Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jesus' Prayer for the Church at His Ascension

Luke's Gospel tells us something very interesting about Jesus' ascension into Heaven:   "When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven" (Lk.24:50-51).  What is the significance?

Each day in the Temple, at the conclusion of the three o'clock tamid - the offering of a lamb, bread, and wine upon the great altar - the Levitical priests gathered on the steps of the Holy Place, stretched their hands out over the crowd of worshipers, and intoned the blessing God had entrusted to Aaron (the first high priest) and his sons, "The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The LORD  lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23-26).

Jesus blessed the infant Church as He culminated His own offering to the Father - as He ascended the “steps” of the true Holy Place, Heaven (Heb. 9:6-14).  Listen to the blessing at the conclusion of Mass on the Feast of the Ascension - it is Christ's prayer for us:

May almighty God bless you on this day when his only Son
ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.

R. Amen!

After his resurrection, Christ was seen by His disciples.
When He appears as judge may you be pleasing for ever in His sight.

R. Amen!

You believe that Jesus has taken His seat in majesty at the right hand of the Father. May you have the joy of experiencing that He is also with you to the end of time, according to His promise.
R. Amen!

Happy Feast of the Ascension my friends!

(P.S., If you would like to know more about the way our Lord's human prayer is continued in the Church, you may enjoy Through, With, and In Him.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book Review: "The Marian Option" by Dr. Carrie Gress

I have enjoyed reading Dr. Carrie Gress's articles at the National Catholic Register and had been looking forward to reading this book since I learned it was in production. I was in the middle of another book when the The Marian Option arrived last week; but once I read the first chapter, I couldn't put it down. (Yes, this is a subject particularly dear to my heart, but Dr. Gress is an exceptional writer; you just keep turning the page.)

This title of course brings to mind Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. Gress is quick to explain that the Marian Option is not offered as a criticism of Dreher's thesis. Rather, what she terms the Marian Option is a fundamental orientation compatible with all schools of authentic Catholic spirituality and all of the so-called "options" for addressing our civilization's crises. Mary is, after all, the icon of the Church - the corporate body as well as each individual soul. What God has done in her and through her, he wishes to do in each of us...and that is how civilization will be renewed. This book is about intimacy with the Trinity, about serving Christ with the heart of His Mother. It is about holiness, and how Jesus entrusted our growth therein to His Mother.

Dr. Gress argues - quite successfully in my opinion - that cultures thrive when the Blessed Mother is venerated. She deftly points out how as western culture's veneration of Mary deepened, so too did its esteem of womanhood - motherhood in particular. Men, instead of regarding women as trophies or objects of gratification, were instead led to ponder the mystery at the heart of every woman and to embrace men's God-given mission of laying down their lives in service to wife and children. Women, in turn, recognize the incredible dignity with which the Creator has endowed them - their unique genius for cooperating with God to bring new life (both individual and cultural) into the world and nurture it to adulthood. When Mary's place in salvation history and our devotional lives is forgotten - or worse yet, rejected - then Christian culture begins a process of deformation: the exaltation of the "I" in place of the "we," marital breakdown, contraception, abortion, moral relativism, militant feminism, same-sex "marriage," gender "confusion," etc. We see the results all around us. The answer? We must accept Jesus' gift from the Cross, Mary, and allow her to mother us into a life of radical discipleship.

Cultural change always begins small - look no further than Mary and Joseph in the cave of the Nativity...or Mary and the small cluster of disciples awaiting Pentecost...or Mary and Juan Diego and the conversion of the Americas...or Mary and Cardinal Wojtyla behind the Iron Curtain.  Mary is always there, waiting to introduce us, as she has countless millions of other disciples, into deeper intimacy with her Son, greater receptivity to the stirrings of the Spirit, and heroic obedience to the Father.

There is a great deal to love about this book but at the top of the list, at least for me, is the way Dr. Gress explains the theology of consecrating oneself to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She pulls together insights from saints such as Bernadine of Siena, Louis Marie de Montfort, Maximilian Kolbe, and John Paul II, as well those of theologians like AndrĂ© Feuillet and Johann Roten. (My "to read" list has grown as a result.) I especially appreciated her discussion of Mary's relationship to each Person of the Trinity; it is extremely well done.

At just over 200 pages, this book is not so thick as to intimidate. As soon as one begins reflecting upon what he or she has read, however, the scope of the discussion and weighty insights give it the feel of a much longer work. The Rosary is a subject woven throughout, but Dr. Gress also discusses Marian apparitions, devotional items like the Miraculous Medal and Brown Scapular, as well as drawing a number of historical connections of which I was unaware. (Fulton J. Sheen fans likely know of the connection between Fatima and Islam, but who knew that the same was true of Lourdes? The Marian Option is filled with these kind of historical gems.)

There is a great deal of buzz about this book and deservedly so. The Marian Option: God's Solution to a Civilization in Crisis is a gorgeous book, both inside and out. (Seriously, online images cannot do the cover justice!) I heartily recommend picking up a copy and allowing the Lord to renew the fire to live your vocation.

June 2 - Visiting "Catholic Answers-LIVE"

Hope you will tune in for the first hour of the show on Friday, June 2nd, when host Cy Kellet and I will zero in on Chapter 5 of The Epistle to the Hebrews, "The Communion of Saints." 

Chapters 11 - 12 of Hebrews are the perfect introduction to this topic, from the veneration of the saints right up to the purifying fires of purgatory. Please feel free to call in with your questions: 1-888-318-7884