Sunday, 10 January 2021

Sunday after the Epiphany - The Holy Family


    Holy Mother Church marks this Sunday as the feast of the Holy Family, a day which we give to meditating upon the mysteries and joys contained within the happy, holy home in Nazareth. 

Comparatively little is written in the Gospels concerning those peaceful days, which the Holy Family spent together, which necessitates that we ponder the time through our own meditations. 

Where then, is one to start in such a meditation? As ever, the Gospel points to the proper way in which to contemplate the feast well. St. Luke’s Gospel recounts the loss and the discovery of the Child Jesus, presenting the words of the Blessed Virgin: “Son, why hast thou done so to us?”

It is with these words that the Mother of God greets her Son, whom she had lost for three days. With anguish and torments she had searched for her Son, the Son whose birth had been announced by the message of an angel; the Son for whom she had fled with St. Joseph in order to preserve His life from the swords of Herod’s soldiers. 

Consider then the anguish of soul which filled her when she was unable to find Him for three whole days, and the joy which she experienced when she discovered Him in the temple. Just as with any family, the mother is the heart of the home, and it is so with Mary, whose love of her Divine Son fills her heart and moves her every action. It was this perfect love which had fuelled her search. 

In order to dwell on the Holy Family well, it is thus best to dwell upon the Blessed Virgin who is the doorway to the happy mysteries of that holy house, just as she is the path that leads us to God.

She draws her faithful children into the path of the young King, guiding devout souls from the joys of Christmas, through the sorrows of Lent and eventual glory of Easter. And so in these weeks between Epiphany and the start of Septuagesima, it is an apt time to turn one’s thoughts to the Christ child, contemplating the mysteries which He presents at every event. Dom Gueranger writes thus in his commentary on today’s Gospel: “Thus, O Jesus! didst thou come down from heaven to teach us. The tender age of Childhood, which thou didst take upon thyself is no hindrance to the ardor of thy desire that we should know the one only God who made all things, and thee, his Son, whom he sent to us. When laid in the Crib, thou didst instruct the Shepherds by a mere look; when swathed in thy humble swaddling-clothes, the subjected to the voluntary silence thou hadst imposed on thyself, thou didst reveal to the Magi the light they sought in following the Star.”

In fact, the account of the Magi’s visit to the stable presents a deep mystery for one to bear in mind, in order to better meditate upon the Holy Family. St. Matthew’s Gospel reads: “And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they added him: and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.” 

What is the significant passage here? It is of course these words: “they found the child with Mary his mother.” Those few simple words are so easy to gloss over, yet they contain almost the entire content of Mariological truths. Mary is always with her Son - her Son is always with His mother. She cannot do otherwise, for her greatest joy is to pour herself out for love of Him, and to teach others to do the same. As discussed on this site on Christmas night, she beckons her children to the manger, so that each might experience the unfathomable depths of love for Christ, which are found in her maternal heart. 

This phrase is key to understanding the Holy Family, for Mary’s role is greater and more perfect than any earthly mother’s can be. She is not merely nurturing and caring for her child, but for God Himself, who is to be the salvation of all and the conquerer of sin. As such, she is mother of God, and at the cross she is given as mother of the Church, thus in a special way, enveloping all faithful souls in the mysteries of the Holy Family. 

When dwelling upon Our Lady, it is hard to consider just one aspect of her life, since all are connected so profoundly. Consequently, if one wishes to understand the Holy Family, one must turn to Mary at the manger: at the presentation of Our Lord in the temple: at the loss and finding of Christ: in the hidden years of homely beatitude in Nazareth: and ultimately, at the cross. Each of these separate, yet connected instances, presents a different aspect of Mary, the Queen of the Church and Mother of God.

Dom Gueranger then continues in his commentary: “When twelve years old, thou  [Christ] explainest to the Doctors of Israel the Scriptures which bear testimony to thee. Thou gradually dispellest the shadows of the Law by thy presence and thy words. In order to fulfill the commands of thy heavenly Father, thou dost not hesitate to occasion sorrow to the heart of thy Mother, by thus going in quest of souls that need enlightening. Thy love of man will pierce that tender Heart of Mary with a still sharper sword, when she shall behold thee hanging on the Cross and expiring in the midst of cruelest pain. Blessed be thou, sweet Jesus, in these first Mysteries of thine Infancy, wherein thou already showest thyself devoted to us, and leaving the company of thy Blessed Mother for that of sinful men, who will one day conspire thy death.”

What wonderful insights the good abbot presents to his readers in these words - noting that Christ’s desire for souls was so great, that He did not hesitate to seek them out, even at the cost of causing sorrow to His mother. How is one to understand this? Did Christ care so little for His mother, that He silently left her side in order to counsel and convert? Could He really love her so very little?

Such thoughts are folly, for the love of Christ for His mother is of a depth that can only be understood in the heavenly felicity. No indeed, the union of souls between Christ and Mary was of such a level, that even though she was full of natural motherly concern to find her Son, she was united with Him in thirst for souls. She is so desirous of drawing souls to Christ, that her natural concern in searching for her Son comes as a sorrow which she joyfully accepts, in order to unite herself to the sufferings of the crucified Christ and draw souls to the Truth. 

Thus closes Dom Gueranger’s commentary on the Gospel, leaving his readers with many insights into the love which exists between Mother and Son, between creature and Creator. The mystery of the Holy Family is thus one of deepest, sacrificial love, united by a thirst for souls and a union with God.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

The Holy Name of Jesus.

