The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Arise! Shine, for your light has come

"By becoming man, the Word
renews the cosmic order of creation;
By coming into the world, the eternal Word
invites us to the feast of his light."
St. John Paul II

My earliest aspiration as a small child was to be an astronaut. Well, that obviously didn't come to fruition -- though it was fun to pretend going to the moon in spaceships constructed with kitchen chairs, blankets, and assorted cookware. That was in the late 60s and early 70s, when NASA's Apollo space program was still going. Space travel was still a relative novelty at that point. One of my earliest memories is watching on television the Apollo 11 mission of landing the first human beings on the moon in July 1969 (when I was nearly 4 years old). I was fascinated by it all.

NASA's "Blue Marble," 1972
Many of the photographs of Earth taken by the Apollo astronauts and their forerunners are still breathtaking and very much suitable for contemplating "higher realities." Of course, in this age of satellite images and instant communication, such photographs are easily taken for granted today. Still, they remain as stunning and as historically significant as when they were first taken. The "Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972 (shown alongside this post), is still one of the most recognizable images in history. Although portions of our planet had been previously captured on film by other Apollo missions and satellites (a rocket-launched camera provided our first partial view of Earth in 1946), the "Blue Marble" is the first "full-view" image of the Earth taken from space.

In any event, those years of space exploration afforded the human race its first opportunity to look back at itself as unique inhabitants of the same small planet within a seemingly endless universe. Such a "look in the mirror" can provide sorely needed proportion to our human struggles -- and hopefully, a sense of compassionate solidarity. Then, there are the even bigger questions -- "Who are we?" and "Where did all this come from?" and "What is the purpose?"

So, what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, today we celebrate the incarnation of Christ, the birth of a Savior into this very world we inhabit, into this human history that is still unfolding. In that instant, with Christ later fulfilling from the cross his plan of redemption for all humankind, God "re-created" us after the pattern of the first creation, with a twist -- he became one of us. All God asks is that we accept within our hearts the gift of Light that he offers. Then, when Christ comes again, God will look upon all he has remade, and call it very good.

In 1968, the astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission became the first to orbit the moon (they did not land). Thus, they were the first human beings to see the Earth from space as an entire planet, and the first to witness "earthrise," which they filmed. And on a special Christmas Eve television broadcast, the Apollo 8 astronauts shared this experience with the world while reading the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis (something that is unlikely to ever happen again). The video above replays this moment in our history and offers -- 47 years after it was recorded -- some images and thoughts still very much worthy of reflection. Indeed, for all of us who inhabit this strange planet in this vast universe, the Creator's words still echo and knock on the doors of our hearts: "Let there be Light!"

A Light-filled Christmas and joyful New Year to all.
May it all be very good!

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
John 8:12

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The paradox of Advent: a meditation

Msgr. Charles Pope (Archdiocese of Washington) has written an excellent meditation on what we're really praying for during Advent when we ask the Lord to come and save us. It offers much food for thought and prayer. To read the piece, click here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Praying the "O" Antiphons

Tomorrow evening (December 17) at Vespers, we begin chanting the "O" Antiphons before and after the Magnificat -- one of my favorite parts of Advent! The seven antiphons—one for each day preceding the vigil of Christmas from December 17 to  December 23—are called “O” antiphons because each one begins with “O”. In previous years, I have posted the "O" antiphons we chant each evening in the Archabbey Church, along with some accompanying artwork. Click on the links below to go back and read/view each "O" Antiphon for this year's corresponding date. The opening words for each day’s antiphon are (in Latin, followed by English):
Dec. 17: O Sapientia – O Wisdom
Dec. 18: O Adonai – O Lord 
Dec. 19: O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse 
Dec. 20: O Clavis David – O Key of David 
Dec. 21: O Oriens – O Rising Sun 
Dec. 22: O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations 
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel – [Reference to Isaiah 7:14’s mention of Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”]
As you can see, each antiphon calls on the Messiah by one of his titles from Scripture and ends with a specific petition imploring the Lord to come. Included are numerous references to the prophecy of Isaiah on the coming of the Messiah.

And, the first initial of each Latin term, read from the last title to the first (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) form an acrostic, the Latin words ero cras, which means, “I will come tomorrow.” So, in essence, the seven-day period of calling on the Messiah by his various titles ends just before Christmas with God’s response coming from the other direction: “I will come tomorrow.” Thus, there is a palpable swelling of anticipation leading up to Christmas Eve and the coming of Jesus our Savior, God with us.

