The holy angels, especially our Guardian Angels, are involved in every aspect of our spiritual lives. "From its beginning to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession" (CCC 336). The Opus Angelorum has been publishing for many years spiritual meditations considering different aspects of the spiritual life lived in union and collaboration with the holy angels.
We are getting close to the 29th of September, the feast of the three Archangels, Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. The opening prayer for this Mass, however, reveals that the Church actually implores the help of all the holy angels on this day: "O God… graciously grant that our life on earth may be defended by those who watch over us as they minister perpetually to You in heaven." Evidently, their heavenly ministry is closely linked to their ministry on earth. Today, we want to ponder this collaboration of the Seraphim and the Cherubim alongside the Archangels in the divine economy. In this endeavor we propose to unlock certain aspects of the Sacred Books of the Old Covenant. In particular, we want to reflect on the mystery of the Temple.
The "Holy of Holies" was the inner sanctum of the ancient Jewish Temple, the place where the "Most High" dwelt. It was central to the Jewish sacrificial system and therefore to the Mosaic Covenant. Since ancient Hebrew did not have superlatives, the sacred authors did not refer to this place as The "Most Holy Place," but used the more circumlocutive term, the "Holy of Holies". The very richness of this term, "Holy of Holies," is precisely what is needed to lead us into the depths of the reality it indicates.
Selected texts from the books of Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel have given us some profound insights into the role the celestial spirits have in the divine plan of salvation.
Let us start with the Prophet Isaiah. In chapter 6, Isaiah has an incredible vision of Seraphim worshipping God in the heavenly temple. The text reads:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." (Is 6:1-3)
The recent Coronavirus pandemic, along with the corresponding closing of countless churches and the canceling of regularly scheduled Masses, has shown us in a striking way our great need for the Eucharist. For many people, during this time of church closings and business lockdowns have felt not only a physical but also an even greater spiritual hunger. We have learned from this experience the great need we have for the Eucharist.
The Second Vatican Council declares that the Eucharist is the "source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen gentium,11). "The other Sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward. For in the Blessed Sacrament is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ Himself" (Presbyterorum ordinis, 5). We are called now during the time both preceding and following the great Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to delve more deeply into the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
As an introduction to our reflection on this marvelous mystery, we should be aware that the Eucharist has three dimensions as a Sacrament. It is a Sacrifice Sacrament, a Communion Sacrament, and a Sacrament of Divine Presence. Let us examine now each one of these dimensions.
The short answer to this most asked of all questions about the angels is simply "no." For the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Sacraments of the Vatican stated in the document The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy of 2001, that "the practice of assigning names to the holy angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and St. Michael, whose names are contained in Holy Scripture" (217).
We do well to reflect, then, that the term "Holy Guardian Angel" expresses very deeply our bond to the angel assigned to us by God for life. For just as there is only one woman and one man in this whole world who can respond to us when we say, "Mom" or "Dad", so too in all the choirs of angels, there is only one angel who can respond to us when we cry out, "Holy Guardian Angel, help me!"
Spiritual warfare is the battle that we must undertake daily in order to defend, or re-conquer the Kingdom of Christ’s love, life and wisdom in our hearts and lives. It is fought on various fronts:
The struggle against the “flesh” refers to the innate inclination to sin within us that are consequent upon original sin and our own personal sins. This battle involves our need to overcome vicious habits through the practice of virtue, particularly those of temperance, chastity and patience.
God the Father, Who is "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4), created in His Son "all things … in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and in Him" (Col 1:16).
It is important to state that God has no need whatsoever of creatures. He is infinitely happy in Himself. "O God, Who are happiness in Your very self and have no need of creatures to make You happy, because of Yourself You are the fullness of love"(D. 1741).
Mercy is easily misunderstood. While it does not forget justice, it goes beyond its requirements. This becomes visible in the greatest act of Divine love, the Incarnation, yet not simply in this, that the Son of God became man, but rather in that this Incarnate GOD was sent to be the victim Lamb, the holocaust for our sins. There is still discussion as to whether He would have done it, if man had not fallen into sin. More important is the fact that He became man, first to satisfy justice in relation to the Father to Whom He has made infinite satisfaction for all the faults of mankind of all times; and second to manifest mercy in relation to mankind which He won through His expiatory Passion and Death.
This year, the Holy Father reminds us in a special way of Jesus' request: "Be merciful even as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). What does it mean to "be merciful"? The common understanding is to have compassion which moves one to help another in need.
When we get to our limits, when—due to a problem—we cannot sleep at night, when we don't know the answer to the child's question, when we don't know how to get reconciled with a sibling, … we then look and call for help. And whom do we call? Of course, someone who can help, someone who has both the wisdom and power to find and help implement a solution. We do not call a mechanic if we need food nor go to a dentist when the car breaks down.
