The Holy Innocents

This is the text of this morning’s Gregorian chant hymn from Lauds for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, by Prudentius (4th-5th c.). This is a tragic event in the history of God’s people. It is also referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” The Wise Men reported to King Herod that they were searching for the infant king of the Jews. This threatened Herod. To protect himself against being supplanted by this infant, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. No one knows who or how many were killed, so the Church honors them as a group of martyrs. Augustine of Hippo called them “buds killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

Christmas candle tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, the Community of JesusHail, flowers of the martyrs, whom, at the very threshold of the light of life, the pursuer of Christ destroyed, as a whirlwind would roses in bud.

You are the first victims of Christ, the tender flock of the sacrificers; pure ones before the altar itself, you play with palms and crosses.

Glory be to you, O Lord, who are born of a virgin, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for everlasting ages. Amen.

 

Jesus, the Christ

Paraclete Press‘s new book, All Creation Waits, written by Gayle Boss and illustrated by David G. Klein, has accompanied many of us throughout the Advent season, offering beautiful and simple insights on how nature itself prepares for the coming of the Savior of the world. Today we share the final entry, written for Christmas Day. (Also available locally at Priory Books and Gifts)

Jesus, the Christ

On our way to the woods my dog veered left, off the path. I’ve learned that following her, on days I’m awake, leads to revelation. She brought me to a small manger made of new wood freshly sawed and nailed together. Made in the traditional Nativity-scene shape, the manger had been placed at the edge of the woods. It was empty.

I suspected the four children living in the house nearby. Outdoors often, aided by their parents, they play games in the woods involving lightsabers, capes, and crowns. They are still seers.

They manger appeared a week into Advent. Brittle brown leaves from the oak above blew into and out of it. Then one day the manger was not empty. It was filled to the brim with hay. Two days later the hay had been dumped onto the ground and the manger moved a few feet away. It was now half full of shelled corn. A single fox squirrel sat up in the manger, leisurely eating kernel after kernel.

I found the children pulling each other through the snow on sleds. “Tell me about the manger,” I said.

The oldest, a boy, said, “It’s for the deer. We like to watch them. Next we’re going to put a hunk of salt…”

“It’s for all the animals,” interrupted the smallest, a girl, who had her head tipped back, mouth open to taste the falling flakes.

In the fullness of time, the Christmas story says, a girl gave birth ringed by animals. She lay the baby in one of their feeding troughs, where animal bodies would warm the air around his fresh-born human body. Mother and child fell asleep and woke to their chuffs and shuffling hooves, their calls and the shuddering of their hides. Later sheep herders smelling of dirt, damp wool, and milk crowded into the stable. Out in the wild night fields these animal men sitting in the dark were the first to get the word. A baby had been born, they were told, who would show people a way out of their small pinched lives, a way to abandon themselves to the ever-present, unstoppable current of Love that carries all things to radiant wholeness. To recognize him they should look for a child at home among the animals.

At the edge of the woods where children put out corn and salt and watch for them, and name them and speak to them, the animals wait. Will they one day find the manger empty, the children indoors? So much rushes children into dropping their capes and crowns in the leafmeal; so much clamors and flashes for their attention. As they grow, will they lose the sight that sees light and spirit in other creatures? Or will they, despite the rush and clamor, find irresistible the beauty quietly radiating from everything that is? To the animals it makes all the difference. Their hope, and the hope of all that breathes, is that human ones abandon themselves to the One Great Love. For that, all creations waits.

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Making Room

 

 

 

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By Faithful Finch

We received a beautiful Christmas card with a picture of Mary & Joseph, and the shepherds huddled in light  around Baby Jesus and the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” I put it up on our bathroom mirror to remind me as I dry my hair to “prepare Him room.”  But how do I do that? I feel so small in the pains and inadequacies of my puny life as I scurry from thing to thing to make space for Christ the King. As I wash my face at the end of the day, and look at the beauty and simplicity of that card, I once again feel convicted from the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”  I say, “Ok, I want to get there. I do, but all I have to offer is sin and the pain that comes with it. I’m sorry. Help me.”

A peace comes on me as I realize that not one person in this Nativity scene came to “prepare Him room” without pain, without sacrifice, but with so much blessing. That’s what the preparing is all about: making room every day of the year.

Christmas Hope

By Sr. Spero

The Christmas message can seem like a paradox. On one level, it’s the story of a young pregnant girl who is forced by her government to travel many miles in difficult and crowded conditions, and then give birth in the only shelter available—with the animals. It is also the story of great splendor—angels appearing on a hillside in all their radiance and glory, proclaiming tidings of great joy. The first sounds pretty grim, the second so extraordinary it is beyond description.

Which is real—the difficulty or the splendor?

