Thursday, December 8, 2016

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The Catholic Church teaches that the Blessed Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived, that is, from the time of her conception in her mother’s womb, she was free from the stain of the original sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. This is a singular privilege of Mary Most Holy, applicable to no other human being.

By disobeying God’s command to refrain from eating of the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve forfeited their original holiness, their innocence and integrity (Genesis 2-3). They lost sanctifying grace, and human nature became “wounded”. Whereas before original sin our nature’s lower powers, passions and instincts were easily ruled by reason and the spirit, after original sin these same powers, passions and instincts became weakened and rebellious (CCC 396-309). Because Adam and Eve were the “seed” of the great human tree, every human being’s nature is tainted in that seed, although without personal guilt.

But it was only right that one human creature, the one chosen to be the New Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle of the living God, should be sinless from the start. Two passages in Scriptures support this claim: Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28.

Genesis 3:15 mentions that “enmity” would be placed between the serpent and “the Woman”. Sin of any kind is subjection to Satan, and if “the Woman”, interpreted by the Church as Mary, was to have nothing in common with him, she had to be sinless.

In Luke 1:28, the angel calls Mary “full of Grace” pointing to the fact that she had never lacked grace.

Throughout the centuries, several were the antagonists and protagonists of this doctrine. There were saints and sages on both sides of the debate. In the thirteenth century, Venerable Duns Scotus was one of the most brilliant advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. His is the beautiful argument that if Our Lord Jesus, as God, was capable of exempting his Mother from the original stain, He would certainly, as a loving Son, have done it.

In 1598 Pope St. Pius V included the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman breviary. In 1846 the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore declared Mary Immaculate patroness of the United States.

But it was only in 1854 that Blessed Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed, as Church Dogma, the doctrine that Mary was, indeed, exempt from original sin and immaculately conceived.

In 1858 in Lourdes, in the final apparition to young Bernadette Soubirous, Our Lady electrified the world when she said,  “I am the Immaculate Conception”, thus echoing Blessed Pius IX’s infallible declaration.

Not changeable, fretful, scrupulous or timid

 True devotion to our Lady is constant.
It strengthens us in our desire to do good and
prevents us from giving up our devotional practices too easily.
It gives us the courage to oppose the fashions and maxims of the world,
the vexations and unruly inclinations of the flesh
and the temptations of the devil.

Thus a person truly devoted to our Blessed Lady
is not changeable, fretful, scrupulous or timid.

St. Louis de Montfort

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Speaking of...

When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. 
When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. 
When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. 
When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ.
When we speak about truth and life and redemption,
we are speaking of Christ.

St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Ambrose of Milan

Ambrose was born into a Christian family. His father was a Prefect of Gaul and his mother a pious lady. Both his brother, Satyrus, and his sister, Marcellina, are canonized saints.

By the age of thirty-three, Ambrose was an accomplished lawyer, the Governor of Milan and owner of a large estate. Though confessedly of Christian persuasion, he was not as yet baptized.

In the last quarter of the fourth century, many heresies harassed the Church. Perhaps, one of the most virulent was that of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. When the bishop of Milan, an Arian, died in 374, party strife broke out in the city. Some citizens demanded an Arian bishop be appointed to succeed him, others an orthodox Catholic one.

Walking into an angry assembly which had convened in a church, Governor Ambrose began to appeal that they settle things more peaceably. Suddenly a voice shouted, “Ambrose for bishop!” and the cry was taken up by the crowd.

Ambrose ran and hid in the house of a senator friend. The Emperor, however, insisted that the governor accept the responsibility and he ultimately submitted. Many expected him to rule as an Arian, but the same stubbornness with which he had resisted the ecclesiastical appointment, he now employed in serving the Truth.

He began by assiduously applying himself to the study of Holy Scriptures and theology, his knowledge of Greek greatly facilitating his studies. Eventually, he who had begun as a jurist succeeded as a theologian. A great orator, he influenced the conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo, who was impressed with his erudition on sacred themes, and mentions the illustrious bishop in his Confessions.

Adopting a personal life of simplicity and hard work, Ambrose devoted himself entirely to the service of his flock. Throughout his episcopate he was loving and strong, protecting his flock against Arianism, paganism, and the demands of rulers who gave their allegiance to the Arian heresy. Several times he heroically refused to hand over the churches to the Arian Empress Justina, regent for her young son, Valentinian II. He prevailed every time.

Despite his differences with the empress, as a statesman, he was called twice to advocate the cause of Justina with Magnus Maximus, a former military man, who had usurped the power in Gaul and who wished to take the reins of government in Italy as well. The first time Ambrose prevailed, the second time Maximus went ahead with the take-over. When he invaded Milan, Ambrose melted Church gold plate to relieve the sufferers.

Theodosius I, Emperor of the East came to the aid of Italy, and regained power from Maximus. Though St. Ambrose confronted him severely on some issues, they had a good relationship.

Ambrose ruled not only with great administrative ability, but also ranks with Sts. Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great as one of the greatest theologians and Doctors of the Church.

He died on April 4, 397 and his body is venerated in the Church of Sant'Ambrogio in his city of Milan.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St. Nicholas of Bari

Nicholas is thought to have been born in Patara, Lycia, a province of Asia Minor. Myra was the capital, close to the ocean, and an episcopal see. When the see became vacant, Nicholas was chosen bishop and became famous and beloved for his extraordinary piety, zeal and many astonishing miracles.

He suffered imprisonment for his faith and made a glorious confession during the persecution of Diocletian.

He was also present at the Council of Nicaea and there condemned Arianism. St. Methodius asserts that thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, Myra alone was untouched by the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.

Legend has it that the tradition of gift giving attached to St. Nicholas comes from the fact that he once helped a father and his three daughters. Hearing that they were destitute, and therefore could find no husbands, he slipped a bag of gold through the family’s window under the cover of darkness. At intervals, he did the same for the second and third girl, saving all three from a life of want and shame.

Nicholas died and was buried in his city of Myra, and by the time of Justinian, there was already a basilica built in his honor in Constantinople. Later, his relics were moved to the city of Bari, Italy, and many miracles were attributed to his intercession.

The devotion to St. Nicholas spread not only in the East but also in the West, and his image was amply reproduced, second only to that of Our Lady. In the later Middle Ages, there were nearly four hundred churches in England alone dedicated to him. In the East, St. Nicholas is venerated as patron of sailors, and in the West, of children.

In several European countries he is beloved as the pre-Christmas “gift giver”. The modern “Santa Claus” is a secular corruption of the saint.

For fear

The people of this world are wary of evil-doing
for fear of temporal punishment.
How much more, then, should they be wary for fear of
the punishment of Hell, which is greater,
both in respect to its severity and in respect to its manifold nature:
Remember thy last end, and thou shall never sin.”

St. Thomas Aquinas

Monday, December 5, 2016

Impossible

It is impossible to save one's soul
without devotion to Mary
and without her protection.

Saint Anselm, Doctor of the Church