Tag Archives: Mary

Humility

For one of my classes, we were asked to read selections from “Glory of the Lord Volume 1: Seeing the Form” by the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Being a major fan of the great theology of this man, I quickly embraced the opportunity to not only read what was asked, but to re-read some areas I read in the past and wanted to read again.  I had taken the concept of humility and receptivity to be at the center of his theology (summarized under the concept of obedience), and this was affirmed in my class on Thursday.

Why do I bring up this great theologian?  Because what he promotes is a fundamental humility and receptivity towards the whole created order. For Balthasar, to be humble, to be open, to receive is the fundamental condition of humanity.  Only sin has distorted this into a mastering-over which expresses itself in technique and technology – signs that man depends on his own power but not on the freely given grace of God.

If this is man’s fundamental condition, then it must be how he approaches both reality and God.  For, by approaching reality and letting reality be-itself-to-you, you are able to sing the glories of what there is.  By letting reality “be itself” and to accept it as it is to you, you have the openness necessary to grow in knowledge.

For Balthasar, then, skepticism has no place in the search for knowledge, nor can one have a “certainty” that they know all they need to know.  Knowledge grows from letting all that is be itself to you, and, thereby, passing judgment upon reality.  It involves questioning, but not in the realm of “is this true” but rather “what is the mystery contained here?”.  Knowledge, fundamentally, must be based in complete and total awe towards all that is.

By doing so, we not only have the openness to reality, but to the God Who involves Himself in this reality in the Incarnation.  In short: if we want to know the Person of Jesus, we need to have an openness and obedience towards all that is in the world and, by doing so, we have a searching heart and can have the openness to encountering the Gospel.  Openness, obedience, receptivity, humility: these are man’s fundamental dispositions that help him grow to know all that is in all its mystery, splendor, and grandeur.

Where do we get a concrete example of this?  Who else but the Mother of Jesus who was so open to the Word that He took flesh in her womb?  Who else but she who said with conviction and boldness: fiat!  Who else but she who pondered all that God was doing in her heart?  Who else but she who trusted wholeheartedly in the God Who was the center of her life?

In our day to day lives, furthermore, this Marian character is revealed to us in women.  Those who think the Church is against women, or hates women, has never encountered the true beauty the Church sees in women.  Women, really, reveal to us what it means to be human!  That receptivity, that openness, is the true humility everyone – male and female – is called to.  Women carry that receptivity ever more clearly as stamped in their bodies and reveal to us the glory of humanity: to have an openness and receptivity to the God Who loves us and also wants to take flesh in our humanity so that He may bring His saving love to others.

I have realized, myself, that this is not only true in my life, but it has to become an ever increasing character of my life.  I know that with my conversion – and I know not why – there was a moment of openness and it was in that openness that God broke into my life.  I know, too, that I need to continue to re-live and re-discover that fundamental openness I had 8 years ago now.

What, though, if we are not open?  We cannot judge the person who is not open.  However, we must pray, fast, and do penance for those who are not open.  Not only for the sake of them hearing the gentle love of Christ for their lives, but also so that they can, in a more fundamental way, see the beauty of reality!  Openness is so fundamental: not cold skepticism.  To put ourselves above all that is is contrary to our dignity as human persons and puts us at war with the world we live in.  Until we can realize that we are not greater than the totality of things, until we acknowledge that we are of dust and it is to dust that we shall return, we will continue to be at war with our own humanity.  Let us look to Mary, let us look to women and see the true attitude towards reality: humble acceptance of all there is in its splendor.  Let us have wonder and awe at all there is!

in Christ

-Harrison

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There’s Something About Mary

I have many books on the go at the moment.  This is a perennial problem of mine: I always pick up new books before I finish the ones I am currently reading.  This leads to too many books on the go at the same time which ultimately leads me to giving up on many of them.

My problem right now is that all the books I am reading are all REALLY good.  Last week, for example, I read a section from Volume 1 of the Glory of the Lord by Hans Urs Von Balthasar (he is someone I just may mention once or twice over the course of this blog in the coming months and years).  The section I was reading was relating to the theological value of subjective experience: its importance, its basis in the Gospels and Scripture, its nature, etc.

