Friday, May 30, 2014

Novena for Pentecost

REMINDER: today starts the novena for Pentecost. During these nine days, we join with Mary and the Apostles to wait and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. I hope to add a longer reflection soon, but for now a link to the traditional novena prayers will suffice. These are available in devotional books and on several sites; this page also has the convenient feature of a daily email alert. Sign up tonight to receive the "correct" daily reminders to end the novena on Pentecost Sunday.
Pentecost mosaic from the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Since I neglected to post on Ascension Thursday, I'll link also to someone else's meditations and questions on this mystery. (Scroll down to find quotes from several saints and blesseds.)

This always feels like a strange, still time of the Liturgical Year to me. I'm thinking now about the quotes from St. John Chrysostom and others from the link above, but still the Feast of the Ascension somehow eludes me. Do I take for granted the wonder and mystery of Christ's ascension to His heavenly glory? Why does this feast feel like such a let-down from Easter? The Paschal Candle (representing the Risen Christ) is put out and out of sight. The angels speak to the apostles who, a moment ago were still asking about the restoration of an earthly kingdom--"why stand you looking up to heaven?" (Acts 1:11). Christ goes to send the Paraclete, to prepare a place for us, and to enter into His glory. I pray I can understand and love this feast better than I have done.

In living anew these mysteries each liturgical year, we do confront not only Christ's glory and triumph, His teaching and His love for His followers, but also the disciples' limited understanding, their feelings at the loss of Christ's physical presence on earth, their pondering His words during the mental and spiritual trial of waiting. During this time, we imitate, through our novena, the Eleven who were reunited in that upper room "persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brethren" (Acts 1:14). How hard they must have prayed! How sacred was their waiting! How important was this time to ready them for all the missionary action of the rest of their lives!

(Taking this perhaps rather too personally: I suspect that part of the reason this is not my favorite part of the liturgical year is that this is one time when I particularly can't avoid admitting what I don't know, or rather that I don't know what I don't know. And my path is not clear; I am not in control; I must be still, pray, and wait for the grace of the Holy Spirit. Oh, and when that comes, I ought to respond fully--acting upon that grace. My pride gets in the way. It doesn't like all that. Mea culpa. Pray for me.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"May Magnificat"

Just a brief reminder that the month of May is specially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Stephan Lochner, Madonna in the Rose Bower (1448)
Please spend some time this month thinking about our Lady, honoring her by praying her "Magnificat," her Rosary, or another devotion, such as the Regina Coeli (which replaces the Angelus during Eastertide). I'll revisit this topic in another post later in the month, but for now I'll defer to Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1844-89). He poses some timely questions and answers far better than I could:
May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
    Her feasts follow reason,
    Dated due to season—

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
    Why fasten that upon her,
    With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
    Is it opportunest
    And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
    Question: What is Spring?—
    Growth in every thing—

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
    Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
    And bird and blossom swell
    In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
    With that world of good,
    Nature’s motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
    How she did in her stored
    Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
    Much, had much to say
    To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
    And thicket and thorp are merry
    With silver-surfèd cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
    And magic cuckoocall
    Caps, clears, and clinches all—

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
    To remember and exultation
    In God who was her salvation.

St. Joseph the Worker

Apologies for neglecting to post on St. Joseph's Day (March 19th). This is my chance to make up for it: 
Today we commemorate the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary again, under the title St. Joseph the Worker (Latin, "opifex")[1]. The prayers in the Mass ask for his intercession, of course, and particularly for blessings on our own work: "And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct thou the works of our hands over us: yea, the work of our hands do thou direct." (Psalm 89:17 DRV) The epistle reading is from the third chapter of Paul's Letter to the Colossians, including verse 17: "Whatever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."
O God, the author of all things, Thou hast established the law of labor for all mankind: grant, we beseech Thee, that, by the example and intercession of Saint Joseph, we may accomplish the works Thou commandest and gain the rewards Thou hast promised. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit world without end. Amen.
We consider the way in which good St. Joseph approached his daily work as a carpenter, providing for Jesus and Mary; we look to him as a model and patron, asking him to obtain for us the graces to approach our work in the right way for the glory of God and for our own salvation. This prayer, composed by St. Pius X, elaborates further:
Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work in a spirit of penance for the remission of my many sins; to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations; to work with gratitude and joy, considering it an honor to employ and develop, by means of labor, the gifts received from God; to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever recoiling before weariness and difficulties; to work, above all, with purity of intention, and with detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after your example, O Patriarch St. Joseph. Such shall be my watch-word in life and in death. Amen.
Every time I read or recite this prayer I am struck by the unified force of such a brief treatise on labor and I also notice something new about how I should grow in practicing (at least!) one of the five aspects mentioned.

While we are on this general topic[2], I might as well mention three other classic favorites for "offering up" our work to God in this way:
  • The "Morning Offering," such as this from the Apostleship of Prayer
  • the "Suscipe" of St. Ignatius of Loyola
  • and the "Concede mihi" of St. Thomas Aquinas for ordering one's life well
You probably know them already, but that won't stop me from mentioning them again--most likely because I need to remind myself. Please pray for me.

God bless our work. St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us.

[1] In the so-called “traditional” (1962) calendar, this is a first class feast; in later calendars, it is an optional memorial. While the Christian concept of the dignity of labor (and of St. Joseph as such an exemplar) goes back much further, this feast day was established quite recently (1956), offering a timely reminder of the place of labor in God’s plan for our salvation and an antidote to Marxist and communist observances of International Labor Day (May Day). In the same vein, the Holy See also granted an indult permitting this Mass to be said in the United States on the first Monday of September.
[2] Hardly a new topic, so I won’t bother making up a catchy new slogan for it—anyway, St. Benedict’s “ora et labora” should do quite nicely here.