- Ephesians 1,1-14
- “almost” a presentation
- my shortly history
- Hymn to Love -
- The Year of St. Paul - Pope Benedict: the 20th Catechesis on Saint Paul
- Salve Regina
- The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
- Psalm 8
- The Shofar
- Primo Levi : If this a man
- Sacred Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith - Declaration of procured abortion (Pope Paul VI, June 28, 1974)
December 5, 2013
THE STORY OF SAINT NICHOLAS THE WONDER-WORKER
On Dec. 6 we remember the man Nicholas who lived in the fourth century in Asia Minor. That part of the world is now called Turkey. When he was buried from his church some 1,600 years ago, many might have thought that his memory, like that of all mortals, would fade from the pages of history. But just the opposite has happened. His fame spread from nation to nation, land to land. Century after century, people of every race have heard of him, loved him, and remembered him.
Who was St. Nicholas? Children know him as 'Santa Claus', others know him as the patron of sailors; we know him as a pious, loving Bishop of the Church and true follower of Jesus Christ.
How did he attain such renown? Nicholas never sought the limelight. He didn't try to achieve fame. All he did was try to fulfill the command to love God with all his heart, and to love his neighbor as himself. It was his service to God and man that gained from him such universal esteem.
In the main hymn, called Troparion, sung on the feast day of St. Nicholas, we have the key to the character of this man. In this song, St. Nicholas is called:
1. "The Rule of Faith." - He was a man of deep and abiding faith in Christ. It is said that even as a child he showed remarkable faith in the Lord. He became a priest and entered a monastery. He strived to "seek first the kingdom of God." When the see of Myra in Lycia became vacant, it was Nicholas who was selected to become the archbishop of the church. The story goes that the council was undecided whom to select. Then a plan was revealed to one of the older prelates. He was told to go to church the next morning, and then to selects as archbishop the first cleric who would come there to pray. Yes, it was Nicholas, as was his daily custom, who first entered the sanctuary for prayer.
He was a measure of faith, too, at the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. It was here in the year 325 that he fought for the belief in Christ's divinity. He is said to have smote Arius the heretic when he blasphemed the Person of Child. This is why many icons of Nicholas picture the Lord and the Holy Virgin restoring to him the Gospel and Bishop?s Stole after such an unseemly display of zeal.
2. St. Nicholas is called "The Example of Meekness." - He was truly a man of great humility. The Troparion says of him: "By your lowliness you didst attain to the heights . . . by poverty unto riches. . . ." It is said that he refused at first the office of the episcopacy, deeming himself unworthy of such a dignity.
Many are the stories and legends of his life that depict the simple honesty, love, humility, and devotion of this shepherd. He saved sailors on the sea, and children in death. All know how he saved three young woman from a life of sin by throwing three bags of gold into the homes at night, hoping that none would see him perform this act of charity.
3. St. Nicholas is also called "The Teacher of Abstinence." - He denied himself, that he might give to others. A strange story claims that even as a baby he refused to eat meat on certain fast days of the week. His mother was confused, thinking her child was ill. But then it was shown that Nicholas was simply adhering to the Church's rule of abstinence.
When his parents died, Nicholas was left a considerable inheritance. He could have lived a life of leisure and pleasure. But he heard the call of Christ and gave his wealth to the poor and needy. He was truly a teacher of abstinence.
So it is that through service and sacrifice, St. Nicholas has been able to attain "Eternal Memory" not only in the timeless eons of eternity, but in the passing ages of the earth as well. These are the ingredients of a full Christian life, of a happy, useful life. Service and sacrifice are found only where there is real and abiding love. The faith of Nicholas found expression in his concern for the welfare of the Church and the welfare of others.
Do you remember reading a particularly good story? Do you recall seeing a very moving play on the stage or screen? Has any TV story shook your emotions? If so, you will find that unselfish service and sacrifice form the basis of such soul-stirring response. This is the stuff that goes into vital Christian living. And it is precisely this that made the life of St. Nicholas worthy to be remembered and honored through the centuries of time.
St. Nicholas is called the "Wonder-Worker." Indeed, many are the wonders that he is said to have worked in the years of his life. Perhaps the greatest wonder is that he simply took Christ at His word and followed Him with all his heart and soul. He showed that the true Christian life can be lived. And perhaps another wonder is that the memory of his sweet life has come down to our day to shed its fragrance in the world in which we live.
Written by the Reverend Dr. Nicholas V. Gamvas - Dean, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific - Honolulu, Hawaii
ON OUR RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD
"If we succeed in having this reality more present, we will be less exhausted by the daily routine, less prisoners of the ephemeral and more willing to walk with a merciful heart on the path of salvation"
Vatican City, December 04, 2013 (Zenit.org)
Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave at today's general audience in St. Peter's Square.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today I return again to the affirmation “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” It is not a simple truth and anything but obvious because, immersed in this world, it is not easy to understand the future reality. However, the Gospel enlightens us: Our resurrection is closely linked to the Resurrection of Jesus; the fact that He is resurrected is the proof that the resurrection of the dead exists. I would now like to present some aspects regarding the relation between the Resurrection of Christ and our resurrection. (…)
First of all, Sacred Scripture itself contains a path to full faith in the resurrection of the dead. It is expressed as faith in God Creator of the whole man -- soul and body -- and as faith in God Liberator, the God faithful to the covenant with his people. In a vision, the prophet Ezekiel looks at the sepulchers of the deported that are reopened and the dry bones that come back to life thanks to the infusion of a vivifying spirit. This vision expresses the hope in the future “resurrection of Israel,” that is, in the rebirth of the defeated and humiliated people (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-14).
