See the latest (and last) Lady’s Night.

See the latest (and last) Lady’s Night.

LADY’S NIGHT - The Encounter

Happy Easter, everyone!  I apologize for my tardiness in posting this Lady’s Night that was originally intended for Easter Sunday.  I know that I missed my target date (and the entire Octave!), but at least we’re still in the Easter Season.

Recall from my previous posts that in many Catholic countries, Holy Week is marked by processions (as in Sevilla and Jerez de la Frontera, Spain) where the faithful bear life-size statues posed in vignettes of Christ’s final moments through the streets of town as a public expression of faith.  It is a sorrowful occasion where Nazarenos dress in the traditional garb of a penitent and the haunting strains of the mournful saeta float through the air. 

These statues, these processions are signs that speak to the human heart in ways that words cannot.  They remind the community that we have sinned and have lost the friendship of God; yet, they also give a most eloquent testimony that He would rather die that spend eternity without us.

As God’s little children, to whom did we turn as we walked the Via Crucis of our own lives, as we walked it in community about a month ago?  We mourned with and were comforted by the Blessed Mother whose Immaculate Heart—as prophesied by Simeon (cf. Luke 2:35)—was pierced by sorrow as with a sword. 

However, Our Lady of Sorrows who stood at the foot of the cross and witness the death of her Child would also witness the empty tomb.  On Good Friday, our Mother embraced the cross and crown, the nails and reed to share in the suffering of her dying Son and, in union with Him, surrender all to the Father’s will.  She truly taught us how to kiss the cross in bearing an agony so incredibly intense and profound. Likewise, who can ever imagine the ecstatic joy that she experienced on Easter Sunday when Life triumphed over death, Light defeated darkness, and when Love conquered all?  The Glorious follows the Sorrowful as dawn proceeds the night.

Joy is one of the marks of a Christian, for we are indeed Easter people.  Who better to give us an example of a joyful life of a Christian than the very first disciple of Christ, Our Lady.  At that first Easter encounter, the words of her Magnificat seem to be fulfilled:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

In the Regina Caeli, which replaces the Angelus in the Easter Season, we recall the glorious Resurrection of Jesus and seek to share His Mother’s joy:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

There is an ancient tradition, popular especially among Franciscans, which holds that, although it is not recorded in the Gospels, Jesus first appeared to His Mother after the Resurrection.  In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, there is even a Chapel of the Apparition to commemorate this event.

Bl. John Paul the Great spoke of this pious tradition in his address at the General Audience on May 21, 2997.

The expectation felt on Holy Saturday is one of the loftiest moments of faith for the Mother of the Lord: in the darkness that envelops the world, she entrusts herself fully to the God of life, and thinking back to the words of her Son, she hopes in the fulfilment of the divine promises.

The Gospels mention various appearances of the risen Christ, but not a meeting between Jesus and his Mother. This silence must not lead to the conclusion that after the Resurrection Christ did not appear to Mary; rather it invites us to seek the reasons why the Evangelists made such a choice.

On the supposition of an “omission”, this silence could be attributed to the fact that what is necessary for our saving knowledge was entrusted to the word of those “chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:41), that is, the Apostles, who gave their testimony of the Lord Jesus’ Resurrection “with great power” (cf. Acts 4:33). Before appearing to them, the Risen One had appeared to several faithful women because of their ecclesial function: “Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Mt 28:10).

If the authors of the New Testament do not speak of the Mother’s encounter with her risen Son, this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that such a witness would have been considered too biased by those who denied the Lord’s Resurrection, and therefore not worthy of belief…

It seems reasonable to think that Mary, as the image and model of the Church which waits for the Risen One and meets him in the group of disciples during his Easter appearances, had had a personal contact with her risen Son, so that she too could delight in the fullness of paschal joy.

Present at Calvary on Good Friday (cf. Jn 19:25) and in the Upper Room on Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14), the Blessed Virgin too was probably a privileged witness of Christ’s Resurrection, completing in this way her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery. Welcoming the risen Jesus, Mary is also a sign and an anticipation of humanity, which hopes to achieve its [fulfillment] through the resurrection of the dead.

Thus, it is fitting that there should be one more procession following the somber pasos of Holy Week. This time, instead of recalling to mind the 4th Station of the Cross, the people announce the Risen Christ by enacting this first Easter encounter between Mother and Son.  In fact, you might remember this video and this teaser pic.

On Easter morning, two processions the leave church and follow different routes:  one carries an image of our Risen Savior, the other bears a statue of Our Lady, still wearing the black mantle of sorrow.  At a designated time and location (usually the main street or plaza), the two processions meet.  Sometimes an image of St. John or St. Peter is carried back and forth between the two processions as they make their way towards each other, expressing our anticipation for this reunion after the tomb.

Then in some communities, especially in Italy, as Our Lady rounds the corner and first spots her living Son, she does as any mother would do:  she runs to Him, casting off her cloak of sadness.  Depending on the local custom, Jesus may also run towards His Mother as well. 

The streets that only days before witnessed the faithful carry an image of their crucified Savior in a slow and mournful procession as in a funeral march, now tremble beneath the running feet of those overflowing with Pascal joy in encountering the Risen Lord.

There are some who treat such examples of popular piety as mere quaint, folksy customs for old women and simple people, but I think there is some deep spiritual significance in these outward expressions of faith.

Such beautiful processions depicting the Easter encounter of Mary and Jesus communicate more than just a natural, familial response between a mother and her son.  They signify the relationship of the Church and her Risen Bridegroom.  Such processions speak of our desire to encounter and embrace our God and to continue living with Him forever even after the grave has swallowed our mortal bodies. 

Like our Blessed Mother, the Resurrection has filled us with great joy.  For as the psalmist joyfully sings, “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Psalm 30:12).  What else could be our response but to imitate her reaction in seeing her glorified Son?  Easter is a time to cast off our sluggish spirits and sinful habits which weigh our feet down.  Now, is the time to fly towards Jesus with wings of faith, as St. Paul says, like runners in a marathon who run, not aimlessly, but so as to win the race (cf 1 Cor 9:24, 26).

Although as I’ve said before, this post-Resurrection meeting between Jesus and His Mother is not mentioned in scripture, the Gospels do record other people’s reaction to the news of the empty tomb. 

In his homily for Easter Sunday, His Excellency, Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles, points out that everyone in John’s Resurrection narrative seems to be running.  When Mary Magdalene discovers the stone of the tomb rolled away and Jesus’ body gone, she runs to tell the other disciples (cf. John 20:2).  At this astonishing news, St. John and St. Peter literally race to the tomb to see for themselves (cf. John 20:4). 

Why do they run?

First, their sprinting feet communicate their excitement and astonishment, as Archbishop Gomez states in his homily.  As St. Mary Magdalene’s wondrous news reaches the ears of St. John and St. Peter, I like to imagine that their hearts literally lift them to their feet and draw them to the tomb that they may see and believe (cf John 20:8).

They run because they have the first glimpses of the reality of the Resurrection.  They run because they can taste the victory won by Christ and are eager to experience first hand the glory of His triumph over sin and even over death itself.  They run because they are filled with hope that their Friend, their Lord and Savior, is truly alive again.

Psalm 42 very poetically speaks of our desire for God and the disciple’s desire to encounter the Risen Christ:  “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Psalm 42:2).  Water is a basic necessity for life; without it, we die.  If you were in a desert without water, and you saw an oasis in the distance, what would be your response?  Probably you would muster all the energy you had left and run to the life-giving spring.  Psalm 18 also says that God has given us “feet like a deer’s” (Psalm 18:34); that is, He gives us the means and motivation to run to Him who is the Living Water, our Refreshment, our Salvation, and our Hope. 

Therefore, like St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. John, and Our Lady, let us run to encounter the Risen Lord.  Apathy and complacency may attempt to slow us down, and Satan will try to steal our joy, but keep running; set your gaze on the empty tomb and the glorious cross, and run with all your strength.  However, if by chance you should stumble or fall, know that our Victorious Savior is running towards us as the father of the Prodigal Son ran towards his repentant child the moment he caught sight of him walking towards home (cf. Luke 15:20). 

