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Archive for May, 2013

Annunciation

For part 1, click here: http://www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/the-praises-of-mary-the-new-eve-part-1/

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a second-century Bishop, spoke of the Virgin Mary as having untied the “knot of Eve’s disobedience” with her own supreme act of obedience to the Divine Will.

Whereas Eve (like Adam) wanted to go her own way rather than trust in her Maker, Mary responded to the angel Gabriel’s annunciation of her virginal conception of Jesus with total humility:

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

St_Justin_Martyr

St. Justin Martyr, a second-century Apostolic Father, contrasted the Virgin Mary with the virgin Eve in his “Dialogue with Trypho,” stating that just as Eve in her disobedience had “conceived the word of the serpent,” bringing sin and death into the world, St. Mary in her obedience conceived the Word of God, bringing redemption and life.

Christ became man by the Virgin in order that the disobedience that proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. (Italics mine)*

Finally, we must take a brief look at the correspondence between Genesis chapters 1-2 and John chapters 1-2:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1: 1-4)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)

All right, so far the connection is pretty clear.  St. John is evoking the Genesis account of creation, and proceeds to imitate the structure of Genesis chapter 1 in the progression of days (“and the next day,” “and the next day,” etc).  In doing so, he shows us that Jesus Christ, God’s own Creative Word, came to restore the first creation, which Adam’s sin plunged into ruin.

But what about the second chapter of these two Books?  We’ll get to that in part 3.  But until then, read Genesis 2 and John 2 for yourself, and see if you can spot a connection.

Photos from Wikipedia

* As quoted by Dr. Scott Hahn here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgeU6d8Bxlo (9:00-9:11)

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Memorial DayMost of us are having picnics this weekend, so I’ll make this short.

With Memorial Day, we honor those who have risked or given their lives in the armed services.

Not all of us are called to make the same sacrifice as our brothers and sisters in uniform.  But all of us are called to the greatest and only destiny for which any human being should strive: Sainthood.

Yes, all are called to be saints.  Sainthood is what it means to be a Christian — and, therefore, what it means to be human.  It means to make of one’s life and self a gift, to empty oneself, to live not for oneself but for God and neighbor.

What we see in our brethren in uniform is an expression of that great ideal for which we all strive.

Let us pray — for the souls of our dearly departed veterans, for the protection of those currently serving, and for ourselves.

Photo from Wikipedia

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The_Madonna_in_SorrowIf you haven’t read it already, here is a link to the first post in this series on the Virgin Mary, which focused on Mary as the new “Ark of the Covenant”: http://www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/the-praises-of-mary-the-new-ark/

2. Mary is the New Eve

Since the earliest centuries of Christianity, Mary has also been called the “New Eve.”  In order to understand this, we have to take a look at Jesus first.

Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned – for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law.  But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.  But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.  And the gift is not like the result of the one person’s sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.  For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ.  In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all.  For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5: 12-19)

So we can see the principle of typology at work here — that is, the recognition of types or prefigurations of the New Covenant revealed in Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.  St. Paul is clearly telling us that Jesus is the New Adam.  He has come to redeem the creation that the first Adam plunged into decay and death.

Adam and EveBut Adam did not act alone, did he?  Adam and his wife, Eve, ate the forbidden fruit together — Eve at the behest of the serpent (the devil), and then afterwards Adam at the behest of Eve.

Just so, Jesus did not act alone when He came to redeem the human race.  From all eternity, He chose Mary to be His New Eve, the woman who would participate in His salvific work in a unique way — and who would become the mother of a new, redeemed humanity.

The Church has always understood this to have been part of the prophecy contained within the Proto Evangelion (or “First Gospel”).  Addressing the serpent, God says this:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

The woman with whom the devil will be at enmity is, indeed, the Virgin Mary, and the offspring of whom God speaks is Jesus Christ.  In Christ’s suffering and death, the devil, the author of death, struck at His “heel,” killing Him.  But by the very action whereby the devil seemed triumphant, the Son of the Virgin crushed the devil’s “head” — that is, He took away his power over creation, disabling death and removing its power grip on mankind.

I will talk more about the specifics of Mary’s role in all this, as well as the Biblical support for Mary as the New Eve, in part 2.  Stay tuned.

Photos from Wikipedia

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One of my favorite 80s hits.

By the way, I am a little bit of an 80s music fanatic.  I find that 80s songs have a deep element of yearning and attempt to use beauty to explore the thorns and roses of life.

