Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Live from Paris.

This post comes to you from Paris, where I've been staying since I completed a round of Masses of Thanksgiving in the United States. I will be here until the end of July, brushing up on my French and doing some archival research which will hopefully become part of a master's thesis I will be writing this coming year in Toronto. Though I studied French for five years, I took my last course in the language when I was a senior in high school; I have kept up my reading knowledge through various means, including praying the Divine Office each day in French and reading a lot of books and articles in the language, but I've gotten rusty in terms of speaking and writing and I hope to regain a degree of proficiency in both over the next month. On a spiritual level, I also think that there is something special about being able to spend some of my first weeks as a priest in the city where the Society of Jesus was born. I will post updates as I am able, and in the meantime pleas know of my prayers and good wishes. AMDG.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The faith of the Precursor.

As promised in the preceding post, here is the text, more or less, of a homily which I gave last night at a Mass in Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown University. The Mass was the last of three 'official' Masses of Thanksgiving celebrated following my ordination to the priesthood, and it was also offered in memory of Father Thomas M. King, S.J. on the sixth anniversary of his death. The Mass celebrated was that of the Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, with scripture readings (which admittedly don't figure much in the homily, which is more concerned with the general spirit of the feast) taken from Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Peter 1:8-12, and Luke 1:5-17. Though I'm not sure that the text can be fully appreciated outside the particular liturgical context in which it was delivered, I offer it here for the sake of attendees who may want a record of what I said, and for the hopeful edification of others who would like to have attended the Mass but were prevented from doing so by distance or other obligations.


It is a joy for me to be here with you, both to give thanks for my recent ordination and to honor the memory of Father Tom King, who was a friend and mentor to many of those who are here. As a proud Hoya, it is also good for me to come home to the Hilltop, and I feel particularly happy to do so for the first time as a priest. Robert Frost once said that, "if you have to love something, you could do worse than to give your heart to a college." I think those of us who attended Georgetown and know this place can appreciate the sentiment. On the other hand, Robert Frost also said that "home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." I'm grateful to this community for taking me in, and I'll try not to wear out my welcome.

I. Saint John the Precursor

Tonight we celebrate the Vigil of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. The feast of John’s birth, 'the main event,' as it were, takes place tomorrow, and tonight's celebration has an anticipatory character about it. The vigil is a part of the feast, but it has its own special prayers and scripture readings which are different from the ones you would hear if you came to Mass tomorrow. John the Baptist belongs to a very select company of people whom the Church honors with feasts that are preceded by vigils – the others who come immediately to mind are the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ himself, so that should tell you something about John’s place in the communion of saints.

What makes John the Baptist so significant is the way in which he prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. As some of you know, in the Orthodox tradition, John is most often referred to not as John the Baptist but as "John the Forerunner," placing special emphasis on his role as one who anticipated the coming of Christ. We find a similar thought in the opening prayer of tonight’s Mass, which expresses the hope that, "attentive to what Saint John the Precursor urged, [we] may come safely to the One he foretold, our Lord Jesus Christ."

II. Tom King and Other Precursors

To be a precursor is to point out the way to another greater than oneself, to urge others along the way that leads them to the fulfillment of the vocation to which God has called them. This is what John the Baptist did, but we know others who have done the same. For many of us, Father Tom King was also a precursor; as a teacher and as a priest, as a friend and as a mentor, he helped to move us further along the way to becoming the people God invites us to be. He did not point to himself, but to Jesus Christ.

Even if you didn't know Tom King - and if you did not, you will surely hear stories about him after Mass tonight - I'm sure that you have known someone who played the role of a precursor for you. None of us would be here tonight if we had not been invited and nurtured by others in our journey of faith, and none of us would have found our own particular vocation if others had not pointed out the way for us.

In our own way, each of us is also called to be a precursor. We all have a duty to point out the way to others, even if, like John, we will not share in the same journey to the end. Those of you who are parents do this in raising your children, and those of us who are or who have been teachers do something like this with our students, urging them along the path of knowledge and discovery while knowing that they will ultimately know and discover things which we ourselves will never know and will never discover.

III. Faith

To be a precursor demands great faith. It took great faith for Zechariah and Elizabeth to become the parents of John the Baptist, accepting the gift given to them by God even though human reason would have suggested that they were to remain childless. It took great faith for John to complete his mission as the forerunner, and it takes great faith to fulfill the vocation which God has entrusted to each one of us, knowing that, like John, we will not see the fruit of our labors come to complete and perfect fulfillment. As we give thanks this evening for the gifts God has given us – the gift of faith, and the gift of having been encouraged in that faith by Tom King and others like him – let us also give thanks for the gifts that God continues to give us, as he nourishes us here with his Body and Blood.


Peace and good wishes to all who read these lines. AMDG.

A time of gifts.

Like many other Jesuits and priests, I've told my 'vocation story' innumerable times, identifying people and places that impacted my decision to seek entry to the Society of Jesus and to seek ordination to the priesthood. I will certainly continue to do this, but over time I've also come to realize that trying to offer a comprehensive account of all of the natural and supernatural signs that led me to this point would be (to borrow a line from St. Athanasius) a bit like trying to count the waves of the sea: in grasping after particulars, one inevitably fails to comprehend the whole. In this sense, every vocation is a mystery; twelve days ago, as I lay prostrate on the floor of Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago with seven other men about to be ordained priests, a succession of images passed through my consciousness - people, places, and events that figured in my journey to ordination - but at the same time I realized that the complete story of how all these pieces fit together is known only to God.

The days since my ordination have been busy, but nevertheless full of joy and consolation. One highlight of these days was certainly the celebration of my first Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, June 14 at Loyola University Chicago. It should not surprise those who know me well that I planned my first Mass very carefully. For starters, I chose nearly all of the music myself - primarily the Gregorian propers for the Sunday and the Mass ordinary provided by the Missa de Angelis, balanced with a Byzantine communion hymn, a venerable English recessional, and - in a nice addition suggested by the director of the schola - Hildegard of Bingen's Laus Trinitati. I recruited the members of the schola from among my friends, and I asked Father Brian Daley, a long-time friend from Notre Dame, to give the homily. The venue was also significant: I chose to celebrate the Mass in the domestic chapel of the main Jesuit residence at Loyola University, not because of any particular link to the school (I have none, aside from the fact that I've visited the Jesuit community there any number of times) but rather to recall an old tradition of the Society of Jesus whereby the newly ordained would celebrate Mass for the first time in the house chapel before venturing out to celebrate in their home parishes or elsewhere.

Like the larger ordination weekend of which it was a part, my first Mass had a bit of a "this is your life" quality about it. The congregation included my immediate family as well as friends I'd made in various places - Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, San Jose, South Bend, Toronto, Washington, and beyond - together with Jesuits from near and far. Though most who attended the Mass were there by invitation, I was particularly grateful for the presence of others whom I hadn't expected to see - of priests like Father Jim McCann and Father Mitch Pacwa, who both approached me at the reception after the ordination and asked whether they could concelebrate at my first Mass the next day, and some Jesuit novices who later told me how much they had appreciated the Mass.

The work of the schola was a particular source of consolation for me over the ordination weekend. Their work did much to dignify the celebration of my first Mass, but I was also deeply gratified by the considerable time and effort they put into rehearsing the music I had chosen, and the experience of camaraderie and commitment that emerged from their collaboration moved me a great deal.

The title of this post was borrowed from a classic travel narrative by Patrick Leigh Fermor; though the experiences Fermor described in that book were very different from the ones I've had over the last couple weeks, the phrase 'a time of gifts' still seems very appropriate. I have been given a number of tangible gifts like vestments and religious icons, signs of love and support from family and friends who wished to honor me on the occasion of my ordination, but I have received even an greater gift in the company of those who gathered for the ordination and the celebratory events that followed. A Jesuit I met the day after my ordination advised me to hold onto the consolation gathered in these days, particularly as a way of getting through the more challenging days that are inevitably a part of any priest's ministry. I hope and pray that the graces of this time remain with me.

Newly-ordained priests typically celebrate a number of Masses of Thanksgiving following their ordination, often in their home parish and in other places that have been particularly meaningful to them. In observance of this venerable custom, I returned to my home parish in Massachusetts to celebrate Mass on the next Sunday following my first Mass in Chicago. In the photo seen here, you can see me in the sacristy after that Mass, joined by the pastor, Father John Sheridan.

Returning to my Hilltop alma mater, I celebrated another Mass of Thanksgiving last night in Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown University campus. This Mass was timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the passing of Father Tom King, and I offered the Mass in his memory as well as in thanksgiving for my ordination; the homily from that Mass is also posted on this blog for posterity. The Mass provided an opportunity for a reunion of some of my Georgetown contemporaries as well as a gathering of other friends in the Washington area, and in the tradition of Father King's 11:15 pm Mass we gathered afterward for a festive soiree including dessert and drinks. I was also happy to be able to concelebrate the Mass with Jesuit Father Ron Murphy of Georgetown's German Department, who has the distinction of being the first Jesuit who told me that I should think about entering the Society of Jesus.

Rounding out this post and returning to one of the great consolations of the ordination weekend, here is a short video from the final rehearsal of the schola that I assembled to sing at my first Mass. Just after running through the first verse of the recessional hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," the group finished its work for the day and we all went to a neighborhood restaurant for a small celebratory dinner. As I told the assembled company, it was a perfect way to conclude the day of my ordination to the priesthood. As I look back on the past twelve days, I pray that the memory of that evening and of many other joyful experiences of the past days may sustain me for years to come. AMDG.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Heil sei euch geweihten!

Some reading this post know that I will be ordained to the priesthood later this morning. I both need and seek prayers for myself and my fellow ordinandi as we begin our ministry as Catholic priests. Having wondered from time to time what I might write on this blog to mark the event of the ordination, I can think of nothing better than to share some music, specifically the final chorus from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, a work I've often described as the one thing I would listen to if, for some reason, I were only able to hear one musical work for the rest of my life. As I reflect back on the decade-long process of moving from the novitiate to ordination in the Society of Jesus, some of the words of this chorus seem particularly appropriate. On the day on which the ordained are newly-acclaimed, it is fair to acknowledge that the road to ordination has been long and sometimes difficult - we have all had to "push through night" in some sense, striving with faith and patience to reach this day. Though the cult of Isis and Osiris has been superseded by the revelation of the one true God ("Et antiquum documentum / Novo cedat ritui," as St. Thomas reminds us in the Pange Lingua), I would nonetheless endorse the call to "crown . . . beauty and wisdom with an eternal crown" as being in full harmony with the Christian vocation. As for Sarastro's opening lines about rays of sunlight dispelling the night and so on... well, it all sounds great when he says it.
Die Strahlen der Sonne
Vertreiben die Nacht.
Zernichtet der Heuchler
Erschlichende Macht.

Heil sei euch geweihten!
Heil sei euch geweihten!
Ihr dranget durch Nacht.
Dank! Dank!
Dank sei Dir, Osiris!
Dank! Dank!
Dir, Isis gebracht!
Es siegte die Stärke
Und krönet zum Lohn
Die Schönheit und Weisheit
Mit ewiger Kron!


The rays of the sun
Drive away the night.
Destroyed is the hypocrites'
Surreptitious power.

Hail to you who are consecrated!
Hail to you who are consecrated!
You pushed through night.
Thanks! Thanks!
Thanks be to you, Osiris!
Thanks! Thanks
Be brought to you, Isis!
May power be victorious
And crown as a reward
Beauty and wisdom
With an eternal crown.
Peace and good wishes to all. AMDG.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Whitsunday in Kirchstetten.

I've written previously regarding W.H. Auden's views on liturgy, and today Pater Edmund at Sancrucensis offers a post on the Anglo-American poet's relationship with the village of Kirchstetten in Lower Austria, where Auden summered in the last years of his life. Though he always remained an Anglican - "obedient to Canterbury," as he writes in his poem "Whitsunday in Kirchstetten" - Auden attended Mass at the local Catholic parish whenever he was in Kirchstetten, sitting at the back of the church and singing the German hymns with great enthusiasm. Buried in the parish cemetery following his death in 1973, Auden is evidently still well-remembered in Kirchstetten, which proudly styles itself as a 'Dichtergemeinde' on account of its links to Auden and to Austrian writer Josef Weinheber, who also lived there. Auden's grave and his house in Kirchstetten have both become literary pilgrimage sites, as evidenced by travel narratives like this one.