[Photos:  not mine]

Novena to St. Joseph:  DAY 4
[Photo:  I suppose that since I’m posting pics from Venice today, this one would be most appropriate for the fourth day of our novena in preparation for the Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker.  During a walking tour of Venice, I took this photo of a shrine to our beloved patron on the outside wall of some random building.  In many Catholic countries, these little shrines are a common sight (I wish we had that sort of Catholic culture in the United States).  I love how Catholics in these places are not shy or ashamed to publicly express their faith; hopefully, they also live their faith in public and in private—that’s the tough part.  But these outdoor shrines are signs that we are not alone; they remind us to turn to God for help and to seek the intercession of our heroes in the faith—like our glorious father, St. Joseph!] 

Novena to St. Joseph:  DAY 4

[Photo:  I suppose that since I’m posting pics from Venice today, this one would be most appropriate for the fourth day of our novena in preparation for the Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker.  During a walking tour of Venice, I took this photo of a shrine to our beloved patron on the outside wall of some random building.  In many Catholic countries, these little shrines are a common sight (I wish we had that sort of Catholic culture in the United States).  I love how Catholics in these places are not shy or ashamed to publicly express their faith; hopefully, they also live their faith in public and in private—that’s the tough part.  But these outdoor shrines are signs that we are not alone; they remind us to turn to God for help and to seek the intercession of our heroes in the faith—like our glorious father, St. Joseph!

St. Mark and the Lion
Many people know Venice as the city of canals and bridges, but it is also the land where lions fly.  For in the Basilica di San Marco, rests the earthly remains of St. Mark the Evangelist whose symbol is the winged lion with a nimbus around its head.  It is fitting, therefore, that St. Mark is the co-patron saint of Venice and that his emblem should be found all over the city.  Seriously.  There are winged lions everywhere:  on government buildings, clock towers, fountains, restaurants, and tourist shops.
How did the lion come to be the symbol of St. Mark (especially since I often associate this large feline with St. Jerome)?
First, the winged lion is one of the four living creatures described by John in the Apocalypse which surround the throne of the Lamb and exclaim unceasingly, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come” (Rev 4:7-8).  The other three creatures that John mentions (as does Ezekiel in his visions [cf. Ez 1:10]) are associated with the other three Gospel writers.
When I was young, I first learned that the lion was a sign of royalty; after all, it is the King of the Beasts as any Disney fan knows.  Thus, Mark and the lion are connected since his Gospel particularly speaks of the royal dignity of Christ who is the King of Kings and the Lion of Judah.
Also, Mark’s Gospel begins with describing John the Baptist whose voice cries out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord…” (Mk 1:3).  Many people have attached to this scripture passage the image of a lion roaring.
Lastly, it was thought that lions slept with their eyes open—a reference to Jesus lying in the tomb—and that lion cubs were born dead but were brought to life in three days when their father would breath life into them, calling to mind Mark’s account of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Many of the majestic lions which greet visitors in Venice have one of their great paws resting on an open book that bears the words, “Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus.”  It is said that St. Mark traveled to Venice to preach the Good News en route to Alexandria.  It was here that an angel appeared to him and greeted him as the Latin inscription records:  Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist.  And sometimes the following is added, “Hic requiescat corpus tuum,” “Here your body will rest.”

[Photo:  I took this pic in some random piazza.  I think I was walking back from the Basilica to Santa Maria Formosa.  I forgot its name; bonus points if you can tell me the piazza where this was taken.]

St. Mark and the Lion

Many people know Venice as the city of canals and bridges, but it is also the land where lions fly.  For in the Basilica di San Marco, rests the earthly remains of St. Mark the Evangelist whose symbol is the winged lion with a nimbus around its head.  It is fitting, therefore, that St. Mark is the co-patron saint of Venice and that his emblem should be found all over the city.  Seriously.  There are winged lions everywhere:  on government buildings, clock towers, fountains, restaurants, and tourist shops.

How did the lion come to be the symbol of St. Mark (especially since I often associate this large feline with St. Jerome)?

First, the winged lion is one of the four living creatures described by John in the Apocalypse which surround the throne of the Lamb and exclaim unceasingly, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come” (Rev 4:7-8).  The other three creatures that John mentions (as does Ezekiel in his visions [cf. Ez 1:10]) are associated with the other three Gospel writers.

When I was young, I first learned that the lion was a sign of royalty; after all, it is the King of the Beasts as any Disney fan knows.  Thus, Mark and the lion are connected since his Gospel particularly speaks of the royal dignity of Christ who is the King of Kings and the Lion of Judah.

Also, Mark’s Gospel begins with describing John the Baptist whose voice cries out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord…” (Mk 1:3).  Many people have attached to this scripture passage the image of a lion roaring.

Lastly, it was thought that lions slept with their eyes open—a reference to Jesus lying in the tomb—and that lion cubs were born dead but were brought to life in three days when their father would breath life into them, calling to mind Mark’s account of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Many of the majestic lions which greet visitors in Venice have one of their great paws resting on an open book that bears the words, “Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus.”  It is said that St. Mark traveled to Venice to preach the Good News en route to Alexandria.  It was here that an angel appeared to him and greeted him as the Latin inscription records:  Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist.  And sometimes the following is added, “Hic requiescat corpus tuum,” “Here your body will rest.

[Photo:  I took this pic in some random piazza.  I think I was walking back from the Basilica to Santa Maria Formosa.  I forgot its name; bonus points if you can tell me the piazza where this was taken.]

Happy Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist!

Here are some pics that I took from a recent pilgrimage to his tomb in the iconic Basilica di San Marco in Venice, Italy.  (Unfortunately, I can’t show you the inside of the Basilica because photography was prohibited, but I can tell you the interior was amazing; it seemed to be filled with a heavenly glow from the golden mosaics depicting scriptural events which covered the walls and ceiling.)

How did the relics of St. Mark come to Venice?  The Venetians believe that St. Mark stopped on their shores to preach the Gospel before traveling to Alexandria where he was martyred and buried. 

The Inventio (Recovery) took place in 828.  After venerating St. Mark’s relics in Alexandria, Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, learned that the Moor where going to raid the church where St. Mark’s body was buried.  So, they took his body from Alexandria to Venice where St. Mark is venerated as the city’s co-patron saint (along with St. Theodore).  My tour guide even said that they covered his remains in pork to aid in the transport from a Moorish land.

AD MULTOS GLORIOSQUE ANNOS!!!

Seven years ago, I remember setting my alarm clock so that I could wake up early to watch a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel where the Cardinal Electors had just taken their second vote in the morning of April 19, 2005.  (I had stayed up late the “night” before keeping vigil to see if anything happened after the first vote.)  The results?  Black smoke.  No decision.  Peter’s Chair remained empty.

I went back to bed only to wake up a few hours later for daily Mass.  It had already been a couple of weeks since our beloved Bl. John Paul the Great had died, but I still hadn’t gotten used to hearing his name omitted in the Eucharistic Prayer (Lord, remember your Church throughout the world; make us grow in love, together with ________ our Pope, ___________ our bishop, and all the clergy.)

During his homily, the priest spoke of the solemn activity currently going on in the Sistine Chapel, beneath Michelangelo’s famous ceiling of the Creation of Man and before the stern warning of his Last Judgement.  He urged us to invoke the Holy Spirit to pray for the Cardinals as they perform their sacred duty.

After Mass, I went back home.  I was on chimney watch since the day before.  I turned on the TV around 9:00am.  Smoke was pouring out of the most watched exhaust pipe in the world.  The smoke was dark grey, much like all the other times.  Then, something happened.  It got lighter very quickly.  However, since the Roman sky was overcast, you couldn’t really tell the color.  However, it was clearly not black.

The clueless news casters were going on about the bells that were supposed to ring to accompany the white smoke.  It was near 6:00pm Roman time, but the normal Angelus Bells and the tolling of hour had not occurred on their normal schedule.  Then, as people still gazed up at the famous chimney.  The large bell in the Piazza San Pietro began to move, at first very slowly, then with its first clang of metal against metal, the entire Piazza burst forth in cheers, and their cheering was soon joined by the smaller bells in the tower.

Those bells who just weeks earlier mournfully announced the death of John Paul the Great, now pealed with thunderous joy, echoing the jubilant cries from Catholics all over the world:  HABEMUS PAPAM!  WE HAVE A POPE!

