Tag Archives: Advent

O Wisdom

Tonight, we began a more discernible and final stretch in our preparations, our keeping watch, for the Nativity of the Lord with the singing of the “O” Antiphons at Vespers. There are seven special texts –antiphons– sung at the time we sing the Magnificat. The monks and guests here at St Louis Abbey (where I am visiting until tomorrow) sang the antiphon in Latin but here it the first antiphon in English:

O Wisdom,You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, You reach from beginning to end, ordering all things mightily and sweetly: COME, and teach us the way of prudence!

For your time in Lectio I would recommend praying with the O Antiphons. Even sing them as a way of praying with the text. If you need the music go to the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Please keep in mind, that each antiphon contains one or more Old Testament type or figure; and that each allusion has a message for those of us in the New Covenant. The OT shapes, it forms and informs our understanding of the person of Jesus we come to know in the NT. Biblical typology is crucial for Christians when reading, praying and studying the sacred Scriptures.

The following commentary adapted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Fr Pius Parsch (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1959) with the assistance of JM Thompson:

In today’s O, we are pointed to the many praises of “Wisdom” in the Old Testament. One of the various senses in which the word is used refers to the divine attribute of wisdom, which is at times personified. Accordingly, we read of wisdom as proceeding from God, as being begotten of Him, as the breath of His power, the effusion of His glory. Wisdom is the beloved daughter who at the beginning of creation stood before God, assisting in the creation of the visible universe. From this concept of Wisdom, there later developed the doctrine of the LOGOS (the Word) in St. John’s Gospel.

But wisdom is also represented as a human attribute, as the foundation of all virtue. It is not so much knowledge and human prudence as knowing how to live—that is, true holiness. Its ultimate root is the fear of God (“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”), its final goal is divine knowledge and love. The first part of today’s antiphon is from the book of Sirach (24:3); the second part is from the Book of Wisdom (8:1). In highly poetic phraseology, the origin and co-creative activity of wisdom are portrayed.

The text continues with the creative activity of the Son of God. St. John says in the Prologue to his Gospel: “All things were made by Him (the LOGOS) and without Him was made nothing that was made.” And St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “In Him (i.e., Christ) were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” (Col. 1:16) Hence, according to the NT, Christ (as the pre-mundane LOGOS) is the Creator and archetype of the material universe. How beautifully our antiphon describes the LOGOS as wisdom, encompassing and ordering all things!

It is the object of this antiphon to portray the NT Creator of the invisible spiritual world, rather than the Maker of the visible universe around us. In His Church and in the soul, “He reaches from beginning to end!” “Come, teach us the way of prudence!” What an all-embracing petition! Make us perfect Christians—Christians who are wholly penetrated with the leaven of Christ…who combine strength with gentleness, strong in battle against the world and ourselves.

Three comings of the Lord

The Advent period of the Church in which we are asked to prepare for the coming of the Lord, and there are times we are left without much to ponder. The coming of the Lord, or rather, the comings of the Lord, are not merely about a supernal existence, but there is a incarnational, that is, a concrete, real aspect to the Lord’s presence in our life. But I have to ask, do we really believe this fact of the Christian faith? Perhaps today we ought to consider the words of the great Cistercian Father, Saint Bernard,

“We know there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among us; he himself testifies that people saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him who they have pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within themselves and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in the middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”

Advent of the Heart

Alfred Delp Advent of the HeartIf you are looking for spiritual reading for Advent, but dare I say, for life, I would recommend a book by Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, Advent of the Heart: Season Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944 (Ignatius Press, 2006).

Spiritual reading expands the mind and the heart; it challenges our sense of complacency and comfort; spiritual reading pushes back the boundaries of ignorance.

Born in 1907, Alfred Delp was a baptized Catholic and raised in the Lutheran community until he was 14 when he reverted to the practice of Catholic faith. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1926 and ordained a priest in 1937. The Society missioned Delp to work as an editor and then as a pastor of souls.

Father Delp was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime and a leader in the Resistance movement. The powers that be accused Delp of conspiring against the Nazi party –he was tortured, imprisoned, and executed on February 2, 1945.

Advent of the Heart contains some his meditations from prison during the Advent season as well as his sermons he gave on the season of Advent at his parish in Munich.

The publisher writes,

His [Delp’s] approach to Advent, the season that prepares us for Christmas, is what Fr. Delp called an “Advent of the heart.” More than just preparing us for Christmas, it is a spiritual program, a way of life. He proclaimed that our personal, social and historical circumstances, even suffering, offer us entry into the true Advent, our personal journey toward a meeting and dialogue with God. Indeed, his own life, and great sufferings, illustrated the true Advent he preached and wrote about.

 From his very prison cell he presented a timeless spiritual message, and in an extreme situation, his deep faith gave him the courage to draw closer to God, and to witness to the truth even at the cost of his own life. These meditations will challenge and inspire all Christians to embark upon that same spiritual journey toward union with God, a journey that will transform our lives.

Advent 2013: keeping watch with Christ

Pope Francis Advent 2013“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths” (Isaiah).

The Church moves her children into a liturgical year today with the beginning of Advent, a time of preparation for nativity of Jesus, a time which opens a new door that opens into a new year of grace and witness to the Divine Presence.

Our sense of sight is slightly altered with the vestments of the priest and deacon changed to purple, and the introduction of the wreathe to help us keep time. There is no Gloria and perhaps the choirmaster will sing some of the ancient chants.

The color purple ought not to be lost on us. Our King wears a crown of thorns; our King offers himself in sacrifice on the Cross for love of all humanity; our King, not regal and aloof is the servant and friend of the poor; our King is educates our freedom to wholeness and the true gift of being given a humanity that’s fully realized in Him. The use of the color purple reminds us that Jesus is king and that there is nothing ordinary about Him: Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Eternal Word of God who entered, and continues to enter, into human history. The priest images the Lord in our context. Lastly, I would recall that purple is a time of penance.

