As some of you know, I have a little book of art pictures and quotes that I periodically use for meditation. I have been pondering the picture below of the sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet (James Tissot). And below it is a beautiful quote from John Chrysostom describing the love of God for us, each of whom is indeed the sinful woman.
“God desired a harlot, and how does He act? He does not send to her any of His servants. He does not send any angels or archangels, cherubim or seraphim. No, He Himself draws near to the one He loves, and He does not take her to Heaven, for He could not bring a harlot to Heaven, and therefore He Himself comes down to earth, to the harlot, and is not ashamed. He comes to her secret dwelling place and beholds her in her drunkenness. And how does He come? Not in the bare essence of His original nature, but in the guise of one whom the harlot is seeking, in order that she might not be afraid when she sees Him, and will not run away, and escape Him. He comes to the harlot as a man. And how does He become this? He is conceived in the womb, He grows little by little, as we do, and has intercourse with human nature. And He finds this harlot thick with sores and oppressed by devils. How does He act? He draws nigh to her. She sees Him and flees away. He calls the wise man, saying, ‘Why are you afraid? I am not a judge, but a physician. I come not to judge the world, but to save the world.’ Straightway He calls the wise men, for are not the wise man the immediate first fruits of His coming? They come and worship Him, and then the harlot herself comes and is transformed into a maiden. The Canaanite woman comes and partakes of His love. And how does He act? He takes the sinner and espouses her to Himself, and gives her the signet ring of the Holy Spirit as a seal between them.” (John Chrysostom)
Awake, Mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.
This morning I was meditating on Joseph and Mary’s Advent journey to Bethlehem. So often, I think, we would like our own Advents to be peaceful and calm and balk interiorly–if not exteriorly as well–at inconveniences and grouchy children (and husbands), at interruptions and long lines, etc. And then there are those even more serious situations that we may be facing: the death of a loved one, possible foreclosure on our house, unemployment . . . When we think about what the journey to Bethlehem realistically consisted of, we might do well to join ourselves spiritually to Mary and Joseph in their journey, begging God to give us those same graces.
Here is an excerpt from Come, Lord Jesus–Meditations on the Art of Waiting, by Mother Mary Francis, published posthumously:
We think about our Lady on the way to Bethlehem. Do we really think deeply enough about what she suffered? And about Saint Joseph’s suffering? How do we think he felt to take her off in her condition of expectancy, riding the mule to Bethlehem? Her heart must have been tempted to question, “Why is this?” And surely his heart was tempted to question. Neither was supine; these were real people.
There are struggles asked of us, as were asked of them. And the answer is faith. We will see later on, of course, in the Scriptures, that it says very plainly that she didn’t understand what Jesus said to them after those three days’ loss. And she asked him, “Why did you do that?” Those words, in a sense, sum up her whole relationship with the Son of God, who was the Son of her womb. And he gives her an answer that she doesn’t understand at all. He says to all of us, in a different place in the Scriptures, “What I am doing you cannot understand now, but later you will understand.” That is a precious thought to hold in our hearts. How many times we say, “I just don’t understand this”, and he says, “One day you will understand.”
In the inevitable struggles of life–and the struggles of these special days–we don’t need to understand. We just need to respond, and then to hear him say, “One day you will understand. One day I will explain everything to you–except when that day comes, you won’t need to ask.” (pp. 103-104)
It’s still the time, the season, of remembering Christ’s appearances to those He loved. Let us not move too quickly back into ordinary time. (Is there ever an “ordinary” time with Christ in our lives?) Luci Shaw captures this need to learn to recognized Him in this Sunday-poem. We, too, need to “get beyond the way he looks” in our everyday lives:
“. . . for they shall see God”
Christ risen was rarely
recognized by sight.
They had to get beyond the way he looked.
Evidence strong than his voice and face and footstep
waited to grow in them, to guide
their groping from despair,
their stretching beyond belief.
We are as blind as they
until the opening of our deeper eyes
shows us the hands that bless
and break our bread,
until we finger
wounds that tell our healing,
or witness a miracle of fish
dawn-caught after our long night
of empty nets. Handling
his Word, we feel his flesh,
his bones, and hear his voice
calling our early-morning name.