It is an ancient custom in our faith to veil sacred images in the final two weeks of Lent. The idea is that, like so many other symbols of the faith, the visible instruments that remind us of who we are are little by little taken away from us as we approach Good Friday. This carries over ultimately to a situation wherein one enters a Catholic church on Holy Saturday in total darkness and total silence. The altar is stripped, the tabernacle is empty and wide open, the organ has been silenced, the holy water drained. Indeed, the imagery is one of death. All is gloriously restored in the Great Easter Vigil begun by the lighting of the Paschal candle, symbolizing the light of Christ.
For your pleasure, I have included several pictures of how my wife handled this task around our house. Again, I think it’s so important for Catholic parents to try to instill a deep-seated love of the faith in our children from an early age. Give them something to wonder about. Wait for them to come to you and ask “Mommy? Why is the crucifix covered in that purple cloth?” “Daddy, why are we so quiet today? Is it because of Great Friday?” That’s what my son calls Good Friday. Let us keep praying for one another. I believe that through our blogs, Catholic moms and dads, we’re strengthening each other and helping to raise better, more Catholic kids.
God be praised!
So, in case you haven’t read about my poor Infant of Prague Statue, now would be a good time to do so BEFORE reading the rest of this post. Go ahead. Click here FIRST and then click here SECOND. I’ll wait.
Oh good. You’re back. Well, Prague as we call our little friend here (I’ve always been on very intimate terms with my friends the saints and of course the Holy Infant), has finally been fixed (more or less). My husband glued him back into one piece, as opposed to the three he’s been in for a while now. Yesterday, we even had him all dressed up in his white vestments for the Feast of the Annunciation. Doesn’t he look adorable? And isn’t his Prague hat (or crown as some of you might call it) way more awesome than any other Prague hat you’ve ever seen? I know, right? Can you tell I’m more than a little happy to have him back in one piece? Yeah. I’m that big of a saint dork.
Monday January 9, 2012
Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord
And so ends the Christmas Season. Again with the crazy calendar! OK, one more time… Normally, this feast is celebrated on a Sunday and serves concurrently as the final Sunday of the Christmas Season and the First Sunday of Ordinary Time (sort of, but that’s another story). When Epiphany is celebrated on a Sunday AND that Sunday falls on January 8th, the Church, in an effort not to extend Christmas too long, simply moves the Baptism to the next day and then Ordinary Time begins on a Tuesday. Confused? Trust me, I promise it’s much easier from here on. We’re pretty safe until Ash Wednesday.
At mass this morning the priest posed this statement. “You might wonder, as I do, why someone without sin would need baptism. The simple answer is that we don’t know. But more than anything it shows that Christ went through everything we go through and He did it first.” Hmm… Well, Fr., OK, if you like. Can you tell I’m not really buyin’? Let me propose another way.
While there is a certain truth to what that priest said, it isn’t the whole story. Yes, Our Blessed Lord did do many things to show the depths of His love for us. He became one of us — TRUE God and TRUE man as our creed proclaims. He was hungry, He slept, He ate, He rested. He was tempted by the devil; but He resisted. Ultimately, in His death He teaches us that we need not fear death because He rose from the grave and will raise us too. This is most comforting to the dying. I often meditate on His suffering when I am afflicted with physical pain (as I am much of the time). Surely on His walk to Calvary, Christ’s back hurt far worse than what I suffer now. He was there and IS there with me. So, yes, he was baptized and so we should be too. But the baptism of the Jews had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin. That would have been an abomination to them. It was a ritualistic washing, a cleansing with religious overtones. This explains why John was baptizing.
But Jesus’ baptism is about much more. As much as anything, from a literary standpoint, it serves to bring Jesus and John together. Coincidentally, this story is where John begins to fade from view and marks the true beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. As Jesus approaches the Jordan John make the observation:
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
And when our Lord emerges from the water, we get a beautiful moment of luminosity — light shed on the mystery. “Who is this Jesus?” the people must have been wondering. “Is He the Christ of God?” they may have asked themselves. As water drips from his sacred head…
…he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Baptism of the Lord is the day we celebrate this moment.
On a side note, the liturgical calendar is designed for us to be able to walk through the life of Christ, start to finish, in the span of the year. We begin in Advent with an understanding that, above all else, Christ will come again. This is our focus. Then we apply that understanding to the commemoration of His first coming, celebrating His birthday. Throw in a feast honoring the Virgin Mother (Jan. 1) and the celebration of the Three Kings and then BAM! we’re already at his baptism which occurred when He was 30 years-old! I think, if nothing else, this, too, is a revelation of the humanity of Christ hidden in the story of our year. The Gospel is largely silent on His life from Epiphany to the Baptism. We even call this the “hidden years at Nazareth”. But think about it. It’s silent because He was busy doing the mundane things that any human does. He grew up. He studied Torah. He learned a trade.
Still it does have a tendency to feel like “wasn’t he just born last week and now he’s a grown man?” Oh well, I don’t write the calendar, folks. And that’s a good thing because I’d probably have Christmas go a whole lot longer…
Gospel excerpted from Mk. 1:7-11.
Sunday January 8, 2012
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
I’ve already mentioned that most of the Christian world celebrates this feast on January 6th. But leave it to us Americans to transfer the feast and so January 8th (this year) is our observance of the Epiphany.
An epiphany is a revelation, a sudden understanding of something that had previously been hidden. What are we celebrating on this day? Well, we commemorate a particular even, for starters. Our Gospel reading focuses on the story of the Magi — the wise men — who came from the East, following a star, to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews.
Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.
You may be asking: “Aren’t Christians opposed to astrology?” Yes. But I’ve always understood this part of the story to indicate that God, who is creator of all and Lord of all, can use all things to lead men to His Son. But that’s just my two cents. The point is that they inadvertently went to the wrong guy to ask that question. So much is bound up in this passage. So many other events are triggered by their words. Herod, blinded to the truth of the prophets and thinking a new king would threaten his potency, became enraged. In actuality, Herod wasn’t a terrible guy up until this point. He had, after all, constructed a major renovation of the Temple grounds. But when the Magi left him he began to plot to kill the Child Jesus. Here we see that from the moment of his birth, Our Blessed Lord, was already facing death. But it was not His time…
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Here we get to the real heart of the story. After the shepherds, this is the first real recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews. Here we see earthly power kneeling before the king of heaven and earth. And what of their gifts? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh… Although all three could be considered traditional gifts to give a king; the deeper meaning is much richer. The gold is a symbol of kingship outright. The frankincense is symbolic of deity (prayers rising to God which is symbolized by the smoke of burning incense). But the myrrh is perhaps most troubling to the heart of the Virgin Mother. Myrrh is a burial spice, an aloe for embalming. Not only did Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (the traditional names for the Magi) recognize the King of Kings in the Christ child, they recognized exactly who He was and, though they might not have known exactly why or how, they recognized that He would die for us.
What I take away from this tender yet jarring moment in Our Lord’s life is the need for all of us to be magi. We are called to recognize Him in the most unlikely of places — to see Him in the newborn, to lavish him with gifts in the person of the poor and weak. We should never tire of traveling in search of Him, following all the signs He gives us as He calls us throughout our life. And when we find Him we must fall to our knees and spend that quiet time with Him. This is, after all, why He created us and why He became one of us and why He asks us to give ourselves to Him.
Quoted passages excerpted from Mt. 2:1-12.
January 3rd, the Holy Name of Jesus
What is this day all about? Well, let me ask another question? What does your name mean? Does it signify anything special about you? How about your nickname? Diminutive names are usually given to us by others and usually represent something personal about us. Our family name marks us as a person with a particular strand of DNA — in other words, it tells another something about us. It speaks of who we are at an intimate level.