In our world today, where powerful forces of culture, science, political coercion and lies attack ever more insidiously basic human principles and rights marriage, the family, the right to life, respect for the handicapped and elderly, religious freedom, freedom of conscience—we are tempted to give up, to throw in the towel in despair. What can our small efforts do? We feel like David confronting Goliath. Even worse, when the referees are cheating, what chance does the opposition stand in the game? This sense of discouragement and frustration, and the temptation to despair, however, is just that, a temptation. As Christians, we are not like others "without hope and without God in the world" (Eph 2:12). Christian hope is not founded on political success, social structures, or modern science, but on faith in God, who holds all things in His wise and loving hands. In order to be more firmly anchored in hope, therefore, we want to meditate on the exercise of this great Christian virtue. For this hope allows us to be at peace, serene and secure, in every situation, circumstance or historical development.
From the beginning of time, but especially in "modern times", Christian hope has been weakened and replaced by certain "false hopes", where man has placed his trust and confidence in worldly wisdom, in the scientific or political realm. The era of "modern times" had its first notable protagonist in Francis Bacon, who argued that the laws of nature should be only observed so as to harness them to serve the needs of man.
As shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks in the darkness of night, "the angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear" (Lk 2:9). These poor men, living on the outskirts of society, watching in the night, are an image of the Christian vocation in the world today. The darkness is growing all around us, the darkness of spiritual confusion and blindness, the darkness of sin and coldness of heart, a society without God and therefore with no moral foundation. Yet God sends His angels even today with the light of His love, as messengers and mediators of His presence among us, of His mercy and help in the darkness of the world around us. "A Child is born for us, a Son is given!" Christ has come as announced by the angels, and He promises us: "Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of time!" (Mt 28:20).
Just as an infant which would refuse the breast of its mother would wither and die, so too do those members of the Church who lose their faith in and thirst for the Eucharist become sterile branches and die. For the Holy Eucharist is at the very "heart of the mystery of the Church" (ibid.). By meditating on this sublime mystery, therefore, we want to renew and reawaken our faith, our first love, our thirst for the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, our wonder and gratitude for this most sacred gift of Christ to His Church. It is not just "one gift – however precious – among so many others, but the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of Christ Himself, of His Person in His sacred humanity, as well as the gift of His saving work. Nor does it remain confined to the past, since 'all that Christ is – all that He did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times'" (ibid, 11, citing the Catechism 1085). "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8).
Be sober and vigilant. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings" (1 Pet 5:8-9). As in the days of the Kulturkampf of Otto von Bismarck against the Church in the late 1800's – which paved the way for the rise of Hitler in Germany – so also today we see a vehement, open, ultimately demonic attack against the Church and the foundations of Christian society: life, the family and motherhood. Through the media, "sex-ed" in public schools, social networking, etc., there is an attempt to shift and transform our culture, the collective sense of the people of what is true and false, what is good and evil, what is "reasonable" and what is extremist, what is morally acceptable and what is unacceptable.
Advertisements on television, in magazines, even in gas station videos, along with television sitcoms flaunt homosexual "partners" with the intent of making this lifestyle part of the newly accepted "normal". Judicial appointments are challenged on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus, or accused of being "extremist" simply for being Catholic and because of their stance on abortion. Governors celebrate the political "breakthrough" of making infanticide legal, a guaranteed "right" under the law.
As we approach once again the mystery of the birth of the Incarnate Word, who came to fulfill the promise of Redemption, the Church directs our eyes on the figure of Mary as she silently travels the long and lonely road to Bethlehem with Joseph, under the watchful gaze of the holy Angels. Advent is a time of penance, of "making straight" the crooked paths and "filling in" what is lacking in our own lives in the way of virtue and charity. Joseph along with Mary, traveling in her ninth month of pregnancy without any of the modern conveniences, certainly suffered greatly along this way, made in extreme poverty and toil. Nevertheless, it is also a time of hope, of joyful expectation in the knowledge that our Redemption has come and will soon appear before us in the manger! And so we want to walk this path to Bethlehem with Mary, Joseph, and the holy Angels, pondering the mystery of her Heart which beats in unison with the Heart of the Divine Child beneath it, in order fill our minds and hearts with her same sentiments.
At the beginning of Advent, the Church celebrates Mary's Immaculate Conception. The Heart of Mary is first of all pure, open, ready for the call of God. By her "fiat", the Son of God took flesh in her womb and initiated the work of Redemption. Her Heart is strong, as the message of Fatima—a message for our times—reminds us: "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!" All around us, we see the flames of hell flaming up in society, with all its attacks on human life, marriage and family. Contraception, abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, divorce, transgender are all epidemics particularly prevalent in our modern times. Even within the Church herself, the "smoke of Satan" has entered; see the scandalous lives of some of her highest ranking pastors. Precisely in such times of turmoil and distress God intervenes. During the stormy years in the history of Israel God sent the judges and the prophets leading up to the coming of Christ. In our times, God sends us Mary, the Immaculate One, and the holy Angels.
