Reflections with Father Burt Boudoin

 

THE ‘MARY’ MONTH OF MAY

May 1, 2020

Several beautiful images and statues of Our Blessed Mother are found within the interior of St Charles parish church: above the sanctuary, as part of a scene from the Crucifixion, we see the Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the Cross; at a side chapel, we find a copy of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the beloved image of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Varga; a wooden sculpture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is prominent in the former Bl. Sacrament Chapel, and near the front of the church a small statue of Our Lady of Fatima can be found. Each of these reflects the devotion of our parishioners and their love for the holy Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, beloved daughter of Zion, and compassionate patroness of the Church Universal. Worthy of our affection and sincere aspirations! Worthy of imitation as the model and exemplar of discipleship! Worthy of our veneration and thoughtful reflection!

During ordinary times, the month of May is the occasion for our parish school and religious education students to present flowers before the image of the Blessed Mother; the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, the Legion of Mary, other parish organizations, and individuals also pitch in to honor the Seat of Wisdom with special novenas and extra Rosaries during ‘Our Lady’s Month.’ Yes, our minds and hearts should turn to the Mother of Our Savior as we consider a most salient question: why do we honor Mary of Nazareth at all? To answer simply: God honored her first! Out of the possible choices among the young ladies of Galilee and Judea, he selected her as the best one to receive the flesh of the Son of God, as the one to welcome him into the world and to shepherd Him as mother and teacher and guide from infancy to manhood. What a vocation and mission! In reality, God selected Mary from the moment of her own conception and the beginning of her own biological life, bestowing upon her soul the immaculate grace, which preserved her from the sin of Adam and Eve-- that is, a preemptive move to crush the power of Original Sin before her dear soul might be infected by the ancient serpent's spirit of pride and disobedience.

This mystery finds its summary in the Annunciation to the holy Virgin as recorded by St Luke: “And the Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, ‘Hail! Filled with grace! The Lord is with you…” To overflow with that spiritual essence known as ‘grace’ (charis in Greek), that giftedness of the Divine initiative, represents the ultimate union with the Almighty. As the archangel Gabriel declared, the mother of Christ possessed that wondrous virtue called ‘grace’ to the highest degree, and thus her glorious soul stood fully united to the heart of God in perfect friendship and servanthood at the very start of her astounding call to motherhood.

Actually, before the day of Pentecost, i.e., before the advent of the Holy Spirit as the invisible agent of God’s power would descend upon the Apostles, the Virgin Mary welcomed the presence of the Holy Spirit into her life and received and conceived the Son of God in the miracle of the Incarnation-- “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This essential moment in human history is the fruit of obedience to the Word of God, for the Blessed Virgin thereby became the “New Eve” in her absolute YES to the incredible invitation by which she embraced the mantle of motherhood despite her humble origins and virginal status. (In the writings of Justin Martyr and other Church Fathers, we find the title of ‘New Eve’ attached to Mary: if Christ is the new Adam bringing Reconciliation by obedience to God the Father, then His Holy Mother by her cooperation and consent to the Divine Will assists in the opening work to establish our Redemption through the ultimate act of Divine Mercy, His death on the Cross. At the crucial turn of events, Adam and Eve said NO to God, but Jesus and Mary said FIAT-- ‘Thy Will be done!’)

From the ‘Magnificat’, the sublime hymn flowing from the lips of Mary at the Visitation of her cousin, St Elizabeth, Our Lady says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!” Interesting to a fault. What defines Mary as a person and woman of faith, the very heart of her character, is intimately and firmly intertwined to the Creator of heaven and earth-- her existence and being are totally rooted in the substance and reality of God. Nothing absent from, nothing lacking in, nothing blocking her utter communion with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Excluding of course the joy of the Beatific Vision, the Blessed Virgin experienced within her mind and heart the very riches of the mystery of our salvation. Twice in his Gospel, St Luke tells us that Mary “treasured and kept” all these things in her heart-- first, at the adoration of the shepherds of Bethlehem and second, after the finding of the youthful Christ within the temple precincts of Jerusalem among the doctors of the Hebraic Law, who marveled at His wisdom and understanding. She too found herself overwhelmed in wonder and awe, holding onto these sacred memories until the day she might share her account to the future Apostles and disciples of the New Law and Covenant of Christ.