To give a sense of Auden's relationship with the parish church in Kirchstetten, here is a poem rooted in his experience worshipping there:
Whitsunday in Kirchstetten
by W.H. Auden
(for H.A. Reinhold)

Grace dances. I would pipe. Dance ye all.
(Acts of John)

Komm Schöpfer Geist I bellow as Herr Beer
picks up our slim offerings and Pfarrer Lustkandl
quietly gets on with the Sacrifice
as Rome does it: outside car-worshippers enact
the ritual exodus from Vienna
their successful cult demands (though reckoning time
by the Jewish week and the Christian year
like their pedestrian fathers).

When Mass is over,
although obedient to Canterbury,
I shall be well Grüß-Gotted, asked to contribute
to Caritas though a metic come home
to lunch on my own land: no doubt, if the Allies had not
conquered the Ost-Mark, if the dollar fell,
the Gemütlichkeit would be less, but when was peace
or its concomitant smile the worse
for being undeserved?

In the onion-tower overhead
bells clash at the Elevation, calling
on Austria to change: whether the world has improved
is doubtful, but we believe it could
and the divine Tiberius didn’t. Rejoice, the bells
cry to me. Blake’s Old Nobodaddy
in his astronomic telescopic heaven,
Army, Navy, Law, Church, nor a Prince
say who is papabile. (The Ape of the Living God
knows how to stage a funeral though,
as penitents like it: Babel, like Sodom, still
has plenty to offer, though of course it draws
a better sort of crowd.) Rejoice we who were born
congenitally deaf are able
to listen now to rank outsiders.

The Holy Ghost
does not abhor a golfer's jargon,
a Lower-Austrian accent, the cadences even
of my own little Anglo-American
musico-literary set (though difficult,
saints at least may think in algebra
without sin): but no sacred nonsense can stand Him.
Our magic syllables melt away,
our tribal formulae are laid bare: since this morning,
it is with a vocabulary
made wholesomely profane, open in lexicons
to our foes to translate, that we endeavor
each in his idiom to express the true magnalia
which need no hallowing from us, loaning terms,
exchanging graves and legends. (Maybe, when just now
Kirchstetten prayed for the dead, only I
remembered Franz Joseph the Unfortunate, who danced
once in eighty-six years and never
used the telephone.)

An altar bell makes a noise
as the Body of the Second Adam
is shown to some of his torturers, forcing them
to visualize absent enemies,
with the same right to grow hybrid corn and be wicked
as an Abendlander. As crows fly,
ninety kilometers from here our habits end,
where minefield and watchtower say
NO EXIT from peace-loving Crimtartary, except for crows
and agents of peace: from Loipersback
to the Bering Sea not a living stockbroker,
and church attendance is frowned upon
like visiting brothels (but the chess and physics
are still the same). We shall bury you
and dance at the wake, say her chiefs: that says Reason
is unlikely. But to most people
I'm the wrong color: it could be the looter's turn
to germless poles.

Down a Gothic nave
comes our Pfarrer now, blessing the West with water:
we may go. There is no Queen's English
in any context for Geist or Esprit: about
catastrophe or how to behave in one
what do I know, except what everyone knows -
if there when Grace dances, I should dance.
I will be making my annual eight-day retreat beginning tonight, so the promised sequel to my last post will be delayed. In the meantime, greetings to those who are reading these lines. AMDG.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Back to New Orleans.

This blog's de facto Lenten hiatus has effectively also become an Easter vacation, with this post being the first since Easter Sunday itself. As a very partial explanation for my absence, this post recalls a trip taken exactly one month ago, soon after the end of the academic term in Toronto. My friend Matt and I spent a week driving from New Orleans to Savannah, with a particular but nonexclusive focus on sites related to three Southern Catholic literary figures: Flannery O'Connor, John Kennedy Toole, and Walker Percy. Matt and I had both been to New Orleans in the past - as some readers will recall, I went there in 2011 and again in 2012 - but we agreed that it was time to return to the Crescent City; after my third visit there, I can't wait to go back.

Some houses along Audubon Park, one of my favorite places to walk in New Orleans.

Audubon Park Lagoon.

