Prayer to the Most Precious Blood and Our Lady’s Tears

In Penitence

Oh blood and water that has sprinkled,
The foot of calvary,
Anoint my soul, mind, and body,
In your serenity.

Remove, by means of immersion,
In Our Lady’s tears,
The temporal punishments for transgression,
And the burden of these years.

For I confess I am a sinner,
In need of Christ’s eternal grace,
That I have staggered in the running,
Of this most desperate race.

But bathe me in your healing unction,
And your mercy I shall see,
That by the precious blood of Jesus,
I may walk free.

May Easter be my promise.
May Jerusalem resound,
That such a wretch as I, has been forgiven,
That the lost has finally been found.

Rejoice Oh You Jerusalem,
Rejoice you who sit in shame.
For by the precious blood of Jesus,
You have been granted a new name.

Oh wash away my inequity,
Come cleanse me of my wrongs.
I shall kneel in praise, Oh Zion.
I shall sing in gladness your blessed songs.

Amen

The Throne

A throne of white, a throne of silver,
Rises before seven steps, like polished brass and crystal,
And to the right hand of the throne, quiet pastures bloom,
And the narrow gate, the gate of thorns and the blood of martyrs new.
To the left hand rests a broad and paved road,
And that kingdom of darkness and of tears without peace.

Many are those who go therein,
And though my ears refuse to hear the cry, the cry of the damned,
The mystics have reported of their fire,
And have spoken of their curse.

Lord, You have shown me this,
And I share it with Your children in order that they might believe,
And turn from their distractions in the world, which are as sickness ,
To those who have fallen asleep upon the ramparts and the walls.
Oh wake me Jesus, wake me from my sins.

Let me not fall back into rage or into sloth or into pride.
And when I am doubtful, and when I wound Your Sacred Heart with my doubts,
Deliver me Lord, from the wolf and from the snarling hound.

Oh let me kneel before the Lamb.
Oh let me sing His praises and plead His salvation for my soul.
Great are You, Jesus, my God and my refuge.
Great are You, in the hour of my need.

Behold Oh beloved, my king and hallowed healer,
I offer to You my tears and toils, my joys and wonders as an offering.
For You are merciful to the contrite of heart,
And You are meek and gentle to the man who does not fail to proclaim Your name.

Oh Jesus, sweet Jesus, I confess my many sins,
And long to reside under the shelter of Your embrace.
I leave the scorpions of sloth and of doubt most cruel,
And with a trusting smile, submit all things to You,
Placing every fear under the shadow of Your feet,
Until I am bathed right-through with Your grace and confidence,
Until I am loosed from the bonds of weariness, dread, and shame.

At last, triumph is my banner.
At last, I have been crowned with Your hallowed seal.
I shall depart from my inequities,
And in the hour of my staggering,
on You and Your wisdom I shall learn to lean,
Which is love and clemency itself.

Amen

An Allegory of a Prodigal Soul

On my knees through the mud,
through the thorns,
and through the mist,
I find you watching from the mountains’ brink,
Your mantel blue, you’re blessed eyes yearning,
Yearning for those who have not entered in,
for the multitudes who sleep in nightmares burning.

From the wolves I fled, I fled in wonder.
From the dusk and the lamp-shade that was this vale of tears,
Because I beheld your light, good queen upon the mountains,
And above the vapors that swirled about my sin-tossed brow.

You cried to me,

“Come and see him…
Come and look upon my son, your king.
In him, though your trespasses be as scarlet,
He shall clothe you in garments white, white as snow.
In him, there shall be no more tears.
In him, there shall be no more wounding.
For by his stripes, you are healed,
And in his cross, you shall learn to bear your burdens.
For he who finds me, shall find my son,
And he who loves the son shall acquire mercy.”

That voice, I knew from long before,
From my childhood before the hills and medows of my fathers’ estate.
But I had gone running after strange paths,
And had forgotten the road back, to my familiar place.

Always, you seemed to say to me,
“Come,” and now and again I would stir,
At first a step and then a mile,
Pressing for your hope-filled glance.

“Come,” your cry echoed in my ears,
Leading me from my old haunts and points of stain,
Leading me to bathe my heart, to cleanse my spirit,
In the springs of radiance that spilt from your sons’ country.

Those nearest me whispered, “Do not listen.”
False tongues wagged, “You have no need of her prattling.”
Yet onward I strode, onward I climbed beyond the sunset,
Until I found you, my beloved lady,
my refuge immaculate, my shelter from the storm.

