Tuesday, 25 December 2012

65: Jesus is born in our heart

There are three Christmas Masses: midnight, dawn and during the day. Not only we are allowed to attend them and but we are invited to receive Communion during these 3 Masses.
The three masses of Christmas tell us of three births of God’s Son:
1- His birth at Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-14.
2- His birth in our hearts. Luke 2:15-20.
3- His birth in eternity (the only begotten of the Father). John 1:1-18.

You’ll certainly guess that I might have a greater interest in the “dawn Mass”. It is a more “interior” perspective about Christmas. It alludes to Jesus’ birth in our hearts.

By our Baptism, Jesus is born in our heart. As a small seed, He’ll grow in us until He reaches the fullness of His height. That moment could be considered as a fuller “birth of Jesus in our hearts” or, if you will, the equivalent of what the Mystics called the “Spiritual Marriage” with Jesus. Remember what saint Paul claimed: “it is not me who live, Christ lives in me”.

Christmas is as well about personal spiritual life: let us look inside and watch out Jesus in us.

Who better than Mary can give birth to Jesus? Who can carry Him in the fullness of His hight and bear the intensity of His Divinity? Mary only can do it. We need both: the Son of God, offering Himself to us as the biggest and deepest gift, and Mary, the “capacity” to handle that divine weight in us.
Let us invite Mary in the cradle of our heart so she can come. She comes carrying Jesus in her. She is the best “space” we can offer to God so He can come and dwell in us.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus once said that before Communion she invites Mary to dwell in her heart, so when she receives Jesus, the Host, He’ll think that He is dwelling in her. To me, it looks like the best way to receive Jesus in us.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

64: Christian contemplation #2

The two types of contemplation

Contemplating is “seeing”

Two areas of our being can contemplate: the mind/soul and one that belongs to the heart/spirit. The first area is conscious (you are aware of what you are contemplating, you understand it), the second is supra-conscious (it affects us in a deeper, or higher level but still fundamental). 

Contemplating is “eating”

Contemplating nourishes the two areas of our being. Contemplation is about receiving God himself in us. 
Jesus is our Bread. He came to give us Himself. He does it in two forms (we have them in the Mass):
First food: his Words that are Spirit and Life 
Second food: His Body and Blood. 

This means that we have two types of contemplation

The Mass in the central moment where we receive these two types of meals. We often don’t have enough time to digest, this is why we extend the digestion that is supposed to take place in the Mass in two activities, one for each type of food: 

The first one is contemplating the Word that Jesus wants to give us today. This is Lectio Divina.
The second contemplation: is digesting the Body and Blood we receive, through immersing us in the last Communion we received. That is Prayer of the heart

Contemplation is a direct contact with Jesus 

These two types of deepening allow us to enter in a direct contact with Jesus. 1- A direct contact through a Word He is giving us. 2- A direct contact with His Divinity, through His Body and Blood. 

Practising the Lectio divina and the Prayer of the heart is our way to answer to the daily Gift of Jesus. Mind you, we ask for it, we ask for contemplation but we don’t really sit down in order to “contemplate” and feed ourselves. “Give us this day our daily Bread (Jesus, in His two forms).” 

Contemplation is an invitation from Jesus 

We didn’t invite ourselves to this banquet. Jesus invited us, to come, sit down with Him and listen to Him, and receive Him entirely. 

Contemplating heaven, enriching the earth 

We do ask everyday: “your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”. This means that we are first invited to contemplate the will of God “in heaven” i.e. “in Him”. 
It means as well that after having been admitted to “see” the Will of God “in heaven” we seek the help of God to make it come down, and incarnate “on earth”. It is not enough to “see” the Will of God “in heaven”. We need to receive His Help, in order to “make it happen” “on earth”. 

This is one of our greatest tasks in life: to make heaven come on earth, to let the earth be transfigured by heaven. 