To sing or hear each antiphon being chanted is quite beautiful. To be quite honest, when you’re a monk, chanting in choir four times a day, seven days a week, can sometimes be about as unromantic as anything else one does day after day. However, when special times like that of the “O” Antiphons kick in, everyone picks it up a notch, and there is a level of intensity and heartfelt warmth that seem to lift voice and mind simultaneously into the heavens. There is nothing quite like it, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience or participate in it at least once.

Barring that, however, each antiphon is a short, rich little prayer unto itself, and is worthy of reciting and meditating on as a personal prayer. The antiphons linked above are accompanied by contemporary paintings by Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Minnesota. Each piece, presenting the Christ-event from a woman’s point of view, is very colorful, unique, and contemplative.

I invite you to allow the antiphons and accompanying images to embrace your longing for the coming of Christ in each and every human heart, beginning with your own.

A blessed Advent to you!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Saint Meinrad's Holy Door of Mercy

"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Luke 6:36

Window panels by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.,
in Saint Meinrad's Holy Door of Mercy

As you likely know by now, Pope Francis has declared the year that began December 8 (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception) as an Extraordinary Jubilee Year in the Catholic Church throughout the world. The theme of this “Holy Year of Mercy” (which runs until November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King) is “Merciful Like the Father.” The theme's inspiration is from Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke (6:36): “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (in light of this passage, one might also meditate on the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which includes both a supplication and a promise: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”).

This the first Holy Year proclaimed since the year 2000, and the first Extraordinary Jubilee Year since 1983 (both during Saint John Paul II’s pontificate). This Holy Year of Mercy is unique in one very special respect—one in which Saint Meinrad Archabbey is participating. So keep reading...

All of the major basilicas in Rome have special symbolic (typically quite large and ornamental) “holy doors” which are sealed from the inside and are only opened during designated jubilee years. As the website Crux points out, “the door usually is sealed with bricks as a symbolic reminder of the barrier of sin between human beings and God.” Pilgrims who pass through the holy doors of these basilicas during jubilee years, and participate in particular devotions therein, are afforded certain spiritual graces—with the ultimate goal being conversion of heart. There are many particulars to all of this—including indulgences for pilgrims, planned devotional and catechetical events during the year, and special sacramental provisions—which one can investigate more thoroughly on other Internet sites (such as the Vatican's Jubilee of Mercy site or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops site).

Pope Francis presided at the ceremonial opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica on December 8. During his homily that day, Pope Francis said: “To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father, who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.”

In the coming weeks, the holy doors of other basilicas throughout Rome will be opened.

What makes this holy year especially unique—for the Church throughout the world, and for Saint Meinrad Archabbey—is that Pope Francis has asked every diocese around the world to open a Holy Door in its “mother church” or cathedral. In addition, local bishops around the world have been granted the authority to designate certain shrines within their dioceses (those frequented by large groups of pilgrims) as places for Holy Doors to be established during this jubilee year. This is the first time in the Church’s history for such a “widening” of the holy door concept, reflecting Pope Francis’ desire for the entire world’s participation in this jubilee year.

Within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, in which Saint Meinrad Archabbey is located, Archbishop Joseph Tobin has designated two churches during this jubilee year for “Holy Door” status. One, of course, is the archdiocese’s cathedral, Ss. Peter and Paul in Indianapolis. The other is—yes, you guessed it!--Saint Meinrad Archabbey.  How awesome is this place! (to borrow from Jacob’s exclamation in Genesis 28:17.) Saint Meinrad Archabbey, then, is one of the relatively few non-cathedral pilgrimage sites throughout the world participating in the Holy Father’s Extraordinary Year of Mercy. Our own Holy Door—as with the one in Indianapolis at Ss. Peter and Paul—was officially opened yesterday in a short ceremony prior to Mass.

The “official” Holy Door is the northernmost door at the front (west) entrance of the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln (the door to the far left if you are standing outside at the bottom of the marble steps looking up at the main entrance to the church). In preparation for yesterday’s ceremony, our Br. Martin designed five special window panels for the door—at the top, the pontifical seal of Pope Francis; at the center, the Lamb of God (representing Christ, whose sacrifice takes away the sins of the world and offers mercy to all); and surrounding the Lamb, three ministering angels. These panels are pictured at the top of this post.

