31 December 2008

The Feast of the Ministry of the Forerunner

Today, December 31st, marks the next to last day of the Nativity Octave.  Today's focus is on the ministry of John the Forerunner.  In the Office of Readings today, Bede shared with us a timeless reflection on the nature of John's ministry.

From a Homily by Bede of Jarrow.

As forerunner of our Lord’s birth, preaching and death, the blessed John showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven. In the words of Scripture: Though in the sight of men he suffered torments, his hope is full of immortality. We justly commemorate the day of his birth with a joyful celebration, a day which he himself made festive for us through his suffering and which he adorned with the crimson splendor of his own blood. We do rightly revere his memory with joyful hearts, for he stamped with the seal of martyrdom the testimony which he delivered on behalf of our Lord.

There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.

Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.

Since death was ever near at hand through the inescapable necessity of nature, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.

30 December 2008

Exciting News: New Addition to our Family

Taking a momentary break from reflections on the Nativity Octave, I'd like to invite all of our readers to say hello to Coco, the newest addition to the Lyons household.  She was born at the end of July, so she is getting ready for her 5 month mark.  She is a black lab mix (though we have no idea what the other part of her might be).  More on her later, together with a fuller story about how Coco came to be with us... but for now, a photograph will have to suffice.

The Feast of our Lord in the Temple

Just a few days to go in the Octave of Christmas, and today our Liturgy and Readings focus on the finding of our Lord in the Temple.

From a Sermon of Bernard of Clairvaux.

"The goodness and humanity of God our Savior have appeared in our midst." We thank God for the many consolations he has given us during our pilgrimage here on earth. Before the Son of God became man his goodness was hidden, for God's mercy is eternal, but how could such goodness be recognized? It was promised, but it was not experienced, and as a result few believed in it. "Often and in many ways the Lord used to speak through the prophets." Among other things, God said: "I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction." But how did men respond, thinking thoughts of affliction and knowing nothing of peace? They said: "Peace, peace, there is no peace." This response made the angels of peace weep bitterly, saying "Lord, who has believed our message?" But now men believe because they see with their own eyes, and because God's testimony has now become even more credible. He has gone so far as to "pitch his tent in the sun" so even the dimmest eyes see him. 

Notice that peace is not promised but sent to us; it is no longer deferred, it is given; peacae is not prophesied but achieved. It is as if God the Father sent upon the earth a purse full of him mercy. This purse was burst open during the Lord's passion to pour forth its hidden contents-the price of our redemption. It was only a small purse, but it was very full. As Scripture says, "A little child has been given us us, but in him dwells all the fullness of the divine nature." The fullness of time brought with it the fullness of divinity. God's Son came in the flesh so that mortal men could see and recognize God's kindness. When God reveals his humanity, his goodness cannot possibly remain hidden. To show his kindness what more could he do beyond taking my human form? My humanity, I say, not Adam's-that is, not such as he had before the fall. 

How could he have shown his mercy more clearly than by taking on himself our condition? For our sake the Word of God becamae as grass. What better proof could he have given of his love? Scripture says, "Lord, what is man that you are mindful of him; why does your heart go out to him? The incarnation teaches us how much God cares for us and what he thinks and feels about us. We shoud stop thinking of our own sufferings and remember what he has suffered. Let us think of all the Lord has done for us, and then we shall realize how his goodness apppears through his humanity. The lesser he became through his human nature the greater was his goodness; the more he lowered himself for me, the dearer he is to me. "The goodness and humanity of God our Savior have appeared" says the Apostle. 

Truly great and manifest are the goodness and humanity of God.  He has given us a most wonderful proof of his goodness by adding humanity to his own divine nature.

29 December 2008

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

With apologies for the late posting... today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and as a devotional aid, the following excerpt from today's Office of Readings is provided for your enjoyment.

From a Sermon by Quodvultdeus.

A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.

You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.

Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace, so small, yet so great, who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.

But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.

How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

28 December 2008

The Feast of the Visitation of the Magi

Today, on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Magi, one of our Lord's first manifestations to the Gentile world.

From a Sermon of Leo of Rome.

The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ.

A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.

Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judaea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.

Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, who has made us worthy, in the words of the Apostle, to share the position of the saints in light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As Isaiah prophesied: the people of the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and for those who dwelt in the region of the shadow of death a light has dawned. He spoke of them to the Lord: The Gentiles, who do not know you, will invoke you, and the peoples, who knew you not, will take refuge in you.

This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the sons born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ. Believing that he would be the father of the nations, he looked into the future, giving glory to God, in full awareness that God is able to do what he has promised.

This is the day that David prophesied in the psalms, when he said: All the nations that you have brought into being will come and fall down in adoration in your presence, Lord, and glorify your name. Again, the Lord has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.

This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognise and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.

