Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Incarnation: Act of Love, Act of Salvation

*This was something I wrote exactly one year ago. Try as I might, I can't come up with anything better. Blessed Christmas.*

By Your Holy Incarnation, save us! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

From towers, hear the bells ringing! From city to city, hear the choirs singing! Let us ponder now that which we celebrate; that of which we sing.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This simple statement, this simple fact, is pivotal in human history. With this birth, all of reality is changed. With this birth, the renewal of all things begins. With this birth, salvation has come!

By Your Holy Incarnation, save us! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”

The Lord God did create all that is- visible and invisible. Looking down, He approved that which He had crafted, calling it “good”. But with the creation of the human race, it was complete- “very good”. For within humanity was placed the imago Dei- the image of God. This allowed a relationship between God and man that no other creature possessed.

The angels are indeed spiritual, and dwell in the heavens. But they possess not the image of God. The birds of the air, the beasts of the earth, and the fish of the sea are wondrous in their flesh. But they possess not the image of God. The rocks and the trees and all of nature’s majesty is glorious in its physicality. But even they possess not the image of God. This gift was granted unto man alone- to be physical and spiritual; to dwell in a communion of love with God and with each other.

Into this innocence did mankind come. They walked in the Garden of Eden, surviving off the bounty of the land and walking with God. However, it was not to stay as such. For the great Deceiver lied to our parents, telling them that by doing that with was forbidden, they would partake of divinity. Deluded by such a lie, Adam and Eve were filled with pride. “Is it not good to be like God, knowing both good and evil?” Going forth with such thoughts Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, giving it then to her husband Adam.

With this singular act of disobedience, man was plunged into corruption, darkness, and death. Separated from Life and having transgressed the Command of God, they were banished from Paradise. But of what Paradise do we speak? It is true enough that Eden was paradise- in which there was no toil, no pain, and no death. The greater and true Paradise, however, was communion with God. We were created to dwell in such Paradise; to be priests and kings, offering up all Creation up to the Creator in thanksgiving. Alienated from our original purpose, we thus ceased to fully human; to live to our fullest potential.

By Your Holy Incarnation, save us! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

From the time of Adam even to today, mankind has lived out lives of disobedience. Darkened by sin, fearful of death, and held in tyranny by Satan, humanity has consistently disregarded the Law of God and gone after their own ways. Concerning our constant rejection of God, its effects are clearly evident: theft, disease, war, and calamity. Again and again this cycle is effected, further lengthening an endless downward spiral, never to end. Or is it?

By Your Holy Incarnation, save us! Christ is born! Glorify him!

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The darkness trembles, for it has seen the Light enter into the world, and it flees. For is not darkness merely the absence of light? With the birth of Jesus, the foundations of Creation are shaken. For in the beginning, the Word made all that was. But now, the Word has become flesh. The God who formed all Creation has now united Himself to it in a most intimate way. This called the Incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God and man are united eternally.

By Your Holy Incarnation, save us! Christ is born! Glorify him!

What meaning has this? What purpose does God becoming man have? For this is not mere symbolism, nor the fancy of imagination. For Jesus is truly, really, substantially God-in-flesh; Immanuel, God-with-us. There is an old maxim, found in the writings of St. Gregory of Nazianus: “That which is not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved!” By assuming human nature Christ, Whom in Himself recapitulates all of humanity, restores it to God. If not for the Incarnation, there can be no Cross; and if no Cross, no Resurrection; if no Resurrection, no salvation. By doing what man could not do, Christ has opened again the gates of True Paradise. United to Him, through the Holy Spirit, men may again walk with God!

By Your Holy Incarnation, save us! Christ is born! Glorify him!

