Friday, August 1, 2014

Our Lady of Sorrows and the Prophecy of Simeon


Every person’s life is marked by both sorrows and joys. The two often intertwine in such a way as to make one impossible without the other.

When considering a Feast like Our Lady of Sorrows, it is good to keep in mind that sorrow is always related to love. We do not grieve what we do not love. The greater the love, the deeper the sorrow when the good we love is lost, threatened, abused or violated in some way.

Who can measure the sorrows of Our Lady? The fullness of grace abiding in her infused her with a love that completely transcended our human limitations. Because of this, her sorrow likewise knew no bounds. The two realities in her have been linked at various times to other titles, most notably “Our Lady of Compassion” and “Our Lady of Hope,” both beautiful because they speak to this union of love and sorrow.

Simeon’s prophecy, as Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus in the Temple, is the first public pronouncement to Mary of where her relationship with the God-Man, her child, will take her. Simeon utters mysterious words:
“Behold this child is set for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35)

These words are intriguing. But they can be understood from the perspective of Mary's unique motherhood. What mother does not know her child so well that even those things that seem otherwise hidden, are not hidden to her?

As children we were amazed by this in our own mothers. We would exclaim: “How did she know that? Does she have eyes in the back of her head?” Actually no. But mothers have eyes at the center of their hearts. Love gives one a vision into things that are otherwise concealed. And that love encourages us, like no other, to remedy any evil or disorder in our hearts. With great solicitude a mother knows us as we really are so that we can become all we’re meant to be.

There is some interesting scientific research that gives support to this even on a biological level. At a congress entitled: “At the Dawn of Human Life,” organized by the Institute of Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Catholic University of Rome, during the Jubilee year 2000, Professor Salvatore Mancuso, head of the Gynecology Institute, presented some fascinating findings. The research gave proof that beginning in the fifth week of gestation,

“…when a woman realizes she is pregnant, an infinite number of messages pass from the embryo to the mother, through chemical substances like hormones, neurotransmitters, etc….and the embryo sends stem cells that colonize the maternal medulla and adhere to it. Lymphocytes are born from here and remain with the woman for the rest of her life.” Mancuso stated: “From the fifth week there is clearly a passing of cells, but messages begin at conception. Even during the first phases of cellular subdivision, when the embryo is moving in the fallopian tubes, there are transmissions through contact with the tissues touched by the moving embryo. Later, after implantation in the uterus, the dialogue is more intense through the blood and cells, and chemical substances that enter the mother’s bloodstream. Finally the child’s stem cells pass to the mother in great quantity both at the moment of birth, whether spontaneous or Caesarean, as well as at the time of abortion whether spontaneous or voluntary.”

When asked how long the fetus’ influence on the mother lasts, the professor answered: “Stem cells have been found in the mother even 30 years after the birth. It could be said therefore that the pregnancy does not last the 40 canonical weeks, but the woman’s entire life….It is somewhat as though the thoughts of the child pass to the mother, even many years after his birth.”

This is what Simeon’s prophecy is about, though in a spiritual sense. It is a prophecy of the universal motherhood that will be given to Mary in the agony of Calvary. As a mother knows everything about her children, and suffers not only for, but with her children, Mary, in an extraordinary way, was so one with Jesus in His sufferings and death that she is rightly called Co-Redemptrix. As her soul was mystically being pierced on Calvary, Jesus opened up a place large enough within her, to take on a universal motherhood for all of us.

In one way, Mary’s sorrows flowed from the sufferings of her innocent Divine Son. In another, they flowed from her maternal union with us and our indifference and ingratitude toward God's unfathomable love for us. Her distress over those children who reject their Father's love keeps her always at work and in intercession for the restoration of this relationship. She is near us always, helping us in all adversity, affliction, heartache and difficulty.

St. Pope John Paul II puts it beautifully this way: “Mary Most Holy goes on being the loving consoler of those touched by the many physical and moral sorrows which afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows and pains because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary…Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!” (1980)

Mary continues to mother us, laboring to bring us to true holiness, so that we can be born into eternal life and everlasting happiness. When we are all safely home, it is then, as the best of Mothers, that her joy will be complete.

