SAINT HELP: THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR PRAYING TO THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN

  • “I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” (Saint Therese of Lisieux)

                                                                       

    Introduction: My brand new 2019 Church calendar is full of feast days for saints who are already in Heaven, and to whom God has given the power – as members of the mystical body of Christ – to greatly aid those of us who are still advancing on our earthly journey. This note touches upon ten points underlying the biblical foundations for such intercessory prayer (and, at a minimum, it certainly makes good sense to pray to a Saint on the day of his or her Feast, and to ask that Saint for a special favor that day consistent with his or her own spiritual journey and gifts).

    1.  In the New Testament (at Hebrews 12:1) we are told that the saints who lived before us form a “great cloud of witnesses” who “surround” us and are therefore keenly interested in the struggles we are enduring as part of the body of Christ. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible states:

    “Images of the faithful departed [in Hebrews 12:1] cheering us on hints at the communion and intercession of the saints. It shows that the Church in heaven is neither cut off from nor disinterested in the pilgrim Church on earth but is actively solictious of her salvation.” 

    2. In the Book of Revelation, where we actually get a glimpse of what is going on up in Heaven, we see the saints (called elders) in Heaven bringing the prayers of God’s holy people on earth before the Lamb, Jesus (see Rev. 5: 8-9). This is an example of the charity that exists between the saints on earth (the church militant) and the saints in Heaven (the church triumphant).

    3. Having died in Christ the saints in Heaven are not dead (we pray to living saints); in fact, they are more alive than ever, being fully united to the infinite merits of Christ. As Jesus said at Mark 12: 26-27, speaking of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our God is not the God of the dead, “but of the living.” And as the author of Hebrews says, “You have come to Mt. Zion…to the heavenly Jerusalem…to the [living] spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12: 22-24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (at no. 965) states:

    “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”

    4. We see from the Book of Revelation, which shows us the activities of Heaven, that the saintly martyrs under the altar (in Heaven) cry out to the Lord for vindication (Rev. 6: 9-11). We see here the saints in heaven petitioning the Lord for justice with respect to events taking place on earth.

    5. Another New Testament verse which demonstrates that the saints who lived before us are still active in the body of Christ is Mark 9:4 where, during his transfiguration, Jesus talks with Elijah and Moses.

    6. Some people quote 1 Timothy 2: 5, which states that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, to argue against the doctrine of the intercession of the saints. But in fact if you read the verses immediately before 1 Tim. 2: 5, you will see that Paul clearly sees no conflict between intercessory prayer and Christ’s unique role as the one mediator. For example, at 1 Tim. 2: 1-3 Paul “urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men….” Thus, it is clear that Christ’s role as the one mediator empowers those in the body of Christ to act as intercessors.

    7. The saints are powerful intercessors on our behalf because they are joined to God like branches are joined to a vine, forming, in essence, one organism which is kept alive by Christ’s own life. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, puts it this way in the Gospel of John (Chapter 15):

    I am the vine

    You are the branches

    Whoever remains in me, with me in him

    Will bear much fruit

    8. We see in the Book of Revelation that the saints (in this instance, the apostles) assist Jesus even in passing judgment. Revelation 20: 4 states: “Then I saw some thrones [the thrones of the twelve apostles], and I saw those who are given the power to be judges take their seats on then.” The saints, therefore, are not inactive in heaven; they are working with Christ to bring salvation history to its final stages.

    9.  Our mutual prayer for one another is very valuable. As James states in the New Testament: “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5: 16). Paul, himself, offers up intercessory prayer on behalf of the community (Romans 1: 9). Now, in Heaven, Paul’s prayers united with our own are even more efficacious for the body of Christ. Paul also teaches that the sacrifices of one Christian for the benefit of another are profitable (see 2 Cor. 12: 15 and 2 Tim. 4: 6). Even veneration of the relics of a saint can benefit the body of Christ: It is said of St. Paul that “so remarkable were the miracles worked by God at Paul’s hands that the handkerchiefs or aprons which had touched him were taken to the sick, and they were cured of their illnesses, and evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19: 11-12). The point here is clear: the prayers and sacrifices of one member of the body of Christ can benefit another member. The saints in heaven are members of the body of Christ!