In the New Testament, Jesus brings this revelation to fulfillment, and links faith in the resurrection to his very person. He says: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). In fact, it will be the Lord Jesus who on the last day will resurrect those who believed in Him. Jesus came among us, he became man like us in everything, except sin; in this way he has taken us with Him on his journey of return to the Father. He, the incarnate Word, who died for us and rose, gives his disciples the Holy Spirit as earnest of full communion in his glorious Kingdom, which we await vigilantly. This waiting is the source and reason of our hope: a hope that is cultivated and guarded, (…) becomes light to illumine our personal and communal history, (…). Let us remember it always: we are disciples of Him who came, who comes every day and who will come at the end. If we succeed in having this reality more present, we will be less exhausted by the daily routine, less prisoners of the ephemeral and more willing to walk with a merciful heart on the path of salvation.
Another aspect: what does it mean to resurrect? Resurrection (…) will take place on the last day, at the end of the world, the work of the omnipotence of God, who will restore life to our body reuniting it to our soul, in virtue of the Resurrection of Jesus. (…) This transformation, (…) this transfiguration of our body is prepared in this life by our relation with Jesus in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. We, who in this life are nourished with his Body and his Blood will resurrect as He did, with Him and through Him. As Jesus rose with his own body, but he did not return to an earthly life, so we will rise with our bodies which will be transfigured in glorious bodies. (…)
Already in this life we have in us a participation in the Resurrection of Christ. If it is true that Jesus will resurrect us at the end of times, it is also true that, in a certain aspect, we are already resurrected with Him. (…) In fact, through Baptism, we are inserted in the Death and Resurrection of Christ and we participate in the new life (…). Therefore, while awaiting the last day, we have in ourselves a seed of resurrection, as anticipation of the full resurrection which we will receive in inheritance. Because of this, the body of each one of us is a resonance of eternity, hence it is always [to be] respected; and above all the life of those who suffer is respected and loved, so that they feel the closeness of the Kingdom of God, of that condition of eternal life towards which we are walking. (…)
* * *
I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the participants in the Seminar on Ethics and Values organized by the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace.; the Daughters of Charity; the faithful of Polignano a Mare; the Forces of Order, in particular the Command of the Customs Service of the Abruzzo Region, the Light Infantrymen of Cosenza and the Grenadiers of Spoleto, accompanied by the Archbishop, Monsignor Boccardo. Moreover, I greet the students, especially those of the of the De Sanctis-Galilei High School of Manduria and the Institutes of San Nicola La Strada and “Sacred Heart” of Avezzano; the delegation of the Opera Romana leaving for Iraq; the parish groups and the numerous Associations, particularly “Spina-Bifida and Hydrocephalus” and the “Friends of Raoul Follereau,” committed in aid to the suffering. In these first days of Advent we turn to the Immaculate Virgin with confident prayer: She is the model of our journey to encounter Christ who comes among us.
Finally, an affectionate thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Patron of the Missions. This holy priest reminds us of the commitment we each have to proclaim the Gospel. Dear young people, be courageous witnesses of your faith; dear sick, offer your daily cross for the conversion of the estranged to the light of the Gospel; and you, dear newlyweds, be heralds of the love of Christ beginning with your family.
[The synthesis and greeting for English-speaking pilgrims:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters: we return to our reflection on "the resurrection of the body", as we look at three aspects of the relationship between Christ’s resurrection and our own. First, the Gospel reveals to us that our faith in the resurrection is bound to the person of Jesus Christ, who himself said "I am the resurrection and the life". Like us in all things but sin, Christ gathers us to himself so that we may accompany him in his journey back to the Father. The Risen Christ gives his disciples the Holy Spirit as a pledge of communion with God which has its fullness in eternity. The anticipation of eternal life is the source and reason for our hope. If cultivated and protected, it illuminates our lives as persons and communities. Second, Christ rose in his glorified body. Through Christ, our bodies will also be glorified and reunited with our souls at the resurrection. Therefore, our experience of the Risen Christ in the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, prepares us for the reunion of our bodies and souls in heaven. Third, while Jesus will resurrect us at the end of time, even now he wishes us to share in his resurrection. Through Baptism, we are inserted into his death and resurrection and begin to experience new life. The seed of eternity is planted within us. Hence, the image of eternity is imprinted on us and calls us to respect the lives of all people, especially those who suffer. In this way, we can experience the closeness of the Reign of God, towards which we all journey together.
[The Holy Father offered the following greeting in Italian, translated by a speaker:]
I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark, Australia and the United States. Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
[Pope Francis concluded with the following appeal:]
I now wish to invite all to pray for the nuns of the Greek-Orthodox Convent of Saint Tecla at Ma’lula in Syria, who two days ago were taken away by armed men. Let us pray for these Sisters and for all kidnapped persons because of the ongoing conflict. Let us continue to pray and to work together for peace.
[Translation by ZENIT]
December 4, 2013
SAINT PETER'S SQUARE
WEDNESDAY, 6 MAY 2009
JOHN DAMASCENE (NOVEMBER 4)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I should like to speak about John Damascene, a personage of prime importance in the history of Byzantine Theology, a great Doctor in the history of the Universal Church. Above all he was an eyewitness of the passage from the Greek and Syrian Christian cultures shared by the Eastern part of the Byzantine Empire, to the Islamic culture, which spread through its military conquests in the territory commonly known as the Middle or Near East. John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700. He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.
In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, "In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?... But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?... And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?... And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible" (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90). We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God. John Damascene remains, therefore, a privileged witness of the cult of icons, which would come to be one of the most distinctive aspects of Eastern spirituality up to the present day. It is, however, a form of cult which belongs simply to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and was made visible. The teaching of Saint John Damascene thus finds its place in the tradition of the universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine foresees that material elements taken from nature can become vehicles of grace by virtue of the invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the confession of the true faith.
John Damascene extends these fundamental ideas to the veneration of the relics of Saints, on the basis of the conviction that the Christian Saints, having become partakers of the Resurrection of Christ, cannot be considered simply "dead". Numbering, for example, those whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John states in his third discourse in defence of images: "First of all (let us venerate) those among whom God reposed, he alone Holy, who reposes among the Saints (cf. Is 57: 15), such as the Mother of God and all the Saints. These are those who, as far as possible, have made themselves similar to God by their own will; and by God's presence in them, and his help, they are really called gods (cf. Ps 82: 6), not by their nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by contingency and its participation in the fire. He says in fact : you shall be holy, because I am Holy (cf. Lv 19: 2)" (III, 33, col. 1352 a). After a series of references of this kind, John Damascene was able serenely to deduce: "God, who is good, and greater than any goodness, was not content with the contemplation of himself, but desired that there should be beings benefited by him, who might share in his goodness: therefore he created from nothing all things, visible and invisible, including man, a reality visible and invisible. And he created him envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched with the word (logo[i] sympleroumenon), and orientated towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)" (II, 2, pg 94, col. 865a). And to clarify this thought further, he adds: "We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence (tes pronoias erga), to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, (adika), and admitting instead that the project of God (pronoia) goes beyond man's capacity to know or to understand (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future" (ii, 29, pg 94, col. 964c). Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.
The optimism of the contemplation of nature (physike theoria), of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it. From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, "should be strengthened and renewed" by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in "being", but also in "well-being" (cf. The Orthodox Faith, II, 1, pg 94, col. 981). With passionate eagerness John explains: "It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught (didachthenai aretes hodòn), the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life.... So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)".... It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man. John Damascene continues: "he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example.... And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended... to his servants... achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God" (III, 1, pg 94, col. 981c-984b).
We may imagine the comfort and joy which these words, so rich in fascinating images, poured into the hearts of the faithful. We listen to them today, sharing the same feelings with the Christians of those far-off days: God desires to repose in us, he wishes to renew nature through our conversion, he wants to allow us to share in his divinity. May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our lives.
PROBABLE ORIGIN OF THE MYSTERIES OF LIGHT
On 16th October of 2002, His Holiness John Paul II began the 25th Anniversary of his Pontificate by publishing an Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (RVM), in which he inaugurated the Year of the Rosary, to last from October 2002 till October 2003. In this Letter the Pope also introduced five new mysteries of the rosary to be included with the traditional ones. These new mysteries, which he called The Mysteries of Light, or Luminous Mysteries, refer to the public life of Our Lord.
Saint George Preca and the Mysteries of Light
This addition to the decades of the rosary - which had been left untouched for over 400 years - has aroused a great deal of interest. Though the Letter contains enlightening and fresh teaching on the Rosary, it would seem that the media were almost exclusively interested in these new Luminous Mysteries. International journalists, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, gave prominence to them, adding that “the idea of the Pope could have come from the writings of a Maltese priest whom the Pope declared Blessed in 2001, Blessed George Preca.” Thus wrote The Guardian (16th October 2002), The Universe, The Tablet and other news agencies.
[Saint George Preca was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on Trinity Sunday, June 3, 2007.]
It is not yet known whether these new mysteries were actually taken from those proposed by Dun Gorg (as the new Blessed is affectionately known in Malta). But it is certainly a curious fact that, apart from some small differences, the five mysteries are identical to those proposed by Fr Preca. Interesting as well is the fact that the Pope has called these mysteries from Christ's public life “the Mysteries of Light”, the same title given originally by Fr Preca when he first proposed them in 1957.
How did the Pope get to know about them?
If these new mysteries of the rosary have actually been taken from Saint George Preca, the question still remains: how did they reach the Pope so that he could introduce them in his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary? Various suggestions have been offered, including the use of the internet. In fact, some Catholic websites in the English language on the rosary refer to the Mysteries of Light, which could have been put there by some Maltese user living abroad, probably in the United States.
It all started way back in 1957
Saint Preca (1880-1962) founded a society of lay people to study the Christian doctrine and teach it to children and adults. He called it the Society of Christian Doctrine. In 1957 the Society celebrated the 50th anniversary of its birth, and Fr Preca was against any external celebrations: “it is enough to sing the Te Deum as a thanksgiving,” he said. But his collaborators persuaded him to have some modest celebrations as an encouragement to the Members.