Naturally, in this life, unity with the Divine does not exclude trial and distress. At the presentation of the Christ-child in the Temple of Jerusalem, a terrible prediction sears the ears of Mary and Joseph when aged Simeon recognizes the hope of ages in the boy and predicts that the heart of the holy Virgin will be pierced for love of her only son. A reference perhaps to her seven sorrows, but especially to her presence at the foot of the Cross, wherein the deepest grief engulfed her emotions, for beyond most she knew the pure innocence of Jesus, a stark contrast to the wicked guilt of His accusers. When the sword struck her heart, Our Lady’s lack of anger and bitterness bespeaks of her complete trust in God’s Will, even as a witness to the torments of crucifixion-- in the midst of the Agony and Passion of Our Lord, she never failed to believe and to love and to put everything into the hands of the Almighty, an echo of the beatitude spoken to her by St Elizabeth, “Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!” (Gabriel declared that Her Son would be king in the line of David, king of an eternal dynasty-- did she not remember those words at the foot of the Cross?)

So, why do we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in May and throughout the year? Obviously, Jesus honored His mother, since He lived in constant obedience to the Law of God, of which one reads emphatically, “Honor thy Father and thy Mother.” A first-born son who dishonored his mother would be dishonored and rejected by Jewish society even to this day. In the sense of the command, honor (kabbed in Hebrew) means to love, to respect, to have gratitude, and to obey! Our Lord Himself chastised the Pharisees for allowing a practice called “qorban”, in which an adult declared himself free of the obligation to care for his parents by dedicating his income as a gift to God. He refused to allow this law of God to be watered down. Affection for His Mother could never exhaust the otherwise infinite and perfect love of Christ; neither could He be ‘jealous’ of love extended to her, since God cannot be guilty of such an iniquity. (The arrival of His mother and cousins or step-siblings when Jesus is teaching the people provides an occasion for Him to remind all that the virtue of obedience to God’s Will is the most important precept by which we are to embrace His teachings-- at the Annunciation, did not Mary do so in anticipation of that same doctrine of faith?)

To show esteem for the Virgin Mary and to seek her heavenly help and intercession is not only logical but virtuous. In this time of pandemic, to ask her to raise her voice in prayer before the throne of God, to ask her to beseech her beloved Son in majesty to deliver our nation, our world, and the Church from the present contagion represents our confidence that she is in heaven and has authentic concern for us who are “mother and brothers and sisters” of Her Son! For this beatitude of Jesus, I assert, applies especially to Our Lady: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God!” Now, she enjoys the Beatific Vision of God in body and soul because of her Assumption into heaven-- the crowning happiness and final chapter of a life of love and obedience to the Almighty.

Of course, what is written here is a mere scratch on the surface of a canvas dedicated to the beauty of our Blessed Mother. Many other reasons may be afforded to venerate and manifest love for the Virgin ‘Genetrix’ of Our Redeemer, to explicate an answer to a question for which we need no further justification than the prediction and prophecy of Holy Mary herself, also found in the ‘Magnificat’: “Henceforth all generations shall call me BLESSED, for the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name!” As St Louis Marie de Montfort wrote in his masterpiece, True Devotion to Mary: "We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son."

By Fr Burt B.

 

THE PASCHAL MYSTERY IN REAL TIME

April 17, 2020

Easter Sunday arrived at St Charles like a gentle Spring breeze; not in the usual manner of a whirlwind of our dedicated parishioners at every Mass, alongside welcomed visitors and unknown participants, which fill our church pews and leave standing room only. What a difference from years before! Nonetheless, your priests offered the sacred liturgies of Holy Week and the beautiful solemnity of the Resurrection even with the slightest number of attendees, a strange experience for shepherds in the absence of the flock they love. A disconcerting experience for the People of God who always thirst to drink of the Chalice of Salvation and who ever long to eat of the Bread of Life. For now, the pandemic suppresses the full life of the Church in her most essential aspects of sanctification and adoration.