Many liturgists, often at the parish level, step away from Advent being a penitential season. But they are offering a false teaching. It is true that the penitential character of Advent is not same as Lent. It is, however, a period of time of preparation which is marked by elements of conversion, instruction and walking anew in the paths given to us by the Lord. I would reference the scripture readings given for Mass for the First Sunday of Advent. A sentence from the first reading is given above. There is also this line from Romans where Saint Paul and the Church calls us to change: “…it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;  the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”

In addition to Paul’s exhortation to be awake, in several other places in scripture the holy authors speak of staying awake, of being less sleepy in the face of the coming of the Lord. This theme gets carried over into the season of Advent as a time of keeping watch with and for Jesus Christ.

Blessed John Henry Newman has something to say to us about watching, and notice very carefully his argument:

Now I consider this word watching, first used by our Lord, then by the favoured Disciple, then by the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul, is a remarkable word, remarkable because the idea is not so obvious as might appear at first sight, and next because they all inculcate it. We are not simply to believe, but to watch; not simply to love, but to watch; not simply to obey, but to watch; to watch for what? for that great event, Christ’s coming. Whether then we consider what is the obvious meaning of the word, or the Object towards which it directs us, we seem to see a special duty enjoined on us, such as does not naturally come into our minds. Most of us have a general idea what is meant by believing, fearing, loving, and obeying; but perhaps we do not contemplate or apprehend what is meant by watching.

And I conceive it is one of the main points, which, in a practical way, will be found to separate the true and perfect servants of God from the multitude called Christians; from those who are, I do not say false and reprobate, but who are such that we cannot speak much about them, nor can form any notion what will become of them. And in saying this, do not understand me as saying, which I do not, that we can tell for certain who are the perfect, and who the double-minded or incomplete Christians; or that those who discourse and insist upon these subjects are necessarily on the right side of the line. I am but speaking of two characters, the true and consistent character, and the inconsistent; and these I say will be found in no slight degree discriminated and distinguished by this one mark,—true Christians, whoever they are, watch, and inconsistent Christians do not. Now what is watching?

I conceive it may be explained as follows:—Do you know the feeling in matters of this life, of expecting a friend, expecting him to come, and he delays? Do you know what it is to be in unpleasant company, and to wish for the time to pass away, and the hour strike when you may be at liberty? Do you know what it is to be in anxiety lest something should happen which may happen or may not, or to be in suspense about some important event, which makes your heart beat when you are reminded of it, and of which you think the first thing in the morning? Do you know what it is to have a friend in a distant country, to expect news of him, and to wonder from day to day what he is now doing, and whether he is well? Do you know what it is so to live upon a person who is present with you, that your eyes follow his, that you read his soul, that you see all its changes in his countenance, that you anticipate his wishes, that you smile in his smile, and are sad in his sadness, and are downcast when he is vexed, and rejoice in his successes? To watch for Christ is a feeling such as all these; as far as feelings of this world are fit to shadow out those of another.

He watches for Christ who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honouring Him; who looks out for Him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that He was coming at once.

And he watches with Christ, who, while he looks on to the future, looks back on the past, and does not so contemplate what his Saviour has purchased for him, as to forget what He has suffered for him. He watches with Christ, who ever commemorates and renews in his own person Christ’s Cross and Agony, and gladly takes up that mantle of affliction which Christ wore here, and left behind Him when he ascended. And hence in the Epistles, often as the inspired writers show their desire for His second coming, as often do they show their memory of His first, and never lose sight of His Crucifixion in His Resurrection. Thus if St. Paul reminds the Romans that they “wait for the redemption of the body” at the Last Day, he also says, “If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.” If he speaks to the Corinthians of “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he also speaks of “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” If to the Philippians of “the power of His resurrection,” he adds at once “and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” If he consoles the Colossians with the hope “when Christ shall appear,” of their “appearing with Him in glory,” he has already declared that he “fills up that which remains of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church.” [Rom. viii. 17-28. 1 Cor. i. 7. 2 Cor. iv. 10. Phil. iii. 10. Col. iii. 4; i. 24.] Thus the thought of what Christ is, must not obliterate from the mind the thought of what He was; and faith is always sorrowing with Him while it rejoices. And the same union of opposite thoughts is impressed on us in Holy Communion, in which we see Christ’s death and resurrection together, at one and the same time; we commemorate the one, we rejoice in the other; we make an offering, and we gain a blessing.

This then is to watch; to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen; to live in the thought of Christ as He came once, and as He will come again; to desire His second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of His first. And this it is, in which we shall find that men in general are wanting. They are indeed without faith and love also; but at least they profess to have these graces, nor is it easy to convince them that they have not. For they consider they have faith, if they do but own that the Bible came from God, or that they trust wholly in Christ for salvation; and they consider they have love if they obey some of the most obvious of God’s commandments. Love and faith they think they have; but surely they do not even fancy that they watch. What is meant by watching, and how it is a duty, they have no definite idea; and thus it accidentally happens that watching is a suitable test of a Christian, in that it is that particular property of faith and love, which, essential as it is, men of this world do not even profess; that particular property, which is the life or energy of faith and love, the way in which faith and love, if genuine, show themselves.

Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 4, Sermon 22

The Perfect Gift

(Mary prays:) “The Lord has exalted me by a gift so
great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths
of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. As I contemplate his greatness,
which knows no limits, I joyfully surrender my whole life, my senses, my
judgment, for my spirit rejoices in the eternal Godhead of that Jesus, that
Savior, whom I have conceived in this world of time.”

The Venerable Bede

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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