I was reading away and got to his section on the subjective experience of Mary.  In this short section, he explains why Mary is the Mother of the Church.  He claims that Mary is Mother of the Church by virtue of the fact that she is Mother of the Son.  So far, so good.  By virtue of the intimate relationship she had with her Son, the Church which is His Bride becomes intimate to her as well.  By virtue of this relationship, Mary, then, in her maternal gaze upon the whole Church, expropriates from herself the experience of her Son and gives it to the Church (which is, by the way, the basis for the Church’s perfection).  As Mother, she wants the whole Church to know her Son the same way she does, and so she opens up her heart for us to experience in her the relationship she has with her Son.

I found this to be moving and beautiful.  More importantly, though, it gave me an insight into the rosary that I had never known before.  If what Balthasar says is true, then that means that each time we pray the Rosary, each time we meditate on a mystery, we are not simply looking at it in an objective manner, attempting to come to certain facts about the mysteries through our meditation.  No.  The rosary, instead, is a MUCH more powerful and glorious prayer.  It is in the rosary where we ask Mary to take us into her heart.  It is in the rosary, in the heart of Mary, that we see each mystery in her eyes, from her perspective.  By virtue of our union with her, we come to a more perfect knowledge and experience of her Son.

I got rather excited with this because, though I love to pray the rosary, I have found it difficult at times to be able to participate and meditate on the mysteries.  This helps me now see not only the centrality of the rosary, but of Mary herself.  When we pray the Hail Mary, we are not just asking her intercession, but we are asking to be placed in her Immaculate Heart, to be lifted up into the love she has for her Son.  Mary becomes powerful for us because we learn, from her through the depths of her heart, how to love her Son.

Mary is important and, I dare say, essential for Catholics because she is the perfect example of how to love God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.  We can be lifted up into her fiat and ask her to teach us to say yes as she says yes to God.  She is the perfect model of faith!  I have heard from some that because she is perfect it is tough to immitate her.  I respond by saying that she is not unapproachable because of her sinlessness, but absolutely even more approachable because of her sinlessness.  By virtue of her Immaculate Conception, she is completely available in a selfless way for the Church.  She gives herself totally to the Church so that the Church may have the faith, hope, and love that she has.  We tend to think that to be human is to be sinful, as if humanity is identifiable with sinfulness.  It is not.  Sin is an abomination to human nature and it has no part in us.  When we have Mary, when we have Jesus, who both were sinless, we think we cannot immitate them, they were better than we can ever be.  Yet, it is because of their complete union with the Father that they both had a perfect freedom, a freedom we yearn for.  We think that we are less free the closer we grow to God.  Mary and Jesus teach us that we become more free the more intimately united to God we are.  They are examples to us because what they live we are called to live as well.  Both Mary and Jesus were tempted in every way we are.  Yet they still said yes.  Let us ask Mary, then, to teach us to say yes as she did, despite fears, despite temptations.  Yes is the only word that we can say to God, because it is the only word that fulfills our human nature, our human destiny.

in Christ

-Harrison

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Key Elements of the Spiritual Life

For aid in my meditation, I have, of late, returned to a small book I encountered last summer while I was doing CPE in Toronto. The name of the book is “Time for God” by Jacques Philippe, a priest of the Community of the Beatitudes.

It is a wonderful book and I am happy I am reading it again. In fact, all his books are well worth the read, they are great guides to aiding you in the practice of the spiritual life.

I just read the section on faithfulness in prayer and I found it to be very moving and helpful in my prayer life. He states that if we love someone, then we want to spend time with them regularly. It doesn’t matter how long: the more we grow in love with them, the more we will want to spend time with them. Nor, he says, does quality matter because the important thing is to be with that person and not the eloquence of your words to that person. Being creates communion, words are simply an expression of the inner working of our soul. He states that even if it is time that is poor, distracted, and not producing any sense of accomplishment that this type of prayer is, in fact, more beneficial to our souls than the times when we can wax eloquence in our words or are lifted up into the most sublime feelings and sense of peace. The former is more important than the latter because in the latter, we stay despite the circumstances while in the latter we tend to stay because it feels good.