One of our guests present at yesterday’s Mass here remarked afterward that she was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t an actual “opening” of the door such as at St. Peter’s Basilica. I suppose that such elaborate ceremonies (with very large, ornamental doors that are ordinarily not used—unlike ours here), are still reserved for the likes of Rome (a little Googling will retrieve some photos of the ceremony at St. Peter’s on December 8). Really, though, all the pomp and circumstance is not the point. The real invitation of this Holy Year of Mercy is to open the doors of our hearts to both receiving and granting mercy after the pattern of Christ—to practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as taught by the Church. As Saint John Paul II said at the beginning of his pontificate: “Open wide the doors for Christ!”

Indeed, allowing Christ—both Gatekeeper and Gate; the Way, the Truth, the Life—into our hearts is the key to it all, as reflected in the opening prayer of the ceremony here on Sunday (from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization):
Blessed are you, Lord, holy Father, who sent your Son into the world to gather all men and women, wounded and scattered by sin, into one body through the shedding of his blood. You appointed him both shepherd and gate for the sheep, so that whoever enters may be saved, and whoever comes in and goes out will find pasture for eternal life. Grant that your faithful may pass through this gate, and be welcomed into your presence, so that they may experience, O Father, your abundant mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
So, especially during this Holy Year of Mercy—whether in Rome, Indianapolis, Saint Meinrad, or places in-between, “let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Hebrews 4:16).

The Holy Door is to the far left.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent prayer

Lord God,

Who is always in our midst,
as we embrace this Advent season
with joyful expectation,
renew us in your love,
so that we may come to know and share
your mercy and peace
that surpass all understanding.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Promise in a frost-bound world

From a sermon by Ronald Knox 
(1888-1957, English priest, theologian, and author):

The feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate [Tuesday, December 8], is the promise and the earnest of Christmas; our salvation is already in the bud. As the first green shoot heralds the approach of spring, in a world that is frost-bound and seems dead, so in a world of great sinfulness and of utter despair, that spotless conception heralds the restoration of man’s innocence.

As the shoot gives unfailing promise of the flower which is to spring from it, this conception gives unfailing promise of the virgin birth. Life had come into the world again—supernatural life, not of man’s choosing or of man’s fashioning.

And it grew there unmarked by human eyes; no angels sang over the hills to celebrate it, no shepherds left their flocks to come and see; no wise men were beckoned by the stars to witness that prodigy.

And yet the first Advent had begun.

Our Lady, you see, is the consummation of the Old Testament; with her, the cycle of history begins anew. When God created the first Adam, he made his preparations beforehand; he fashioned a paradise ready for him to dwell in. And when he restored our nature in the second Adam, once more there was a preparation to be made beforehand. He fashioned a paradise for the second Adam to dwell in, and that paradise was the body and soul of our blessed Lady, immune from the taint of sin, Adam’s curse.

It was winter still in the world; but in the quiet home where Saint Anne gave birth to her daughter, spring had begun.

Man’s winter, God’s spring—the living branch growing from the dead root.

For that, year by year, we Christians give thanks to God when Advent comes round. It is something that has happened once for all; we look for no further redemption, no fresh revelation, however many centuries are to roll over this earth before the skies crack above us and our Lord comes in judgment.

Yet there are times in history when the same mood comes upon us, even upon us Christians—the same mood of despair in which the world was sunk at the time when Jesus Christ was born. There are times when the old landmarks seem obliterated, and the old certainties by which we live have deserted us. The world seems to have exhausted itself, and has no vigor left to face its future; the only forces that seem to possess any energy are those that make for disruption and decay.

The world’s winter, and it is always followed by God’s spring. Behold, I make all things new, said our Lord to St. John.

Let us rejoice, on this feast of the Immaculate Conception, in the proof and pledge he has given us of that inexhaustible fecundity which belongs only to his grace. And let us ask our blessed Lady to win for us, in our own lives, that continual renewal of strength and holiness that befits our supernatural destiny.

Fresh graces, not soiled by the memory of past failure; fresh enterprise, to meet the conditions of a changing world; fresh hope, to carry our burdens beyond the shifting scene of this present world into the changeless repose of eternity.

A Word in Season: Monastic Lectionary for the Divine Office,
IV, Sanctoral, Augustinian Press, 1991, p.241-243.