Dearest Parishioners and Friends,
“So, this is Christmas…” We are officially in the Christmas season, even though for weeks, everywhere we turned, Christmas was, in many ways, already being celebrated. How ought we to celebrate when all around us now there is “Christmas fatigue”, and the decorations are being removed, the songs no longer played, and our culture is turning towards its next holiday? We celebrate by abiding in the presence of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the One revealed amazingly in this prologue of John’s Gospel, which we read on this First Sunday of Christmas. If we express desire to abide, grace to abide shall be given. We will experience the intimacy of the Triune God’s very own life. The Word was made flesh so to introduce us into such intimacy. Hence the brilliant truth of what St. Leo the Great once preached on a Christmas morning almost 1600 years ago: “O Christian, be aware of your nobility: it is God’s own nature that you share.”
I wish you awareness of nobility, quiet awe, moments of adoration, sweet joy and peace from the Word made flesh. Again and again, Merry Christmas.
Yours in Christ,
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are invited to revisit, in faith, the mystery of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. I deliberately say “mystery”, because there is more than meets the eye, because the love that animates this encounter is eternal. It is, therefore, a mystery.
St. Ambrose (+397), who ranks with Saints Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great as one of the Latin Doctors of the Church, who is traditionally credited with composing the hymn Te Deum, prayerfully and carefully considers this encounter:
Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace. She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the mystery. She is aware of Mary’s presence, but he is aware of the Lord’s: a woman aware of a woman’s presence, the forerunner aware of the pledge of our salvation. The women speak of the grace they have received while the children are active in secret, unfolding the mystery of love with the help of their mothers, who prophesy by the spirit of their sons.
In these last few days before Christmas, as we reach the threshold of the Christmas season, and we are surrounded by the panic of remaining shopping sprees for impossible gifts, and of preparations for holiday entertainment, I invite you to spend some quiet time, close to Mary, asking her to help you, as she does so well, to “treasure all these words and ponder them in your heart” (Luke 2:19), to cherish the presence of the Lord within. In so doing, we purify our hearts and thus prepare for His coming. As the same St. Ambrose so lovingly exhorts,
Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let her spirit be in each to rejoice in the Lord. Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith. Every soul receives the Word of God if only it remains pure. The soul that succeeds in this proclaims the greatness of the Lord, just as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. In another place we read: Magnify the Lord with me. The Lord is magnified, not because the human voice can add anything to God but because he is magnified within us. Christ is the image of God, and if the soul does what is right and holy, it magnifies that image of God, in whose likeness it was created and, in magnifying the image of God, the soul has a share in its greatness and is exalted.
I look forward to celebrating Christmas with you. If you will be traveling, I wish you an abundance of blessings. Trust that the Lord will work in and through you—even in the most complex of holiday situations! The Lord be with you.
Faithfully in Him,
Dearest parishioners and friends,
The “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), St. John, in closing the Book of Revelation (22:20), cries out: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! This ought to be the leitmotif of our lives, which we cry out in a special way during Advent. Indeed, we are being attracted—whether we feel it or not—by the Lord who comes to us in myriad ways, and “who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and whose kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed).
For a few Advent weeks now, we have been preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ Frist Coming at Christmas, a celebration which intensifies the thirst in us for Jesus’ Second (definitive) Coming, when “all things are subjected to him…so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28). Then will divine love and divine light prevail. How hope-ful we are as disciples of such a Lord, as friends of the Word made flesh. Indeed, we have been given the gift of divine hope, which is much more than naïve optimism, which turns us towards “Him who is coming with the clouds” (Revelation 1:7). Speaking of Whom, note what St. Thomas Aquinas says, in trying to understand the symbolism of coming “with the clouds”: “The cloud, on account of its refreshing influence, signifies the mercy of the judge.” Our celebration of Christmas, of the First Coming of Christ, ought to prepare us for the Second Coming of Christ, which is all about refreshing mercy. As St. John also tells us in the Book of Revelation (21:4-5),
God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. The one who is seated on the throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new”.
This is so important for us to bear in mind and heart, in faith, for the holidays can be a challenging time for some of us. We cannot help but have expectations of peace and harmony, but are painfully aware of brokenness or loss. And we find ourselves longing for wholeness and healing and presence that seem elusive. The Lord is nonetheless present. Indeed, our longing beckons His coming, and He is coming…
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Respectfully in Christ,
We continue our Advent journey, a journey of preparation of the heart to receive anew our Lord—in other words, to deepen the intimacy of our bond with Christ. Now, there is one person who knows rather well how to receive our Lord, the one who received Him uniquely: Mary. Mary, of course, is viewed and appreciated differently in different parts of the Church. And one may wonder how best to navigate such theological diversity. I personally apply Jesus’ new commandment to Mary: “Love one another as I love you” (John 13:34; 15:12). My conclusion: I am called to love Mary as Jesus loves her. It is perhaps this simple.
St. Maximilian Kolbe (Church of England feast day: August 14) says, “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus does.” Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar who was imprisoned in Auschwitz on 28 May 1941. Two months later, three prisoners escaped from the camp. In response, ten other prisoners were selected to be starved to death, as a deterrent to future escapes. One of them, upon being seized, cried out, “My wife! My children!” Friar Maximilian volunteered to take his place. He has been called “martyr of charity”. Eyewitnesses in the prison spoke of Friar Maximilian’s love for Mary.
On December 8, many parts of the Christian Church (including the Church of England) celebrate The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some in the Church speak of “immaculate conception”. Pope Pius IX, in 1854, declared, “the most blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin”. Now, Anglicans question whether this doctrine must be held by believers as a matter of faith (as it is presented to Roman Catholics), but the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) nonetheless states:
The negative notion of ‘sinlessness’ runs the risk of obscuring the fullness of Christ’s saving work. It is not so much that Mary lacks something which other human beings ‘have’, namely sin, but that the glorious grace of God filled her life from the beginning. The holiness which is our end in Christ (cf. 1 John 3:2-3) was seen, by unmerited grace, in Mary, the prototype of the hope of grace for humankind as a whole…The Scriptures point to the efficacy of Christ’s atoning sacrifice even for those who preceded him in time (cf. 1 Peter 3:19, John 8:56, 1 Corinthians 10:4)…In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1:35), we can affirm (together) that Christ’s redeeming work reached ‘back’ in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and, indeed, can only be understood in the light of Scripture.
The moral of the story? Well, “sinlessness” speaks to fullness of love. Fullness of love speaks to closeness. Perhaps we really do have a close co-sojourner, Mary, who responds, in our regard, to Jesus’ new commandment. “Behold your mother” (John 19:27) Jesus says to John and, through and beyond John, to each one of us who wish to encounter and receive her. Why the gift? Because love radiates, and because this gift leads us, in special ways, to the Gift-Giver. Dare I say, Mary journeys with us, teaching us to receive anew our Lord, to open our minds and hearts so to deepen the intimacy of our bond with Christ.
From the desk of the Rector