To Give Up One’s Cloak

800px-St-martin-beuronWhen St. Martin of Tours encountered a poor, naked beggar, he tore his own warm cloak in half, to share it. Later, he discovered in a dream that the beggar was Christ. Throughout his life he had a special love for the poor. The story of St. Martin and the beggar provides a key to an area of Christian life that is often dealt with superficially and with suspicion. This area is the equality and dignity of woman. It seems to me that most voices on this subject do not echo Jesus in either His actions or His words. Jesus was a defender of the true equality of woman precisely because He always showed us the way to true dignity: a dignity that is shared by men and women alike, because they are human. “Did the Lord at any time make a distinction between men and women? […] But in His love He knew and knows now no distinction.” [1]

To understand equality and dignity we must hear the Shepherd’s voice. St. Therese of Lisieux speaks clearly as Jesus’ echo. She had the instincts of a healthy human being. She was not inclined to a mentality of victimization, nor did she skirt the truth. Instead she took the bull by the horns in one of the most challenging realities of human life.

Although it is difficult to give to one who asks, it is even more so to allow one to take what belongs to you, without asking it back. O Mother, I say it is difficult; I should have said that this seems difficult, for the yoke of the Lord is sweet and light. When one accepts it, one feels its sweetness immediately, and cries out with the Psalmist: ‘I have run the way of your commandments when you enlarged my heart.’ It is only charity that can expand my heart. O Jesus, since this sweet flame consumes it, I run with joy in the way of Your NEW commandment… Ah! What peace floods the soul when she rises above natural feelings. No, there is no joy comparable to that which the truly poor in spirit experience. If such a one asks for something with detachment, and if this thing is not only refused but one tries to take away what one already has, the poor in spirit follow Jesus’ counsel: ‘If anyone take away your coat, let go your cloak also.’ To give up one’s cloak is, it seems to me, renouncing one’s ultimate rights; it is considering oneself as the servant and the slave of others. [2]

Once, when I was rather depressed, I spoke to a priest who said to me: “Do acts of charity, and your soul will have wings.” Giving without asking, looking for, or expecting a return unites the soul with God in a stable way, and gives the soul strength to face even bitter humiliations. Sometimes simply being a woman can offer more humiliations than we have strength to carry. And yet, to be the first one to give of oneself then, in the pain of humiliation, gives dignity and joy.

St. Maximilian Kolbe proposed that equality ultimately could only be found before Jesus, because it is there, before Jesus, that we are equally poor, without anything of our own and receiving everything we have. St. Maximilian Kolbe goes further than equality, which ultimately, if held onto rigidly, becomes an isolative and destructive force. St. Maximilian says:

In reality, there is no sector of human activity exempt from misjudgments and shortcomings; and we must always examine the causes of such deficiencies, do away with the former and eradicate the latter. This is how it has been, how it is now and how it will always be, simply because man will never attain absolute perfection. In spite of all this, the human mind still desires to bring about a certain equality among men. Is there any possibility that this can happen? Yes, no doubt. Every man, whoever he is, whatever he possesses and whatever he is capable of doing, owes all this to God the Creator of the universe. Of himself man is nothing. From this point of view all of us are absolutely equal. Furthermore, we all possess free will, which makes us masters of all our actions. This too constitutes the basic equality of all men on earth. But the use made of our free will is not the same in all cases; […] It follows that not even after death will perfect equality be achieved; it will not in fact exist, because every man will receive a just reward or punishment according to his deeds, good or evil. […] In this regard there is a difference so great that the man who does not desire riches in this temporal life behaves in a very prudent manner, so that after his death, in the next life, he may not have to give a strict account for the worldly goods he had enjoyed. [3]

Now, to give up one’s rights is scandalous to the thinking of many people. It is a taboo of modern society. It is seen as an evil in itself and a degradation. We are literally supposed to walk over dead bodies to attain the degree of rights that elevates us to respectability. If there is one thing we have no right to do in the eyes of society, it is to give up our rights. But it is here that womanhood is utterly misunderstood. Woman is mother, and motherhood is giving. Therefore, motherhood and womanhood only make sense if self-giving is a good value. Society becomes an enemy of motherhood, ironically, when it shouts for equality, because when equality is the only norm, selfishness rules; and any eternal perspective is shouted out. But, equality and dignity are not the results of a hoarding of self, of honors, praise, or achievements. As St. Maximilian points out, we are already equal because God created us from nothing out of His love. We own nothing; everything is given to us. Equality is the result of the giving up of one’s cloak. When one can entrust and return one’s self to God, the reward is one hundred-fold, not because God wants to degrade us, but because the action of giving is an acceptance that our equality and dignity actually lay in our total dependence on Him. As St. Clare tells us:

