This is Israel’s song

Sacrifice of Isaac-Caravaggio 

When we act in accordance with the Father’s will, it is not always easy.

Take the example of the child Jesus. Our Lady and St Joseph took the child Jesus up to Jerusalem so as to act in accordance with the law. Another way of expressing this is to say that, by fulfilling the law, they acted in accordance with the Father’s will.

And in so acting, what sorrow was brought to Our Lady. For it was here in the temple that she heard the words of Simeon: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2: 34b-35a)

We see here the intertwining of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – he who is a sign that is spoken against – and the sorrowful and immaculate heart of Mary. For it is through her heart, so full of grace as to be immaculate, that Mary gave her fiat and so conceived in her womb and bore a son, one whose name means God saves, one who desires to save us through the mercy that pours of his most Sacred Heart.

It’s because of this Sacred Heart though that the prophecy of sorrow was delivered unto Mary. No Christ; no prophecy. No Jesus; no immaculate heart. No Sacred Heart, no sorrowful heart.

The sorrow of the prophecy is threefold: the sorrow that her Son would be a sign that would be spoken against; the sorrow that many of her spiritual children would fall; and of course the sorrow caused by her own suffering which, even upon hearing Simeon’s words, commenced.

Recall that his mother, his brother, his sister is the one who does the will of the One who sent Him (cf Mt 12:50). When we act in accordance with the Father’s will, we too can expect to be intertwined with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the sorrowful heart of Mary. If we do the will of Christ, we do the will of the Father and to do the will of the Father, is to do the will of the Sacred Heart for the Father and He are one.

In Scripture, the mountain can be associated with sacrifice. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son on a mountain of Moriah. Christ, the only begotten Son of God, offered himself as a sacrifice on the Mount of Calvary.

It is in sacrifice and sorrow that we meet God in a particular way. Sometimes, as with Abraham, we are only asked if we are willing to make the sacrifice. When we show God that yes, we would embrace His will, we find that sometimes our acquiescence is enough and instead of asking us to pick up that particular cross, He takes it from us.

Why does God ask of us to pick it up if it is not His will that we carry it? Even when the cross is taken from us, the mere act of surrendering to His will is a sacrifice, one which pleases Him greatly. But it is also allows us to be purified. Indeed, as Our Lady and St Joseph ascended into Jerusalem with the forty day old babe in their arms, it was a time of purification (c.f. Luke 2:33). God also asks because it is through this surrender, when ahead seems naught but sadness, loneliness and the cross, that He is able to show that He will be with us.

In Exodus, the Lord reveals to Moses, “But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.” (Ex 3:12).

Christ too served God upon the mountain; indeed on the Mount of Calvary, Christ is the one who serves God perfectly. By doing thus, by doing the will of the Father, His cross became a sign of both serving God and sacrifice.

What does it mean that Jesus is set for a sign that is spoken against? “The sign which is spoken against is called in Scripture, the cross. For Moses, it says, made a bronze serpent and placed it for a sign.” So St Basil tells us. But Saint Gregory of Nyssa points out that “perhaps Christ Himself is termed a sign, as having a supernatural existence, and as the author of signs.”

When we embrace our cross, or at the very least pick it up and follow Jesus, we meet God, even amidst the sorrows that the cross can bring. “But I will be with you,” God says. And it is here, in the surrender, in the cross, that we meet God.

In Scripture, God’s people ascended into Jerusalem and into the Temple, the place where sacrifice was offered. In the Psalms of ascent, we prepare ourselves for the sacrifice and we prepare to offer ourselves in sacrifice:

  • Save me O Lord – Psalm 120
  • I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth – Psalm 121
  • For love of my brethren and friends I say, ‘Peace upon you!’ For love of the house of the Lord I will ask for your good – Psalm 122
  • To you have I lifted up my eyes, you who dwell in the heavens…have mercy on us Lord, have mercy – Psalm 123
  • Indeed our snare has been broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth – Psalm 124
  • Those who put their trust in the Lord are like Mount Sion, that cannot be shaken, that stands forever – Psalm 125
  • Deliver us O Lord from our bondage as streams in dry land – Psalm 126
  • If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour – Psalm 127
  • Indeed thus shall be blessed the man who fears the Lord – Psalm 128
  • This is Israel’s song – Psalm 129
  • Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord – Psalm 130
  • O Israel, hope in the Lord both now and forever – Psalm 131
  • Go up, Lord, to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your strength – Psalm 132
  • How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers live in unity! It is like precious oil upon the head – Psalm 133

Like Our Lady, like Christ himself, we can go up to Jerusalem and present ourselves to the Father, offering ourselves as the sacrifice. The sacrifice offered by Our Lady and St Joseph in the Presentation was both a fulfilment of the Law, a purification, and a sacrifice of themselves. The sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary is both the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of ourselves. We too can go up to Jerusalem, up to Calvary.

The fulfilment of the Law is a fulfilment of the law of love, a love in which He laid down His life for us, His friends. We too are asked to fulfil this law by loving one another as Christ loves us, a love which is embodied by both his Incarnation and by His Passion, for in His humility, He submitted to the former which led to him enduring the latter.

The last sorrow of Our Lady is the burial of Christ, the completioin of the Passion. The first sorrow is the prefiguring of the Passion with the Presentation and it is here that the prophecy of Simeon is first heard. Why then do we count the Presentation as a joyful mystery?

It is joyful because it is a confirmation of Mary’s fiat. In the Annunciation she gives her fiat and in doing so, she freely offers of her whole self. But in the Presentation, her offering is deepened for what was abstract – the Word – is now a concrete reality – the Word has been made flesh. She offers again her whole self, including her love of this child and offers a willingness to endure both His passion and her own passion. Such love is a reflection of, an overflowing of, and a prelude to the great joy that is Christ’s love for the Father and the Father’s love for Christ.

It is joyful because it is through the cross that Jesus goes to the Father. It is joyful because the fruits of the Incarnation and subsequent Passion is the Resurrection:

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

John 16: 20-22

And in own lives, God may ask for what seems impossible to give but through surrendering to the cross – however poor that surrender is – he transforms the sorrow into an even greater joy. He gives us more than we could hope for. He may ask you to carry that particular cross all the way to Calvary; he may, as with Abraham, ask only for your willingness to give all that you hold dear, but either way He will bless you for your surrender.

And as we ascend into Jerusalem, the words from a psalm come to mind:

Deliver us, O Lord from our bondage

as streams in dry land.

Those who are sowing in tears

will sing when they reap.

They go out, they go out, full of tears

Carrying seed for the sowing:

They come back, they come back, full of song,

Carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126

Show unto us


Turn then most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

I remember the first time I was given the act of praying Hail, Holy Queen as a penance: I didn’t know the words and I had to look them up. Later, when I started praying the Rosary on a regular basis, I had to continue looking up the words until I finally used a memorisation technique that I learnt from the blogger Jennifer Fulwiller in order to learn the words. This technique involves using visuals linked to the words.

Sad to say, most times that I pray the Hail, Holy Queen, the words come out of my mouth without me really thinking about what they mean. But I do have some favourite images to use with praying this:

Behind me is darkness and ahead of me a woman. She is not facing me but she turns and looks at me. Shining behind her is dazzling light. I walk towards her, she draws me out of the darkness. She shows me the cross. Her son is hanging upon it, his arms stretched out. Her arms hold me to her. Her mantle is drawn over me. We kneel before the cross. Sometimes other people are with us – people who are in my prayer intentions – and we kneel together.

In another image, I am kneeling in the front row at church. A woman kneels beside me. We gaze at the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. He gazes at us. At other times when I pray show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, I picture myself kneeling, about to receive Holy Communion. Our Lady kneels next to me.

Sometimes I picture Our Lady, the ark of the new covenant, pregnant with our Lord, particularly when praying the words our life, our sweetness and our hope. Sometimes I picture our Redeemer as a little child in the womb. I can see so clearly his leg, the femur bone still developing.

NB: The next task is to learn the words in Latin – I love the chanted Salve, most especially when it is in the solemn tone as the Dominicans do. I can remember most of the words if I’m singing with other people but not well enough to do it on my own. Although to be truthful, I can’t sing well enough to do it on my own either!

Reach out your hand

It is beautiful to start with Our Lady, she who carried the Word made flesh in her heart and her body, she through whose co-operation Our Lord was brought into the world. In the great hymn the Magnificat, Our Lady speaks of Him who puts forth His arm in strength.

If we are called to imitate Christ, what does it mean to put forth our arm in strength? We are asked to put it forth in the strength of faith. Another way, perhaps, of saying ‘put forth your arm’ is ‘reach out your hand’.

Jesus appears to Thomas, after the Resurrection. “Reach out your hand.” This is what Our Lord says to Thomas who doubts. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Caravaggio_-The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Caravaggio –  The Incredulity of Saint Thomas


Why his side? Because the soldier had already pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from He who is a fount of mercy in whom we can trust; from the one who says, “Do not doubt but believe.”

