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I will raise you up

The story is over, the prodigal son has returned. But an important and unique aspect of the story exists, which was elaborated on by John Paul II in his encyclical dedicated to God the Father, Dives in misericordia. Understanding this aspect makes our return journey to our Father all the more desirable; frankly, it makes it easier. Obviously, the return of the prodigal son was not a matter of punitive payback or discipline. Neither was it used as a ‘teachable moment’ to put the son in his place as reckless and condemn him to a lock-down. Instead, the father had in mind for his son the restoration of his lost dignity.

In the chapter Particular Concentration on Human Dignity in the above-referenced encyclical, John Paul II explained: “This exact picture of the prodigal son’s state of mind enables us to understand exactly what the mercy of God consists in. There is no doubt that in this simple but penetrating analogy the figure of the father reveals to us God as Father. The conduct of the father in the parable and his whole behavior, which manifests his internal attitude, enables us to rediscover the individual threads of the Old Testament vision of mercy in a synthesis which is totally new, full of simplicity and depth. The father of the prodigal son is faithful to his fatherhood, faithful to the love that he had always lavished on his son. This fidelity is expressed in the parable not only by his immediate readiness to welcome him home when he returns after having squandered his inheritance; it is expressed even more fully by that joy, that merrymaking for the squanderer after his return” (Dives in misericordia).

“The father’s fidelity to himself – a trait already known by the Old Testament term hesed – is at the same time expressed in a manner particularly charged with affection. We read, in fact, that when the father saw the prodigal son returning home, ‘he had compassion, ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him’ (Lk 15:20). He certainly does this under the influence of a deep affection, and this also explains his generosity towards his son . . . Notice, the father is aware that a fundamental good has been saved: the good of his son’s humanity. Although the son has squandered the inheritance, nevertheless his humanity is saved. Indeed, it has been, in a way, found again. The father’s words to the elder son reveal this: ‘It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found’ (Lk 15:32)” (Dives in misericordia).

“What took place in the relationship between the father and the son in Christ’s parable is not to be evaluated ‘from the outside.’ Our prejudices about mercy are mostly the result of appraising them only from the outside. At times it happens that by following this method of evaluation we see in mercy above all a relationship of inequality between the one offering it and the one receiving it. And, in consequence, we are quick to deduce that mercy belittles the receiver, that it offends the dignity of man. The parable of the prodigal son shows that the reality is different: the relationship of mercy is based on the common experience of that good which is man, on the common experience of the dignity that is proper to him. This common experience makes the prodigal son begin to see himself and his actions in their full truth (this vision in truth is a genuine form of humility); on the other hand, for this very reason he becomes a particular good for his father: the father sees so clearly the good which has been achieved thanks to a mysterious radiation of truth and love, that he seems to forget all the evil which the son had committed” (ibid.).

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The New Jerusalem

We have come full circle with the repentant son in the arms of the father (cf. Lk 15: 11-21). By this we mean that traveling the pathway of the circle of love and submitting to the transformation offered us by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and Mary’s fiat, we become ready to enter into the New Jerusalem according to the loving plan of God the Father.

This journey of ours began with the Father’s promise in the book of Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Gn 3:15). It has now started reaching the fullness of the Father’s plan, as described in the book of Revelation:

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will always be with them (as their God). He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death or mourningwailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Then he said, ‘Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’  He said to me, ‘They are accomplished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts and I shall be his God, and he will be My son'” (Rev 21: 3-7).

I shall arise and go to my father

Today is the feast of St Luke, a perfect time to meditate on the next step in our journey which takes place in the circle of love. The gospel of Luke is called the gospel of mercy because it contains parables not found in the other synoptic Gospels. They illustrate the tender mercy of God, with the most famous of these narratives being the parable of the prodigal son. This parable is central in Dives in misericordia – the encyclical of John Paul II dedicated to the Eternal Father – as his first words show: “It is God who is rich in mercy whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: it is His very Son who, in himself, has manifested him and made him known to us.” All the main elements of the human condition in relation to salvation history are contained in this parable: the son leaves his father’s house, squanders his inheritance, then suffers degradation and conviction as a result – all subjects of our recent meditations on our return trip back to the Father. But all this pales in light of the character of the son’s father as described in Luke’s gospel.

