Wednesday 24 August 2016

Hannah the Mother of Samuel

His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
(1 Samuel 2:19)

Often in the Church when we think of holy women we consider them in the context of their relationships. Thus Hannah and St Monica are the mothers of Samuel and St Augustine respectively and St Scholastica is the sister of St Benedict and so on. This approach is not confined to the Church, there was much feminist criticism during the 2016 summer Olympics that commentators referred to the marital or parental status of female competitors but not that of male ones.

It is, I think, true that we are more prone to think of women in relational terms; that they inhabit a complex web of familial relationships which play a significant role in defining them. More or less implicit in this is the notion that these relationships should be a priority for women and that things like sport, business or academia should take second place. Men, by contrast, are considered as free-standing individuals who make the world by their unaided efforts and for whom this world-making is and should be their priority.

This is undoubtedly an unbalanced approach but, I believe, it would be perverse to attempt to counter it by censoring out reference to these relationships. We should, rather, change our attitude towards men. Samuel was the son of Hannah as St Augustine was of St Monica; St Benedict was St Scholastica's twin sibling. These men were no less defined by their relationships than the women were by theirs and, indeed, Samuel and Augustine owed more to Hannah and Monica than their mothers did to them. It takes a village (and a family) to raise a boy every bit as much as it does a girl. Men are not free-standing, individual world-makers they are sons, brothers, fathers, husbands and without these relationships to sustain and nurture them they would not only be low achievers they would be spiritually and emotionally deprived human beings.

It might be contended that it is precisely because men did not prioritise their relationships that they were able to go out and create modernity through exploration, innovation and risk taking. So much the worse for modernity. We are mistaken if we think that material gains and benefits outweigh spiritual and emotional losses and a slower pace of economic and scientific development is a price worth paying for a world in which both men and women are fully engaged in a complementary way with the lives of their families.

To put it another way, what we require is a civilisation of love. By its very nature love is a relational thing which, moreover, is characterised by sacrifice of self in the service of ones obligations towards the beloved. Which brings us to Hannah, the mother of Samuel. There is something poignant in the use of the word 'little' to describe the garment which Hannah took with her on her annual trip to see the infant son for whom she had so longed. Those of us who live in the post-industrial revolution era may miss the significance of the word 'made' but this robe was not a shop bought, factory produced thing. Hannah put it together herself and we can picture her bending over it for hours. Every little action associated with its making would have been charged with love. No doubt she would have shed tears over it, tears of devotion for her son, tears of pain at the long separation from him.

Yet this separation was not forced upon Hannah by a jealous and demanding God it was a freewill sacrifice which she made and sustained in gratitude and love towards the One from whom Samuel had come as gift. The child had been put into the service of the Lord's worship at the Ark of the Covenant in Shiloh as a grateful response by Hannah to the way that God had heeded her prayers. This was by no means a usual thing in Israel, Samuel was the only child so placed, nor is there any suggestion that the Almighty had demanded this as a quid pro quo for ending Hannah's childlessness. The supernatural virtue of Justice consists in giving each their due beginning with God and descending to the least and most vulnerable of His creatures (such as the unborn.) Hannah showed herself to be a just woman because she retained nothing for herself giving to the Lord that which was most precious to her and giving to her son all the love and prayers which she could. Each year she added to that to the extent of a little robe made by her own hands and touched by her tears.

As well as being poignant there is something beautiful in this scene which Scripture paints for us. The poet Keats tells us-
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all  
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
The nearer we approach to the perfection of a supernatural virtue like Justice, Truth or Love then the more beautiful we and our actions become. Compared to this annual pilgrimage of Hannah no amount of world-making, medal-winning, scientific breakthrough-ing by men or women has a tenth part of its loveliness. We should stop apologising for drawing to attention the fact that women are mothers and start apologising for all the times we have failed to recall that men are sons.

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The painting is Hannah presenting her son Samuel to Eli by Jan Victors

Sunday 14 August 2016

The Coronation of Mary-A Vision

The King’s daughter is all glorious within: 
her clothing is of broidered gold.
She shall be brought unto the King
(Psalm 45:13-14)

As I lay my Rosary aside on Assumption eve suddenly heaven was opened before me and I saw our Blessed Lady St Mary sitting in a room in the Father's house. It happened that the most Blessed Lord granted me the gift, through the Spirit, to understand what I saw and how glorious it was.

It seemed to me that with the eyes of her inward vision our Lady was rapt in blissful contemplation of the uncreated One who is Three. With her outward eyes the Virgin Mother looked with delight on the things of her heavenly home. Suddenly a voice behind her spoke-
"Hail, full of grace"
St Mary rose and turning round she smilingly said
"Behold again the handmaid of the Lord."
Facing her now was St Gabriel the Archangel and he shone with the glory of love and radiated the power of compassion.
"He awaits you within and I am to guide you to Him."
"Be it done to me according to your word."