You sent messengers before your face to guide me,
And in their footsteps, I learnt the way.
I exchanged my filthy garments for robes of linen.
I took on myself the journey,
though I could not peer behind the vail,
though I bore no staff nor stave.
Seven angels bearing swords and arms like silver,
flecked with fire, keep the way to your gabled seat,
to that hallowed throne where all shadows pass,
to a better Eden than Adam sold.

A white tree stands before her throne,
Bearing fruit dark with luminous joy,
And at the foot of its bark, Enoch crouches low,
Clutching to his chest an unsealed scroll.

Beside him, Elijah holds a great red book,
Held shut in reverence until the final day,
And each to each, their songs of glory grow,
While at their feet the seraphim continually praise,
You, most highly favored among women,
You who have crushed the serpents laughing head.

Here, at the summit of creation, your arms cradle him,

The author and architect of dreams,
The infant-king clothed in crimson and in white,
Whose face summons me to lie adoring amongst the lilies clean,
To sing canticles to the stars and give thanks to him,
For you and for every grace,
that overflows from the chalice of your smile.

Oh sweet Jesus and Mary, keep me in your smile,
Keep me in the fire of your divine love.
For I have tarried too long in shade.
I have wandered too far from home.

At last I stagger, prodigal as I am,
Begging for a glimpse of your knowing embrace,
That I may be united with you, forevermore,
From the dawning of the New Jerusalem,
To the passing of this tumultuous age.

Prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows

Oh woman of the seven sorrows,

My mother and my queen,

Wash me in your hallowed tears.

Anoint me in your victory.

Grant to me, the sword of mercy,

And your mantel of simplicity.

Break the chains that keep me in sins, which are as death,

And crown me in your sacrificial love.

For once, I was a fool and walked after my own lusts,

And by the graces of your son, our Lord, was I redeemed.

Come swiftly to assist me in my stumbling here.

Come to my aid, good lady, and shelter me.

For though I was raised out of the pit,

I recognize my faults, my faults, my most grievous faults,

And beg you, as a child renewed by grace,

To carry my cries of petition to your son, Our King,

That every wound might be mended and every transgression made clean,

That the blemishes of a thousand errors,

May be paid in full, by this meek offering,

That I might acquire the fruits of heaven,

And the fullness of your eternal smile,

That I might sing with your sons’ Holy Angels,

And may be troubled at heart, no more.

The Anointing

An Allegory for the Gospel of Christ

At the foot of the mountains, we rested among the thorns,

Some bleeding and battered, some buffeted and worn,

As Kings’ sons clothed in beggars suits,

Guarding the paths that led to the sea.

Wolves and men like wolves dogged us,

And though we did not fear their claws, we feared our vice.

Yet in the hour of faltering, we refused to falter.

Though we were skinned in the meows, our wounds were anointed,

Anointed by the hands of angels and of the children of grace,

Until a fragrance of roses drew us from the fens,

And out of those valleys of garnet, and of limestone, and of cavernous doubts.

We were few in the eyes of those who hunted us.

But we were the vanguard of those who had ascended the Mount,

Of the many who stand before the Kings’ courtyards,

Atop That Holy Mountain, Pale and wonderful,

So dark and terrible, towards which we strove,

Day and night, we dreamed of that mountain,

And of the seven fountains that fell from her heights.

Seed-time and harvest, we longed for that summit,

For the secret gate into the eternal city, where the king sits enthroned.

Now and again, an emissary from the king,

Would arrive before the daybreak, in the midst of our host,

Bearing a pitcher of water,

To wash away the dust that had soiled our souls,

Just as the king washed the feet of our fathers,

In that time when times’ architect,

Entered into the fullness of his song.

In such tidings, I have rejoiced,

Because my ears have heard the distant echo,

The chiming of ancient bells.

And in awe, I come to bear my shield again,

For once I was dead among the ruins,

And now I am alive forevermore,

A child born in the Kings’ name.

