December 2007 Archives

Adoro Te Devote, Latens Deitas

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Caesar van Everdingen painted this magnificent Holy Family in 1660. Saint Joseph, with the open book of the Scriptures on his lap, appears absorbed by the immensity of the mystery entrusted to him. If you look closely you will see that he holds his reading glasses in his right hand. This Joseph is in the prime of life; he is manly and strong. The Virgin Mother and the Infant Christ gaze straight ahead at us.

The Living Bread Entrusted to Saint Joseph

The feast of the Holy Family invites us to confess a God who comes close, a God who comes down, a God who disappears into what is human to reveal therein what is divine, a God who assumes all that is human to confer what is divine. All the shadows and figures of the Old Testament converge in Christ the Sacrament of God, the Child of the Virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem. the “House of Bread,” and entrusted to Joseph.

Joseph Most Obedient

Look closely at the obedience of Saint Joseph, his obedience in the dark night of faith. Joseph’s obedience allows the whole mystery of Israel — the going down into Egypt and the back up — to be revealed and completed in Christ. In some way the “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19) of the Last Supper is made possible by Joseph’s obedience to the commandments delivered to him in the night.

Twice Saint Joseph obeys the word of the angel who visits him by night. Twice Saint Matthew uses the very same formula to evoke the obedience of Saint Joseph: “And Joseph rose and too the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14); and again, “And he rose and took the child and his mother and went into the land of Israel” (Mt 2:21).


Where is the source of Saint Joseph’s obedience? Is it in the word of the Angel? The Angel appears in a dream. Is anything more fleeting than a dream? If we remember our dreams at all in the morning, we do so in a vague and hazy way. Rarely do we find in our dreams the strength to make great changes in our lives. Dreams may sow suggestions in the imagination; rarely do we translate them into action, especially when they ask of us what Saint Benedict calls “things that are hard and repugnant to nature in the way to God” (RB 58:8).

The Viaticum of Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph finds the strength to obey in the Infant Christ, his Viaticum. He finds it in the presence of “the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). He gazes upon the Child held against the breast of the Virgin, and from that contemplation — from that spiritual communion — draws the strength and the courage to pass from dreams to action — to obey. The Infant Christ was the Viaticum of Saint Joseph: his food for the journey.

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine

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The Fifth Day in the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

1 John 2:3-11
Luke 2:22-35

The Child Jesus, Priest and Victim

The very first sentence of today’s Holy Gospel evokes the mystery of sacrifice. “When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22). The verb to present is part of the ritual vocabulary of the Temple. It denotes a liturgical action, a priestly function. Concerning the Jewish priest, we read in the book of Deuteronomy that “the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes, to present himself and minister before the Lord” (Dt 18:5). The same verb is used to designate the offering, the presentation of the victim made over to God. Saint Paul, for example, writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). The Child Jesus comes to the Temple as both Priest and Victim and, by His coming, He fulfills that word of the prophet Malachi so gloriously interpreted by Handel in The Messiah: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple” (Mal 3:1).

Saint Simeon

Simeon, coming upon the scene, reveals the hidden meaning of this presentation just as, in every sacrament and liturgical rite, the Word discloses the meaning of the sacred action. Simeon is one of four elders who, in the bright iconography of Saint Luke’s infancy narrative, surround the Infant Christ. Elizabeth, Zachary, Simeon, and Anna — all four, righteous and devout — are the venerable and last representatives of the old covenant. In their person, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his well-known Eucharistic hymn, “the former ancient rites give way to the new.”

The Child Consoler

Saint Luke describes Simeon as “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Consolation is the meaning of the name of Noah, the first saviour of the human race at the time of the flood. At the birth of Noah, Lamech, his father, prophesied, saying, “This one shall console us in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). Noah, the consoler and saviour, is a type, a figure of Christ. The true Consoler is God Himself, even as He spoke through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “I, I am He that comforts you” (Is 51:12). The little Child, carried to the temple in His mother’s arms, fulfills all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. The little Child Jesus is God come in the flesh to console us “in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). The Infant Christ is the long-awaited Paraclete, the very word used in the Greek text of today’s Gospel. At the hour of His Pasch, He will promise the gift of another Paraclete. “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16).

The Passion of the Infant Christ

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December 28
Feast of the Holy Innocents

1 John 1:5-2:2
Matthew 2:13-18

The Child in Egypt

The name Egypt occurs three times in today’s gospel. “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:13). “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14). And finally, Saint Matthew cites the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Mt 2:15; Hos 11:1). As with so many proper names of persons and places in Sacred Scripture, Egypt enfolds and discloses a deeper mystery.

Egypt is a name and a place charged with ambivalence. On the one hand, it is the land of abundance, a refuge in time of famine (Gen 12:10; 42:1-3), a safe place for the political refugee (1 K 11:40; Jr 26:21). On the other hand, Egypt symbolizes the servitude and genocide out of which the Lord delivered his people. Hear the words of the Lord, speaking to Moses out of the burning bush: “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:7-8).

The descent of the Infant Christ into Egypt and his return is a fundamental point of correspondence between the Old Testament and the New. The Infant Christ is the new Joseph in Egypt. In Christ, the words spoken concerning Joseph are fulfilled: “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had, in house and field” (Gen 39:5). Like the innocent Joseph, the innocent Christ is a guest in Egypt, receiving Egyptian hospitality, finding in Egypt a place of safety, a refuge from the murderous threats born of jealousy.

The Blood of Jesus

Christ is the new Moses and Christ is the Paschal Lamb in Egypt slain. His blood marks the souls of the faithful as once the blood of the immolated lamb marked the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Jews in Egypt (cf. Ex 12:7). This is the very blood of which Saint John speaks in today’s first reading, saying, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

To Such As These

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My niece and nephews, children of my brother Terence and his wife Sandy: from left to right, Mary Elizabeth (2 years old), Michael Colin (4 years old), and Jonah Daniel (9 months old).

Urbi et Orbi

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Christmas Message 'Urbi et Orbi' of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

“A holy day has dawned upon us. Come you nations and adore the Lord. Today a great light has come upon the earth.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“A holy day has dawned upon us.” A day of great hope: today the Saviour of mankind is born. The birth of a child normally brings a light of hope to those who are waiting anxiously. When Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem, a “great light” appeared on earth; a great hope entered the hearts of those who awaited him: in the words of today’s Christmas liturgy, “lux magna”. Admittedly it was not “great” in the manner of this world, because the first to see it were only Mary, Joseph and some shepherds, then the Magi, the old man Simeon, the prophetess Anna: those whom God had chosen. Yet, in the shadows and silence of that holy night, a great and inextinguishable light shone forth for every man; the great hope that brings happiness entered into the world: “the Word was made flesh and we saw his glory” (Jn 1:14).

In principio erat Verbum

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Last night, in his Christmas homily, Pope Benedict XVI said, "In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way - in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne - the Cross - corresponds to the new beginning in the stable."

This is an extraordinary painting of the Nativity, principally because of the crucifix on the rustic shelf inside the stable. It is the work of Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). The nakedness of the Child in the manger presages His nakedness on the cross. His arms are outstretched in the manger as on the cross. In Bethlehem, the Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph contemplate Him; on Calvary the Virgin Mother and Saint John will look upon Him pierced.

According to an ancient monastic tradition, there is no homily at the Mass of Christmas Day. The Prologue of Saint John -- the mystery of the Word out of silence -- calls for an adoring silence. At Mass today I will sing the Gospel of the Prologue of Saint John to an exquisite First Mode melody. The Prologue is a Gospel that simply has to be sung. And after it, there has to be silence. After the Word -- no other words. Tacere et adorare.

Saint John the Theologian presents us with the ineffable mystery of the Word: the Word facing the Father from all eternity; the Word made flesh, pitching his tent among us, that we might see his glory. Before the glory of the Word, all other words fall silent. In the presence of the Word, human discourse stammers and fails. Silence alone is worthy of the mystery.

The Last Collect of Advent

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December 24
Collect at the Hours and at the Mass in the Morning

Come quickly, we beseech you, Lord Jesus,
and do not delay,
so that those who trust in your loving mercy
may be lifted up by the consolations of your coming.

Come, Lord Jesus

Today, in the last Collect of Advent, the Church addresses the Lord Jesus. It is as if she can no longer contain her longing. The last Collect of Advent is inspired by the last page of the Bible. There, Christ speaks, saying, “Surely I am coming soon.” And the Church replies, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Ap 22:20).

Domine Jesu

Whereas all throughout Advent the Church, according to her custom, has, for the most part, addressed the Father in her prayers, today she appeals to the Son directly. She calls the Son by his human name — Jesus — and to that name revealed by the Angel she adds the divine vocative, Lord. Domine Iesu. Hers is a prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Apostle says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).

Do Not Linger on the Way

Today’s Collect is remarkably concise. Three lines only. The first line is inspired, not only by the final cry in the Apocalypse of Saint John, but also by Psalm 39:18: “Do not tarry, O my God” or, as the Douai translation puts it, “O my God, be not slack!” Ronald Knox translates the same with a certain courtesy: “My God, do not linger on the way.” The two words borrowed from Psalm 39 — ne tardáveris — should make us want to review the whole psalm. What do we discover? That the psalm begins with a verse that sums up the whole Advent experience. Expectans, expectavi! With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and he was attentive to me” (Ps 39:1).