Clergy and laity do well to brush up on a little history for precedence. During the Communist persecution of Catholics in Hungary, Cardinal Mindszenty was arrested in 1948, and deprived of the privilege of offering Holy Mass as the thugs of the party tried to break his spirit and force him to confess to crimes against the State, false accusations of which he was totally innocent. In prison, his interrogators harassed him without mercy, for hours and hours on end while they chained smoked and guzzled wine. He relates in his autobiography that, at one point, his tormentors departed the room and left behind a glass containing a small amount of red wine-- the unconquerable cardinal took hold of the glass and recited the words of Christ from the Last Supper, “This is the Chalice of my blood…,” and swiftly consumed its contents, now the Medicine of the Elect. Questions of validity aside, he was strengthened by this singular Act of Faith and did not break before the ruthless forces of hate.

In 1865, Catholics in Nagasaki, Japan, underground believers for centuries due to unrelenting and cruel persecution from the Imperial throne, approached a Catholic priest who served foreigners in that port city. They wished to find out if the rumors were true-- that he represented the Faith they had preserved for generations in secret without a formal connection to either hierarchy, parish life, or the holy sacraments beyond lay baptism. Father Petitjean reported their criteria to see if he was the real deal: devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the vow of celibacy, and his acknowledgement of the great Father in Rome! These valiant laymen had maintained the Faith by prayer, devotion, and stubborn loyalty to the religion of the martyrs of the late 16th century. When Blessed Pope Pius IX heard of this discovery, he exclaimed, “What a miracle!”

In the grand opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites, composer Francois Poulenc tells the true story of a community of discalced Carmelite nuns who were arrested and imprisoned for their refusal to renounce their religious vows in the wake of the French Revolution. In 1794, evicted from their convent in the Compiegne of northern France, mandated to exchange their religious habit for ordinary clothing, and deprived of daily Mass, divine office, and former duties, these strong women would not renounce the Faith or religious life in favor of the counterfeit ideology of the Revolution nor transfer their allegiance to the new government and its ruthless politics. In Paris, they went to the scaffold as a group and died as martyrs, one by one, with the Salve Regina upon their lips-- the holy veil replaced by the crown of Victory! A month later, the Reign of Terror came to an end as Robespierre met his fate at the guillotine, and the example of such holy women brought the nouvelle Republic to realize that liberty, equality, and fraternity cannot be established by butchery, tyranny, and enmity.

In contrast to plagues, disease, and infection, persecution falls upon the Church from the hands of men as wicked as those who falsely condemned Christ, the innocent Lamb, to crucifixion-- deadly contagions as we face in the present moment have the effect of unleashing a biological fury upon all, not simply the Body of the Faithful, upon all of humanity! Is nature’s justice at work? Punishing the human race for its environmental sins? Has nature replaced Christ as Judge of the living and the dead? Too controversial a subject to address? In reality, there is no scientific or theological possibility that nature has a persona  or consciousness which allows it to lash out at human beings to strike down the innocent along with the guilty. To say as much falls into the category of poetry and nothing more. No pandemic stretching back to the Black Plague of the 15th century has succeeded in wiping out humanity or destroying the human will to survive, and our age is probably no more in need of castigation than any other for its obvious sins and mistreatment of the natural order!

To the point, like the empty tomb at Jerusalem on the first Easter Sunday, St. Charles parish church stands mostly unoccupied these days even as Springtime arrives in Southern California to bring its life and vigour back into our lives. Lovely birds sing sweet songs, colorful flowers bloom in fragrant petals, energetic rabbits nibble at green grass as they watch over their newly born, bees buzz and humming birds hum in pursuit of life-sustaining nectar, and the air has a freshness it lacked before! Nature ignores its own contagion while humans fret over how to pass the extra hours at hand. Divine mercy prevails! Keep strong in the Faith! This too shall pass! A powerful gust of wind will kick up and God’s breath will fill the pews of our church with new life and renewed appreciation and love! At the door of the holy sepulchre, we do not search for Him in vain-- He has arisen, exactly as He said!

By Fr B. Boudoin

Click here for Jessye Norman as Madame Lidoine in the Act II “Ave Maria” from Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites