Monday, September 15, 2014

Terrible as an army set in battle array (On the Birth of the Virgin)


Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array?

This verse coming from the canticles is recited everyday by the members of the Legion of Mary as part of what they call the “Catena Legionis”. It speaks of the coming forth of the Blessed Virgin as compared to the dawn which breaks the darkness of the night. The birth of the Blessed Virgin is like the dawn of a new creation. New because the old creation was destroyed by sin and death on account of the disobedience of our first parents: by the disobedience of one man, sin entered into the world and together with sin entered death. What was supposed to be an imperishable creation was destroyed by the envy of the devil. But “behold, I make all things new,” says the Lord. He, who is about to create a new heaven and a new earth, created this wonderful child, like a new garden which the serpent was not allowed to enter. “Truly a better paradise than the first is given us at this hour. Eden, fear no more that man will endeavor to enter thee; thy Cherubim may leave the gates and return to heaven. What are thy beautiful fruits to us, since we cannot touch these without dying? Death is now for those who will not eat of the fruit so soon to appear amid the flowers of the virgin earth to which our God has led us.” (Abb. Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Sept. 8.) Adam and Eve were prohibited from eating the death-giving fruit of the garden of Eden. But you and I are told to eat the fruit of the womb of Mary so that we may have life: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you cannot have life in you.”

The saints were not lacking in words in praising this day of the birth of the Virgin Mary. “St. Andrew of Crete calls this day a solemnity of entrance, a feast of beginning, whose end is the union of the Word with our flesh; a virginal feast full of joy and confident for all…’It is the beginning of salvation, the origin of every feast,’ says St. Peter Damian, ‘for behold! The Mother of the Bridegroom is born. With good reason does the whole world rejoice today; and the Church, beside herself, bids her choirs sing wedding songs.’” (Gueranger) Indeed, what a beautiful child is born for us today! “Mother of God, Queen of heaven, Sovereign of the world, all generations call you blessed, for you have brought forth life and glory for all. In you, the angels ever find their joy, the just find grace, sinners pardon; in you, and by you, and from you, the merciful hand of the Almighty has reformed the first creation!” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux) But while we admire the beauty of this little child, let us not forget that she is like an army arrayed for battle. St. Louie de Montfort said: “It is by Mary that the salvation of the world has begun, and it is by Mary that it must be consummated. Being the way by which Jesus Christ came to us the first time, she will also be the way by which He will come the second time, though not in the same manner. Mary must shine forth more than ever in mercy, in might, and in grace in these latter times: in mercy, to bring back and lovingly receive the poor strayed sinners who shall be converted and shall return to the Catholic Church; in might, against the enemies of God, idolaters, schismatics, Mahometans, Jews, and souls hardened in impiety, who shall rise in terrible revolt against God, to seduce all those who shall be contrary to them, and make them fall by promises and threats; and finally, she must shine forth in grace, in order to animate and sustain the valiant soldiers and faithful servants of Jesus Christ, who shall do battle for his interests. Mary must be terrible as an army ranged in battle, principally in these latter times. It is principally of these last and cruel persecutions of the devil, which shall go on increasing daily till the reign of the Antichrist, that we ought to understand that first and celebrated prediction and curse of God, pronounced in the terrestrial paradise against the serpent; ‘I will put enmities between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed.’

“God has never made or formed but one enmity; but it is an irreconcilable one: it is between Mary, his worthy Mother, and the devil; between the children and the servants of the Blessed Virgin and the children and the instruments of Lucifer. Satan fears Mary not only more than all the angels and men, but in some sense, more than God himself. It is not that the anger, the hatred, and the power of God are not infinitely greater than those of the blessed Virgin, for the perfections of Mary are limited; but it is because Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God, and her humility humbles him more than the Divine power. The devils fear one of her sighs for a soul more than all the prayers of all the saints, and one of her menaces against them more than all other torments.” (True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin)

As we find ourselves in the middle of this raging battle between the Woman and the serpent, as the violence against the Christians in the Middle East escalates, as the threat of the Islamic Caliphate becomes more disturbing everyday, let us run to Mary and beg her to crush the head of the Serpent. “Together with the Church, let us ask, as the fruit of this feast, for that peace which seems to flee ever farther and farther from our unhappy times.” (Gueranger) “(May) the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin…bring deeper peace to those for whom the birth of her Son was the dawning of salvation.”

