Thursday, December 29, 2005

Holy Innocents, December 28, 2005

“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. There was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more"
(Mt. 2, 16-18).

The entrance antiphon of the Mass reads: “These innocent children were slain for Christ. They follow the spotless Lamb, and proclaim for ever: Glory to you, Lord.”

Theme: tiny children live out heroic, silent sacrifice (unwittingly) and win the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, there is heroic virtue in small objective things because it takes place on the level of the subject making the gift of self.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger remarked about notorious, heroic virtue on the occasion of the canonization of St. Josemaria Escriva:

“Knowing a little about the history of saints, and understanding that in the causes of canonization there is inquiry into `heroic’ virtue, we almost inevitably have a mistaken concept of holiness: `It is not for me,’ we are led to think `because I do not feel capable of attaining heroic virtue. It is too high a goal.’ Holiness then becomes a thing reserved for some `greats’ whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely different from us ordinary sinners. But this is a mistaken notion of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected – and this seems to me the central point – precisely by Josemaria Escriva.

"Heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of `gymnastics’ of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God’s presence is revealed. – something man could not do by himself and through himself. Perhaps in the final analysis we are rather dealing with a question of terminology, because the adjective `heroic’ has been badly interpreted. Heroic virtue properly speaking does not mean that one has done great things by oneself, but rather that in one’s life there appear realities which the person has not done himself, because he has been transparent and ready for the work of God. Or, in other words, to be a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend. This is holiness” (Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, "Letting God Work," L'Osservatore Romano, October 6, 2002)

Commentary: Let’s complement the underlined above, suggesting that heroic virtue, in the spirit of St. Josemaria Escriva, does not have to do with having “done great things by oneself,” but in not having done great things at all. Rather, it is a case of “non loquendo sed moriendo” – not making boast of but dying in the small things of daily, quotidian life. St. Josermaria would affirm: It is heroic to fulfill the acts of piety each day, punctually. It is heroic to pour ourselves out, working for others, never thinking about ourselves. It is heroic to finish our work well, when we are tired and exhausted. It is heroic to continue our ascetical struggle in the points indicated to us, with humility and determination. “You ask me, `Why the wooden Cross?’ And I quote from a letter: `As I raise my eyes from the microscope, my sight comes to rest on the Cross – black and empty. That Cross without a Corpus is a symbol; it has a meaning others won’t see. And I, tired out and on the point of abandoning my work, once again bring my eyes close to the lens and continue. For that lonely Cross is calling for a pair of shoulders to bear it."[1]

The heroism asked of us is an everyday heroism of silent and hidden sacrifice. We can never feel vainglory for things so small. The sacrifice of deeds in very small things is the act of self-mastery whereby with God's love as "grace," we hone ourselves by service to others into the figure of "another Christ." We wash feet and by so doing affirm persons. With this, God makes our lives fruitful. We irradite fatherhood by engendering life ("life" as Zoe that is Trinitarian Life [Gift]). Since we act out of love, our sacrifice is a willing one that seeks no applause; we don’t even call it a `sacrifice.’ We receive each day’s annoyances without complaint, as coming from God’s will, with respect and love, with joy and peace. And we strive to fulfill the duty of each moment willingly, although it is hard, since it is God’s will for us.

St. Josemaria wrote to his children: “My children, are you and I determined to live a life that serves as a model and lesson for others? Are we determined to be other Christs, to behave like children of God? It’s not enough to say it; we have to prove our determination by our deeds… Are you happy with how you have behaved up until now? You, who are another Christ, who are a child of God, do you deserve to have it said of you that you have come to do and to teach, facere et docere (Acts 1, 1): to teach others by your behavior to do all that is good, that is noble, that furthers the Redemption?”

[1] Josemaria Escriva, “The Way,” Scepter Press #277.

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