Et vocabit nomen eius Iesum

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Fourth Sunday of Advent A

Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 23:1-6. R. cf. vv. 7. 10
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Mary and Joseph

Today’s Gospel presents the Virgin Mother through the eyes of Saint Matthew, who has a very particular interest in Saint Joseph. Mary is betrothed to Joseph; she is his promised bride and spouse. If ever a marriage was made in heaven, it was this one. God had, from all eternity, prepared this one man, Joseph, for this one woman, Mary.

The Virgin of the Sign

Then the unthinkable happened: Mary was found to be with child, not of Joseph, for they had not yet begun to live together, but of the Holy Spirit. What conflicts rose in Joseph’s heart? He could not doubt his Mary, nor could he deny that there was life in her virginal womb. The nearness of the Thrice-Holy God in Mary, the Virgin of the Sign, left him astonished and fearful. Recall the experience of the prophet Isaiah in the temple:

I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts. And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me” (Is 6:1-8).

Depart From Me

Saint Joseph’s first impulse was to put a distance between himself and Mary, rather like Saint Peter who, after the miraculous draught of fish, said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was wholly astonished” (Lk 5:8). The ark of the covenant, the tabernacle of the Most High, reasoned Joseph, belongs not in my house but, rather, in a hidden sanctuary where the miracle wrought by God will not be exposed to the disbelief and irreverent cynicism of men. Saint Joseph knew well the words of the Angel Raphael to Tobias and his father: “For it is good to hide the secret of a king: but honourable to reveal and confess the works of God” (Tb 12:7).

Holy Fear

Saint Matthew tells us that the very idea of cohabiting with Mary filled Joseph with fear. Whenever Saint Matthew uses the word “fear” in his Gospel, it means the sacred terror that every mortal feels in the presence of the power and paradox of a divine mystery. Saint Thomas Aquinas sums up this particular exegesis of the text when he says, “Joseph wished to give the Virgin her liberty, not because he suspected her of adultery, but because, respecting her holiness, he feared to live with her.”


This morning in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI received a group of people belonging to the Italian Catholic Action Movement for an exchange of Christmas greetings. The Holy Father spoke of the Venerable Servant of God, our little Nennolina.

Words of the Holy Father

It pleased me that, a moment ago, you quoted a little girl, Antonia Meo, called Nennolina. Just three days ago I decreed the recognition of her heroic virtues and I hope that her cause of beatification may be brought quickly to a happy conclusion. What a luminous example has this little member of yours left us! (Note: Nennolina was enrolled in the "Benjamins" section of the Italian Catholic Action Movement.)

Nennolia, a child of Rome, in her very short life — only six and a half years —demonstrated a faith, a hope, a special charity, and other Christian virtues as well. Though she was a frail little girl, she succeeded in giving a strong and robust witness to the Gospel and has left a deep impression in the diocesan community of Rome. Nennolina belonged the Catholic Action Movement; today she would certainly be inscribed in the A.C.R. (Childrens' Catholic Action)!

For all of you can consider her your friend, a model to inspire you. Her existence, so simple and, at the same time, so important, demonstrates that holiness is for every age; for little children and young people, for adults and for the elderly. Every season of our existence can be good for us to decide seriously to love Jesus and to follow Him faithfully. In a few years, Nennolina reached the summit of Christian perfection that we are, all of us, called to ascend, she ran quickly the "highway" that leads to Jesus. And so, as you yourselves recalled, Jesus is the true "way" who leads us to the Father and to our permanent home, which is Paradise. You know that Antonia now lives in God, and from heaven, she is close to you; you sense that she is present with you, in your groups. Learn to know her and follow her examples. I think that she also will be happy about this: to be involved still in Catholic Action.


Anniversary of Nennolina's First Holy Communion

Nennolina received her First Holy Communion 71 years ago on Christmas Eve, 1936, in the chapel of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 38, Via Germano Sommeiller. Witnesses of her First Holy Communion said that the little girl was transfigured in a kind of ecstatic adoration of her Jesus. A few months before her First Holy Communion, Nennolina had written to Jesus:

"Dear Jesus Eucharist I love You so much! . . .
Really very much!
Not only because You are the Father of all the world, but also because You are the King of all the world, I always want to be Your lamp which burns night and day before You and near You in the Sacrament of the altar.

I'd like You to grant me three favours the first - make me saint, and this is the most important favour;
the second - give me some souls;
the third - make me walk normally, to tell the truth this is the least important.
I'm not saying to give me back my leg, I gave it to You!

Dear Jesus I like my teacher Sister Noemi very much.
I love her so, help her to do all the necessary things that You want her to do.
Dear Jesus Eucharist!
I love You so much so that I'm really longing for Christmas.
Make my heart shine to You when You come into my poor heart.
Dear Jesus, I'll make a lot of sacrifices that I'll offer to You
when I do the First Holy Communion.

Dear Jesus Eucharist! . . .
I want to suffer a lot to redeem also the sins of men, especially of the very bad ones.
Dear Jesus Eucharist I say good-bye to You and I kiss You.
Your Antonietta.
Good night Jesus good night Mary."


Monsignor Patrick Brankin was kind enough to remind me that the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Zapopan in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Expectation. The same Little Virgin is venerated at the Shrine of Saint Thérèse in Collinsville, Oklahoma.


Santa Croce in Gerusalemme has a small monastic foundation in Guadalajara. One of the three solemnly professed monks there is my very dear friend, Fra Leone Maria. Fra Leone has a personal devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Expectacíon of Zapopan; his family has their own precious image of the diminutive and much loved Virgin. He had a picture of her in his cell at Santa Croce in Rome.

Shortly after the conquistador Francisco de Bobadilla founded Tzapopa (later called Zapopan) in 1541, Franciscan friars arrived to evangelize the native population. Fray Antonio of Segovia arrived carrying in one hand a crucifix and, in the other, a little statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The statue gave off sparks of heavenly light. The Indians, fascinated and subjugated by the Virgin Mother of Jesus, ceased their resistance and accepted the Gospel.

The Little Virgin won the hearts of the people of Zapopan by granting them abundant graces and miracles. In the mid-1600s, the bishop fixed her feast on December 18th, conferring on the statue the title of Nuestra Señora de la O or de la Expectacíon. It became customary to transfer the statue to Guadalajara in times of special need or crisis. Even today, the Little Virgin spends part of the year, from June 13th to October 5th in Guadalajara. Our Lady of Zapopan is the patroness of the state of Jalisco. On January 18, 1921 she was solemnly crowned.

The statue, made of wood, is very small: just a little over 13 inches tall. Our Lady's tunic is an earthy red and her mantle is blue. She stands on the crescent moon, just as she does at Guadalupe, and her hands are folded in prayer, just as they are at Guadalupe. It is customary to dress the statue in gorgeous clothes. The Little Virgin wears a wig and a golden crown set with jewels. A little reliquary containing an image of the Child Jesus is suspended below her breast. This is reminiscent of the Byzantine icons of Our Lady of the Sign.

Join with me in wishing Fra Leone and the community of the monastery of Santa Cruz of Guadalajara a very blessed feast of Nuestra Señora de la Expectacíon.


I pray thee, O Most Holy Virgin Mary,
that I might hear the Heartbeat of redeeming Love,
and that with Thee
I might adore the Heart of Jesus
formed in Thy womb by the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit,
by whose power and overshadowing Thou didst become
the living tabernacle of the Heart of God,
may my soul rejoice in Thy every visitation
and leap in recognition of Him
who through Thee deigns to come to me.

Through the Holy Spirit
by whom Thou wert illumined by faith,
quickened by hope,
and inflamed with charity,
grant that I may believe all that the Sacred Heart of Jesus has revealed,
never despair of His boundless Mercy,
and burn with the fire He came to cast upon the earth.

In the Holy Spirit,
Thou adorest the Heart of Thy Son as the Heart of Thy God;
in that same Holy Spirit,
grant that I may adore the Heart of my God
as the Heart that, hidden in Thy womb, once beat beneath Thy own:
the same Sacred Heart that, pierced upon the Cross,
fills the heavens with glory
and the earth with mercy.


Yes, today, December 18th, is one of the liturgy's loveliest old Advent festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that of the Expectatio Partus. It was kept by nearly the entire Latin Church. The Marquess of Bute calls it, in his fine old translation of the Breviary, "The Blessed Virgin Mary Looking Shortly To Be Delivered." It was also called in Spain, and elsewhere, Nuestra Señora de la O, and this because, after Vespers, the clergy in choir used to give voice to a loud and protracted "O" to express the yearning of the universe for the advent of the Redeemer.

Looking first at the Office for the feast, one discovers that the Invitatory Antiphon is the greeting of the Archangel to the Virgin of Nazareth: "Hail Mary, full of grace, * the Lord is with thee." The antiphons on the psalms of Matins are all taken from the Advent Office. The lessons are Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child (Is 7:10), a passage from Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo on the Maidenhood of Blessed Mary, and one from the Venerable Bede on the Annunciation Gospel. The final responsory is the glorious Fourth Mode Suscipe verbum, "Receive, O Virgin Mary, receive the word of the Lord, which is sent thee by His Angel."

The Collect throughout the day is that of Lady Day in March:

O God who didst will that Thy Word should,
by the message of an Angel,
take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grant unto us, we beseech Thee,
that all we who do believe her to be in very deed
the Mother of God,
may be holpen by her prayers in Thy sight.

