Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mary of the Annunciation

Her Story:
A number of the Blessed Mother's titles refer to her given name, Mary. Titles such as Mary of Nazareth, Mary of Bethlehem, and Mary of Galilee commemorate those places where the Virgin experienced God's providence. Other titles, such as Mary of the Visitation and Mary of Calvary, mark milestone events in her life. Of these titles, Mary of the Annunciation is particularly inspiring to the people of God, for it memorializes a young girl's complete trust in the goodness of her creator.

The Gospel of Luke (1:26-38) provides the only account of the Annunciation in the Bible, relating that the angel Gabriel went to Nazareth to tell Mary, a maiden engaged to be married, that she was going to bear the long-awaited anointed one. Gabriel announced to this teenager, "And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High."

Because this announcement puzzled Mary, who was certain of her virginity, Gabriel explained how God would make the impossible pregnancy occur: "For nothing will be impossible with God."

Despite the angel's reassurances, Mary must have been terrified. Not even married, and pregnant! No one would believe this miracle, so she would be stoned or exiled. Was this to be her only reward for faithful service to God? Yet she found the courage within her young soul to submit to God's designs: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word."

Mary's cousin Elizabeth--or rather, Elizabeth's unborn child, John--confirmed the angel's message for Mary in what amounted to another annunciation: "And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:43-44). Elizabeth also prophesied Mary's faith that through her God would bring to fulfillment what had been foretold of old.

While Mary responded to the angel's annunciation with submission, she greeted Elizabeth and John's annunciation with rejoicing: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..." (Luke 1:46-47).

Mary's twofold response to the Annunciation--first her trusting submission to divine providence, then her joyful praise of the Lord's ways--has inspired the people of God for two millennia. She challenges the faithful to become the persons God created them to be and then to rejoice in the transformation, trusting that with God all things are possible.

During our trip to Israel, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, now a large Christian Arab town in the north (in Galilee). The modern basilica, completed in 1969, is the fifth church to be built on this site, reputedly the place where the Virgin Mary was living when the Angel Gabriel brought her life-changing news.

The basilica is located at the top of a hill and is quite a beautiful church.

The focus of the sanctuary is an exposed cavern, below the modern floor but open to view; called the Grotto of the Annunciation, it is the place where, according to tradition, the angel appeared to Mary. The remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches flank the grotto, and the altar within the grotto is from the 18th-century Franciscan church that had been built on this site. Here's a view of the grotto:

The basilica is highly decorated. The massive doors are bronze and depict, in relief, scenes from the gospels.

On the walls of the sanctuary are a number of really incredible mosaic pictures. Presented by Christian communities throughout the world, they depict the Blessed Mother in her many manifestations and reflect her many "names."

This mosaic, which includes a depiction of Pope Paul VI, was given by the Vatican when the basilica was being built:

This mosaic, above the altar, is one of the world's largest and shows Mary crowned in glory beside her Son.

The basilica also has a gorgeous Stations of the Cross:

There are some lovely modern stained-glass windows scattered about the sanctuary (see the top photo in this blog entry).
We were quite fortunate to visit the church just before a wedding party arrived, and we quietly took our leave as the bride and groom were entering the sanctuary. It was a fitting capstone for our visit to this particular holy site.

Traditional Prayer:
May all generations proclaim you blessed, O Mary.
You believed the Archangel Gabriel, and in you were fulfilled all the great things that he had announced to you.
My soul and my entire being praise you, O Mary.
You had faith in the incarnation of the Son of God in your virginal womb, and you became the Mother of God.
Then the happiest day in human history dawned. We received the Divine Master, the sole eternal Priest, the Host of reparation, the universal King....Amen.
New Prayer:
Tune me the tune and word me the words! O Mary of the Annunciation, teach me that song of praise, that hymn of joy. Rhyme me the rhyme and beat me the beat! I will smile away sadness and laugh away melancholy. My God has created a wonderful life, a life of wonders, for my very own delight. O Mary, I will rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.

("Her Story," "Traditional Prayer," and "New Prayer" are from 100 Names of Mary: Stories and Prayers by Anthony F. Chiffolo. St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2002.)