And I saw them depart the room and enter an antechamber of the Palace of God. There were many glorious things in it and it seemed to me that the most glorious sight to be seen were two people of venerable and saintly appearance.
"Hail, the Immaculate Conception." they said together.
As St Mary cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be St Gabriel spoke again-

"You are the Morning Star, the light that heralds the dawn. At your conception the darkness that covered the world was pierced by the first bright gleam since the Fall of your ancestor Adam. Free at your first moment, by the gracious and fitting gift of God, from any taint of Original Sin you are our Lady of Light and a sign of hope to all of fallen humankind."
And Mary went forward embracing with joy the two that had saluted her whom I would call St Joachim and St Anne but whom she called "Father" and "Mother."

Then they all processed into an ante-chamber more splendid than the last. In it stood a woman whose face was still marked with the signs of long sorrow patiently borne and with her a man clothed in camel's hair.
"Hail Mediatrix of all Graces," they said together.
As St Mary cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be St Gabriel spoke again-

"You are the Mother of divine grace, the spiritual vessel, the singular vessel of devotion. Through your presence, the sound of your voice and the Divine One whom you carried in your womb a saint was filled with the Holy Spirit and enabled to see the things of God and to speak clearly about them offering Him praise and thanks. Through you too an unborn child, and the Lord loves all such, leapt with joy and was filled with the Spirit of God. Grace, which fills you, overflows through your hands to those to whom you will to give it from now until the end of time."
And Mary went forward embracing with happiness the two who had saluted her whom I would call St Elizabeth and St John the Baptist but whom she called "cousins."

The procession now entered the most splendid ante-chamber that I had yet seen. In it was a man, upright, honourable and just and he leant upon a flowering staff.
"Hail, Cause of our Joy." he said.
As St Mary cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be St Gabriel spoke again-

"You are the Mother of God, the Mother of Christ, the Mother of the Saviour. Through your consent the Word of God was made flesh in your womb. Through your motherhood Jesus entered the world. You are she who brought the devices of satan to nothing. Without you there would be no hope, no life, no light in the hearts of women and men. Truly upon your fiat is founded all the joy and happiness of humankind."
And Mary went forward embracing with gladness the one who had saluted her whom I would call St Joseph most chaste and whom she called "husband."

The joyful procession entered into the fourth ante-chamber and as they grew nearer to the throne of the King so the light through which they walked grew in beauty and loveliness. A venerable man, dignified and kindly stood beside a woman of great devotion and service.
"Hail Seat of Wisdom," they said together.
As St Mary cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be St Gabriel spoke again-

"You are the Mother Most Amiable, the Mother of Good Counsel, the Virgin Most Prudent, the Virgin Most Faithful. To your care and guidance was entrusted the Son of the Creator. To you He was obedient, in you He trusted. You ever willed to do what the Grace of God within you willed to do. In your humility you were obedient to the Father in all things and at all times. These are the things of wisdom and truly you are wise."
And Mary went forward embracing with delight the two who had saluted her whom I would call St Simeon and St Anna but whom she called "friends."

After this the procession entered into the fifth ante-chamber which was suffused with the light and presence of God whose royal seat was now so near at hand. In that chamber I could see a man cheerful, benign and authoritative.
"Hail, most gracious Advocate," he said.
As St Mary cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be St Gabriel spoke again-

"You are the Virgin most powerful, the Virgin most merciful, the refuge of sinners,comforter of the afflicted, help of Christians. With the eyes of loving mercy and kindness you saw an unmet need and through your prayers moved your Divine Son to turn water into wine, You gave the wise counsel to 'do whatsoever He saith to you'. For all of time you will give this counsel to the world and too you will seek and find the disconsolate and bring their needs before the Lord. Never shall you do so in vain for He loves you and will give heed to all your petitions."
And Mary went forward embracing with amiableness the one whom I would call the steward of the feast at Cana in Galilee but whom she called "neighbour."  

Then they entered the final ante-chamber filled with that happiness of heaven which is ever perfect and ever growing. There stood a woman who resembled the Virgin and who bore upon her face the signs of great suffering and greater joy.
"Hail Queen of Martyrs," she said.
As St Mary cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be St Gabriel spoke again-

"You are the Tower of David, the Tower of Ivory. You are the foremost among those who have endured agony for the sake of the Kingdom of your Divine Son Jesus. You are she through whose soul a sword has pierced. Upon the hill of Calvary, beneath the Cross of Christ you endured in height, in length, in depth all the agonies of your Son. His pain, His abandonment, His death which in a manner you shared. You endured too the agonies of a mother who sees her only one, her beloved, her dear one, dying before her eyes. Because of this you are close to all who suffer and especially to those who suffer for the faith. In all ages of the world the persecuted people of Christ will turn their eyes to you, raise their prayers, sighs and lamentations to you and you will send them consolation and present their cause to the Lord, your God and their God."
And Mary went forward embracing with love the one whom I would call Mary, the mother of Salome, but whom she called "sister."

