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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Cross in Christmas, Not the Nightmare Before!

by Susan Fox
Larry, James and I celebrated the week before Christmas at Disneyland. Excessive rain and crowds made the trip a little tough and drippy. The Haunted Mansion ride has been redecorated as the Nightmare Before Christmas with Sandy Claws. What a parody of the truth! The ride is designed to instill fear within children about Christmas, while the true message of Christmas gives us hope and courage. So the highlight of the week for me was the sermon on courage at Sunday Mass at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2010.

The sermon's setting was significant. I attended first grade at this school in 1959-60. It was two years after my father died, my mother had to work and I went to daily Mass so she could get to work early.

St. Boniface recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. It was 100 years old when I attended grade school there. I remember they said three Masses simultaneously on all three front altars in Latin. I always attended the left altar Mass. That sounds very funny now because Vatican II ended that practice. We have only one Mass said at one time. The left altar at St. Boniface has been replaced with the tabernacle and the right altar with the Nativity crèche.

The church had been redecorated since 1960. So in order for me to recognize it, I had to exit through the door behind the left altar and look at the steps as I remembered rushing down those, running for the bathroom when Mass was over. I suffered during those Masses as I always had to go to the bathroom, but I was too young and shy to realize it was okay to leave during Mass. Somehow the Catholic understanding of suffering had been explained to me at the age of six, so I offered my pain in union with the sufferings of Christ, and I embraced the cross. What a gift. In subsequent years, I sometimes fled the cross. It's never easy to face our fear and suffering.

When I attended St. Boniface, I'm sure that most of the people were white. Now they are mostly brown and of various nationalities. The priest who gave the sermon was Vietnamese. My husband greeted him in that language as he has made a point of learning some phrases from our Vietnamese friends.

Actually, the young priest was once a child who escaped Vietnam as a refugee in a boat. Literally, the man saying Mass at St. Boniface was one of those suffering boat people! The reading for the day was about St. Joseph. You remember he discovered that Mary, his betrothed was pregnant and he decided to divorce her quietly. Why? Because he knew he wasn't the father. But an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife as the child within her womb was conceived by God not by man. Hence the sign promised to King Ahaz was fulfilled: A Virgin shall be with Child.

Joseph overcame his fear and took Mary into his home, and hence he became the foster father and provider for the Son of God. And so there was suffering in that first Christmas, but Joseph overcame his fear and trusted in God.

The Vietnamese priest said when he was a little boy he was very afraid of the dark. And his family had a very dark cellar. One day his mother asked him to get a can of tomatoes from the cellar, and he told his mother he was afraid of the darkness in the cellar. She told him not to be afraid because Jesus was in the cellar. So the little boy descended the stairs and stood at the doorway of the cellar and yelled, "Jesus! If you are in there, please hand me a can of tomatoes."

He was trying to explain how we can be very afraid in certain situations, but we have to learn to trust God. Later, this priest as a young boy was in a boat escaping Viet Nam and there was a terrible storm. The waves were rocking the boat, almost overturning it. One little boy was almost dying with fear, and another was so relaxed he was almost asleep. The terrified boy asked the relaxed boy why he wasn't afraid. And he said, "Because my father is the pilot of this boat!"

If we could all realize that Our Father in heaven is the pilot of our boat perhaps we would relax more and enjoy this life. It is short.

But I was amazed that God arranged for a sermon on suffering in the church in which I had suffered! I felt like I died and came back to earth to see the changes. All the suffering seems to have paid off as the liturgy at the St. Boniface was absolutely lovely. The music and chant drew me into prayer instead of distracting me as it does in other local churches. That's why I enjoyed St. Boniface. In prayer, Jesus and I can return to the St. Boniface of 1959 and converse about old times. I always wondered what Moses and Elijah had to say to Jesus at the Transfiguration. I guess they were discussing the cross. The Bible says they were discussing Jesus' exodus from Jerusalem. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in their Exodus. Jesus led us from the slavery of sin by His suffering on the cross - His exodus from Jerusalem.