This is the interior of Holy Name of Jesus Church, on the campus of Loyola University New Orleans. Among other things, Holy Name of Jesus is notable as the venue for the March 1969 funeral of Judge Leander Perez, who was famously excommunicated by New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel in April 1962 for his public efforts to thwart the Archbishop's plan to desegregate New Orleans parochial schools; Perez was quietly reconciled to the Church before his death, but I'm told that the decision to have his funeral at Holy Name of Jesus still raised some eyebrows at the time. Fitting the theme of our trip, Holy Name of Jesus also has significant literary associations: it was the home parish of John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces, and it was also the place where Walker Percy and his wife were received into the Catholic Church in 1947.

Speaking of Walker Percy, the Maple Street Book Shop a few blocks west of Loyola was a favored haunt of his; as a sign of his affection for the place, the generally shy and publicity-averse Percy would willingly attend signings at this shop even as he refused to participate in similar events elsewhere.

The Maple Street Book Shop still devotes prominent shelf space to Walker Percy, John Kennedy Toole, and other local authors - though my decision to purchase a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces there nonetheless marked me as a likely tourist, prompting the clerk to ask where I was from as he rang up the sale.

Giving another nod to John Kennedy Toole, here is a statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces, standing in front of the former D. H. Holmes Department Store, where the novel's opening scene takes place.

Matt reads the inscription accompanying the statue, taken from the aforementioned scene in A Confederacy of Dunces: "In the shadow under the green visor of the cap, Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress."

The Old and New South in close proximity: Confederate Memorial Hall (est. 1891) sits next door to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (est. 2003), and we visited the two places one after the other.

A surprising exhibit at Confederate Memorial Hall is this crown of thorns reputedly woven by Pope Pius IX and sent to Confederate President Jefferson Davis during his postwar imprisonment at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Though the Confederate Memorial Hall sticks to the traditional story that the crown of thorns was woven by Pio Nono himself, a scholar who has done recent research on the topic suggests that the object may actually have been produced by Davis' wife Varina.

Though the story of Pius IX and the crown of thorns might be apocryphal, it is undisputed that the pope sent this photograph to the imprisoned President Davis, accompanied by the handwritten inscription: "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus" (Mt 11:28) ["Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"].

Though I had visited the Ogden Museum of Southern Art during my first trip to New Orleans four years ago, on my return last month I noticed many works which had not been on display when I made my first visit to the Ogden. Among this year's new discoveries were several canvases by New Orleans artist John McCrady, including The Parade (1950), which depicts the artist himself at lower left working in his study as a Mardi Gras float featuring giant watermelons passes by outside.

The son of an Episcopal priest, John McCrady spent much of his childhood in small towns in Mississippi and Louisiana as his father moved from parish to parish. McCrady's upbringing had an influence on his art, some of which was devoted to explicitly religious subjects. McCrady's 1951 painting Crucifixion was long displayed at New Orleans' Grace Episcopal Church, for which McCrady also designed two large murals depicting the institution of the Eucharist and the Ascension of Christ. Grace Episcopal Church closed its doors in January 2012, and I've been unable to determine the fate of McCrady's murals.

Another new discovery for me on this visit to the Ogden was the work of Clementine Hunter (1886-1988). Hunter grew up on a plantation in northwest Louisiana, never learned to read or write, and was entirely self-taught as an artist. Panorama of Baptism on Cane River (1945) is representative of the work Hunter produced over the course of a long career devoted to documenting the rural culture of her youth.

One of several delicious meals enjoyed in New Orleans: Cajun-style eggs benedict served with grits at the Warehouse Grille.

The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, dedicated in 1794 and reportedly the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States.

St. Louis Cathedral viewed from across Jackson Square at twilight.

Jackson Square storefronts, captured a rare moment when the pavement wasn't packed with people.

Speaking of 'packed with people,' here is sybaritic Bourbon Street at one of its quieter moments.

Another delicious New Orleans meal: a bowl of Creole courtbouillon served at Tableau just off Jackson Square.

Preservation Hall, a venue for traditional New Orleans jazz since 1961 - nothing innovative, but old standards performed with great gusto.

At Preservation Hall, waiting for the performance to start.

Later in the week, I should have some more photos from the Southern trip posted. In the meantime, best wishes to all, particularly those celebrating the Memorial Day holiday in the United States. AMDG.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Christos Voskrese!

In conformity with the annual tradition of this blog, I would like to mark the Feast of the Resurrection by sharing the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom:

Are there any who are devout and love God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the Feast!

And those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they too shall sustain no loss.

And if any have delayed until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to those who came at the eleventh hour,
as well as to those who toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward.

Rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally, for the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Christ is Risen! AMDG.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What lit bonfires in the imagination of the Fathers.

Thanks largely to the vicissitudes of a busy semester and a certain kind of blogging writer's block, this blog has been silent since Ash Wednesday. Though I did not plan it that way, the idea of a Lenten pause makes a certain amount of sense insofar as it encourages one to withdraw into self-examination and reflection (not that I have done much of that - I've been far too busy with academic papers and the like). Today's Feast of the Annunciation offers a joyful break from Lenten asceticism, so it seems appropriate that I break my unintended blogging fast to post something today. One thing I feel compelled to post is Fra Angelico's Virgin Annunciate (c. 1450/55), a painting with a special place in my heart and one I've posted about before.

I saw Fra Angelico's Virgin Annunciate for the first time a decade ago when I was a Jesuit novice, and what struck me then - and continues to strike me now - is the somewhat awkward placement of the book in Mary's left hand. The idea that the Archangel Gabriel came to Mary as she was reading a book is a commonplace in Western iconography of the Incarnation, but in this particular image Mary seems to have responded so readily to Gabriel's summons that she hasn't even taken the time to put down the book that she was reading. Crossing her arms in a gesture of submission, she retains her book in her left hand and even seems to be marking her page with her forefinger. Mary may be eager to return to whatever she was reading, but at the same time she recognizes that her life has been changed forever on account of Gabriel's message and her own fiat.

The second thing I would like to do in this post is to share a passage from a book by a friend, a passage that I have posted here before and can't help but share again because I like it so much and it fits today's feast:
In their attempt to supplement Mary's virginal birth with the explanation that neither Scripture nor tradition provided them, the Church Fathers, in putting Luke's Annunciation passage under their relentless hermeneutical scrutiny, unearthed the aural imagery that lay therein. For once, it made sense to take the ear as the very medium through which the Word entered the virginal body ("for the sense of hearing is the natural channel of words"). As Proclus has Mary explain, "I heard a Word, I conceived a Word, I delivered a Word." The complementary character of spoken (annunciation) and heard word (conception), and the underlining dialectics of sound and silence offered the great preachers of the fifth and sixth centuries a seemingly inexhaustible source of rhetoric that sustaied anything from the longest to the shortest homily. (A personal favorite is the - Christmas? - homily of Cyrus of Panopolis, which in its entirety reads as follows: "Brethren, let the birth of God our Savior Jesus Christ be honored with silence, because the Word of God was conceived in the holy Virgin through hearing alone. To him be glory forever. Amen.")

What lit bonfires in the imagination of the Fathers, however, was the typology entailed in the momentous encounter of Gabriel with Mary. The passage in Luke became the contrapuntal text to Genesis: as Eve in her disobedience (παρακοή) had "given birth" to death, so Mary, the second Eve, through hearing (ἀκοή) gave birth to Life. Whereas Eve obeys (ὑπακοῦειν) the serpent, Mary listens to (ἀκοῦειν) the salutation of the angel. To God's creation of man (Adam), humanity responded with the re-creation of man in the New Adam (Christ). Although both creation and Incarnation are the deeds of the Father's love, Christ's birth could not have happened without Mary's response. Tha's why Mary's fiat mihi in "let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38) repeats and completes God's fiat as in "let us make man" (Gen 1:26). Both creational formulas share the same paradox: as God creates the world through a self-contraction, that is, a self-limitation of His will,so Mary assents to God's plan of the Incarnation by willfully abandoning her will; "let it be done to me."
This passage was taken from God after Metaphysics: A Theological Aesthetic, by John Panteleimon Manoussakis, a book that I happily commend to your attention for reading during Lent or at any other time. Prayers for all on this bright feast, and continued prayers as we journey toward Easter. AMDG.