    10.  All genuine prayer is ultimately directed to God (and originates from the grace and prompting of the Holy Spirit). Intercessory prayer is merely the joining of our prayers or needs with the prayers of the saints on earth or in heaven; intercessory prayer is therefore one example of the unity that exists between Christ and all believers (“all of us, in union with Christ, form one body” – Romans 12: 5). To claim that intercessory prayer detracts from our relationship with Christ would be as absurd as claiming that the love of neighbor detracts from the love of God when, in fact, the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable commandments (“anyone who says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar” – 1 John 4: 20). The saints in Heaven are fully united to Christ; they do not compete with Jesus for our prayers, but rather in union with Jesus they share in His life as members of the family of God. As the Catechism states:

    “2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”

    Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

    References: I have no doubt composed this note from information gathered from having listened to numerous Scott Hahn tapes. See, for example, Dr. Hahn’s tape series, Answering Common Objections. I’m sure other apologetic materials figure in as well. A great spiritual writer states: ”In a certain sense the Feast of All Saints seems to me to be greater than that of Easter or the Ascension because this mystery perfects our Lord. But Jesus as Head is not perfect except in union with all His members, who are the Saints. This Feast is very glorious…for all the excellence of the perfection of the saints is nothing more than an emanation of His Spirit poured forth on them” (Father Olier).

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THE GREAT VALUE OF HUMBLE, PERSEVERING PRAYER ACCORDING TO SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS

512px-Gentile_da_Fabriano_052

(Saint Thomas Aquinas as depicted by Gentile da Fabriano, circa 1400, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

SPEAK LIFE BY WATCHING OVER VERY CAREFULLY WHAT YOU SAY TO OTHER PEOPLE!

                                “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41)

There is a popular Christian song by Toby Mac in which he encourages us to “speak life” to other people who are hurting. In the accompanying video to the song we see broken people brought back to life, so to speak, by encouraging words that speak life. Here are a few words from the song:

So speak life, speak life
To the deadest darkest night
Speak life, speak life
When the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why
Look into the eyes of the broken hearted
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope

Jesus spoke life, and, moreover, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). One day Jesus entered the home of a twelve year old girl who had died, and he spoke words of life to her, commanding her to rise and get up, and amazingly, she did (see Mark 5: 22-43)! Jesus not only spoke words of life, but of Eternal Life, of unceasing life. “In the preaching of Jesus,” says Father Garrigou-Lagrange, “everything is immediately directed to eternal life.” Jesus is the principle of Eternal Life.

God the Father spoke words of life and encouragement to Jesus, saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). Have you spoken life-giving words to your children as the Eternal Father did to Jesus? Speak life…and watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope! Let me say this: the Word of Life spoken by the Father (and from all eternity) is Jesus Christ (“and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:14). Jesus is Life. Draw closer to Him.

But how often do we not speak life? Worse than that, how often do we speak words of spiritual death? How often do we hurt other people because of mean or poorly chosen words?

The great Dominican and German mystic, Tauler, gives us this all-important advice:

“We must bridle the old, natural tongue. Children, above all arts, learn the art of guarding your tongue, and be careful about what you say, or no good will ever come of you. See to it that your words are to God’a honor, to your neighbor’s improvement, and to your own peace…. Your conversation should rest upon a solid basis of virtue rather than on glib speaking and subtleties. And you should speak with restraint and advisedly. By ill-considered words you can bring [great harm] on yourselves and on your hearers” (Spiritual Conferences, p. 184).

We should reflect deeply on the life-giving power of kind words. The great spiritual writer, Father Faber, says there is “hardly a power on earth equal to” kind words. He further points out that there are so many “fortunate opportunities” to be kind. When you think about it, the opportunity for great heroism may never come our way, but we can say kind things all day long! And what do kind words cost us (asks Faber)? Virtually nothing! But what is lost if we fail to speak kindly? As Faber points out, kind words are not only remedial, helping those in need of encouragement, they actually produce happiness. He says, “how often have we ourselves been made happy by kind words.” It “would be worth going through fire and water to acquire the right and to find the opportunity of saying kind words.”

Faber says that “not only is kindness due everyone, but a special kindness is due everyone.” And “is there any happiness in the world like the happiness of the disposition made happy by the happiness of others?,” Faber asks. “There is no joy to be compared with it.” “Kindness is the turf of the spiritual world, whereon the sheep of Christ feed quietly beneath the Shepherd’s eye.”

Jesus speaks life. We see throughout the Gospels the tremendous and extraordinary power Jesus possessed to affirm others! People in the presence of the most dire circumstances suddenly find their lives transformed by the dynamic, affirming presence of Jesus. Whether it be the woman at the well, Zacchaeus (the dishonest tax collector), the woman caught in adultery, the man who came to Jesus through an opening in the roof, or the immoral woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair, Jesus is authentically open to them, he makes time for them, he affirms and does not condemn them, and ultimately he liberates them from the tyranny of sin. Thus, as one example, he says to the woman caught in adultery: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11). And Zacchaeus comes away from his encounter with Jesus vowing to make restitution to all those he has defrauded (Luke 19:8).

Dear friend, speak life! And to do this we must learn the art of watching over very carefully what we say so that we are not – once again – “hung by the tongue.” Learn the art of guarding your tongue, and in the process you will become, more and more, a person who speaks life to the benefit of all who share in the grace of your kind and transforming speech!