At Lauds and the Hours, the antiphons are those of Lady Day, while the hymns remain those of the Advent Office. The Magnificat Antiphon is the lovely O Virgo Virginum, composed in the same Second Mode melody as the Great O Antiphons:


O maiden of maidens,
how shall this be,
since neither before nor henceforth hath there been,
nor shall be such another?
Daughters of Jerusalem,
why look ye curiously upon me?
What ye see is a mystery of God.

I would venture to suggest that the Office and Mass of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are today, more than ever before, worthy of celebration and meditation, given that the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is roundly mocked by many. Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies.

All of this makes me want to open my Processionale Monasticum to page 146 and sing, Gaude Maria, Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti:

Rejoice, O Mary,
by whose mighty hand the Church hath victory
over her foes [every heresy] achieved,
since thou to Gabriel's word of quickening power
in lowliness hast listened, and believed
— thou, still a virgin, in thy blessed womb
hast God Incarnate of thy flesh conceived,
and still, in heaven, of that virginity remainest
after childbirth unbereaved.
V. Blessed art thou that hast believed,
for there is a performance of those things
which were told thee from the Lord.

Bravissimo, Maestro Bocelli!

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I just had to translate this interview with Andrea Bocelli for the readers of Vultus Christi:

Maestro, we are in Advent, a Marian time par excellence. . .

"Of Mary we can never have too much. She is an inexhaustible wellspring of holiness and of sweetness, and even music has always known how to venerate and honour her wisely. Take, for example, the Ave Maria of Schubert, so used and, I agree, abused: it began originally as a pagan composition, inasmuch as the author did not conceive of it in a religious key, but its beauty, which goes together with the beauty of the liturgy, lovingly transported it into the churches of the word. But, thank God, in general, nearly all the greats of music have never had too much of the Madonna, and thus, so many musical versions of the Ave Maria were born. I ask myself then, what is the meaning of this abundant and glorious Marian presence in music?

Please, Bocelli, tell us this yourself.

"It is that even the art of music has bowed before the beauty of Mary, before the All-Holy, before who helps and consoles in difficulty. We are her children and she loves us."

I don't know what to say. You are really fervent when it comes to Mary.

"We all are. Mary is the obligatory itinerary to arrive at the Father. And then, she is our heavenly Mother. For example, you, when you are in trouble, do you not turn to your mother? Or if your father reproves you, do you not take refuge with your Mamma to be consoled and understood? Mary is the heavenly version of our earthly Mamma: she is consoler and mediatrix.

Traveling all over the world for your concerts, do you find the same love for the Madonna among diverse peoples?

"Certainly. For example, in Latin America and in Mexico, I was able to see that for the faithful Mary is truly a Mamma. And then, I think of Lourdes, which is a temple of consolation for the body and for the soul, and of Medjugorie. . ."

Let's talk about Medjugorie: the official Church does not seem convinced of the goodness of the apparitions.

"Here, in fact, the discourse becomes complex. It is true, the Catholic Church, in her infinite wisdom and with great prudence, has suspended judgment on the apparitions of Medjougorie. As a Catholic I hold the position of the ecclesiastical authority to be legitimate and reasonable, also because at one time many were feeding the sorry phenomenom of miraculism. But, all the same . . ."

The Santo Bambino of the Aracoeli

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One of my favourite little pilgrimages in the Eternal City is to the Santo Bambino Gesù in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Aracoeli means "altar of the heavens." The present basilica stands on the site of an altar built to the glorious Infant God seen by the Emperor Octavian Augustus in a prophetic vision.

The statue of the Infant Jesus dates back to the fifteenth century. It is, according to tradition, the work of a Franciscan friar who carved it from the wood of an olive tree of Gethsemani. Over the centuries, the faithful have honoured this holy image of the Infant Jesus with rich garments, with crowns, and gifts of gold and precious stones. And so continues the procession of the Three Magi bearing gifts.

Every year, little children of all ages address letters of petition to the Santo Bambino. They write to Him as to their King, confident in the merciful goodness of His Heart. During Christmastide the children of Rome visit the crib of the Santo Bambino in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, to preach little sermons, to recite poems, and to sing to Him.


On the 25th of every month it is customary to bless oil taken from the lamp that burns before the Santo Bambino. The oil is distributed in small bottles and is used in praying for the sick. I often use the "Oil of the Infant Jesus" in this way. One can obtain it at the Church of the Aracoeli.

The Child Jesus is Eternal High Priest and King of the Universe. Already in the mysteries of His infancy, He took upon Himself the infirmities and weaknesses of all men. Even as a Child, Our Lord presented Himself before His Father's Face as a Priest offering Himself, the Spotless Lamb. Those drawn to honour and contemplate the Infant Jesus do well to pray for the sick, anointing them with blessed oil, a sacramental of the Church, in His sweet Name. The Name of Jesus is, itself, an oil poured out for the healing of souls and bodies.

The Great O Antiphons

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How delightful to see in this painting both little Johns, the Baptist and the Theologian, together with the Incarnate Word, Holy Wisdom. Note that the little Evangelist is already writing the opening words of the Prologue of his Gospel.

Reflections on each of the Great O Antiphons are available in my Advent archives from 2006. At the Monastery of the Glorious Cross where I serve as chaplain, the Great O's are sung not only at Vespers each day, their traditional place, but also during the Gospel procession of the Mass as the Alleluia Verse.

We know that in the reform of the Lectionary, the O Antiphons, formerly sung only at Vespers, were also given a place within the Mass itself, becoming the verse of the Alleluia before the Gospel. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal emphasizes the importance of the procession with the Book of the Gospels. It is a kind of parousia, the glorious appearing of the Lord “amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy” (Ps 41:5). It is the arrival of the Bridegroom; His advent is greeted with jubilant alleluias and with lighted lamps. It is the descent of the all-powerful Word from the royal throne “into the midst of the land that was doomed” (Wis 18:15). The Gregorian Alleluia, with its streaming jubilus, is the Church’s ecstatic cry of welcome; it is an eschatological song. The arrival of Christ in the sacramental Word anticipates His arrival in glory upon the clouds of heaven (cf., Mt 24:3

This year I am not preaching specifically on the Great O Antiphons as I have done in past years, but readers of Vultus Christi might find last year's homilies helpful.


"I desire that my Face, which reflects the intimate afflictions of my Soul,
the sorrow and the love of my Heart, should be honoured more.
One who contemplates me, consoles me.

There are those perhaps who fear that the devotion and worship of my Holy Face
may diminish the devotion and worship of my Heart. Tell them that, on the contrary, it will be completed and augmented. Contemplating my Face, souls will share in my sorrows and will feel the need to love and and to make reparation. Is this not perhaps the true devotion to my Heart? "

was not alone in having her heroic virtues recognized by the Church this morning. There were seven others; among them was Mother Maria Pierina Di Micheli. Born on 11 September, 1890, Giuseppina De Micheli entered the Congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception in Milan on 15 October 1913. She received the habit and the name Maria Pierina on 16 May 1914, made religious profession 23 May 1915, and left for the motherhouse of the Congregation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1921. She returned to Italy in 1921, and died on 26 July 1945.


Mother Maria Pierina was privileged, from the age of twelve, with graces of intimacy with Our Lord, who invited her to contemplate His Holy Face. On the evening of 31 May 1938, as Mother Maria Pierina was praying, a beautiful Lady presented herself to her on the altar steps, in a blaze of light. She was holding in her hand a scapular made of two pieces of white flannel held together by a cord. One piece bore the image of the Holy Face of Jesus with the inscription, "Illumina Domine Vultum Tuum super nos"; the other piece bore the image of a radiant Host with the inscription, "Mane nobiscum Domine."

The Lady approached Mother Pierina and said, "Listen well and refer this to your Father Confessor. This scapular is an arm of defense, a shield of might, a token of mercy that Jesus wants to give the world in these times of sensuality and of hatred toward God and the Church. True apostles are few. A divine remedy is necessary, and this remedy is the Holy Face of Jesus. All those who will wear a scapular like this one, and who will visit, if possible, the Blessed Sacrament on Tuesdays to make reparation for the outrages that the Holy Face of my Son Jesus received during His Passion, and receives every day in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, will be strengthened in the faith, made ready to defend it, and to overcome all difficulties inward and outward. They will, moreover, have a serene death, beneath the loving gaze of my Divine Son."


The scapular of the Holy Face became, with the approval of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the medal of the Holy Face, widely distributed by Mother Maria Pierina, by her spiritual father, Abbot Ildebrando Gregori, O.S.B., and today, by His Eminence Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini and the Congregation of the Benedictine Reparatrices of the Holy Face.

I was privileged, last month, to preach a retreat — Seeking God: the Holy Face of Jesus in the Rule of Saint Benedict — to a dynamic group of novices and professed Sisters of the Benedictine Reparatrices of the Holy Face from Italy, India, the Republic of the Congo, and Romania at the Casa San Francesco in Carsoli, Aquila, Italy.

Te Deum Laudamus

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Dear Jesus,
I want to be Thy lamp that, close to Thee,
burns with a flame of love,
Thy lily that remains always to adorn Thy altar
and to adore Thee.

Today, 17 December 2007, Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI received in a private audience His Eminence, the Most Reverend Lord Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In the course of the audience, the Holy Father authorized the Congregation to promulgate the heroicity of the virtues of the Servant of God Antonietta Meo, called Nennolina, a little girl born in Rome, in the parish of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, on 15 December 1930, where she also died on 3 July 1937. Nennolina is buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. The Venerable Servant of God attended the school of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also in the parish of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

A Mother Ever-Virgin

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Genesis 49:2, 8-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 3-4ab, 7-8, 17
Matthew 1:1-17

The Wondrous Exchange

O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in the womb of a mother ever-virgin,
look graciously upon our prayers,
that your only-begotten Son,
having taken our humanity to Himself,
may deign to make us partakers of His divinity.