Angels & Demons - An Interview

<<Disclaimer>>

The following is a rough summary and transcript of an interview I held with Gavin Canavan on Exorcism and Diabolic Oppression. The research of Canavan provides fascinating insights into the realm of Angiology, a topic too often distorted by Hollywood and the mainstream media. We hope to prevent a summary of the facts, although any post of this length can hardly be authoritative. Book and Spade neither endorse or dismisses the research presented by those we interview. Rather it is our intention merely to present a brief understanding of spiritual warfare and all available evidence so that you, the reader, can make up your own mind. We have arranged our discussion in the form of a transcript. Due to the great length of the interview words and passages at times had to be abridged and summarized. However, Gavin and I believe that the following information, presented below, provides an initial window into the Churches teaching on Angiology and demonology, as expressed by the Catacism and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. For those interested in a lengthier discussion of the following matters, please feel free to read Father Gary Thomas’ detailed book on the subject entitled The Rite, the Making of a Modern Exorcist. I would also suggest visiting E.W.T.N where you shall find further resources.

 

1. How would you define exorcism?

“I am not an exorcist for one. I am a Lay Person in communion with Catholic clergy and laity to investigate the properties of those associated with demonic oppression and possession. Exorcism is reserved for the office of the priest, and even then he must be appointed by the bishop. One should note that exorcism, like all formal rites of the church, is intended as rites of healing. The goal is to liberate an afflicted person- not to create a spectacle. In our Post- Christian age, our world has increasingly ignored the reality of an objective Good, namely the person of Christ himself and by extension, the existence of a genuine evil. Many who are interested in this field often make a strong error in assuming that evil is an opposite force to good, as though we were dualists upon a chessboard evenly pitched between white and black pieces. Nothing and I repeat nothing could be farther from the truth. Satan is a fallen angel. He is not a lesser God, no matter how hard he would want you to believe he is. Some of the church fathers see him as a hound upon a leash. The one holding the leash is God, and while he does not want you, the individual soul, to creep near to this dangerous hound, he respects your free will to do so. When we enter into mortal sin, we step nearer to this hound and so we place ourselves in grave, grave peril. By receiving the sacraments and the graces provided through Christ's Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, one is placed far from the reaches of this enemy.”

 

2. Which have been your greatest experiences with diabolic oppression, obsession and or possession? If you could define these terms also for our readership it may be most helpful.

“Most demonic haunting will usually present itself in three different stages or manifestations. These manifestations take three forms sometimes called infestation, oppression, and possession. Oppression and obsession are quite similar, whereas Demonic manifestation may generally occur when one’s home or residence is haunted by a malevolent spirit. By this, we mean to say that these spiritual beings or entities never walked the earth as children of Adam. Whey is what Aquinas would call pure spirits, possessing no body. However, there is scriptural evidence to suggest that they occationally  take physical form or shape. Their identity is evident from the Old and New Testaments, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and from the authoritative teaching of the Church fathers. They are fallen Angels and the further they fell from God and grace the darker and more evil they have become. Forsaking the right road, for all their vast intelligence they became fools, preferring rebellion over service. The enemy’s anthem is “My will be done.” The Lords’ servants counter this tyranny and false egotism with the cry, “Thy will be done.” Speaking of obsession, however, we should draw a distinction. The fallen angels have access to our imaginations or memories, at least according to the Angelic Doctor, Aquinas. Yet they do not possess direct access to our will. This is crucial because one could be bombarded by diabolic influence but resist these temptations by means of frequent use of the sacraments, prayer, and fasting. In this sense, possession is inherently more dramatic than oppression. For in possession, the individual in question has almost entirely been eclipsed. Their will, at times, will be violated and their body will seemingly be inhabited by the forces of the enemy. Scripture records that the body is the temple of God. Yet if we defile this temple, naturally, we open doors for the enemy to have greater influence. I speak not only of sexual sins but also of idolatry. Idolatry can be committed when one consults mediums and other non-orthodox practices that do not pay proper reverence to God, the true creator almighty. When we place outsell vest or any lesser good above the primary good of God, we are due for a complete mess. If we place our trust in false teachers or spirits, not in league with God, if we step beyond the safety of the magisterium and the dogmas of the faith, we swiftly stumble headlong into ruin. Fortunately, the mercy of the Lord is greater than the mercy of men. For if the Lord was more prone to wrath and to exact the law which states, “An eye for an eye,” we would all soon be drowned in supernatural terror. Yet the Lord has provided us his own body, upon the cross and through the Eucharist, and by these instruments of grace, we shall surely overcome.”

 

3. Could you clarify for us some characteristics of diabolic influence in the home?

“I have encountered cases in which strange smells have appeared from no natural source, in which disembodied voices have been heard. I have encountered tapping noises within the home, and even full manifestations, although these are quite rare.”