This has had me pondering further about the nature of prayer because I know that I can be quite weak when it comes to prayer. I am, to an extent, a man of great practicality. I want to know how to do what is necessary, to get the methods down right so as to ensure that the effects of an activity bear fruit for me and others. This is helpful in day to day life to an extent, but I have struggled for such a long time to overcome this tendency with regards to prayer. Why? Because prayer is not our work, but God’s work.

The way to begin the life of prayer is to accept and realize that it is God Who is inviting you into His intimate communion of love.  Until this is realized, no real progress can be made in the spiritual life.  I recall from January, when we had the seminary winter retreat, Bishop Corriveau quoted St Bonaventure’s “Journey of the Mind to God”.  In this, Bonaventure begins with a prologue begging God for aid as he attempts his work.  One of his intentions is that God grant him “grace, not understanding.”  I remember hearing this and being blown over by the power of such words.  Grant me, Lord, grace, not understanding.  I prayed on those five words all weekend long.  What does it mean, why is it that it hit me so very hard?  I then came to realize something: when I have approached the spiritual life, I have approached it as if it were a method, as if it were something I had to do certain things in order to attain certain ends.  When we pray for grace, not understanding, we are praying for God to do the work in us.  When He gives us His grace, it moves us to a response (which, as Augustine would say, is also graced).

This led me to realize that when we pray for grace, we are praying for the guidance necessary in our spiritual life.  God will give us the answers, we simply need to be obedient to them.  I have been growing in the awareness over the past year of the absolute centrality of the concept of obedience.  Obedience means that when God gives us something, we do not question it, we do not enter into discussion, we simply follow.  If God has the best intentions for us, then we can only say “yes” to Him.  We often think that God is not giving us what we need.  I know I have fallen into that trap.  What I have realized over the years is that this is a total lie.  God always gives us what we need, we just choose to ignore it, usually because we enter into conversation with temptation instead of listening to God’s still small voice.  Am I still weak in not being obedient to God?  You betcha!  But I know, thanks be to God, that I am growing, day by day, in the realization that His love is what gives me peace, His presence is what grants me stability, His patience which brings me to freedom.  The key, I am discovering each day, is to seek out His will in things and to simply say “yes”.  It doesn’t need to be complicated, because God is not complicated.  Our sinfulness is what complicates things.

So what does this all mean for us?

I have discovered that there important things that are fundamental to every Christian:

  • Silent Prayer: we live in a noisy world, but Christ went up a mountain or into the desert to pray.  We need not even go to the Church: find a space in your house and put a holy image or icon there.  Give God 10 minutes a day.  It is small, but it is sufficient.  Bring to God your heart for the day.  Sometimes it will seem like nothing happened, but, at the end of the day, you will notice that there is a quiet peace about you.  It is because you  have given God your heart for a small part of the day.  Do this every day, though.  I know that when I haven’t done this for a day, or even a couple days, my life gets out of whack and I go through all sorts of crises.  Root yourself in Christ, He is the rock of your salvation.
  • Mass:  This almost goes without saying.  If you can, try and find a weekday Mass you can go to.  There is too much to say about the Mass, but it is also self-evident, so I will leave it there.
  • The Rosary: I have, myself, had a love-hate relationship with the rosary.  But the more I pray it (and the more reading I do), the more I realize its importance.  The rosary is the school of Mary, the place where we see the mysteries of the life of Christ through her eyes.  In the rosary, we are in communion with Our Lady.  The more you pray it, the more you take on the characteristics of Mary and the more you realize how much you don’t have the faith she had, bringing you to a deeper desire to be formed in the image of her Son.
  • Reconciliation: I am so very convinced that this is the great neglected sacrament!  This sacrament is where Christ enters our being through the Cross and renews us completely and totally.  Bring everything to Him, He will heal you.  It is a great sacrament because it reminds us that we are sinners and are in need of God’s healing love.  I have never understood people’s fear of the sacrament.  It is a sacrament!  It is a place where we encounter the Christ in His very Person!  Ought we not to avail ourselves of this sacrament?  I would recommend it at least once a month.  We all make mistakes, we all fail to live up to the image of Christ.  Let us go to Him to be renewed in His image.

There is much more I could say, but that is enough for today.  I know that when I live out those 4 simple things each day, I am rooted in Christ Who supports me in the day and, day by day, aids me to be a little bit more like Him and a little less like my sinful self.

in the Risen Christ

-Harrison

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