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

The Cross Exalts


The Cross was devised by the Romans to bring about a slow, painful, and humiliating death. Death by crucifixion was so painful and humiliating that the Romans never executed their own kind in this way. Even to this very day, Christians in Syria are hung on crosses by their Muslim persecutors. They would not do this to their own kind. Thus, the cross is an instrument of torture, humiliation, and death.

However, today, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. What was once an instrument of torture and death is now exalted as an instrument of salvation and life. What was once a symbol of humiliation is now a symbol of glory. What was once a sign of defeat is now an emblem of victory. All these because Jesus, the Son of the living God, mounted upon the wood of the Cross and there, he conquered sin and death. Indeed, the Cross is in itself an irony. In the Cross, we see how greatness is achieved by humiliation, life is gained by death, and victory is attained by seeming defeat. Our Lord Jesus emptied himself, descended from his heavenly throne and took upon himself the form of a human slave, and humbling himself even further, obediently accepted even death on a Cross. But by descending into the depths of humiliation, Jesus was exalted and glorified…given by the Father a Name which is above all other names. “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”

The Cross is exalted. At the same time, the Cross exalts! The Cross lifted up the Son of Man not only by hanging him between heaven and earth but also by glorifying Christ who died on its arms. If our Lord entered into his glory through the humiliation of the Cross, so too we have to follow him along the same path of the Cross in order to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. St. Louis de Montfort said: “To desire God’s glory is excellent, but to desire and pray for it without resolving to suffer all things is both foolish and extravagant. ‘You do not know what you are asking…’ ‘We must experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of heaven.’ To enter this kingdom you must suffer many crosses and tribulations.” (Loius de Montfort, Letter to the Friends of the Cross, 24.)

Today, we pray for the persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria. We are horrified by what we hear about them: how their homes and properties are confiscated, how their men are executed, how their children are systematically beheaded, how their women are abused and sold as slaves – yes, we are horrified by the suffering that they endure. But through their sufferings and humiliation, we see the Cross being exalted and we see the Cross exalting them. We stand in awe before the strength and perseverance of their faith. We bow in great respect for the sacrifice of the martyrs. Before these witnesses of Christ, we are shamed to find ourselves incapable of bearing such heavy crosses and tribulations. We are also obliged to bear witness to Jesus in the same way. Let us remember that the sacrament of Confirmation “gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.” (CCC, 1303.)

As the threat of ISIS becomes more and more disturbing by the day, we realize that the time draws near when we will need to enter even more deeply into the mystery of the Cross of Jesus. Let us not fear the Cross but rather, let us welcome it and embrace it. “Rejoice and be glad when God favors you with one of his choicest crosses; for without realizing it, you are blessed with the greatest gift of heaven, the greatest gift of God…The world calls this madness, degradation, stupidity, a lack of judgment and of common sense. They are blind: let them say what they like. This blindness, which makes them view the cross in a human and distorted way, is a source of glory for us. Every time they cause us to suffer by their ridicule and insults, they are presenting us with jewels, setting us on thrones, and crowning us with laurels…The glory of one who know how to suffer is so great that heaven, angels, and men, and even God himself, gaze on him with joy as a most glorious sight…But if this glory is so great even on earth, what will it be in heaven? Who could understand fully that eternal weight of glory which a single moment spent in cheerfully carrying a cross obtains for us? Who could understand the glory gained in heaven…by a whole lifetime of crosses and sufferings?” (Montfort, 35-39.) The triumph of the Cross is the triumph of the Resurrection. “Formerly, the Cross led to the Resurrection; now it is the Resurrection that introduces us to the Cross. Resurrection and the Cross are trophies of our salvation!” (Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem)

Let us not run away from the Cross. Rather, let us embrace it for the sake of the glory that awaits us. As true witnesses of Jesus, let us spread and defend the faith. Let us confess the name of Christ boldly. Let us never be ashamed of the Cross.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!