For I firmly believe that you know the kingdom of heaven is promised and given by the Lord only to the poor because she who loves what is temporal loses the fruit of love; that it is not possible to serve God and money, for either the one is loved and the other hated, or the one is served and the other despised; that one clothed cannot fight another naked, because she who has something to be caught hold of is more quickly thrown to the ground; that one who lives in the glory of earth cannot rule with Christ; and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, You have cast aside Your garments, that is, earthly riches, so that instead of being overcome by the one fighting against You, You will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven through the straight path and the narrow gate. 

What a great and praiseworthy exchange: to receive the hundred-fold in place of one, and to possess a blessed eternal life. [4]

We must take the leap of faith in order to abandon the road that leads away from God, and have boundless trust that He will give us an opportunity to give of self always with the pure fire of charity, always united to Him. It will look impossible, or not even sensible. To let go control of the frugal giving that only donates a part takes faith, because giving of self to the point of self-emptying is, as Pope Saint John Paul II points out, a spiritual reality, and an impossibility on only the natural plane.

The very nature of the person is incompatible with such a surrender. Indeed, in the natural order it makes no sense to speak of a person giving himself or herself to another, especially if this is meant in the physical sense. That which is personal is on a plane where there can be no giving of self […] The person as such cannot be someone else’s property, as though it were a thing […] But what is impossible and illegitimate in the natural order and in a physical sense, can come about in the order of love and in a moral sense. In this sense, one person can give himself or herself, can surrender entirely to another, whether to a human person or to God, and such a giving of the self creates a special form of love which we define as betrothed love. This fact goes to prove that the person has a dynamism of its own, and that specific laws govern its existence and evolution. Christ gave expression to this in a saying which is on the face of it profoundly paradoxical: ‘He who would save his soul shall lose it, and he who would lose his soul for my sake shall find it again’ (Matthew 10:39). [5]

We have a natural fear of giving, of being treated as an object of commerce, and I dare say that this fear is stronger in women, and often well confirmed in the actions of others. Sin exists; degradation exists, but so does Love and dignity. There are probably many times that women are encouraged to ‘give’, when that word implies to ‘sin’: to break the tie between us and the Father, and perhaps even live in this separation from God. This is not giving! It is not charity, but death. It is to give only on a natural order, accepting the degradation God never wants, namely that of being an object, and to close off the road to the true and just giving that springs as a fruit from God’s own love in our hearts. “Love justice, you who judge in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart.” (Wisdom,1:1)

As mentioned above, St. Therese gives an example of a healthy human being. She does not give in to victimization. This is an important point, because without her spiritual health, the statement she makes of “renouncing one’s ultimate rights” and “considering oneself as the servant and the slave of others” would only be the exaggerated expressions of victimization. Victimization is a plague of womankind. It makes a woman ape the true giving and leaves her totally open to degradations that do, in fact, separate her seriously—and perhaps permanently—from God, and so from happiness. St. Therese of Lisieux, however, is giving a testimony of a mind and heart that saw with perfect clarity the possibility of dignity, of equality, of joy and peace, and she took it!

I finally had rest. Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was BURNING WITH LOVE. […] Love has chosen me as a holocaust, me, a weak and imperfect creature. Is not this choice worthy of Love? Yes, in order that Love be fully satisfied, it is necessary that It lower Itself, and that It lower Itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire. [6]

Ultimately, a woman has to find dignity—and thereby peace—in the embrace of the Heavenly Bridegroom, where she will say, “all I have belongs to You”. She will not find dignity in tailoring her independence, treading on dead bodies to bring it about; or in apathy and despair, letting whatever degradation attacking her have its way (be it even as small as irritation when something goes wrong). She can only find dignity in the conscious giving of self. She will have to be adamant about her giving, because she is taking on the whole world. She will be a sign of scandal; she will be a victim. If she is, she will be with Christ, and therein lie her dignity and her joy.

Notes:

[1] The Collected Works of Edith Stein, Volume Two: Essays on WomanSecond Edition, Revised, translated by Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D., ICS Publications, Washington, DC, 1996, p. 161.

[2] St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D., ICS Publications, Washington, DC, 1996, pp. 225-227.

[3] The Kolbe Reader, The Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM CONV., edited by Fr. Anselm W. Romb, OFM CONV., Marytown Press, Libertyville, IL, 2007, p. 132.

[4] The Lady, Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, revised edition and translation by Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., New City Press, New York, London, Manila, 2006, p. 46.