I was ecstatic!  I began to scream in my empty house and call my friends to share with them this happy news.  (Everyone I called was either in class or at work, so I remember leaving excited, semi-coherent messages on their voice mail—hopefully, they have long since been erased.)

As the Piazza and the Via della Conciliazione began to fill with people, I remained glued to the TV despite the fact that by this time I was late for work; I knew this was a historic moment, and I wanted to be a part of it as it happened.

After some time, the papal arms of Bl. John Paul the Great were lowered from that iconic middle balcony in the facade of St. Peter’s, the curtain was lowered, and soon the crucifix emerged followed by His Eminence, Cardinal Protodeacon Jorge Arturo Augustin Medina Estévez.

One thing that I think we Catholics know how to do exceptionally well is to mark special occasions with just the right amount of theatrics (the Brits learned it from us when England was Catholic).  Of course, this isn’t drama for drama’s own sake or for any entertainment value, but, much like the rituals in our liturgies, choreographed movement and intentional use of signs help to communicate something of what is taking place.

After Cardinal Medina Estévez spoke a greeting in various languages (which caught me and the news translators off guard), he announced to us a great joy—gaudium magnum—that we were no longer sedevacantists for a new pope had been chosen to sit on Peter’s throne and shepherd the flock of Christ on earth.  He was the first to introduce us to our new Holy Father, the gentle and intellectually brilliant Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  As the crowds waited to greet their Papa, they called out to him by his new name:  Benedict XVI.

His election honestly caught me by surprise, for I did not expect him to be elected since I had seen an earlier interview with him where he said that he hoped to retire soon, despite the fact that each time he submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II (as is required of all bishops once they reach a certain age), JP the Great refused to accept it.  In the interview, I recalled Cardinal Ratzinger saying (I’m paraphrasing), “If the pope needs me, how can I say I wish to retire and write books?”  That was his intention, but it wasn’t that of God or his brother cardinals.

Personally, I had expected it to be Cardinal Rivera Carrera, the Primate of Mexico, or Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria who at the time was the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. 

In 2005, I was one of the coordinators of my parish’s youth ministry.  At a recent meeting, I taught the kids how a pope is elected, and we even had our own mock election (including skewering each ballot after it had been read aloud) .  I assigned roles to the kids who played prominent cardinals and explained the various factors one might consider in casting his vote.

Guess who the kids (playing Princes of the Church) voted for?  They picked Cardinal Ratzinger!

Yes, I was surprised when Cardinal Medina Estévez said, “…Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger,” but I was delighted because I had complete confidence that Barque of Peter had a wise and experienced captain who would steer her safely through the storms that would come.

However, not everyone shared this joy.  First, there were the ones who viewed our new Papa as some sort of German tank (Panzerkardinal), a doctrinal Nazi who was a former (unwilling) member of Hitler Youth, a strict disciplinarian who ate heretics for lunch with a side of sauerkraut.  In their eyes, his election constituted a step back for the Church after the progress of Vatican II (ah, how quickly they forgot that, unlike most of his detractors, Joseph Ratzinger actively participated in the Second Vatican Council as a theological consultant to Cardinal Frings).  

Then there were those who sort of dismissed his papacy almost from its conception by classifying Pope Benedict as a “transitional pope” (remember that?).  He was merely a place holder, someone to keep the Chair warm, a buffer pope who would hold course until a new man could be groomed and elected who would lead the Church in the post-JP2 era.  Please.  The Cardinal Electors could have chosen anyone; if they truly wanted a transitional pope, I doubt they would have elected God’s Rottweiler German Shepherd.

Well, the time soon came when we had our first face to face encounter with our new Holy Father.  I admit that it was a little strange seeing him in the papal white; it was like he was wearing John Paul II’s clothes. But he had my loyalty and filial love the moment I saw him on that balcony, a sight I will never forget.

On that day, seven years ago, the shy theologian, in shock and still getting used to the cheering crowds, spoke these words heard around the world:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.

The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.

Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, his Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.


Happy anniversary, Papa!  May your reign be long and glorious!

Sorry it’s taking me a long time for my Lady’s Night post of the week.  Here is a pic to give you a little taste.
[Photo:  from Mediapolitika]

Sorry it’s taking me a long time for my Lady’s Night post of the week.  Here is a pic to give you a little taste.

[Photo:  from Mediapolitika]

L’incontro

What a beautiful expression of faith!  When Our Lady catches her first glimpse of the resurrected Christ, what does she do?  She casts off her mourning and sorrow, and runs to her Son.  Let us fly to Jesus, too.

More about this joyful tradition in Lady’s Night.

On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I told you about my adventure in Florence to see Fra Angelico’s famous painting of the Annunciation in the San Marco Monastery/Museum.  In each cell (bedroom) of the monastery, Fra Angelico painted a religious scene on a wall to aid the meditation of his brother Dominicans.  Since I could only stay for a quick visit, I spent most of my time at the Annunciation.  However, I took a brisk walk around the dormitory, popping my head into each cell. 
The above painting really caught my eye.  I remember thinking, “Wow!  The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church because Jesus has already broken them down!  (and, in the process, squashed an unfortunate demon who was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time).”

Today Hades tearfully sighs: “Would that I had not received him who was born of Mary, for he came to me and destroyed my power; he broke my bronze gates, and being God, delivered the souls I had been holding captive.”
O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!
Today Hades groans: “My power has vanished. I received one who died as mortals die, but I could not hold him; with him and through him I lost those over which I had ruled. I had held control over the dead since the world began, and lo, he raises them all up with him!”
O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!
-From the Holy Saturday Orthodox Liturgy (A Triddum Sourcebook)

[Photo:  by Fra Angelico from WikiPaintings]

On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I told you about my adventure in Florence to see Fra Angelico’s famous painting of the Annunciation in the San Marco Monastery/Museum.  In each cell (bedroom) of the monastery, Fra Angelico painted a religious scene on a wall to aid the meditation of his brother Dominicans.  Since I could only stay for a quick visit, I spent most of my time at the Annunciation.  However, I took a brisk walk around the dormitory, popping my head into each cell. 

The above painting really caught my eye.  I remember thinking, “Wow!  The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church because Jesus has already broken them down!  (and, in the process, squashed an unfortunate demon who was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Today Hades tearfully sighs: “Would that I had not received him who was born of Mary, for he came to me and destroyed my power; he broke my bronze gates, and being God, delivered the souls I had been holding captive.”

O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!

Today Hades groans: “My power has vanished. I received one who died as mortals die, but I could not hold him; with him and through him I lost those over which I had ruled. I had held control over the dead since the world began, and lo, he raises them all up with him!”

O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!


-From the Holy Saturday Orthodox Liturgy (A Triddum Sourcebook)

[Photo:  by Fra Angelico from WikiPaintings]

In the Silence of Holy Saturday, the Shroud Speaks with Blood
On May 2, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Shroud of Turin, the traditional cloths which Joseph of Arimathea used to wrap Jesus body before laying it in the tomb. During this visit, the Holy Father gave an address which included a reflection on Holy Saturday (with my emphasis).  To me, this is one of the most powerful and poetic addresses that I have ever had the great pleasure to read from Pope Benedict.