Denial and the Roots of Violence

Denial and the Roots of Violence

One of the most distressing realities in the world today is the prevalence of violence. News stories ranging from reports of local crimes to the atrocities of the drug lords to the tortures and executions among rebels and fanatics and dictatorial regimes in various parts of the world seem more and more extreme and almost unbelievable. The destruction of the unborn, perhaps the worst example of all, no longer even gets attention in the average mind. Where does this unbridled, ever increasing aggression, come from? The Word of God gives us some clues.

Jesus points to the heart, as do St. James, and St. Paul. "...out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander." (cf. Mt 15:18-20; also Mk 7:20-23). "What leads to war, what leads to quarreling among you? Is it not precisely the desires fighting inside your own selves?" (Jm 4: 1). "...you once nourished hostility in your hearts because of your evil deeds," (Col 1:21).

Whenever we sin we contract something of the contagion of the evil one. His primary disease is pride-induced rage against God. It spills over into a crazed hatred for everything that has its source in God, human beings in particular, and types him as a liar and "a murderer from the beginning." This kind of spirit can begin to contaminate, little by little, anyone of us.

How is it we become infected by this contagion? We are already born handicapped by the consequences of the sin of our first parents. Our own personal sin further weakens our spiritual immunities and compromises our spiritual health so that without regular infusions of grace from the Mass, sacraments, God's Word and prayer, opportunistic temptations begin to gain strength until at some particular moment our defenses are breached and we no longer have the strength to repulse the enemy.

Yet, there is a difference in what happens to a person who has never known The Lord, and one who has known The Lord intimately but then falls through continual carelessness or selfishness or the seduction of some idolatry.

It becomes especially frightening when an entire people who has once once known the Lord, forsakes Him for these reasons. For they become then capable of every evil imaginable, and worse yet, seeing and calling it good. Bishop Fulton Sheen noted that sin is not the greatest evil in the world, but rather the denial of sin is. It is what put Jesus on the Cross. Can there be a greater act of violence than the murder of God Himself, one which was justified by the religious leaders of the time as good for the nation?

In the readings for Thursday of the 16th week in ordinary time, the Prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes, describes this condition: "Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them."

In the medical world the modern mind would understand this as a state of denial. In the spiritual life it's just as deadly as the state of one who denies symptoms of cancer or heart disease. Yet anyone who knows the workings of denial knows that a challenge to it can provoke vehement reaction.

When denial is firmly entrenched, one can no longer speak the truth directly. The person in denial cannot, chooses not to see it or hear it. They are unable to receive it in any unfiltered form. They become insensitive, and even, as Josef Pieper notes, "unable to search for truth because they become satisfied with a fictitious reality which has been created through the abuse of language." So Jesus often does not speak directly to the people. He uses another tactic. He speaks in parables. He intrigues. He touches the desire in man to solve mystery, to know secrets.

He acknowledges at the same time that those (his own disciples) who can know the truth directly are blessed. Sin has not deadened their sensitivities nor made them skeptics. Unrepented sin that is. For there is perhaps no one more sensitive to grace, more grateful, more humbly dependent on God's mercy and receptive to His communications of truth and love, than the repentant sinner.

But one steeped in sin, and more importantly, attached to it, becomes insensible to even the most spectacular graces, skeptical of God's miraculous power, which though without limit, never trespasses man's free will. Truth and grace must be chosen. Speaking truth directly without this can be dangerous, just as it was when Jesus spoke clearly in the synagogue and His own townspeople, in response, attempted to throw Him off a cliff. Denial is a tenacious animal. It can be vicious in protecting it's territory.

This explains the oftentimes unreasonable anger that a believer can encounter in an unbeliever. It's difficult to hold a genuine conversation when hostility surfaces quickly, as though truth itself is the trigger for visceral rejection and rebellion. It's pretty much impossible to approach someone with water, even life-giving waters, if they've been infected by the spiritual variant of rabies.

Which is another reason why Jesus was "not able" to perform many miracles in certain places, because of the lack of faith, of belief. Not because He couldn't but because He wouldn't impose Himself, or force Himself on an unbelieving lot, a people in denial.

This makes the man who prayed: "Lord I believe, help my unbelief," remarkable for his recognition of his own state and remarkable for his humility in asking for the right remedy. May we have his same courage to break free from the fetters of denial in our own lives, for the sake of our own healing, and our healing as a people whom God has chosen to be His own.