 

4. Do you have a particular case you would like to share?

“Sure. In one specific case, I visited a young mother who had many paranormal activities happening in her home. She was at the stage where she was on the verge of a breakdown. She had suffered greatly for a number of months and was finding it extremely difficult to lead a normal life. She was seeing dark shadows in her home and hearing noises and tapping sounds throughout her home. Waking up to dark shadows standing over her bed. She had taken part in using the Ouija board and had contacted a dreadful spirit on one particular night. She opened a gate. She could not close it on her own authority. She sought help and was at a grave loss. She had also taken part in paranormal investigations. This all started as she had given up her free will to follow after mediums and other forms of the occult. Not knowing the dangers she was placing herself or her family in she had taken part in these activities purely for fun. Once meeting her it was clear that she was very scared and feared for her life and the life of her son. Deliverances and healing prayers were performed on this lady and her home. After visiting the home on more than one occasion I finally had to call in the Exorcist priest to exorcise her home as things were getting out of control for this young woman. She has made a clear choice. She has seen the hand of good and the hand of evil. She has chosen now the better part and put aside the path of darkness. She is now a woman of grace, or at least last time I examined the case. She will stay far away from the Occult now. We must place our trust in Christ Jesus first and foremost. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father unless it is through him.”

 

5. What should one do in such cases?

“One should contact ones’ local Parish and call upon a priest to bless the home. A priest, however, can only perform a formal exorcism unless he has perdition from his Bishop. If a priest were to perform any Rite without the Bishops’ authorization than the priest in question may be in peril, as his authority rests on the apostolic nature of his office. This being said house- blessing are common and should occur regularly. I would also highly suggest regular reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, generally known as Confession. People ask me all the time, why should I go and confess my sins to a priest? The answer is simple. Christ promised his apostles that they would have the authority to forgive sins. When you go and hear the words “I absolve you” from a priest in direct succession to the apostolic tradition,

Back to the twelve who walked with Christ, you have surety that your sins are forgiven. If your sins are forgiven, mortal and venial, then the enemy has no legal right over you.”

 

6. Would you suggest any other methods of protection?

“Augustine once said, if my memory serves me, he who prays shall be saved. Prayer is not simply a subjective internal activity. It is the act of humbling one's mind, body, and soul to the father. It is an act of loving union between yourself and the creator of heaven and of earth. If you require anything, and if you truly possess a need that has not been answered, scripture tells us that the believer shall be heard. Now, the Lord is all-knowing and therefore, I shall not say to you that he shall answer all of your requests. If he did, believe me when I tell you, the fruits of your life may not grow at all. A healthy garden must be watered, not drowned if the seeds of everlasting truth are to grow. The same is true with prayer. We speak too much in prayer at times. Too often we do not spend time with our Lord in silence, before the tabernacle. Too often we do not listen. Yes, pray your rosary. It is your weapon. Our Lady desires you to do this daily. Yes wear your scapular and recite the Little Office for your salvation. But whatever you do, remember that you are speaking to a person. You are not speaking to an abstraction. You are addressing the one who already knows, the one who already understands, and the one who loves you even more than you could ever love yourself. For he shed his blood for you and your transgressions on the cross. Cast your cares on him and at the foot of the cross. For it is written in the Word, “It is finished.” In some translations, I have read “It is completed or it is consummated.” We are called to the Supper of the Lamb. Let us keep the feast joyfully and realize that we are participants in this mystery, beyond all time and space. Our Lord is a healing Lord. We must trust in him, and not become overly hung up on our temptations. Our life here may be a war with principalities and powers. But we are destined for the New Jerusalem. The grave has been defeated. We should have no cause for fear, unless we stray, and even should we stray, we have an advocate with the father who has become both our judge and our divine savior. He saves us from the sin of Adam and of Eve which we have all partaken of by washes us clean in his blood of sacrifice, by anointing us in his Holy Spirit, and by watering us for a harvest through the sacrament of Baptism. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we discover the way to heaven, our homeland and the homeland itself, united in a single person.”

A Penitential Prayer

Through the Heart of the Deep,
An invocation of the Sign of the cross,
 
I arise today, in the fullness of the Trinity,
In the encouragement of the father,
In the mercy of the son,
And in the vision of the Holy Spirit, spread throughout the earth in the offerings of the Most Holy Eucharist.
 
I arise today, through the grace of Our Lady, the queen of peace,
With Christs’ love to guard me,
With Christs’ will to lead me,
With Christs’ word upon my lips and upon my mind.
 