The first Collect of the seven-day preparation for Christmas englobes the whole magnificent plan of the Incarnation and Redemption. It goes straight to the heart of the mystery: God, having taken our humanity to Himself in the womb of a virgin, makes us partakers of His divinity.

Partakers of His Divinity

We already hear today what we will pray in the Collect of the Mass of Christmas Day:

O God, who in a wonderful manner
created the dignity of human nature,
and still more wonderfully renewed it;
grant that we may be made partakers of His divinity
who deigned to become partaker of our humanity.

This same prayer is echoed in every Mass at the preparation of the chalice. The priest, adding water to the wine, says silently:

By the mystery of this water and wine
may we be made partakers in His divinity
who deigned to share in our humanity.

Rosy Reminder

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Did you get pink (or rose) flowers for Gaudete Sunday? Rose–coloured roses may be your first choice, but I like carnations — one single huge bouquet — for Gaudete Sunday.

It is always distressing to see flowers dispersed about the sanctuary in multiple little bouquets. It is even worse when such bouquets are placed in glass vases from the jumble sale and balanced on odd little tables and metal stands. Why do people do such things? A dozen or more flowers arranged in a single bouquet offer an intensity of colour that is lost when one attempts to use them in multiple arrangements.


After the Second Vespers of Sunday when the sanctuary returns to its Advent austerity, consider offering the Gaudete bouquet to the Blessed Virgin at your Lady Altar or, at least, keep the flowers until 20 December for the lovely Golden Mass of the Missus Est. It is fitting to flower the principal image of Our Lady during Advent, especially when it is located in a Lady Chapel or outside the sanctuary proper.


Second Saturday of Advent

Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11
Psalm 79: 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19
Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

The Splendour of Your Glory in the Face of Christ

Almighty God,
let the splendour of your glory, we pray,
rise like the dayspring in our hearts
to dispel every darkness of the night;
that the advent of your only-begotten Son,
may reveal us to be children of the light.

Today’s Collect is the fruit of a long contemplation of the light that shines from the Scriptures: another example of the oratio — prayer — that is the fruit of lectio —hearing the Word — and of meditatio — repeating it. The splendour of the Father’s glory that rises like the dawn in our hearts is Christ, “the reflection of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3). “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

O Dayspring

The Jews of old expected the advent of the Messiah in the radiance of a rising sun. Isaiah cries, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist blesses God, saying, “The Orient shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78-79). The Church, on December 21st, will sing, “O Dayspring, brightness of eternal Light and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

The Light of Bethlehem

Christ’s first advent in the cave of Bethlehem, marked by the rising of a star in the night, was a mystery of light. “In Him was life,” says Saint John, “and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5).


December 14
Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Isaiah 48:17-19
Psalm 1 (R. Jn 8:12)
Matthew 11: 16-19

Liturgical Coincidences

It often happens that the sacred texts given us in the Lectionary for the occurring ferial day correspond wonderfully to the saint whom we are commemorating. And so it happened today, on this feast of Saint John of the Cross.

The Light of Life

Did you hear — I mean really heed with the ear of the heart — the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm? It was taken not from Psalm 1 as one might expect, but rather from the eighth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. There Our Lord says: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

It is the allusion to darkness that invites us to relate this word to the life and teaching of Saint John of the Cross. Did not Saint John embrace the mystery of the Cross in the obscurity of a dark night? Does not he come to us just one week before the longest and darkest night of the year? Is not Saint John of the Cross our best guide through the darkness of the night, which no one of us can avoid, or delay, the dark night of faith?

One Little Word Changed

Now, be attentive! What does the Church do with this word of Our Lord when she chants it in her liturgy? She changes one single word. Our Lord says, “He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). The Church, having heard this word of Our Lord (lectio), and having repeated it over and over again in the recollection of her heart (meditatio), turns it into a prayer (oratio) addressed directly to Him who pronounced it, by saying: Qui sequitur te, Domine, habebit lumen vitae, “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

Lectio Divina

We have everything to learn from this procedure. It is the Church’s own way of praying. All prayer begins not with our word or words to God, but with the word that He addresses us. Prayer begins in the hearing of the word, and this is what the tradition calls lectio. Once heard, the word has to be remembered and, in order to remember it, we must repeat it over and over again. This is what the tradition calls meditatio. The same word, heard, and then repeated, becomes the word by means of which we lift our mind and heart to God, and this the tradition calls oratio. “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). One who prays in this way will find himself drawn into a mysterious inner stillness. There all becomes silent. There we experience a sweet and irresistible force that compels us to adore. Tacere et adorare. To be silent and to adore in the presence of the Thrice Holy God.

Inter-Abiding in Love

If we yield to this sweet and irresistible force — the action of the Holy Spirit — we will find that the silence that is the fruit of the word heard, repeated, and prayed, becomes the sacrament of a mysterious union with God, of what I can only describe as an “inter-abiding” in love. And this is what the tradition calls contemplatio.


I was speaking this afternoon with a friend who carries in his heart the needs of priests: their sanctification, their healing, and reparation for their sins. Our conversation moved me to translate two texts of Mother Marie des Douleurs Wrotnowska (1902-1983), the foundress of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified. Mother Marie des Douleurs was not given to half-measures. She held her daughters accountable, in some way, for the falls of certain priests, and so called them to task. She wrote the first of these texts in 1932. The clergy in France were affected, at the time, by the controversy surrounding the Action Française, and also by the defection, and subsequent excommunication, of certain "modernist" priests.

There exists no vocation higher or more divine than the priestly vocation. It is a grace that cannot be measured, and we will never be able to thank the Divine Master enough for having willed that, to continue it, there should be priests among us.

We must, however, also think that if the soul of a priest is something very great and very beautiful, it is also — as are all human creatures — something that is very weak. There is nothing more irremediable, more scandalous, and more shameful than the fall of the soul of a priest into sin, and yet, there is in their nature nothing that keeps them away from this forever.

There is where our duty lies: the essential reason for our religious life, which exists only for the priesthood. We must surround priests with our continual prayer so that this prayer may be a barrier between them and the spirit of the world in which they live, and against which it is our duty to protect them.

What purity must be our own, and what supernatural spirit must be ours, in view of this very lofty task which God has given us. We were chosen to help the elect of the Lord, those who give life to the world. We will be able to fulfill this vocation only if we ourselves live purely for God, truly handed over, without falling back on ourselves. We are responsible for the sanctity of many priests; the Lord, having chosen us to help them, we must do it, and we know that the only way we can help is by sanctifying ourselves more and more each day so as to lead souls after us into the furrow of fire that ought to mark our lives in the sight of the angels.

And in 1933 Mother Marie des Douleurs wrote:

Our ministry, belonging to us, is to pray for the sanctification of priests. What are we then doing that this horrible thing of certain priests being excommunicated can happen? We are there, in spite of that, to prevent such scandals that rend the heart of our Mother the Church and the Heart of her Spouse. At least, let these terrible falls call us back to the generous fidelity that we ought to put into the least acts of our lives.

We have come together in the religious life so as to become each day more surrendered to the will of God and more stripped of ourselves, so as to be less unworthy of being offered as holocausts in reparation for such outrages. We must not allow the conviction of our responsibilities to become attenuated, nor let ourselves become drowsy and tepid while the Lord is counting on us. We ought to be such reservoirs of charity and humility for priests! Alas, while Jesus begs us, in vain, to show Him pity, the angels can sometimes, even now, see us rather sadly turned in on ourselves, occupied with our fatigues or with our imperceptible ailments.

Holy Violence

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Thursday of the Second Week of Advent
December 13
Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Isaiah 41:13-20
Psalm 144: 1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab
Matthew 11:11-15

And the Violent Bear It Away

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Mt 11:12). What exactly is Our Lord saying in today’s Gospel? What does Our Lord mean when He tells us that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away”? Are we, then, to be violent? Is there such a thing as a holy violence?

Swift and Intense Force

The dictionary defines violence as swift and intense force. Although the word has acquired a negative connotation in common usage, violence is not, of itself, sinful. The moral quality of violence — a swift, and powerful application of energy — derives from the object for which, or against which, it is expended. Violence can be virtuous. The Kingdom of Heaven is worthy of our violence. All the saints understood this. One who would bear away the Kingdom of Heaven must be prepared to act swiftly, intensely, and forcefully.

Holy Violence

Holy Violence is the virtue opposed to the vice of the spiritual dilly-dallier, the feeble, indecisive, spineless, ineffectual milquetoast. Holy violence is an expression of the virtue of fortitude. It is related to the boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit.

The Tolerance of the Relativists

There are those, even within the Church, who think that peace — or what they would like to call peace — is worth any price. They will go to any length to avoid confrontations, to appear to agree when they disagree, to approve when they disapprove, to keep everyone happy. The moral relativism pandemic in society today fosters this attitude. The relativists would have us believe that there are no absolute truths, that nothing is absolutely wrong or absolutely right. They preach a wishy-washy adaptability to whatever the prevailing trends happen to be, and they call it tolerance. The relativists are forever saying, “To each his own.” The idea of going against the social or political grain fills them with horror. There are no martyrs among them.

