Circular Letter: Advent 1998

Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name

“Our Father”

God, our Father, is in heaven. He created us in His infinite love in order to lead us to His eternal life and beatitude. And He has loved us so much “that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3,16). How could we not love Him, how could we not want to praise Him?!

One day the Little Flower’s older sister visited her at her workplace in Carmel; it was rather evident that she was immersed in contemplation, even though she was busy sewing. Her sister asked, “What are you thinking about?” “I’m pondering the Our Father, she replied, “It is such a delight to call God, ‘Our Father!'” Tears of commotion glistened in her eyes!

“Hallowed be Thy Name!”

We hallow God’s name not by causing something in Him, but by our delight and approbation of His goodness and holiness; we recognize and treat His Name with reverence. Hence, “in adoration, this invocation is sometimes understood as praise and thanksgiving (cf. Ps. 11,9; Lk 1,49) (CCC 2807). Jesus taught us to present this as our highest petition to the Father; it characterizes the filial relationship we aspire to have with Him. A greater hope than this there is not, than to enter into an intimate and holy union with God, for “the holiness of God is the inaccessible center of His eternal mystery” (CCC 2809). “Asking the Father that His Name be made holy draws us into His plan of loving kindness for the fullness of time, ‘according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ,’ that we might ‘be holy and blameless before Him in love'” (Eph 1,9.4; CCC 2807).

The Name of God is holy not merely as a description, but “holy is His Name!” (cf. Magnificat, Lk 1,49): it is commensurate with His very being, which is a love (cf. 1 Jn 4,9) that “surpasses all knowledge” (Eph 3,19). Such holiness, such love cannot be communicated to us simply as a word, but must be revealed to us in the salvific deeds of Christ “in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2,3).

This hallowing of the divine Name, which was begun by Christ – “Father, I have glorified You on earth, I have accomplished the work You have given Me to do” (Jn 17,4) – continues in and through the members of His Body. St. Paul affirms that God is “manifesting through us the odor of His knowledge in every place. For we are the fragrance of Christ for God” (2 Cor 2,14). Truly, it is the saints, the ‘holy ones’, who draw souls to God by revealing the attractive beauty of (His) holiness. This is the fragrance that best hallows God’s name.

Sanctification and Consecration

In both Hebrew and Greek – the languages of Sacred Scripture – the same word means both ‘to consecrate’ and ‘to sanctify’ (or ‘hallow’). The Hebrew root word means literally ‘to set apart’. God first sets us apart for Himself, so that we find eternal Life and happiness in Him. And we, by giving “thanks to the Father, Who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col 1,12), hallow His Name.

God consecrated Israel and made a covenant with them, that they be a people set apart and holy in His sight (Cf. Dt 7,6; Lev 19,2). That covenant was a type of the New Covenant in Christ. Through Baptism we become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pt 2,9) “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pt 2,5).

Sanctifying the Name of the Lord

How do we hallow the Name of God? How do we give Him a worthy response for His benevolent, paternal love? Best of all in the worthy celebration of the Eucharist: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the Lord” (Ps 116,12f); and then by the gift of our lives and lips: “I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people” (Ps 116,12-14).

First, we want to sanctify God’s Name by our lives, by our deeds. By ordering our lives to heaven, to God’s praise and glory we become holy: “As the One who called you is holy, be you also holy in all your behavior.” (1 Pt 1,15f). Our holiness reflects and magnifies His holiness. Deeds of faith working by charity (cf. Gal 5,6) are the first glorification we offer to God. Thus Abraham, trusting in God’s promise, “grew strong in his faith [and] he gave glory to God” (Rom 4,20). And St. Peter exclaims: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy [and] power [you] are guarded through faith… In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials,…so that the genuineness of your faith, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 1,3-7).

In the docility of faith we accept and observe the Law of God. As Moses declared to Israel: “The Lord has chosen you this day, to be His peculiar people,… to keep all His commandments. And to make you higher than all nations which He hath created, to His own praise, and name, and glory, that you may be a holy people of the Lord your God (Deut 26,18-19).

The New Commandment, Love, bears fruit in union, by which God is again glorified: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (Jn 15,7-8).

From this, other fruits also issue: obedience, chastity, good conduct, patience and harmony in charity, which also glorify God:

“You will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the Gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others” (2 Cor 9,13);

“You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body,” namely in chastity (1 Cor 6,20);

“Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pt 2,12);

“If one suffers [in patience]as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God” (1 Pt 4,16);

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15,5-7).

Men and Angels in the Praise of God

Once we have glorified (hallowed) the Father’s Name interiorly in our hearts by faith, hope and charity and outwardly by a life of Christian virtue, we shall be disposed to offer our gifts of praise and thanksgiving. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us: “Through Him [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” (Heb 13,15).

In this final section we want to accentuate our union with the Angels in hallowing God’s Name. The Angels are the first adorers of God. From the very foundation of the world, when God determined and fixed the ‘cornerstone’ (Christ), “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38,7).