First, the father of the prodigal son was constantly watching for his son’s return: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20). The father did not even let his son reveal all the misery in his heart. How many times must the son have rehearsed what he would say to his father, to take him back, but during the actual encounter became engulfed in the happiness of his father’s heart: “His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began” (Lk 15: 21-24).

We are invited to celebrate our own return by imitating the young man in this gospel story. The essence of the parable is to convince us that true repentance lies not just in the minimum request of the son, but his full restoration back into the father’s household. The son was only seeking some of the bread given daily to his father’s servants; instead he was brought back into full communion with the father as the returning son. Our Heavenly Father waits for each one of us.

Far off country

We considered the action of the Holy Spirit within the context of our return journey to God the Father. John Paul II’s encyclical on the Holy Spirit is important because it addresses another reality we must face and enter into with all our hearts – personal conversion. All of us can wear the badge of the prodigal son as we are all in a far off country, caught up in many things which distanced us from the Father’s Heart. Most of us are not aware of such distancing and the action of the Holy Spirit is needed, to bring us back into a right relationship with God. This has to begin with a certain conviction about our present distance, including sin. The point here, however, is not to focus only on our separation but on the remedy granted to us.

To quote from the encyclical Dominum et vivificantem, “Beginning from this initial witness at Pentecost and for all future time the action of the Spirit of truth who ‘convinces the world concerning the sin of the rejection of Christ is linked inseparably with the witness to be borne to the Paschal Mystery: the mystery of the Crucified and Risen One. And in this link the same convincing concerning sin reveals its own salvific dimension. For it is a convincing that has as its purpose not merely the accusation of the world and still less its condemnation. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to judge it and condemn it but to save it (cf. Jn 3:17; 12:47). This is emphasized in this first discourse when Peter exclaims: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). And then when those present ask Peter and the Apostles: ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ this is Peter’s answer: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”

“The Holy Spirit, who in the words of Jesus convinces concerning sin, is the love of the Father and the Son, and as such is the Trinitarian gift, and at the same time the eternal source of every divine giving of gifts to creatures. Precisely in him we can picture as personified and actualized in a transcendent way that mercy which the patristic and theological tradition following the line of the Old and New Testaments attributes to God. In man, mercy includes sorrow and compassion for the misfortunes of one’s neighbor. In God, the Spirit-Love expresses the consideration of human sin in a fresh outpouring of salvific love. From God, in the unity of the Father with the Son, the economy of salvation is born, the economy which fills the history of man with the gifts of the Redemption . . . The Holy Spirit will enter into human and cosmic suffering with a new outpouring of love, which will redeem the world. And on the lips of Jesus the Redeemer, in whose humanity the suffering of God is concretized, there will be heard a word which manifests the eternal love full of mercy: ‘Miserere’ (cf. Mt 15:32; Mk 8:2). Thus on the part of the Holy Spirit, convincing of sin becomes a manifestation before creation which is subjected to futility, and above all in the depth of human consciences, that sin is conquered through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who has become even unto death the obedient servant who, by making up for man’s disobedience, accomplishes the redemption of the world. In this way the spirit of truth, the Paraclete, convinces concerning sin” (Dominum et vivificantem).

So the work of the Holy Spirit brings us into the truth, laying out before us the disorder of our sin and its consequences, to mention first the very pain of God derived from His deep pity. John Paul II described this pain as follows: “But more often the Sacred Book speaks to us of a Father who feels compassion for man as though sharing his pain. In a word, this inscrutable and indescribable fatherly pain will bring about, above all, the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that through the mysterium pietatis, love can reveal itself in the history of man as stronger than sin, so that the gift may prevail” (ibid.).

