O Key of David

adoration-of-the-shepherds-1650_MurilloO come, Thou key of David, come, and open wide our heav’nly home, make safe the way that leads on high, that we no more have cause to sigh. 

I recently came across a very ugly antithesis of the Incarnation, presented to me (actually shouted in Church) as Mary’s shame. According to this thesis, Mary was ashamed at the Incarnation, at her pregnancy. Instead of knowing, accepting, welcoming, and rejoicing in the Incarnation, participating in it with her whole soul, strength and body, she was, according to this thesis, ashamed of it, and in fact, she remained ashamed of the whole work of redemption up to and including the culminating moment on the Cross. In the same context as this thesis was presented to me, a “New Age” notion was given as the illusory hope we can have in life as Christians.  According to this notion there is no White Ladder to Heaven but only a drill that we must use to drill our way to the center of the earth, where we are supposed to find something glittering… When my children describe the spatial dimensions of the spiritual realm, they say that Heaven is up, Hell is down, and Purgatory is sideways. Interpreting the New Age notion of Salvation with this key, we are to find hope in hell. Interesting.

The Incarnation was God’s first act in His work of redemption, which made it possible also for us to be born anew. Had He not first sprung as the bridegroom from his bridal chamber—our Lady’s womb—we could not be born anew of Her, or at all. Without the Incarnation there would be no White Ladder or Salvation for us, it is true. But we believe that the Word was made flesh. This is the fundamental belief of the Church. In a Latin phrase, Caro Cardo Salutis—Salvation hinges on the flesh—Jesus’ “enfleshment”—His marriage with His creation.

The world has forgotten Jesus. It has discredited Him as a myth invented by naïve people with futile hopes. Particularly at Christmas we are not supposed to think of Jesus and His birth, but revel instead in the twitching produced by the repeated urging of the material desires. One can perceive this quite easily by just a brief look at the consciousness of people. Self-satisfaction and self-destruction go hand in hand. We are on the one hand supposed to find everything good within ourselves or for ourselves, and on the other hand if there is ever something that disturbs this hoarding for self, we are recommended to do away with ourselves quickly before we disturb anyone else. If we long for God, we are judged as morbid and ought to take drugs or do some great achievement to bring about some sort of a self-conversion. It is a thoroughly two-dimensional world. In this mindset, Jesus has become just a tool, a drill, by means of which we dig deeper into the earth. Mary is no longer the White Ladder, our Mother, immaculate and perfect, unashamed and rejoicing, but weighed down heavily with shame, unaware and confused at God’s actions in her life. And this, of course, (according to the world) is because she is degraded by her willingness to cooperate with Him, to go beyond herself, to become His Mother… Mary’s Divine Motherhood is part of Her degradation.

I wonder what good Salvation is, if we are not relieved of something. If we are supposed to find happiness in the thought of Mary’s shame and in burrowing into the earth, where is salvation? Where is God? Salvation cannot exist if we are not saved from something! If there isn’t a Savior—and a Mother of the Savior—there certainly is no salvation. Burrowing into the earth we can do quite on our own without stepping outside of the small selfish realm, but climbing without a ladder we cannot. I see this antithesis and “New Age” notion as a two-fold way to deny us direction—toward Heaven—and the means to get there—Salvation. Having Mary’s “shame” shouted in Church on the Fourth Sunday of Advent puts across so well how far the agenda of the world that hates Jesus has gone. We are to be satisfied with this life and not wish to go anywhere (except to the center of the earth); the answer to our dilemma of suffering and life is “imagine ourselves somewhere else”. It is the technique of coping with pain recommended to women in childbirth, “imagine you are on a pleasant beach”… Going to Church would then be a way of teasing our imaginary capabilities of pain-coping, a sort of mantra exercise. It might seem grand, deep, fascinating and “solid”, but I suggest we have a much better way of surviving, not only childbirth or an hour in Church, but whatever meets us on life’s journey, because we are going somewhere (and not into the earth). In the words of an ancient Swedish prayer for a woman in childbirth, addressed to our Lady:

You, who hold the Key of David, open now my womb.

Jesus, the Key of David, opens the gates of Heaven, barred by the sin of our first parents. He also provides us with strength to live with Christian joy and hope while still on earth, so that we may enter Heaven without shame.