It seems to me that this song is, at bottom, a lamentation of the competitiveness and “grabby-ness” of a world scarred by Original Sin (the beginning of which we see in the hiding, self-defensiveness, accusations, and possessiveness of Adam and Eve right after the Fall).

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Virgin MaryWe Catholics consider the May the “Month of Mary.”  Just as Mother Earth opens up her welcoming arms with the springtime, Mother Mary opens her motherly arms to the faithful and to the world (not that she doesn’t do that always, but we recognize her in a  special way in May).

I want to take this opportunity to explain, as far as my limited expertise will allow, why we Catholics venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary.

First of all, the word “venerate” is key.  Contrary to accusations from some, we do not worship her.

Nevertheless, as the Mother of God, Mary does have a unique place in salvation history and in the Church.

Here is the first of some rudimentary points I intend to share:

1. Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant

Ark of the Covenant

Just as the old Ark of the Covenant carried the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, the tablets of the Old Covenant, Mary carried within herself the Divine Messiah in Whose blood the New and Eternal Covenant would be forged.

Does the Bible support this view of Mary?  Well, consider Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1: 41-44) (italics mine)

This hearkens back to King David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant when it was brought into Jerusalem:

When it was reported to King David that the LORD had blessed the family of Obed-edom and all that belonged to him, David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the City of David amid festivities. As soon as the bearers of the ark of the LORD had advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. Then David, girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the LORD with abandon…” (2 Samuel 6:12-14) (italics mine)

Like I said, this is only my first post on Mother Mary.  But even now, I hope readers can see that the honor we give to Mary does not amount to worship.  We venerate Mary in a similar way to that in which the ancient Jews — strict monotheists — would have venerated the Ark of the Covenant, and for essentially the same reason.

Photos from Wikipedia

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Les-miserables-movie-poster1Note: You do not need to have seen “Les Misérables” in order to appreciate this post.  It is simply a reflection on one of the film’s themes and contains no spoilers.

So we close the curtain on Jean Valjean and Fantine.  Now that we have a bit of a break, we can get down to a bare bones question: Which is harder, Law or Grace?

(As long as we remember that Grace and the Law are not opposed, as well as the difference between the Law’s proper place and its abuse, I think the following points are valid)

Grace is less scrupulous than the Law.  The ancient Jews had a daunting number of commandments in the Torah, and each had to be observed with exactness.  And lest you think to yourself, “Hey, you’re gonna miss something here and there — it’s understandable,” understand that the whole Law is, in fact, one “piece.”

That’s not to say that all failures to observe the Law necessarily carry equal weight — but when the Law becomes the end-all-and-be-all of our spiritual lives, it can get overwhelming.

Grace takes account of human weakness and can even work with human failures.

But in another sense, Grace is much harder.  While perhaps emphasis on Law can be content with mere outward observance, Grace demands an overhaul of the heart.  In response to Grace, we are now responsible not only for performing the right action, but also for developing the right motives.

Colm Wilkinson 2That is why the Bishop’s forgiveness of and charity towards Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables” is such a great illustration of “turning the other cheek,” which Christ prescribes in Luke’s Gospel.

“Turning the other cheek” does not mean being a doormat, nor does it mean excusing, minimizing, or ignoring the wrongs committed by another.  Rather, it is a method of nonviolent confrontation — it causes no harm, but it lets the other see the wrongness of his/her ways.

After the episode with the Bishop, Vajean cannot comfortably return to his former course of action (which we may suppose to be a life of vengeance against the society that has disenfranchised him).  He has been confronted with something bigger than himself, something that compels him to go out of himself.

That something is Grace, pure and simple.

Top photo from Wikipedia; photo of the Bishop obtained through a Google image search

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Fr. Barron offers insight into why Catholic moral teaching is often perceived as “out of touch” with the culture:

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Relevant to parents, businesspeople, artists, insurers, and pretty much everyone…

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RunawayBunnyThis is going to be a quickie — in the wake of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d draw people’s attention to an “oldie-but-goodie” by Margaret Wise Brown: The 1942 picture book “The Runaway Bunny.”

Mothers, take time to read this to your kids.  Afterwards, you can tell them, “That’s how much I love you.”

Basically, the book deals with a mother rabbit’s assurance to her young son that she would pursue him lovingly if he ever ran away, and that no matter what he did to get away from her, she would always set out to find him.

While reading this book, I thought to myself: “Yes — this is precisely how mothers reflect the love of God.”