Mary Rose Up in Haste in Those Days

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Our Lady in Advent

The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the liturgy of Advent is like the fragrance of roses in December. Our Lady is everywhere, drawing us after her into the mystery of Christ. With Advent, the Church has entered into a Marian Jubilee Year, gratefully commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions of the Immaculate Conception to Saint Bernadette at Lourdes. “He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches” (Ap 2:11).

A Moment of Grace

This is a moment of grace, a moment of conversion, a moment of hope for each of us. The All-Holy and Immaculate Mother of God emerges from her hiddenness? Why? Because her children, threatened by the ancient dragon, are in need of her maternal and regal presence. The vision vouchsafed to Saint Juan Diego is the same one that dazzled the eyes of another John, on the Island of Patmos: “And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake, and great hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Ap 11:19a; 12:1).

She who “rose up in those days, and went into the hill country in haste” (Lk 1:39), first into the hill country of Palestine to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and then, centuries, later into the hill country of Mexico to visit Juan Diego, visit us today. She visits us by means of the graces that, ever flowing from her open hands, bear witness to her presence and to her maternal and regal action.

The Battleground of the Heart

Do not let the grace of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe pass without changing you. Even the loftiest mystical graces are useless if they leave us unrepentant and unchanged. Pray the humble prayer of the Rosary, not sparingly, but continuously, at every free moment. It decapitates pride. It extinguishes lust, envy, covetousness, possessiveness, and greed. It pulls up the seven capital sins by their roots. The great cosmic battle between the Woman and the Dragon is not fought in the fantasies of movie screens. It is fought on the battleground of human hearts, one heart at a time.


On December 8th, His Eminence Ivan Cardinal Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, opened the Jubilee Year of Lourdes. His homily was extraordinary, and strikingly suitable for today's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! One senses a powerful and sweet Marian grace sweeping through the Church at every level. But allow me to let the Cardinal speak for himself:

Mary Weaves Her Web

“After her apparitions at Lourdes, the Holy Virgin has not ceased to manifest her great maternal concerns for the fate of mankind in her several apparitions worldwide. She has everywhere asked for prayers and penance for the conversion of sinners, for she predicted the spiritual ruin of certain nations, the sufferings that the Holy Father would face, the general weakening of the Christian faith, the difficulties of the Church, the rise of the Antichrist and of his attempts to replace God in the life of men, attempts which, despite their instant success, would nevertheless be destined to fail. Here, at Lourdes, as everywhere in the world, the Virgin Mary is weaving a enormous web of her spiritual sons and daughters in the whole world in order to launch a strong offensive against the forces of the Evil one, to lock him up and thus prepare the final victory of her Divine Son, Jesus Christ.

With the Small Beads of the Rosary

The Virgin Mary invites us once again today to be a part of her combat legion against the forces of evil. As a sign of our participation at her offensive, she demands, among other things, the conversion of the heart, a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist, the daily recitation of the rosary, unceasing prayer without hypocrisy, the acceptance of sufferings for the salvation of the world. Those could seem to be small things, but they are powerful in the hands of God, to whom nothing is impossible. As the young David who, with a small stone and a sling, brought down the giant Goliath who came to meet him armed with a sword, a spear, and a shield (cf. 1 Sam 17,4-51), we will also, with the small beads of our rosary, be able heroically to face the assaults of our awesome adversary and defeat him.

The Final Struggle

The struggle between God and his enemy still takes place, even more so today than at the time of Bernadette, 150 years ago, because the world finds itself stuck in the swamp of a secularism that wishes to create a world without God; of a relativism that stifles the permanent and unchangeable values of the Gospel; and of a religious indifference that remains undisturbed regarding the higher good of the matters of God and the Church. This battle makes innumerable victims within our families and among our young people. Some months before becoming Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Karol Woytjila said (November 9, 1976): "We are today before the greatest combat that mankind has ever seen. I do not believe that the Christian community has completely understood it. We are today before the final struggle between the Church and the Anti-Church, between the Gospel and the Anti-Gospel." One thing remains certain: the final victory belongs to God and that will happen thanks to Mary, the Woman of Genesis and of the Apocalypse, who will fight at the head of the army of her sons and daughters against the enemy forces of Satan and will crush the head of the serpent.”

Am I not here whom am your Mother?

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"Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you: let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?" (Words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Juan Diego)

Saint Juan Diego whom we remember on the day after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is listed in the Martyrology not as a visionary but as a hermit. Graced with seeing the holy Mother of God in all her radiance, Juan Diego’s vocation unfolded in a life of solitude, ceaseless prayer, and watchfulness.

These words to a priest seem to echo those Our Blessed Mother addressed to her beloved son Juan Diego so many years ago:

"I am ever willing to come quickly to the aid of my poor children. I am every ready to help them them, to lift them when they fall, to bind up their wounds, and even to intervene in such a way as to repair the effects of their wrongdoing.

I am not distant. I hear every prayer addressed to me. My maternal Heart is moved to pity when my children, and especially my priest sons, have recourse to me in their needs. I am the Mother of Mercy, MATER MISERICORDIAE, honoured by the Church in her chant to me. I do turn towards you my eyes of mercy, and I am ever willing to help poor sinners. Let sinners come to me; I will never turn them away. Let them appeal to my Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart; they will never be disappointed.

. . . I ask little of souls and I give much. Such is my way. Such too is the way of my Son. Yes, our Hearts are moved even by the smallest tokens of love, and our response to them surpasses what you can imagine."

This beautiful Akathist to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is the work of Dr. Alexander Roman.


Akathist to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Kontakion 1
To Thee, our great and constant Intercessor before the Throne of Almighty God, do we,
Thy children, offer this hymn of praise, glorifying Thy wondrous Image revealed to Thy
humble servant, Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, as we sing of Thy enduring heavenly
Protection of all who keep festival, joyfully exclaiming with arms uplifted: Rejoice, O
Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

Ikos 1
The peoples of Mesoamerica saw a most Divine Light when they gazed upon Thy sacred
and miraculous image inscribed by the Finger of God upon the tilma of Juan Diego.
They recognized in it their salvation at last and liberation from the darkness of
enslavement to the cunning Serpent of old and they cried with grateful love amidst tears:

Rejoice, Most Immaculate Messenger from on High!
Rejoice, Great Sign that appeared in Heaven and in our midst!
Rejoice, Woman shining with the Brightness of Thy Son and our Lord!
Rejoice, Lady crushing the Serpent of old beneath thy feet!
Rejoice, Victor over evil!
Rejoice, Queen of Heaven and Earth!
Rejoice, unfailing Intercessor for those lost in darkness!
Rejoice, Star of the Sea bringing us to the harbor of safety!
Rejoice, Defender of children!
Rejoice, Protector of such as are of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Rejoice, Standing with the moon at Thy feet!
Rejoice, with hands enfolded in prayer to God on our behalf!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

Kontakion 2
Thy servant, Juan Diego, first saw Thee in Thy appearance on a hill. Thou didst
command him to witness to Thy desire to have a temple raised there to bring salvation to his people. Overjoyed by this Thy maternal condescension on earth toward us all, Thy
servant ran into the city, crying: Alleluia!

Ikos 2
Thy servant has truly imitated the Beloved Disciple, John, for he likewise took Thee as
his Mother to the home of his heart at the command of our Crucified Lord. Asking Thee
for the grace to do likewise, we sing:

Rejoice, Temple of the Holy Spirit!
Rejoice, Rock Unhewn!
Rejoice, Densely wooded Mount Thaeman!
Rejoice, for Thou dost call everyone to the Mountain!
Rejoice, for like Elias of old, Thou comest to destroy idols!
Rejoice, for Thy Image is our bridge over dangerous waters to Heaven!
Rejoice, Mother of Christ!
Rejoice, Mother of His Church!
Rejoice, for we became Thy children underneath Thy Son's Cross!
Rejoice, Mother of the Foundation Stone!
Rejoice, Rock Unquarried!
Rejoice, Hilltop leading to the Heavenly Kingdom!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother Clothed with the Sun!

Mom and Dad At Home

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Evelyn Berry, our dear friend from Leyland, England, came to visit on Saturday, December 1st, with her son Christopher and daughter-in-law Amanda, bringing flowers for Mom and Dad. Mom prepared a beautiful tea. Isn't this a great photo of them? They will be married 60 years on October 9, 2008. Still Irish, still Italian, and still so in love.

Strengthen Ye the Feeble Hands

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Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 84:8ab and 9, 10-11, 12-13 (R. Isaiah 35:4f)
Luke 5:17-26

The Promises of God

Again today, the Word of God is rich in promises for those who receive it with attention and with open hearts. First, an announcement full of hope:

Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees.
Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not:
behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense:
God himself will come and will save you (Is 35: 3-4).

Then came the promises:

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as a hart,
and the tongue of the dumb shall be free:
for waters are broken out in the desert,
and streams in the wilderness (Is 35: 5-6).

How can one hear such things and not be inwardly quickened? We are all feeble, weak-kneed, fainthearted, fearful, and in need of salvation. We are all of us, in some way, blind, deaf, lame, and without the living water for which we thirst.

For Priests

These are promises, certainly, for the whole Church and for each one of us. At the same time, I seem to hear in the words of the prophet promises that are destined, first of all, for the priests of the Lord. If Jesus’ chosen instruments are to be effective in His service, if His anointed ones are to do “the works that He did and greater works than these” (cf. Jn 14:12), then it is their feeble hands that must be strengthened, their weak knees that must be confirmed, and their faint hearts that must be emboldened.