Year of Faith

The great circle of love presupposes a journey of faith. Today the Year of Faith began, called for by Benedict XVI. It cannot be emphasized enough with regard to its importance, a dimension of this year which is elaborated in his Apostolic Letter Porta fidei. We are being called to enter the door of faith (Acts 14:27), a fact clearly enunciated at the beginning of the text: “To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism (cf. Rom 6:4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory” (cf. Jn 17:22). Benedict continued, “To profess faith in the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is to believe in one God who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8): the Father, who in the fullness of time sent his Son for our salvation; Jesus Christ, who in the mystery of his death and resurrection redeemed the world; the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church across the centuries as we await the Lord’s glorious return.”

We considered these truths on this blog in recent posts on the role of the great circle of love in salvation history – the circle of our journey home. The Year of Faith, therefore, calls us into deeper penetration of this mystery, evoking a sense of awe and excitement which will serve as a stimulus to strengthen our motivation, to keep going on our return journey in faith into the heart of God our Father.

Immaculata

St Maximilian Kolbe is the second Marian teacher referred to in a previous blog post, the other being St Louis de Montfort. Kolbe is stunning in his approach to Mariology. While neither one of these great saints is exclusive with regard to the following topics, Kolbe explores the depths of the gifts given to Mary, whereas de Montfort focuses more on showing us the way and gives us the reasons why to give ourselves to Mary. Thus we continue to expand our understanding of Mary’s relationship with the Holy Trinity and Her participation in salvation history.

In his last writings before being imprisoned at Auschwitz, we find the quintessence of Kolbe’s Marian teachings. It is the consequence of his perennial question: “Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” A question best understood from his own answer: “The path of creation goes from the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit; this return trail goes from the Spirit, through the Son back to the Father. In other words, by the Spirit, the Son becomes incarnate in the womb of the Immaculata and through the Son, love returns to the Father. And She (the Immaculata), grafted into the love of the Blessed Trinity, becomes from the first moment of Her existence forever thereafter the ‘complement of the Blessed Trinity'” (Sketch, 1941, Feb. 17).

This is why when we describe the Great Circle of Love, Mary is included in the way back to the Father, not as a devotional reality but in Her very essence; that is, as the Immaculate Conception. It is admitted that such a concept can be rather overwhelming to our understanding, so it is fitting that it becomes the continuous subject in our contemplation of Mary, as it was for Kolbe. We need to keep bringing back these truths into our heart of hearts, in order not to dilute our veneration of Mary as “only a stepping stone” or to practical devotions, as valuable as the latter are. Kolbe, in fact, superlatively plumbs the depths of Mary’s union with the Holy Spirit – astonishingly so – by explaining the Holy Spirit as the “uncreated eternal conception” and His relationship with Mary as the “created Immaculate Conception” (ibid.). Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, with her divine Son, becomes an integral reality towards our return jouney to the Father.

This same Holy Spirit is active in our lives, which will be our next consideration in understanding the journey back to the Father: that is, the Great Circle of Love. In an article written before his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI said: “The Holy Spirit is recognizable in the way in which He forms human life. A life formed from faith is in turn a sign of the Holy Spirit. To speak of ‘Christian spirituality’ means to speak about the Holy Spirit. He makes himself recognizable by gaining a new center for human life. Speaking about the Holy Spirit includes looking at Him in man, to whom He has given himself” (Ratzinger, J. 1998. Communio [Summer ed.]).

A Mother’s place

The words “ocean” and “boundless” are often used by the saints and scholars in describing the graces Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ and our mother, has received from God. With that in mind, it is daunting to try to attempt to write about Her without going directly to their writings. With such a solid foundation, we can grow in our knowledge and understanding of Mary’s place in both salvation history and our personal lives. Hence such an undertaking must start with proper perspective, in order to thoroughly set forth and serve the truth about Mary.

St Louis-Marie de Montfort begins the first chapter of his Treatise True Devotion to Mary with these words: “With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to His infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since He alone can say, ‘I am He who is.’ Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of His will and the manifestation of His glory. To do all things He has only to will them. However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish His greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since He created her, we can safely believe that He will not change His plan in the time to come, for He is God and therefore does not change in His thoughts or His way of acting.”