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. Here is a link to Toby Mac’s song, Speak Life   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeBv9r92VQ0

Spiritual principle: The key and tremendously important spiritual principle being advanced here is watchfulness, whereby we keep a keen spiritual eye on what we are thinking and saying so as to bring our thoughts and speech under the law of Christian charity. Saint Paul says that we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Image: Raising of Jairus’ Daughter by Ilya Repin (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: The quotes from Father Faber are from his famous essay,  “Kindness,” in his book, Spiritual Conferences (TAN). Although a long essay it is well worth reading and meditating on. Faber’s point that a special kindness is due to everyone, if taken to heart, has the power to increase our personal holiness. One word of caution: kindness and praise must be sincere and genuine. A false kindness, a calculated kindness, is easily detected. That is why we should pray to the Holy Spirit for the supernatural growth of the virtue of kindness. I am also relying on a beautiful little book entitled, Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation by Dr. Conrad W. Baars, a Catholic psychiatrist. The great spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, once said:   “Everything in Jesus is a principle of eternal life.”

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ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)

As you can see from the painting above, the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:2). The night, illuminating in its own unique way, will reveal to Nicodemus things that had escaped his attention during the busy day. After all, Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and the “true Light which…enlightens every man” (John 1:9).

But the darkness also symbolizes Nicodemus’ fear and ignorance. Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of night for fear of being seen by his fellow Pharisees. And Nicodemus’ ignorance – his being in the dark –  is seen by his inability to see that Jesus is not talking about a physical rebirth but a spiritual one.

In the “dark night” that spiritual writers talk about enlightenment doesn’t come all at once – no, such illumination is preceded by trials and tribulations, by misunderstandings, and by humiliations of the worst kind. Nevertheless, the scriptures attest that “surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light” (Psalm 139:11), and from “the recesses of the darkness he discloses, and brings the gloom forth to the light” (Job 13:22). In the physical darkness Nicodemus’ own darkness and ignorance is exposed by Jesus, and all of this is nothing short of “sheer grace” for Nicodemus, who will no doubt ponder and reflect deeply on Jesus’ words.

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3: 3)

Nicodemus:  “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (3:4)

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (3:5)

The commentators agree that there is a mix up here. By saying that a person must be born again, Jesus is using the interpretation of the Greek word anothen which means “from above,” whereas Nicodemus applies the other permissible usage of anothen which means “again”.  As one Bible commentary states:

“The Greek expression can mean either ‘again’ or ‘from above’. Nicodemus takes it to mean ‘again’, as though Jesus requires a physical rebirth to enter the kingdom. This is a misunderstanding. Jesus instead calls for a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’ (CCC 526). The Greek expression always means ‘from above’ elsewhere in John ( see 3:31; 19:11, 23).” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

According to one commentary referenced below, the “vast majority” of scholars agree that the “water and the Spirit” mentioned by Jesus in John 3:5 refers to baptism, and the Catholic teaching is that baptism causes an actual spiritual regeneration. “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become ‘a partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1265; see also, 1215, which states “This sacrament is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit  without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God’.”).”

“Through baptism we have already received the seed of eternal life, for through it we received sanctifying grace which is the radical principle of that life….” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

In conclusion, to be born again means to be born from above in the birth of water and the Holy Spirit which is brought about in the sacrament of baptism.

But what happened to Nicodemus? Did his “dark night” ultimately deepen his understanding and lead to his conversion? The Gospel of John tells us that after Jesus had died “Nicodemus…who had first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. They [Jospeh of Arimathea and Nicodemus] took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” John further tells us by implication that it was still light out because the Sabbath (sundown Friday) was “close at hand,” so that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body in a garden “in a new tomb where no one had ever been laid” (see John 19: 38-41).

If, at the beginning of John’s Gospel we encounter Nicodemus in the darkness of night (Chapter 3), by the end of the gospel we find him walking in the light, carrying the blessed body of Jesus (Chapter 19), and lovingly placing it in the tomb of resurrection.

According to Wikipedia, “in the current Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church, Nicodemus is commemorated along with Saint Joseph of Arimathea on August 31.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Jesus and Nicodemus by William Hole (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: Ignatius Catholic Study BibleThe Gospel of John (audio presentation) by Scott Hahn; for a more detailed account of why John 3: 5 applies to baptism, see on-line Mark Brumley’s article, “Are Catholics Born Again?”; and  Ascent of Mt. Carmel by Saint John of the Cross (I have in this note made a comparison between the dark night of the soul discussed by Saint John of the Cross and Nicodemus’ experience of darkness, and this could be considered a spiritual or allegorical interpretation). Regarding John 3:5, a commentary at biblestudytools.com says: “Except one be born of water. By far the vast majority of scholars consider the word “water” in this verse as a reference to Christian baptism. The Cambridge Bible says “the outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here clearly given, and an unbiased mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain fact.”