“I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Incarnation did not cease, however. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He did not discard the flesh which out of love He assumed. Rather, He still bears it, sitting at the right hand of the Father. In such an act, humanity has been exalted to the highest place! And again, His Incarnation upon this Earth has not ceased. He is still present- in the Eucharist, which is His Body and Blood for our salvation, and in the Church, which is His Mystical Body upon Earth. We who partake of the Eucharist are then united to His Mystical Body, and we therefore become an extension of the Incarnation; for are we not named Christian, “little Christ”? Jesus, who is our Head, continues His ministry of salvation through we who are members of His Body.

By Your Holy Incarnation, save us! Christ is born! Glorify him!

By this singular act of love our God has not only made possible salvation, He has wrapped us in Himself. Indeed, the union of God and man in Christ Jesus is salvific in and of itself. To our eyes the scene is that of a newborn baby, sweet and mild, in a lowly humble town. Draw back the curtain, and you shall see that it was an act of salvation; an invasion into enemy territory. The Word who created all things came to claim what was His, and take it back from wrongful hands. The Word came to restore that which had been broken, to purify that which had been made unclean. The Word came to bring us out of darkness, and into His marvelous light.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Truly, There is Nothing New Under the Sun

There is one great sin: Pride
And there is but one great heresy: To believe we can live without God
From these two blasphemies, all the evil in the world can be traced.

There is but one great virtue: Love
And there is but one great Truth: That God has given us life in Jesus Christ
From these two glories, all that is good can be traced in this world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent and Repentance

Christmas is right around the corner. The season of Advent draws short, for soon we shall celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We all know that Advent is a season of anticipation. We look back to that night when God became Man, and the whole of Creation was turned right-side-up. And we look to the future, when that Man Whom is God shall return again.

It is also a season of repentance. The call of Our Emmanuel, and his Forerunner, still ring out- "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" We must repent, for it for our sins that Christ died. We must repent of the sins which we have, and will, commit.

The Sweet Lord was born in a manger. The Highest of All was laid low, and placed into a feeding trough. Even Jesus' first moments after being born were filled with humility.

Even as Jesus was given a humble manger to rest in, so too must we prepare our hearts to receive Him. In humility we must confess unto God all our failings, that we might present Christ our hearts as thrones.

So often, we do not confess our sins. So often we clothe ourselves in fig leaves and hide our shame. So often, we present a sacrifice that is not our best. So often, we present a court that has not been cleaned. And so the list goes on.

But we needn't fear. For Jesus has come for such people.

Jesus has come that we might be purified and washed, our sins blotted out.

Jesus has come, clothed in humanity, to clothe us in His divinity; He wraps the mantle of salvation around us.

Jesus has come, to present the perfect sacrifice- Himself. In Him, we can present a pure and pleasing sacrifice unto the Father- ourselves.

Jesus has come to cleanse our hearts and to make us His living temple, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Hear the voice of the Baptist, crying in the wilderness: "Prepare ye the way of the LORD! Make a straight highway for Him!"

Hear the voice of the Blessed Virgin, saying: "Do whatever He tell you to."

Hear the voice of the people, crying out: "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!"

Hear the voice of Jesus, saying: "Your sins are forgiven."

Grant us, O Lord, true contrition, that with tears of repentance we might confess unto our sins. For You are faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Have mercy on us poor sinners, Lord Jesus. We magnify Your Incarnation, O Christ. By Your Incarnation You have brought Light into the darkness; by Your Incarnation, save Your despairing people!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving- Now, and Forever More

Today in America is that quintessential holiday- Thanksgiving. Where families gather from California to the New York Island; from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters. Sitting around a huge mahogany table, they partake of a feast as ancient as 1783 (or 1863- we're really not sure). Gathering together foods from a bountiful harvest, the tradition of the Puritan Fathers is to eat turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing (the exact ingredients of which are never questioned), yams, and rolls. Oh, and cranberry relish. Who could forget cranberry relish.

Technically a "harvest festival", its cousins include Chuseok, Sukkot, and 中秋節. Thanksgiving Day's ancestors were feasts held around the autumnal equinox, and were times of merriment, eating, drinking, contests, and all sorts of debauchery. Also, there was thanks for a good harvest implied, probably in sacrifices which were consumed by those offering.

