O Adonai

Jeremiah 23.5-8; Psalm 71; Matthew 1.18-24

We pray this day for Adonaï, the “God of gods and Lord of lords.” [Deuteronomy 10.17] The word can be used for an earthly lord or king [I Samuel 29.8] but it is used in the Old Testament some 450 times as a pious substitute for the Name YHWH by which the Almighty revealed himself to Israel [Exodus 3.14-15], the Name too sacred to be pronounced by human lips. (Indeed, most pious Jews to this day will not say even Adonai but substitute the circumlocution, “the Name.”)

“Ruler of the House of Israel, who gave the law to Moses on Sinai, come and save us with outstretched arm.”  The Lord God whom we worship doesn’t simply regard our distresses from a safe distance.  “I am coming to deliver you” he promises [Exodus 3.8], the Same yesterday, today and forever. [Hebrews 13.8] He instructs us from the riches of his law. [Psalm 118(119).129-136] He invites us to accept him as Lord and Saviour [Romans 10.9] and to experience the joy and liberty of submission to his Lordship.

Jeremiah 23.5-8; Psalm 71; Matthew 1.18-24

Each of the final seven days of Advent has a Latin title drawn from the antiphon sung before the canticle Magnificat at Evening Prayer.  These antiphons are seven names for the Child our prayers express our longing for.  They are very ancient, mentioned by Boethius in the
5th Century.  Today we address Christ as O Sapientia: the Wisdom by which the world was made [Proverbs 8.22-31], is redeemed, and by means of which the whole creation lives in hope. [Colossians 1.27-28] 

When the whole list of Advent antiphons is read backwards, they form an acrostic sentence: Ero cras, “I will be with you tomorrow.” [cf Apocalypse 3.11] As we pray in these last Advent Days for Our Saviour to come quickly [I Corinthians 16.22; Apocalypse 22.20] we pray that he will fill us with Wisdom to recognise him when he comes. [Luke 7.35] “Wisdom of the Most High, ordering all things with strength and gentleness, come and teach us the way of truth.”

Saturday of Week 2 of Advent

Ecclesiasticus 48.1-4,9-11; Ps 79; Matt 17.10-13

To hear the voice of the lord was the terror of every ancient religion; as the children of Israel put it to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.’ [Exodus 20.19] The remarkable thing about Moses was that he spoke to God ‘as a man speaks to his friend’ [Exodus 33.11], that he stood face to face with God and did not die.

‘Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved’ the Psalmist begs of God.  Imagine saying these words to a violent thunderstorm, to a ravenous lion, to a murderous tyrant.  God at various places in the Scripture is likened to all of these, and worse.  

‘Be careful of what you wish for’ we are prudently advised.  And yet the example of the saints of every generation throws caution to the winds and beseeches God to make his presence felt.  To imagine God as a halcyon day, as a tame lion, is to worship an idol rather than the living God.  But the promise of God is that if we will worship him as Consuming Fire
[Hebrews 12.29] we shall find that the fire does not consume us but only anneals and purifies. 

Friday of Week 2 of Advent

Isaiah 48.17-19; Psalm 1; Matthew 11.16-19

‘…that, as the author of our salvation himself has taught us, we may hasten, alert and with lighted lamps, to meet him when he comes.’  The Collect for this day neatly summarises the Advent season’s summons to us to attentiveness to the activity of God in our midst; to a vocation of proclamation, drawing the attention of an indifferent world to the salvific efficacy of that divine activity; to a spirituality of expectancy, not demanding that God act to fulfil our desires and demands but rather welcoming Him as we see Him at work and recognising that He ever and always acts in accord with His ineradicable purpose.

In this way, Advent is the season of the human condition.  Advent asks of us honest acknowledgement of the limitations of our power and the limitations of our understanding. ‘Who could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be His counsellor?’ [Romans 11.34] are the ringing interrogations of these days.  Alongside them, though, is set the unchanging promise of God himself: ‘I am coming to save you.’ [Isaiah 35.4] A self-satisfied world grows indignant when told it needs salvation; but the self-aware ‘groaning in [our] slavery cry out for help’.  And God, looking down on us, knows [Exodus 2.23-25]: knows our needs, knows our ignorance and our impotence, knows and resolves to hasten to our aid.  May we hasten, alert and with lighted lamps, to meet him when he comes.

St John of the Cross

Isaiah 41.13-20; Psalm 144; Matthew 11.11-15

Juan de Yepes y Álvarez (1542-91) was born at Fontiveros, Old Castile, of a converso family (descendants of Jewish converts to Catholicism).  In 1563 he entered the Carmelite order.  He was ordained a priest in 1567. Later in that year he met Teresa of Ávila who explained her plans for the reform of the Carmelites and persuaded him to join her.  They established a reformed monastery at Duruelo in November 1568.  In 1572 they came to Ávila, where Teresa became Prioress and John became spiritual director and confessor to the nuns.