The "Wailing" Wall

The Western Wall, also known informally as the "Wailing" Wall, is one of the "must visit" holy sites in Jerusalem. It is actually the remaining western wall of the Temple constructed by Herod the Great in about 20 B.C.E. and destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Herod's magnificent edifice was an expansion of the Temple built when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C.E., though both were known as the Second Temple. (In about 950 B.C.E., King Solomon had had the First Temple built at that same location to house the Ark of the Covenant; the Babylonians destroyed this structure when they conquered the Jews in 587 B.C.E.)

The site of the Temple, also known as Temple Mount because of its elevation above the rest of the city, is sacred to the three major monotheistic faiths. Tradition holds that Abraham prepared his son Isaac for sacrifice on this mountain. The Second Book of Samuel relates that King David erected an altar to God on Temple Mount. The Gospels tell that Jesus taught in the Temple and also overturned the moneychanging tables here. The Qu'ran indicates that the prophet Mohammed, on his winged steed Al-Burak, ascended into the heavens from this place.

Today, the Temple Mount is located in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, but the Western Wall is located in the Jewish Quarter. The grounds of each are open to visitors at certain times of the week; however, political realities in the state of Israel and the Middle East can often intervene. For example, when I was in Jerusalem in 1983, I and my friends were able to go inside both the Dome of the Rock Mosque and El-Aqsa Mosque--to see the rock with Mohammed's footprint and the vast open prayer space, respectively--but we discovered during our recent trip that non-Muslims are no longer allowed inside either mosque, and non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the Temple Mount area from Thursday afternoon through Sunday morning. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to visit these holy places so long ago. (More about the mosques in a future blog.)

Strict Orthodox Jews believe that the Temple Mount is too sacred to walk upon because it was once the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, so they have focused their worship/prayer-life on the Western Wall, which is outside/below the Temple Mount. The Western Wall is sometimes called the "Wailing" Wall because of the many prayers spoken or sung aloud there. It is at once a busy and serene place of worship and prayer.

Men and women are separated at the Western Wall, with the women to the right in a smaller area. Many Orthodox Jewish men spend hours in prayer and reading as visitors come and go. Below is a pair of prayer books:

The bulk of the Wall is located outside, adjacent to a large plaza, but to the left inside an archway is a large room where some men pray or gather their thoughts.

Jews and non-Jews alike approach the Western Wall with reverence. Having written a prayer or a request on a slip of paper, visitors will push the paper into a crack in the Wall, leaving their request in God's hands.

In the following photo, the men's area is to the left of the white umbrellas, while the women stay to the right, behind the barrier. This division applies to all visitors, whether Jewish or not.

We visited the Western Wall on a Thursday morning, when families hold bar-mitzvah ceremonies. The boys and their families gather near the dividing fence, men on one side, women on the other, to hear their sons read their scripture passages. This ceremony marks a young man's "coming of age"--usually when 13 years old--the time when they become personally responsible for their actions. Families travel from all over Israel, and some from foreign lands, to hold a bar-mitzvah at the Western Wall.

As part of their bar-mitzvah ceremony, the boys process with the scrolls. Sometimes the ornate scroll tabernacles are larger or heavier than the boys themselves!

This model shows how the Temple might have looked during Herod's time. The Western Wall would be on the far side of this view:
Reformed Jews who want to hold their son's bar-mitzvah in Jerusalem do so just outside the Western Wall courtyard, in an area below Robinson's Arch, the remains of a bridge that the high priests used to enter the Temple grounds, because women and men are not required to pray separately in this area.
It is amazing to consider that the Temple Mount has been a holy site for more than 3 thousand years. Who knows how many people have gathered here to worship and pray over the millennia?

The tradition continues.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Saint Pio on Saint Jerome

We just returned from a trip to the Holy Land (what an amazing experience!), with lots of photos and impressions to share. These first views are from Bethlehem, and I'm going to use them to "illustrate" advice that Padre Pio gave to one of his spiritual children. The statue above, located in the cloister of the Church of Saint Catherine, depicts Saint Jerome, labeled by his Latin name "Hieronymus." Padre Pio wrote this about Jerome in order to explain the necessity of reading "holy" books:

Now, if the reading of holy books has the power to convert worldly men into spiritual persons, how very powerful must not such reading be in leading spiritual men and women to greater perfection?