Mary presides contemplation 
The best realisation of contemplation in any disciple of Jesus happened in Mary. Not only that but she is the “mother of contemplation”. She is the only one that achieved it in fullness and with fruits. The Holy Spirit realised in her His will, fully and perfectly, in incarnating Jesus’ Words and His Body and Blood. The Holy Spirit, united in Mary heaven and earth, and this gave us Jesus and continues everyday to give us Jesus’ Body: us. 

Contemplating is giving time to God to incarnate 

Contemplating is giving time and space in us to God, so He can come and act with us and through us, changing us and the world around us.

Monday, 17 December 2012

63: Christian Contemplation #1

Contemplation for Christianity is essential. It is a central activity. The 20 centuries of Christianity have been such a blessing, we received tons of graces and teachings from the Spiritual Masters about “contemplation”. 
Saint John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church (spec. on Contemplation)
The first part of the 20th century witnessed a very animated debate about it (“acquired c.” vs. “infused c.”) but, for many methodological reasons, it didn’t lead to a final “common agreement “ between the different Spiritual Schools. 

What is Contemplation?

We shouldn’t surrender. On the contrary, since it is so vital for our Christian experience of the Risen Lord, we should constantly address “contemplation”, deepen it and mainly practise it. Why so? 

Jesus chose us, asked us to follow Him and be His witnesses. “Witnessing” means that we see something, we experience something, otherwise, what would we be witnessing? Concepts? Abstract notions? A set of rules (morality)? 

The Apostles themselves where the first witnesses. They witnessed an experience they had: meeting the Lord, not only before the Resurrection but as well, and importantly “after the Resurrection” and after the Ascension. 

Saint John offers us in his Gospel a modality of how witnessing happens in the case of the visit of Jesus to a Samaritan town. They listened to the Samaritan woman, then listened directly from Jesus, they had the direct personal experience of His Words, that "tasted" how they are “Spirit and Life”. This is why they said to her (they witnessed): “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42) Their experience of Jesus, of His power, of His words became first hand experience

John himself in his Gospel quoted Jesus saying that after his Death and Resurrection His followers will have of Him a unique personal experience that other people in the world won’t have: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me” (John 14:19).

“Christian contemplation” is all about this personal experience of “seeing Jesus”. 

- Jesus died? 
- Yes. 
- He rose from the dead? 
- Yes. 
- He appeared to His apostles? 
- Yes. 
- He ascended into heaven? 
- Yes. 
- He continued to be “seen” by his followers? 
- Yes. 

This is the point! In his Gospel, saint John addresses this great mystery of the “coming” of Jesus. In a very famous homely, saint Bernard said that, as Christians, we believe in 3 comings of Jesus: 

1- He came, at the moment of the Incarnation 
2- He will come in the end of the world for the final Judgment
3- He comes, discretely, in the life of each one of us, on earth, and we experience His Presence, His Love, His Words, His Graces. This experience lasts from 20 Centuries. 

When Jesus comes, we see Him. 
- How? 
- You’ll find yourself asking the same question Judas - not Judas Iscariot - asked, saying: “But, Lord, why [how] do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) 

For the time being you agree that, in the same time: 
1- there is an affirmation, a truth: Jesus shows himself to his followers 
2- we don’t necessarily know how to explain this “vision”/”experience”

Here is Jesus’ answer, explaining how it happens: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). 

As you can see, there are two moments: 

1- To love Jesus = to keep His words 
2- To experience the Love of God the Father = the Father and the Son come and abide in us.

These two steps define the Christian experience of Jesus, i.e. “Christian contemplation”.


Vision is a major activity of the brain: it uses more tan 60% of the brain’s activity. 

“Seeing” is constantly used by us, but this doesn’t mean that we always connect with what we see. 

If we connect, we become part of what we see, we sort of “eat” what we “see”. “Seeing” feeds us greatly, and transforms us in the essence of what we see. It slowly shapes the way we see things. 

What we see, through light, impregnates us with the “essence” of what we see. The light seems to extract the essence of the contemplated object, and communicates it to us, transforming our soul in it.