Dear friends, you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another; then, in the kingdom of God, to which faith and good works are the way, you will shine as children of the light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

27 December 2008

The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord

Three days now into the Octave of Christmas, we recall the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem, together with the Purification of his Mother, Mary.  Traditionally, this feast was/is celebrated on February 2nd, but in our rite it is celebrated as a part of the Christmas feast, which culminates on January 1st in the celebration of the Theophany of our Lord - his Baptism.  This is done to provide a feastal time during this week that is focused on God, as opposed to the many other emphases in this time that can draw us away from the Lord.

From a Sermon of Sophronius of Jerusalem.

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows;the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor.

26 December 2008

The Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord

Today is the second day of our Nativity Octave in the Primitive Catholic rite, with a celebration of the Circumcision of our Lord.  Of course, it was on this day that the Messiah recieved his name, Jesus, the name spoken by the angel in Joseph's dream.  As a part of the feast, I share with you a selection from today's Office of Readings.

From a Sermon by Leo, Bishop of Rome.

God’s Son did not disdain to become a baby. Although with the passing of the years he moved from infancy to maturity, and although with the triumph of his passion and resurrection all the actions of humility which he undertook for us were finished, still today’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. In adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body. 
Every individual that is called has his own place, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time. Nevertheless, just as the entire body of the faithful is born in the font of baptism, crucified with Christ in his passion, raised again in his resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in his ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity.

For this is true of any believer in whatever part of the world, that once he is reborn in Christ he abandons the old paths of his original nature and passes into a new man by being reborn. He is no longer counted as part of his earthly father’s stock but among the seed of the Saviour, who became the Son of man in order that we might have the power to be the sons of God. 

For unless He came down to us in this humiliation, no one could reach his presence by any merits of his own. 
The very greatness of the gift conferred demands of us reverence worthy of its splendour. For, as the blessed Apostle teaches, We have received not the spirit of this world but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are given us by God. That Spirit can in no other way be rightly worshipped, except by offering him that which we received from him. 

But in the treasures of the Lord’s bounty what can we find so suitable to the honour of the present feast as the peace which at the Lord’s nativity was first proclaimed by the angel-choir? 
For it is that peace which brings forth the sons of God. That peace is the nurse of love and the mother of unity, the rest of the blessed and our eternal home. That peace has the special task of joining to God those whom it removes from the world.

So those who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God must offer to the Father the unanimity of peace-loving sons, and all of them, adopted parts of the mystical Body of Christ, must meet in the First-begotten of the new creation. He came to do not his own will but the will of the one who sent him; and so too the Father in his gracious favour has adopted as his heirs not those that are discordant nor those that are unlike him, but those that are one with him in feeling and in affection. Those who are re-modelled after one pattern must have a spirit like the model. 

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace: for thus says the Apostle, He is our peace, who made both one; because whether we are Jew or Gentile, through Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.

25 December 2008

The Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord

To all of the readers here at StellarCross, I wish you and yours a Merry and Joyful Christmas feast. Today, as we celebrate that day on the Church's calendar that has been traditionally associated with Christ's birth, I share with you a selection from today's Office of Readings.

From a Sermon by Leo, Bishop of Rome.

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind. And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom. Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

21 December 2008

Advent 6: The Annunciation of our Lord to Joseph

Today is the final Sunday of the Advent season, marked by the story of Joseph's encounter with an angel who announces to him the impending birth of the Messiah. In today's Office of Readings, we hear from Sermon 2 on Saint Joseph, composed by Bernadine of Siena, a Franciscian friar. In this work, Bernadine casts Joseph in a similar light with John the Forerunner - as the turning point between the Old and New Covenants of God.


From a Sermon of Bernardine of Siena.

A general rule that applies to all individual graces given to a rational creature is that whenever divine grace selects someone to receive a particular grace or elevated state, all the gifts for his state are given to that person.

This was verified in a particular way in the case of Joseph, a great and holy man, foster-father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and true husband of Mary. He was chosen by the eternal Father to be a faithful provider and guardian of the most precious treasures of God – his Son and his spouse – and Joseph carried out this task with great fidelity.

A comparison can be made between Joseph and the whole Church of Christ. Joseph was the specially chosen man through whom and under whom Christ entered the world fittingly and in an appropriate way. So, if the whole Church is in the debt of the Virgin Mary, since, through her, it was able to receive the Christ, surely after her, it also owes to Joseph a particular gratitude and reverence.

Joseph is the terminus of the Old Testament in whom the dignity of the prophets and patriarchs achieves its promised fulfillment. Moreover; he alone possessed in the flesh what God in his goodness promised to them over and again.

It is beyond doubt that Christ did not deny to Joseph in heaven that intimacy, respect, and high honor which he showed to him as to a father during his own earthly life, but rather completed and perfected it. Justifiably the words of the Lord should be applied to him, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Although it is the joy of eternal happiness that comes into the heart of man, the Lord prefers to say to him “enter into joy’ to indicate mystically that this joy is not only within him, but that it surrounds him everywhere and absorbs him, as if he were plunged into an infinite depth.