Where else do we see a flow of water and blood? The first plague of Moses. With his staff, Moses struck the river and water turned into blood. Moses did this that Pharaoh’s heart would yield.

“Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” This is the message Our Lord God sent to Pharaoh.

The first sign of Jesus, the one which revealed his glory and caused his disciples to believe in Him, was the turning of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. He turned water into wine and the disciples, their hearts did yield. “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup of wine. “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And so, through another miraculous sign, the wine was turned into blood – into His Precious Blood. And why is this Blood poured out? For the forgiveness of sins, that our heart would yield to His Sacred Heart, and that we would be let go from our slaver to sin so that we may worship Him.

From water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana, and from wine into Blood at the marriage supper of the Lamb, Our Lord fulfils the sign of Moses and frees us from the yoke of slavery.

At that same supper of the Lamb, the disciple whom Jesus loved was reclining next to him and leaned back against Jesus. He, the disciple, placed his trust, his love , his life, his will, his future in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, hidden behind His chest. He was leant back against Jesus, he yielded to him and he was set free.

The first plague of Moses was the turning of water into blood. The first sign of Jesus was the turning of water into wine. And the last sign of Jesus, before His glorious resurrection, is the blood and water which poured out from his side as he hung from the cross.

“Let my people go,” said Moses and the new Moses bowed his head and gave up His spirit so that His people might be let go.

How exactly did Moses turn the water into blood? Through the power of God, and with a staff, the staff that had been turned into a snake; the staff that had swallowed up the staff of the Egyptian magicians who practised the secret arts: evil.

And from whence did come this staff? It was the sign from God for Moses. It was the staff which is the desert – in the wilderness – the Lord God told Moses to throw to the ground.

“So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail’ – so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand – ‘so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abrahama, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.’

And of course later, “the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ “

And many years later, Jesus explained that, “just as Moses lifted the snake in the desert, so the Son of Many must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

And not much later again, the Son of Man – the new Moses – the Lord Jesus Christ – is indeed lifted up. The cross – a symbol of a torturous death, a sign of slavery, subjection and evil – is now, through the power of God, transformed into a symbol of victory, of self-sacrificial love. Light swallows up the darkness just as the staff of Moses swallowed up the staffs of the Egyptian magicians.

The Good News did not end at the death of God who hung from a cross. Because in being thus raised up on a cross, He exposed His Sacred Heart to us. In being raised on the cross, He allowed the spear to be put into His side so that blood and water could pour out. And the Good News did not end at the death of God because as well as being raised on the cross, Jesus was raised from the cross.

The great I Am told Moses, “Reach out your hand…so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared…”.

And Jesus, the one who said, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’, is raised from death and appears to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”


[I think most of the Scripture quotes are NRSV but I’m not sure if they all are!]

Mary: the original stumbling block

???????????????????????????????Even in the time of Our Lord himself, Mary was a stumbling block.

“Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mk 6: 2-3 RSV)

Yet rather than a stumbling block, properly understood, we realise that Mary wants nothing more than to take us to her Son.

A commonly heard phrase in Catholicism is ad Jesum per Mariam or to Jesus through Mary. Without fail, by developing a relationship with Mary, our Blessed Mother, we will be drawn closer to her Son.

This idea that we go through Mary to Jesus is found in the Scriptures. Today I’ll focus on two such Scripture passages.

In Luke’s Gospel, we read how Mary visits Elizabeth who is also with child. Elizabeth cries out in recognition that this wasn’t just Mary her relative but that this was indeed the mother of her Lord. Through Mary, Elizabeth encounters her Lord, even whilst he is still a helpless babe in the womb. Moreover, her own child, John the Baptist, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing Our Lady’s greeting for he too, through Mary, encounters Jesus then recognises Him.

A little further on in Luke’s Gospel, we hear of the birth of our Saviour, of Christ the Lord. An angel of the Lord brings this good news to shepherds in the nearby fields. Deciding to go to Bethlehem and see this Lord, who do they encounter? We read, “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Lk 2:16 NIV)

So they hurried off and found Mary – it was through Mary first that they came to find Jesus. Imagine this new mother, so tired, her heart flooded with joy at the safe arrival of this new born boy when a group of shepherds rush in, not so clean, not so reputable, hardly able to contain their excitement and puzzlement alike. She wonders at the things they say. How easily she could have had St Joseph send them packing but instead she welcomes them and takes them to see her little son, Emmanuel, the new born babe who lies in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths.

To Jesus through Mary!