We should be careful of what we see and ask ourselves: 
- How many hours we spend in “seeing”?
- Are we focused when we see?
- What objects do we intend to see?
- What is communicated to us?
- Did we decided to take on board all what we saw? 

We should as well ask ourselves:
- Are we attracted by God as a being to be seen/contemplated?
- Do we spend time in order to learn what is “Christian contemplation”?
- After that, do we spend time “watching God” (contemplating God)? 
- Contemplation is nourishment as we said, so, do we eat? or we are often malnourished? 

We can’t call ourselves “witnesses” of Jesus and not spend time watching Him, meeting Him… it is simple nonsense. 

Jesus didn’t send us to do other things. He invited us to be His witnesses, nothing else. Why and how come did we exchange our main vocation with other empty activities? 

A good check up is needed and “contemplation” remains the core of our life.

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

62: The practical use of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception #2

Immaculate Conception
(continuation of previous post)
To me, the historical context of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is very important in order to understand it fully, and we should strive to understand the “political”, practical, thread in it.
Again, being specialised in “Spiritual Theology”, I am essentially interested in the practical spiritual impact of the Proclamation of a Dogma, any Dogma.

First: what is a “Dogma”?

The word “Dogma” we use, is a word inherited from the Greek Philosophers. A dogma for them is a universal principle which founds and justifies a specific practical conduct, and which can be formulated in one or in several propositions. A Dogma (especially amongst the Stoic Philosophers) is like a sentence of practical wisdom that one will meditate, ponder upon, and put into practice: it essentially impacts the daily life.

The use of the word “dogma” crossed from the cultural philosophical use amongst the Greeks to early Christians.
- Was that an error? Would that have meant a deviation of the right understanding of Jesus’ message?
- I am not sure it is the case. Let us have a closer look.

For early Christians (the first centuries), the “dogmas” were something very practical. It appears as well to be the same for the non-Greek christians: the Apostles themselves who were Semites.

A very early example of the implicit use of the idea of a “dogma”

See for instance how saint Matthew in his gospel presents the Trinity as a “Dogma”, i.e. as something to put into practice. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the Great Charter (Carta Magna) of the newly baptised. Remember we are baptised (i.e. immersed) in each Person of the Trinity. In the Sermon of the Mountain, saint Matthew dedicates a section for each person of the Trinity: Mt 5:17-48 is offered to put the Son into practice, Mt 6 is to help us put the Father into practice, and Mt 7 is for us to put the Holy Spirit into practice. Each Person is a “dogmata”, not a sentence thought, but a Person in whom we are supposed to meditate upon, to enter, to be immersed in.

“Being Baptised” meant simply that the Father did Baptise (immerse) us, in the Trinity.
- How would this happen?
- For the first Generation, God the Father was considered to have like two hands: st Irenaeus says that the Son and the Holy Spirit are the Hands of the Father (remember that Irenaeus is disciple of the disciple of saint John). So “Baptism” would be seen as follows:
The Father takes us in His Hands and holds us tight: as a result we shouldn’t escape from His hands. How? But a set of practices that would help us remain immersed (baptised) in the Son, in the Father and in the Holy Spirit (in that order, see 2 Co 13:13).
To “be Baptised” for the first generation of Christians implied to put into practice the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity. The “Dogma” of the Trinity was practical and vital.
Therefore for the Catechesis of the first Christians (i.e. the Sermon of the Mountain), a whole chapter was dedicated to approach each Person of the Trinity in a practical way.
For a mnemonic reason, remember that each hand has 5 fingers, so you’ll find the 5 points (one per finger) to remember about the Son in Mt 5 and the same for the Holy Spirit: five sections in Mt 7.

Easy to count, easy to remember, easy for meditation, easy to put into practise. The whole “Greater Charter” (Carta Magna) of Christianity, i.e. the Dogma of the Trinity, is all comprised in this Sermon, the Sermon of the Mountain.