Hence Fr Preca wanted that year to be an occasion of a deeper intimacy with God, and so he published his well-known Colloquies with God - sixty short but penetrating invocations which give us a good insight into Fr Preca's interior life. During that same year he came up with the idea of these additional mysteries to the Rosary, taken from the public life of Our Lord. Originally Fr Preca had them published in a small leaflet for the private use of the Members of his Society.
Was this an original initiative?
I still remember quite vividly how our Founder introduced these mysteries during one of our weekly meetings with him. His face clearly showed the joy in his heart as he proposed these episodes from the public life of Jesus. Fr Preca did not say how they originated, whether they were his idea or taken from other reading. In the latter case he would have started, as usual, by saying: “See what I have found for you...” So it would seem the idea was completely his own. He told us that it was useful to meditate on the entire life of Christ, and that the Rosary was lacking this public ministry of the Lord. Fr Preca added that he really enjoyed praying these 'new' mysteries and reflecting about Him who said that He is “the Light of the world” (Jn 8,12).
The Mysteries of Light became “public property” in Malta after two publications in 1973 and 1987. As already mentioned above, they were later also put on the internet on websites regarding the Rosary.
The Mysteries of Light according to Saint Preca and the Pope
The following are the Mysteries of Light as proposed by Fr Preca, and by the Pope, respectively.
According to Fr Preca:
When Our Lord Jesus Christ, after his baptism in the Jordan, was led into the desert.
When Our Lord Jesus Christ showed, by word and miracles, that He is true God.
When Our Lord Jesus Christ taught the Beatitudes on the mountain.
When Our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured on the mountain.
When Our Lord Jesus Christ had his last Meal with the Apostles.
According to the Pope:
Jesus' Baptism in the river Jordan;
His self-manifsestation at the wedding at Cana;
His proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion;.
His transfiguration before the Apostles on Mount Tabor.
His institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery.
If we compare the two versions we cannot fail to notice a great similarity between the Mysteries of Light as proposed by Saint George Preca and as proposed by the Pope 45 years later. The differences between them are not as significant as may appear at first sight.
In the First Mystery, Fr Preca adds, after the baptism in the Jordan, that Jesus went to the desert to spend 40 days in preparation for his mission. Those who know Saint Preca well may as well guess why he added this pericope from the life of Jesus. Since Fr Preca composed these mysteries for the use of the Members of his Society, he probably wanted them to realize the importance of preparing oneself for the mission of evangelization.
In the Second Mystery, Fr Preca proposed that we meditate how Jesus showed his divinity by word and miracles. The Pope proposes only one miracle, the wedding at Cana in which Jesus “revealed his glory” (John 2:11).
In the Third Mystery, Dun Gorg brings in the Beatitudes, which have been called the “Constitution” of the Church he was to found. With the Beatitudes Jesus also “proclaimed the Kingdom of God”, and challenged us to change our style of living if we intend to follow him.
The Fourth and Fifth Mysteries of both texts are identical.
The teaching of Saint Preca on the Rosary and RVM
Besides the new Mysteries of Light, in RVM there are other points which remind us of Fr Preca's teaching on the rosary. For instance, the Pope suggests a moment of silent reflection after the mystery is mentioned (RVM, par. 31). Fr Preca not only practised this himself, but he recommended it to others as well.
Fr Preca used to call the rosary “A school of learning”, especially because of the meditation on the mysteries of the life of our Lord. It is interesting to note that His Holiness in his Apostolic Letter refers five times to the rosary as a school of Mary (pars 1, 3 ,5, 14, 45).
Fr Preca composed various prayers to Mary, each one referring to a virtue connected with the mystery to be contemplated, which was to be recited before the Our Father. In RVM (par 35) the Pope also suggests a similar prayer after the Gloria Patri.
We cannot exclude the fact that Fr Preca was also familiar with the writings of St Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. Hence several insights must have come to him through this Marian saint. But, whatever the case may be, the providential and official inclusion in the Rosary of the Luminous Mysteries by the Pope does echo beautifully the other constant aspect of Fr Preca's spirituality: his attachment to the Pope as universal Shepherd of the Catholic Church. Had Fr Preca been around, he would have rejoiced enormously! He would have made the Pope's message his own and would have encouraged us all to sing to Mary "Rejoice, for you have found great favour with the Lord!" Fr Preca would have emphatically passed on these pressing words of the Holy Father: through the Rosary, “Mary helps us to learn the secret of Christian joy, reminding us that Christianity is above all 'euanghelion' -- good news -- which has its center, indeed its very content, in the person of Christ.”
Note Added August 7, 2007
Note that a short article, showing the connection of Saint George Preca with the Luminous Mysteries, appeared in the Italian edition of L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO of Sunday, 3rd June 2007. There was also an article on the same subject, entitled ANTICIPATORE LONTANO DEI MISTERI DELLA LUCE, in the July 2007 issue of the Italian review MADRE DI DIO, published by the Paolini.
--- by John Formosa
April 8, 2004
[ Mr John Formosa was formerly the Secretary General of the Society of Christian Doctrine. During the lifetime of Fr. Preca, he received dictation of some of Fr. Preca's writings and was in charge of a new edition of his works, of which 40 books have already been published. ]
THE MIRACLE OF THE OIL – WHY IS HANUKKAH CONNECTED WITH FIRE AND WHY IS IT EIGHT DAYS?
