The dates on the calendar are disappearing fast, not unlike the cinematic device of pages dropping off a calendar or turning rapidly so as to show the passage of time. In just a few days the last of the "O Antiphons" will have been chanted. They will be replaced by Gloria in Excelsis Deo. The tone of the readings is changing. The penitential and apocalyptic tenor is fading into the background and being replaced by a cautious note of hope and joy.
"from you shall come forth
one who is to be ruler in Israel;
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient times."
We are approaching the apogee of the genealogy that was proclaimed on Thursday. He who was present before the beginning of time is prepared to enter into time and space. Indeed, today's gospel describes that he is already in time and space. He will soon set foot on this same earth on which we walk, the same earth in which we work and relax, pray and struggle, weep and sing.
"Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste."
Ignatian meditation demands that the imagination be fully engaged with the Gospel. Each exercise entails preparatory preludes followed by points for meditation on specific gospel narratives.
The first prelude consists of meditating on the story, meditating on the facts underlying the mystery. Mary has been told that she is to be the Mother of Our Lord. She hastens to visit Elizabeth. She is probably still a bit taken aback by the angel's message. Nonetheless, she sets out for Judah in the hill country.
The second prelude is something referred to as the composition of place. Today's narrative supplies scanty information. This is where the imagination comes into play. This is the kind of imagination that undergirds the work of many artists who tried to depict the scene, some more successfully than others. (Try to skip the chubby cherubs hovering above.)
Mary undertook a 90-mile journey. Imagine the road from Bethlehem to Judah. Was it smooth or rocky? Wide or narrow? Were there grass or gutters on the sides? How steep were the hills? What was Mary carrying with her? How was she dressed? (I suspect she was not traveling in watered silk studded with seed pearls and rhinestones.) What did Elizabeth's home look like? Were there many windows? How wide was the door? How was it furnished? Then comes an application of the senses. Is it hot or cold? Dry or damp? What aromas tinged the air? You want to place yourself in the scene as if you were stepping from your seat in the theater into the action on the screen. Once the scene has been composed in as much detail as you would like enter into the meditations.
This particular narrative detailed Mary going to Elizabeth's house and John's recognition of Jesus presence. Merton described this moment in exquisite imagery in his work, "The Quickening of John the Baptist" a portion of which reads,
"The day Our Lady, full of Christ,
Entered the dooryard of her relative
Did not her steps, light steps, lay on the paving leaves
Did not her eyes as grey as doves
Alight like the peace of a new world upon that house, upon
Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John
Wakes in his mother’s body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery."
One question preoccupied me while meditating on this narrative. What did Mary and Elizabeth talk about? What did they discuss? They were two first time mothers. One was young and the other significantly older. Both pregnancies were unexpected. Both pregnancies miraculous, each in its own way. How did they sound as they talked? An interesting meditative excercise would be to write the dialogue for this scene, the part the follows after the Magnificat. Write the dialogue and create the scene for other moments during Mary's three month visit with Elizabeth.
O Clavis David
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, . . .
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.
Thought I would put more on the blog during Advent but time got away. A late-planned trip to PA took more time than planned. Many Masses during this season in a variety of places. I spent this final weekend of Advent at the Abbey of Regina Laudis celebrating Mass daily. I got down every several months in part to help the nuns out as they do not have a resident chaplain and as a way of getting some very quiet time away from here. Also get to exercise the camera. Alas, Saturday was cold and very windy. Way to windy to photograph and maintain feeling in my fingers, at least outdoors.
I got dragooned into helping put the lights on the tree in the monastic church. Good way to fill up several hours on an otherwise nasty rainy and windy day.
Some outdoor photos first.
There is a broken bottle on a bunch of railroad ties. It is fascinating as a study in shape, texture and light.
As noted above it was rainy, misty, foggy and damp. My camera is not weatherproof so I spent little time outdoors. When the sun did come out it was very cold and very windy. This is the land just outside the men's guesthouse (St. Joseph).
The Madonna and Child at the main entrance near St. Joseph.
St. Joseph from the meadow.
The monastic choir and altar taken from the back of the church.
Candles on the altar. When I celebrate Mass I am facing the nun's with back to the congregation from outside.
Cruets prepared for Mass the next morning.
The Christmas tree light crew including my long-time buddy Karl who as visiting for a day.
Have a Blessed Christmas
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD