Saturday, September 29, 2007


Today, September 29, is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

St. Michael is the leader of the angels who fought with the devil: “And there was a battle in heaven; Michael and his angels battled with the dragon… the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, who leads astray the whole world; and he was cast down to the earth and with him his angels were cast down.” (Rev 12:7-9) St. Gabriel announced to Zachary the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1:5-25); and to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the birth of our Lord (Lk 1:26-38). St. Raphael accompanied and assisted the youth, Tobias, on his journey, culminating in the marriage of Tobias to Sarah, her healing from diabolical oppression, and the recovery of Tobit’s sight and of his wealth (Book of Tobit).

We know about the angels through Divine Revelation; but it also stands to reason (why not?) that there should be creatures who are pure spirit. Devotion to the Holy Angels is an antidote to the materialist tendencies of our time.

The doctrine concerning the angels also helps explain the “existence” of evil: It was the serpent who induced Eve to disobey God, out of envy at man’s friendship with God and the happiness it brought. “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wis 2:24). God did not create “evil”, which is simply the absence of a good that should be there; evil entered the universe through the choice of free creatures to turn away from God. The primordial “turning away” from God came from spiritual creatures—the devil and his angels—having greater freedom than man.

“For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands, they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Ps 91:11-12) The devil quotes this line in the temptation of our Lord in the desert (Lk 4:1-13; Mt 4:1-11)—yes, even the devil can quote scripture—to highlight, perhaps, the reason for the fall of his angels: they would not serve mere man. The Holy Angels are those who remained loyal to God; angels who, as speculation goes, in a “preview” of the Incarnation, chose to obey God and to serve the lower creature, man.

It is also of the Faith that each one of us has a Guardian Angel. Our Lord Himself said: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 18:10)

It is no accident that St. Josemaria founded Opus Dei, by divine inspiration, on the feast of the Holy (Guardian) Angels (October 2, 1928). The mission of St. Josemaria and Opus Dei—essentially, to propagate the universal call to holiness, and the truth that all the normal circumstances of ordinary life can be a path to sanctity—is anchored on the fact that we are children of God by grace. And one very consoling “proof” of our divine filiation—of God’s fatherly love towards each of us—is that He gave us our Guardian Angel to help us on our journey towards sanctity. God, in His parental care, gave us our betters to serve us. The holy angels are with us in all the circumstances of daily life.

St. Josemaria writes: “Whenever you are in need of anything, or are facing difficulties, whether great or small, invoke your Guardian Angel, asking him to sort the matter out with Jesus, or to carry out a particular service you may require.” (The Forge, No. 931) Also:

“The Guardian Angel always accompanies us as our principal witness. It is he who, at your particular judgment, will remember the kind deeds you performed for Our Lord throughout your life. Furthermore, when you feel lost, before the terrible accusations of the enemy, your Angel will present those intimations of your heart—which perhaps you yourself might have forgotten—those proofs of love which you might have had for God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.” (Furrow, No. 693)

May we come to appreciate more and more each day the love God has for each of us, his children, by keeping in touch with our Guardian Angel, and with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Angels, our mother.


Saturday, September 15, 2007


A friend of mine once observed that there is much poetry in Catholicism. He was referring to the wealth of imagery in the Catholic Faith. This could be said also of Judaism and other Christian groups, but perhaps it is more pronounced in the Roman Catholic Church. The observation comes to mind because yesterday, September 14, was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, logically followed today, September 15, by the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows: “standing by the cross of Jesus, his mother” (Jn 19:25). The cross is probably the most utilized image in catholic liturgy.

Even before the Crucifixion of our Lord, the cross must have already been a metaphor for suffering, at least within the Roman Empire, where crucifixion was precisely the gravest penalty for crime. From the time of our Lord, however, to us, Christians, the cross has meant not just suffering, but “redemptive suffering”.

Suffering is integral to human nature, not only to our “wounded” human nature but also to our plain human nature, not least because man is spiritual soul and material body. The human body, like all matter, is destined to disintegration; hence the inexorable march towards the wrenching agony of the separation of body and soul which is death.

While Adam and Eve enjoyed freedom from suffering before the original sin, it was by way of a “preternatural gift”, i.e., a good beyond the nature of the human creature, although not beyond the nature of the totality of creation (in the same way that “immortality” is beyond human nature but “natural” to purely spiritual creatures like the angels). When they turned away from God, Adam and Eve lost all their “gifts” and could only transmit to us, their descendants, what was their “nature”, a damaged or wounded human nature at that.

The Redemption accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ brings humanity into “intimacy with God”, actualized individually by grace with the free cooperation of man. But while we now enjoy this “supernatural gift” (beyond the nature of all creatures), its definitive fulfillment for each of us, including liberation from suffering and death, would take place in eternity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not remove suffering from the life of man on earth. Rather, He made it the very means of salvation, of our sanctification. We must learn to unite our own sufferings with that of our Lord.

It is of course good, nay, laudable, to alleviate or remove suffering, our own and others’, in so far as suffering consists in the absence or privation of a good, as long as our action does not constitute a turning away from our ultimate good. But it is best, for the sake of that highest good, to embrace suffering. Thus, we can face with Christian cheerfulness the unavoidable setbacks and difficulties of each day. We can also actively seek opportunities for self-denial, for love of God and neighbor, in many little things that do not really harm ourselves nor inconvenience others, and which could pass unnoticed.