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THE POWER OF JESUS’ HOLY NAME

“Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2: 9-10)

“Jesus” literally means “he saves.” It is thus a saving name, or rather a name full of saving power.

Why is Jesus’ name more powerful than all other names (indeed, more powerful than all other names combined)? – because Jesus has been resurrected, because Jesus has ascended into Heaven, because Jesus has been crowned Lord of all creation, and because, enthroned in Heaven, Jesus always lives to make intercession for you (Hebrews 7:25). This is power. This is the power of invoking Jesus’ name!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (at 519):

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to his death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us” (Hebrews 9:25).

Therefore, an easy yet powerful way to grow closer to Jesus is to simply hold His name in great reverence. The basic assumption for this devotion is that Jesus’ name is full of power and grace. The Church apparently agrees with this assessment because it sets aside January 3 as the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. It is a reminder to us to greatly reverence Jesus’ name the rest of the year. What an awesome New Year’s resolution that would be! Imagine the growth in holiness you would experience if you kept that resolution.

Father Paul O’Sullivan writes that the “Holy Name of Jesus fills our souls with a peace and a joy we never had before.” He adds that the “Name of Jesus is the shortest, the easiest and the most powerful of prayers. Everyone can say it, even in the midst of his daily work. God cannot refuse to hear it.”

“The frequent repetition of this Divine name [Jesus],” says Father O’Sullivan, will save you from much suffering and great dangers.” It seems to me the key to this devotion is to say Jesus’ name with great reverence and love, calling to mind – without even having to think about it – all that Jesus is and means to us. This is a formula which will clearly increase our love for Jesus and will maintain us in a spirit of faith. We should never forget that faith is one of the most important virtues in the spiritual life (it is a theological virtue, literally meaning “God-directed”).

Father O’Sullivan encourages us to “understand clearly the meaning and value of the Name of Jesus.” He adds that the “Holy Name of Jesus saves us from innumerable evils and delivers us especially from the power of the devil, who is constantly seeking to do us harm.” He says that “every time we say ‘Jesus,’ we are saying a fervent prayer for…all that we need.”

If you are looking for a simple devotion, filled with power, this is it! Father O’Sullivan assures us that the simple devotion of reverently saying Jesus’ name throughout the day has amazing power. And, as Father Faber states, what do we need more in the spiritual life than “power” to overcome our tepidity and weakness.

“[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). May the most holy name of Jesus be on your lips and in your heart throughout the year.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Wonders of the Holy Name by Father Paul O’Sullivan (TAN). “With the release of the revised Roman Missal in March 2002, the feast [of the Most Holy Name of Jesus] was restored as an optional memorial in the Ordinary Form on January 3” (from catholicculture.org).

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WHY MARY TRULY IS THE MOTHER OF GOD

 

“The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 963).

It is a matter of dogma, concerning the Most Blessed Trinity, that God the Son is eternally begotten by the Father (“God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God“). It is a matter of dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Eternal Love between the Father and the Son (“I believe in the Holy Spiritthe Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son“). The Holy Spirit is the fulfillment or “terminus” of the Holy Trinity, and therefore (unlike the Father and the Son) He does not bring forth (to use human terms) another Divine Person, except through Mary in the Incarnation!

The Holy Trinity chose to take its “repose” in Mary in order that the Holy Spirit could bring forth a God-man, Jesus Christ, through the unspeakable grace of the true and never-ending maternity of Mary Immaculate who is, and will always be, the Mother of God. Through Mary’s consent, the Holy Spirit’s shadow covered Mary, and she conceived our Savior in her womb (Luke 1:35). Even now in Heaven she is truly the Mother of Jesus Christ.

Although we are all adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism, Mary is, as Saint Maximilian Kolbe points out, the actual Mother of God! There is, then, a unique and special relationship between Mary and the Holy Trinity that far exceeds in profundity our understanding. We can only approach this mystery in love.

Mary’s supreme office then – her predestination we might say – is that of Mother! And since she is the mother of the first born of all the elect, Jesus Christ, she is our mother too. She intercedes for us as a good mother – no, much more, as “the best of mothers!” Jesus bequeathed her to us! “Behold your Mother.”

The Fathers at Vatican II put it this way in Lumen Gentium:

“The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.[15] By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.”

January 1, 2019 is the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Let us begin the new year by drawing closer to the maternal heart of Mary. 

“In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation…Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ ” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, 39).

Let us then acknowledge, like Elizabeth, our littleness, and then cry out in faith:

“And why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Sources: I am relying on Chapter One of True Devotion to Mary by Saint Louis DeMontfort, and also on Aim Higher, Spiritual and Marian Reflections of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I am indebted to these two saints for the content of this note. Thank you, Mother Mary, for these two great saints!

Image: Our Lady of Good Counsel by Pasqualle Sarullo (Public Domain, U.S.A.).

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A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO THE HOLY INNOCENTS OF BETHLEHEM

(The Massacre of the Innocents by Giotto, circa 1304)

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16)

I have to admit that I have a special fascination with obscure devotions in the Church that have largely fallen out of practice. It is like discovering a hidden mine, full of gold! After all, these children of Bethlehem – these murdered children – were the first Christian martyrs. That has to mean something. That has to mean a lot. The Church thinks so – the feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28.

Some biblical scholars have questioned whether the massacre of the Holy Innocents (as related in Matthew’s Gospel above) is more of a midrash than literal history, and yet we know from genuine historical sources that Herod was a ruthless madman who even killed his own sons. “Extrabiblical history paints a similar [Biblical] portrait of Herod; he murdered his favorite wife, three of his sons, and others who threatened his throne” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p.10). “The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod” (Catholic Encyclopedia). Scripture scholar Scott Hahn adds that Herod “slaughtered Jerusalem priests whose scriptural interpretations made him anxious, and his other sporadic purges claimed victims by the hundreds” (Joy to the World, p.138).

“The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted….” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Add to this the testimony of a great saint regarding the efficacy of this particular devotion and you have ample reasons to practice it! A gifted spiritual writer, F.W. Faber, relates the following: “The revelations of the Saints also tell us of the singular power now accorded in Heaven to these infant Martyrs, especially in connections with death-beds, and St. Francis of Sales died reiterating with marked emphasis and significance the invocation of the Holy Innocents” (Bethlehem, p.198).

Of these infant martyrs Faber states: “They were [Jesus’] companions in nativity, His mates in age and size; and though it was no slight thing to have these natural alliances with Him, by grace they were much more, for they were likenesses of Him, and they were His Martyrs” (Id). “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1258).

Faber relates that this devotion has a special relationship to Mary and to growth in the virtue of purity.

“A twofold light shines in the faces of this infant crowd, the light of Mary and the light of Jesus. They resembled Mary in their sinless purity; for even if our Lord had not constituted them in a state of grace before, their Original Sin would be more than expiated by their guileless blood, when it was shed for Him. It was a fearful font, a most bloody sacrament…. They were like Mary in their Martryrdom for Jesus, as all the Martyrs were; but they were like her also, in that their Martyrdom was as it were the act of Jesus Himself….It is only more remotely so with the other Martyrs. This is one of their distinctions. They resembled her also in their nearness to Jesus. They were among the few who were admitted into the hierarchy of the Incarnation” (Bethlehem, p. 198).

Finally, these infant martyrs remind us that meritorious suffering has a special place in a Christian’s life. Father Faber reminds us that the “law of the Incarnation is a law of suffering. Our Blessed Lord was the man of sorrows, and by suffering He redeemed the world….Calvary was not unlike Bethlehem….This same law of suffering, which belongs to Jesus, touches all who come nigh Him, and in proportion to their holiness, envelops them, and claims them wholly for itself” (The Foot of the Cross, p. 13, as edited). Pertaining specifically to these Holy Innocents, Faber states:

“These infant Martyrs represent also what must in its measure befall everyone who draws near to Jesus. Suffering goes out of him, like an atmosphere. The air is charged with the seed of crosses, and the soul is sown all over with them before it is aware. Moreover, the cross is a quick growth and can spring up, and blossom, and bear fruit almost in a night, while from its vivacious root a score of fresh crosses will spring up and cover the soul with the peculiar verdure of Calvary. They that come nearest to our Lord are those who suffer most, and who suffer the most unselfishly” (Bethlehem, p.198).

CONCLUSION: An intense, mysterious, supernatural aroma hovers over our devotion to the Holy Innocents, teaching us to “manage our sorrows” and sufferings according to “supernatural principles”. Certainly this devotion teaches us that there is “no solid peace to be found among the perishable things of this life.” This devotion seems to focus light and grace in three areas: it has a special efficacy for the dying; it helps us to grow in purity and in devotion to Mary; and finally it teaches us to value and see all our sufferings in a supernatural light. All of the Holy Innocents lived less than three years, but now they live in the glorious splendor of an untiringly joyous eternity! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and forever. Amen.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: All the quotes in the conclusion are from Faber, so you can see I am relying on him for the conclusion; and it is Faber who writes in one of his books about an “untired eternity.” Pope Benedict XVI defends the historicity of the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in his series of books, Jesus of Nazareth. See page 119: “The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted, and thus he helps us to understand the mystery of Jesus more deeply” (The Infancy Narratives, Image).