BY DR. JOSHUA KULP
The roots of Hanukkah as a holiday celebrating a historical event are fairly clear. In the year 166-165 B.C.E., the Hasmoneans (called Maccabees in Greek sources) led a rebellion against the Greeks which culminated in the rededication of the Temple on the 25th of the month of Kislev. Subsequently, the Hasmoneans and their descendants established an eight day holiday to commemorate this occasion and to instill loyalty in their dynasty. This extra-biblical holiday came to be known as Hanukkah, which means rededication.
Despite the holiday’s clear origins, both traditional sources and modern scholars alike have grappled with the holiday of Hanukkah, specifically with the two questions that are the sub-title of this shiur: why is Hanukkah connected with fire and why is it eight days? The name of the holiday itself, Hanukkah, is probably short for Hanukkat Hamizbeah, the Rededication of the Altar. The altar was the main focus of Temple worship; some of the earlier sources that discuss the Hanukkah events focus on the rededication of the altar (see source 5).
So how did a historical event that centered on the rededication of the altar become associated with fire? While there is a fire on the altar, the fire associated with Hanukkah is the fire of the Menorah (or later the Hanukkiah). Furthermore, why should this holiday be eight days? While today we are familiar with the story of the miracle of the oil, this story does not appear in any source until the Babylonian Talmud (source 3, right hand column), which was compiled in the fifth century C.E., seven hundred years after the events of Hanukkah took place. If this event was so well-known, why would it have taken so long to be recorded? There are many sources from before the composition of the Bavli that discuss Hanukkah. Why don’t they mention this miracle?
In this shiur I will show how ancient sources grappled with these two questions. The Hanukkah story with which we are familiar is one of several explanations made in the ancient world as to why Hanukkah is an eight day fire holiday. We shall see how this tradition developed in rabbinic sources.
This shiur is based on a Hebrew article by Vered Noam which appeared in the Hebrew journal Zion (67, 2004). Noam’s article is a fantastic comparison of the rabbinic and non-rabbinic sources for Hannukah, but since it was written in Hebrew and published in an academic journal, I do not believe that it has been read by a broad, non-academic, English speaking audience. Throughout my career as a teacher of Talmud, one of my goals has been to make Hebrew academic scholarship available to a broader audience. This was my main goal in my first book, The Schechter Haggadah, and it is a major goal in my forthcoming book (jointly authored with Jason Rogoff), Talmudic Voices: An Introduction to the Academic Study of Talmud. It is my hope that this e-shiur will serve as another example of how academic study can enrich our Jewish religious lives.
While it might seem like there are several independent rabbinic sources that explain why Hanukkah is an eight day holiday associated with fire, there is in essence only one source that exists in several different forms. Two different versions of this source appear in a work called “The Scholion to Megillat Taanit” while the third is a quote of this source in the Babylonian Talmud. Megillat Taanit, the “Scroll of Fasts” is an ancient list of holidays, written in Aramaic, on which it is forbidden to fast or mourn. Many of these holidays are associated with Jewish military victories over Greeks and Romans during the Second Temple period. Many of the dates have been forgotten and haven’t been observed for thousands of years. However, the most famous of these holidays is still observed. The date records the victory of the Hasmoneans over Antiochus Epiphanes, and it is the basis of the Hanukkah holiday.
The “Scholion” is an attempt by later rabbis to write a commentary to Megillat Taanit. Traditional Jews sometimes call this text the “commentary to the Megillat Taanit.” We don’t know when the Scholion was written, but probably during the Talmudic period, from 300-600 C.E. The text of the Scholion has remained somewhat open to insertions, embellishments and changes throughout its history.
There are several different manuscript traditions for this Scholion, each of which is very distinct from the other. Vered Noam’s masterful work, Megillat Taanit, attempts to sort these traditions out. The first tradition we will examine is found in source 1. Section one of this source seems to know that Hanukkah is associated with oil and the menorah (the lamps). It says that the Jews found “pure oil.” This is clearly an attempt to explain why Hanukkah is associated with fire. But the author does not mention any particular miracle that occurred. There is no mention of finding only enough oil for one day and having it last eight days. The Jews just found pure oil—good news perhaps, but not quite a miracle.
In section two, the author of the Scholion asks why this rededication is eight days when the earlier Temple dedications were seven days. To answer this question, the author cites another story that explains the connection of fire with Hanukkah. In this story, when the Hasmoneans take back the Temple, they have to forge a make-shift Menorah (see also source 4a), presumably because the Greeks stole the original gold one. This story explains the association of Hanukkah with fire, but it does not explain at all why Hanukkah is eight days. After all, the menorah has only seven branches!
Source 2 is the other basic manuscript of the Scholion, the commentary on Megillat Taanit. In section 2, this source does contain a mention of the familiar “miracle of the oil.” However, this seems to be a late addition, one that replaced an earlier version that used to be part of this tradition. Note the stilted language, “and there was no oil in which to light.” Vered Noam has shown that the original version of this scholion read, “and there was nothing in which to light the oil.” This version is still found in the Or Zarua, a medieval talmudic commentary (source 4a). Thus the original version of this manuscript read as did the other manuscript of the Scholion—Hanukkah is associated with fire because the Hasmoneans came to the Temple and found that the Menorah was missing. So the Hasmoneans built a new Menorah – great news, but again hardly a divine miracle!