Lent is a special time of grace, a time of salvation; it is a time to overcome our habitual sins, to learn to compassionate and unite ourselves with Jesus in His expiatory suffering, in order to reach the goal: the victory of Easter. The path leads us through forty days, which should be for us a desert – an emptying of ourselves from everything superfluous, and becoming free from attachments, desires and weaknesses. In this desert (the beginning of every retreat is modeled on this image of the desert), JESUS waits for us as Teacher. "If in the holy Season of Christmas we were immersed in His life, His birth and childhood, if our heart was content because of this fullness of grace in the simple poverty of the shepherds, so now in the Season of Lent we should experience the desert, His hunger and thirst, His loneliness in trial. We should feel for Him and consciously go through with Him, what He took upon Himself for us" in the mystery of His life, Passion and death. (Mother Gabriele)
In the spirituality of the Opus Angelorum, three figures are set before us: the Child – the Priest – the Angel
"The Child walks on the path of simplicity. Here all the power of the infernal powers is in vain: against the childlike trust, the childlike openness, his cheerfulness.
The Priest walks on the path of discipline of will, of mortification and penance, of zeal for the salvation of souls.
The Angel lead leads the way, carrying the light; he is the mediator of knowledge and grace, help and strength.
MARY unites them all: the child and all youth, the priest and his large congregation, the Angel and all those watched over by the Angels, the small and the great." (OA)
The feast of the love of God the Father for mankind draws ever nearer and our hearts feel more and more the call to, "Gaudete", "Rejoice in the Lord!" It is the feast of the giving love of the heavenly Father, for the greatest thing He could give, He gave to us in His Son. And that DIVINE SON, who sits eternally on the Throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit, emptied Himself of His glory and splendor and became so small, as small as one can become, "an Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). "He was rich and yet He became poor in order to enrich us through his poverty" (2 Cor 8:9). This feast of the giving love of the Father can only be answered by a giving ourselves, the giving of our hearts to the Lord. So we, too, want to make ourselves small, childlike, poor, carefree, wanting only one thing: God! possessing only one thing: God! For Christmas is the solemnity of the first of the eight Beatitudes which Our Lord preached on the mountainside: "Blessed are the poor of spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God" (Mt 5:3).
In this Beatitude, Jesus indicates the first and most important thing for man: to make himself empty, poor, for God, so that God may become for him his One and All. "Seek first the Kingdom of God…" (Mt 6:33).
Over the past decades, we have witnessed an ever-greater cultural struggle between good and evil. Terrorism, the struggle for religious freedom, the fight against abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, along with the great confusion around the definition of marriage, sexuality and family life are grave concerns of the Church and society today. In every age, God has raised up Saints to be a light to the world in times of darkness, persecution or spiritual confusion. These Saints, such as Pope John Paul the Great and Mother Theresa of Calcutta in our own times, and the many Saints and martyrs throughout history, have exhibited great fortitude in their struggle against evil, sometimes even to the point of giving their lives. But Saints are not born Saints. Like us, they needed to struggle with the daily challenges and bear the weight of the Cross with courage, prudence and fortitude. What makes the difference is how they confronted these challenges and from where they drew their strength.
Rather than seeking strength and courage in the face of challenges from self-help courses, worldly distractions or even alcohol or drugs, etc., the Saints put their trust and found their help in God. “Happy are those whose strength is in You… They go from strength to strength… For the Lord God is a sun and shield… No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in You” (Ps 84:5-12).
In the letters of St. Paul, we are admonished to prepare ourselves in this life for spiritual combat. As in those times, so also now we need to learn to fight for our own salvation and for others, not against men, but against the “principalities...powers...the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:12). In this battle, the Holy Spirit and His holy angels come to our aid, but we must learn to do our part as well.
St. Paul exhorts us to “put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground” (Eph 6:13). He proceeds to specify the real source of the conflict: “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:12). Clearly, the weapons we need are essentially spiritual in nature. He mentions seven such weapons, which we will discuss, first, on the moral level.
Who is the adversary? Since God is infinitely good, He surely created all things good. Therefore, it follows that some of the angels freely fell away from God into untruthfulness and hatred! The devil “was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. …he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). He also leads others into rebellion. St. John tells us that the Dragon “with its tail swept away a third of the stars (angels) in the sky and hurled them down to the earth” (Rev 12:4). The second object of the devil is to destroy mankind: “The Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. Then the dragon…went off to wage war against…those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus” (Rev 12:9,17).
In a few months' time we will be celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the Fatima apparitions: The apparitions of our Blessed Mother to three shepherd children in a remote village of Portugal during the spring and summer months of 1917.These apparitions have profoundly affected and influenced the course of the twentieth century. If Mary's requests had been heeded, we would be living in a quite a different world today. Moreover, since her message is perennial, it is likewise the question of the "tomorrow" we may choose or fail to choose to hand down to the next generations. It is, therefore, worth our while to review the events that happened there and to ponder their significance for our times.