Dear Friends, 
This is a moment to which I have been looking forward. I have stood before the Holy Shroud on various occasions but this time I am experiencing this Pilgrimage and this moment with special intensity: perhaps this is because the passing years make me even more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary Icon; perhaps and I would say above all this is because I am here now as the Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, the whole of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this Pilgrimage and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation inspired by the subtitle of this solemn Exposition: “The Mystery of Holy Saturday”.
One could say that the Shroud is the Icon of this mystery, the Icon of Holy Saturday. Indeed it is a winding-sheet that was wrapped round the body of a man who was crucified, corresponding in every way to what the Gospels tell us of Jesus who, crucified at about noon, died at about three o’clock in the afternoon. At nightfall, since it was Parasceve, that is, the eve of Holy Saturday, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and authoritative member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate for permission to bury Jesus in his new tomb which he had had hewn out in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having obtained permission, he bought a linen cloth, and after Jesus was taken down from the Cross, wrapped him in that shroud and buried him in that tomb (cf. Mk 15: 42-46). This is what the Gospel of St Mark says and the other Evangelists are in agreement with him. From that moment, Jesus remained in the tomb until dawn of the day after the Sabbath and the Turin Shroud presents to us an image of how his body lay in the tomb during that period which was chronologically brief (about a day and a half), but immense, infinite in its value and in its significance.
Holy Saturday is the day when God remains hidden, we read in an ancient Homily: "What has happened? Today the earth is shrouded in deep silence, deep silence and stillness, profound silence because the King sleeps…. God has died in the flesh, and has gone down to rouse the realm of the dead" (Homily on Holy Saturday, PG 43, 439). In the Creed, we profess that Jesus Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again”.
Dear brothers and sisters, in our time, especially after having lived through the past century, humanity has become particularly sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. The concealment of God is part of contemporary man’s spirituality, in an existential almost subconscious manner, like a void in the heart that has continued to grow larger and larger. Towards the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche wrote: "God is dead! And we killed him!". This famous saying is clearly taken almost literally from the Christian tradition. We often repeat it in the Way of the Cross, perhaps without being fully aware of what we are saying. After the two World Wars, the lagers and the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become increasingly a Holy Saturday: this day’s darkness challenges all who are wondering about life and it challenges us believers in particular. We too have something to do with this darkness. 
Yet the death of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite aspect, totally positive, a source of comfort and hope. And this reminds me of the fact that the Holy Shroud acts as a “photographic’ document, with both a “positive” and a “negative”. And, in fact, this is really how it is: the darkest mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous sign of a never-ending hope. Holy Saturday is a “no man’s land” between the death and the Resurrection, but this “no man’s land” was entered by One, the Only One, who passed through it with the signs of his Passion for man’s sake: Passio Christi. Passio hominis [i.e. “Passion of Christ.  Passion of Man.”].And the Shroud speaks to us precisely about this moment testifying exactly to that unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe in which God, in Jesus Christ, not only shared our dying but also our remaining in death the most radical solidarity.
In this “time-beyond-time”, Jesus Christ “descended to the dead”. What do these words mean? They mean that God, having made himself man, reached the point of entering man’s most extreme and absolute solitude, where not a ray of love enters, where total abandonment reigns without any word of comfort: “hell”. Jesus Christ, by remaining in death, passed beyond the door of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to cross it with him. We have all, at some point, felt the frightening sensation of abandonment, and that is what we fear most about death, just as when we were children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and could only be reassured by the presence of a person who loved us. Well, this is exactly what happened on Holy Saturday: the voice of God resounded in the realm of death. The unimaginable occurred: namely, Love penetrated “hell”. Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out. Human beings live because they are loved and can love; and if love even penetrated the realm of death, then life also even reached there. In the hour of supreme solitude we shall never be alone: Passio Christi. Passio hominis.
This is the mystery of Holy Saturday! Truly from there, from the darkness of the death of the Son of God, the light of a new hope gleamed: the light of the Resurrection. And it seems to me that, looking at this sacred Cloth through the eyes of faith, one may perceive something of this light. Effectively, the Shroud was immersed in that profound darkness that was at the same time luminous; and I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to venerate it without counting those who contemplate it through images it is because they see in it not only darkness but also the light; not so much the defeat of life and of love, but rather victory, the victory of life over death, of love over hatred. They indeed see the death of Jesus, but they also see his Resurrection; in the bosom of death, life is now vibrant, since love dwells within it. This is the power of the Shroud: from the face of this “Man of sorrows”, who carries with him the passion of man of every time and every place, our passions too, our sufferings, our difficulties and our sins Passio Christi. Passio hominis from this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that huge stain near his rib, made by the blood and water that flowed copiously from a great wound inflicted by the tip of a Roman spear. That blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday. 
Dear friends, let us always praise the Lord for his faithful and merciful love. When we leave this holy place, may we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, may we carry in our hearts this word of love and praise God with a life full of faith, hope and charity. Thank you.

[Photo:  not mine, of course]

In the Silence of Holy Saturday, the Shroud Speaks with Blood

On May 2, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Shroud of Turin, the traditional cloths which Joseph of Arimathea used to wrap Jesus body before laying it in the tomb. During this visit, the Holy Father gave an address which included a reflection on Holy Saturday (with my emphasis).  To me, this is one of the most powerful and poetic addresses that I have ever had the great pleasure to read from Pope Benedict.

Dear Friends,

This is a moment to which I have been looking forward. I have stood before the Holy Shroud on various occasions but this time I am experiencing this Pilgrimage and this moment with special intensity: perhaps this is because the passing years make me even more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary Icon; perhaps and I would say above all this is because I am here now as the Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, the whole of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this Pilgrimage and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation inspired by the subtitle of this solemn Exposition: “The Mystery of Holy Saturday”.

One could say that the Shroud is the Icon of this mystery, the Icon of Holy Saturday. Indeed it is a winding-sheet that was wrapped round the body of a man who was crucified, corresponding in every way to what the Gospels tell us of Jesus who, crucified at about noon, died at about three o’clock in the afternoon. At nightfall, since it was Parasceve, that is, the eve of Holy Saturday, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and authoritative member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate for permission to bury Jesus in his new tomb which he had had hewn out in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having obtained permission, he bought a linen cloth, and after Jesus was taken down from the Cross, wrapped him in that shroud and buried him in that tomb (cf. Mk 15: 42-46). This is what the Gospel of St Mark says and the other Evangelists are in agreement with him. From that moment, Jesus remained in the tomb until dawn of the day after the Sabbath and the Turin Shroud presents to us an image of how his body lay in the tomb during that period which was chronologically brief (about a day and a half), but immense, infinite in its value and in its significance.

Holy Saturday is the day when God remains hidden, we read in an ancient Homily: "What has happened? Today the earth is shrouded in deep silence, deep silence and stillness, profound silence because the King sleeps…. God has died in the flesh, and has gone down to rouse the realm of the dead" (Homily on Holy Saturday, PG 43, 439). In the Creed, we profess that Jesus Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again”.

Dear brothers and sisters, in our time, especially after having lived through the past century, humanity has become particularly sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. The concealment of God is part of contemporary man’s spirituality, in an existential almost subconscious manner, like a void in the heart that has continued to grow larger and larger. Towards the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche wrote: "God is dead! And we killed him!". This famous saying is clearly taken almost literally from the Christian tradition. We often repeat it in the Way of the Cross, perhaps without being fully aware of what we are saying. After the two World Wars, the lagers and the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become increasingly a Holy Saturday: this day’s darkness challenges all who are wondering about life and it challenges us believers in particular. We too have something to do with this darkness.

Yet the death of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite aspect, totally positive, a source of comfort and hope. And this reminds me of the fact that the Holy Shroud acts as a “photographic’ document, with both a “positive” and a “negative”. And, in fact, this is really how it is: the darkest mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous sign of a never-ending hope. Holy Saturday is a “no man’s land” between the death and the Resurrection, but this “no man’s land” was entered by One, the Only One, who passed through it with the signs of his Passion for man’s sake: Passio Christi. Passio hominis [i.e. “Passion of Christ.  Passion of Man.”].And the Shroud speaks to us precisely about this moment testifying exactly to that unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe in which God, in Jesus Christ, not only shared our dying but also our remaining in death the most radical solidarity.

In this “time-beyond-time”, Jesus Christ “descended to the dead”. What do these words mean? They mean that God, having made himself man, reached the point of entering man’s most extreme and absolute solitude, where not a ray of love enters, where total abandonment reigns without any word of comfort: “hell”. Jesus Christ, by remaining in death, passed beyond the door of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to cross it with him. We have all, at some point, felt the frightening sensation of abandonment, and that is what we fear most about death, just as when we were children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and could only be reassured by the presence of a person who loved us. Well, this is exactly what happened on Holy Saturday: the voice of God resounded in the realm of death. The unimaginable occurred: namely, Love penetrated “hell”. Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out. Human beings live because they are loved and can love; and if love even penetrated the realm of death, then life also even reached there. In the hour of supreme solitude we shall never be alone: Passio Christi. Passio hominis.