In section four this source explains why Hanukkah is eight days: “they found the altar torn down and they fixed it all eight days, and the holy vessels, and therefore the holiday is observed for eight days.” I do not know how long it takes to make an altar, but it is clear that the author of this version knows that Hanukkah means “Dedication of the Altar” and that Hanukkah is an eight day holiday. He adds these two facts together and comes up with the story that it took eight days to build this altar.
The third version of the Scholion is the version quoted in the Bavli, source 3, right hand. In other words, this is a case where the Babylonia Talmud quotes a tradition from a separate text with which it is familiar. This is the version of the story with which we are familiar. The author of this version seems to have embellished upon the source in the left hand column, the earlier version of the Scholion (source 1 and left hand column of source 3), with which he was familiar. The author uses the basic story of finding pure oil but adds some key elements. First of all, he explains why the holiday is eight days—there was only enough oil for one day but it lasted eight. Second of all, it was a miracle that caused the association with fire. Simply finding the pure oil is good news, but doesn’t seem to be sufficient to justify a holiday. But a divine miracle involving fire—that would explain why Hanukkah is associated with fire, as well as why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. Thus one story answers both questions. Hanukkah is an eight day holiday associated with fire because there was a miracle that occurred for eight days and that miracle involved oil/fire.
For obvious reasons, this story caught on and was transmitted from generation to generation. It brings God into the Hanukkah story and it answers the main questions concerning Hanukkah in a satisfactory manner. It is no less believable in a literal sense than any other miracle story. And so it was, that this became the story told from generation to generation. And in case you are curious—it is the story I tell my children as well.
Addendum: Greek Sources
There isn’t the space here to examine Greek sources, namely the two Books of Maccabees and Josephus on Hanukkah. There also isn’t space to speculate as to what the original reason for the holiday was. Perhaps you’ll have an e-shiur on just that topic next year! I have, however, included some of these sources for your perusal. There are several things you should note though, in light (pun intended) of this shiur. First of all, none of these sources mentions the familiar “miracle of the oil” the story found only in the Bavli. Second, these sources already know that Hanukkah is associated with fire and that it is eight days. Finally, each provides different answers to these questions. Thus our rabbinic sources, particularly the Scholion to Megillat Taanit, are part of a long-standing search by Jews for the origins of this beloved but mysterious holiday.
 Whether Moses’s and Solomon’s dedications were seven or eight days is a point disputed by ancient sources. For our sake it is enough to note that the author of the Scholion thinks that they were seven days.
December 3, 2013
THE EVENING OF THE VISITATION - WRITTEN IN 1947
Go, roads, to the four quarters of our quiet distance,
While you, full moon, wise queen,
Begin your evening journey to the hills of heaven,
And travel no less stately in the summer sky
Than Mary, going to the house of Zachary.
The woods are silent with the sleep of doves,
The valleys with the sleep of streams,
And all our barns are happy with peace of cattle gone to rest.
Still wakeful, in the fields, the shocks of wheat
Preach and say prayers:
You sheaves, make all your evensongs as sweet as ours,
Whose summer world, all ready for the granary and barn,
Seems to have seen, this day,
Into the secret of the Lord's Nativity.
Now at the fall of night, you shocks,
Still bend your heads like kind and humble kings
The way you did this golden morning when you saw God's
While all our windows fill and sweeten
With the mild vespers of the hay and barley.
You moon and rising stars, pour on our barns and houses
Your gentle benedictions.
Remind us how our Mother, with far subtler and more holy
Blesses our rooves and eaves,
Our shutters, lattices and sills,
Our doors, and floors, and stairs, and rooms, and bedrooms,
Smiling by night upon her sleeping children:
O gentle Mary! Our lovely Mother in heaven!
THOMAS MERTON ON SOLITUDE
(I read just today something about Thomas Merton on the site Zenith. org in Italian , I wanted to offer something , I found this and a few poems , I want to read something more)
The American Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915-68) was a prolific writer on a variety of subjects but known especially for his popularization of the monastic life and for his advocacy -- unique among American writers and religious -- of eremiticism. In the twenty short years of his life as a writer, beginning with his autobiographical Seven Storey Mountain in 1948, Merton published over sixty books and pamphlets, over five hundred articles and contributions to books, plus translation and poetry. He composed private journals and maintained a voluminous personal correspondence, and also recorded his classroom lectures. The public writings are consistent and constructive, with a definable trajectory that established his well-read and reflective mind. After his death, with publication of private journals and correspondence, a more controversial and iconoclastic figure emerged, one dubbed contradictory by both fellow monks and outside observers.
The private Merton does not impinge upon the integrity of Merton's writings on monasticism, eremiticism, and solitude. Because the published works so clearly represent his intended reflections, and because the same themes underlie his work even through the evolution of his ideas, what follows draws entirely on the public Merton.
We can identify several phases of thought in Merton, with the transitions and overlap that occurred between them. They are cumulative phases, spirals absorbing the best of the previous period, sometimes anticipating the next period. They are not strictly linear. Roughly put, these are as follows, with representative book titles and their year of publication, considering that the time from manuscript to to printing date could vary months or even years.
Traditional defense of monasticism in the modern world.