For God lovingly pursues us even when we run away from Him:

When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3: 8-9)

Photo from Wikipedia

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TheatreIf it helps you, picture a bunch of stage hands switching things around in the dark.

From the counterproductivity of legalism we turn to an important question: How can we come to the defense of the sinner while at the same time condemning the sin?  The same question can be rephrased in reverse order: How can we express disapproval of the sin while behaving compassionately toward the sinner?

I think the answer lies in an understanding of what sin is and does.  Sin is like a prison.  It lures us with trappings of pleasure or satisfaction, and then when it gets a hold of us it binds us as with chains.

Jesus says as much:

Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. (John 8:34)

Sin makes us less human.  It may feel good for a time — just as using drugs and alcohol is pleasurable to the addict or alcoholic — but ultimately it harms the very heart of the person who commits it.

anne-hathaway-les-miserablesWhile we do see something of this in Jean Valjean’s case, we see it more explicitly in the character of Fantine (Anne Hathaway).  She has been forced into prostitution in order to feed her child, and when she sings her song of lamentation, “I Dreamed a Dream,” it is perhaps the most moving and tragic scene in the film.

And how do people from the upper tiers of the social hierarchy and servants of the law treat her?  With pure contempt.

Javert 2In fact, at one point Javert almost has her arrested for striking a “gentleman” (an act of self-defense).  The idea that her action might have been justified, that perhaps the man she struck had been posing a threat to her, never occurs to him.  He knows nothing about her — only that she is a prostitute, and therefore not to be trusted.  In all likelihood, she was born bad.

To the extent that the law puts people down and obscures their dignity, it becomes a servant of sin rather than a safeguard against it (remember, the degradation of the human person is sin’s purpose and effect).  When we look down on people self-righteously, when we jump too quickly to judgment, what we end up doing is maintaining them in their sins (“They’ll never change”).

Don’t get me wrong — law is necessary and good.  Society’s judgments on legitimate wrongs are likewise good.  But in the words of Pope John Paul II,

Forgiveness … seeks to reintegrate individuals and groups into society, and countries into the community of nations.  No punishment should suppress the inalienable dignity of those who have committed evil.  The door to repentance and rehabilitation must always remain open.*

No such “door” is open to Fantine, and so she loses faith in a benevolent God.

Jackman_HathawayAt this point, Valjean intervenes.  Having reformed his life and worked his way up to the position of mayor of the town in which Fantine lives, he discovers her in the gutter and lifts her out.

Caught_in_Adultery

One cannot help but be reminded of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.  As this woman is faced with the prospect of being stoned to death, Jesus says this to her captors:

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:7)

Not to be redundant, but I do need to return to Blessed John Paul II, who comments on this passage in his Apostolic Letter “Mulieris Dignitatem”:

In the end Jesus says to her: “Do not sin again“, but first he evokes an awareness of sin in the men who accuse her (…) Jesus seems to say to the accusers: Is not this woman, for all her sin, above all a confirmation of your own transgressions, of your “male” injustice, your misdeeds? (italics his)

This seems to apply in Fantine’s case as well.  After all, for all Javert’s zeal for the enforcement of the law, does he ever give any hint of concern for the social conditions that contribute to the sins of folks living in the dregs of society? (It is worth noting that there is a reprise of “Look Down” in the mouths of peasants at one point in the film)

Unfortunately, Fantine dies shortly after Valjean’s intervention.  A life of abject poverty and prostitution has taken its toll on her.  But she dies knowing that she is loved, and therefore her hope in the triumph of truth, goodness, and beauty — and, we may suppose, God — is restored.

Cosette

She is also happy because she knows her daughter, Cosette, will be well cared for.  Valjean promises to see to that — in fact, he takes Cosette in and raises her himself.

Colm Wilkinson 2

Here, we see Valjean extending the “economy” of grace.  Having been shown mercy by the kindly old Bishop, he is inspired to live a life of grace, extending that mercy to others.

That’s the thing about the life of grace, which comes to us through Jesus Christ: It is a gift that is increased by being shared, the treasure that grows to the extent that it is given away.

What motivates this sort of “pay-it-forward” attitude for the Christian?  Gratitude, certainly.  But also, it gets us less focused on ourselves.  It neither permits us to indulge in sin nor maintains us in our guilt, but frees us to actualize our true selves.  And as I’ve said before, all human beings are made in the image of the Triune God, and so we only truly find ourselves when we make of our very selves a sincere gift to others.

Both sin and the pharisaical abuse of the law (itself a sin) get in the way of this.

*From the book “Go in Peace”

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