This is the mystery of Holy Saturday! Truly from there, from the darkness of the death of the Son of God, the light of a new hope gleamed: the light of the Resurrection. And it seems to me that, looking at this sacred Cloth through the eyes of faith, one may perceive something of this light. Effectively, the Shroud was immersed in that profound darkness that was at the same time luminous; and I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to venerate it without counting those who contemplate it through images it is because they see in it not only darkness but also the light; not so much the defeat of life and of love, but rather victory, the victory of life over death, of love over hatred. They indeed see the death of Jesus, but they also see his Resurrection; in the bosom of death, life is now vibrant, since love dwells within it. This is the power of the Shroud: from the face of this “Man of sorrows”, who carries with him the passion of man of every time and every place, our passions too, our sufferings, our difficulties and our sins Passio Christi. Passio hominis from this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that huge stain near his rib, made by the blood and water that flowed copiously from a great wound inflicted by the tip of a Roman spear. That blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday.

Dear friends, let us always praise the Lord for his faithful and merciful love. When we leave this holy place, may we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, may we carry in our hearts this word of love and praise God with a life full of faith, hope and charity. Thank you.

[Photo:  not mine, of course]

Spy Wednesday
"One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26:14-17)
[Photo:  “Judas Accepts Payment” by Giotto from Ad Imaginem Dei]

Spy Wednesday

"One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26:14-17)

[Photo:  “Judas Accepts Payment” by Giotto from Ad Imaginem Dei]

LADY’S NIGHT - Solemnity of the Annunciation:  Fra Angelico and the New Eve
Usually the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is celebrated every March 25 because that would be exactly 9 months until we celebrate the Nativity of the Lord on Christmas, December 25.  However, since the 25th of March falls on a Sunday this year, the Solemnity is pushed forward a day. 
The famous image of the Annunciation featured above was done over 500 years ago by a Dominican Friar, Bl. Giovanni Angelico (Fra Angelico). What distinguishes him from other painters of the early Italian Renaissance was that as a Dominican, Fra Angelico had a great knowledge of theology and scripture, and, in a sense, he was formed as an artist by prayer, the liturgy, and the Word of God.  So, not only did he know his heavenly subjects on an academic level, but he also had an intimate relationship with them which influenced not only his painting, but also his entire being, as evidenced by the testimonies of his personal sanctity and his beatification by Bl. John Paul the Great in 1982.
Much like Antoni Gaudí and our beloved St. Joseph, Fra Angelico offered his creative gifts for the reason that they had been given to him in the first place:  to serve and glorify God.  This son of St. Dominic painted the walls of his Friary of San Marco in Florence, primarily to inspire prayer and love of God. 
For years I have seen this image in my history and religion books, (and you already know my love for beuty); thus, I was greatly looking forward to viewing it in person when I was in Florence this past summer.  I was only in the city for about 2 days.  My first attempt to see this Annunciation was a complete failure.  I had arrived at San Marco about mid-afternoon, only to find it closed.  After this unsuccessful attempt, I had resigned myself that I would not see Fra Angelico’s Annunciation on this trip.  “Oh well,” I told myself, “I guess this is just another reason to come back to Italy.” 
However, on my final day in Florence, I decided to give it one more try.  My family had gone to the Mercato Centrale to buy some last minute souvenirs before catching our train.  So, I literally ran back to San Marco, paid the small entrance fee, and gave my best shot in employing my tourist Italian to ask “Where is the Annunciation?”  I was given some directions which I understood mainly through the use of hand gestures, and off I went down the loggia, through the cloister gardens, and up a flight of stars. 
Nearly out of breath, I raised my head to see how many more steps I had to climb, when I saw it.  There it was.  Shielded by a thick pane of glass or acrylic, on the outside wall of the friars’ old dormitory, was this famous image of Our Lady and St. Gabriel the Archangel.  I just stood there with my back leaning against the opposite wall, gazing at this momentous scene in salvation history when the fulness of time had come. 
First, I marveled at the technique, the colors, the geometry, the position of the figures, the use of perspective and architecture to narrate this familiar biblical story.  Then, I took in the entire scene:  the humility of Mary, the reverential bended knee of the archangel, the intimate dialogue that would change the world forever.  My heart raced, this time not because I had just raced through an old Italian monastery, but out of love, love for God and for His lowly handmaid whom all generations call blessed. 
In this image, our God who has loved from the beginning, from the fist moment of our conception, has so loved the world that He sent His only Son to take on our flesh in Mary’s womb so that he could one day take on our sins on the cross.  St. Gabriel, an angel, or, rather, an archangel is shown making an act of homage and deep respect towards this simple girl from Nazareth.  For he, too, loves Our Lady and acknowledges her as his Queen. 
Who, then, is she to whom an archangel bows and address with “Hail, full of grace?”  At the Annunciation, Our Lady manifests her appointed role as the New Eve.  In the ancient hymn, Ave Maris Stella, an English version of the original Latin states, “O by Gabriel’s ‘Ave’ uttered long ago, Eva’s name reversing, established peace below."  That is, at the Annunciation, Mary became the opposite of Eve (or Eva).  The opposite of "Eva", if you write the letters backwards, is literally "Ave". 
Thus, as Eve is the Woman of creation (Gen 2:23), Mary is the Woman of Christ’s redeemed creation (Jn 2:4; Jn 19:26; Rev 12:1).  Through Eve’s disobedience, death entered our human condition; through Mary’s obedience she brought forth the Life of the World.  When Eve encountered the serpent, she embraced his venomous word; when Mary and the Word encounter the serpent, they crush his head, trampling his lies underfoot.  Eve rebuked God’s command with a prideful “No”; Mary replied in the fulness of time with her humble, “Yes.”  Fiat.  May it be done unto me according to your word. 
Fra Angelico, appreciating this and so much more, depicted Our Lady with a serene expression, crossed arms, and closed lips.  Even now she embraces the Word of God now growing inside of her as she embraced the will of God as delivered by the archangel.  By the way, how does one have a conversation anyway with an angelic being?  They seem to communicate with their eyes and the unspoken movement of the heart—no audible words it seems, transpires between Mother of God and Messenger of God, but deep, unspeakable mysteries seem to pass between these two figures. 
Ah, how can I ever do justice in explaining how this piece of art, this work of beauty touched me?  The Incarnation itself is quite an ineffable mystery! 
As you may know, I recently posted every day as part of a novena to St. Joseph, my co-patron saint.  On several occasions, I drew inspiration from the writings of Sr. Maria Cecilia Baij, O.S.B., an Italian Benedictine nun to whom Jesus had revealed certain details of his hidden life, growing up with Joseph and Mary.
Now, I want to share with you an except from Mystical City of God, a book written by Ven. Maria de Agreda, a Franciscan nun who also reportedly received supernatural visions.  Please recall again my previous comments about private and public revelation. In it she writes,

The whole of this celestial army with their princely leader holy Gabriel directed their flight to Nazareth, a town of the province of Galilee, to the dwelling place of most holy Mary. This was an humble cottage and her chamber was a narrow room, bare of all those furnishings which are wont to be used by the world in order to hide its own meanness and want of all higher goods…
To look upon Her caused feelings at the same time of joy and seriousness, love and reverential fear. She attracted the heart and yet restrained it in sweet reverence; her beauty impelled the tongue to sound her praise, and yet her grandeur and her overwhelming perfections and graces hushed it to silence. In all that approached Her, She caused divine effects not easily explained; She filled the heart with heavenly influences and divine operations, tending toward the Divinity.
Her garments were humble and poor, yet clean, of a dark silvery hue, somewhat like the color of ashes, and they were arranged and worn without pretense, but with the greatest modesty and propriety. At the time when, without her noticing it, the embassy of heaven drew nigh unto Her, She was engaged in the highest contemplation concerning the mysteries which the Lord had renewed in Her by so many favors during the nine receding days. And since, as we have said above, the Lord himself had assured Her that his Only begotten would soon descend to assume human form, this great Queen was full of fervent and joyful affection in the expectation of its execution and inflamed with humble love, She spoke in her heart: “Is it possible that the blessed time has arrived, in which the Word of the eternal Father is to be born and to converse with men? (Brauch 10, 38). That the world should possess Him? That men are to see Him in the flesh? (Is. 40.5). That his inaccessible light is to shine forth to illumine those who sit in darkness? (Is. 9, 2). O, who shall be worthy to see and know Him! O, who shall be allowed to kiss the earth touched by his feet!”
…
In order that the mystery of the Most High might be fulfilled, the holy archangel Gabriel…accompanied by innumerable angels in visible human forms and resplendent with incomparable beauty, entered into the chamber, where most holy Mary was praying…The great modesty and restraint of the Princess of heaven did not permit Her to look at him more than was necessary to recognize him as an angel of the Lord. Recognizing him as such, She, in her usual humility, wished to do him reverence; the holy prince would not allow it; on the contrary he himself bowed profoundly as before his Queen and Mistress, in whom he adored the heavenly mysteries of his Creator. At the same time he understood that from that day on the ancient times and the custom of old whereby men should worship angels, as Abraham had done (Gen. 38, 2), were changed. For as human nature was raised to the dignity of God himself in the person of the Word, men now held the position of adopted children, of companions and brethren of the angels, as the angel said to Evangelist Saint John, when he refused to be worshipped (Apoc. 19, 10).
The holy archangel saluted our and his Queen and said: “Ave gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus” (Luke 1, 28). Hearing this new salutation of the angel, this most humble of all creatures was disturbed, but not confused in mind (Luke 1, 29). This disturbance arose from two causes: first, from her humility, for She thought herself the lowest of the creatures and thus in her humility, was taken unawares at hearing Herself saluted and called the “Blessed among women;” secondly, when She heard this salute and began to consider within Herself how She should receive it, She was interiorly made to understand by the Lord, that He chose Her for his Mother, and this caused a still greater perturbance, having such an humble opinion of Herself. On account of this perturbance the angel proceeded to explain to Her the decree of the Lord, saying: “Do not fear, Mary, for thou hast found grace before the Lord (Luke 1, 30); behold thou shalt conceive a Son in thy womb, and thou shalt give birth to Him, and thou shalt name Him Jesus; He shall be great, and He shall be called Son of the Most High,” and the rest as recorded of the holy archangel.

