Dear Obstat readers,
First of all, I have to take a deep breath again.
My need for a break from writing is for the usual reason: way too much on my plate. On Ash Wednesday, March 5, I will plan to resume my joyous walk with you in this playground of thought I have come to so enjoy — sometimes way too much! As ever I am grateful to, and honored by, those who make time to read this Blog daily, on occasion or just once. I am grateful to God for breathing into my cluttered mind whatever good words may have benefited a reader.
Secondly, happy Feast of the Presentation of the Lord! On this day we commemorate Joseph and Mary bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple forty days after his birth to perform the ritual of purification and to consecrate him to God the Father.
This glorious feast is, in our liturgical tradition, also called Candlemas as it begins with a solemn blessing and procession of candles into the Church, bringing alive today’s Gospel reading in which Simeon refers to Jesus as “a light to the nations.”
On this feast, we celebrate profound mysteries. We are immersed more deeply into what Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity simply named mes Trois, “my Three.” We see the presentation of God to God, the Son to the Father, the Son of Man to the God of gods by the hands of Mary and Joseph. Astonishing! On this feast, God’s muted glory illumines the Temple and the Spirit stirs in the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna, awakening them to the appearing of the Eternal freshly clad in potter’s clay.
As I reflected last night on the first reading and the Gospel, I wrote a short poem that tries to capture the historical-theological significance of the Jerusalem Temple.
Temple, O Temple! Heaven’s earthly abode,
chalice of Glory for Israel’s God Most High;
enfolding holy Light, hidden splendors within,
set apart, wholly Other, God-Far, yet nearly Nigh.
Conceived in Sinai’s heavens, born on earth,
thick in smoke, yet defiled; sudden wrath, razed;
fallen, lamenting wails out-calling: “How long,
O Ancient of Days, will your fury burn, blaze?”
Then of sudden, hid among her reborn stones,
shone hid Glory, bathing Daughter Zion’s face;
lighting an ancient prophet’s long-waning hope:
“Man, O Man! now-ever God’s Dwelling Place.”
Thirdly, in honor of today’s Superbowl, here’s soon-to-be Saint John Paul II’s prayer for athletes,
Lord Jesus Christ, help these athletes to be your friends and witnesses to your love. Help them to put the same effort into personal asceticism that they do into sports; help them to achieve a harmonious and cohesive unity of body and soul.
May they be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize: an imperishable crown that lasts forever. Amen!
…I had to share with you (in the above pic) this really cool gift that the members of my class on the Spirituality of the Laity from last Fall had made: a t-shirt with one of my favorite quotes from John Paul II’s Christifidelis laici plastered on the back.
The Oak of Mamre
claimed to be 4000 years old
Lastly — since I understand this past Wednesday was the 684th anniversary of Russian iconographer, St. Andrei Rublev’s death, I thought I’d invite you to prayerfully meditate with his most famous icon, The Holy Trinity, known also as The Hospitality of Abraham. The icon tells the story of the hospitable welcome Abraham and Sarah offered to three mysterious Guests by the Oak of Mamre in southern Judea. These Guests came bearing an absurd promise to this elderly couple that they, who had remained barren all their lives, would conceive a son (see Genesis 18). It’s a scene that, for a Christian, is so densely compressed with typological significance (i.e. with inspired images that foreshadow Christ) that it would be no exaggeration to say that one can find the whole Gospel, in nuce, foreshadowed in this narrative.
But above all we see in these three visitors a revelation of God’s deepest mystery as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the Orthodox liturgy succinctly puts it,
Blessed Abraham, you have seen and received the One and Triune Godhead!
I myself find it most thrilling that this proto-revelation of the Trinity should be given to humanity precisely in the midst of a married couple’s hasty hospitality offered to three strangers. It seems to say that God, who in Jesus has forever entwined himself into the family of mankind, desires above all to receive our love through the hunger and thirst of the stranger. Hence, it is by means of hospitality, which literally means “love of stranger” (in Greek, philoxenia!), that God himself is welcomed and encountered as hungry, as thirsty, as stranger (which finds most dramatic expression in Matthew 25:35).
So, if you can, spend a few moments prayerfully gazing at Them, seeing Them feasting at a table we have set, and recall that, in the next face you see, They await your welcome…