Here are the last three of the daily reflections that I wrote for the Magis Center for Catholic Spirituality.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
We are made for union with God. We are made for a spousal relationship with God. In the Song of Songs and the Prophets of the Old Testament, we find this truth in vivid terms like the following verse from Isaiah 54: 5: “For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the Lord of hosts….”
This goal of human existence begins to find its realization in the Eucharist. It is there that the union between each individual and the Lord is most closely attained on this side of eternity. There the Church is formed. St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, taught about marriage by quoting from the book of Genesis: “For this reason a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then Paul goes on to say, “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (5: 31-32). Marriage is sacred because it reveals something of the intimate union that Christ has with the Church and with each of her members. It is a union that transforms. As Pope Benedict said in his final homily at World Youth Day 2005: “The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.” The two—Christ and each one who receives him in the Eucharist—become one flesh.
This is another way of viewing the “First Principle and Foundation” in the Spiritual Exercises and it is what answers a question that arises from today’s Gospel (Luke 7: 24-30): how can it be that “the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than” John the Baptist? John, the great Forerunner and Martyr-Witness to the Messiah, did not have the privilege of the union that we have every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Can we ever be sufficiently grateful for this privilege?
Friday, December 16, 2011
Jesus called John the Baptist “a burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). The Lord calls you to be like John, to be a lamp that “shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5: 16).
You are called to burn with the love of the Sacred Heart which Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary, saying: “My divine Heart is so passionately fond of the human race, and of you in particular, that it cannot keep back the pent-up flames of its burning charity any longer. They must burst out through you.” To be on fire with the burning love of God requires you to draw near to the Heart of Jesus. It means being a “burning” lamp that is fed by the oil of the Holy Spirit who prays with you and within you. It means especially becoming one with the Sacred Heart that is given to you in the Eucharist.
You are also called to shine. Jesus called himself “the Light of the world” (John 8:12) and as he unites himself to you he calls you to be light as well (Matthew 5: 14). The light of a “shining lamp” is very humble. You don’t light a lamp and then stare at it. A lamp is lit not to draw attention to itself but to help people find their way. So it is with you. You are to be the light of the world in order to show people the way to the final destination for which God created the human race—heaven.
According to St. Ignatius, the goal of his Spiritual Exercises, and indeed the goal of all prayer, is to help us seek and find “the will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul” (#1). It is God’s will that you be one with him forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through prayer you are united one day at time with this loving will of God that fills you with warmth and light, that makes you “a burning and shining lamp” that will guide others to the Lord just as St. John the Baptist did.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
We begin today the final days of preparation for Christmas with the “O Antiphons” (found in antiphon for Mary’s Magnificat at Vespers and in the Alleluia verse at Mass). We also have the Genealogy of Jesus according the Matthew. Besides giving us the human origins of the Messiah, it reminds us of the Providence of God which, in St. Paul’s words, can “make all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8: 28).
The Genealogy does not paint a pretty picture. It includes a number of kings who led Israel away from God to the worship of idols. It also includes the names of four women, an unusual addition in the genealogies of the time. The childless and widowed Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute in order to have intercourse with her father-in-law Judah. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was a foreigner. And Bathesheba was the unfortunate recipient of King David’s attention, leading to his committing adultery with her and orchestrating her husband’s death.
The Genealogy or Family Tree of Jesus included sinners in need of mercy and healing. This shouldn’t be surprising since it was to save sinners that Jesus took flesh and came into the world. Or, as St. Ignatius puts it in his contemplation on the incarnation, the “Three Divine Persons look down upon the whole expanse or circuit of all the earth, filled with human beings. Since They see that all are going down to hell, They decree in Their eternity that the Second Person should become man to save the human race” (#102).
In this final of Advent, imagine the Blessed Trinity looking out over the world. Out of love for lost humanity, God sent the Son to live and die and rise for your salvation. He wants you to be filled with “an intimate knowledge” of His love so that you may “love Him more and follow Him more closely” (#105) and in this way to continue the work of salvation.