In particular, we want to review in this article the so-called three "secrets" of Fatima. More specifically, we want to examine the Third Secret, not only because it has profound significance for our times, but also because of its teachings on the angels.
“My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” At Fatima, in the midst of the first “Great War”, Our Lady manifested anew her singular closeness and concern for suffering humanity, for a humanity that had turned from God and was bringing down upon itself His just wrath, the just retribution for their sins. Mary came to lead mankind back to God, to find mercy and forgiveness from Him, through devotion to her Immaculate Heart. As the Church celebrates the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady, we want to reflect again on the importance of her message for us today.
In our last circular, we reflected on the “three secrets” as interpreted by Cardinal Angelo Sodano and the then Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). But these prophetic accounts do not comprise the heart of the moral message of Our Lady. Sister Lucia herself, frustrated over the continued insistence that the third secret was not fully revealed, discloses for us Our Lady’s urgent call for penance: “If only they would live the most important thing, which has already been said… They only concern themselves with what is left to be said, instead of complying with request that was prayer and penance!” (Coimbra, Pathways under the Gaze of Mary, p. 245). And further she writes,...
The first act of creaturely love is complacence. Complacence is the attractive delight we take in beauty and goodness, when we discover it. Even so does our devotion to St. Michael begin. We hear about his goodness, his closeness to God! We hear about the help and protection he has given to Israel and the Church throughout history.
Lent is a time of spiritual renewal, of prayer, penance and conversion. In this holy season, the Church invites us through her Liturgy to contemplate the love of God for us as seen in Christ, tempted, tried and crucified. “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
St. Paul throughout his letters speaks of the Gospel as a “mystery hidden from the ages past, but now made manifest in Christ Jesus” (cf. Rom 16:25-6; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 3:9; Col 1:26).In the Letter to the Ephesians he says more specifically, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,..
"Out of sight is out of mind" goes the saying. How often this is true with respect to our relationship with our Guardian Angel; we forget him because we do not see him. Guardian Angel stories serve as a tonic helping us cultivate a personal relationship with our Guardian Angel and bolster our confidence in him.
Do you recall the joy that was yours in the (re)discovery of your Guardian Angel? the consolation in the realization that God had assigned a heavenly spirit as your personal guide and companion all the days of your life and beyond into eternal happiness? Do you also recall the fervor and zeal with which you bound yourself to your Guardian Angel in a holy alliance?
Throughout Sacred Scripture we find mentioned a river that flows from the center of the City of God. This river is already represented in the Garden of Eden: “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches” (Gen 2:10). At the other end of the Bible we find it once more: “Then the angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear” (Rev 22:1).
80 years have passed since the Angel of Fatima instructed and prepared the three little shepherds of Fatima, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, for the visit and messages of Our Lady of Fatima. The 'success' of Fatima has depended in a very large part upon the early intuition of the Portuguese episcopate that the story of Fatima presents us with the truths of the gospel in a simple straight-forward fashion, applying them prophetically to the present hour. Both the events and messages of Fatima are, therefore, a popular catechism of the faith.
During his first visit to Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco the Angel of Portugal had taught the children how to adore God in holy reverence and to make intercession for sinners. They proved themselves to be faithful disciples of prayer, for they persevered and grew in holiness without further tangible contact with the Angel over a protracted period of time.
By the time of the third apparition of the Angel of Portugal in the fall of 1916, the three shepherd children had already made considerable progress in the spiritual life. Surely, the Angel was a great help, yet all the lights and helps of the Angel are useless, unless these seeds of grace fall upon the soil of good and generous hearts. What is especially admirable in the children was their generosity and perseverance.
From the outset, the Consecration to the Guardian Angel for children - also called the Guardian Angel Covenant - had its place in the Work of the Holy Angels. According to Mother Gabriele the consecration has as its aim,
to give the child an understanding of the holy Guardian Angel; helping the child to love him, listen to him and receive from him its "first religious instruction", that is to say, the angel helps the child distinguish good from evil and helps it learn the first virtue of a child, which is obedience.
At the request of the Delegate of the Holy See, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently approved a consecration to the holy Angels for Opus Angelorum. The Congregation for the Faith declared that this consecration prayer submitted for approval is "not contrary to the theological-spiritual Tradition" of the Church.
In the last circular we explained that a Consecration to the holy angels is a special statement of devotion which is founded on the baptismal grace. The communion of the faithful in Christ comes through Baptism. This communion of grace in Christ is the foundation for the devotion and Consecration to the holy angels.