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BETHLEHEM IS AN OCEAN OF WORSHIP

(Adoration of the Magi by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1655, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

“He will be called Immanuel,” which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23)

There are two extremes we must guard against in our theology of Jesus. The one extreme overemphasizes the Divinity of Jesus to the detriment of his humanity, and the other extreme overemphasizes the humanity of Jesus so as to almost downplay his Divine life. In modern Scripture scholarship the later course has enjoyed considerable popularity even to the extent of questioning the Divinity of Jesus. But on Christmas day we see a perfect blending of Jesus’ two natures (fully God and fully man), for he is clearly a helpless infant boy whom shepherds and angels and even magi come to worship! In this context, Bethlehem does not shy away from clearly proclaiming both the humanity and Divinity of Jesus.

As F.W. Faber says, “Bethlehem is an ocean of worship.”  Faber himself identifies nine types of “first worshipers” of the babe of Bethlehem (Bethlehem, p. 203), but in this short note I will quickly focus on just three of them. To worship Jesus, of course, is the supreme acknowledgment that he is both God and man. And what do we need now, more than ever, then a “more fervent worship of the Eternal Word” (Id at 247). Bethlehem draws us into this ocean of worship. And as Faber reminds us, “Worship is our highest thought…worship alone is power” (Id, 70-73). Are you looking for more power in your spiritual life?

THE MAGI

When the Magi (or Three Kings) finally made their way to the crib of Jesus they did something amazing! They kneeled down! The Gospel says: “They fell down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2: 11). “The gifts of the Magi signify the mystery of Christ Incarnate. Gold, a symbol of royalty, represents the kingship of Jesus. Frankincense, used in the worship of God, points to his divinity. Myrrh, a burial ointment, signifies the humanity of Christ, especially in his Passion and death” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

A noted scripture scholar states: “The visit of the Magi is a brief episode in the Christmas story, but we cannot exaggerate its importance. It signals the salvation of the whole world….God had extended joy to the world, and the world [represented by the Magi] responded with worship” (S. Hahn, Joy to the World, as edited, pp. 114-115).

THE SHEPHERDS AND THE ANGELS

We read in Luke’s Gospel about shepherds in the vicinity of Jesus’ birth. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’ ” (Luke 2: 8-12).

Right then and there a whole host of angels broke out in worship! The Scripture says: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2: 13-18).

“Worship is what angels do….A gathering of angels is a clear and unmistakable sign of God’s presence and his favor. For both Matthew and Luke, the angels of Christmas are a sign that God is present among his people in Jesus….The holy angels were those who were willing to follow God in his descent to earth and worship him there” (Joy to the World, as edited, pp. 87-92).

Father Faber states: “Next to that of Mary and Joseph, theirs [the Shepherds’] was the first external worship earth offered to the new born Babe of Bethlehem. Simplicity comes very near to God. Such are the men the Babe calls first….They come to worship him, and their simplicity is joy, and the voice of joy is praise. God loves the praise of the lowly….The very simplicity of the Shepherds would not let them keep their praise a secret to themselves” (Bethlehem, as edited, pp. 179-181).

CONCLUSION: All our good is in Jesus Christ, so that our own self-realization in the truest sense is intrinsically related to our worship of Jesus. “We must continue ceaselessly to live a life of praise to the Glory of God,” says Father Tichenor. And as “one praises and worships, he is transformed step-by-step from glory-to-glory, into the image of the infinitely joyous God.”

Bethlehem is an ocean of worship. If we transport ourselves there meditatively, we encounter Mary and Joseph, the angels and the shepherds, and the Magi, all worshiping Jesus, who came for us out of an Infinite love. Christmas is here! “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas!

Tom Mulcahy

 

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THE PROPHET ISAIAH SPEAKS TO THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES OF THE FUTURE MESSIAH

(Stained glass window at the Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Roslindale, Massachusetts, depicting Christ the King)

“Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14)

The prophecy of a new born King in Isaiah 9, whose attributes “reveal a mysterious union of divinity and humanity” (Christ in Prophecy, p. 91), is really quite remarkable by way of its ultimate and perfect fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah, who lived some 700 years before Christ, wrote the following words:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.  (Isaiah 9:2-3) ***
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called 
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting FatherPrince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV)

On pages 93-94 of Christ in Prophecy, renowned Catholic Bible scholar Dr. Paul Heinisch explains how this prophecy of a child with Divine attributes finds its “perfect understanding” in the “second Person of the Blessed Trinity…become Incarnate.” He states:

“Did the prophet’s oracle come true? St. John [in his Gospel] heralded the incarnate Son of God as ‘the Light that shines in the darkness but which the darkness did not comprehend and as the ‘true Light that enlightens every man’[John 1:5; 1:9]. *** Jesus refers to Himself as ‘the Light of the world’ [John 8:12]. ***
On the plains of Bethlehem angels announced the birth of the Prince of Peace [Luke 2:14]. ***  Considered together, the attributes listed in Isaias find their fulfillment in Jesus, and in no other descendant of David. Only Jesus was God and man. Before Pilate he acknowledged being king of the Jews and then added: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world.’ The spiritual character of His kingdom has already been expressed in our oracle, a kingdom not founded or dependent upon the power of arms, but upon justice and righteousness, a kingdom of peace enduring forever. There likewise is a connection between the Light before which ‘darkness and the shadow of death’ must flee and the name ‘Wondrous-Counsellor,’ for in the Messianic kingdom new doctrine and revelations are to be expected. Over this kingdom God is supreme. He rules through the Messiah who accomplishes His commands.”

CONCLUSION: Jesus, true God and true man, is the only possible fulfillment of Isaiah’s magnificent prophecy of a child and king who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. The child born of the holy Virgin is to be called Emmanuel, “God is with us” (see Is. 7:14; Matthew 1:23). He is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and a light of revelation to all the nations (see Luke 2:32).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

IMAGE ATTRIBUTION: The image mentioned at the top of this post is a January 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer. John Stephen Dwyer, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publishes it under the following license: This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The image and information pertaining to it found at Wikipedia.

Source: For a fuller explanation of the fulfillment of this prophecy, see Christ in Prophecy by Dr. Paul Heinisch (The Liturgical Press), wherein he also explains the prophecy’s relevance “to the age and circumstances in which it was composed,” although its perfect fulfillment can only be in the Messiah (see, for example, Matthew 4: 12-17).

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IS THE DOCTRINE OF MARY’S PERPETUAL VIRGINITY BIBLICAL?

1.  CHURCH DOCTRINE
That Mary remained a virgin her entire life is a De Fide (required of the faithful) doctrine of the Catholic Church.  See Documents of Vatican II (LG57), Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499, The Mother of the Redeemer, 39 (Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul Il, 1987), and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
2. VIRGINITY FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM
Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a radical feature of Christianity, and finds its biblical mandate at Matthew 19:12. Jesus, in fact, “is described” and “sees his own self identity” as that of the “celibate bridegroom” (article by Janet Smith; see also John 3:29 and Matthew 9:15). Paul presents celibacy as a highly favored state of life for believers saying, “I wish that all were as myself am [celibate].  But each has his own special gift from God….” (1 Cor. 7:7). Paul confirms the goodness of marriage at 1 Cor. 7:38 saying, “He who marries does well,” but then adds that “he who refrains from marriage will do better.” Mary embraced both marriage and celibacy, thus exemplifying in a unique way the sublime dignity of both vocations.
 
3.  MARY, SPOUSE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Mary is properly to be considered the spouse of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her and was the formal cause of her virginal conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). This is why her offspring, Jesus, “will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), and this is also why Mary is properly called the Mother of God according to the decree of The Council of Ephesus in 431. Mary’s unique and “supernatural maternity” through the power of the Holy Spirit necessarily precludes her from intimate union with a man. Mary is a virgin because of her “undivided gift of herself” to God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 506).
 
4.  MARY’S VOW OF VIRGINITY
The relevant verse is Luke 1:34: “How shall this be, seeing I do not know man.” These words of Mary to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation show that Mary did not intend to have conjugal relations with a man; otherwise, Mary surely would have known that conjugal relations with Joseph, her husband, could cause a pregnancy. Catholic theologian Stefano Manelli explains Mary’s strange response to the angel this way:
 
“Confronted by this [the angel Gabriel’s] wondrous announcement, however, the virgin finds herself embarrassed; not because of the sublime greatness of the majesty announced to her, but rather for the way in which such a maternity might be realized. The embarrassment would seem inexplicable because, on any reasonable grounds, she is precisely a woman in ideal conditions to conceive a son. She is the young spouse of Joseph – What young spouse would not be inclined to desire a beautiful son? It is obvious, therefore, and must be acknowledged that Mary’s difficulty stems from a precise commitment — vow or promise — “not to know man,” that is, to be and remain a virgin.  St. Augustine rightly says, that ‘Mary certainly would not have spoken those words If she had not vowed her virginity to Got” In fact, only by admitting Mary’s virginal consecration to God, can it be understood why she found herself facing an unsolvable dilemma: How to reconcile her virginal offering to God with the request of maternity on the part of God? How could she become a mother without betraying a promise of virginal consecration to God.”
(Stefano Manelli, All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed, pages 137-140)

Warren H. Carroll adds:

“[The] Greek present tense used for Mary’s words in Luke 1:34 corresponds…to the Hebrew and Aramaic active participle indicating a permanent condition. Mary’s words in Aramaic were ki enneni yodaat ish, the yodaat indicating a permanent condition of virginity” (Warren Carroll summarizing and quoting from Manuel Miguen’s “indispensable” work, The Virgin Birth: an Evaluation of Scriptural Evidence (p.81) in The Founding of Christendom, Vol. I, p.310).