Bl. Fra Angelica painted such scenes as well, only using paints and brushes.  Remember that he first began to paint the walls of his monastery to turn the thoughts of his brothers towards God, to engage their senses and their souls by his works of art.  This Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, allow yourselves to be engaged by the beauty of art, the liturgy, and by the Word who became flesh.  Open yourselves to God the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed Our Lady and conceived in her virginal womb the Son of God.  Surrender yourself, in imitation of Our Lady, to the divine will of God.  Offer yourself completely to Him who has offered Himself completely to you.  Surrender everything:  your will, your heart, your body, your possessions, your past failures, your current joys, your future plans.  Listen to His voice, that whisper in the depths of your heart (cf. 1 Kings 19:12) calling you to love and serve as only you can love and serve, to be and to do what you were created from the moment of your conception to be and to do—as did Our Lady, and may you always echo her response at the Annunciation:  Fiat!
(Photo:  from Wikimedia Commons.  I wish I could say that I took this picture, but photography is prohibited within the walls of San Macro Monastery.)

LADY’S NIGHT - Solemnity of the Annunciation:  Fra Angelico and the New Eve

Usually the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is celebrated every March 25 because that would be exactly 9 months until we celebrate the Nativity of the Lord on Christmas, December 25.  However, since the 25th of March falls on a Sunday this year, the Solemnity is pushed forward a day. 

The famous image of the Annunciation featured above was done over 500 years ago by a Dominican Friar, Bl. Giovanni Angelico (Fra Angelico). What distinguishes him from other painters of the early Italian Renaissance was that as a Dominican, Fra Angelico had a great knowledge of theology and scripture, and, in a sense, he was formed as an artist by prayer, the liturgy, and the Word of God.  So, not only did he know his heavenly subjects on an academic level, but he also had an intimate relationship with them which influenced not only his painting, but also his entire being, as evidenced by the testimonies of his personal sanctity and his beatification by Bl. John Paul the Great in 1982.

Much like Antoni Gaudí and our beloved St. Joseph, Fra Angelico offered his creative gifts for the reason that they had been given to him in the first place:  to serve and glorify God.  This son of St. Dominic painted the walls of his Friary of San Marco in Florence, primarily to inspire prayer and love of God. 

For years I have seen this image in my history and religion books, (and you already know my love for beuty); thus, I was greatly looking forward to viewing it in person when I was in Florence this past summer.  I was only in the city for about 2 days.  My first attempt to see this Annunciation was a complete failure.  I had arrived at San Marco about mid-afternoon, only to find it closed.  After this unsuccessful attempt, I had resigned myself that I would not see Fra Angelico’s Annunciation on this trip.  “Oh well,” I told myself, “I guess this is just another reason to come back to Italy.” 

However, on my final day in Florence, I decided to give it one more try.  My family had gone to the Mercato Centrale to buy some last minute souvenirs before catching our train.  So, I literally ran back to San Marco, paid the small entrance fee, and gave my best shot in employing my tourist Italian to ask “Where is the Annunciation?”  I was given some directions which I understood mainly through the use of hand gestures, and off I went down the loggia, through the cloister gardens, and up a flight of stars. 

Nearly out of breath, I raised my head to see how many more steps I had to climb, when I saw it.  There it was.  Shielded by a thick pane of glass or acrylic, on the outside wall of the friars’ old dormitory, was this famous image of Our Lady and St. Gabriel the Archangel.  I just stood there with my back leaning against the opposite wall, gazing at this momentous scene in salvation history when the fulness of time had come. 

First, I marveled at the technique, the colors, the geometry, the position of the figures, the use of perspective and architecture to narrate this familiar biblical story.  Then, I took in the entire scene:  the humility of Mary, the reverential bended knee of the archangel, the intimate dialogue that would change the world forever.  My heart raced, this time not because I had just raced through an old Italian monastery, but out of love, love for God and for His lowly handmaid whom all generations call blessed. 

In this image, our God who has loved from the beginning, from the fist moment of our conception, has so loved the world that He sent His only Son to take on our flesh in Mary’s womb so that he could one day take on our sins on the cross.  St. Gabriel, an angel, or, rather, an archangel is shown making an act of homage and deep respect towards this simple girl from Nazareth.  For he, too, loves Our Lady and acknowledges her as his Queen. 

Who, then, is she to whom an archangel bows and address with “Hail, full of grace?”  At the Annunciation, Our Lady manifests her appointed role as the New Eve.  In the ancient hymn, Ave Maris Stella, an English version of the original Latin states, “O by Gabriel’s ‘Ave’ uttered long ago, Eva’s name reversing, established peace below."  That is, at the Annunciation, Mary became the opposite of Eve (or Eva).  The opposite of "Eva", if you write the letters backwards, is literally "Ave". 

Thus, as Eve is the Woman of creation (Gen 2:23), Mary is the Woman of Christ’s redeemed creation (Jn 2:4; Jn 19:26; Rev 12:1).  Through Eve’s disobedience, death entered our human condition; through Mary’s obedience she brought forth the Life of the World.  When Eve encountered the serpent, she embraced his venomous word; when Mary and the Word encounter the serpent, they crush his head, trampling his lies underfoot.  Eve rebuked God’s command with a prideful “No”; Mary replied in the fulness of time with her humble, “Yes.”  Fiat.  May it be done unto me according to your word. 

Fra Angelico, appreciating this and so much more, depicted Our Lady with a serene expression, crossed arms, and closed lips.  Even now she embraces the Word of God now growing inside of her as she embraced the will of God as delivered by the archangel.  By the way, how does one have a conversation anyway with an angelic being?  They seem to communicate with their eyes and the unspoken movement of the heart—no audible words it seems, transpires between Mother of God and Messenger of God, but deep, unspeakable mysteries seem to pass between these two figures. 

Ah, how can I ever do justice in explaining how this piece of art, this work of beauty touched me?  The Incarnation itself is quite an ineffable mystery! 

As you may know, I recently posted every day as part of a novena to St. Joseph, my co-patron saint.  On several occasions, I drew inspiration from the writings of Sr. Maria Cecilia Baij, O.S.B., an Italian Benedictine nun to whom Jesus had revealed certain details of his hidden life, growing up with Joseph and Mary.

Now, I want to share with you an except from Mystical City of God, a book written by Ven. Maria de Agreda, a Franciscan nun who also reportedly received supernatural visions.  Please recall again my previous comments about private and public revelation. In it she writes,

The whole of this celestial army with their princely leader holy Gabriel directed their flight to Nazareth, a town of the province of Galilee, to the dwelling place of most holy Mary. This was an humble cottage and her chamber was a narrow room, bare of all those furnishings which are wont to be used by the world in order to hide its own meanness and want of all higher goods…

To look upon Her caused feelings at the same time of joy and seriousness, love and reverential fear. She attracted the heart and yet restrained it in sweet reverence; her beauty impelled the tongue to sound her praise, and yet her grandeur and her overwhelming perfections and graces hushed it to silence. In all that approached Her, She caused divine effects not easily explained; She filled the heart with heavenly influences and divine operations, tending toward the Divinity.