The historical background of the dogma

- Would dogmas change?
- Obviously: no.
- Would we have new dogmas?
- Obviously: no.
- So why do we have “new” dogmas?
- We don’t. We just proclaim a truth as a “dogma” when we see it, after a long development, under a clearer light. (Theological note: Even if it is the Pope who proclaims a Dogma, the proclamation is an act of all the Church, as you'll see below, the Pope makes a consultation first in order to "sense" the "feeling of the faithful". The infallibility of the Pope draws its principle from the infallibility of the Church and not vice-versa.)

I would ad to that last reply something important to my eye: a Dogma, as we just said, has a direct practical use to it. It is not “one more truth to proclaim”, it is one more thing to put into practise, one more thing we already put into practise but the use of which today is much more urgent, this is why it is underlined by the Faithful, the Church, the Pope.

- So why that urge to proclaim Mary as the “Immaculate Conception”?
- This is exactly my point: the historical context of the proclamation is very important to understand the reason and mainly its application in daily life.

Let us remember few facts that will help us situate historically the “proclamation” of the Immaculate Conception of Mary by Pope Pius IX:

Pius IXth

1- Pope Pius the IXth is witnessing the end of the “Middle Age” political system, and the new spirit of the French Revolution invading the spirit of the Italians and most of Europe.

2- These changes are quite drastic and, with all the good will of the Pope, are seen and felt as a threat to the normal order of things.

Pellegrino Rossi

3- The Pope’s life is under serious threat. His Prime Minister, Pellegrino Rossi, has been assassinated (15th of November 1848), the Swiss Guards are disarmed, making the Pope to a prisoner in his palace.
Then on the 24th of November 1848, the Pope then escapes in disguise as a regular priest to Gaeta, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies leaving Rome to the radicals and the mob.

4- At Gaeta, in a very small crypt, the Pope prays during 9 months. He had a great devotion to Mary under the name of the “Immaculate Conception”. (You can visit the Church (“Santissima Annunziata”) and the crypt also called “Cappella d’Oro”)
Cappella d'Oro in Gaeta where Pius IX prayed for 9 months
It is during this time that the Pope formed the decision to start the process of consultation that will lead later to the declaration of the Dogma of the “Immaculate Conception”.  He published his Encyclical Letter, “Ubi Primum”, the 2nd of February 1849 to the bishops of the Catholic Church asking them for opinion on the definition of a dogma on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

The Pope remained in Gaeta till the 4th of September 1849.

Time of total distress

The Pope’s Prime minister is killed, his life is under threat, he has to escape, and he does it in disguise. This tells us the degree of distress the Pope is in.

It is quite obvious that the only practical help he could find was in Mary, not only that, but “Mary the Immaculate Conception”. In a situation of darkness, of total darkness, where the future of the Church is under serious threat, the traditional political order is upside down and threatened to disappear, where evil is trying to kill… the Pope turns in prayer to the Immaculate, the only Creature after Jesus that was never defeated by Evil. We can say that the Pope found the solution for his distress.
Do you see the practical, spiritual and political situation in which is born the desire to proclaim solemnly Mary as the “Immaculate Conception”?
He is in fact declaring that he found The Solution for his distress, he wants to present the solution, and he wants to say what happened to him and how she helped him.
He wants to say that this is the will of God to put in the Centre of the Church the First Sign of His Victory, the New Eve, the one that was never defeated by Evil. She is at the heart of the Church, real source and proof of Hope that God gave us.
You’ll notice that in the definition of the Immaculate Conception, it is said that this “grace”/ privilege comes directly from Jesus’s salvation, from Jesus’ Cross. I like to see Her, first Saved Person, and mother, with Him, of all the saved, I like to contemplate Her coming out of His Side, New Eve, totally pure.
The first sign of Jesus’ victory on the Cross is Mary. The prototype of all the Saved people, is Mary.
The mother and the “Mould” of all the saved, is Her as well. She generated the Head, and generates each person in the Body.
God put this Sign (the Immaculate) right in the centre of his Church. Mary is the only one who believed (see previous posts), Mary is the Prototype of Jesus’ Disciple and follower (see previous posts).
All of us, like the Pope and like that moment in the history of the Church, we reach the darkest point in our spiritual journey, and we all lift our eyes, in the darkness, to the Star of the Sea, Mary, the Only Immaculate Point in the Dark Sky, “gift of Jesus for us”, “capacity to believe” given by Him to us.