 
5. DID JESUS HAVE BROTHERS?

Robert Payesko comments:

“It is often alleged too that such verses as Mark 6:3, “His brethren James and Joseph, and Judas and Simon,” and Matthew 13:55- 56, “his brethren James and Joseph, and Simon and Judas,” are evidence that Jesus had brothers and sisters. What is forgotten is that the Jewish expression for brothers and sisters applies to cousins and even to people in the same tribe. Although Lot was the son of Jjraharn’s brother Aran, he is described as Abraham’s “brother” (Genesis 14:14). Similarly, Jacob is referred to as the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Genesis 29:15). Similar examples are found throughout Scripture.  In any case, in Matthew 27:56, Mark 14:40 and John 19:25, James and Joseph are described as the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas— thus Scripture tells us that the “brethren” James and Joseph in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 are not blood brothers of Jesus. If James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was truly a son of Mary it would be impossible for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be affirmed in the early Church Nevertheless, such ancient writers as IrenaeusPolycarp and Ignatius all taught the doctrine as an article of faith.”
(Robert Payesko. The Truth about Mary, page 2-198).

 Section 500 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”
 
 
6. MATTHEW 1:25: “UNTIL SHE BORE A SON”
The relevant verse is sometimes translated, “he [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, whom he named Jesus.” The New American Bible translates the verse as follows: “He had no relations with her at anytime before she bore a son, whom he named Jesus,” This verse demonstrates that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before Jesus’ birth, thus establishing the doctrine of Jesus’ virginal birth, The verse does not mean that Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus was born.

Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

“The Greek hoes [until] does not imply that Joseph and Mary had marital relations following Jesus’ birth. This conjunction is often used (translated ‘”to” or “till”) to indicate a select period of time, without implying change in the future (2 Sam 6:23 [LXX]; Jn 9:18; 1 Tim 413). Here Matthew emphasizes only that Joseph had no involvement in Mary’s pregnancy before Jesus’ birth.”
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, page 18).
 

J. Laurericeau explains:

The semitic locution “until” makes no judgment about the future. Thus, “Michal was childless until the clay of her death” (2 Sm 6:23) [does not’t imply Michal became a mother after her death.]”
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)
 
7. MARY EXCLUSIVELY REFERRED TO IN BIBLE AS JESUS’ MOTHER
Mary is never called the mother of anyone else except Jesus in the New Testament. The Gospels refer only to Jesus as Mary’s son (the verses where Jesus is referred to as Mary’s son include John 2:1, John 19:25, and Acts 1:14). Further, as Dr. Scott Hahn points out, it is unlikely that Jesus would have entrusted Mary to the Apostle John’s care at his crucifixion if Mary had other natural sons to care for her (John 19:26-27).
 
8. LUKE 2:7 “FIRSTBORN SON”

J. Laurencaau explains:

Luke says: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son” (2:7). This makes allusion to the legal prescriptions concerning the first male child of a family, even if there were no other children.
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)

 Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

[Luke 2:7 is] a legal term linked with a son’s social standing and rights of inheritance.  It does not imply that Mary had other children after Jesus, only that she had none before him.
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, page 22)
 
9. THE CHURCH FATHERS
The Protoevangelium of James, written around A.D. 120, had as one of its “principal aims” to prove the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Origin (died 254) strongly defended Mary’s perpetual virginity but Tertullian (died 230), who was excommunicated, denied it.  Other early Church fathers affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity include Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria.  Reference: Mary: Ever Virgin (This Rock: February, 2002) and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
10. EARLY DOCTRINAL DEVELOPMENT
Mary referred to as “perpetual virgin” by the Fifth General Council at Constantinople in 553.  The first doctrinal formulation of this belief takes place at the Lateran Synod of 649 under Pope Martin I where Mary is called “blessed ever-virginal and Immaculate Mary.”  Reference: Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Black Madonna of Częstochowa (Public Domain, U.S.A.). Pope Francis prayed in front of this famous icon during his  World Youth Day visit to Poland in July of 2016. According to Joan Carroll Cruz, “the miracles attribited to Our Lady of Czestochowa are numerable and spectacular.” When my daughter Bridget Mulcahy visited the image in question at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland (during her WYD pilgrimage) she took the following photograph of the “wall of crutches” there which speaks to the miraculous, healing intercession of Our Lady of Czesochowa. Thanks Bridget!

 

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