When Moses set up the Holy of Holies, he set the two Cherubim in adoration before the propitiatory plate (type of Christ, the Victim Lamb) because that reflects their ministry before God (cf. Ex 25,18ff.40; 1 Jn 2,2). The Angels were the first adorers of Christ at the hour of His Birth: “Suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and upon earth peace to men of good will!'” (Lk 2,13-14).

Already in the Old Testament, Angels – e.g. in the person of St. Raphael — exhort men to praise God: “When I was with you, I was there by the will of God. Bless Him, and sing praises to Him!” (Tob 12,18). They helped them bring fitting sacrifices to God and salvation to Israel (cf. Jdg 6,21; 13,16). Isaiah beheld the Seraphim blessing God’s name, not in the highest heavens, but in the temple in Jerusalem, crying out to one another: “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of His glory” (Is 6,3).

Mindful of their own incapacity to praise God worthily, the prophets of old exhorted the Angels to praise God: “Bless the Lord, O you His Angels, you mighty ones who do His word, hearkening to the voice of His word! Bless the Lord, all His hosts, His ministers that do His will!” (Ps 103,20-21). Israel longed to join in this song, as this prayer from the synagogue witnesses: “You [O Lord] are holy, and holy is Your Name! Blessed are You, Lord, Holy God. We will sanctify Your Name in the world, even as they [the Seraphim] sanctify it in the highest heavens!”

In the New Testament, we find the Cherubim (first seen by Ezechiel as the bearers of the glory and purifying power of God) intoning – first alone – the “Holy Holy Holy, the Lord God almighty, Who was, and Who is, and Who is coming!” (Apoc 4,8) to the Creator. To this hymn to the Creator the twenty-four elders (representatives of mankind) add their approbation: “Worthy are You, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You have created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Apoc 4,11).

After the Redeemer had ascended triumphantly to the throne of God, though, the Cherubim and the twenty-four elders prostrated themselves simultaneously before the Lamb; each had “a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sing a new canticle… And I heard a voice of many Angels round about the throne, and the living creatures [the Cherubim] and the elders, and the number of them was thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain to receive power and dignity and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.’ And every creature that is in heaven and on earth … I heard them all saying, ‘To Him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing and honor and glory and dominion, forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen’, and the elders fell down and worshipped” (Apoc 5,8ff).

Accordingly, we hallow the Father’s Name best in unison with the Angels together in and through Christ our High Priest; for no one comes to the Father except through Him (cf. Jn 14,6).

This scene from the Apocalypse has inspired the liturgy of the Church from the beginning. And Vatican II teaches: “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly… where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle. With all the heavenly host [of Angels] we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord” (Sacred Liturgy. 8). At every Mass we ask God to join our voices together with the Angels in their unceasing hymn of praise: “Holy, Holy, Holy!” This is the most marked expression of the will of the Church to be associated and united with the Angels in the celebration of the heavenly liturgy. In the Syro-Malabar Rite, which is celebrated in South India, this union with Angels in praise receives a wonderful expression at the very beginning of Mass. Note in this prayer how the Angels’ Christmas hymn, ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’, is interwoven with the ‘Sanctus’ and the first petitions of the ‘Our Father’:

“Glory to God in the highest! Amen.
And on earth, peace and firm hope
to men in all times, forever and ever. Amen.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name;
Your kingdom come:
holy, holy, holy, are You.

Our Father in heaven, the heaven(s) and earth
are full of the grandeur of Your Glory.

Angels and men cry out to You:
holy, holy, holy are You!”

The Shepherd and the Thief

There was a little shepherd, Poimen by name. He too had heard the song of the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will,” and the word that a Savior had been born in the grotto at Bethlehem. Now he was hastily gathering a few things, the best he had to bring to the Child and His mother: a leather skin of milk, a loaf of bread and a goodly chunk of cheese, of which he was particularly proud as he had a hand in its making, and then too his warm woolen blanket. “King He may be as the Son of David, but if He’s lying in a manger, the family must be poor, and He’ll need to keep warm.” He shivered at the thought, but his very own need made him the more sure that it was the right thing to give.

The way to Bethlehem led him through a little cluster of homes that belonged to some poor farmers. Though late, a lamp was burning in one of the cottages, and as he drew near the rasping cough of a child told him why! As he passed the door was opened, and the distraught mother came out, lamenting in her anguish: “He’s going to die; he’s just freezing to death!” “Here,” offered the little shepherd, extending, without even reflecting, the woolen blanket to her, “this will keep him warm!”

Continuing his way, he hoped and trusted that the Savior Child might not need the blanket. In any case, He would understand, for the Angel called Him the Shepherd of Israel, and shepherds are more concerned for their sheep than for themselves. Consoling himself with such thoughts he progressed into the woods that lay between him and Bethlehem. His ‘meditation’ was interrupted by the sound of steps following him. He increased his pace and prayed to God, but was not able to maintain the distance. Soon a harsh voice commanded him to stop, saying: “Give me what you have there!” “I only have a bit of cheese and milk, which I was bringing to a needy family.” “No matter, I’m hungry, so hand it over!” Resistance was pointless, and so more out of fear and resignation than kindness, he handed the food over, thinking he would prefer his surrender to a brawl.