Seven Storey Mountain (1948), Seeds of Contemplation (1949), The Waters of Siloe (1949), Ascent to Truth (1951), The Sign of Jonas (1953), No Man is an Island (1955).
From tradition defense to using the vocabulary and concepts of existentialism and personalism; strong advocacy of eremiticism.
The Silent Life (1956); Basic Principles of Monastic Spirituality (1957); Thoughts in Solitude (1958); Disputed Questions (1960).
Social and political concerns; confidence in philosophical defense of solitude.
Wisdom of the Desert (1960); The New Man (1962); New Seeds of Contemplation (1962); Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1965); Contemplation in a World of Action (1965); Raids on the Unspeakable (1965).
Emphasis on essays versus books; wide variety of subjects, especially mysticism, transcendence, and Eastern thought.
The Way of Chuang-Tzu (1965); Mystics and Zen Masters (1967); Zen and the Birds of Appetite (1968).
PHASE ONE (1948-51)
During what we have called his first phase (1948-51), Merton was strongly influenced by Thomist scholasticism, and defended the Catholic Church's historical context for monasticism. Merton presented monasticism in an original and contemporary lights, as an alternative to the modern materialistic cultures of post-World War II: capitalism and communism. Here he followed figures such as Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain in maintaining a benign optimism.
Even in his early years of conversion and the decision to enter monastic life, Merton expressed an interest in the Carthusian order, which has an official status for hermits. Because he became a monk in 1941, access to the Carthusian order headquartered in France, was impossible, though in 1953, Merton was to float the suggestion of transfer to his abbot but was to be politely turned back. Hence even in these earliest years, Merton was strongly attracted to eremiticism and solitude. In part his was a reaction of disappointment. Merton had found monastery at Gethsemani overcrowded, busy, highly ritualized, and noisy -- the opposite of an atmosphere conducive to contemplation.
With publication of Seven Storey Mountain and ordination to priesthood, Merton was afforded a reclusive corner of the monastery library for writing. But despite the popularity of his first books, some critics viewed them as a romanticized portrait of monastic life. By 1951, when he became Master of Scholastics at Gethsemani, and the criticism of his Ascent to Truth, Merton realized that his scholastic definitions of contemplation and spirituality were abstract and even cold, not serving to resolve his new sensibilities nor effectively communication to his popular audience. This set the stage for the second phase.
PHASE TWO (1951-59)
Merton was strongly impressed by an issue of the French journal La vie spirituelle (October 1952) dedicated to "Blessed Solitude" and by Max Picard's The World of Silence, Merton's introduction to Christian existentialism and a resource for the rest of his life. In 1953-54, Merton composed Thoughts in Solitude (not published until 1958), and a preface to Jean Leclerq's book on the Renaissance hermit Paul Giustiniani. This preface signaled Merton's definitive defense of hermits in the monastic tradition.
The true reason for the persistence of hermits even in ages which are most hostile to the solitary ideal is that the exigencies of Christian life demand that there be hermits. The kingdom of God would be incomplete without them,. for they are men who seek God alone with the most absolute and underrated and uncompromising singleness of heart.
In 1955, Merton wrote Dans la desert de Dieu, a work on solitude privately printed only in French and Italian. About this time, several religious authorities supported Merton's position on solitude and his newest petition to transfer to the Camaldolese -- Jean Leclerq being the most prominent -- but the Abbot Visitor of the Order cracked down on what he considered an eremitic mentality at Gethsemani. The abbot James Fox gave Merton the alternative (to his petition) of manning the nearby State Forestry Department watchtower. But Merton, like the biblical Jonas, wavered, and when the Master of Novices post opened, he accepted it quietly. A few days later, a letter from the Sacred Congregation for Religious (in the Vatican) arrived with denial for his request to transfer to the Camaldolese.
In his second period, Merton's experience in contemporary monasticism had revealed the weakness of its modern-day spirituality, and he begins developing the theme of solitude not only as a basis for monks to separate from society (as in phase one) but for the spiritual development of individual monks for whom eremiticism can be an option.
As long as the solitary life is systematically played down, discouraged, and even forbidden, I do not think that even the cenobitic [sic] life will bear its proper fruit.
Towards the end of this period, Merton makes the shift from solitude for monks to solitude for laity.
Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. ... For he cannot go on happily for long, unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual ilife which are hidden in the depths of this own true soul.
It was in the middle of this period that Merton made his request to transfer to the Camaldolese, but also the period during which he evolved a precise defense of eremiticism and solitude.
Where the writings of the first phase were a traditional defense of monasticism against the world, the writings of this second phase incorporate a greater compassion for "the world" and the plight of people. Merton is clearly familiar with a range of writings echoed in his new vocabulary: alienation, the absurd, the "stranger," mass man, and the need for psychological integration.
Note that the word 'alienation' is used by non-existentialists to support the fictions of collective life. For them the 'alienated' man is the one who is not at peace in the general myth. He is the non-conformist; the oddball who does not agree with everybody else and who disturbs the pleasant sense of collective rightness. For the existentialist, the alienated man is the one who, though 'adjusted' to society, is alienated from himself. The inner life of the mass man, alienated and leveled in the existential sense, is a dull collective routine of popular fantasies maintained in existence by the collective dreams that goes on , without interruption, in the mass media.
