In the Counsels of the Immaculate

Here is the conference I gave last year on Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner’s contribution to the renewal of Franciscan Immaculatism.

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The Mind of the Immaculate

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The Immaculate is a living ideal, a pattern of life to be replicated by our external comportment, and more importantly, by our interior lives. She lives enthroned, not merely in paradise, but in the hearts and minds of those who truly love Her. In this way She is alive and active in and through us, influencing directly the choices we make as a Mother who loves and nurtures us. This we must remember every time we think of Her. Here we will find true enlightenment and our feet will be led into the way of peace (Luke 1:79) to “the summits of our desired holiness,” to peaceful rest and blissful union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But to achieve this our thought of Her must be prayerful and profound. This is only made possible by humble meditation and prayer. Continue reading

Homily for the Memorial of St. Pius X

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Pius X, one of the great popes of the 20th century. He was born in 1835, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, and he grew up in poverty. His father was the village postman and little Giuseppe walked six kilometers to school everyday. This poverty characterized his whole life, and it was not just a matter of physical poverty. St. Pius X was a man who was truly poor in spirit. Our Lord said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Throughout his life as simple priest and Franciscan tertiary, then as bishop of Mantua, later as cardinal archbishop of Milan and finally as supreme pontiff of the universal Church, Giuseppe Sarto, remained a simple man and a lover of poverty. His last will and testament gives witness to this with the words: “I was born poor, I have lived in poverty, and I wish to die poor.”

Thus, this great man was single minded throughout his life and placed himself at the dispositions of Christ and His Church, without consideration for himself. This was his poverty in spirit. His whole life was to serve Christ and the Church.

Continue reading

Marian Mysticism

I return now to my series on “mysticism.” You can find the introduction here. I have said that, whether broadly, strictly or narrowly defined, any mysticism that deserves the name Catholic must be 1) Eucharistic, 2) Marian and 3) Ecclesial. In my last post I explained what Eucharistic mysticism is. In this one I will cover Marian mysticism.

Marian Analogy

In the last post I explained how the Eucharist in a particular way shows forth the power of God to transform the soul. What God does to the gifts on the altar by transforming them into the Body and Blood of Christ, he does in an analogous by our participation in the sacred mysteries, especially in the reception of Holy Communion. In a similar way, the Blessed Virgin is the icon of such a transformation.

A mere creature, She is wholly divinized by grace from the first moment of Her conception, so that when the angel Gabriel appears to Her at the Annunciation he calls Her Full of Grace. This means that She is the one who, already at that moment, possesses the plentitude of God’s supernatural gifts. As a mere creature, in Her Immaculate Conception, She already is the unique temple of a holiness beyond which one cannot even conceive. It is because Our Lady is full of grace that God chooses to take from Her substance the flesh of the Son of God, conceived by Her virginally through the power of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

Pope Francis and Our Lady

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In the above photograph Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, Apostolic Commissioner of the Franciscans of the Immaculate greets the Holy Father at the latter’s arrival at St. Mary Major on December 8th.  The Friars of the Immaculate are the sacristans in the Basilica.

The narrative below is from John Allen Jr.:

Dec. 8 was the festival of the Immaculate Conception, known in Italy as the Immacolata, and Francis made the traditional outing to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to venerate a column with a statue of Mary erected in 1857 to celebrate the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX three years earlier.

Francis composed a special prayer for the occasion, the heart of which was a plea that “the cry of the poor may never leave us indifferent, the suffering of the sick and of those in need may never find us distracted, the loneliness of the elderly and the fragility of children may always move us, [and] every human life may always be loved and venerated by all of us.”

It was a classic Francis outing. He showed up in a blue Ford Focus, not a Mercedes limo, not even riding in the back this time but sitting in the front chatting with his driver. He stopped briefly to greet shopkeepers, then decided to take an impromptu walk the rest of the way. He paused to greet locals and tourists, paying special attention to children and the sick. Some folks tossed the flowers they brought to honor Mary in the pope’s path, and he bent over to pick them up and carry them to the column.

Afterward, Francis crossed town to visit the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome’s premier Marian shrine, to pause a few moments before the famous icon of Mary as Salus Populi Romani, “Protector of the Roman People.” He didn’t give a speech, and there was no scrum of photographers and TV cameras because Francis wanted it to be an intimate act.

This was the sixth time Francis has stopped at St. Mary Major since becoming pope, with the first coming on March 14, less than 24 hours after his election. It’s easily his most visited location in Rome outside the Vatican, illustrating how important the basilica and its dedication to Mary is to Francis’ spirituality.