Her garments were humble and poor, yet clean, of a dark silvery hue, somewhat like the color of ashes, and they were arranged and worn without pretense, but with the greatest modesty and propriety. At the time when, without her noticing it, the embassy of heaven drew nigh unto Her, She was engaged in the highest contemplation concerning the mysteries which the Lord had renewed in Her by so many favors during the nine receding days. And since, as we have said above, the Lord himself had assured Her that his Only begotten would soon descend to assume human form, this great Queen was full of fervent and joyful affection in the expectation of its execution and inflamed with humble love, She spoke in her heart: “Is it possible that the blessed time has arrived, in which the Word of the eternal Father is to be born and to converse with men? (Brauch 10, 38). That the world should possess Him? That men are to see Him in the flesh? (Is. 40.5). That his inaccessible light is to shine forth to illumine those who sit in darkness? (Is. 9, 2). O, who shall be worthy to see and know Him! O, who shall be allowed to kiss the earth touched by his feet!”

In order that the mystery of the Most High might be fulfilled, the holy archangel Gabriel…accompanied by innumerable angels in visible human forms and resplendent with incomparable beauty, entered into the chamber, where most holy Mary was praying…The great modesty and restraint of the Princess of heaven did not permit Her to look at him more than was necessary to recognize him as an angel of the Lord. Recognizing him as such, She, in her usual humility, wished to do him reverence; the holy prince would not allow it; on the contrary he himself bowed profoundly as before his Queen and Mistress, in whom he adored the heavenly mysteries of his Creator. At the same time he understood that from that day on the ancient times and the custom of old whereby men should worship angels, as Abraham had done (Gen. 38, 2), were changed. For as human nature was raised to the dignity of God himself in the person of the Word, men now held the position of adopted children, of companions and brethren of the angels, as the angel said to Evangelist Saint John, when he refused to be worshipped (Apoc. 19, 10).

The holy archangel saluted our and his Queen and said: “Ave gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus” (Luke 1, 28). Hearing this new salutation of the angel, this most humble of all creatures was disturbed, but not confused in mind (Luke 1, 29). This disturbance arose from two causes: first, from her humility, for She thought herself the lowest of the creatures and thus in her humility, was taken unawares at hearing Herself saluted and called the “Blessed among women;” secondly, when She heard this salute and began to consider within Herself how She should receive it, She was interiorly made to understand by the Lord, that He chose Her for his Mother, and this caused a still greater perturbance, having such an humble opinion of Herself. On account of this perturbance the angel proceeded to explain to Her the decree of the Lord, saying: “Do not fear, Mary, for thou hast found grace before the Lord (Luke 1, 30); behold thou shalt conceive a Son in thy womb, and thou shalt give birth to Him, and thou shalt name Him Jesus; He shall be great, and He shall be called Son of the Most High,” and the rest as recorded of the holy archangel.

Bl. Fra Angelica painted such scenes as well, only using paints and brushes.  Remember that he first began to paint the walls of his monastery to turn the thoughts of his brothers towards God, to engage their senses and their souls by his works of art.  This Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, allow yourselves to be engaged by the beauty of art, the liturgy, and by the Word who became flesh.  Open yourselves to God the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed Our Lady and conceived in her virginal womb the Son of God.  Surrender yourself, in imitation of Our Lady, to the divine will of God.  Offer yourself completely to Him who has offered Himself completely to you.  Surrender everything:  your will, your heart, your body, your possessions, your past failures, your current joys, your future plans.  Listen to His voice, that whisper in the depths of your heart (cf. 1 Kings 19:12) calling you to love and serve as only you can love and serve, to be and to do what you were created from the moment of your conception to be and to do—as did Our Lady, and may you always echo her response at the Annunciation:  Fiat!

(Photo:  from Wikimedia Commons.  I wish I could say that I took this picture, but photography is prohibited within the walls of San Macro Monastery.)

Countdown to St. Joseph’s Day:  5 days

This past Fall, I was very blessed to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Rome, the Eternal City.  One of the many ancient and culturally significant sites I visited was the Pantheon where I took the above pictures, including that of the statue of St. Joseph with the Child Jesus.

Pantheon literally means “for every god" since the building was originally constructed in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa to honor all the Roman gods.  The present structure was built in 126 AD by Emperor Hadrian.  However, today, this ancient pagan temple is now a Catholic Church dedicated to Our Lady:  Chiesa Santa Maria dei Martiri (Church of St. Mary of the Martyrs)

Seeing this image of St. Joseph in the Pantheon reminded me of a particular moment in the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph:  their flight into Egypt.  The devotion to the Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph includes the following reflection and prayer:

Courageous protector of the Holy Family, how terrified you were when you had to make the sudden flight with Jesus and Mary to escape the treachery of King Herod and the cruelty of his soldiers. But when you reached Egypt, what satisfaction you had to know that the Savior of the world had come to replace the pagan idols. 

By this sorrow and this joy, keep us far from the false idols of earthly attractions, so that like you, we may be entirely devoted to the service of Jesus and Mary.

There is a pious tradition that the pagan idols, that is, the statues of the Egyptian gods crumbled and fell to the ground as the Holy Family passed.  An interpretation of this belief could be that wherever Jesus goes, He dispels the darkness.  On encountering this Word made flesh, people experience a conversion:  they put aside their past lives and follow Him.

Our Lady, of course, as the Mother of God, is the Theotokos, God Bearer.  St. Joseph, who led his Child and his Bride to Egypt, brings Christ and His Blessed Mother to others.  Thus, let us imitate our beloved patron and father.  Let us bring Christ to hearts who do not know Him or to souls that are as dry as the Egyptian desert.  Jesus, the life-giving Water, will make barren land fruitful.  Also, let us bring Our Lady, the Theotokos, to a world that has turned away from God and forgotten the beauty of purity.

In your own lives, I’m sure, you know the transformative power of the Gospel.  Where the Good News is preached, where the Light of Christ shines, lives are changed forever.  St. Peter and the early Roman Christians were witnesses to this, for their very blood, spilt at their martyrdom, cries out, giving eloquent testimony that with Jesus, life can never be the same.  For Him they lived, and for Him they died. 

The ancient Romans used to gather in the building above to worship false gods, but through the power of the Holy Spirit and the blood of the martyrs, those pagan idols are gone.  Today, the true and only God is worshiped in the Church of St. Mary of the Martyrs, and in it we find images not of Neptune, Venus, or Jupiter but those of two authentic icons of Christ:  Our Lady and her Joseph.

So, as we progress in this desert of Lent towards the oasis of St. Joseph’s Day and the great celebration of Easter, let us seek the aid of the loving Guardian of the Holy Family in transforming our own lives, and through the power of his precious Bambino, may our own idols crumble and fall at the feet of Joseph.

Day 5 of our novenaIte ad Ioseph (“Go to Joseph”, Genesis 41:55)

Satan Fears Pope Benedict
Fr. Gabriele Amorth, a priest of the Society of St. Paul and exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, says in an interview with aciprensa that when he speaks the names of Bl. John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict XVI during an exorcism, the demons spit with range, others tremble or cry and plead for him not to say any more names.
I’ve got two of Fr. Amorth’s books:  An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist:  More Stories, both provide good accounts of what actually happens in an exorcism as well as the nature of the enemy’s attacks in our world.
Now, Fr. Amorth has written a new book along with Paolo Rodari, currently available only in Italian, called L’Ultimo Esorcista:  La Mia Battaglia Contro Satana (The Last Exorcist:  My Fight Agasint Satan).
According to The Telegraph,


In a new book, Father Amorth, the exorcist for the diocese of Rome, gives a bizarre account of how he and two assistants brought a pair of “possessed” Italian men to one of the Pope’s weekly audiences in St Peter’s Square in May 2009.




In his book, “The Last Exorcist – My Fight Against Satan”, he claimed the mere presence of the pontiff cured the men of their demonic afflictions.