Merton distinguishes the individual from the person, and criticizes socialization into materialism and hostility towards solitude. The compassion for suffering humanity is joined by the prescription of solitude, unmasking of the false self built up by the contrivances of society against the true self. The true self is discovered only in the solitude of self and the solitude of God.
The real wilderness of the hermit is the wilderness of the human spirit which is at once his and everyone else's. What he seeks in that wilderness is not himself, not human company, and consolation, but God.
Man's loneliness is, in fact, the loneliness of God. This is why it is such a great thing for a man to discover his solitude and learn to live in it. For there he finds that he and God are one: that God is aloneness as he himself is alone. That God wills to be alone in man.
Though he was afforded intervals of solitude on the quarters of the monastery, Merton petitioned the Congregation for Religious for exclaustration in 1959, hoping to go to Mexico as a hermit near a Benedictine monastery. When this plan failed, Merton cast his eye on a free-standing block building planned for conference guests. This he dubbed "St. Anne's Hermitage." Here he was destined to enjoy his dwelling, first for hours at a time, then days, then, in 1965, indefinitely.
Merton's Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude published in the book Disputed Questions, is undoubtedly his best essay on solitude. The core of the work was written as Dans le desert de Dieu referred to earlier (and never published in English), such an explicit praise of eremiticism that Merton had anticipated the reaction of the censors by not even trying to present it for publication. This essay, with the contents of The Solitary Life, was expanded into Notes, initially refused by the censors who forced Merton through three revisions before permitting its inclusion in Disputed Questions.
In fact, the revisions of Notes broadened the theme for readers of every station in life, eliminating the words "monk" and "hermit" for "solitary," and calling upon readers to recognize their unique personhood outside of any institutional framework. In solitude the person discovers the commonality of all people and the solitude of God. This was the new focus for the next phase.
Ours is certainly a time for solitaries and hermits. But merely to reproduce the simplicity, austerity, and prayer of these primitive souls is not a complete or satisfactory answer. We must transcend them ...
PHASE THREE (1960-65)
Merton's productivity accelerated. He took the trajectory of his second phase to new treatments of spiritual life, applying contemplation as a tool to be combined with practical life. This everyday life meant experiencing the reality of people in society, hence Merton's addressing social and political issues such as war, racism, poverty, and violence. Part of this new phase was an increase in articles and essays versus books, more timely and critical in perspective than a leisurely and reflective monograph. His increasing respites of solitude helped.
In a 1964 meeting of North and South American Cistercian abbots at Gethsemani, Merton circulated an essay urging consideration of greater provision for solitude in monasteries, even as hermitages of lauras attached to monasteries. The essay was not just self-serving, though born of practical experience. Merton followed up with detailed mechanics of how such lauras would function.
Shortly afterwards, Merton received permission to stay at St. Anne's as its hermit.
PHASE FOUR (1965-68)
In a letter to Dorothy Day in 1965, Merton wrote that he could not be both an activist for social and political issues and a hermit. He preferred the latter, and the fourth phase shows this direction definitively
You will never find interior solitude unless you make some conscious effort to deliver yourself from the desires and the cares and the attachments of an existence in time and in the world.
In the solitude of his new hermitage, Merton continued the pace of writing, but with a new emphasis on the historical Christian mystics and on Taoist and Buddhist thought, seeing solitude in the context of enlightenment. The correspondence with a variety of spiritual figures and scholars from Sufism to Zen was invaluable.
As an example referring to Christian mysticism but reflecting his use of Eastern thought, Merton writes:
This dynamic of emptying and of transcendence accurately defines the transformation of the Christian consciousness in Christ. It is a kenotic transformation, an emptying of all the contents of the ego-consciousness in order to become a void in which the light of God or the glory of God, the full radiation of the infinite reality of His Being and Love are manifested.
Two issues not directly related to publishing had an impact on his life: the apparent indifference and occasional hostility of the Gethesemani monks towards eremiticism, and the growing lack of privacy surrounding Merton's daily life. Merton was sensitive to and hurt by the former, but ambivalent about the latter, thriving on personal contacts but regretting the disruptions to his solitude. In 1968, he considered relocating to a Trappist monastery in California, or even, Alaska, being given permission for the first time to travel.
That spring, Merton gave lectures at the Our Lady of the Redwoods in California, finding the experience invigorating. That fall, he pursued the invitation to speak at a conference of Asian monastic leaders in Bangkok, Thailand. He considered this an opportunity to explore other venues for solitude as much as a chance to deepen his concept of the monastic life. We know from his posthumous journals, for example, that he was enthusiastic about the Dalai Lama's advice to read the metaphysics of the Vajrayana school. Merton died in Bangkok, accidentally electrocuted by a faulty fan in his room.
The trajectory of Merton's thoughts on solitude may be summarized thusly: It begins in a withdrawal from the world (as a religious) in order to witness against the corruption and materialism the world embodies. It is first a physical solitude. The trajectory then returns to the world with compassion for those who suffer society's oppression and alienation, and constructs a defense of the person who is unable to withdraw from the world, an assertion of personhood and the true self. This phase culminates in a radical critique of the society that has perpetrated its oppressive values on the person. But in order to safeguard solitude, the trajectory rediscovers its spiritual fruits, and transcends the world in order to pursue for wisdom and enlightenment.
In a frontispiece poem to The Solitary Life, Merton wrote:
Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers.
For I, Solitude, am thine own Self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, am thy Amen.