For my heart has beheld the salvation of Zion,
And my soul has walked among the seeders of Lebanon.
My table has been set with the riches of princes.
My cup overruns in gladness and my songs testify of you.
 
For through the lamb of God,
We  are redeemed of all trespasses,
We are called to the summit of forgiveness,
We are summoned to a feast of brothers and sisters, elders, and sages,
That we might proclaim without end,
“Holy, holy, Holy,
Lord God of Hosts,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.”
 
Let he with ears to hear, recall Christs’ bounty.
Let he with eyes to see, behold His living martyrs,
His servants in the vineyards and in the waste places and in the streets.
 
He has arrived, in the breaking of this oblation,
In the  chalice that we share,
In the tears that we keep.
 
The name of the Lord of hosts is spoken.
He has clothed me in white and has set my hands to pray.
The light of the Lord is raised above the tents of wandering.
He has raised for me a tabernacle in the midst of wolves.
 
When the children of the abyss, swooped low to assail me,

 

Pilate’s Choice

The year is approximately 29 A.D. and it is around April. The fresh scent of rain and olive wood fills the air. You try and roll over in bed, but you cannot escape the noise--the clamor. The streets of Judea are still damp and dark with dew. The first rays of a murky dawn filter through the window on your grizzled face.

Through the window, you can still hear the hum of devout Jews celebrating their Passover along with the creaking of carts as the merchants rush off to their place outside the Great Temple of Herod Antipas. Yet it is not the prayers of manic mothers or the beating of hoofs which arouses your attention. You are above these things. For you are the Roman governor of this land. You are Tiberius Caesar’s representative and right-hand man, brought to this far corner of the known world to commence justice. But it is not justice or the empire which wakes you. No, it is your wife, Claudia.

At first, you are angry. Your impulse is to tell her to shut up and let you sleep. It will be a busy day, and you need your rest if you are going to do anything about those meddlesome high priests and courtiers. But you hear her moan and begin to notice that she is crying. Her dusk colored cheeks and black hair is coated in a fresh panoply of tears and there is a hollowness beneath her eyes which warns you she has been up for a good part of the night.

Ashamed and a little unnerved, you throw your steady arms around her and ask her what is wrong. But to your shock, she cannot be consoled. She weeps harder and drowns your chest in pain. Finally, you manage to pray an answer from her lips.

“I am not crying for myself,” she tells you. “I am crying for you.”

Dumbfounded you wonder why. You kiss her gently and press her for an explanation. She tells you that you are going to judge a good man, a holy man blessed by the God of the Hebrews. She tells you that if you kill this man, you shall find yourself in Hades forever. A tad disquieted you ask her who told her this information. She confides to you it came to her in a dream. You laugh.

“A dream,” you snap. “Am I to be condemned by a dream?”

Sure enough, an hour or so later you find yourself confronted by the Jewish authorities. Only the night before they apprehended a wandering prophet, a man named Jesus of Nazareth called, “King of the Jews.” At first, you try and dismiss the case. Jesus has not broken any Roman laws. He has not upset any Roman customs. Therefore there is no legal reason why he should die. But the high priests insist that any man claiming to be “King of the Jews” must be no friend of Caesar. These hypocrites go so far as to argue they have no king but Caesar. As you know well, behind your back these same Jews pray for an anointed one or messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation. The only reason why they want Jesus dead is that he challenges their faulty authority, because he speaks with a greater authority, because he claims to be more. Just how much more remains unclear to you. Tired and intrigued, you call the prisoner before you and question him on his doctrine. You ask, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” he asks, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” you snap growing weary of the conversation. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
At this Jesus smiles and looks at you in a way which makes your blood run cold. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” you ask more uneasy than ever before.
Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

At this moment you jest.  You retort, “What is truth?” Yet as you walk away, you realize that the jest is far from funny.  In reality, it is the very object which may lead to your undoing. The truth … You have never thought much about the truth. Since you were a child, since you were a soldier in the ranks of the emperor, you never bothered with the philosophers. All the good men like Socrates ended up dead.  But this man, this king is no philosopher. He is not the love of wisdom or the friend of the wise. Deep in your heart, although you refuse to admit it, you know that he is love just as he is wisdom. This man, this king, this God is truth. And therefore you do the only thing any liar can do--you wash your hands of the whole business and leave other people to kill the innocent on your behalf.