The Christmas message is both. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Darkness is real, but light wins. The angels are singing through the darkness, piercing it with light. The canticle for Lauds during the Christmas season is from Jeremiah 31 and contains these verses: “For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they;” and “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”

Christmas hope does not deny evil.  During the Christmas season, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the slaughter of young children who became martyrs for the sake of Christ. We can celebrate this event because we know that evil is overcome, and the message of the angels is true. No matter what the outward circumstances, we have heard “tidings of great joy.”

Bronze sculpture by Daphne du Barry, depicting Mary and innocents

Bronze sculpture by Daphne du Barry, depicting Mary and innocents

Pastoral Dialogue

By Sr. Fidelis

The Lauds Antiphons for Christmas Day and Week begin with an amazing question: “Whom did you see, shepherds?”

The drama of the text is heightened as a second question follows. “Speak: Announce to us who has appeared on the earth?” Then the answer comes from all the shepherds, “We have seen the newborn One, and choirs of angels praising God together, alleluia, alleluia”.

This wonderful bit of dialogue puts us right in the scene! Can we possibly imagine the joy, excitement and wonder in the faces and voices of the shepherds, returning from their visit to the Bethlehem stable?

The antiphon is a simple one: 4 notes in Mode 2, which are repeated and  give a “conversational ” quality to the tune, illuminating the dialogue.

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The Dawn of the Tiny King

By Il Fratello

What should I do with all this Christmas news
that dawns like fire-light on ice
that makes a change and says to change–
will I allow the pitiful child, born in a cattle pen
to steal upon the near-hardened strings of my callous heart?
let my eyes see what I at first don’t see
strain my deafened ears to listen once again
for small tender, deep down things?

or casually sleep the night, assuming it to be
like any other night. and say upon accounting
I never saw or heard or knew he came?

low, low, low, low down things
manure and straw, dirt floor and the cold draft
of winter ice-wind through barn boards
who will keep warm the infant savior of the world?
I even I, who most needs saving, can give my cloak
stand watch outside the door,
lean against the drafty wall and block the cold
get mary water, run for joseph’s gentle requests

in the balance of the night I will choose
to scoff or to love
to turn away or to help
to pass by or to stop
and let my heart be struck-smitten-cracked
open by the incarnation of Love

what wild song the angels sing
dancing on the breezes of the midnight star-sky
that calls to us a sweeter sound like
love-struck joy, like earth heaving
mountain ache of now rightly-set things.
They sing salvation come to us in darkest hour
a tiny King, his dawn is fire-light.

Mother&Child

Feeling Sheepish?

By Sr. Nun Other

While doing dishes in Bethany Guest House, I noticed a parade of fabricated sheep on their way to storage. Realistically-made and life-sized, they stood sentinel during Christmas and Epiphany, silently guiding the way to the manger. Sheep are not perfect and sometimes described in 3D: Dumb, Directionless, and Defenseless. Yet God gave them a prominent place at the birth of His Son. An often used biblical metaphor is that of shepherd and sheep. Perhaps my favorite is John 10:14 – I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and my sheep know me. We are chosen to be humble and to follow Him who knows our greatest need.

The Community of Jesu

New Years Inventory

By Melodious Monk

Did Jesus come this Christmas? Have I let him penetrate my sometimes hardened heart? Have I let him come all the way in where it is warm, where I can give shelter? Have I let him into the rooms that hurt, the rooms I feel embarrassed about, and the rooms I don’t dare enter myself?  Have I let his tiny hands touch those scars, or his tiny eyes shed light ever deeper into my heart?

Did Jesus come differently this year?

Did I expect Jesus to come differently this year?

A new year brings hope, the possibility for change, for transfiguration.

Jesus is continually coming. Will I choose to open the door and let him in?

The Community of Jesus

When Heaven and Earth Converge

By Sr. Nun Other

At Christmas, we have the opportunity to dwell in the fruition of this beautiful imagery: Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85:10)  We kneel at a manger to discover a mystery, a holy riddle, beyond human reasoning. He is Mary’s son, entrusted to Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth. He is God’s son, sung to by angels and visited by kings. He is the reconciliation of all that divides us, and, if we follow his footsteps, the one who makes us whole.

The Community of Jesus

The Complexity of Love

By Sr. Nun Other

Christmas decorating is low on my list of favorite activities. Somewhere around a visit to the dentist. My expectations are so high, my desire to create beauty so intense, that I’m certain to disappoint myself. Last night, I placed, replaced, and repositioned three decorative Christmas pillows on a bench. After a half hour of this, I realized there was no perfect that was perfect enough. But my building frustration led to a re-thinking of, “What is it I’m really looking for?”

Anticipation and expectation come with the Christmas territory and are worthy attributes. When rightly directed and defined, they lead to faith, hope, and a joyful reunion with all who gathered on that holiest of nights. They speak of someone achieving great things of which we’re the beneficiaries of inheritance. Candles in the window, trees dressed in light and shining tinsel, evergreen wreaths on doors — all are invitations, our warm welcomes, to the One that truly matters.

The Community of Jesus