Mary was not ashamed of her God, or of His work of Salvation, nor of His wish to make Her part of both Himself and His work of Salvation. She is our White Ladder, which we must climb with great energy, because the reward is not something glittering inside earth, but Heaven, and Heaven does exist. It is not something automatic that we will get if we do not fight for it, and certainly not something we will find if we proclaim that the ladder is not even there.

Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. (Luke 13:24)

The idea that our Lady was ashamed of her pregnancy, and the idea that Heaven is just “another dimension of earthly life”, denies us every hope we have as Christians. It is an effort to de-Christianize us by reshaping our understanding of the hinge of our Salvation—Jesus’ enfleshment—so that we become empty shells with nothing on the inside, no strength and no hope.

Hope and strength come not from burrowing in the ground and imagining dimensions in fallen creation that are not in fact there, but in accepting, welcoming, and rejoicing in the marriage of God with His Creation, together with our Heavenly Mother! God chose a Mother, He took flesh and became one of us to save us from sin, and He did this by putting himself—the key of David—in the hands of His Mother, the White Ladder. This is the faith of the Church. If only it were proclaimed.

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Our Lady of the Burning Ocote

After spending hours in the night preparing Christmas gifts for my family, I was too keyed up to manage to fall asleep. Nothing brings peace better than reading about Our Lady, and all the marvelous visits She has made to comfort and strengthen Her children.

NS_Ocotlan3Last night, I read about one apparition that happens to be close in time to the apparition of our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico city (which was commemorated with the Feast day that just went by, December 12). I often open up books at random, since I’m usually only able to read a few lines before someone pulls me away. I did so with the book “See How She Loves Us“, an absolute treasure written by Joan Carroll Cruz, and I came to this particular apparition. It is referred to as our Lady of the Burning Ocote, and also simply our Lady of Ocotlan.

With Her usual irresistible charm and originality, our Lady appeared to an Indian man, also called Juan Diego like the man who saw our Lady of Guadalupe, on his way to fetch water for his relatives. They were, together with the inhabitants of the town of Tlaxcala, suffering a devastating epidemic of smallpox. She stood among some trees and shocked Juan with Her beauty. She said, “May God preserve you, my son. Where are you going?” When Juan told Her that he was fetching water for his dying family She guided him to a hidden spring, saying to him,

Come with me and I will give you water to cure the disease. It will cure not only your family, but all who drink of it. My heart is ever ready to help those who are ill, for I cannot bear to see their misfortune.

When Juan filled his jug with the miraculous water, the Lady told him to go to the Franciscan at the Monastery of San Lorenzo:

Tell the religious for me that in this place they will find my image. It will not only manifest my perfections, but through it I shall generously bestow favors and kindness. When they find the image they are to place it in the chapel of San Lorenzo.

When Juan, together with the friars, returned to the trees where Juan had seen the Lady, the trees were on fire. Since they could not do anything to stop the fire, they went away and returned the next day. The abbot instructed one of the friars to cut down the largest of the trees. When he did, they found a statue of our Lady hidden within the tree.  She was taken with great ceremony to the chapel and placed there, where She remains.

Christmas Exodus

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In one way I feel particularly Jewish. It can be characterized with one word: “Exodus”. There are plenty of paths available for the person desiring an escape, some of them good, some of them not good, but there is none (I believe) as effective and natural to the human person as the exodus that God, in fact, instigates. With what means does God bring about this Exodus? Primarily suffering. It’s that uncomfortable concept and reality that people shun, or quarantine within somewhat sentimental language. I had a childhood friend who admitted openly she liked having God in a closet. She didn’t actually want to do away with Him altogether, because there was something “nice” (or in the untranslatable Swedish word “fint”) about Him—as a reason for things like Christmas pageants, etc. But she didn’t want Him to interfere with her life. Then He fit better in a closet. Why was that? That’s obviously something of her life. Still, perhaps she expressed something of what most people experience: if given free hands, God breaks up the comfortable and established life. I don’t think He accomplishes this by violence. Instead, He is the Light, the Truth, and the Way, and He uses ways universally effective.