I deal with just one example here, namely, that of St. Jerome. He himself relates how he withdrew from the splendour of Rome and retired to Palestine, where he spent his days and nights in fasts and vigils, in prayer and harsh penances. Even in a life of such severity, he still had a fault which was very detrimental to his spiritual progress. This was his immoderate love for profane books and a certain repugnance for reading holy books because of what he considered to be the uncultured literary style in which they were written. As he himself admits, he saw a defect and a fault in the sun instead of recognizing a defect of his own eyesight.

A severe remedy was required to make him come to his senses. The Lord sent him an infirmity which reduced him to the point of death. When he was about to die the Lord carried him in spirit up to the Judgment Seat, where he was asked who he was. The saint replied: "I am a Christian and I profess no other faith than yours, O my Lord." "You are lying," replied the divine Judge, "you are a Ciceronian (the saint was very fond of Cicero's writings) for where your treasure is, there is your heart also." Then the divine Judge ordered him to be scourged. The pain of the blows caused the saint to weep and ask for mercy, crying out in a loud voice: "Have mercy on me, O Lord."

The Angels who stood before the Judgment Seat began to implore mercy for him, promising the divine Judge on his behalf that he would make amends for his fault. Then St. Jerome swore and promised with all the ardour of his soul that never again would he read secular and profane writings, but only holy books. At this point he returned to consciousness, to the astonishment of those present who had believed him dead.
The saint goes on to tell us that this was no vision or illusion, for when he came to himself his eyes were full of tears, his shoulders bruised and his flesh wounded from the severe blows he had received. After this event the saint gave himself up with great fervour to the reading of holy books which were of very great benefit to him.
--from Pio's letter to Raffaelina Cerase, July 28, 1914

Coincidentally, I was reading this letter yesterday, the same calendar day that Saint Pio wrote this advice and just three days after having visited the Cave of Saint Jerome in Bethlehem. (This rereading of Pio's letters is part of my research for two forthcoming publications: Lenten Meditations with Padre Pio and Lent and Easter Wisdom from Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.)
The following photo depicts the Cave of Saint Jerome, where, according to tradition, from 386 to 404 C.E. the saint worked on translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin to produce the version known as the "Vulgate."
Jerome benefitted from the assistance of Saint Paula and her daughter Saint Eustochium, who with Jerome founded Christian monastic communities in the countryside around Bethlehem. This painting of the two women is located in the cave, across from Jerome's altar:
Here is a close-up view of the bas-relief of Jerome found above the altar:
In another part of the cave is this altar that commemorates the angelic warning that prompted Saint Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod's slaying of the Holy Innocents. Jerome is said to have excavated a small passageway connecting this area with the Cave of the Nativity.

The Cave of Saint Jerome is located beneath the Church of Saint Catherine, a lovely church built on the site of a Crusader chapel. Above the entrance is a beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother:

Visiting Bethlehem today is no longer as easy as it used to be. When I was there in 1983, a group of us just jumped in a taxi in Jerusalem and asked the driver to take us to the Church of the Nativity. After the Second Intifada of 2000-2002, however, Israel constructed the West Bank Barrier and has restricted travel to and from Bethlehem. It's now a little disconcerting to pass through the checkpoints and the security at the "wall," but the opportunity to visit the town of Jesus' birth was not to be missed, and this experience is one I'll never forget.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prayer by Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

Here's another prayer by Padre Pio from his early correspondence:
"Dear God! What torment I endure in the depths of this
heart of mine! When will my heart find rest? I feel it is breaking and I don't
know where to turn. If I could at least have the satisfaction of giving vent to
this interior torment by tears, it would be some relief, but my sorrow is so
great that it has turned my heart to stone.

"I now understand, dear Jesus, why your Mother did not
cry as she gazed at you on the Cross. But tell me, dear Jesus, what on earth is
this inner voice which I hear continually saying: Where is your God? A
voice to which I can give no answer for fear of saying what is not

"Ah, Lord, assist me in my sorrow. My heart is restless
and it will not be at peace until it reposes in you. But ought I to hope for
this, in view of my unfaithfulness? Yes, Lord, I still have the strength to say
to you: Even if you were to slay me, I would still hope in you. Yes,
dear God, I will repeat to you always: Cut and burn me, do not spare me in
this world, as long as you spare me in the next.