Risking Grace

I hear today’s promises in this way because the Word of God never comes to us in a void. It is uttered in a particular context made up of circumstances and events. I am profoundly moved by the ecclesial events of these past few days. It would seem that the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Solemn Opening of the Jubilee of Lourdes have released a torrent of graces in the Church. Our Lord respects, of course, our freedom. Torrents of graces can indeed pass over us, leaving us untouched and unchanged. There is a risk involved in saying, “yes” to a particular promise or grace and, sadly, there are many souls who, out of lukewarmness, or fear, or self-interest, or inertia, simply refuse the risk.

Whatsoever Things Were Written

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Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3: 1-12

The Comfort of the Scriptures

Today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans is, every year in the classic Roman Rite, the Epistle of the Second Sunday of Advent. As such, it also recurs in the classic Divine Office as the Chapter at Vespers, Lauds, Tierce, Sext, and None. Last evening when I stood in my little domestic oratory to chant First Vespers of the Second Sunday of Advent, I was very nearly swept off my feet by the beauty and power of the Chapter:

Brethren, whatsoever things were written were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom 14:4).

Read the Encyclical

“That we might have hope.” Immediately my mind went to the Encyclical Letter of our Holy Father, Spe Salvi. I hope that by now you have all read the Encyclical at least once. If not, what in the world are you waiting for? You have received a letter from your Father, from the Father of all Christ’s faithful? When one receives a letter from one’s father, one doesn’t leave it in a drawer or on a shelf. One opens the envelope with a trembling hand and rapid heartbeat. One cannot wait to read what Papa has written. It is inconceivable that the children of the Church should receive the Holy Father’s Encyclical Letter with indifference, that one should content oneself with a glance at the headlines or with a superficial summary written, more often than not, from a highly subjective perspective.

The Flower of the Root of Jesse

Back to the Second Reading. I see it as the centerpiece of an Advent triptych. In the first panel we contemplate the magnificent artistry of the Prophet Isaiah. I say, “contemplate,” and not, “hear,” because Isaiah presents us with images, with a vibrant tableau of the Kingdom of God restored and renewed in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the flower rising up from the root of Jesse. Look at Him as John the Baptist saw Him at His Baptism in the Jordan: the love of the Father shines on His Holy Face, the Holy Spirit hovers over His noble head in the form of a snow white dove. A sevenfold anointing rests upon Him, drenching His Head and His entire Body in wisdom and in understanding, in counsel, and in fortitude, in knowledge, and godliness, and fear of the Lord.

More on the Immaculate Conception

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First Vespers

Last evening, as I opened my antiphonal to begin the First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was stunned, all over again, by the beauty of the antiphons that the Church places in our mouths to sing of this mystery. I had just come in from the snowy cold. A layer of pure whiteness was resting ever so lightly on the trees, on the housetops, and on the ground.

All Lovely

And then, I took a breath, and said what the Church wanted me to say. Her words, not mine. Words inspired by the Holy Spirit, words crafted by the Church, coming to the help of all of us who know not how to pray as we ought.

Tota pulchra es Maria, et macula originalis non est in te.

Thou art all fair, O Mary,
there is no spot of original sin in thee (Ct 4, 7).

Tota pulchra: all fair, all lovely, all beautiful or, to use the words of the Angel Gabriel in today’s Gospel, gratia plena, full of grace. In Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot,” one of his characters comments on the portrait of a woman named Nastassya Filippovna, saying, “One could turn the world upside down with beauty like that.” The beauty of the Immaculate Conception does not turn the world upside down; it is more radical than that. It is the beginning of a new world. It is the beauty of a new genesis, of paradise reinvented in a little girl conceived, as Bernanos put it, “younger than sin.”

The Heartbeat of Hope

This is the key to understanding today’s Lesson from Genesis (3: 9-15, 20). Immaculate beauty crushes the head of the ancient serpent. The human race receives in the person of the Immaculate Conception a new “mother of all the living.” The heartbeat of hope begins its rhythm in the womb of Saint Anne. Nothing will ever again be the same.

The Jubilee of Lourdes

The second antiphon describes Mary as she appeared to Bernadette 150 years ago, in the grotto overlooking the Gave River:

Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.

Thy raiment is white as snow, and thy countenance as the sun (Ct 1:3, 4).

Today the Church enters into the Jubilee Year of Lourdes. It was 150 years that the young woman robed in white, with her countenance indescribably radiant, said to Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Church intends to mark this Jubilee Year in a number of ways. The Holy Father announced the gift of a Plenary Indulgence. It is granted not only to those who will go on pilgrimage to Lourdes this year, but also to all those who will pray before a blessed image of Our Lady of Lourdes solemnly exposed to public veneration between February 2nd and February 11th, 2008.

Mary, Younger Than Sin

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Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Genesis 3: 9-15, 20
Ephesis 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

Back to Creation’s Dawn

The mystery we celebrate today takes us back to creation’s dawn, to a moment of pure beauty in which all things, untouched by sin, sang the glory of God, praising in a perfect harmony. The nostalgia of it still haunts the human heart. Every human experience knows moments—as fleeting as they are precious—in which we seem to perceive something of heaven shining through the things of earth, glimpses and bits of another time and of another place.

The Nostalgia of Paradise

The nostalgia of paradise is painful and sweet: a longing for something remembered, strains of a symphony heard long ago and not quite forgotten. There are moments of silence in which it seems to come back to us: in a child’s laugh, in a fragrance, in the proustian palate’s recognition of an unmistakable taste. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

A Royal Couple Clothed in Glory

Presiding over this cosmic liturgy, and fully themselves at its heart, were man and woman fully alive, a royal couple clothed in grace and glory, vested in light as in a robe. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them“ (Gen 1:27). God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man (Gen 2:21) and, from his side, drew a helper fit for him,“bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh” (Gen 2:23), and she was called woman. “The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25) for they were clothed in garments woven by the hand of God.

Original Sin

Then, tempted and deceived by the serpent, the most subtle of all God’s creatures (Gen 3:1), they rebelled against the Author of Life, using the gift against the Giver. They grasped what they were created to offer. They pulled down what they were to lift up and, immediately, they were cast into confusion. The order of the world was shaken. All created things were wrenched out of harmony. Heavy darkness fell upon them. The symphony of praise and glory was silenced with the silence of death, cold and empty. Closed to the joy-giving beauty of God, their eyes opened in horror to sin’s harsh and stony grimace. “And they knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:7), stripped of grace and of glory, exposed to the elements, vulnerable to evil, to sickness, suffering and death. “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gen 3:7): a futile attempt to cover with human artifice the devastating shame of sin.


One of my heavenly friends — in some way, I might even consider him a spiritual father of mine - is the Benedictine Dom Eugène Vandeur (1875-1967). One of my dreams is one day to facilitate the re-edition of some of Father Vandeur's works. Father Vandeur wrote extensively, passionately, and beautifully on the Blessed Virgin Mary. His point of departure was always a text of Holy Scripture or of the Sacred Liturgy; then he would allow his pen (and his soul to take flight) in what he called his elevations. His message remained simple and accessible, even as he probed the hidden and deep things of God and of the Kingdom. Here is a page of Dom Vandeur that I think suitable for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:

If it is possible for you, never neglect to say your beads every day,
and if you find time, even the whole fifteen decades.

Be not afraid of distractions, provided you are willing to struggle against them.
Our heavenly Mother understands so well our weakness, our tired feelings, our weariness at times.
Hail Mary's multiplied never displease her.
She appreciates your murmurings of faith, hope, and love.
Do your best. But, never give up your beads.
To carry them on your person . . . is that not as if you were saying them all day, all night secretly?
Keep them, at times, especially in time of trial, in the hollow of your hand. That is to clasp Mary's hand.

To conclude, keep this in mind, at least:
do not neglect to say three Hail Mary's morning and night to Mary, Mother of God and your Mother, to thank the Most Blessed Trinity for having given us her.

We can report marvelous results from faithfulness to that practice, among those who suffer, who labor, who undergo pain of any kind,
in body, in soul, in the midst of cares, to safeguard their interests for time and eternity.

When we love someone, we cease not to remind him of our love, and always we love him more.
In saying Hail Mary, you will never disappoint your heart, and above all the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
She is your Mother . . . Does not that say it all?
Amen! So be it! Yes, altogether, right, sweet, and good that it be so.

(Hail Mary, by Dom Eugène Vandeur, translated by John H. Collins, S.J., The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1954)

Stirring Up the Power of God

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Friday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 29: 17-24
Psalm 26: 1, 4, 13-14
Matthew 9:27-31

Stir Up

Today’s Collect, addressed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, is one of a whole series of advent prayers that begin with the word, Excita — which means “Stir up.” There is an English folk tradition that associates preparing the Christmas pudding with these prayers because the pudding has to be stirred up. But the Collect is not about stirring up pudding; it is about asking God to stir up his strength. Today’s Collect is used in the classic Roman Rite on the First Sunday of Advent. In the Missal of 1970 it is found on the First Friday of Advent.

John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute, translates today’s Collect this way:


Stir up, O Lord, we pray Thee, Thy strength,
and come among us,
that whereas through our sins and wickedness
we do justly apprehend Thy wrathful judgments hanging over us,
Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us.

Say It Again

In the classical Roman Rite this same Collect is repeated every day of the First Week of Advent, not once a day, but eight times a day, that is to say, at the Canonical Hours and at Holy Mass. According to my calculations, that means 38 times. What does this tell us about the liturgical pedagogy of the Church? The Church, a wise mother and accomplished teacher, understands the value of rhythm and repetition.