[5] Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 1993, p. 96.

[6] St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D., ICS Publications, Washington, DC, 1996, pp. 194-195.

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Make Room For Children

When my first baby and I had made it through the first critical months of feeding and sleeping, the result was a very plump little girl and a very quickly melting-away mother. I recall how I was carrying my daughter in the back of the church while I listened to the reading where John the Baptist says, “Christ must increase, and I must decrease”. I thought–with the weight of my baby daughter on my hip–that so it was with us: She was increasing and I was decreasing…holy-family-with-elizabeth-and-child-john-the-baptist-1615

The decrease of myself and the increase of my children remain the essence of my vocation: generosity and service. It remains also the “scandal of the Cross”, that enigma to the world that it will never understand. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) Hate could be understood here as a “total lack of understanding”, and as such it is conclusive; it will never change; there is no cross-over between the world and Jesus’ teaching; they remain forever separated. In the eyes of the world, if we don’t live for ourselves in enlightened self-interest, we are simply understood as not living at all, because living is seen as a quantitive ful-filling of ourselves. Consequently, it is scandalous to the mind with this understanding of living that one would ever give, ever welcome, ever sacrifice, unless it is done for personal gain. Give–by all means–but do it in selfish benevolence, to enlarge your ego!

I find this very interesting…because this is truly the opposite of what Jesus says to me: Pick up your cross and follow me. 

For many mothers, who spend the majority of their time giving themselves and emptying themselves, the sensation of their proposed non-existence can become clearly critical, confusing and overwhelming! It isn’t often in life that there are such clearly opposite values connected to our actions. Exactly the same action–that of self-emptying–is lethal in the eyes of the world while it is the essence of life to the Christ-follower. An existential emptying of myself, a forgetting of myself, is the aim of Christian life. Hence, if I follow Christ, I distance myself, with every step, from the understanding of the greater majority of people around me! This seems, on the surface, very frightening. Who wants to be isolated? Who wants to be misunderstood? Who wants to be dead and not alive? But this is just at the surface of things… beneath this surface-threat is the possibility of a friendship of much higher quality than any other, and it is one which satisfies the heart and soul completely.

Authentic living is a giving of self, a self-emptying. As such, it needs an object. This object is Christ Jesus. “Pick up your cross and follow me.” How do I convince myself of that Jesus Christ is this object of my giving? It is important to convince myself of it, not by coercion but in all honesty and calm, to avoid the void that presses itself upon me from the worldview without. A philosophical look at the world and living can help. Actions of love are eternal, while no hoarding of selfish acts can ever “add up” to a full measure. Jesus promises us, however, that he will give us a full measure: “Give and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38) More than anything, this measure is Himself.

Jesus reassured mothers when He said, “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Mothers can give to their children; they can allow and welcome the decrease of themselves and the increase of their children, because–by translation–if we do empty ourselves of ourselves, if we decrease and our children increase, we pick up our cross and follow Him. We do it for Him. We live authentically. We are living in full when we notice and accept and welcome the reduction of ourselves and the increase of our children.

 

The Old Garment

Somewhere in the Bible we’re advised to lay off the old garment. Another passage is the description of the new garments washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Putting these two texts next to each other with yet another, the parable of the old wine sack, seems appropriate and enlightening in these last days of Lent, and in the first days of spring (as it happens here in Wisconsin where warm weather and growth have finally made themselves known). How often life falls back into the old, the fallen, the worn out. A tear in life often just doesn’t mend to hold any liquid no matter the quality of the new fabric patch. It seems surprising. After all, if I find some small source of inspiration, shouldn’t that mend life, bring me back to life? Isn’t that the key to living?Jacob_blesses_Joseph_and_gives_him_the_coat

I’ve found that emotions are mysterious, and often cruel to the unsuspecting and trusting. They suddenly throw me into an inexplicable mood, perhaps not at such great heights or depths, but more often into the state of ennui, the state of the dreadfully ordinary and old… That is the old garment, properly ugly and worn to instill sincere and sober humility. But while the atheist has to remain satisfied with whatever humility is gained from these rags, the redeemed person has gotten a raincheck, a new set of clothes adorned with jewels! As a member of Christ’s Body, I am told to put on Christ. Faith’s necessary; hope’s essential. We are promised a new garment, and an escape from the ennui of un-redeemed creation.