--from his letter of January 31, 1918, to Padre

I've been re-reading Saint Pio's correspondence this summer, putting together a devotional booklet for Lent and Easter. This is actually the third time I've read through all of his letters, and I've always felt that his words speak directly to the Lenten journey, that his life was itself a Lenten journey. But I'm struck this time by his utter human-ness: this was a man who suffered incredible doubts and needed repeated reassurance that he was on the right path and that God loved him. Isn't that what we all need to hear?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"The Water Bearer": An Inspirational Story

I just want to share with everyone a story that we heard during this morning's service at church. The author is Anonymous, but the message is something to ponder. The title is "The Water Bearer."

A water bearer had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot always arrived only half full. For two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, fulfilled in the design for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was unable to accomplish what it had been made to do.

After two years of enduring this bitter shame, the pot spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself and I apologize to you." "Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?" "I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path." Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and was cheered somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt the old shame because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you not notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, and not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we've walked back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

Each of us has flaws. We're all cracked pots. ... In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Cedar of Lebanon"

Another name by which the Blessed Mother has come to be known is "Cedar of Lebanon." Here is a little more about this "title" of Mary.

Her Story:
Although the promised land to which God brought the tribes of Israel was “flowing with milk and honey,” it was nevertheless a semiarid Mediterranean place, and large trees were unusual, if not unknown, there. But in the mountains of Lebanon, the land just to the north, the cedars grew tall and straight and were so highly prized that they came to symbolize whatever was precious. Thus in the Song of Solomon, the perfect bride was called forth from Lebanon: “Come with me from Lebanon, my bride….the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon....Your channel is...a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon” (4:8–15 NRSV).

The Old Testament includes many references to Lebanon and its cedars, which became a symbol of those who are righteous in the sight of God. The Psalms, for example, declare, “The righteous…grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (92:12 NRSV) and “The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted” (104:16 NRSV).

But the cedars of Lebanon also represent those who have become proud: “For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up...” (Isaiah 2:12–13 NRSV)—as if, having been raised up by God, the haughty come to attribute all their righteousness to themselves. God will not permit the conceit to continue: “He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall” (Isaiah 10:34 NRSV).

Lebanon also figures in the messianic prophecies, which tell how God will raise up the lowly: “Shall not Lebanon in a very little while become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?” (Isaiah 29:17 NRSV). And the messiah will proceed from Lebanon: “The glory of Lebanon shall come to you...” (Isaiah 60:13 NRSV); “He shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon....and his fragrance like that of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:5–6 NRSV).

One group of early Christians, the Maronites, christianized this symbol. Descended from the Church of Antioch, Maronites were early monastics who fled to the Lebanese mountains in the fifth century during their persecution by the Monophysites (those who held that Christ did not take on human nature). Maronites were deeply devoted to Mary, honoring her as the Mother of the Light, and came to extol the strength of her purpose and her fidelity to God’s will by referring to her as the Cedar of Lebanon. Just as the book of Sirach exalts the cedar—“I grew tall like a cedar in Lebanon” (24:13 NRSV)—so the Maronites used the cedar to symbolize Mary’s spiritual stature and excellence. Known for its longevity and resistance to decay, the cedar also came to symbolize Mary’s sinlessness and eventual Assumption. Maronites also thought the fragrance and oil of the cedar could repel snakes, which symbolized evil, in the same way that Mary protected the church against heresy. In the Maronite tradition Mary was seen as the perfect bride of God, brought out from Lebanon to bear the Christ, the righteous one, who would be the redemption of God’s people.

Maronites have carried their devotion to Mary with them as they have migrated to Africa, Australia, and North and South America. Though their loyalty remains strong, they have adapted to current usages, and in many places now the Cedar of Lebanon is also called Our Lady of Lebanon. Even in Harissa, Lebanon, the Maronite shrine to Mary is known as the shrine to Our Lady of Lebanon. The faithful can find a replica of that shrine in North Jackson, Ohio, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon. Despite modern adaptations of language, this title serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to the people of God, the Messiah’s inclusive love for all people and the Blessed Mother’s essential role in redemption history.