In the last Circular Letter, we began our meditation on the priesthood, giving particular attention to the Apostles upon whom the Church is founded. These great men and their successors serve down through the centuries as our bridge to the living Jesus. Through the Sacraments which they administer to us, Jesus, God-among-us, is made present in His Person and action.
In the cold of winter and the darkness of night, the Incarnate Word descended from heaven and lay in a manger, so that we could see and hear and touch the love of the invisible God. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—the Life was made manifest, and we saw It, and testify to It, and proclaim to you the Eternal Life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn 1:1-3).
“Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent Him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God]’ (Heb 11:16)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 161). We receive our faith from the teaching of the Apostles, which has been handed down to us through Scripture and sacred Tradition. Embracing the faith implies the dedication of our whole lives to the object of our faith, the Blessed Trinity.
The Eucharist is not simply an hour of worship on Sundays; it should and must become the “form of Christian life” (cf. Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis—hereafter, SacC—33). As our “daily bread”, it is meant to shape our lives, to be lived daily, to conform and unite us to Christ. “The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8:29 ff.).
In this second of a three part series on the Sacred Liturgy, we wish to consider the sacred signs and symbols, times and places, words and gestures involved in the proper celebration of the Liturgy. It seems that modern times, the age of technology, has been estranged from the “archaic” use of signs or symbols, and modern man can no longer “read the signs of the times” or anything at all that is not immediately evident to the senses or scientifically analyzed. Gestures, such as genuflections before the tabernacle, seem artificial and, therefore, unnecessary. After all, if God is everywhere, why should I kneel before Him in the tabernacle?
Jesus died on the Cross that we might have life, and have it in abundance. His total self-gift on the Cross in expiation for our sins has opened for us the way to reconciliation with the Father and a new life in Christ. This self-gift of the divine Logos is recalled and made present at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In the last two Circular Letters, we have attempted to expound upon the Eucharist and Christ’s self-giving in relation to salvation history and as they are expressed in the language of symbols and signs found in the Eucharistic celebration.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first of the four major documents of Vatican II, begins with the words “Sacrosanctum Concilium”, this Sacred Council, and accordingly lays out the four general aims of the entire Council: First and foremost, the Council “desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful” (Sacrosanctum Concilium – hereafter, SC – 1).
In this Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, we want to continue our mediations on the documents of Vatican II. The second major Constitution of the Council was the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Pope John Paul II calls this document the "key to the Council": "The conciliar view of the Church…was meant to give the Christian community a new pulse of vitality, a renewed spirit of communion and participation. The Church in our time must increasingly resemble the family, in which no one feels marginalized or merely part of the herd" (Angelus, Oct. 22, 1995).
We have been reflecting in our Lay Circular Letters during this Year of Faith on the most important documents of Vatican II. In the previous two issues we examined Sacrosanctum Concilium - the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and Lumen Gentium -the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. In this issue, therefore, we want to continue with our reflection by examining the third major document written by the Second Vatican Council, namely, Dei Verbum - the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. Dei Verbum is the shortest, but nevertheless one of the most important and influential documents of Vatican II.
In the last circular letter we reflected on Dei Verbum—the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. In this issue we wish to study Gaudium et Spes—the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (hereafter referred to as "GS") which is by far the longest of all the documents written by Vatican II. In its own way GS encapsulates the major themes and the greatest concerns the Council wanted to address. Remarkable is the fact, that the Church addresses all men and women in the whole world regardless of their creed or culture:
These words, taken from the beautiful hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas, Lauda Sion Salvatorem, written for the Feast of Corpus Christi, give witness to the fact that the Eucharist has often been referred to as the “bread of angels.” But what justification can there be to call the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar by this title?
In this meditation we shall consider the second branch of the stream which flows from the Heart of Christ. This stream corresponds to the second fundamental direction in the Work of the Holy Angels: contemplation or, in its initial form, meditation. Like the first, this stream gives joy to the City of God. It is the light that enlightens the world with the true Light of God and which warms the world with the ardent furnace of divine charity: the sacred Humanity of Jesus.
When we speak of the justice of God it is important to make clear in what sense we use the term. Justice, taken in general, is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give to each person what is that persons due. In other words, justice recognizes and honors each persons "rights."
When St. John recounts the soldier who opened the side of Christ on the Cross, in addition to mentioning the stream of Blood and water that immediately came forth, he also cited two Biblical quotes to explain the significance of this event: “These things occurred so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of His bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of Scripture says, ‘They will look on the One Whom they have pierced’” (John 19:36-37).
We profess in the Creed, "I believe in God the Father the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth " We believe that God is truly "all-powerful" or omnipotent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the noteworthy observation that: "of all the divine attributes only Gods omnipotence is named in the Creed" (CCC 268).
When we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we do not enter into the presence of a static reality, but rather, into a dynamic Presence which is personal, living, and loving. Upon entering a church where the Sacrament is reserved, we enter into the stream which flows “from below the threshold of the temple” (Ez 47:1).
