Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Today a shrine is built for the Creator of the Universe"

Most of what we know about Our Lady's birthday is from the Protoevangelium of James which has been dated by historians prior to 200 AD. The earliest reference to the feast day itself comes from the sixth century. Most scholars believe that the feast originated in Jerusalem because of the existence of a church dedicated to St. Anne dating from in the fifth century and considered to be the location of Mary's birth. Historians generally accept that September 8 was chosen for this feast day on account of the beginning of the civil year in Constantinople on September 1, emphasising that the birthday of Mary is the "beginning" of the work of salvation.

This feast day was introduced in Rome from the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It became a holy day of obligation throughout the west by the year 1007.

I share with you today two very different readings. The first, from St Andrew of Crete (c. 650 - 740?) is from the Office of Readings; the second, a poem by Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968) graphically explores the symbolic significance of the Lord's genealogy.


The old has passed away: all things are made new

The fulfilment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit. For the law’s consummation was this, that the very lawgiver accomplished his work and changed letter into spirit, summing everything up in himself and, though subject to the law, living by grace. He subordinated the law, yet harmoniously united grace with it, not confusing the distinctive characteristics of the one with the other, but effecting the transition in a way most fitting for God. He changed whatever was burdensome, servile and oppressive not what is light and liberating, so that we should be enslaved no longer under the elemental spirits of the world, as the Apostle says, nor held fast as bondservants under the letter of the law.

This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed. This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages.

Justly, then, do we celebrate this mystery since it signifies for us a double grace. We are led toward the truth, and we are led away from our condition of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? Darkness yields before the coming of the light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom. But midway between the two stands today’s mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new. Therefore, let the whole creation sing praise and dance and unite to celebrate the glories of this day. Let everything that is, in the world and above the world, join together in rejoicing. For today a shrine is built for the Creator of the universe. The creature is newly made ready as a divine dwelling for the Creator.


Now the lean children of the God of armies
(Their feet command the quaking earth)
Rise in the desert, and divide old Jordan
To crown this city with a ring of drums.
(But see this signal, like a crimson scar
Bleeding on Rahab's window-sill,
Spelling her safety with the red of our Redemption.)

The trumpets scare the valley with their sudden anger,
And thunderheads lean down to understand the nodding ark,
While Joshua's friend, the frowning sun,
Rises to burn the drunken houses with his look.
(But far more red upon the wall
Is Rahab's rescue than his scarlet threat.)

The clarions bind the bastions with their silver treble,
Shiver the city with their golden shout:
(Wells dry up, and stars fly back,
The eyes of Jericho go out,)
The drums around the reeling ark
Shatter the ramparts with a ring of thunder.

The kings that sat
On gilded chairs,
The princes and the great
Are dead.
Only a harlot and her fearful kindred
Fly like sparrows from that sudden grin of fire.

It is the flowers that will one day rise from Rahab's earth,
That have redeemed them from the hell of Jericho.
A rod will grow
From Jesse's tree,
Among her sons, the lords of Bethlehem,
And flower into Paradise.

Look at the gentle irises admiring one another by the water,
Under the leafy shadows of the Virgin's mercy,
And all the primroses and laughing flags
Bowing before Our Lady Mary in the Eden of her intercession,
And praising her, because they see the generations
Fly like a hundred thousand swallows into heaven,
Out of the jaws of Jericho,
Because it was the Son of God
Whose crimson signal wounded Rahab's wall,
Uttered our rescue in a figure of His Blood.


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