Homilies: December 2012 Archives

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Back to Creation’s Dawn

The mystery we celebrate on the feast of the Immaculate Conception 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 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 for their priesthood 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 of light 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.

Hiding for Shame

"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden" (Gen 3:8) and shuddered. In their shame and nakedness, they "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8). Of trees, once transparent to the shimmering glory of God, Adam and Eve made a screen behind which they sought to conceal their shame, and avoid the grieving Creator's gaze of pity and of love. This is, of course, the most fundamental misuse of creatures. The very things created by God to lead us to Himself become, as a result of sin, the means by which we attempt to flee from God. This is the refusal of the sacramental, the denial of the iconic, the choice of the opaque over the transparent.

Adam, Where Are You?

In the stunned silence of death that followed the original sin, the Voice of Life was heard. "The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'" (Gen 3:9). God asked the question not because the man was, in any way, hidden from His sight, but rather, to disclose to man his alienation from himself. "Do you know where you are? You who were created in my image and likeness, you are lost in the land of unlikeness. You who were my prince, set over all of my creation; you who were my priest, presiding over the liturgy of my glory; where I am, you are not. Behold, the splendour of my creation has become oppressive and obscure. The things by which you knew me have become strange and unfamiliar. The things by which you praised me have fallen silent. Where I wanted songs of praise, there are but tears and laments. Where I planted a garden, there are thorns and thistles. Where happiness abounded, there is toil and sweat."

The Promise

Is there no hope in this devastated landscape? Is there no promise of redemption? An infinitely pitiful God, grieving over the work of his hands, promises to undo in his love what Eve and Adam had wrought in their sin. He promises salvation. He promises victory over the serpent and that victory, He links to the woman. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed" (Gen 3:15). A woman's innocence shall undo the serpent's cunning; the seed of the woman shall become the fruit of everlasting life.

The New Eve, Full of Grace

The searching question of a grieving God in a paradise lost, "Where are you?" echoed and re-echoed down through the ages, until at last, in the heart of a child, a new Eve, full of grace, it found a response. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38). The new Eve, exposed to the searching gaze of the Creator, was found spotless and lovely in his sight, and this, in advance, by virtue of the "yes" of the new Adam, a "yes" uttered from the tree of the Cross in night's darkest hour.

The New Adam

The response of the new Eve was made possible by that of the new Adam. Naked, like the first Adam, no longer hiding among the trees of the garden, but lifted high upon the tree of the Cross, the new Adam utters, in the Holy Spirit, the response so long awaited by the Father: "Father, into thy hands, I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

The Immaculate Conception

In the unfathomable richness of the response uttered by the new Adam from the Tree of Life, is found every response to love, every surrender to grace, every "yes" to life, every new beginning in beauty and in innocence, and in hope. Thus was Mary, from the first moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne, her mother, clothed in the splendour of a vesture surpassing that of the first Eve in the beginning.

The Work of Mary in Every Age

The hidden but real work of Mary in every age, in every situation, in every human heart, is to weave, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, garments of grace and of glory for all her children. Mary's joy is to lead the procession of the great return to paradise, singing as she goes, "Well may I rejoice in the Lord, well may this heart triumph in my God. The deliverance he sends is like a garment that wraps me about, his mercy like a cloak enfolding me. I am like a bride resplendent with jewels" (Is 61:10, Introit). We, children of the first Eve, baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, come to the Most Holy Eucharist clothed, like our mother, the new Eve, the All-Holy, in wedding garments bestowed from above.

The Eucharistic Order Restored

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the efficacious presence, here and now, of the "Yes" uttered once and for all from the tree of the Cross. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we recover what was lost by sin. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, all created things are restored to order. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the beauty of holiness begins to permeate and suffuse the old order of the things with the undying splendour of the new. The liturgy interrupted by the serpent's hiss is here re-intoned by the voice of a child immaculate, the Virgin Mary full of grace, and by the voices of all who are still enough to hear her intonation.

All Things Made New

Might this be the uniqueness of today's Holy Mass: thanksgiving for the bright garments of Baptism, thanksgiving for the triumph of beauty over the blight of sin, thanksgiving for the "Yes" of the New Adam from the tree of the Cross and for the "Yes" of the New Eve? This is every Holy Mass: our "Yes," uttered in the Holy Spirit, and joined to theirs. As we wait for every tear to be wiped away, as we wait for the end of death and the passing away of former things (Rev 21:4), we are faithful to the "breaking of the Bread" (Ac 2:42) for without it we cannot go on, and by it we ascend, already, to him who says, "Behold, I make all things new" (Apoc 21:5).

Ad te levavi animam meam

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All my heart goes out to thee;
my God, I trust in thee, do not belie my trust.
Let not my enemies boast of my downfall.
Who ever waited for thy help,
and waited in vain?
V. Lord, let me know thy ways,
teach me thy paths (Ps 24:1-3).