Traditional Prayer:
Hail, O blessed spring of infinite joy,
Hail, O divine treasure of endless joy,
Hail, O shady tree of life-giving joy,
Hail, O Mother of God, unwedded bride,
Hail, O Virgin, unblemished after giving birth,
Hail, wondrous vision, far above any other marvel.

Who could describe your splendour?
Who could tell of your mystery?
Who could know how to proclaim your grandeur?
You have embellished human nature,
you have surpassed the angelic legions...,
you have surpassed all creatures...,
we acclaim you: Hail, full of grace!
—Sophronius of Jerusalem

New Prayer:
O Cedar of Lebanon, we praise you as the Immaculate Conception, we honor you as the All-Holy, we cherish you as the Full of Grace, we recognize you as the Righteous One whom God has raised up, and we celebrate you as the Bride of God. Thanks be to you for your obedience to the will of God, for from your fiat came forth our Messiah. Amen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Who Am I?

When I was younger, I performed in my high school musical my junior year. The show was Carnival, a musical best known for its theme song "Love Makes the World Go 'Round" and its star turn by Anna Maria Alberghetti (as well as being the basis for the 1953 film Lili starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer). I played the leading male character, Paul Bertholet, a French veteran of the War whose crippling injuries destroyed any chance he had at a dancing career. Embittered, he finds a job as a puppeteer at a traveling, second-rate carnival. Although his puppets are stars of the show, he is not popular with the other performers and hides from the public behind the puppet curtain.

At one point in the action, having met and hired a young, naive woman to whom he is attracted, he reflects upon his "public face," despairing of any hope of ever "healing" from his trauma or finding a bit of happiness in his life, and sings this song to Carrottop, his gregarious, most popular puppet:

Who can I be, now that I can't be me anymore? Shall I be some sunny smiling fellow who won't rock the boat, 'cause he might splash the ocean, but sit there and cheerfully twitter? 'cause someone might say, "See that man over there? He's

When will I learn to be like you?

Everybody likes you. You're a lucky fellow. The secret is your smile--I ought to have a smile--that smile takes quite a knack. I think I need a smile, and who cares if it's
real or painted with shellac?
A smile full of theatrics, for easily agreeing; two eyes with acrobatics, to see the way they're seeing.

Let's turn about--you say the words for me, 'cause everybody likes you, and no one likes me.
(Lyrics by Bob Merrill, from the musical Carnival)

It's quite a sad song, and the character of Paul is desperately angry at his lot. I don't think I was very convincing at conveying or portraying Paul's emotions--at one point in the rehearsal schedule, the director asked my friends if I ever stopped smiling! But I think the director, in choosing me for the role, though I had never acted before, was actually responding, perhaps unconsciously, to what was happening in my own emotional life. I never reflected upon it at the time, but I was hiding a lot of pain beneath a smiling exterior, because I was trying to "fit in," to be someone other than who I really was and who I really am.

One might say, "Well, all teenagers do that--hide parts of themselves so they can fit in with their peers," and that's true, because teenage-hood is that time of life when most of us question who we are and whether we want to be the person others expect us to be, and most teenagers at some point, for some period, dissemble their true identity just to be able to be part of the crowd. Yet many teenagers rebel against the conformity of their peers too.

But as a gay teen growing up in a rural, very conservative, heterosexist community, hiding my true identity was a survival mechanism. I did not even know of any other "queer" persons, either older or my own age. So I pretended, during high school and for many many years afterward, to be someone other than my true self, never daring even to admit in the privacy of my own mind the truth of my identity. And the words of the song I sang in Carnival continued to echo, a sad accompaniment to everything I did in life.

Until I could stand it no longer, that is. During my 37th year, I knew that I had to answer the question that I had been dodging for so long: Who Am I? I knew I had to embrace the truth, whether I liked it or not, or die. Because, yes, I did feel as if I were actually dying inside. So I asked the question; I faced the truth; I stopped pretending. It was excruciating, for me and for everyone around me. I wish I could say that I immediately felt better after "coming out," but it was a very gradual process--a very slow "rebirth," so to speak. Yet it was, eventually, a "resurrection" experience, as I left behind an existence that was killing me and embraced an existence that was and is truly life-giving.