And then they all with exceeding great gladness entered into the inner sanctum of the Palace of God, the throne room of the King. And, behold! the King Himself stood waiting for them. His clothes were as white as the light and His skin shone like the sun. This shining did not conceal but rather revealed the more those wounds upon His hands and feet which cruel men had inflicted and His brow still bore the marks of barbed thorns. St Mary humbly sank to her knees before Him and said-
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."

The King stretched forth His maimed hands and tenderly raised her to her feet.
"My, Son" the Blessed Virgin said.
"My Mother," Jesus replied. He gently led her to a great throne that stood to the right of His own and placed her upon it. Then St Michael the Archangel clad in armour and shining with the glory of justice and radiating the power of virtue, came forward bearing a crown. Our Blessed Lord took it from Him and loving placed it on the brow of Mary, Queen of Heaven. At that the cherubim and seraphim, all the choirs, rank upon rank, of the angels and all the saints and martyrs of the Kingdom of God burst into songs of gladness, rejoicing and praise.

It was given to me to know that the crown had been made of the most precious elements in all the created universe. And looking closely at it I could see that this was indeed so. The crown of our Lady and Queen consisted of nothing more or less than these four word "My Son, My Mother"

Then the vision faded and vanished. Looking around I saw that it was now Assumption morning and I took up my Rosary once more offering up my prayers with deep gratitude to the Good God who has given us such a Good Mother.

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: 
A woman clothed with the Sun, 
and the Moon was under her feet, 
and upon her head a crown of twelve Stars
(Revelation 12:1)

Paintings featured are-

The Coronation of the Virgin, by Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, by Jean Colombe, from the Worshipful Company of Skinners Book, Lady of the Assumption by Bartolomeo della Gatta. The Coronation of the Virgin by Fra Angelico, by Lorenzo Monaco, by Jean Fouquet, by Fra Angelico (again.) The Assumption of the Virgin by Michel Sittow

Monday 8 August 2016

I Hate My Life!

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple
Luke 14:26-27

We can, I think, draw a useful distinction between harshness and austerity. Many commentators on these words of our Lord have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that they are not as harsh as they appear at first sight. This is necessary work but in performing it too often the austere nature of the programme outlined by Jesus has been under-emphasised. By way of redressing the balance I propose to completely ignore the harshness aspect and focus instead on the austerity. To do so I will be using (apparently) erotic poetry to help me.

I sleep, and my heart watcheth;
 the voice of my beloved knocking: 
Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove
Song of Songs 5:2
Our lives are usually wrapped up in immediate earthly concerns to do with ourselves, our families, our work, politics, celebrities and so on. We are asleep to the things of the spirit with our active consciousness yet there is a part of our being which is awake and alert. At least once and sometimes many times the Lord will come and whisper to us as we are sunk in material slumber. Our heart will leap in joyful response and wake the totality of our being to the Presence that seeks us. What happens next?

I have put off my garment, how shall I put it on?
I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?
Song of Songs 5:3
We do not respond instantly to the call. Instead we think of this thing and that thing. Our everyday concerns, mundane earthly matters intrude between us and our Divine lover. Often that is where it ends. We remain in bed and fall asleep again. Yet, sometimes eventually after dealing with these trivia we are sufficiently curious to make our tardy way to the doorway from which our lover called us.

I opened the bolt of my door to my beloved: 
but he had turned aside, and was gone.....
 I sought him, and found him not: 
I called, and he did not answer me.
Song of Songs 5:6
And this is the message that Jesus was hammering home. If we do not cast aside the things of this world when He calls us, if we do not hate them, then we shall lose Him altogether. It is not that these things are bad in themselves. On the contrary some, like loving ones parents are positively virtuous. No, what they are are the things of sleep and He invites us to the things of wakefulness, the better part. Once we know Him and are united to Him we can return wakefully to the things of sleep and so bring what was dead into life by infusing it with His Spirit.

The keepers that go about the city found me: 
they struck me: and wounded me: 
the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.
Song of Songs 5:7
This is what it means to carry the cross. In a world asleep when we wander around, awake and in search of our Beloved, we can expect to be buffeted. The words found, struck, wounded, took away, express the sorrow, pain and humiliation that we can expect from life. We can escape from this if we fall asleep again and abandon the search, if we embrace with love those things we had begun to hate for the sake of the Beloved. But then our heart will remain awake and impart its restlessness to us, the sense that there is an emptiness where wholeness should be. Alternatively we can shoulder our cross and persevere. Why though? To what end are we journeying?