The second of the seven basic character traits in the Work of the Holy Angels is humility. Few virtues come so highly recommended: "Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart!” (Mt 11:29). After the model of the King who said, "I am in your midst as one who serves” (Lk 22:27) and out of love for the truth, humility finds joy in serving. In a general way, humility is the handmaid of grace in the soul, abasing itself in lowliness like Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, for which reason God exalts the soul to a greater share in holiness.
Humanly speaking obedience often appears so pragmatic, so cut and dry - a do this and a dont do that! Sacred Scripture reveals obediences nobler pedigree in friendship with God, which was lost by the disobedience of Adam. Ever since, obedience regularly wears work clothes, for it is in toil and the sweat of his brow that man eats his bread. By the obedience of Christ, the new Adam, we were redeemed; friendship with God was restored.
Our happiness depends on playing this game of love well. Without love, we are nothing (cf. 1 Cor 13,2). Love is like a game, yet still it is the law of life. How awesome it is that God commands us to love Him. Not with just any love; we are to love Him as our Father, as the spouse of our soul! Who would ever have dared to love God in such an intimate fashion, had He not first commanded it?
Silence is the fifth of the seven character traits in the Work of the Holy Angels, it allies itself closely with the other six traits. Silence is certainly not a finality in itself: we do not practice silence for silences sake, but in view of some other good. Thus, silence is an ancillary virtue like humility (2).
St. Gregory of Nyssa writes in his treatise On Virginity, "The chariot-master, if the young horses which he has to drive will not work well together, does not urge a fast one with the whip, and rein in a slow one; nor, again, does he let a horse that shies in the traces or is hard-mouthed gallop his own way to the confusion of orderly driving; but he quickens the pace of the first, checks the second, reaches the third with cuts of his whip, till he has made them all breathe evenly together in a straight career.
To the Virgin Mary we turn our eyes and hearts in this final reflection on the Character Traits in the Work of the Holy Angels. She is our Mother, our life, our sweetness and our hope. How fitting to turn to her so that she, who formed Jesus, form us too. We want to learn how to love as she does.
The spiritual life is more than a spiritual doctrine, but if it were, it would be about Jesus: "I am the truth!", "in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2,3), and Jesus would be our teacher, "We know that you are a teacher come from God" (Jn 3,2), "one only is your master, the Christ" (Mt 23, 10).The spiritual life is more than the practice of virtue; but if it were, Jesus presents Himself as our model: "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt 12, 29).
Christ is sovereign Lord over all the spirits; He exercises His power and authority over both the good and evil spirits. With respect to the Holy Angels, He is also their Head and source of supernatural life in such wise that they are truly members of His Mystical Body. St. Thomas teaches this common doctrine in a number of places, basing his argument on the teaching of the Apostles.
This verse, from the Canticle of Canticles, is commonly understood as referring to the Blessed Virgin. The birth of the Mary is like the dawn of a new creation which ends the darkness of the night, the old creation, which was devastated by the sin of disobedience of our first parents. What was supposed to be an imperishable creation was subjected to corruption by the envy of the devil. But "behold, I make all things new," says the Lord.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, as Mother of Christ, the Incarnate Word, holds a singular and unique place within the mystery of Christ. The angel greets her as “full of grace”, the Immaculate one, who was chosen to bear the Son of the eternal Father. From her flesh, the Divine Word took flesh; in her the mystery of the hypostatic union of the divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ found its first dwelling place.
In our last Circular Letter, we contemplated Mary in the biblical figures of the Old Testament. We found that she is prefigured in the once-barren women, who having put their hope in God’s benevolent mercy became mothers of “saving” figures in Israel. Mary is the image of Israel, the Daughter Zion, the Chosen People of the Old Covenant. Whereas Israel proved unfaithful, Mary, the new Israel, remained faithful.
In our last two Circulars we have seen Mary in the mystery of Christ as Mother, as the new Daughter Zion, the bearer of the Covenant, who conceives and brings Jesus into this world through faith. We have also seen that her mission extends beyond the Annunciation. As the humble handmaid of the Lord, Mary was totally open for Christ and all He would require of her.
There are three things contained in this (angelic) salutation. The first part comes from the Angel, Gabriel, namely, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women." The second part comes from Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, namely, "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb." The Church adds the third part, to wit, "Mary," for the Angel did not say, "Hail, Mary," but rather, "Hail, full of grace." Still, this name 'Mary,' according to its meaning, befits the Angel's words, as we shall see.
As we prepare for the beginning of the Year of Faith in October, we want to reflect briefly on the theological virtue of faith. We find a definition of faith in the letter to the Hebrews: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). “Substance” has here the sense of the first beginnings of a thing.
Though of monumental cultural and moral value for the Church and even the world, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body remains inaccessible for many given its volume and technical precision. Though never referring directly to this work, Pope Benedict has in some way simplified it and brought it down to the common man’s level in the first part of his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, God Is Love.