The sacred name of Our Lord, Jesus, has a deep meaning, too. But His is not a name hidden from us. Jesus, as Matthew tells us, means “God saves”. His whole life, mission, ministry is for our salvation. God saves us from our sins and He does so through the person of His Son, Jesus.
Now then, why celebrate this? I mean, every November I celebrate my birthday but I don’t have a special day to commemorate when my parents decided to name me. We celebrate this day because the name of Jesus is far more powerful than your name or mine.
…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul gives us a glimpse just how powerful and sacred Our Blessed Lord’s name really is. So revered should it be that he teaches us to genuflect when we pronounce it! Over time the common custom arose of simply bowing one’s head. I try to do this myself (especially during mass, the six or seven times Jesus’ name is spoken) and I’ve noticed others doing this too.
I suppose, and more to the point, that His name is only part of the greater revelation of God’s great love for us. Not only did He enter into our race, take on our flesh, our blood, and our nature; but to seal the deal He’s got a name by which we can call him. There is intimacy there. We call our friends by their names. He wants to be our intimate, our friend.
There is also a whole related issue of the representation of His name. It is not uncommon to see a beautifully adorned “IHS” in sacred art going back centuries. These letter alternately stand for IHSOUS (Greek form of Jesus) and for Iesus Hominum, Salvator (Latin for Jesus, Savior of Mankind). Again, this is further proof of the devotion Christians have shown the name. And down to our own day — Mother Teresa’s dying words: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” bear witness to the great power, the great communion with God in the child who was born and given a name to save us.
As you can see by my header picture, the answer is clearly “The Infant of Prague”.
In Roman Catholicism, this particular depiction of Jesus first dates to 17th century Prague (present-day Czech Republic). The story is that a princess by the name of Polyxena von Lobkowicz had received the small statue of Christ as a wedding present and then gave the statue to a group of Carmelite nuns with whom she was friendly. However, there is no accounting for why anyone would have sculpted a wax statue of an infant with the face of a pre-pubescent child and the body of a primordial dwarf. Apparently it was the style. Regardless, devotion to the child Jesus depicted by the statue spread. Through the years many Catholic families the world over have kept Infant of Prague statues lovingly on display in their homes as a sign of their devotion to the tenderness of the God who chose to come among us as a helpless little child.
When I was a younger man my sister Bridget, three years younger than I, received a beautiful statue of Prague. As you can tell by my omission of the “Infant of”, I became quite attached to the statue. Bridget, Prague, and I (bizarre way to start of sentence but follow me here) had quite a time. Let me explain. I need to mention that her statue came not merely with the standard red priestly vestments and soldered on gold crown with which we are so familiar. No, this Prague came with an ornate and removable crown. It was removable because he also came with a complete set of vestments in all the proper liturgical colors — green for ordinary time (symbolizing hope), red for feasts of martyrs and the Passion (symbolizing blood), violet for Advent and Lent (symbolizing penitence), etc. Unfortunately, Bridget sometimes neglected to change Prague’s “outfits” to match the Roman calendar. Being a pious and pushy lad I was forced to take it upon myself to vest Prague as needed. This greatly angered Bridget much to my obliviousness. But as they say, it’s all fun and games until someone gets his hand slammed in the lid of an upright player piano by his baby sister for “*@&$ing with my &@*$ing statue)”.
When I got married, my mother found a smaller Prague in a Catholic gift shop. This one didn’t have nearly the wardrobe of Bridget’s Prague. Still, he manages to grace the top of that old upright piano which now sits in my living room. It is, in fact, the same Prague you see in my banner.
Apart from the obvious rhyming nature of “Prague” and “blog” I figure there is no better patronage to invoke for this page. Our Blessed Lord, as infant, as king, as savior is He whom prophets longed and hoped for and it is He whom the saints sought for their eternal reward.
Interested in learning more about Him and about them?
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