This morning, I remembered this promise when I read the letters of St. Clare to Sr. Agnes of Prague. Encountering St. Clare via her words, I was quickly reminded of what my weak faith and my feeble hope had lost, namely, that God loves. Like St. Clare says:

[The Lord Jesus Christ] has adorned Your breast with precious stones, placed priceless pearls on Your ears, surrounded You completely with blossoms of springtime and sparkling gems and placed on Your head a golden crown as a sign of Your holiness.

How quick God is in responding to me whenever I call! He responds promptly to even the helpless, the weak, the small, small glance around. When I see how empty I am, how old my clothes are, how torn the garments, He comes quickly to remind me of the beauty of His promises. Truly, the promises of God are forever beyond my comprehension. I have to accept that the worm-like state of me now will always be surprised and forgetful of His promises, and I must try once again to renew my faith, hope, and love and respond to the loving attention God gives me. He makes everything new.

It is not a small gift to be allowed to put on Christ. It’s not a momentary inspiration, a little glimmer of hope, a silver lining, but far more. Perhaps that is why I forget it. To put on Christ seems to mean to start all over again and throw out all the preset ideas and expectations, because they are, without fail, products of my own narrow thinking, not God’s.

In the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the daytime prayer reading for Midafternoon stirs up the mind, perhaps already in the claws of the “demon of the afternoon”, the demon tempting the soul to ennui, to slumber, as he is traditionally known in the religious order of Carmel. An unknown Greek author exclaims:

And so as we gaze upon him who is our king and lord and God, and upon her who is queen and lady and the Mother of God, contemplating them with the clear-sighted eye of our minds, let us repeat again and again unceasingly: The queen stands at your right hand, robed in a gown of gold with adornment intricately wrought.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Just on loan from the little King

It’s easy to forget that life is a gift. I am reminded of this now while I’m carrying my fifth child. Many days I am nervous about my child, his health, his future life. Anxiety pairs up with a tense grip around what is mine. Both responsibility and desires for everything to turn out just right become preoccupying… Yet, we only have life on loan–our own life as well as the lives of those given to us. It’s not easy to accept but still necessary. We are not in control of our own life or others. Still, we are truly given the life of others as well as our own life. Particularly children are given to us as gifts. The same goes for our spouses; they also are gifts entrusted to us directly from God. The sacrament of marriage confirms both the gift of our spouse and the gifts of our children. So, how does one hand life back to God? It isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a throwing back of a gift in God’s face. Once He entrusts them to us, He obviously expects something of us, as caretakers of His gifts. In fact, it often strikes me with force that we are accountable even for the faults of our children, because by their lack of understanding and their inherent dependence on us their faults are not really theirs, but ours… Yet, the desire to acknowledge and always remember that our gifts are on loan is a desire for what is right, and it ennobles us because it gives praise where praise is due. It is just. It keeps the mind healthy and the heart at peace.jesus-boy-with-globe-1493.jpg!Large

There is a little King to whom I like to entrust my life and every other gift I get from God, especially my children. He is the little King of the universe, of time and outside time, to whom everything belongs, to whom everything is due to return. The little Infant Jesus, particularly in His age of three, has the childlike lack of care of what belongs to Him, because he assumes (rightly) that everything does in fact belong to Him. Also, as a child, He forgets the difference between what belongs to Him and what belongs to His mother. Everything is shared between them. As mother I can be His (little) mother too, and share everything with Him in that trust and friendship that forgets the differences. It is not so hard to remember, in His presence, that He is in fact in charge. Living is a good game, shared between us. It’s a delight for us to share. Life, even in its hardest moments, its most frightening moments of life and death, becomes easier in His company. He comforts in the way a child comforts. Dwelling with Him, walking with Him, talking to Him, and begging Him for everything–both strength and wisdom, love and patience–is part of the intimate friendship He offers me: yet another of His gifts, and the best of all.

A Christian, linear storyline

adam-and-eve-are-driven-out-of-eden.jpg!LargeOnce when I was very small, I was struck by what seemed to me the unfair distribution of punishments. Did everyone of us really have to pay for the folly of Adam and Eve? I asked my father how we know that we inherited their sin: Since I didn’t eat that apple, why should I have to pay for it? What did it have to do with me? He answered that I know I have inherited original sin because I sin. I was forced to agree with him. It was true, I could have done other than give in last time I did something wrong… I marveled at the actuality of our own falls and failings and the actual possibility of not sinning, not failing. We can choose to do the right thing. So, sinning became to my mind a little less haphazard. This fascination with our free will remains with me today. The human situation and fate is undoubtedly bound up with our falls. They reflect within time the first mistake. But accepting the truth of this reveals were we can have hope. As soon as Adam and Eve failed, God promised a return and a salvation, and central in this promise is the Woman. Anyone with an eye to the feminine influence on history should observe and note that!  God chose to remake the world with the help of a mother.

Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; wheras Mary, by her obedience, undid it. (St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, Martyr, died in 202 AD)

When I wrote After the Fall, a religious–and very Marian–novel set in Sweden, I first gave it the title “A Catholic Priest”. Once I decided for the title After the Fall I realized that some people associate it exclusively with the fall of some particular person, and not with the first fall of our first parents. In my mind these two are not separate but intimately linked together. I hold that unless we always see our sins and failings intimately bound to the original fall of our first parents, perverted fascination with our own faults and consequent subsequent falls are the result, hence such trashy literature out there to the utter admiration of so many, taking us round in a circle of sins and falls and temptations! There is a strong force compelling us to “enjoy” this form of literature, and even go so far as to judge and censure all literature based on its quantitatively content of sins and falls.Mary-Untier-of-Knots-1

There is a better option! God wasted no time to show it to us. He didn’t wait to see how Adam and Eve felt after they had failed in loving and trusting Him; He didn’t let them remain in their sin. He asked them why they were hiding from him; He sought them out. This is our merciful God!

In the words of G. K. Chesterton:

The Fall is a view of life. It is not only the only enlightening, but the only encouraging view of life. It holds, as against the only real alternative philosophies, those of the Buddhist or the Pessimist or the Promethean, that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate. (Quoted in Firmly I believe and Truly, the Spiritual Tradition of Catholic England, edited by John Saward, John Morrill, and Michael Tomko.)

It is this hope and salvation that gives us the possibility, as Christian writers, to follow unabashedly a linear storyline, without the necessity of justifying our writing by remaining in a wheel of life.

Dwell in Truth

I came across a statement in a Swedish book made by the Church Historian Adam of Bremen, who wrote in the 1070s,

If I said more, I would be accused of coming with lies. It is better, as Saint Jerome says, to tell the truth clumsily than present with eloquence that which is not true. (Translation from Swedish by the author)

St. Paul said, “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21). It can be understood along the lines of St. Jerome’s recommendation. Truth, as a moderator to speech, might make life less smooth, less safe and snug, but it gives a guideline, a compass, and finally a good conscience. It also takes off something of the sheen of eloquence but leaves something more stable and proved better. It takes the varnish off and leaves the pure metal.

Prove me, O Lord, and try me; burn my reins and my heart. For thy mercy is before my eyes; and I am well pleased with thy truth. (Psalm 26:2-3)

Truth is merciful. It should not be distrusted, or avoided, or controlled. Only by dwelling in truth can we find a way to a fruitful life, beyond an incrusted egocentrism. Truth is in God, and it is God. It is always beyond us in greatness, yet always something we can bend in humility toward and accept. We can invite the light of truth into our hearts, and dwell with God.

Christ the Pantocrator

Christ the Pantocrator

 

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7)

 I long for Heaven, where we will dwell with God in truth! He cleanses us now, but then we will rejoice with Him. The pain of being cleansed, tried, and proved is often a process of meeting my own conceit and quite tangibly being reduced from what I thought I was to something very insignificant. Still, it is joy, pure and simple, and probably the greatest presence I feel of God and His faithful love.

He has converted my soul. He has led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake. For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. (Psalm 23:3-4)

Christian Hope

image descriptionHope is not an emotional affair. The Christian perspective suggests that hope involves something more than the projection of material success. I used to think a lot about realistic hope. I had come across a sort of ethereal hope that had no more substance than the wish a Dr. Seuss “ish wish dish” might produce. I was frustrated with it and wanted something more, something better, something more realistic. Going through dark times have taught me that hope is impossible without the trust and the abandonment to God where one is willing to trust Him and in fact hope against the sometimes stark realistic circumstances. It is a matter of love, because nothing other than the simple act of love can prompt the act of hope and trust. JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!

Listen to Him

vladimirskayaAmong the few short words that Jesus spoke from the Cross were the words about His mother: “Behold your mother.” He gave me His mother. The mother of God was now, by God’s decree, the mother of a sinner. In her heart is Jesus–only Jesus. With her as mother I share her one love: Jesus. Marian consecration, Mary in our lives, couldn’t be more straightforward, but it requires the trust of her heart, the knowledge of who She is. I couldn’t ever put her in the wrong place unless I first misunderstood who She is, if I first didn’t lack in trust of her. Knowing her, loving her, trusting her as my own mother is sharing Jesus with her. Jesus gave her to me. What a precious gift! Ave Maria!

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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