The Word was made flesh and stooped among us

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed. — St. Anselm of Canterbury

I was planning to write a theological flourish on today’s atom-splitting Solemnity — the Incarnation! I had hoped to sing of Infinity becoming itty-bitty in the womb of the Virgin, that all-lovely Woman before whom the Angel Gabriel found himself at a loss for words — as the Eastern Akathist hymn reminds us:

Awed by the beauty of your virginity
and the exceeding radiance of your purity,
Gabriel stood amazed and cried aloud to you,
O Mother of God:
“’How can I praise you as I should?
With what name shall I invoke you?
I am lost and bewildered!
Therefore I will greet you as I was commanded:
“Hail, O you who are full of grace!”

Listen to this haunting version:

O Mary, echo of the creating words of God in Genesis, you said, “let it be.” And so it was! In the Garden of your all-pure womb shone the Dawn announcing “a new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).

At least, that was the gist of what I had been thinking I would write…

…but then last week I heard a talk at the seminary by a visiting priest who was sharing stories from his years of service to those who live on the margins of life, and his stories dismantled my plans.

He shared the story of a man who was, in his words, “a mass of suffering.” He was entrusted with the care of this man who was a committed patient in a psychiatric ward — for eight hour stretches, five days a week. The man’s name was Joe. Joe suffered from chronic involutional depression, severe compulsive anxiety, was unable to speak anything other than repetitious babble. He was also stricken with cancer of the intestines that often left him severely incontinent. After Joe would have an “accident,” this priest would have to get on his hands and knees to clean the feces from the floor under Joe’s chair, from his shoes, clothes and body. “The stench was noxious,” he said, “unlike anything I’d ever smelled before.” One day, it happened three times in three hours. Each time, the priest stripped the man of his soiled clothing, thoroughly cleaned him and re-clothed him, trying all the while to preserve the man’s dignity.

After bathing Joe and re-clothing him the third time, while the priest was still tying his shoes, Joe said: “Up!” The priest looked up, and the man looked in the priest’s eyes, aspirating the first meaningful words he’d ever spoken: “Thaaank yooou.”

The priest was deeply emotional as he shared this story and choked up as he repeated Joe’s words. I was overcome with feeling and wrote this in my notebook:

The Annunciation. God become incarnate, fragile flesh, stooping down to clean up our filth, and bidding us: “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:15). Holy Mass! Having our unlaced shoes tied by the downward-bending God who bids us: “Join me! Sursum corda! Up!” We cry, “It is right and just!” as we look up in an anaphora, aspirating toward the Father’s Face: “Thaaank yooou…”

Amen. Deo gratias. Ite, missa est…

Coptic icon of the Annunciation. Taken from pravmir.ru

8 comments on “The Word was made flesh and stooped among us

  1. Jennifer says:

    You claim to have side-tracked your plans to write of how the infinite became itty-bitty and dwelt within a human being. Hmm. Thanks to the most-worthy Mary’s YES to the miracle of the incarnation, we are now partakers in an on-going, even more-widespread miracle: that through the Holy Spirit we have the infinite come and dwell in most-unworthy us, itty-bitty at our baptisms! Through every reception of the Eucharist, through every act of reconciliation, through every act of obedience, and every yes we give him, we make room for him to increase and us to decrease, we too give God flesh!! (When I first read on your blog something along the lines of a conversation you had with an Orthodox Christian saying that “God became man so that man might become God” I was taken aback: wasn’t that blasphemy? Wasn’t this why the pharisees and high priests were outraged with Jesus? Now, that was Jesus, the Son of God himself, so yeah, he WAS truly God, but for US to become God? No way. But, now I think I finally understand (trembling in awe as I type) that it IS true we might just in fact become God! And maybe this is how? Or at least, part of the answer?)

    I don’t think that for Joe this was just an analogy, or a reminder that God loves him/loves us. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, your visiting priest did more than act by example of God’s love, he was God’s love manifest, incarnate to Joe.

    “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” Yes, but more than this. More than just a symbol or a memorial.

    Pour forth we beseech thee O Lord, thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ thy son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection through this same Christ, Our Lord. AMEN

    Off to teach preschoolers about the Incarnation! JOY!!!

    • I hate to say when I read your comments I keep reverting to “wow.” But that’s it. Yes! Becoming divinized by the Son’s hominizing descent among us (i.e. John 1:13-14’s “we are born of God because He was born of us”) is what Fr. Hopko meant when he said, “No theosis [divinization] without kenosis [‘self-emptying’, a word taken from Phil 2:7].” And kenosis is found precisely in acts of mercy, in stooping to the neighbor in compassion. So…as you said…”becoming God,” i.e. sharing in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4), comes about in its fullness inasmuch as we conform to the Son’s self-emptying on the Cross…the “paschal mystery”…which is, of course, the heart of all the Sacraments and Liturgy, which we receive only that we might “become what we receive”…As Fr. Aidan Nicholas famously said: “Christ’s death was not a piece of ritual yet it was a cultic act (i.e., a deliberate act of adoration of the Father), albeit carried out for a unique end: the forgiveness of the infinite malice contained in the aversio of sin, a forgiveness that restored human beings to participation in the divine life, since at no time has God not willed for them grace and glory. Thus the circumstances in which the death was embraced — the betrayal by friends, the rejection by the religious leaders, the hostility, or cynical indifference, of the men of power — all of these purely secular conditions were taken up into an act of cult, a supreme act of worship, whose hidden fruitfulness made it the central event in the history of the world. Because Christ’s sacrifice was a supreme act of worship, it was capable of becoming the foundation of the Christian liturgy. Aquinas remarks that by his sacrifice on the cross, Christ inaugurated the cultus of the Christian religion. His sacrifice is the objective basis of our worship.”
      All this to say your illuminating my point as no mere extrinsic imitation of God, but as the “continuation of the Incarnation” in reality, is so profound and right and spot on. St. John of the Cross, after he describes the passage of the soul into union with Christ-Crucified-Risen, says it so well:: “In thus allowing God to work in it, the soul is at once illumined and transformed in God, and God communicates to it His supernatural Being, in such wise that it appears to be God Himself, and has all that God Himself has. And this union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favor, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before.”
      Thank you, Jennifer, for mining for us the depths of this Feast! JOY!
      Again, Jennifer, “Wow.”

    • Dismas Dancing says:

      Beautiful, Jennifer! I’m becoming a fan. And thanks to you, good Doctor. This conversation between you and Jennifer has illuminated a gazillion new light bulbs of understanding about the incomprehensible depth of Love God so effusively pours out for His human creatures. That we humans (I quite habitually) so willingly refuse those gifts by constantly asking “What’s the catch” is equally incomprehensible. It is no wonder that Pride is chief among the 7 deadly sins. In that knowledge it is no wonder that one of the Dominican nuns who taught me in grade school constantly intoned the supremely important admonition, “Pride goeth before a fall!”

      Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine!

      “…Oh, Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but hear and answer me. Amen.” (Memorare)

      • Jennifer says:

        Thank you, dear Dismas, for your kind words! I absolutely love all your comments, I have gleaned so much from them. Thank you for sharing these beautiful prayers, I will have to learn them! I missed out on being from that generation that was blessed to have nuns for teachers. Like the Angelus… I love it so much! How did I manage to live 38 years without even ever having once heard it until a few months ago? Please, if I may ask, pray that I will actually put any good words I say into action, especially with my family and my students. thank you, bless you and your loved ones,
        J

  2. Amen Professor and thank you

  3. WoopieCushion2 says:

    I think I know this Fr. C you speak of.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s