In the beginning of his treatise, "Nicomachean Ethics", Aristotle explores the question of happiness. Although a philosophical inquiry based on human experience, in an ancient world that freely refers to the gods, Aristotle praises happiness by referencing divine intervention:
If there is any gift of the gods to men, it is reasonable that happiness should be god-given, and most surely god-given of all human things inasmuch as it is the best.
Happiness is the best thing he tells us. But, what is happiness? Per Aristotle (if I understand him correctly!), happiness is a life lived in communion with what is our proper human end. Such life engages intellect and will (mind and heart), necessitates inner strength, and takes time. What is our proper human end? For Aristotle, there are two: another human person (in deep friendship) and the Divine.
In this Sunday's gospel (Matthew 5:1-12), in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals to us His desire that we experience super-happiness, God's happiness, beatitude. In and by Jesus, the gift of relationship with God is gratuitously bestowed upon us, and thus a "life lived in communion with what is our proper end". The relationship into which we are drawn is more intimate than Aristotle could fathom: super-happiness indeed, the fullness of which occurs when we see, face-to-face, the One with whom we are in relationship. This gift of relationship with God is gratuitously bestowed upon us in the midst of whatever we may be experiencing-health issues, financial problems, loneliness, tears or persecution. "Blessed are you" Jesus promises.
Let us dare to be happy in the Lord.....
Yours in Him,
This Sunday we celebrate, in a special way, Saint Agnes (of Rome), our patroness, intercessor, co-sojourner, and divine friend. Since the primitive church, her feast is assigned to 21 January (moved one day for our celebratory purposes!).
Agnes was born in Rome and raised in a Christian family. She died a virgin-martyr at the age of 12 or 13 on 21 January 304. She was buried in a Roman catacomb, over which, during the reign of Constantine (306-337), a basilica, Sant'Angese fuori le mura, was erected. The basilica was later remodeled by Pope Honorius (+638), and has since remained unaltered. In the apse is a mosaic showing Agnes amid flames, with a sword at her feet.
Many have sung her praises and extolled her virginity and heroism under torture. The three oldest written testimonies to her martyrdom are those of St. Ambrose (+397), Bishop of Milan, Pope Damasus (+384), and Aurelius Prudentius (413), Roman Christian poet. Prudentius adheres to St. Ambrose' account of death by the sword, but expands the story: the judge threatened to give over her virginity to a house of prostitution for refusing a fixed marriage. For her refusal of such aggression to her innocence, she was killed. In the end, she remained a virgin and obtained the crown of martyrdom. How the gift of faith can make us strong and faith-full and victorious. Indeed, by it, one can move mountains...
St. Agnes, the patron saint of young girls and rape survivors, is depicted in the mural above our main altar. She is the second figure from the left, and below her are symbolic representations of her innocence and martyrdom: a lamb ("agnus" in Latin) and a palm branch.
St. Agnes, pray for us.
Yours on the journey with her,
In this Sunday's gospel (John 1:29-42), John the Baptist recalls witnessing "the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove". What an unusual, presumably wise revelation.
St. Cyprian (+258), Bishop of Carthage (in modern Tunisia), a skillful Latin rhetorician and writer, and finally, martyr, who, upon being condemned to death by the sword replied, "Thanks be to God!", writes in his The Unity of the Church.
It is said that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove because the dove is a simple harmless animal, not bitter with gall, not savage with its bites, not fierce with rending talons; it loves the dwellings of men, is able to live together in one nest, together it raises its young, they remain together when they fly, spend their life in mutual association, signify the concord of peace with the kiss of their bill, and fulfill the law of harmony in all things."
St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274), a millennium later, in his "Commentary on the Gospel of St. John", confirms these theological insights: "Many reasons are given why the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove rather than in some other form.
Firstly, because of its simplicity, for the dove is simple: "Be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves" (Mt 10:16). And the Holy Spirit, because he inclines souls to gaze on one thing, that is, God, makes them simple.
Secondly, because of the unity of charity; for the dove is much aglow with love: "my dove, my perfect one" (Song 6:9). So, in order to show the unity of the Church, the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove.
Thirdly, because of its groaning, for the dove has a groaning chant; so also the Holy Spirit "intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26).
Fourthly, because of the dove's fertility, for the dove is a very prolific animal. And so in order to signify the fecundity of spiritual grace in the Church, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.
Fifthly, because of its cautiousness. For it rests upon watery brooks, and gazing into them can see the hawk flying overhead and so save itself. And so, because our refuge and defense is found in baptism, the Holy Spirit appropriately appeared in the form of a dove.
Like a dove. What more can be said?
Yours in our Lord upon whom descended the Holy Spirit,
That the First Person of the Trinity, God the Father, would speak of and to the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, as “the Beloved” is very moving. The language, of course, is bi-directional, if you will: towards the Father and towards us. Jesus is the Beloved of the Father and our Beloved.
The Father adopts the language of the lovers in the Song of Songs, suggesting that the mystery of God is one of unfathomable intimacy, and that we are invited to join. Jesus introduces us into the Trin-itarian life. As the Carmelite nun, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (+1906), writes in a poem that she composed for Christmas of 1901:
He comes to reveal the mystery,
To share all of the Father's secrets
To lead from glory to glory
Even unto the bosom of the Trinity.
Ponder this and surrender to the Lord with a desire for this—especially when things get rough: the projects seem always beyond finishing, the relationship only gets more complicated, the bill or the heartache or the physical pain is too great...
Again, Blessed Elizabeth leads the way in hope.
From a poem she composed for the 7th anniversary of her First Communion:
When Jesus made in me His dwelling place,
When God took possession of my heart,
So well that since that hour,
Since that mysterious colloquy,
That divine and delicious meeting,
I have aspired to nothing else but to give my life
In order to return a bit of His great love
To the Beloved of the Eucharist
Who reposes in my feeble heart, Inundating it with all of his favors.
Yours in the Trinity,
From the desk of the Rector