For the third time this week the Collect speaks of sin. On Tuesday we prayed to be “untainted by the contagion of our old ways.” Yesterday we prayed that God’s bountiful grace and mercy would hasten “that which our sins impede.” Today we describe ourselves as “ever-threatened by the peril of our sins.”

The liturgy is clear-sighted and realistic. The prayer of the Church does not sidestep the evil of sin; it exposes it, names it, and brings it to God. “Thou hast set our misdeeds before Thee,” says the psalmist, “and our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance” (Ps 89:8). In a culture that looks at many sins softly, that teaches us to make excuses for our sins and to explain them away, the directness of today’s Collect delivers a salutary shock.

Our Lord to a Priest

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Ici en ma présence, je te comblerai, pas seulement pour toi-même, mais aussi pour tous ceux à qui tu auras à transmettre mes messages d’amour et de miséricorde. Je veux aussi que tu leur parles de ma solitude au tabernacle. Certains esprits forts en riront. Ils oublient que je ne suis pas là comme un objet inanimé. C’est mon Cœur qui vous attend au tabernacle ; c’est mon regard qui, depuis le tabernacle, se pose, plein de tendresse, sur ceux qui s’en approchent. Je n’y suis pas pour moi-même. J’y suis pour vous nourrir et pour vous combler des joies de ma présence. Je suis Celui qui comprend la solitude de tout homme, surtout celle de mes prêtres. Je veux partager leur solitude pour qu’ils ne soient pas seuls avec eux-mêmes, mais seuls avec moi. Là je leur parlerai au cœur comme je te parle. Je brûle d’être pour chacun de mes prêtres l’Ami qu’ils cherchent, l’Ami avec qui ils pourront tout partager, l’Ami à qui ils pourront tout dire, l’Ami qui pleurera sur leurs péchés sans, pour un moment, cesser de les aimer.

Here in my presence, I will fill you full, not only for yourself, but also for all those to whom you will have to transmit my messages of love and of mercy. I also want you to speak to them of my loneliness in the tabernacle. Certain "sophisticated" spirits will laugh at that. They forget that I am not there like an inanimate object. It is my Heart that waits for you in the tabernacle; it is my gaze that, from the tabernacle, poses itself, full of tenderness, on those who draw near to it. I am not there for myself. I am there to feed you and to fill you with the joys of my presence. I am the One who understands the loneliness of every man, and especially that of my priests. I want to share their solitude so that they will no longer be alone with themselves, but alone with Me. There I will speak to their hearts as I speak to you. I burn to be for each one of priests the Friend whom they seek., the Friend with whom they can share everything, the Friend to whom they can tell everything, the Friend who will weep over their sins without, even for a moment, ceasing to love them.

C’est dans l’Eucharistie que je les attends comme médecin et remède. S’ils sont malades dans leur corps ou dans leur âme, qu’ils viennent me trouver et je les guérirai des maux qui les affligent.

It is in the Eucharist that I wait for them as physician and remedy. If they are sick in their bodies, or in their soul, let them seek me out and I will heal the ills that afflict them.

Beaucoup de prêtres n’ont pas une foi réelle et pratique en ma présence Eucharistique. Ne savent-ils pas que l’Eucharistie renferme pour eux tous les mérites de ma Passion ? Qu’ils retrouvent la foi de leur enfance. Qu’ils viennent me trouver là où je les attends et moi, j’opérerai en eux des merveilles de grâce et de sainteté.

Many priests do not have a real and practical faith in my Eucharistic presence. Do they not know that the Eucharist contains for them all the merits of my Passion? Let them recover the faith of their childhood. Let them come to Me where I wait for them and I will work wonders of grace and of holiness in them.

Ce que je veux surtout, c’est que mes prêtres soient saints, et pour cela je leur offre ma présence dans l’Eucharistie. Oui, c’est le grand secret de la sainteté sacerdotale. Il faut que tu le leur dises, il faut que tu répètes ce que je te dis pour que les âmes en soient réconfortées et stimulées à chercher la sainteté. Mon Cœur a soif de l’amour des saints. À ceux qui viennent à moi, je donnerai et l’amour et la sainteté. Et mon Père en sera glorifié. Et cela se fera par l’action intime de mon Esprit. Là où je suis dans le Sacrement de mon Amour se trouve aussi l’Esprit du Père et du Fils. C’est par l’Esprit Saint que ma présence Eucharistique est ma présence glorieuse au Père dans le ciel, et c’est par l’Esprit Saint que ma présence Eucharistique rejoint les âmes qui l’adorent pour les unir à moi, et les porte jusque devant la Face de mon Père.

What I want above all is that my priests be saints, and for that I offer them my presence in the Eucharist. Yes, this is the great secret of priestly holiness. You must tell them this, you must repeat what I say to you so that souls may be comforted and stimulated to seek holiness. My Heart thirsts for the love of saints. To those who come to Me I will give both love and holiness. And my Father will be glorified by this. And this will happen by the intimate action of my Spirit. There where I am present in the Sacrament of my Love, the Spirit of the Father and the Son is also present. It is by the Holy Spirit that my Eucharistic presence reaches the souls who adore it to unite them to me, and carries them even before the Face of my Father.

Lest We Faint in the Way

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First Wednesday of Advent

Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 22: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Matthew 15:29-37

The Eucharist

The liturgy of the Wednesday of the First Week of Advent is entirely illumined by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Even before the readings, the Church alludes to the mystery of the Eucharist in the Collect. We pray that, “at the coming of Christ . . . we may be found worthy of the banquet of eternal life, and ready to receive the food of heaven from His hand.” This refers not only to the “hidden manna” (Ap 2:17) of heaven, but also to the Bread of Life given us from the altar by the hand of the priest who, in feeding us, is an icon of Christ “nourishing and cherishing” (Eph 5:29) His Body the Church.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

In the First Lesson Isaiah prophesies that the day will come when God Himself will be “a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress; a refuge from the whirlwind, a shadow from the heat” (Is 25:4). And on that day “the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people . . . a feast of fat things, a feast of wine” (Is 25:6). In the Responsorial Psalm, the Lord “prepares a table” (Ps 22:5), opening to us the hospitality of His house “unto length of days” (Ps 22:6).

Lest They Faint in the Way

Thus prepared by the Collect, the First Lesson, and the Responsorial Psalm, in the Gospel we encounter Our Lord moved by compassion on the multitudes. The words He spoke then for those people, He speaks today for us: “I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (Mt 15:32). For us there is a greater mystery than the multiplication of loaves and fishes, for to us He gives His adorable Body as food and His precious Blood as drink.

The Eucharistic Advent of Christ

Mother Church wants us to grasp that every celebration of Holy Mass is an advent of the Lord. He who came in the lowliness of our flesh, born of the Virgin, the Same who will come in great glory at the end of time upon the clouds of heaven, comes to us sacramentally in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic advent of Christ is in every way as real as was His advent in the flesh, and as real as His advent in majesty will be.


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Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Luke 10:21-24

Today’s Saints

We celebrate the Holy Mysteries today in the company of Saint Barbara, virgin and martyr enlightened by the brightness of the Three Divine Persons — which is why she is represented holding a tower pierced by three windows, and of Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Rightness of Making and Venerating Sacred Images. Today’s two saints and, indeed, all the saints, are witnesses to the hope that does not disappoint.

Familiar With the Saints and With Their Stories

Attentive readers of Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope, are struck by the importance he gives to the witness of the saints. This is characteristic of Catholic theology. It is a theology that springs out of the experience of God and stimulates one to seek His Face. It is a theology springing out of holiness and bearing the fruits of holiness. Consider just this: the Holy Father presents the life experience of Sudanese Saint Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, as an authoritative illustration of what hope means. Pope Benedict XVI is one of the great theological minds of our age, precisely because he is familiar with the saints, with their stories, and with their experience.

The Collect

Today’s Collect comes from the rotulus or scroll of Ravenna and, according to some scholars, could date from as early as the fifth century. It too bears witness to the experience of the saints of every age:

Lord God,
be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your strong and tender love;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now, by the contagion of our old ways.


The prayer makes two requests of God. The first is, “be gracious to our supplications and in tribulation, grant us we pray the help of your pietas, your strong and tender love.” The tone of the prayer is humble and full of confidence. We ask God to be gracious to our supplications. Supplication comes from the Latin verb supplico, meaning to kneel down or to bend low. We approach God humbly, making ourselves close to the dust of the earth from which we were created (cf. Gen 2:7).

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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I posted this homily last year, but decided to offer it anew this Advent. Both Dom Vital Léhodey and Mère Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus continue to play a significant role in my own spiritual journey, and both were disciples of the Infant Christ.


Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21-24

Grace Upon Grace

Saint John, in his Prologue, declares us that we have all received of the fullness of the Word made flesh, “and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). The prophet Isaiah tells us today just what this fullness of grace is: “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2-3). There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven graces, or seven “spirits” as the prophet calls them. The number seven, as you know, signifies a superabundant fullness. It is of this fullness that “we have all received, and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

The Same Spirit

All who belong to Christ are given a share in the Spirit of Christ. As the psalmist says, the anointing of the Head runs down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, and reaches even to the hem of his garment (cf. Ps 132:2). Saint Paul says, “Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another, faith in the same Spirit; to another the grace of healing . . . but all of these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will” (1 Cor 12:4-11).