In any case, back to the subject.

Thanksgiving Day.

Now, most people are familiar with the Thanksgiving proclamation that was given by President Lincoln. A great one, if I do say so myself. However, I like the one given by President Washington better:

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789."

Well said, Mr. President. Such moving words. Such profound eloquence.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful day. Thanksgiving is a wonderful day full of absolutely nothing.

We gather together once a year to gorge ourselves on food, say "Thanks [insert higher power here]. But, the pie could have been better." And then we go back home, returning to our lives that we never really left. Hooray for being shallow.

In his first letter the church at Thessalonica (why is it that Bible names all sound really cool?), the holy Apostle St. Paul says:
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

How often do we follow this command? And, make no mistake- it is a command. How often do we give thanks during times of bounty, much less during times of drought? We may be polite and say, "Thank you" to others, like to the cashier at the grocery store. But, that is just social convention to maintain order. Following on that example, how many of us actually mean what we say to that cashier? Sure, they are just doing their job. Nonetheless, they are serving us.

Many will exclaim "Thank God!" when they receive a promotion at work. But, how many will say "Glory to God!" when they find out that they have been laid off?

Now, don't act as though I am just beating on you. For as much as this is aimed outward, it is just as much for myself. We all need reminding.

For all that we have, we must give thanks unto God. And as surely as the Lord lives, the words of His mouth are true and wise. As Our Lord Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Our Lord Jesus promises us that we shall be provided for; not as sparrows or lilies, but as children of Our Heavenly Father. But, that is not all there is on this matter. Again, as it is written:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth."

In Christ, we have all the blessings we shall need! In Him is forgiveness, life, and salvation!

The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, the Lord's Table, Breaking of the Bread- all these are names of that Holy Gift which Jesus gives us, and which He commanded to be offered in His Name. In this Mystical Supper, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Why? So that we might be united to Him; to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. To be sanctified, and made more Christ like.

There is another name for this Mystery. It is perhaps one of (if not the most) ancient of names, drawn from the very text of the Last Supper.


This one little Greek word means something that at first seems so simple; yet in reality it is deeply profound:


When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are "proclaiming the Lord's death until He comes". We are taken outside our little world bound by space and time, and into eternity. Heaven and earth are crashed together. And all of Christ's saving work- His Incarnation, Perfect Life, His Ministry; His Holy Passion, His Victorious Resurrection, His Glorious Ascension; even His Second Coming- all are made present. Him Whom saves is made present. Jesus offers Himself to us.

And we give thanks. We offer ourselves up in thanksgiving. Our lives become living sacrifices; our prayers, a sweet and fragrant incense.

Lately, I have been reading quotes from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He truly possessed great insight, and his work is magnificent. I highly recommend reading him. He, too, had something to say about giving thanks. Listen to these wise words, taken from Fr. Schmemann's book "For the Life of the World":
"When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being, He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be."
What we cannot do, Jesus does. What we did not do, Jesus does. We were created in the image of God. Christ is the image of the Father. We are made in the image of Christ. That which we scorned, He exalted. That which we neglected, He fulfilled.
And so too He calls us to Him so that in His fulfillment, we might become fulfilled.

In, with, and through Jesus, we are called to Eucharistic living. And, how is this done? By following in the Master's footsteps- serving all for God, and offering all to God.
The Holy Spirit enlivens and empowers us to such a destiny.

Thanksgiving Day. A time of family and food; of bounty and celebration. But for what? But for Whom? Certainly not us.
Thanksgiving- now, and forever more.

Glory be to God for all things!

Friday, November 19, 2010

6 Months to Eternity

Life has been so fast, I didn't even realize. Shame on me.

It has been six months since a good and dear friend of mine died. It was so sudden... no one expected it. There was no reason he should have died.

But he did.

He was a wonderful young man. So vibrant and passionate. He loved the Lord, loved others, and had a obsession.... er, passion for saving the planet. An environmentalist I could respect.