The role of Immaculate in the “Dark night of the spirit”

Now this is more technical here. According to saint John of the Cross, the “Dark night of the spirit” is the deepest and final purification the faithful should go through before reaching the “Union with Jesus” (See his book "The dark night", especially the second part). You might recognise it in the “Great trial” mentioned in the book of Revelation (Rev 9:14-17) or find it in a more plain way in: what the Apostles (or any Jesus’ follower) have to go through when Jesus is about to start his Passion: all your hopes about the Messiah-Saviour will vanish, all your life, your spiritual life seems to go and disappear in the land of oblivion.

Ven. Fr. Marie-Eugène

Now, a great catholic Master, the Venerable Fr Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus OCD (1894-1967) (his process of Beatification is on the verge of reaching completion), in his great book “I want to see God”, says that Mary plays a fundamental role in this crucial moment were everything in our “spiritual life” seem to disappear. He quotes saint Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, saying that the presence of Mary all together 1- makes that time of deep purification lighter, more bearable, and 2- is essential for this turning point in our spiritual life (the deep purification). In fact, for the first time, we are called to make a pure act of Faith, and in order to do so, we learn to use “Mary’s faith”, or better said: we ask her to “believe for us”. In doing so, we let her grow in us, and transform our spirit at the image of hers, being now for the first time capable of “believing as she believes”.

We are then starting to follow “the only one who believed in the Resurrection”, “the one around whom the distressed apostle gathered in order to draw from her the pure faith in Jesus”.

In a way, pope Pius the IXth is saying to us: in these great times of distress, the Church continues not with the strength of papacy, or any human strength, but through the help God put in Mary, the Immaculate. God had his victory in her, and is offering to each one of us this same Victory, by putting Mary in the centre of Jesus’ faithful. Mary said “Yes” to God in the darkest moment of history (when Jesus is dead): she believed in the Resurrection; and God gives us her “Yes” so we can use it and overcome the darkness. (Note: John-Paul II made all this very clear during his Pontificate)

Does it make more sense now to believe that Mary is Immaculate Conception? Do we see better how practical is that “dogma”?

Monday, 10 December 2012

61: The practical use of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception #1

The Immaculate Conception of Mary is essential for our daily life and we don’t necessarily see it or use it. Why would the Church proclaim something that is not useful for us? Therefore, a clever attitude would be to dig deeper in order to understand the real daily use of a “Dogma”.

In fact, the “Immaculate Conception” is not a Dogma about Mary only. It is a fundamental element in our “Spiritual Life”. How that?

At the Cross, Jesus gives us Mary (see John 19:26-27), this means that this privilege of Mary has benefits for us, since Mary "belongs to us". In fact, we know that Mary, in the Annunciation and throughout her life said “yes” to God, for herself and for each one of us. (“She uttered her yes "in the name of all human nature". By her obedience she became the new Eve, mother of the living” (Catechism 511))

“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Catechism 491)

The huge gap that lays between Mary and each one of us is not only at the level of her Conception (from the first moment of her conception she is preserved immune from all stain of original sin) but at the level of its practical consequences: being able to believe. The insistence in the Gospel on the “faith of Mary” versus our “lack of faith” (or better said our “incapacity to believe”) is something really staggering.
Earlier on in his Gospel, saint Luke presents us two annunciations, one that “didn’t work”, and one that did. One was unfruitful (Zachariah didn’t believe) and the other one was fruitful (Mary did believe).
The parallelism is done on purpose, and is very powerful: it is meant as well to be the Portal of his Gospel. The conclusion of this asymmetrical presentation of the “capacity to believe” reaches its high peak when Mary and Elisabeth meet. Not Zachariah this time, but his wife, has a very deep dialogue with Mary where she’ll utter central truths for us who are seeking to believe:
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil what has been said to her!” (Luke 1:45)
The one who believed visits the one who didn't believe
The Lord said things to Zachariah, he didn’t believe.
The lord said things to Mary, and she believed.