The Order of Holiness

Isaiah goes on to describe the effects of this anointing with the Spirit of the Lord. A new order appears: one characterized by justice, by equity for the meek of the earth, and by fidelity. In a word, the new order is the order of holiness: participation in the very life of God. What are the signs of this new order? “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together” (Is 11:6). (This is an apt description of most monasteries.)

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

A monastery is the cohabitation of wolves with lambs, of leopards with kids, of calves with lions and sheep. The most important piece of the prophecy, however, is the last phrase: “and a little child shall lead them” (Is 11:6). Who is this Child? The psalm describes Him for us. This little Child “shall deliver the poor from the mighty: and the needy that had no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy: and he shall save the souls of the poor” (Ps 71:12-13).

Yea, Father

Are we willing to be led by the Child? The Child is misunderstood by all, save by other children. Listen to the prayer of the Child in the Gospel: “In that hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost, and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and Thou hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight” (Lk 10:21).


Dom Vital Léhodey (1847-1948)

I cannot help but recall two figures radiant with holiness who allowed themselves to be led by the Child. The first who comes to mind is a great Trappist monk of the last century. Dom Vital Léhodey was the abbot of Bricquebec during the tumultuous period of the expulsions of religious from France. He was, at the same time, charged with the economic affairs of several other monasteries and with a foundation in Japan. He was obliged to be an astute business man; he traveled extensively and, all the while, found the time and energy to write books that have become spiritual classics: The Ways of Mental Prayer and Holy Abandonment. What was Dom Léhodey’s secret? This very capable man, even in the eyes of the world, was utterly smitten by the Child Jesus, becoming tender and docile and wholly abandoned to Him. Read his biography if you can find it. The Child Jesus was his life. A Little Child led Dom Vital; the same little Child who led Saint Thérèse along the path of littleness and confidence.

Spes Nostra

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Monday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 4:2-6
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5, 6-7), 8-9 (R. 1)
Matthew 8:5-11

Isaiah’s Gift

Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope can be read as a commentary on the readings given us in the Advent liturgy. In fact, given the timing of the publication of the Encyclical and his own sensitivity to the liturgy, I rather suspect that the Holy Father had just that in mind. The particular gift of the prophet Isaiah is to instill hope into hearts burdened by fear and discouraged by the desolation that seems to surround them on every side. Isaiah’s gift was not for the Jews of the eighth and seventh centuries before Christ alone. Were that the case, the reading of Isaiah in our liturgical assemblies today would be an exercise in literature with no real bearing on our lives here and now. Isaiah’s prophetic gift is for all generations.

God Speaking Here and Now

When the Church reads Isaiah, she receives his message in all its immediacy and freshness for today. This is why we say Deo gratias — Thanks be to God — at the end of a liturgical reading: not because God spoke through His prophet once upon a time, but because God is speaking to us here and now.

The Promises of Christ

What causes hope to spring up in a heart? What makes me hope? What makes you hope? A word of promise. A promise made by one faithful enough and powerful enough to keep it. In a sense, we live in hope because of the promises that have been made to us. Is this not why the Church has us so often pray, “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”? What makes us worthy of the promises of Christ? The hope that we place in them.

The Act of Hope

When I was a schoolboy we used to say the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity every day upon our return to class after the noonday break. The Act of Hope made an explicit reference to the promises of God: “I hope . . . because Thou didst promise it.” What are the promises of God to us in today’s First Lesson from the fourth chapter of Isaiah?

Conditor Alme Siderum

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"At the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free."

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

This is my homespun translation of Conditor Alme Siderum. When Advent rolls round and I sing this hymn in Latin or in English translation, I see in my mind's eye Van Gogh's Starry Night. In the little church with the tall steeple at the bottom of the painting there must be a lingering scent of incense. Advent Vespers will have been sung. The Creator of the Starry Night is glorified.

O Light unconquered, Source of Light,
Whose radiance kindles stars and sun,
Shine tenderly on us this night;
Creation groans until you come.

Immense your grief to see our plight:
When sin had shrouded all, you came.
True Dayspring bursting death’s dark bands,
Emmanuel, your saving name!

Night weighed upon a weary world
When silently you pitched your tent,
Enclosed within the Virgin’s womb
True man, true God from heaven sent.

So to the darkened world in need,
Eternal Word, you came as man.
You came as Bridegroom, swift and strong,
To claim the prize the course you ran.

Until your glory fills the skies,
Until the stars in welcome sing,
Until you judge both small and great,
From sin, protect us, Sovereign King.

To God the Father, God the Son,
To God the Spirit ever be
Glad songs of praise throughout the night
While faith adores the mystery. Amen.

Ad Te Levavi and Spe Salvi

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An Introit and an Encyclical

There is an immense hope in the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, making it perfectly consonant with Spe Salvi, the Encyclical given us by Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of Saint Andrew. Today’s Introit, Ad te levavi, is a great sweep upward and away from all that would hold bound our hope. The Introit, resonating with Spe Salvi, sets the tone, not only for this the first Mass of Advent, but also for the rest of the Advent season and, indeed, for the whole new liturgical year. “To you, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1) or, as Ronald Knox translated it, “All my heart goes out to my God.”

Breaking Down the Encyclical

As I prayed over it early this morning, the Holy Father’s Encyclical became for me a theological commentary on the implications of today’s Introit and, indeed, on all the liturgy of Advent. Fortified by several cups of strong coffee, I attempted to condense Spe Salvi into 52 propositions or, if you will, subtitles. I share them as a way of inviting you to take the Encyclical in hand, and to study it, meditate it, pray it, and be changed by it during this Advent Season.

Own It and Read It

The Encyclical has 50 articles. There are 24 days in Advent this year. Here is your Advent program: 2 articles of the Encyclical each day, and on one day of your choice, 3. Every Catholic should have his own copy of the Encyclical. Don’t be cheap. Don’t be stingy. Buy the text of the Encyclical or download a copy off the Internet and then make photocopies. One copy of the Encyclical cost less than the daily newspaper. Looking for an Advent penance? Give up reading the newspaper — or cut down your online time — during Advent and study Spe Salvi instead. It will be salutary for your soul.

La croix du coq

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I took this dramatic photo of the cross against a bleak November sky in the village of Saint Maurice d'Orient (Aveyron). The cross bears the instruments of the Passion and is surmounted by Saint Peter's rooster. It was, at one time, common in rural France to erect crosses to commemorate parish missions. Ad te levavi animam meam, Deus meus!

The encounter with Him [Christ Judge and Saviour] is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion.

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

First Sunday of Advent

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Entrance Antiphon

Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed. V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths (Ps 24:1-4).

Act of Penitence

In the words of the psalmist, the longing of every human heart finds expression. “All my heart goes out to you, O my God, in you I trust” (Ps 24:1).

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth (Ps 79:1).
Kyrie, eleison.

Stir up your might, and come to save us (Ps 79:2).
Christe, eleison.

Give us life, and we will call upon your name (Ps 79:18).
Kyrie, eleison.


Almighty God,
grant to your faithful, we beseech you,
the will to go forth with works of justice
to greet your Christ at his coming,
that they, being found worthy of the kingdom of heaven,
may be given a place at his right hand.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Jubilee of Lourdes

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December 8, 2007 marks the opening of the Jubilee Year of Lourdes: 150 years after the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, to Saint Bernadette. Be sure to look at the official Lourdes website for further information on this moment of grace for the whole Church. Especially interesting (and inviting!) is the request for priests to hear confessions and for volunteer medical personnel. Lisa, are you thinking what I am thinking?

He Who Prays Learns Hope

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A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude, if I pray I am never totally alone.

The late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, a prisoner for thirteen years, nine of them spent in solitary confinement, has left us a precious little book: Prayers of Hope. During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Spes Nostra, Salve!

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The Holy Father's Encyclical Spe Salvi ends in a splendid prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Spes Nostra, Our Hope. One of the high points of my recent travels in France was a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de la Sainte Espérance at Le Mesnil Saint-Loup, founded by the Benedictine Père Emmanuel André in 1864. In response to a sermon preached by Père Emmanuel, his parishioners spontaneously cried out, "Notre Dame de la Sainte Esperance, convertissez-nous! Our Lady of Holy Hope, convert us!" The entire parish was converted to hope, becoming a beacon of Christianity and of full, conscious, and actual participation in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

Mary, Star of Hope

49. With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella. Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

Humble and Great Souls of Israel

50. So we cry to her: Holy Mary, you belonged to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, “for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Your life was thoroughly imbued with the sacred scriptures of Israel which spoke of hope, of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Lk 1:55). In this way we can appreciate the holy fear that overcame you when the angel of the Lord appeared to you and told you that you would give birth to the One who was the hope of Israel, the One awaited by the world. Through you, through your “yes”, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).


With the Hope of the World in Your Womb

When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history. But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendour who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable. The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk 2:35), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world.

The Hour of the Cross

Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus's ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26).

Did Hope Die?

From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary!” (Lk 1:30). How many times had the Lord, your Son, said the same thing to his disciples: do not be afraid! In your heart, you heard this word again during the night of Golgotha. Before the hour of his betrayal he had said to his disciples: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “Do not be afraid, Mary!” In that hour at Nazareth the angel had also said to you: “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:33). Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus's own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning.

Mother of Hope, Star of the Sea

The joy of the Resurrection touched your heart and united you in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. In this way you were in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of Pentecost. The “Kingdom” of Jesus was not as might have been imagined. It began in that hour, and of this “Kingdom” there will be no end. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 30 November, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, in the year 2007, the third of my Pontificate.


About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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