  In his commentary on the text for this feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, Dom Gueranger describes how it is through the holy Name of Christ, that mankind is saved. When the Infant King descended to earth in humble surrounds, it was His name that seemed to “link earth to heaven,” writes the abbot. It was the name which the angel Gabriel told to Mary, and the name which she bore in her heart as she traversed with St. Joseph along the journey to Bethlehem. As she brought her Child to be circumcised, she presented also that Name, so that He would be known and Saviour, a light to the nations and the conquerer of death. 

It is through His name that life is given and death conquered: grace imparted and sin removed. Gueranger notes that whilst in the Old Covenant, “the Name of God inspired fear and awe: nor was the honour of pronouncing it granted to all the children of Israel.” In those times, He had not yet descended to earth and become like men. Yet upon this divine arrival, so quiet and humble, His name is “expressive of love and tenderness.” The name of God Incarnate means Saviour, and it is a name “so powerful.” It is at this name that “Every knee in heaven, on earth, and in hell, bows in adoration at hearing this Name! and yet, who can pronounce it, and not feel love spring up within his heart?”

So often in modern parlance, this holy Name is used and abused, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes deliberately, and very often as a common force of habit. How much has society changed, so that instead of giving from the proper reverence due to such a Name, it now uses His name as a common expletive, little knowing or caring about the offence given to the Almighty. Whilst the saints and Fathers wrote of the glory found in this Name, and the life which flows from It, modern society seeks to consistently trample It into the mud. 

Dom Gueranger records the words of St. Bernard, drawing from a homily the saint gave on this topic. The holy abbot points his readers to the saint’s words, focusing on the grace filled wisdom of one of the canonised followers of the Infant King. “The Name of Jesus is Light, and Food, and Medicine. It is Light, when it is preached to us; it is Food, when we think upon it; it is the Medicine that soothes our pains when we invoke it. Let us say a word on each of these. Tell me, whence came there, into the whole world, so bright and sudden a light, if not from the preaching of the Name of Jesus? Was it not by the light of this Name that God called us unto his admirable Light? Wherewith being enlightened, and in this light, seeing the Light, we take these words of Paul as truly addressed to ourselves: Heretofore, you were darkness; but now, light in the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8)”

“Nor is the Name of Jesus Light only; it is also Food. Art thou not strengthened, as often as thou thinkest of this Name? What is there that so feeds the mind of him that meditates upon this Name? What is there that so restores the wearied faculties, strengthens virtue, gives vigour to good and holy habits, and fosters chastity? Every food of the soul is dry, that is not steeped in this unction; it is insipid, if it be not seasoned with this salt. If thou write, I relish not thy writing, unless I read there the Name of Jesus. If thou teach me, or converse with me, I relish not thy words, unless I hear thee say the Name of Jesus. Jesus is honey to the mouth, and music to the ear, and gladness to the heart.”

“It is also Medicine. Is anyone among you sad? Let but Jesus come into his heart, and the mouth echo him, saying Jesus! and lo! the light of that Name disperses every cloud, and brings sunshine back again. Have any of you committed sin? and is despair driving you into the snare of death? Invoke the Name of life, and life will come back to the soul. Was there ever a man, that, hearing this saving Name, could keep up that common fault of hardness of heart, or drowsiness of sluggishness, or rancour of soul, or languor of sloth? If anyone, perchance, felt that the fountain of his tears was dry, did it not gush forth more plentifully than ever, and flow more sweetly than ever, as soon as he invoked the Name of Jesus? If any of us were ever in danger, and our heart beat with fear, did not this Name of power bring us confidence and courage the moment we pronounced it? When we were tossed to and fro by perplexing doubts, did not the evidence of what was right burst on us as we called upon the Name of light? When we were discouraged, and well nigh crushed, by adversity, did not our heart take courage, when our tongue uttered the Name of help? All this is most true; for all these miseries are the sicknesses and faintings of our soul, and the Name of Jesus is our Medicine.”

Is this name treated as Light, Food and Medicine by the world today? Do men the world over recognise Its power and glory? Certainly, those three elements of light, food and medicine are a crucial aspect of daily life, but they are not the kind of which St. Bernard here speaks. Instead of His Name being the Light which illumines the life of those here on this earth, is has become a means of damnation, as huge parts of the populace use It in vain, and irreverently. Rather than giving honour to His Name, and gaining spiritual nourishment from It, the world has rejected spiritual food in favour of earthly. And instead of the Divine Name being the channel of healing grace, it has become an instrument of venting one’s anger and frustration, opening the way to yet further spiritual ailments. 

Dom Gueranger has the answer to the malicious use of the Holy Name, reminding his readers of the true worth of His Name: “immortal life is to be purchased at the price of thy Death! This truth is expressed to us by thy Name, O Jesus! Savior!” 

“Thou art the Vine, and thou invitest us to drink of thy delicious Wine; but the heavenly Fruit must be first unsparingly pressed in the wine-press of thy Eternal Father’s justice; we cannot drink of its juice, until it shall have been torn from the branch and bruised for our sakes. May thy sacred Name ever remind us of this sublime Mystery, and may the remembrance keep us from sin, and make us always faithful.”

Sunday after the Epiphany - The Holy Family

       Holy Mother Church marks this Sunday as the feast of the Holy Family, a day which we give to meditating upon the mysteries and joys...