Asking To Hold the Baby Jesus

December 24, 2012

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I couldn’t wait till midnight.  I was on my first 30-day retreat as a Jesuit in the Novitiate, and tonight at midnight I was going to ask Mary in my imagination while doing Ignatian contemplation to hold the baby Jesus in my arms.  I was so excited.  I had been waiting a long time for this.

Finally the moment came, and I asked her if I could hold Jesus.  And she said… “no.”  Sort of stunned I asked, “why not?”  She answered, “because you’re not gentle enough.”  That answer has stuck with me over the years and has taken on new meanings in each new ministerial context.  How am I called to be gentle, to be an appropriate comforter with gentle arms for the child Jesus in each new person I meet?

Maybe this Christmas can be a good time for you too to ask Mary if you can hold her baby in your arms and see what she says.

(BTW, this picture of of Mary, Joseph and Jesus is my favorite Nativity picture)

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Benedict’s Book: An Appraisal

December 20, 2012

imagesNow that the secular media has completed its rants about how Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) destroyed Christmas, the time has come to engage more seriously the accomplishment of Ratzinger in his new book The Infancy Narratives.  What is the overall merit of his project?  Let me begin by saying that the spiritual reflections Ratzinger offers throughout the book are well worth anyone’s read.  I was deeply moved, for instance, by his reflections on the Annunciation, and by his insightful commentary on the fact that while, in Mary’s society, women were not allowed to express their own consent to betrothal, God asks of Mary her consent to be the Mother of God.  Yet at the risk of being labeled one of those Scripture scholars who happily point the Magi towards their destination but do not deign to follow themselves, as Ratzinger comments on the Jewish Scribes in Matthew 2:4-9, I feel it necessary to offer my critique of Ratzinger’s project as a whole.  Read the rest of this entry »


Mary: Our Voice, God’s Voice

December 13, 2012

Having completed two of my favorite Marian days of the year, the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I can take a moment now to pause and reflect on what they mean together.

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In the Immaculate Conception, Mary speaks for humanity.  That, I believe, is the deepest meaning of the Immaculate Conception.  Not freedom from some kind “stain” of original sin, but the completely free capacity to speak a full and resounding “Yes” on behalf of the human race.

Narrative criticism has helpfully illuminated this point in its re-readings of the Genesis 3 myth.   According to Genesis 3:20, Eve is named havva, But as Reuven Kimelman points out, hayya is the word that means “life-bearer.”  This verse is totally out of place where it is unless there is more to it, coming as it does at the climax of story.  And sure enough, havva is chosen because of its double meaning as “speech” and because of its etymological connection to the word for serpent, hivya.  Havva  is a neologism created by the author to combine the words hayya and hivya.  Eve becomes, at the end of the story, the speech of every human being influenced as it constantly is, by both the voice of the serpent and the command of God.  Eve bears within her both serpent and mother, and as such her speech represents the whole human race. We are all Eve.

What makes the Immaculate Conception so meaningful is that Mary, traditionally called the New Eve, speaks a pure speech, a speech untouched by the serpent that is inside of each one of us. Read the rest of this entry »


Immaculate Misconceptions

December 6, 2012

Saturday’s Holy Day of Obligation means a back-to-back Sunday Mass schedule for me (with a prize bingo thrown in there in between), so I didn’t have time for a new post.  But I dug up an old one instead, which answers that age old question, “Whose conception is it anyway?”  We discussed the same question last night in my RCIA class–a group that is always a joy–and we had a quite few laughs.  But the group began by shouting “Jesus!” in answer to the above question and ended by shouting “Mary!”, so I was happy where we ended up.  Here it is, my own, feeble attempt an an explanation: 

El Greco Immaculate ConceptionThere always seems to be a bit of confusion around this week’s Solemnity.  Despite falling in the middle of Advent, December 8 is not a celebration of the conception of Jesus—which would have meant a remarkably brief pregnancy—but of Mary.

Still, even if we remember whose life it is we’re celebrating, that doesn’t clear up every mystery about the Immaculate Conception.  I must confess that for most of my life even though I knew we had to go to church on December 8, I wasn’t exactly sure why.  It had something to do with one of those Marian dogmas, I knew, but most Catholics tiptoe around those nowadays for fear of offending the Protestants.  And even though I, being a somewhat contrarian lad, was prepared to pick Mary over the Protestants, I really had no idea why.

Even today, while I know a bit more about theology, I still have to admit to finding this particular Mystery particularly mysterious.  Among the writing I’ve found shedding light on the subject is an excellent essay titled “The Immaculate Conception” by the British Thomist, Herbert McCabe, OP.

Continue reading here…