Not only that, but Mary brings us the light of her Faith, and offers it to us: see how she doesn’t remain with the Grace of God she has, on the contrary, she visits her Cousin Elisabeth, and visits each one of us, at home. This is why Mary will utter this very unusual self-praise: “From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). All the generations will receive her visit, will draw from her unique immaculate faith the capacity to believe. This is not something to be taken lightly!

So, as we see: 1- we notice the huge gap between her capacity and ours. 2- this gap is closed by the fact that the “grace” and “privilege” she received are as well offered to us.

Does Jesus speak about these essential truths? Well yes, but in a semi-hidden way, because it is a “secret”. Why does he “hide” these essential truths? He doesn’t want to give the Pearls to the swine: “though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.” (Luke 8:10) One has really to want it, to ask for it, to seek it humbly but with full desire.

In order to understand better the “Immaculate Conception of Mary” let us have a look at the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8). This parable is the key parable, in the sense that if we don’t understand it, we won’t understand any parable: “Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (Mk 4:13).
This parable analyses the earths: i.e. “our way or receiving” the Word of God, our way of BELIEVING. It doesn’t discuss anything about God Himself, on the contrary, it addresses the human being and his capacity to receive the Word of God and bare fruits. Its goal is to show us how our ways of dealing with God are too short, and don’t reach fruition and that we need to adopt the way of the “Good Earth”: Mary.

In that fundamental parable, Jesus offers us 4 different “earths” (read: “4 ways of believing”) and studies them carefully. The striking thing is that only one earth is capable of bearing fruits (fully believing): the fourth earth, also called the “Good earth”.

Remember: “liturgy” is the way the faithful, throughout the ages, express their own faith. Paying attention to the contents of the Liturgy can bring us precious information about our faith. In the liturgical tradition of the Church (the Maronite and Byzantine rites at least), Mary is called the “Good earth”, the “Earth in which God sowed His Divine Seed: the Son”.

Let us come back to the Parable of the Sower: We can then explore safely the avenue of considering Mary as the “Good earth”.
Remember, for “the act of believing”, the red line between “bearing fruits” and “not bearing fruits” is fundamental. What is the point of starting to believe and reaching completion?
It is a way as well of understanding the “fullness of Grace” that characterises Mary: being “full of grace” allows her to bear fruits, to believe. Only God dwells in the “FULL-of-Grace”, only God acts in her, and His action doesn’t find in her any obstacle, and therefore she can bare fruits.

Now, can we really receive Mary in our heart, in our life, and make use of her own faith?

Saint Therese of the Child Jesus sums up all what we said, and brings it to a genius completion when she said:

“I am not shaken when I see my weakness
The treasure of the Mother belongs to the son/daughter
And I am your daughter, oh my dear mother
Your virtues, your love, aren’t they mine?
Therefore when in my heart will descend the white Host
Jesus, my Sweet Lamb, thinks he reposes in you!...” (Poem 54,5)

You may say to Mary: your faith Mary is mine, therefore I believe not with/through my weak faith, but wit your own faith.

This is why Pope John Paul II said in His Encyclical letter on Mary (Redemptoris Mater RM) mentions the fact that we are called to participate to Mary’s faith (see RM 27) and has this other genius affirmation: “Mary's faith […] in some way continues to become the faith of the pilgrim People of God” (RM 28).

This short text on the understanding and use of the Immaculate Conception is worth being read few times, in order to receive all it’s rich contents.

Re-read, ponder, wonder...
ask, receive and then ACT...

(Continuation, see next post...)