Christmastide: January 2011 Archives


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The Extraordinary Ordinary

It sometimes happen that, even on the greatest feasts, a word or phrase from the Ordinary of the Mass (the unchanging parts) seems to be illuminated from within, and so captivates the attention of one's heart. This happened to me this morning at the most unexpected moment: during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. These are prayers that, by force of repetition day in and day out, can easily be counted as somehow secondary in comparison to the richness offered by the Proper of the Mass, the chants of the day, the collect, and the other orations. And yet, the Ordinary of the Mass fully deserves to be repeated, pondered, and held in the heart.

The Finger of God's Right Hand

Many of you have had, I'm sure, a similar experience. It is as if, at a given moment, an invisible finger of fire underlines a particular word or phrase, causing it to leap off the page into one's soul. One of the liturgical titles of the Holy Ghost is Dextrae Dei Digitus, the Finger of God's Right Hand. It is, in effect, the Holy Ghost who, on various occasions, and, more often than not, in synergy with the Church's celebration of a particular liturgical feast or mystery, underscores a word, points to a gesture, or draws one's attention to a detail of the Sacred Liturgy that had gone heretofore unnoticed.

My Motto for 2011

Reciting the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, I arrived at the phrase, Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mei et Deus meus, "Hope in God, for I shall praise Him yet: the salvation of my countenance, and my God." (Psalm 42:6). In a flash I knew that this was a word given me by God to illumine my path and guide my steps in 2011.

To hope in God is not to hope for anything. The theological virtue of hope becomes operative where and when one passes from having a multiplicity of hopes to a singlehearted hope in God alone. It is easy to delude oneself into thinking that one is practicing the virtue of hope by hoping from God this or that material or spiritual good. The theological virtue of hope, on the other hand, casts us upon God alone, trusting Him to give us Himself and, with Himself, all that His perfect will holds for us.


From Hopes to Hope

Many, many years ago, on a cold rainy February day I found myself praying in front of the grotto at Lourdes in the company of a holy priest of whom I have written in other entries on this blog, le Père Croset. Although I was young, I had already experienced some bitter disappointments in life. My vocational path had been tortuous and, increasingly, was marked by twists, turns, and accidents de parcours. One hope after another had been dashed to pieces upon the rocks of the dura et aspera (the hard and rugged things, an expression from the Rule of Saint Benedict) that lead to God. Taking stock of the apparent wreckage of my vocation, I saw that all of things for which I had hoped, and in which I had hoped, had failed me. I expressed this to Père Croset, quite unprepared for the answer he gave me. "Petit frère," he said, "now is the time for you to pass from hopes to HOPE" Maintenant il te faut passer de tes espoirs à L'ESPERANCE. It is a word that I have never forgotten.

Letting Go and Going Forward in Hope

Today I find myself still bewildered by the twists and turns of my monastic journey. It has not at all been what I thought it might have been, or should have been. I am not today where I thought I would be, should be, or could be. But I am where God would have me be. I have stopped hoping for anything to complete my life, or crown my efforts, or give meaning to my journey. I have let go of many hopes, and will have to continue letting go of the new hopes that glitter on my road like so many pieces of counterfeit gold. Today, I hope in God. I want only what He wants, when He wants it, in the way that He wants it. My hope is God: His will, His perfect plan, and in the end, the the possession of Him given me out of mercy by none other than Himself.

Hope in God for God

The world judges harshly those who go forward in life, leaving behind them a trail of wrecked hopes and failures. I am learning, after so many years, to give thanks for every wrecked hope and to bless God for every failure. It is altogether too easy to glory in vain hopes and to boast of one's achievements (be they spiritual, academic, or material), and to forfeit the one hope held out by God, the hope that promises and delivers the only happiness that leaves no aftertaste of bitterness: hope in God for God. The value of achievements and possessions must be measured against "the One Thing Necessary . . . the Best Part." (Luke 10:42). Is not this why Our Lord says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"? (Matthew 5:3)

The Name of Jesus, Our Hope

The Name of Jesus is enshrined, like a jewel set in a precious setting, at the very heart of today's Gospel. Even as I look at the layout of the Gospel -- it is but a single verse -- on the page of the Evangeliary, I see that the Name of Jesus occurs precisely in the middle of text. One who receives the Name of Jesus from the Gospel, and holds it in his heart, will find that it becomes there an unfailing wellspring of hope. The Name of Jesus is an anchor of hope in the soul's secret depths, a reason -- no, the only reason -- for hoping against hope when the forces of despair marshalled by the world, the flesh, and the devil, threaten to pull one into the outer darkness of complete despondency.


Our Blessed Lady and Saint Joseph

Our Blessed Lady and in Saint Joseph demonstrate and illustrate the virtue of hope, especially in the Infancy narratives of the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke. Both of them received in secret, as it were, the adorable Name of Jesus; Our Lady from the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:31), even before she uttered her Fiat(Luke 1:38), and Saint Joseph from the Angel who came to him in a dream by night (Matthew 1:21). The Most Holy Name of Jesus held in their hearts and endlessly repeated became for both of them the fountain of hope that neither deceives nor confounds those who stake their very lives upon it.

Not only do Our Blessed Lady and Saint Joseph demonstrate and illustrate the virtue of hope; they also dispense it, in abundance, to the souls who seek their intercession. Our Lady, being the Mediatrix of All Graces is Spes Nostra, Our Hope. Where Mary is, there is hope. It is enough for a soul to seek the presence of Mary, and to pronounce her sweet name for hope to fill the terrible void of despair.

As for Saint Joseph, he graciously imparts the grace of hope to those who ask for his paternal help. Saint Joseph, having held fast to hope amidst darkness and trials, is now charged with helping, from his place in heaven, those who are tempted against this virtue that the powers of darkness so hate. With good reason does the Church invoke Saint Joseph as the "Terror of Demons," for when Saint Joseph enters a crisis to bring souls heavenly aid, he foils every diabolical plot to cast them into despair.

Into the New Year

This, then, is my motto for 2011: Spera in Deo. And the psalm goes on to say, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mei et Deus meus. "I will praise him yet: the salvation of my countenance and my God." I will go forward in hope, relying on the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God and of Saint Joseph, repeating the Name of Jesus ceaselessly in my heart.

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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