Suffering is an indispensable condition for our entrance into eternal happiness. “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk 9:23ff; cf. Mt 16:24; Lk 14:27) Thus, the Church teaches: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” (CCC, No. 2015)

True, our Lord raised several persons from the dead, healed many sick and fed the hungry multitudes; but these must be seen as manifestations of His mercy and proofs of His Divinity, not as the inauguration of a world liberated from suffering. In fact, after feeding the five thousand men, “when Jesus perceived that they would come to take him by force and make him king, he fled again to the mountain” (Jn 6:15). Our Lord did not come to bring political or economic liberation on earth. The “messianic declaration”—“to bring good news to the poor he has sent me” (Lk 4:18) — “is to be understood mainly in a spiritual, transcendental sense” (The Navarre Bible, Note at passage). It was precisely the Jews’ materialistic and earthbound reading of this quote from the prophet Isaiah (61:1ff) which blinded them from recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Let us not be misled by parties or movements that promise to eliminate poverty, injustice, suffering, from the life of man in the world.

St. Josemaria writes: “The happiness of us poor men, even when it has supernatural motives, always leaves a bitter aftertaste. What did you expect? Here on earth, suffering is the salt of our life.” (The Way, No. 203) On the other hand, “Is it not true that, as soon as you cease to be afraid of the Cross, of what people call the cross, when you set your will to accept the Will of God, then you find happiness, and all your worries, all your sufferings, physical or moral, pass away? Truly, the Cross of Jesus is gentle and lovable. There, sorrows cease to count; there is only the joy of knowing that we are co-redeemers with Him.” (The Way of the Cross, Second Station)


Saturday, September 8, 2007


Today, September 8, is the memorial of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a good time to consider why we need to show devotion to her. Within the context of the general motive of pleasing God, I can think of several specific reasons.

First, we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary to give due adoration to the Blessed Trinity. We venerate (dulla) the saints to honor God, their Creator; more so in the case of our veneration (hyperdulla) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the most perfect of God’s creatures because she is God’s mother.

Jesus Christ, as “perfect God and perfect Man” (Athanasian Creed), derives His Sacred Humanity from the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin Mary is very much a part of His unique identity as Person, the Word of God made flesh, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity Become Man. The Jesus we worship is the “Son of God and Son of Mary”, and not any other Jesus.

Second, we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary to comply with the fourth commandment of the Decalogue: “Honor your father and mother.” She is our mother because she is the Mother of Christ and, as baptized Christians, we are members of Christ—other Christs, Christ Himself, alter Christus, ipse Christus. If we are Christ Himself, Mary is surely our mother.

From the Cross, our Lord also commanded: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27). To behold Mary is to behold her perfections: She is “full of grace” (Lk 1:28), therefore, sinless and “conceived without original sin”, perpetual virgin, assumed into heaven in body and soul. Beholding her perfections, we cannot help but marvel.

St. Josemaria writes: “Almighty God, Omnipotent and Infinitely Wise, had to choose his Mother. What would you have done, if you had had to choose yours? I think that you and I would have chosen the mother we have, filling her with all graces. That is what God did: and that is why, after the Blessed Trinity, comes Mary. Theologians have given a rational explanation for her fullness of grace and why she cannot be subject to the devil: it was fitting that it should be so, God could do it, therefore he did it. That is the great proof: the clearest proof that God endowed his Mother with every privilege, from the very first moment.” (The Forge, No. 482)

At the Annunciation of the Birth of our Savior, the angel Gabriel saluted our Lady, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” (Lk 1:26-28). St. Thomas Aquinas observes that it was the angel, a creature superior to men, who deferred to Mary, not the other way around, which indicates Mary’s special blessedness. Thus, Mary herself also prophesied, “all generations shall call me blessed, because He who is mighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49). This is the greeting of Elizabeth to Mary at the Visitation, which we make our own in the “Hail Mary”: “Blessed art thou among women” (Lk 1:28).

Third, we invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary to benefit more from her intercession. She is the Mediatrix of All Graces, our most powerful intercessor with our Lord. The miracle at the marriage feast at Cana (Jn 2:1-12) happened even if Jesus’ “hour has not yet come”. And though her intercession does not require our asking (as in the wedding at Cana), all the more should her mediation be beneficial, more timely, more insistent, etc., for us by our asking.

God wants us to ask Him for good things, even if He wants even more to give them to us, because we are free. Our prayer of petition is a way of our freely uniting our will with God’s, thereby loving God; and to ask Him for, to want, the good of our fellowmen, is an excellent way of living fraternal charity.

Intercession is an integral part of the “communion of saints”. Hence, the “us” in the Our Father, and the numerous miracles performed upon the intercession of others in the Gospel: the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mt 9:18-26; Mk 5:22-43; Lk 8:41-56), and of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10), the healing of a paralytic (Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26); and of the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Mt 15:21-28; Mk 7:24-30), etc.

We need to have devotion to our Lady, non multa sed multum, “not many but done well.” The most recommended, especially by saints and Popes, is praying the Holy Rosary daily with the family, and wearing the Brown Scapular of our Lady of Mount Carmel. St. Josemaria also recommends frequent, loving glances at pictures or images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as aspirations addressed to her many times during the day (e.g., “Holy Mary, our Hope, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!”). In the end, as St. Josemaria puts it, “Love of our Lady is proof of a good spirit, in works and in individuals. Don’t trust the undertaking that lacks this characteristic.” (The Way, No. 505)

Maligayang kaarawan, Mama Mary!