In this crime against God, in this act of God--slaying, which kind of person does the everyman represent?  Are we the prisoner or are we the judge? Are we the truth or the man who judges the truth unwisely?  What Pilate does not understand is that the truth, the second person of the Holy Trinity, has become a man, and that this man will one day sit in judgment over the living and the dead, including the Roman who condemned him. The irony of this scene can only be put in contrast with the coming of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, “The New Jerusalem.” This is the “kingdom come” of the Lord’s Prayer. For one day untold years from this encounter, we know through revelation that we all shall rise and see the son of man coming in the clouds in glory sitting at the right hand of the father, that this Jesus who has been humiliated at Pilates hands shall himself pass final judgment on  Pilate.

Then how shall Pilate the condemned plead his case? Shall he cry, “But Lord I did not know you?  Was I not a Pagan unaware of your coming?  Did I not conduct myself justly in other cases or loving to my wife? Did I not love my country or my empire or my Caesar kindly? Did I not wash my hands of this business?” To which Christ may respond, although we cannot know until the day, “You washed your hands but did not wash your heart. For you loved Caesar more than you loved me, just as you loved your house and wealth more than you loved the least among you. You loved your pomp and circumstance than the prisoners you slaughtered for political expediency. Though you did not know my father by faith, you know your conscience and reason. These cried out to spare me, but you would not heed them, preferring your throne of judgment over my father’s mercy. Worst of all, you cried, “What is truth,” denying the truth that knelt before your living face, the same truth which molded your mind and heart. Then you denied objectivity or the law of good and evil, but now you plead me to do good, having born fruits of injustice.”

However, not all roads are certain, and I do not personally condemn Pilate. For perhaps, as some in the East say, the judge who mocked the truth repented and became himself an apostle of the way, a saint of the living God. Perhaps he left his throne of power and office under Caesar to walk among the multitudes, preaching the Good News of the rightful king. Perhaps he even turned to God for mercy shortly before his demise, having lived alternatively as a civil servant until the end, believing only in secret the things he had witnessed. No reliable record informs us of his life or end. Thus, Christ may say on the final day, “In the beginning, you washed your hands for Caesar. But after my rising, you learned to wash from you the imperfections of the heart. Come and enter into your reward. For though you were once first, you chose to stand last and though you offered up my body to the cross, you have shown these members of my body, the church, holiness and rest.” Which of these two outcomes is more likely--the Pilate who is condemned or the Pilate who is saved?  I cannot tell. But this episode offers us a fresh opportunity, to peer beyond the window of centuries and remember that we may be judges here for a little while under authority, but someday the Lord of all authorities shall come and judge us according to his Word. Then, may all who read this post, myself included, be able to  proclaim with a  heart most pure, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen

A Pilgrimage of Grace

Understanding Mary, Mother of God

I arrived at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral this afternoon, triumphant but weary. I pressed through the crowds of gawking tourists and families ripe with strollers like the profit Jonah washed up on an empty beach. The doors of the cathedral were open wide facing the streets, and although I could not see the light pouring from the statuary and stain-glass, I could see the yellow vestibule in my mind. There, planted high above the alter would rest the Bishop’s seat and the images of ten thousand saints whose names remained to me a cacophony of grace. I quickly found the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe and of Saint Peter before kneeling quietly against the blaring noise.

My mother, dressed in a coat loaded with one too many water bottles and pretzels, assisted me in this gesture of penitence, hope, and gratitude. As I kissed my scapular and rosary in veneration, I heard a great assembly filing through the pews to my right. Situated before the altar, a young priest most likely in his thirties was preaching in Spanish. I was later told a bride and groom stood before that assembly beaming in the light of many candles, her fingers clasped lovingly in his. Soon they would embark on their vows of piety and honor. Soon a song, richer than the firmament and older than the walls of that hallowed place resounded from the altar. I  smiled deeply, letting the warmth of the occasion illuminate my mind.

I was unspeakably grateful, but for a very different blessing. An hour earlier, I had laid on yet another hospital table for my first MRI in three years. My ears were sore from the constant drumming of the machine. My head throbbed from lying in one compact place for so long. For over forty minutes I had grovelled in the belly of the whale like Jonah, only to be birthed once more into a world of life, joy, and sound. You can imagine my all too audible sigh of relief. I can say that I was triumphant because the ordeal was over and because it is generally believed that my condition is stable. But I am now all the more triumphant for the lessons I learned at my mother’s side. Before the feet of Mary and beside my own mother’s footsteps, I captured a glimpse of the everlasting bonds which bind parents to children and God to man.
 