In December of 1577 a group of Carmelite friars opposed to Teresa’s reforms kidnapped John and took him to Toledo, where he was jailed in the friary and kept under a brutal regime that included weekly public beatings.  He escaped in August of 1578.  Over the following years the reformed Carmelites formally separated and were constituted as a new monastic order.

The privations and brutality John suffered eventuated in a profound mystical vision of God and his love and in the sublimest of Spanish poetry.  Dark Night of the Soul narrates the journey of the soul from earthly life to union with God.  This and other writings of John of the Cross have profoundly influenced Catholic mystical thought.  Pope St John Paul II wrote his doctoral thesis on the mystical theology of John of the Cross.

St Lucy

Isaiah 40.25-31; Psalm 102; Matthew 11.28-30

Lucy (283-304) was born of noble parents in Sicily and was martyred during the Diocletian persecution.  Her name is included in the Roman Canon, indicating the antiquity of devotion to her.  Medieval accounts reported that her eyes were gouged out prior to her martyrdom; when she was being prepared for burial in the family mausoleum it was discovered that her eyes had been restored.  For that reason she is the patron saint of those suffering eye disease. 

Prior to the displacement of the Julian calendar by the Gregorian calendar St Lucy’s day was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.  Lucy’s name in Latin, of course, means light, and so her feast day became a celebration of the Light which darkness cannot extinguish
[John 1.5], the Sun of Righteousness which rises ‘to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death.’ [Luke 1.79] Celebrations were especially vivid in the northern Scandinavian countries, where typically the eldest daughter of the family is expected to rise before dawn and prepare a feast of exquisite breads and cakes.  When all is ready she dons a crown of lighted candles and as the ‘bringer of light’ she goes to present the repast she has prepared to the rest of her family.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Isaiah 40.1-11; Psalm 95; Matthew 18.12-14

Missionaries who first came to Mexico with the conquistadors had little success in planting the Gospel there.  But in 1531 miracles began to occur.  The Blessed Virgin appeared several times to the humble Juan Diego (who eventually was canonised by Pope St John Paul II) and spoke to him in Nahuatl, his first language and the language of the ancient Aztec Empire.  In the course of four apparitions she presented herself as ‘the mother of the very true Deity’ and asked that a church be erected on the site (just outside present-day Mexico City) in her honour. (12th December is the date of the last of the appearances of the Blessed Virgin to Juan Diego.)  

Within a short time six million native Mexicans were baptised as Christians.  Countless miracles were attributed Our Lady of Guadalupe’s intercession.  Later she came to serve as a unifying national symbol.  In 1999 the Church declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the Patroness of the Americas, the Empress of Latin America, and the Protectress of Unborn Children. 

St Damasus I, Pope

Isaiah 35.1-10; Psalm 84; Luke 5.17-26

Damasus was born in Rome around the year 305.  His father was priest of the Church of
St Lawrence in Rome, and Damasus was to begin his ecclesiastical career as Deacon in his father’s church; later he was to serve as its priest.   

Following the death of Pope Liberius on 24th September 366 Damasus was elected to succeed him.  Simultaneously, though, another faction elected the deacon Ursinus.  Violence broke out. Damasus succeeded in gaining control of the Lateran basilica, and there he was ordained bishop.  During his papacy Damasus energetically pursued heretics, including especially Arians (those who denied the divinity of Christ).  He promulgated the Canon of Scripture and commissioned Jerome to make a single Latin translation (the ‘Vulgate’) to replace the many differing versions in circulation.  Jerome wrote of Damasus that ‘he had a fine talent for making verses and published many brief works in heroic metre. He died in the reign of the emperor Theodosius at the age of almost eighty.’

Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday, 10 December 2023

St Ambrose

Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalm 117(118):1,8-9,19-21,25-27; Matthew 7:21,24-27

When I think of St Ambrose, I am impelled to remember Fr Ambrose, who was a Priest in our Parish before my time, and like many of the Benedictines from Douai, retired to be Parish Priest at St Benets, Kemerton. Fr Ambrose was a big influence in my early life, as my grandparents were parishioners at Kemerton and attended daily Mass. I remember him for his lovely almost singing delivery of the canon of the Mass, my parents generation would remember him for his calm and supportive nature. Like many he is of course a Saint - he just is not in the official list.

In some cultures Saints Days are more important than birthdays - they are the day we remember our ancestors on. So if you had a certain Ambrose, Claire, Nicholas or Joan in your Family, find out their saints day, and when it arrives, remember them in your prayers.