I’ve noticed that stubborn children (I have four of them), set on their own plans, will be quite willing to rethink and re-plan if they are presented with two options, such as, “would you like the pink spoon or the green one?” The wish to dump out dinner on the table vanishes from their mind at the introduction of the choice between two options. It’s a marvelous conflict resolution!

I wonder if we are not in the same position with our Savior. We are set on damnation. “I want it.” BASTA. Then God gives us two choices: will you follow me this way, or that way? And then we are happy to follow Him, and forget damnation!

That’s the happy scenario.

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Jesus leads us on our Exodus not in order to take us away from what is familiar, natural, and good. Nor is He pulling out those tough, stubborn roots in order to confuse us. He is simply leading us on the road of freedom, which inevitably leads to Himself. Dumping out dinner on the table will not accomplish anything, but following Jesus will.

Go to my Mother

Edward Poppe is a favorite saint of mine. He burnt with love for God. During his Blessed Edward Poppeyears of formation he met the expectation from others that his zeal would soon cool, that it was just the natural first feelings of a seminarian but nothing that would last. He took it very hard, and he reached out to his sister with the question:

Is it true that fervor is only at the beginning of life as a priest or religious, when the difficulties are still unknown to them? Is it true that I will someday become an ordinary priest, having lost all my supernatural strength? I can’t, and more that that, I don’t want to believe it. Better to die than serve God by halves.

He was especially devoted to Our Lady, St. Joseph, and the Eucharist. I was struck with a passage in the bible, that does in fact give a hint of the answer Bl. Edward Poppe so earnestly desired (and found!). It is the passage of the sinful woman, brought before Jesus as a challenge to Him, when the pharisees were already planning to kill Him.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. (John 8:3-6)

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ (John 8:7-11)

Reading this passage of the bible, I think of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing near. In fact, Jesus hinted at Her presence when He said, ‘Let him who is without sin among you…’ . Present at His side (always before His mind, if not physically there) was His Mother, the Immaculate. While the Pharisees had to leave because of their sins, She did not have to. She was not a judge, but She was and is the created person who is without sin! With her entire person she is the testimony to perfection.

The presence of Jesus’ Mother reveals to the mind in contemplation something of the context of the meeting between the sinner and her God. When Jesus gives the commandment to the sinful woman to ‘Go, and do not sin again’, He does not send her away on an impossible mission. Even though a person just caught in a serious sin is not very likely, humanly speaking, to be able to fulfill such a commandment, Jesus gives it. He doesn’t give her a qualified encouragement such as, ‘try to be good now’. He is God, and He can command just what seems impossible to us without any cruelty or naïveté because He expects to supply us with the strength Himself, and He has full confidence in His own strength! Therefore it does not bother Him, as it might bother us, to give us impossible tasks. “Be perfect like the Father in Heaven is perfect,” He commanded the disciples.

Mary, Jesus’ Mother, is our Mother in the order of grace. All graces come to us through Her. When Jesus gives the commandment, ‘Go, and do not sin again’ He is in effect entrusting us to His Mother, whom He willed would be the one to always give us the strength to follow and obey His commandments. He shows a wonderfully charming confidence in His mother, unmatched because it is the confidence of God in one of His creatures! She was, and always will be, necessary for the work of salvation.

At the beginning of His ministry, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, said to the servants in Cana, “Go, do whatever he tells you.” Jesus’ commandment to the sinful woman, “Go, and do not sin again” has a similar ring. In a pious speculation one might envision Him beckoning this woman to look in the direction of His Mother. Jesus said to her, ‘Go’, and was not that word in fact an encouragement to, ‘Go to Her’, ‘Go to my Mother’. He knew that would ensure success! He can, and does, put us in the hands of His Mother, for her to do with us what she wills.

This secret of success always amazes those who discover it. At the end of his life, Bl. Edward Poppe revealed the secret of his heart to his priest friends:

Mary will cover you with Her shadow, and you will remain calm and confident. She will start the journey with you and lead you by secret shortcuts. You will not be spared suffering, but She will make you hungry for it, as if for an essential food. Ah, Mary! Mary! Her name will be like honey and balm on your lips. Mary! Mary! Ave Maria! Who can resist it? Tell me, who will be lost with the Ave Maria?

Sweet Heart of Mary, be our Salvation!