My journey began as I slumped nearly half-asleep with my back toward the train- car window. I dreamed of the Holy Land, of the little town of Bethlehem where the Church of the Nativity houses the bare dirt floor where our Lord was born. I have never been there, but often while I am resting I imagine the cave pilgrims speaking under the main chapel and that shining spot where the infinite king lay as a slumbering infant. I am sure the infant Jesus awoke to find his mother’s voice. I stirred to find my mother still attentively reading to me from a dialogue of Saint Augustine’s, seemingly ignorant of my apparent lapse. I want to believe she grinned knowingly down at me from between her folio though.

At age 23 and a man in my own standing, I have to appreciate these little acts of love. Yes, it was practical for her to read this document. The dialogue in question was inaccessible. The reading of theology is always soothing to me. The desire for knowledge is, according to Augustine, a search for Christ. But none of those reasons prompted her to clutch the papers she sought to know. Rather, she read out of a mother’s love which is a love without thought of self, a love with no need for reason, a love to bind up the last rumblings of any argument. Surely, in this one small act of mercy, I caught a glimpse of the real Bethlehem and a portrait of our eternal Blessed Mother, who presides over the young and the old with the same quiet beauty, with the same joyful sorrow.

In Holy Scripture, we know that the apostle John knelt with Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, at the foot of the cross. There, according to the Gospel of John, Christ peered lovingly down at his mother and said, “Woman, behold your Son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” Why does John not refer to himself as John in the narrative? Why doesn’t he identify Mary by name in the passage? Is he simply being cryptic or does he have a mystical, symbolic reason? The last sentence of this passage records how John took Mary into his own house. The house and the family structure are at the root of the human experience.

There is nothing more human than the bonds between father and mother, husband and wife, between parent and child.  Some of our earliest depictions of religious art in the world depict a woman clothed with the sun clutching her own son, the sacred child, in her arms. We see this icon from all cultures, from all faiths and walks of life. Perhaps even these distant peoples already knew, as if seeing from afar, the way in which God would take on mortal flesh and partake of our need for tenderness.

In Jewish culture, the Mother of the King held a central role in the Davidic bloodline. Throughout the Old Testament,  profits, sages, courtiers, and noblemen would address their concerns to the king and his mother.  Already in the Old Testament, we see a foreshadowing of the role Mary would play in the new covenant. But here, at the foot of the cross, the role of Mary as the primordial mother is perfected. For up until this hour, the hour of the cross, Mary the daughter of Saint Ann and mother of Jesus had belonged, under Jewish Law and custom to the house of her eldest son. But now by his death and resurrection, Christ has willed all people to join him in his house which is the church and the coming kingdom.

Nailed hand and foot to the cross, Christ not only gives us his body and his blood, he not only gives us the fruits of redemption over the skull of Adam, he also grants us the intercession of his mother. Therefore when Christ says to John, “Behold your mother,” he is offering us to partake of his Holy Family, a chance to become sons and daughters of Mary just as John was called to make Mary his own. It was this same love I felt as I prepared for my surgery, my cross three years ago. It was this same love I felt today preparing for my exam, and it was this very love which I discovered at  Our Lady’s feet at Saint Patrick’s, kneeling at my own mother’s side.

On the Shoulders of Giants

An Autobiographical Sketch of a Young Dreamer

I was visiting Sacred Heart Parish in Yonkers again this weekend when I stopped before the statue of Father Solanus and made my prayer intentions for the week. Toward the back of the wall is the baptismal font which Father Solanus handled for so many years before moving to New York City. The handle of the font is worn and has an ancient feel. I often place my rosary and pectoral cross to the medal as I pray. This past week I was remaining perhaps too long at the font. The doors to the church were nearly closed when I began to depart. But as I did so an elderly woman, whose name I have omitted out of deference, came striding up to me. Her familiar Irish brogue was a comfort in that cool silent place. She asked me if I would pray for her. As I did so, under the flickering light of the candles, I remembered something I have not remembered in a long time.

I remembered how I stood in that exact same chapel eighteen years before, as a frightened little boy. The sanctuary with the faint had not yet been installed. The chapel was straightforward but beautiful. Stainglass windows gleamed down at me. The rich carvings on the sealing seemed to dance before my eyes. I did not know then as I know now that I had only a handful of months left before I would lose my sense of vision.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was supposed to sing a solo for the choir. I was dressed in my very best and shaking as much from the cold as with anticipation. Many faces now long gone surrounded me. There was my great-uncle laughing merrily toward the nave, his tweed coat and aged grin unmistakable. There was my grandfather John Brennen shaking hands with almost everyone. He seemed the mayor of that place, a giant in a sea of eager hearts and ears ready to listen. There were others too who were even older whose names I have since forgotten, but whose faces I have never let pass from me. Yes, they were aged. Yes, they were wise. But there was something there too, a memory of kinder days, perhaps simpler days buried by the snow.