As Argentine journalist Elisabetta Piqué notes in her terrific recent biography of Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio made a point of visiting St. Mary Major every time church business forced him to travel to Rome. The only difference now, Piqué writes, is that he shows up in a white cassock rather than a simple priest’s outfit. (She might also have observed that he no longer takes the bus.)

In popular parlance, “the Vatican” is shorthand for the papacy. One could argue, however, that the real spiritual center of this pontificate lies across town in St. Mary Major.

The Holy Grail of Pope Francis: Our Lady of Lujan and Undoer of Knots

An Argentinian silversmith, Juan Carlos Pallarols, is handcrafting a simple silver chalice for Pope Francis, which will be embossed with two images of the Blessed Mother:  Our Lady of Lujan, an Argentinian image of the Immaculate Conception, associated with a 17th century miracle, and Our Lady Undoer of Knots, a German devotion which Cardinal Bergoglio brought to Argentina in the 1980’s and has since promoted there.  The same silversmith collaborated with Cardinal Bergoglio in designing another chalice, embossed with the image of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, which the Cardinal presented to Pope Benedict shortly after he ascended to the Chair of St. Peter.

It is quite interesting that that this Argentinian pope should have a personal attraction to the German devotion.  It provides a kind of link between the two successors of St. Peter, of which there are others. Continue reading

Smashing Dragons

The iconography of heaven referenced in my post for the Immaculate Conception, particularly as it relates to the Miraculous Medal, finds an antecedent in the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was painted on St. Juan Diego’s tilma by the Virgin Herself.  She is clothed with the sun and is standing on the moon.  Though the artists rendition above includes the serpentine imagery from Apocalypse 12, the actual image on the tilma has no depiction of the serpent.  One might think that any reference to Genesis 3:15 is only indirect by way of the allusion through the commonality of The Woman.

But not so.  In fact, the heavenly iconography of Guadalupe passes from the prophecy of Genesis and the vision of St. John right into the history that it was intended to address.  The image itself is a miracle that manifests and perpetuates the Virgin’s presence.  We see what Juan Diego saw.  Once Our Lady’s command to build a temple was obeyed, the image came to rest on Tepeyac Hill, where formerly, before the conquest of Mexico by Cortes, there had been a shrine to the Aztec goddess Coatlicue (below).

Yes, she is the mother goddess with two serpent heads who wears a snake skirt and human body parts for a necklace.

There is a sense in which this idol (image) completes the iconography of the Virgin, insofar as image of cactus cloth smashes the stone idol. According to Carl Anderson and Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, the glyph for a conquered civilization was a burning temple turned on its side.  The building of a new temple, the original of which was completed within two weeks of the apparitions, was the sign of a new beginning, the founding of a civilization of love.  The serpent is not in the icon because the very icon itself is what crushes his head, through the force of Our Lady’s mediation.

Think about this:  Juan Diego was given a mission to be Our Lady’s instrument to crush the serpent’s head in New Spain.  He simply obeyed in trust and total abandonment.  All he really needed to do was take the message to the bishop.  The result was that the image was produced miraculously and then placed where our Lady wanted it, right over the serpent’s head, over the mockery of truth, life, beauty and motherhood.

Devotion to Mary is smashing dragons.

Click here for a homily of mine for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Immaculate Warrior Queen

She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel (Gen 3:15b).

This primordial prophecy of sacred scripture is a word picture that has served over the ages to instill in the hearts of the faithful confidence in the power of the Immaculate Conception.  The image of the Woman of Genesis 3:15 with Her foot on the head of the serpent is a source of confidence of countless souls who wear the Miraculous Medal (the Medal of the Immaculate Conception).  St. Maximilian called the Medal his Silver Bullet.  Indeed it is a visual exorcism over the enemies of faith and charity, because of its reference to Genesis 3:15.

Blessed Pope Pius IX utilized this verse, evincing such a militant and confident spirit, as the principle scriptural text in the bull of definition for the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus.

The verse in its entirety reads: (a) I will put enmities between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and Her seed; (b) She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel. Pius IX, in accord with the received tradition, teaches that enmity exists between the Woman and the serpent only because She is never under His power through sin.  The enmity indicates, not only the fact that there is this unbridgeable gulf between the Woman and the serpent, but also that the two are engaged in an unending conflict.  In this She is associated with Her Seed, namely, Christ.  In fact this association is emphasized in the verse in the way that parts (a) and (b) complete each other.  The first part sets up a parallel that is recapitulated in the second.

In part (a) The Woman and the serpent are set in opposition and then likewise Her Seed and the serpent’s seed.  In part (b) the Woman completes the relation of opposition by destroying the serpent.

Much has been written concerning the second part of the verse, as to whether it should read He (Christ) shall crush thy head heel or She (Mary) shall crush thy head.  (Here is a good argument in favor of the Marian interpretation of 3:15b).  Regardless of what conclusions one might come to with respect to the most accurate translation, several things should be noted: first of all, the woman is definitely associated with the Seed in a mutual hatred for the serpent, so much so that promised Redeemer is identified as none other than the Seed of the Woman; secondly, that the logic of part (a) calls for the completion of part (b), so that whether the Woman is mentioned explicitly or not Her collaboration in the crushing of the serpent’s head is at least implied.

For this reason, and because of the Church’s use of the Marian translation of part (b) within the liturgy, we need to be convinced that the image of the Immaculate Conception standing on the serpent’s head tells us something profoundly important.  Whether it is the bas-relief of Our Lady on the Medal of the Immaculate Conception (Miraculous Medal) or one of the many painted versions of the Immaculate Conception, like the one of Rubens at the head of this post, one of the identifying features of Our Lady portrayed under this particular title is the representation of Her immaculate foot over the proud and defeated head of Satan.

What this tells us is that Our Lady’s immaculate purity of heart is powerful and victorious.  Not only is it beautiful and all-holy, it a sword in the hand of God.

This interpretation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is confirmed and strengthened with the support of the Church’s understanding of Apocalypse 12, another militant passage in which the Woman is pitted against the serpent (this time in the form of a red dragon).  In this passage Our Lady is clothed with sun, stands on the moon and is crowned with twelve stars.  In some images of the Immaculate Conception of the Imagery of Genesis 3 and Apocalypse 12 are combined, both strengthening the symbolism and using the one passage to interpret the other (as Ruben’s renders it above).  This imagery of Apocalypse 12 indicates both a state of militancy and triumph.  Our Lady is both suffering here on earth and glorified in heaven.  This is because She is the personification of the Church, which is both militant and triumphant.  Those of us who still suffer already share in the victory of those who have passed through the veil.  This is particularly true in the way in which we participate in the victory of the Woman.

Jesus Christ, our victorious King, has chosen to associate His Mother in His Redeeming work in an absolutely unique way.  He created Her immaculate so that She might be the worthy Tabernacle of His presence, and also so that She by worthy to stand by Him at the foot of the Cross and suffer with Him in a way that was meritorious for salvation of all.  Our Lord made Her so perfect that Our Lady She possesses a holiness greater than which cannot be conceived.  He is so perfect a Redeemer that the most perfect fruit of His perfect redemption is associated with Him in His redeeming action.

For this reason, Satan fears Our Lady.  His hatred for Her is bitter but futile, for, as Apocalypse 12 shows us, he is unable to touch either Her or Her child.  Our Lady is His humiliation.  The Fathers of the Church, interpreting Apocalypse 12 teach that fall of Satan and the bad angels was due to a rejection of the mystery of the Incarnation, especially insofar as it pertains to Our Lady’s Queenship over all the angels.  (For a great explanation of this as it relates to the Immaculate Conception, see The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God:  An Exposition, by Bishop Ullathorne, c. viii, pp.  65-76.)

The last verse of Apocalypse 12 is a synopsis of the whole of sacred history as the ongoing hatred of Satan for the Woman:

And the dragon was angry against the Woman: and went to make war with the rest of Her seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (17).

Satan is always standing on the frontier of each human life, seething with hatred for Jesus and Mary and perceiving their image and likeness in us and projecting his hatred for them onto us.  He longs to destroy us, but his designs will be frustrated if we are truly the rest of Her seed.

St. Maximilian always counseled his friars and the members of the Militia Immaculatae to make the novena leading up to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception a time to examine one’s conscience in respect to the degree of surrender they had made to the Immaculate.  The day of the solemnity was to be the most precious time of grace in which one was to renew their consecration and resolve to live it more faithfully.  War is never easy.  We should not expect the spiritual life to be anything but constant struggle.  Our blessings and consolations will come not in spite of struggle but as a fruit of it.

The spiritual life is a battle.  Our Lady is the Immaculate Warrior Queen is the Victrix of Lepanto and of every conflict that threatens the salvation of souls.   May we always have confidence in the She who is tota pulchra, all beautiful.  Let our confidence be our consolation.