus destroying our means of salvation. After all, we are saved by Christ precisely because he is one person possessing both a human nature and a divine nature. The council fathers declared Nestorius' teachings heretical and supported the teachings of his opponent, the bishop of Alexandria, St. Cyril. In support of his position at the council, Cyril wrote, “I am amazed that there are some who doubt whether or not the Virgin should be called Theotokos. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how is the Virgin who gave him birth, not the one who gives birth to God?” 

Now, you are probably thinking to yourself: Father, we're all stuffed with ham, sweet potatoes, yeast rolls, and pie. . .and we have a big mess to clean up at home. . .what have we ever done to you to deserve a lecture on fourth-century Christological controversies? Well, you've probably done something in the last year to deserve it. . .but that's not really the point. The point is this: the event we celebrate today is not Jesus' birthday. . .this is not a Birthday Party. The event we celebrate is (quoting John's gospel): “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. . .” The Word became flesh. Who is the Word? Again, quoting John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Don't miss that last bit: “and the Word was God.” God took on skin and bone and blood, and He dwelt among us as one us. Today, we celebrate the event of our Creator stepping into His creation to become a creature. This is most emphatically NOT a birthday party. . .this is an Incarnation Party! The Word of God, the Christ, who is God, becomes Man so that we might become Christs. 

And that's the answer to my next question: why did the Word of God, the Christ, who is God become Man? So that we might become Christs. John writes, “. . .to those who accept [Christ] he gave power to become children of God.” To be a child of God is to be a co-heir to God's Kingdom, to be a brother or sister to the Son of God. To be one of the Father's children is to be one who sees “[Christ's] glory. . .full of grace and truth.” And to see Christ's glory, full of grace and truth is to see clearly the righteous path back to the Father. When we follow that path—with humility, in obedience; loving, forgiving, showing mercy all along the way—we grow closer to Christ and become more and more like Christ. But the only reason we can even begin to walk this path is because the Word of God, the Christ, became human like one of us; suffered and died like one of us; and rose from the tomb in order to show us how it's done. He had to go first, so that we might follow.

Today, Christ is born to the Virgin Mary. She is Theotókos, God-bearer, Mother of God Incarnate. And if you step onto the narrow way, the path of holiness, you too can bear Christ into the world; and not only bear him into the world, but become him for others in the world. Your words, deeds, thoughts can all reveal God's glory to the world just as Christ himself revealed God to us. When you leave this evening. . .when you go back out there. . .back to your Christmas mess. . .or someone else's mess. . .wherever you go. . .remember that this holy day celebrates the ultimate triumph of Light over darkness. . .and so, as you go, be “the true light, which enlightens everyone.” Be Christ!

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