I am become in his presence as one finding peace.
Song of Songs 8:10
A peace passing all understanding, a transcendent peace will possess our souls, fill our spirits and rejoice our hearts when we encounter the Beloved and contemplate Him with adoration. The fullness of this experience must wait until we have put of mortality and been clothed with immortality, left time and definitively entered eternity. Nonetheless we can experience in part now what we will enjoy to the full then. The Beloved is to be found in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the Eucharist we can meet Him, consuming the One whom we long to consume us. In Tabernacle and Monstrance we can sit at his feet like Mary of Bethany, drinking in His peace and love. In prayer we can meet with Him and share the silence of deep things beyond speech. In the saints, those who are in heaven and those who are our neighbours, we can catch glimpses of Him. And in Mary, His Mother, the mirror of perfection, seat of wisdom, Queen of Angels we can find a sure way to the Son of the Father.

The austere way proposed by Jesus is not austerity for the sake of austerity. It is a simple truth that she who travels light travels fast. Let us cast aside all that is superfluous that we might the sooner catch up with the Beloved and become one with Him, now and forever.

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The paintings are The Church as Bride of Christ by the Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale and Christ as gardener appearing to Mary Magdalen by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostanen 

Tuesday 2 August 2016

A Simple Method of Marian Prayer

The Method

  • First, obtain some Rosary beads.
  • Begin by praying + In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 
  • On the first bead pray-
Dear and Most Blessed Lady Mary
As you brought Jesus to St Elizabeth when you visited her bring Him also to me.
As, by the Father's will, she was filled with the Holy Spirit at the sound of your voice send the Paraclete also to me.
That, strengthened by the Blessed Trinity and accompanied by you, I may bear my cross in life, through death to the Glorious Resurrection
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • On the next beads pray the Our Father the Hail Mary the Glory Be and Hail Holy Queen (these prayers can be found at CatholiCity.Com)
  • On the small beads pray Immaculate Heart of Mary, I trust in you.
  • After ten such prayers (a decade) on the large beads pray And after this our exile show unto us the Blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
  • Once you have prayed five decades you can either keep going for as long as seems right or finish with the following prayers-
  • Hail Holy Queen
  • Our Lady, the Mystical Rose, pray for us
  • Our Lady, Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
  • Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.
  • Glory Be.

The Rationale

I've written a lot about the benefit of going to Jesus through Mary. Rather than repeat myself here I invite you to check out my posts which are tagged with Blessed Virgin Mary especially, perhaps, With Mary to Jesus.

Practical Tips

  • While praying you may find it helps your focus if you look at an image of our Lord and our Lady or at a Crucifix.
  • As a symbolic way of uniting your offering with Catholics across history and around the world you could pray the second Hail Holy Queen in Latin as the Salve Regina.
  • To slow the prayer down and make it more contemplative you could link it with your breathing. Pray the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the indrawn breath and I trust in you on the outgoing one. Do remember to breathe normally when you get to the And after this etc. part though.
  • If you are accustomed to meditating on a mystery while using the Rosary beads because this prayer is shorter than the normal Rosary I suggest that you consider just one mystery for every five decades. You can find subjects from the opening prayer, not just the Visitation but also the mysteries of the Trinity and your personal relationship with each member of it, dying to self and so on.


The central terms of this prayer are the Immaculate Heart and our trust in it. What does this mean? We know from Scripture that our Lady pondered the things of God in her heart. It is possible then to deduce the qualities of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as being love, for the Blessed Trinity as God, for the Incarnate Son as her own child Jesus and for all of her neighbours as being beloved by her beloved. Mary's heart is also reflective and contemplative. It is sinless and filled with prayer. By expressing our trust in it we are saying that our own hearts, timid, uncertain and sinful as they are, long by being united to Mary to become like her; above all in devotion to Jesus who is our salvation. Mary is Mediatrix of Grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit flow through her hands, through our prayer of trust in her Immaculate Heart we express the hope that the grace of conversion may come to us so that our own hearts will increasingly resemble hers so that she will be able to present us to Jesus as beloved children and not as sinful, self-willed rebels.

The Marian prayer par excellence is of course the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been highly praised by Popes and Saints. Our Lady herself has encouraged it in her appearances to visionaries around the world. I do not offer this prayer in any sense as a rival to it. For those who already pray the Rosary this can be an addition to their prayer armoury. For those who do not yet pray it for one reason or another it can help them express their devotion to our Blessed Mother and may perhaps lead them in time to the Rosary itself. All I can say for certain is that I myself have found it useful in helping me to grow in love towards Jesus and Mary and hopefully also in uniting my will the the sweet will of Mary which is always united to that of her Divine Son Jesus.

This post is a companion piece to my earlier blog A Simple Method of Contemplative Prayer

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The painting is Immaculate Heart of Mary by Smith Catholic Art