Circular Letter: Advent 2018
Imitating Mary in her Self-offering this Advent
As we approach once again the mystery of the birth of the Incarnate Word, who came to fulfill the promise of Redemption, the Church directs our eyes on the figure of Mary as she silently travels the long and lonely road to Bethlehem with Joseph, under the watchful gaze of the holy Angels. Advent is a time of penance, of “making straight” the crooked paths and “filling in” what is lacking in our own lives in the way of virtue and charity. Joseph along with Mary, traveling in her ninth month of pregnancy without any of the modern conveniences, certainly suffered greatly along this way, made in extreme poverty and toil. Nevertheless, it is also a time of hope, of joyful expectation in the knowledge that our Redemption has come and will soon appear before us in the manger! And so we want to walk this path to Bethlehem with Mary, Joseph, and the holy Angels, pondering the mystery of her Heart which beats in unison with the Heart of the Divine Child beneath it, in order fill our minds and hearts with her same sentiments.
The First Light of Advent: the Purity of Mary
At the beginning of Advent, the Church celebrates Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The Heart of Mary is first of all pure, open, ready for the call of God. By her “fiat”, the Son of God took flesh in her womb and initiated the work of Redemption. Her Heart is strong, as the message of Fatima—a message for our times—reminds us: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!” All around us, we see the flames of hell flaming up in society, with all its attacks on human life, marriage and family. Contraception, abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, divorce, transgender are all epidemics particularly prevalent in our modern times. Even within the Church herself, the “smoke of Satan” has entered; see the scandalous lives of some of her highest ranking pastors. Precisely in such times of turmoil and distress God intervenes. During the stormy years in the history of Israel God sent the judges and the prophets leading up to the coming of Christ. In our times, God sends us Mary, the Immaculate One, and the holy Angels.
She who in her Seed is destined to “crush the head of Satan” (Gen 3:15) was created all pure. Sin, and therefore, the devil, has no power over her, for she has ordered all her affections to God.
Purity is not something sweet and fragile, like a delicate little flower, which one dare not blow upon. Otherwise, it would not be said of Mary, Most Pure, that she is – precisely in her purity – terrible like an army set in battle array [cf. Cant. 6:10]. This mighty strength for battle is purity, it forces the demons back, it sunders the roaring flames of the onslaught of hell.
The personification of purity is Mary and also the angels. Purity in our days is the strength and courage to avoid every sin, even if one is laughed at, even if one is dismissed by others as backward. We must have the courage to remain faithful to GOD, courage for the truth, courage for love. Certainly, the evil one does not make things easy for us; he did not make it easy for the three youths in the flaming oven in Babylon, either. But just as back then the Angel was sent to save them from the flames, so is he today also already present. He waits for us, in order to take us by the hand. And Mary will go before us like the heavenly pillar of fire, before which the multitude of the godless will retreat. (Mother Gabriel, Letters to Domincan Nuns).
At Fatima, Our Lady promised that through the devotion to her Immaculate Heart, souls would be saved. She said to the children, “You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. It is to save them that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart” (July 13, 2017). The devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not just a set of prayers or a special affection for Mary, it is imitation of Mary, her Heart, precisely in her openness for the will of God, her purity, her self-giving, her reparation, her acceptance of sorrows and offering them up in union with the sufferings of Christ. Pope Benedict XVI wrote when still a Cardinal, “According to Matthew 5:8, the ‘pure heart’ is a heart which, by God’s grace, has come to perfect interior unity and therefore ‘sees God’. To be ‘devoted’ to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means, therefore, to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat—’your will be done’—the defining center of one’s whole life” (Theol. Comment. On the 3rd Secret).
Reparation at the Heart of this Devotion
At the very core of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is reparation: “In front of the palm of Our Lady’s right hand was a heart encircled by thorns which pierced it. We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation” (June, 1917). Not by coincidence, at the core of the Work of the Holy Angels is also the concept of reparation, that is, of expiation, especially for priests. As we mentioned in the Summer circular letter last year, the Church approved already in 2016 the consecration of expiation for use in the Opus Angelorum. The Angels are a special help in our spiritual life. They mediate to us the light to discern the will of God and great strength of will to carry it out. They help us to accept and carry our cross in imitation of Christ. But it is not just for our own personal growth in holiness that they are sent. God wants to use us as His instruments for the salvation of many. Therefore, He sends us His holy Angels to train, strengthen and lead us, so that we may become instruments of God’s merciful love in the world, bringing grace and help to others through loving expiation.