“God the Father gave His only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. ‘The world being unworthy,’ said Saint Augustine, ‘to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave His Son to Mary for the world to receive Him from her.’ The Son of God became man for our salvation but only in Mary and through Mary. God the Holy Spirit formed Jesus Christ in Mary but only after having asked her consent through one of the chief ministers of His court.”

“God the Father imparted to Mary His fruitfulness as far as a mere creature was capable of receiving it, to enable her to bring forth His Son and all the members of His mystical body. The plan adopted by the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity in the Incarnation, the first coming of Jesus Christ, is adhered to each day in an invisible manner throughout the Church and they will pursue it to the end of time until the last coming of Jesus Christ.”

“God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas maria. He gathered all His graces together and called them Mary Maria. The great God has a treasury or storehouse full of riches in which He has enclosed all that is beautiful, resplendent, rare and precious, even His own Son. This immense treasury is none other than Mary whom the saints call the ‘treasury of the Lord.’ From her fullness all men are made rich.”

“God the Son imparted to His mother all that He gained by His life and death, namely, His infinite merits and His eminent virtues. He made her the treasurer of all His Father had given Him as heritage. Through her He applies His merits to His members and through her He transmits His virtues and distributes His graces. She is His mystical channel, His aqueduct, through which He causes His mercies to flow gently and abundantly.”

“God the Holy Spirit entrusted His wondrous gifts to Mary, His faithful spouse, and chose her as the dispenser of all He possesses, so that she distributes all His gifts and graces to whom she wills, as much as she wills, how she wills and when she wills. No heavenly gift is given to men which does not pass through her virginal hands. Such indeed is the will of God, who has decreed that we should have all things through Mary, so that, making herself poor and lowly, and hiding herself in the depths of nothingness during her whole life, she might be enriched, exalted and honoured by Almighty God. Such are the views of the Church and the early Fathers.”

Thus begins the inspired teachings of St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. A prayerful study in the link provided will greatly enhance one’s own personal journey towards the Father’s house. As De Montfort stated: “God has decided to begin and accomplish His greatest works through the Blessed Virgin.”  This is especially true in regards to each individual in the Mystical Body of Christ.

Magnificat anima mea Dominum

“I will put enmity between you and the woman.” (Gen. 3:15)

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev 12:1)

Holy Mother the Church has much to say about the above scripture quotes in reference to the mother of Jesus. As mentioned in earlier entries regarding the Father’s merciful promise to our first parents, the woman referred to is the Virgin Mary. On December 8, 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception ~ her first prerogative towards her destiny as the mother of God. Between this and the image brought forth in the book of Revelation, i.e. “the woman clothed with the sun,” we see in Mary the unique place she holds in Salvation History, leading us to understand that through her fidelity in obedience, she is indeed “Janua Coeli ~ Gate of Heaven.

Jesus is our redeemer! Our salvation was accomplished by His obedience: “…He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 7,8) This needs to be said and emphasized, in regards to the “order” of Salvation History. Jesus is the God-man, our Mediator; but he became so in time through the cooperation of Mary when she pronounced her “Fiat.” Through her cooperation, he received the body which he immolated on the Cross. So it is from this aspect that we focus on the role of our Blessed Mother in our journey within the “Circle of Love.” That is, in the perspective of time, cooperation and preparation. In any case we need not fear of putting her before her Divine Son in importance, because she herself does not do this. Before giving her answer to the Angel Gabriel, she said with all her heart: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord…” On the other hand we must recognize the centrality of Mary’s role in Salvation History, in order that we may follow her example and implore her help during our journey of “homeward bound.” We must remember, too,  that it is God himself who has “exalted her lowliness.” (cf. Lk 1:49) We can take counsel from the words of Saint Josemaria Escriva regarding the place of Mary in our lives: “There is no danger of exaggerating. We can never hope to fathom this inexpressible mystery, nor will we ever be able to give sufficient thanks to our Mother for bringing us into such intimacy with the Blessed Trinity. And it is this intimacy with the Trinity we have been called.