A philosopher once said that in the face of the situation into which mankind has blundered, only a god could save us. According to him, our one possibility was “to prepare the way for the readiness to receive the appearance of the god.” This statement was not made by a pre-Christian pagan, but rather, by Martin Heidegger, commenting shortly before his death in 1976.
Pope John Paul II once wrote: “The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and to mission” (Redemptoris Missio—hereafter, RM—90). True holiness is founded upon faith in Jesus Christ and is perfected in the love which comes uniquely from the grace of Jesus Christ. Faith opens our eyes to see “how rich is the glory of the heritage that God offers among His holy people, and how extraordinarily great is the power that He has exercised among His holy people” (Eph 1:18-20).
Before his conversion, St. Augustine once asked his friends: “Do we love anything but the beautiful? What then is the beautiful? And what is beauty? What is it that allures and unites us to the things we love? For unless there were a grace and beauty in them, they could not possibly attract us to them” (Confessions, Bk. IV, ch. 13).
“Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). These words addressed to Moses as he approached the burning bush evince not merely the fact that God Himself is all holy, but even the ground around the area where the Angel of Lord appears is made sacred and worthy of particular respect. This warning is itself a lesson, calling for an external sign of reverence in the presence of the manifestation of God even when realized through the mediation of an angel (cf. Ex 3:2; Acts 7:30-32).
Lent is a time of spiritual growth in Christ, even if it initially appears to be a dying (mortification) of self. We seek to decrease so that Christ's life may increase within us. To this end we need to know what must be cut away. This knowledge implies that we also recognize those qualities of soul that should be preserved and further nurtured.
It is Lent, time to martial the troops and take up the spiritual battle with renewed vigor. Like a good general serving his king, we want to face the principal foe. The saying has it: strike Goliath and the Philistines will be scattered, that is, attack your principal fault and related vices will also yield to virtue.
Practically, they are like 'little sacraments,' signs and means of grace blessed and offered by the Church to the faithful. The very name, sacramentals, relates them somehow to the sacraments. In this reflection we wish to situate their place and purpose in the spiritual life. First, we need to juxtapose them to the sacraments in order to distinguish and identify their nature.
The seven Sacraments of the Church, instituted by Christ, are the most perfect means for the sanctification and edification of the Mystical Body. Standing in a certain analogy to life, they communicate: life (Baptism); growth (Confirmation); nutrition (Eucharist); healing and restoration from the dead (Penance); health and preparation for eternal life (Anointing of the Sick); establishment of the family (Matrimony) and the regulation and service of the kingdom of God on earth (Priesthood).
Lent is upon us, and we feel, perchance, a certain malaise of conscience, knowing full well that we ought to do something along penitential lines, yet scarcely knowing where or how to begin. Mortifications in terms of food and television would certainly do us no harm,... indeed, these would evidently do us good,... but it is by no means clear that the secret to our personal approach and union with our Lord in faith is properly addressed and resolved by such exterior measures.
"Magi came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and have come to worshipHim?'" Behold, this child is God's greatest gift to mankind. Notwithstanding, not everyone rejoiced at His coming: "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (Mt 2,1-3).
Christmas is approaching. Spiritually, it comes to us only in the measure that we approach it interiorly preparing ourselves. Christ's birth is the source of Christian life, hope and joy. It is the cause of lasting joy in as much as a source of light: "The angel of the Lord appeared to them [the shepherds on Bethlehem's plain], and the light of the Lord shone round them.
The holy angels bring us an Advent message of great joy, so exquisitely expressed by the angel to the shepherds watching their sheep upon Bethlehem's plain: "Fear not, for behold, I proclaim to you great joy, which shall be for the whole people, for today has been born to you a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord in the city of David. And this shall be a sign for you -- you shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2,10).
Advent celebrates the twofold coming of CHRIST, His Birth at Bethlehem and His second coming in glory together with His angels. Nowhere do we find the ministries of the holy angels so intense and manifest as on these two occasions. The new Catechism declares: "From the Incarnation to the Ascension the life of the Word Incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of the angels.
Lent is a time of special graces ordered to renewing our spiritual life and centering our lives more consciously on what is most important: God and His holy will. Since it is a time of grace, it is also a time of trial. Trials are sent to us so that we can sharp tune our moral choices, so that our love be purified and grow to maturity. In this holy season, we may feel even more poignantly the burden of our character faults and habitual sins (or even addictions).
While it is important to learn to live well, it is equally important to learn to die well. St. Paul exclaims: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21). In fact, Jesus makes the two inseparable, since to live in His likeness we have to take up the Cross daily and die to ourselves (cf. Lk 9:23-24). Whoever seeks his life will lose it, and whoever loses it will gain eternal life (cf. Jn 12:25).