I faced the dark cellar in 1959 when I attended Mass in suffering refusing myself access to a bathroom. The young priest faced his fears in a boat when he came to America to grow up and preach the gospel. St. Joseph faced his fears when he took a pregnant Mary for his bride. This year, I feel like I faced a similar fear when I nearly died and had heart surgery. This issue of fear and suffering plagues us our whole lives long. The solution is to trust in God and to realize He doesn't look at suffering the way we do. To Him, it's a means to fulfill our purpose in life - to know, love and be imitators of God, Who Himself suffered and died on the cross.

There is a famous Italian saint, called Padre Pio. He suffered the wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and head for 50 long years. He also fought with the devil - literally. One night as the devil was pummeling him yet again, he noticed his guardian angels were happily flying around the ceiling and singing. When the devil left he asked his good angel why he didn't help him fight the devil. The angel said he did fight -- by praising God. That's the difference between this life and the next. We glorify God with our suffering in this life and with our happiness and singing in the Presence of God in the next life. To believe otherwise would make us bitter, angry and resentful.

We adore thee O Christ and bless thee because by the Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world!

God bless you.
Susan Fox

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mary's Role in Salvation: The New Eve

by Susan Fox
What an amusing time I had reading the web page run by the Evangelical Outreach on the titles of Mary.
They very correctly identified the fact that many Catholic titles of Mary like Morning Star and Help of Christians are identified with the actions of God in the Bible. “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6)
Furthermore, they concluded many Catholic titles of Mary like Gate of Heaven and Refuge of Sinners show that Mary has a role to play in our salvation. However, they erroneously decided that “Mary is never included with Jesus in the Scriptures as having even the slightest role in salvation.” I wonder if we are reading the same Bible!
By the very fact that the Bible says that God sent the angel Gabriel to a Virgin in Nazareth to ask her to be the Mother of His Son, God involved Mary in our salvation. What could be more obvious than that? No Mary, no Jesus.
Not that God needed Mary, but He wanted her cooperation and that is what she offered: “Behold the handmaid (servant) of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Just because we recognize her role in salvation and have given her many titles that reflect what God does, Catholics still do not worship Mary. The Catholic Church teaches that all true devotion to Mary is Christ centered. If Mary were the end of our devotion and not the means, we would be idolaters. Christ as God has the power. It was His sacrifice on the cross that brought our salvation. We agree on that! Mary as human being and mother simply cooperated in our salvation. As such, she is the perfect model of a disciple of Christ. She is the Untarnished Image of the Church. “Do whatever He tells you,” she told the servants at the wedding feast of Cana. (John 2:5)
The Bible identifies Mary cooperating in our salvation in many other places. Her role was foretold in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”
Some translations say, “he” shall crush your head and some say “she” or “it.” But the serpent crushing action comes from the Woman and her Seed. The Seed is Jesus Christ. He is God. He has the power. But the Woman is allowed to share in this crushing role -- this defeat of evil leading to our salvation. Her role is cooperative. And as our early Church Fathers remarked there is a justice in having Jesus and Mary joining together to bring about our salvation. For it was through a man (Adam) and a woman (Eve) that sin came into the world. Hence, a man and a woman were needed to repair the damage of sin. It was Eve’s “No” that brought sin into the world. It was Mary’s “Yes” that brought Christ and his redeeming sacrifice on the cross. Hence, Mary is called the “New Eve.” And Christ is called the “New Adam.”
You, who are reading this, are human beings. Yet you may be involved in raising children or some chore helping to bring God’s salvation to the world. God doesn’t need you to do this work. But He wants to share the joy of His work with you. "My Father goes on working and so do I," Jesus said. (John 5:17) And when the apostles brought food to Jesus after his conversation with the woman at the well, He said “I have food to eat that you don't know about." (John 4:32) She had just repented of living with a man after having five husbands, and she went to tell the village about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" (John 4:29) Jesus’ food, His joy was bringing salvation to the people! Why does He let you help Him bring the Gospel to all peoples? He doesn't need you. He can do it without you. But God delights to work with nothing. He lets us cooperate with Him in bringing His salvation to the world. And if us, then why not Mary, His mother?