All of them spoke of the past and of the way they had waged it. All of them loved their country with a passion I could barely relate to. The red, white and blue lapel pin my great-uncle wore was a constant reminder of his post-war service in the navy and of his toured in the Pacific. He always loved to tell “us kids” about the islands he had seen, and of the presidents he had supposedly met. His stories may have been true. They may have been only partially true. But they always bore with them a soul of wisdom.

In one of these stories, my great-uncle’s own brother had met Nixon once and had even seen Kennedy from a distance during his race for the Whitehouse in 1960. John and Jacky were sitting in an open car. John smiled. My grandfather said the crowd went wild. Camelot had come to town.

He said they looked like royalty. I felt like royalty, like a Yonkers-sort of Kennedy standing at Sacred Heart Parish Christmas eve -- not because I was wealthy. I was as I am still, strictly suburban and middle-class. I was not proud because I was about to sing a solo for the choir. Honestly, I found the choir to be troublesome and my allotted song rather campy. No, I was proud because I was surrounded by my family. I was proud because when I looked up at my uncles and aunts and grandfather, I knew that I was among my own.

But this sense of familiarity extended not only to my living aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends. No, I remembered what it was like to look up into the figures in the manger -- to the large nativity set drenched in the half-light of candles and of moonstruck open doors. I remember how I approached the stable and gazed into the eyes of the virgin and of how I took a piece of straw beneath the crib. I even remember feeling as though the baby there smiled up at me. In my soul, I know he truly did.

Saint Augustine reminds us that we are called to be citizens of the city of God and not citizens of the city of man. In that instant eighteen years ago, I knew I was a son of the kingdom. With my eyes, I bore witness to the fact that I was a citizen of the city, of our father whose kingdom will come and whose will shall be “done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Friends, I am asking you today to renew your vows to the Lord who made you. I do not mean to be presumptuous. But I know lately, I have had to renew my own dedication to the cross and to the crown. Perhaps you haven’t gone to mass in a while. Perhaps you are burdened by some anxiety or by some sin. Believe me when I tell you, there is no greater freedom than the rest which comes when you say “Thy will be done” instead of “My will be done.”  Believe me when I tell you that the infant I saw in the manger that evening that is at the same time the God made man, raised from his cross is ready to listen and to forgive.

In that same spirit, I exhort you all to love one another and to recover the gospel our parents and grandparents cherished. They paved a road for us in blood and in sweat and in tears. It is our duty, as a new generation to take up our cross and perform the works of mercy required of us. For there are many wounds known and unknown which must be healed just as there are many hearts, hurting and unrequited who need your blessing. This is not to excuse the sins of the past of which there are many. I have seen with my heart the gashes of history as signposts in the growing dark. Each sign points to faith as well as reason. In this wilderness, this vale of tears, we claim to possess reason but trample on the fruits of revelation which are charity, hope, and love. For these point to the cross.

No, our parents and grandparents were not all saints, but some of them were, and we must learn from them. From the lips of Adam, Seth learned to avoid the shame of Adam. By the lips of Christ, Peter learned to walk nearer to Christ and to convey the Good News. From the lips of Peter sprung up the succession of Holy Pontiffs who now sit in Rome, and under their Stewardship, we thrive in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. And in this church we shall remain, even as the knights of Gondor remained at their posts in J.R.R Tolkiens’ The Lord of the Rings, awaiting the true, “Return of the King.”

Therefore, in the name of the King, I bless you, my friend and neighbor today, whoever you are, and beg you to do the same. For our time is now, and the promise of healing is at hand. Let us take Father Solanus’s prayer seriously and join hands in praise as we joyfully proclaim with angels and saints and  martyrs, “Blessed be God in all of his designs.”

Amen

A Talk to the Third Order of Saint Francis

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I'd like to leave you with a Book & Spade podcast featuring a talk I gave to the Third Order of Saint Francis, where you can hear about how I became a student of theology and a Bilblical researcher. In the talk we also explore my devotion to Father Solanus Casey and the communion of saints.

Feel free to post questions. We would love to hear from you.


God bless,
John