Before his conversion, St. Augustine once asked his friends: “Do we love anything but the beautiful? What then is the beautiful? And what is beauty? What is it that allures and unites us to the things we love? For unless there were a grace and beauty in them, they could not possibly attract us to them” (Confessions, Bk. IV, ch. 13). The Saint recognized that what touches the heart of man more than anything else is beauty.
The Cross (death) and Resurrection of Jesus are intimately, indeed, inseparably related both as mysteries as well as events. Humanly speaking, it is clear that without a prior death there can be no resurrection. At the same time, without Christ's resurrection His death would be utterly meaningless, as Paul teaches: "if Christ has not risen, vain then is our preaching and vain too is your faith" (1 Cor 15,14).
Whoever comes to love our LORD, will also come to look at their own lot in life differently. Love desires to share in the life of the beloved. Hence, the holy angels will draw every GOD-loving soul into our LORD’s life in time and beyond, and similarly into the life of the Holy Church as it is presented to us in the unfolding of the liturgical year. These souls, within the limitations of human comprehension, will also sense the unfathomable depths of Holy Scripture.
Who is Saint Joseph? Who is this singular man chosen as the spouse of the Most Holy Virgin, as head of the Holy Family? This is the question to which we propose to give an initial response by reflecting upon the trial of Joseph which Divine Providence imposed upon him at the dawn of the New Covenant.
It was into the custody of St. Joseph that God entrusted the mysteries of the salvation of mankind, that is, His Incarnate Son and the Blessed Virgin Mother of God (cf. Collect to Mass of St. Joseph). The entire plan of Redemption is founded on the mystery of the Incarnation. In this mystery, "Joseph of Nazareth shared like no other human being except Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux cherished a special devotion to the Holy Angels. How well this fits her Little Way, for did not our Lord associate littleness with the presence and care of the Holy Angels: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their Angels in heaven always behold the face of My Father in Heaven" (Mt 18,10).
"Beloved daughter of the heavenly Father,
May the Grace of the Divine Spirit completely possess your heart and that of all those who wish to belong to Jesus! May Jesus also reveal to you the mystery and power of His Cross, completely inebriating you. May His Virgin Mother be the very one who obtains for you the strength and courage to fight the good fight; may your good angel be for you a breastplate to shield you from the blows which the enemies of our salvation fire against you.
Every true growth in the spiritual life comes from a return to the ultimate principles of the spiritual life and their application in daily life by the earnest practice of charity. Growth in the spiritual life means an increase in faith, hope, and charity, and it manifests itself in a greater diligence in the life of prayer and the practice of the virtues.
Advent is a time of progression from darkness into light, from sin to a new life, in and with God. It is a time of preparing the way again for the coming of Jesus. In Him is life, and the life is the light of men. The true light that enlightens every man is coming into the world (cf. Jn 1:4, 9). Life and light are inseparable, because only if we live in the light of truth, will we attain to eternal life, to union with God, who is both Life and Truth.
One day the Little Flower's older sister visited her at her workplace in Carmel; it was rather evident that she was immersed in contemplation, even though she was busy sewing. Her sister asked, "What are you thinking about?" "I'm pondering the Our Father, she replied, "It is such a delight to call God, 'Our Father!'" Tears of commotion glistened in her eyes!
The future Kingdom already has its beginning in this life in Christ. It was brought near to us in the Incarnation, when the Son of God was planted, as it were, in the field of the world. The Kingdom is announced in the gospels as its principal theme; indeed, Christ proclaimed the Kingdom from the very start of His ministry: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1,15; cf. CCC 2816) and he speaks of the Kingdom some 90 different times in the course of the gospels.
The Father's will was Jesus' supreme happiness. Only something infinitely good could make us completely and totally happy. God, of course, is the infinite good and the only possible source of everlasting happiness. Still, we do well to ask why the Will of God in particular should be the object of our happiness. The answer is very simple. Some thing infinitely good would not suffice to make us completely happy.
The 4th petition in the Our Father - "Give us this day our daily bread"- is so simple a child can understand it. And yet, the bread God gives us is so rich that it satisfies every human need, both temporal and spiritual. The first three petitions express our eternal aspirations: "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done." We desire to participate already now in that heavenly union with the Blessed Trinity together with the Angels and saints - "on earth as it is in heaven!".
Wonderfully did God create us, yet more wonderfully did he recreate us. The Father, who is rich in mercy, chose to reveal and pour out upon us the plenitude of his loving kindness through the Redemptive love of Christ. Every time we petition the Father, "forgive us our trespasses" this work of mercy is renewed in our souls. This is the theme for the Jubilee Year 2000 and for our present meditation on the 5th petition of the Our Father.
In all we do we search for happiness. Whereas in God alone is this to be found, we, short-sighted and short-winded as we are, so often seek happiness where it cannot be found, namely, in created things. Some seek it in God, without, however, making the complete gift of themselves in perfect love.