A Going Forth

Ad te levavi animam meam; Deus meus, in te confido (Ps 24:1). On this First Sunday of Advent, the Church intones Psalm 24. She clothes it in a melody that carries the text, and us with it, upward and outward into the mystery of the God who comes. This is more than the Introit of today's Mass; it is the chant by which the Church crosses the threshold into Advent; it is the chant by which the Church begins a new Year of Grace. Ronald Knox translates it for us: "All my heart goes out to thee, my God, I trust in thee, do not belie my trust" (Ps 24:1-3). How are we to hear this Advent psalm? How are we to sing it? How are we to repeat it and hold it in our hearts until, at length, it becomes our own prayer, a movement of the soul upward and outward, a going forth with nothing to hold us back?

Called by God

The very meaning of the word ekklésia is called together, or assembled. The Church is conscious of being called together by God. She does not assemble herself; she is assembled by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Ghost. The Church seeks a response worthy of the call she has heard. He who calls gives in the call the only response worthy of him. With the call God gives the response. Always.

Vox Christi

And so the Church, opening the Psalter and bending her ear to Psalm 24, recognizes in it the voice of Christ, her Bridegroom and Head. Just as the call is given through Christ, so too is the response. It is Christ, the Cantor of the Father, as Saint Gertrude called Him, who intones our psalm today. In his mouth the first two words have a fullness that is unparalleled and divine: Ad te. Two words that express the whole mystery of Christ from the moment of his Incarnation in the Virgin's womb until his Ascension to the Father's right hand. "Toward Thee, Father!"

Everything in Christ is toward the Father. And so, before singing her own song, the Church listens to what Christ sings. Before finding her own Advent voice, she holds herself silent and still to hear the voice of Christ.

What the Gospel of Saint John gives us, from the Prologue to the last page, is given us here in a single line: the response of the Son to the Father. It is as if the whole Johannine conversation of Christ with the Father is condensed for us in this cry of the psalmist. Is this not the essential movement of the Son facing the Father from all eternity? It is more than an act of surrender. I hear in it a kind of leap into the arms of the Father: "All my heart goes out to thee."

Vox Mariae Virginis

There is a second way of hearing today's Introit. The stational church in Rome for the First Sunday of Advent is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the oldest temple in Christendom dedicated to the Mother of God. By singing this particular psalm in this particular place the Church is suggesting that we are to hear the voice of the Virgin Mary in it. Everything in Our Blessed Lady is in readiness for the advent of God. The Mother of God, Our Lady of Advent, prays and teaches us to pray, "All my heart goes out to thee, O God" (Ps 24:1). The second part of the verse is equally important. "Of those who wait for thee, not one is disappointed" (Ps 24:3). The Virgin Mary teaches us to pray Psalm 24 as she prayed it; by teaching us to pray with her, she becomes the Mother of our Hope.

Vox Ecclesiae

Having listened in Psalm 24 to the voice of Christ addressing the Father and to the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary raised in song to the God of Israel, the Church finds her own response to the one who calls her. "All my heart goes out to thee. . . . I trust in thee" (Ps 24:1-2a).

The text is, first of all, addressed to the Father with the Son, but it becomes in the heart and in the mouth of the Church a cry addressed to the Son, and a longing for his second coming. "To thee, Lord Christ, I lift up my soul" is the response of the Church to the One who, on the last page of the Apocalypse, says, ";Surely, I am coming soon." "To thee, I lift up my soul" (Ps 24:1), answers the Church. "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Apoc 22:20).

Vox Animae

The sacred liturgy invites us to a third way of hearing and praying Psalm 24. It has to become my prayer and yours. The psalm heard first in the mouth of the Eternal Son, the psalm that comes to flower on the lips of the Immaculate Virgin of Nazareth to be taken up by the Church, finds its echo in the heart of each of us.

Practically speaking, if we sing the Introit given us today but once, it will be for us like "the seed sown on rocky ground" (Mt 13:20). It will have no root in us and will bear no fruit. The sacred liturgy gives us the words of Psalm 24 to be repeated, not only ritually during this first week of Advent, but interiorly, secretly, perseveringly. Make Psalm 24 your own prayer during this first week of Advent. "All my heart goes out to thee, O God" (Ps 24:1). Let it come to rest deep within. Hold it there. Repeat it. Sing it to yourself. Let it become for you a kind of sacrament carrying you upward and outward into the mystery of the God who comes. You will not be disappointed.

Sursum Corda

One more thing. This Introit of the first Mass of the new liturgical year casts all things in a Eucharistic light. From the beginning of the third century, the Great Thanksgiving has opened with the cry of the priest: Hearts on high! The Latin is compelling and succint: Sursum corda! Hearts on high!

Already, the Introit launched the upward movement. “To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. . . . All my heart goes out to thee, O God” (Ps 24:1). To live with one's heart on high is to live always in readiness for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And to live always in readiness for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the only way to be found ready for the hour of our death, and for the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let this, then, be your prayer in the evening and at midnight, at cockcrow and in the morning: "All my heart goes out to thee, O God" (Ps 24:1-2a). You will not be disappointed.

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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