Father Amorth said his two female assistants escorted the two men into St Peter’s Square as the Pope was driven between crowds of faithful in the white “Popemobile” jeep.


The women managed to obtain seats for the two men in an area of seating normally reserved for the disabled.




As the Pope approached them, the men, identified only as Marco and Giovanni, began to act strangely, Father Amorth wrote.
He described how they trembled and how their teeth chattered.
When one of the assistants asked Giovanni to control himself, he said “I am not Giovanni” in a voice that was not his own, Father Amorth claimed.
As soon as the Pope stepped down from the “Popemobile’ the two men flung themselves to the floor.
"They banged their heads on the ground. The Swiss Guards watched them but did nothing," the priest wrote.
"Giovanni and Marco started to wail at the same time, they were lying on the floor, howling.
"They were trembling, slobbering, working themselves into a frenzy.
"The Pope watched from a distance. He raised an arm and blessed the four of them. For the possessed it was like a furious jolt - a blow to their whole bodies - to the extent that they were thrown three metres backwards," he continued.
"They stopped howling but they cried uncontrollably."
Father Amorth, who claims to have conducted thousands of exorcisms, wrote: “It is no mystery that the Pope’s acts and words can enrage Satan…that simply the presence of the Pope can sooth and in some way help the possessed in their fight against the one who possesses them.”

John L. Allen, Jr. at the National Catholic Reporter also commented on this incident (with my emphasis),

The women escorted Marco and Giovanni to a spot as close as possible to the pope. As Amorth tells it, the two young men began to act strangely as soon as Benedict XVI entered the square. When one of the women told Giovanni to control himself, he responded in a slow and eerie voice: “I am not Giovanni.”
When Benedict XVI made his way to the stage, Amorth says, the two young men began to scream. One of them yelled at the pope, “Holiness, Holiness, here we are!”
Benedict, according to Amorth, looked over, raised his arm and offered a blessing. Immediately afterward, according to Amorth, the two young men fell to the ground, stopped screeching and began to cry. Later, he said, Giovanni and Marco claimed to have no memory of any of these events.
Here’s Amorth’s summary comment: "The way in which Benedict XVI lives the liturgy, his respect for the rules, his rigor, even his posture are extremely effective against Satan. The liturgy celebrated by the pontiff is potent. Satan is wounded every time the pope celebrates the Eucharist."
"Satan highly feared the election of Ratzinger to the throne of Peter," Amorth writes, "because he saw in him the continuation of the great battle against him carried out for 26 years by John Paul II."

I think that it is interesting to note the immense power of the Mass, particularly, how Pope Benedict offers the Holy Sacrifice.  The Divine Liturgy is incredibly powerful because through the words of the priest and through the action of Holy Spirit, lowly bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  Jesus continues to heal his afflicted children, liberating them from the grips of Evil One through His priests, through the Holy Eucharist.
Let us pray for all priests that they may “live the liturgy”, following the example of our Holy Father, that they may offer the Holy Sacrifice with great love, fidelity, and humility.
It is no surprise that the devil hates the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ.  So, he attacks her members, especially her leaders.  Therefore, let us pray, too, for our beloved Papa Benedict who at the dawn of his pontificate implored us all:  “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”
PRAYER FOR THE POPE
V/.  Let us pray for our Pope Benedict.   
R/.  May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
V/.  Thou art Peter,
R/.  And upon this Rock, I will build My Church.
Let us Pray.  Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon Your servant, Benedict, our Sovereign Pontiff, and guide him in your goodness on the way of eternal salvation; so that, with the prompting of Your grace, he may desire what pleases You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.
(Photo from Pitor Spalek of Piotrek Photos)

Satan Fears Pope Benedict

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, a priest of the Society of St. Paul and exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, says in an interview with aciprensa that when he speaks the names of Bl. John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict XVI during an exorcism, the demons spit with range, others tremble or cry and plead for him not to say any more names.

I’ve got two of Fr. Amorth’s books:  An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist:  More Stories, both provide good accounts of what actually happens in an exorcism as well as the nature of the enemy’s attacks in our world.

Now, Fr. Amorth has written a new book along with Paolo Rodari, currently available only in Italian, called L’Ultimo Esorcista:  La Mia Battaglia Contro Satana (The Last Exorcist:  My Fight Agasint Satan).

According to The Telegraph,

In a new book, Father Amorth, the exorcist for the diocese of Rome, gives a bizarre account of how he and two assistants brought a pair of “possessed” Italian men to one of the Pope’s weekly audiences in St Peter’s Square in May 2009.

In his book, “The Last Exorcist – My Fight Against Satan”, he claimed the mere presence of the pontiff cured the men of their demonic afflictions.

Father Amorth said his two female assistants escorted the two men into St Peter’s Square as the Pope was driven between crowds of faithful in the white “Popemobile” jeep.

The women managed to obtain seats for the two men in an area of seating normally reserved for the disabled.

As the Pope approached them, the men, identified only as Marco and Giovanni, began to act strangely, Father Amorth wrote.

He described how they trembled and how their teeth chattered.

When one of the assistants asked Giovanni to control himself, he said “I am not Giovanni” in a voice that was not his own, Father Amorth claimed.

As soon as the Pope stepped down from the “Popemobile’ the two men flung themselves to the floor.

"They banged their heads on the ground. The Swiss Guards watched them but did nothing," the priest wrote.

"Giovanni and Marco started to wail at the same time, they were lying on the floor, howling.

"They were trembling, slobbering, working themselves into a frenzy.

"The Pope watched from a distance. He raised an arm and blessed the four of them. For the possessed it was like a furious jolt - a blow to their whole bodies - to the extent that they were thrown three metres backwards," he continued.

"They stopped howling but they cried uncontrollably."

Father Amorth, who claims to have conducted thousands of exorcisms, wrote: “It is no mystery that the Pope’s acts and words can enrage Satan…that simply the presence of the Pope can sooth and in some way help the possessed in their fight against the one who possesses them.”

John L. Allen, Jr. at the National Catholic Reporter also commented on this incident (with my emphasis),

The women escorted Marco and Giovanni to a spot as close as possible to the pope. As Amorth tells it, the two young men began to act strangely as soon as Benedict XVI entered the square. When one of the women told Giovanni to control himself, he responded in a slow and eerie voice: “I am not Giovanni.”

When Benedict XVI made his way to the stage, Amorth says, the two young men began to scream. One of them yelled at the pope, “Holiness, Holiness, here we are!”

Benedict, according to Amorth, looked over, raised his arm and offered a blessing. Immediately afterward, according to Amorth, the two young men fell to the ground, stopped screeching and began to cry. Later, he said, Giovanni and Marco claimed to have no memory of any of these events.

Here’s Amorth’s summary comment: "The way in which Benedict XVI lives the liturgy, his respect for the rules, his rigor, even his posture are extremely effective against Satan. The liturgy celebrated by the pontiff is potent. Satan is wounded every time the pope celebrates the Eucharist."

"Satan highly feared the election of Ratzinger to the throne of Peter," Amorth writes, "because he saw in him the continuation of the great battle against him carried out for 26 years by John Paul II."

I think that it is interesting to note the immense power of the Mass, particularly, how Pope Benedict offers the Holy Sacrifice.  The Divine Liturgy is incredibly powerful because through the words of the priest and through the action of Holy Spirit, lowly bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  Jesus continues to heal his afflicted children, liberating them from the grips of Evil One through His priests, through the Holy Eucharist.

Let us pray for all priests that they may “live the liturgy”, following the example of our Holy Father, that they may offer the Holy Sacrifice with great love, fidelity, and humility.

It is no surprise that the devil hates the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ.  So, he attacks her members, especially her leaders.  Therefore, let us pray, too, for our beloved Papa Benedict who at the dawn of his pontificate implored us all:  “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.

PRAYER FOR THE POPE

V/.  Let us pray for our Pope Benedict.  

R/.  May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

V/.  Thou art Peter,

R/.  And upon this Rock, I will build My Church.

Let us Pray.  Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon Your servant, Benedict, our Sovereign Pontiff, and guide him in your goodness on the way of eternal salvation; so that, with the prompting of Your grace, he may desire what pleases You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

(Photo from Pitor Spalek of Piotrek Photos)