What are we to learn and take heed when approaching Mary? As St. Josemaria said, we can never fully understand the mystery of Mary, but we can expand our understanding by searching the writings of the holy promoters of Mariology. Examples of these are two great “apostles” of Marian spirituality: St. Louis-Marie Gringion DeMontfort, and nearer to our own time, St. Maximillian Kolbe. This will be the subject of the next blog entries, as we continue our contemplation of the role of Mary in Salvation History and more personally in our own lives. Fiat!

Upward turn

The Old Testament is filled with “Divine rescues.” God intervening to save his people or individuals. The covenants he made with the human race during this era demonstrates his powerful protection done so with mighty strength and authority. Even when chastising Israel, it was in order to correct and bring them back into right relationship. This was always done in view of delivering his children from the clutches of  evil. Yes, God is seen as the powerful Creator and deliverer, but also fatherly in  dealing with the people he formed,  fulfilling his promise to Abraham: “Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars of heaven…the sands of the seashore.” Gen 22:17)

When they were in Egypt, He powerfully brought them out of bondage in order to further form them into a family. “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son…it was I who taught Ephaim to walk, who took them in my arms, but they did not know that I cared for them. I drew them with human cords, with bands of love. I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks, I bent down to feed them.” ( Hosea 11: 1, 3-4)
God’s love is not cheap, and it is so because it is a covenent love. By its very nature it is reciprocal. Israel consistantly fell short of the expectations of their covenant with God, but even then, what is the divine and paternal response? “How could I give you up, Ephraim, or deliver you up, Israel….My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred….For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you. (Hosea 11: 8-9)

And so it was throughout the entire Old Testament era. God’s call, the initial response of more or less faithfulness, followed by a falling away. This in turn brought about the need for correction by way of tribulations, usually being  conquered by neighboring peoples. Israel becomes desolate and repentant, with God restoring them in their plight. The pattern is consistant.

Throughout these continuous defections, the Father sent messengers to the people. They were duly warned, but the Prophets went unheeded. And so, we are  given to understand that God is sovereign and yet always ready to bend down to return righteousness to his people…even if it included severe chastisement. As for any parent, it was meeted out as a last resort as shown in the stories of the various prophets.

Finally the time comes when the journey back to the Father is to take, you might say, a definitive turn for the better. Although externally the situation remains vacillating on the part of his “Family,” nevertheless, the time has come to fulfill the Promise given in the Garden of Eden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel. (Gen. 3:15 NAB). We see this confirmed in the letter of St. Paul to the Galations: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Gal 4: 4- 7) And so the “Great Circle of Love” takes a definitive turn upwards to its beginning with the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve. Jesus the “new Adam” born of Mary, restores our filial relationship with the Father. (cf. Rom 5 15-21) Having taught us how, we dare to say: “Our Father, who art in Heaven;” and we do this while looking forward, with hope, to our total transformation in Christ as we await His full appearance in glory. (cf. Titus 2:13)

Circle of Love revisited

The subtitle of this blog is “The Great Circle of Love,” a subtitle that denotes a very defined movement – that is, a moment in which the start and the finish points become fused into a single point. Such fusion is even illustrated in our own weekly timeline, when Sunday to Sunday is seen in a cyclical aspect, with every eighth day being the beginning and end of the circle. This is one of the reasons why the Judeo-Christian tradition employs this ‘journey’ in both worship and liturgy; that is, that major feasts are prolonged into eight-day celebrations in order to make a deeper penetration into the event or mystery celebrated. In the Roman Catholic Church, a Great Octave is observed when celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter, which culminates eight days later with Divine Mercy Sunday, is accompanied by very special graces.

We could look at our return to the Father in the light of this circular fashion. The downward curve denotes the beginning of the journey from our creation in time, with the rest of the arching circle showing the movement back towards the beginning. Such a circle, coupled with the sequence of what is salvation history, creates a way of illustrating the saving plan of our Heavenly Father, namely the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son for our redemption.

Therefore, all of the above is about beginnings and endings: “Thus says the Lord, Israel’s king, its redeemer, the Lord of hosts. I am the first, I am the last” (Is 44:6). So what about our own beginning and ending? Perhaps we could think of it as the ‘divine roundabout;’ that is, our own existence starting from the Father and our return to Him – the Great Circle of Love.