Of course, when he graduated high school, everybody asked, "Where you off to college to?"
His reply was that he wasn't going immediately. He was going to take a year off and enter into missions.

To make sure his faith was strong enough to face the world. I weep when I remember that fact- if only I could have such humility.

He never got to. Two days after his graduation, he drowned. It was an event that changed our lives.

I managed to get to his visitation, but I couldn't attend his funeral, as I had to fly home. Pardon my french, but I still feel like an asshole for that one.

He was a pure soul. We tried for a while to rationalize and understand. We never did. We simply accepted that he was too pure for this world, and that God wanted him in Heaven.

You know that saying? That "you never realize what you have until you've lost it"?
This applies here. It wasn't until after his death that I came to the conclusion that this man was a saint. He had a holiness, a purity about him. When we held a memorial service at my high school, several of the students said they saw him; that he comforted them and said it was alright. I'm convinced that it was real. There is something about the Communion of Saints that works like that.

He was a simple fellow- he loved his God, he loved all people, and he really hated cars that were powered by fossil fuels.

Memory eternal, my friend. I love you.

He started a blog. He only had one post. I shall share it with you:

"For the past couple of weeks now, my mind has been in space, a sort of mental meteoroid if you will. It feels like it is floating, far out in space, barely close enough to Earth to be affected by Earth’s gravity at all. There’s nothing to support it, and it is extremely difficult for it to manipulate anything, since without gravity, nothing has weight, nothing carries meaning. It is not affected by reality; reality carries no weight. Even if reality did affect it, it would not know what reality felt like, having never experienced it before. My mind is simply floating, only identified by its state of perpetual change. It sits in a fog of verisimilitude, but cannot determine what is actually true. It feels things, but the emotions are indistinguishable and blurry. It’s like when your eyes get all watery because the sun is too bright, and you can only look at the ground. It seems like the only things it can feel strongly are things like fear, apprehension, shame, and inadequacy, though these emotions do not always originate at a specific source. It can also feel apathy, if that is an emotion, but it cannot force itself to feel apathy toward the raw and real feelings that bind it.

The Son is shining in my eyes, so brightly that I can barely see Him. I don’t know how He can be so dazzling and still feel like He’s 93 million miles away. Just as Earth itself must yield to the sun’s gravity, so must I yield to the gravity of the Son. The Son’s gravity is powerful and strong, always reining me in when my orbit speeds out of control, reigning over me. The forces of Earth cannot overpower it. Despite the fog, strong beams of radiant truth still brightly shine, and do not change like shifting shadows. No celestial eclipse can block this ethereal light.

And then there is the heat. In the farthest reaches of my orbit, icy particles of shame, doubt and fear quickly attach and weigh me down, until I can barely move. But even here, the Son’s heat blasts from out across the solar system, in rhythmic, pulsating waves, the very heartbeat of God. The ice of apathy and inadequacy melt quickly away and are replaced by glowing warmth. Though I am still bombarded by an endless storm of ice, it cannot overpower the warmth of God’s love that has penetrated to my core and now radiates from me as well."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From Glory to Glory

Originally written for a grieving friend.
For all who are grieving.

From Glory to Glory

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, into the valley of Life.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have passed from fleeting darkness and into everlasting Light.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have traversed along the Way, and entered through the narrow Gate.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have exited the desert of Exodus, and entered into the Garden of the Promised Land.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have been borne up on wings of Angels, and welcomed by Saints.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have been led in by John the Baptist, and embraced by Mother Mary.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have been taken up the Living River, eaten from the Tree of Life.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have entered the Temple, past the altar of Martyrs.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have joined the celestial choirs, offered up the incense of prayer.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have seen the Light, and fallen on my knees in awe.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

I have heard the loving voice of the Father, seen the Face of the Son, and felt the communion of the Spirit.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.

And I shall live forever, for Death hath been slain.

I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.
I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.
I shall dwell in the House of the LORD forever.