Recovering somewhat from his fear, while the brigand devoured his fare, he lamented, “It’s a shame that I no longer have anything to give to the Child now!” “What child?” asked Enosh, the thief. “I don’t rightly know,” responded Poimen, “but it is certainly a noble family”, he added, thinking how fitting a gift would be.

“In that case, I’m coming with you!” interjected the still booty hungry thief. The tone and glisten of his eye in the moonlight were unmistakable. “They will scarcely have anything to offer you,… they’ve set up quarters at the shepherd cave near Bethlehem.” The thief, though, was fixed in his idea, that he might still make a good profit in the night’s venture.

Soon they arrived at the place, where other shepherds had already gathered. There was a hushed stillness and peace to the gathering; a young man was explaining everything to them. Shortly thereafter, they were all permitted to enter the grotto. They beheld a young mother with an Infant. The sight of such innocence and beauty touched all who beheld the Child. The coarse, weathered faces softened at the sight, and the fatigue was supplanted by palpable joy! The little shepherd explained the gifts he had prepared and how they had filled others’ needs underway, and how sorry he was not to have brought anything. How surprised he was at Joseph’s response, “Why, you brought the thief along!” These words were said in such a way, that they relieved Poimen and made him glad, for he understood that providence had meant it to be so.

The thief, when he saw the real need alongside the kindness that was extended to himself, even though he had been seen through, was ashamed; the bread and cheese felt like lead in his stomach. He felt himself blush, and half wished that he could disappear. But he only half wished this, for there was still the cordial warmth and welcome in the eyes and voice of Joseph. And when the Virgin turned and looked up at him from her Child, there was still the tender, giving love of a mother that enfolded him too. His heart melted, and he could scarcely hold back the sob! Enosh had not seen or received any such gift of love for more than a score of years, ever since his mother had died when he was but a child. And the year after that, the year of the famine, his father also died, and he was turned out onto the street. It was then as a homeless youth that he had become streetwise and hardened in crime, and now the Holy Family had given him a home. Enosh wept for joy and for sorrow; joy for the finding, sorrow to think that he should have this joy only for a moment.

Joseph, perceiving this, put his hand on his shoulder and suggested, “Why not join forces with the little shepherd? You could certainly offer a stalwart protection for the sheep! Poimen will certainly accept your company now.” Enosh was overwhelmed at the thought, “Is it possible? Would you really accept me?” An older person might have hesitated, but a child senses when a conversion is deep and real, and so Poimen extended his hand saying, “Readily, if that is your wish.” “Yes, yes, I want to,” replied the thief, “I want to have a home and friends; I want to live in peace with God!”

Joseph was delighted by the turn of events and repeated to the little shepherd: “It was good that you brought him as your gift along!” And to Enosh he said, “And you too have brought us a great joy, for a new heart and a new life is the best gift for the God-Child. And the little shepherd and the new shepherd returned glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken to them

Fr. William Wagner, ORC

Praising with the Seraphim

St. Margaret M. Alacoque

“Once, as the sisters were busy doing hemp work, I withdrew to a small courtyard that was close to the Blessed Sacrament. There I performed my work, kneeling, and instantly I found myself in complete interior and exterior recollection. At the same time I was shown the amiable Heart of my adorable Jesus, more resplendent than the sun. It was in the midst of the flames of His pure love and surrounded by Seraphim, who sang in admirable harmony: “Love triumphs. Love gladdens. The Love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus delights.” And these blessed spirits invited me to join in their praises of this Divine Heart, but I did not dare to do so. They chided me for that, telling me that they had come to associate themselves with me in order to render a perpetual homage of love, of adoration and praise to Him and that to this end they would take my place before the Blessed Sacrament, so that, through their mediation, I could love It without cease, while they were participating in my love, suffering in my person, just as I was delighting in theirs. And at the same time they inscribed this alliance with golden letters and indelible characters of love in this Most Sacred Heart. This lasted for some two or three hours, the effects of which I have felt afterwards my whole life long, both in the assistance that I have received and in the sweetness which it brought forth in me and is still bringing forth… And when I prayed to them, I henceforth called them by no other name except my heavenly associates. This grace produced such a longing for the purity of intention in me and such a high conception of the purity one must possess in order to commune with God that, compared to this, everything appeared to be impure to me”. (Cf. Autobiography. Translated from the German)

A Christmas Experience:

St. Margaret M. Alacoque

Once, as I was making a retreat, our Lady, my holy Rescuer, honored me with her visit. She carried her Divine Son in her arms, placed Him in mine and said, “Behold, He will teach you what you have to do.” I was overwhelmed with exceeding joy and filled with such ardent longing to caress Him, that He let me do so as long as I wished. When I was tired, unable to continue, He said to me, “Are you satisfied now? Let this serve you as a lesson forever. I will that you too be placed in My hands for Me to do as I please, the way you saw Me do it. Whether I caress you or torment you, you shall have no other sentiments except those that I give you.” Ever since that time I have found myself in the blissful incapacity of resisting Him. (Cf. Life and Works of St. Margaret M. Alacoque. Translation from the German.)

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