Mary is simply the best model, the first example of the Christian disciple. She responded perfectly. And yes, she was without sin because if she had any sin she would have exploded the minute the Seed was conceived in her womb. Think about David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. What was the Ark? Containing manna, the rod of Aaron and the 10 commandments, it was the tabernacle holding the Real Presence of God among the Jewish people.
The ark started to slip from its pallet and fall and one of David's men tried to catch it with the motive of protecting it. But he died instantly. Why? He had sin. Nothing with sin can touch God and live. "Nothing defiled shall enter heaven." (Rev. 21:27)
But Mary is identified in the first chapter of Luke as "FULL OF GRACE." The angel Gabriel says, Hail (Hello) and addresses her with the title "Full of Grace." Why? She has no sin. She is all full of God alone. To be the mother of Jesus Christ -- true God and true man -- she must be sinless. So the Church calls her the New Ark of the Covenant.
How was Mary conceived without sin? Medieval Theologian John Duns Scotus explained it best. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was applied to Mary at her conception. How? God is outside time. He is in eternity. While she was redeemed like the rest of us by Jesus Christ on the cross, yet the sacrifice was applied to her before His death on the cross by God, who was preparing the Woman and Her Seed from the first moments in mankind's history to bring salvation to the world.
Revelation Chapter 12 gives you a replay of the same thing. At the end of Chapter 11, the Ark of the Covenant is seen in heaven. My goodness, the Ark hasn't been seen for hundreds of years. The Jews lost it. Then it appears in heaven at the end of Revelation Chap. 11. Then the next line is: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Ah, here again is the Woman of Genesis 3:15, a cooperative human woman doing feats that only God could accomplish by God's power not her own.
She is wailing in pain while she is about to give birth to a Son while a red dragon waits to swallow both of them. This woman is Mary, who cooperates in our salvation as a human being. But it is also the Catholic Church herself, and the pain is the struggle involved in our salvation – the salvation of the members of the Body of Christ. Mary -- being without sin -- probably did not suffer the pangs of childbirth in Christ's delivery. But in trying to bring the Body of Christ into eternity, there is a lot of suffering.
At the end of Chapter 12, the devil is very grumpy standing angrily on the beach. He goes off to make war against the Woman's other children; the one's who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
If this describes you, then God is Our Father and Mary is Our Mother. She is a human being, but as such she was given the opportunity to represent us, to be the one creature who said YES to God when Adam and Eve said NO, allowing sin and death to enter the world.
Another such figure as Mary is Abraham – a human being who said YES to God. He was willing to offer his son Isaac as an offering to God when asked. He was obedient to God. That is why he is called our father in faith. But Isaac hauling the wood up the mountain, asks his father Abraham, “Father where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answers, "God Himself will supply the lamb for the sacrifice." (Gen. 22:8)
Without realizing how prophetic his words are, Abraham believes he is about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But God intervenes and provides Abraham with another sacrifice, a ram. But those words -- “God Himself will supply the lamb for the sacrifice” -- those words resonate down through the centuries and we realize that God Himself so loved the world He gave His Only Son. There was no ram caught on a bush to replace Jesus' Sacrifice on the Cross. In the death of Jesus Christ, God the Father actually made the sacrifice that He symbolically demanded of Abraham.
Now if Catholics gazed adoringly at Mary just for the purpose of worshiping her, that would be idolatry. But no, we fully expect her to be a sinless means to a Great End. She will take us to God. And that is what we want. We want God with our whole mind, heart, strength and being! And Mary is a means to that end. Do you not ask your friends to pray for you? My goodness, who are they but sinful weak people like ourselves? Why not ask the Woman who gave birth to the God who taught us to "HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER?” Would not such a God honor His mother and listen to your request more readily than if you asked Him directly while in all your sins?
All the great titles of Mary, and there are many of them, express the idea that she is cooperating in God's action. So yes, they seem to be strongly related to God Himself, but the power is God's. He has simply allowed Mary to participate in His action, and because she did so perfectly without falling into sin, she is honored, not worshiped. For if she had failed, so would Christ not come into the world and we would not now have the opportunity to accept our salvation from God.
Abraham's faith was rewarded for his children are a numerous as the stars. Mary's faith is rewarded also because at the foot of the Cross, she is made the New Eve, Mother of Mankind, when her Son says to John, "Behold, Your Mother!"
New Eve, Virgin crushing the head of the serpent, pray for us.
And that, my friends, is a title for Mary.