That was almost 12 years ago now, and the words of the song no longer haunt me. Nevertheless, that essential question--Who Am I?--continues to pester me. Every day it confronts me, challenging me, goading me, perhaps even taunting me. Who am I if I do this instead of that? If I choose this? Say this? Believe this? It's on ongoing dialogue I'm having with myself--there is no "final answer" because I keep on becoming who I am. At the same time, when I embrace my identity, I can act/speak/think/be from my "truth center." I guess this is what my military instructors meant all those years ago when they tried to teach us "integrity"; perhaps I'm finally beginning to understand.

Monday, July 7, 2008

"Mystical Rose"

The "Mystical Rose," or Rosa Mystica, is one of the many titles by which the Blessed Mother has come to be known. Here is a little more about this "name" of Mary.

Her Story:

For all of recorded history, the rose has been called the queen of flowers, so it is no surprise that the rose has come to be identified with the Blessed Mother.

There are three references in Scripture that support this link. In the first, from the book of Sirach, Wisdom explains that the Creator told her to take root in Jacob and Israel, with the result that "I grew tall like a palm tree in Engedi, and like rosebushes in Jericho..." (24:14 NRSV). Commentators have interpreted this verse as a reference to the mysterious Incarnation of Christ in Mary's womb.

The second reference is from the book of Isaiah, who prophesies, "A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot will grow from his roots. On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh..." (11:1-2 NJB). Commentators have explained these verses as predicting the Christ as the heavenly flower (rose) coming forth from the rosebush, his mother.

The third is from the Song of Solomon: "I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys" (2:1 NRSV). The reference is to the examplary bride and, symbolically, to Mary, the perfect bride of God who will bring forth from the Spirit the anointed one.

The early Christians embraced these metaphors. They saw the red rose as symbolic of Christ's blood, and thus it came to represent charity and martyrdom. And they saw the white rose as symbolic of purity, innocence, and chastity and thus associated it with the Blessed Mother.

As gardeners know, the beautiful rose also has many painful thorns. Here is a symbolic union of opposites: in the blossoms, beauty, life, hope, resurrection; in the thorns, pain, martyrdom, blood, death. Mary embodies this union, having suffered the martyrdom of seeing her own flesh and blood die on the cross, yet also having experienced the hope of the Resurrection.

Christians believe that God gave the Mystical Rose, alone among humankind, a special insight into these mysteries--of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and her own role in the Redemption. The church thus appeals to Mary for the grace of her mystical wisdom.

Traditional Prayer:
O Mary, mystic rose, whose lovable heart, burning with the living fire of love, adopted us as thy children at the foot of the Cross, becoming thus our most tender Mother, make me experience the sweetness of thy motherly heart and the power of thine intercession with Jesus, in all the dangers that beset me during life, and especially at the dread hour of my death; in such wise may my heart be ever united to thine, and love Jesus both now and through endless ages. Amen.
--The Raccolta

New Prayer:
O Mystical Rose, my existence often seems a complete mystery to me. Where am I going? and Why am I here? are questions for which I have found no satisfactory answers. I pray you, grace me with your mystical wisdom, that I may begin to find the answers I seek. But more than that, keep me from questioning life to death. Inspire me to accept the answers that are right in front of me, in the poetry and symbols and metaphors that surround me, in the people I encounter, in the beauty of creation, in the God-events that surprise me daily. Teach me to enjoy life's mystery, to embrace its uncertainty, to caress its holy secrets, placing myself completely in God's hands and trusting the Holy Spirit to make of my most mysterious life something beautiful. Amen.

(From 100 Names of Mary: Stories and Prayers by Anthony F. Chiffolo. Published by St. Anthony Messenger Press, $12.95; if unavailable via the publisher or other internet resellers, please contact me directly.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Prayer by Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

I've been doing research about Padre Pio and reading through his collected correspondence, and I came upon this prayer that he wrote:

O holy souls free from all anxiety, who are already made happy in heaven by that torrent of supreme sweetness, how I envy you your happiness! Ah, for pity's sake, since you are so close to the Fountain of life, since you see me dying of thirst in this despicable world, be propitious to me and give me a little of that delightfully fresh water.
(from his letter to Padre Agostino of October 17, 1915)

There are times when I can certainly identify with his sentiments, to a surprising degree--just not when I'm behind my camera!