Many people are frightened by the word “expiation” and immediately think of victim souls bound to their beds, wracked with horrible pains and suffering. But actually, every Christian is called by Baptism to participate in Christ’s own consecration of expiation for the salvation of the world: “I consecrate Myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19) To participate in Jesus’ work of the Redemption is the way of Christian charity and the greatest work of mercy we can do for our neighbor. Pope St. Paul VI, who was canonized this past October, wrote:
Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Christian faithful have always endeavored to help one another on the path leading to the heavenly Father through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervor of charity, the more they have imitated Christ in His sufferings, carrying their crosses in expiation for their own sins and those of others, certain that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God, the Father of mercies. (Paul VI, Indulgentiarum doctrina (Jan 1, 1967), 5.
Becoming Co-workers in the Redemption
Mary, the Co-Redemptrix, participated in a singular and exalted way, sharing most intimately in Christ’s sacrifice as His “helpmate”, the New Eve at the side of the New Adam. Just as Eve caused death, so Mary, with her ‘yes’, became ‘a cause of salvation’ for herself and for all mankind (cf. St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, 22, 4). In the Catechism, it is written that Jesus calls all of His disciples
to “take up their cross and follow Him” (Mt 16:24), for “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example so that we should follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). In fact, Jesus desires to associate with His redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of His Mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of His redemptive suffering. (cf. CCC 618)
This is not to say that Christ’s sacrifice was somehow “insufficient” and that He needs the help of Mary or of any other creature. Rather, Christ merited the salvation of all men for all time, but nevertheless, God willed that man voluntarily participate in His work, that it be somehow the fruit also of his own action. Unless we ourselves somehow actively and voluntarily consent to the cross, it is not really our own act, our own response to God’s love. St. Thomas Aquinas comments on St. Paul’s statement, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Col 1:24) saying:
At first glance these words can be misunderstood to mean that the passion of Christ was not sufficient for our redemption, and that the sufferings of the Saints were added to complete it. But this is heretical, because the Blood of Christ is sufficient to redeem many worlds: “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). Rather, we should understand that Christ and the Church are one mystical person, whose head is Christ, and whose body is all the just, for every just person is a member of this Head: “individually members” (1 Cor 12:27). Now God in His predestination has arranged how much merit will exist throughout the entire Church, both in the Head and in the members, just as He has predestined the number of the elect. And among these merits, the sufferings of the holy martyrs occupy a prominent place. For while the merits of Christ, the Head, are infinite, each Saint displays some merits in a limited degree. This is why he says, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, that is, what is lacking in the afflictions of the whole Church, of which Christ is the Head. I complete, that is, I add my own amount; and I do this in my flesh, that is, it is I myself who am suffering. (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Col. 1:23b-29)
Speaking our “Yes” of Faith: ECCE!
Mary’s role as Co-Redemptrix begins with her Immaculate Heart. While her Immaculate Conception was a pure gift of God, without any prior merit on her part, her response and use of this gift was not. Mary’s response expressed itself in her cooperation through her obedience of faith, openness to the word of God, and generosity of soul. And in all this, we can imitate her. “The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her Heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Savior into the world” (Card. Ratzinger, Theol. Commentary on the 3rd Secret).
As we approach Christmas, the Liturgy of the Church recalls the great moment of decision in the life of Mary and in the history of the world, the moment of the Annunciation. When the Angel brought to her the invitation of God to become the Mother of the Messiah, God required her full, human consent.
Indeed, at the Annunciation Mary entrusted herself to God completely, with the ‘full submission of intellect and will,’ manifesting ‘the obedience of faith’ to Him who spoke to her through His messenger (cf. Dei Verbum, 5). She responded, therefore, with all her human and feminine ‘I,’ and this response of faith included both perfect cooperation with ‘the grace of God that precedes and assists’ and perfect openness to the action of the Holy Spirit, who ‘constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts’ (Dei Verbum, 5). (JPII, Redemptoris Mater, 13).
How Mary answered the Angel, who came to her in God’s name, is the standard and prototype for each one of us. Mary was well-versed in the prophecies; she knew that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows”, bearing the guilt of all men (cf. Is 52:13 – 53:12). Nevertheless, she did not hesitate to say yes to God through the Angel. Mother Gabriel comments,
Will we not again and again be unexpectedly placed before decisions? Of course, these are very small in comparison with the decision Gabriel demanded of Mary; but we are also very small children in our spiritual growth towards God in comparison with Mary, the sinless one, the Queen of the Angels. The Angel always stands on God’s side, even when he stands before Mary. He is God’s messenger, therefore he stands; she is the receiver, she kneels before GOD, who inclines over her in the words of the Angel. So if we hear the Angel in our hearts as admonisher, we do not have some “cute little Angel” before us, whom we can treat like a child, but rather a mighty power of God, and God Himself inclines over us, when the Angel points up to Him. “Do not think him one to be contemned: … My Name [authority] is in him,” says the Lord (Ex 23:21).