14 December 2008

Advent 5: The Ancestors of our Lord

Today is the Fifth Sunday of Advent. "Fifth Sunday, you say?" Fret not. The calendar of the Syriac Churches (and of the Ambrosian rite, as well as some other historical western rites) feature a longer Advent season.

Today's readings pose an interesting look at the nature of faith and how justification by faith through grace truly operates. We are reminded in our Lord's genealogy (from the Gospel at today's Divine Liturgy) of the many sinner-saints who stand in our Lord's worldly lineage.

In the Office of Readings today, we once again hear from Augustine of Hippo (Sermon 185) who reminds us that it is God's grace that the Ancestors of our Lord needed for salvation, just as we do as well.


From a Sermon of Augustine of Hippo.
(Sermon 185)

Awake! For your sake God has taken on our flesh. “Awake, you who sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will bring you new light.” I reiterate, for your sake, God became man!

You would have suffered eternal death if he had not been born among us in time. You would have never found freedom from sinful flesh if he had not taken upon himself our nature. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness if it had not been for his great mercy. You would never have been reborn if he had not shared your death. You would have been lost had he not come to your aid. Likewise, if he had not come, you would have perished.

So, let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption! “He has become our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption.” Thus, as it is written, “All you who glory, glory in the Lord.”

“Truth, then, has arisen from the earth”: Christ himself, who said, “I am the truth” was born of a virgin. “And righteousness looked down from heaven”: because believing in this newborn child, we are justified not by ourselves but by God.

“Truth has arisen from the earth”: because “the Word was made flesh. And righteousness looked down from heaven”: because “every good and perfect gift comes from above.”

“Truth has arisen from the earth”: flesh from Mary. “And righteousness looked down from heaven”: for “you can receive nothing unless it has been given to you from heaven.”

“Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God”: for “righteousness and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ”: for “Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory.” He does not say, “of our glory,” but “of God’s glory”: for “righteousness” has not proceeded from us but has “looked down from heaven.” Therefore let those who glory, glory not in themselves but “in the Lord.”

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angels was “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.” How could peace reign on earth unless “Truth has arisen from the earth,” that is, unless Christ was born of our flesh?

Let us rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says, “He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head.” For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the Son of Man, so that we might in turn become children and heirs of God?

Ask if this were merited.
Ask for its reason and justification.
Behold, your only answer is grace.

07 December 2008

Advent 4: The Birth of John the Forerunner

Today the Church celebrates the Fourth Sunday of Advent, which marks (in the Syriac tradition) the Birth of our Lord's Forerunner - John. Today's Office of Readings features a reading on the Forerunner, taken from Sermon 293 of Augustine of Hippo.


From a Sermon of Augustine of Hippo.

The Church observes the birth of John as in a holy event. We do not celebrate the birth of any of the other fathers, but we do celebrate the birthdays of both both John and Christ. This point cannot be passed over silently. Perhaps I may not be able to explain it in the way that such an important matter deserves, but it is still worth thinking about it a little more deeply and fruitfully than usual.

John was born of an old, barren woman; Christ was born of a youthful virgin. The news of John’s impending birth was met with incredulity, and his father is dumb-struck; Christ’s birth was believed, and he was conceived by faith.

Such is the topic, as I have presented it, for our discussion and study. I have introduced these points even if we are not capable of examining all the twists and turns of such a great mystery, either for lack of capacity or for lack of time. You will be taught much better by the Holy Spirit, the One who speaks in you even when I am not here. (It is the Spirit whom you contemplate with devotion, whom you have taken into your hearts, and whose temple you have become.)

John, it seems, has been inserted as a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. Our Lord indicates as much when he says, “The law and the prophets were until John.” Thus, John represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb. You will remember that, before he was born, at Mary’s arrival he leapt in his mother’s womb. Already he had been marked out, designated before he was born; it was already shown whose forerunner he would be, even before he saw him (with his eyes). These are divine matters, and exceed the measure of human frailty. Eventually, he is born, he receives a name, and his father’s tongue is loosed.

Zechariah is struck dumb and loses his voice, until John, the Lord’s forerunner, is born and releases his voice for him. What does Zechariah’s silence mean? The silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy laying hidden – obscured, as it were – and concealed before the preaching of Christ. At John’s arrival his voice is released, and it becomes clear when the one who was being prophesied is about to come. The releasing of Zechariah’s voice at John’s birth has the same significance as the tearing of the veil of the Temple at the crucifixion of Christ. If John were meant to proclaim himself, he would not be opening Zechariah’s mouth. The tongue is released because a voice is being born – for when John was already heralding the Lord, he was asked, “Who are you” and he replied “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

John was a voice that lasted only for a time.

Christ, who is the Word from before all time, is eternal.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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