And therefore, it is to be taken seriously if the Angel says to us, “make this sacrifice” or “be silent and pray and love” or “leave behind your derogatory thoughts and remarks”. God stands behind these words, just as back then He stood behind the words of Gabriel, and He waits for our decision. Not that our will be done and be the standard, but that the will of God be done to us. And that alone is decisive: that we learn to say ECCE and FIAT MIHI just as unconditionally and clearly and submissive to the will of God as Mary did—in blind faith, with unconditional trust, in love which surrenders wholly to God.
Silently Bearing the Burden of Christ with Mary and Joseph
The time of Advent is still a penitential time in the Church. This time of silence and fasting and reflection should not be reduced to the color of the vestments at Holy Mass nor to certain songs that we sing. Neither should it be forgotten in the midst of all the preparations (or “pre-Christmas parties”!) which lead up to the great feast of Christmas, that the Child Jesus also wants us to participate in His work, that He needs us. In the face of such a great crisis in the Church at this time, not to mention all the disorders and evil in the world around us, we want to do our part to help purify and renew the Church. Mary and Joseph walked silently on the way to Bethlehem, hidden from the world, unknown to all. Yet they bore the burden of the whole world, willingly and consciously taking upon themselves all the hardships and toil necessary to bring forth the fulfillment of God’s promise—for the sake of all mankind!
So too, in our daily lives, lived with such good will, with all our efforts to do God’s will, to live good Christian lives and carry our own crosses, let us remember that we, too, are bringing JESUS into this world, that we are strengthening the members of His Body. Let us willingly and consciously offer all our own hardships for the sake of the Church, for her priests, for our seminaries and seminarians. The holy Angels are here with us; they want to strengthen us. Let us call upon them, let us make expiation, let us help bear the burden of those who are tempted or fallen. Pope John Paul II had lamented the fact that so few took seriously the call of Our Lady: “How pained we are that the invitation to repentance, to conversion, to prayer, has not met with the acceptance that it should have received! How pained we are that many share so coldly in Christ’s work of Redemption! That ‘what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’ (Col 1:24) is so insufficiently completed in our flesh” (Act of Cons. to Immac. Heart, May 13, 1982). Let us not be among those who forget, but let us build up and support our faithful and holy priests. In this way, we will be active soldiers in the army of the Immaculate, the Queen of the Angels and contribute towards her triumph. This is a way of mercy, a way of selfless generosity, a way of love. If we walk this way, JESUS, coming as the infant King of Love, will dwell in our hearts and find therein His consolation and warmth and joy despite all the poverty of Bethlehem. Oh what joy for us! To be so near to Him, to feel the beat of His Heart in our own heart!
Consecration as Participation in the Redemption
Thus, when we look at the great needs of our times and in the Church, we must remember that we are the Church, member for member of Christ’s Mystical Body. We, each one of us, is called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). Pope St. John Paul the Great brings this out especially in the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary which he made in union with all the Bishops of the world on March 24, 1984. This consecration—though it came late—was accepted, according to the testimony of Sr. Lucia, as fulfilling the basic conditions Our Lady requested at Fatima. In this prayer, he expresses the essential role each of the faithful plays in the battle against sin and evil, the indispensable need for penance and expiation by the Church, for the good of the Church and the world. At the hand of the holy Angels we, too, want to unite ourselves and consecrate ourselves firmly and decisively to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and her great mission in the world.
Behold, as we stand before you, Mother of Christ, before your Immaculate Heart, we desire, together with the whole Church, to unite ourselves with the consecration which, for love of us, your Son made of Himself to the Father: ‘For their sake’, He said, ‘I consecrate Myself that they also may be consecrated in the truth’ (Jn 17:19). We wish to unite ourselves with our Redeemer in this His consecration for the world and for the human race, which, in His divine Heart, has the power to obtain pardon and to secure reparation.
The power of this consecration…overcomes every evil that the spirit of darkness is able to awaken, and has in fact awakened in our times, in the heart of man and in his history. How deeply we feel the need for the consecration of humanity and the world—our modern world—in union with Christ Himself! For the redeeming work of Christ must be shared in by the world through the Church.
Hail to you, who are wholly united to the redeeming consecration of your Son! Mother of the Church! Enlighten the People of God along the paths of faith, hope, and love! … Immaculate Heart! Help us to conquer the menace of evil, which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today, and whose immeasurable effects already weigh down upon our modern world and seem to block the paths towards the future! …Help us with the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer all sin: individual sin and the ‘sin of the world’, sin in all its manifestations. Let there be revealed, once more, in the history of the world the infinite saving power of the Redemption: the power of merciful Love! May it put a stop to evil! May it transform consciences! May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of Hope!
Essentially, the way of expiation is a way of love. The Beloved Disciple John, the Apostle of Love, sums up this essential dimension of the Christian life saying: “The way we came to know love was that He laid down His life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (1 Jn 4:10-11). May this tremendous love of God fill your hearts and overflow to others, to the whole Church, this Christmas!
Sr. Maria Basilea
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