USCCB REFLECTION

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The many prefigurations of baptism in Scripture

From the treatise “On the Mysteries”
by
St Ambrose, bishop
[ 337 – 397 A.D. ]

You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, a kindly cloud which cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. Finally it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Most High overshadowed her, when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. The miracle worked by Moses was a prefiguration of this miracle. But then – if the Spirit was in the figure, how can he not be present in the reality? As Scripture says, The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.Listen to the Apostle’s teaching: For all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.Moreover, Moses himself sings in triumph You sent your Spirit and the sea covered them. As you see, holy baptism was prefigured even then at the crossing of the sea, where the Egyptians perished but the Hebrews escaped. What else, after all, are we daily taught about baptism? That with the immersion in water, guilt is swallowed up and error done away with, but that virtue and innocence remain unharmed?
Marah was a spring of unendurably bitter water: Moses threw wood into it and it became sweet. For you see: water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no use for future salvation, but, after it has been consecrated by the mystery of the wood of the saving Cross, it is made suitable for the use of the spiritual cleansing and of the cup of salvation. So as Moses (that is, the prophet) threw wood into that fountain, so the priest utters over this font the proclamation of the Lord’s cross, and the water is made sweet for the purpose of grace.
You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.
There is a final lesson to be learned from the book of the Kings which we have just been reading. Naaman was a Syrian, and suffered from leprosy, and there was no-one who could cleanse him. Then a maiden from among the captives said that there was a prophet in Israel, who could cleanse him from the defilement of the leprosy. And it is said that, having taken silver and gold, Naaman went to the king of Israel. And the king, when he heard why Naaman had come, tore his garments, saying that this was an attempt to put him in the wrong, since healing leprosy was not in the power of kings. Elisha, however, sent word to the king that he should send the Syrian to him, so that he might know there was a God in Israel. And when he had come, he told him to dip himself seven times in the river Jordan.
Naaman doubted until the time when he was cleansed; but you are cleansed by now, and so you should not have doubts.

Mary conceived in her soul before she conceived in her body

From a sermon
by
Saint Leo the Great, pope
[ Died 461 A.D. ]

The Son of God who was in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made, without whom nothing was made, became man to free him from eternal death. He stooped down to take up our lowliness without loss to his own glory. He remained what he was; he took up what he was not. He wanted to join the very nature of a servant to that nature in which he is equal to God the Father. He wanted to unite both natures in an alliance so wonderful that the glory of the greater would not annihilate the lesser, nor the taking up of the lower diminish the greatness of the higher.A royal virgin of the house of David is chosen. She is to bear a holy child, one who is both God and man. She is to conceive him in her soul before she conceives him in her body. In the face of so unheard of an event she is to know no fear through ignorance of the divine plan; the angel tells her what is to be accomplished in her by the Holy Spirit. She believes that there will be no loss of virginity, she who is soon to be the mother of God. Why should she lose heart at this new form of conceiving when she has been promised that it will be effected through the power of the Most High? She believes, and her faith is confirmed by the witness of a previous wonder: against all expectation Elizabeth is made fruitful. God has enabled a barren woman to be with child; he must be believed when he makes the same promise to a virgin.
What belongs to each nature is preserved intact and meets the other in one person: lowliness is taken up by greatness, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our human condition, a nature incapable of suffering is united to a nature capable of suffering, and true God and true man are forged into the unity that is the Lord. This was done to make possible the kind of remedy that fitted our human need: one and the same mediator between God and men able to die because of one nature, able to rise again because of the other. It was fitting, therefore, that the birth which brings salvation brought no corruption to virginal integrity; the bringing forth of Truth was at the same time the safeguarding of virginity.
Dearly beloved, this kind of birth was fitting for Christ, the power and the wisdom of God: a birth in which he was one with us in our human nature but far above us in his divinity. If he were not true God, he would not be able to bring us healing, if he were not true man, he would not be able to give us an example.
And so at the birth of our Lord, the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. If the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

CUSTOM-MADE FOR PRAISE

“Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” —Ephesians 1:3

Before we were created, the Lord destined us to “praise His glory” (Eph 1:12). Our bodies are not ideal for thinking, working, or running. Our human limitations are obvious when we forget information, stumble over our words, stumble over our feet, or get tired. However, our bodies are tailor-made to praise God. From our renewed minds (see Rm 12:2), singing tongues, praying lips, open hearts, raised hands, to our dancing feet — we are created to praise God always and forever.
Our greatest praise of God is Eucharistic worship. At Mass, Jesus, the eternal High Priest, is not only the Object of our praises but also the Leader of our praise and worship to the Father and in the Holy Spirit. Through, with, and in Jesus we share at Mass in the heavenly praises offered by the angels and saints to the Holy Trinity.
In this book, One Bread, One Body, we try to help you better understand, appreciate, and apply the readings for Mass. Thus, you will better celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, the first part of our praise and worship at Mass. If we are helping you praise the Lord and worship in the Eucharist, please let us know, for this is the purpose of our ministry.
Praise the Lord always and forever! Praise our Eucharistic Lord!

Prayer: Father, fashion perfect praise in my life (see Ps 8:3). “Let the high praises of God” be in my throat (Ps 149:6).
Promise: “They went off, preaching the need of repentance. They expelled many demons, anointed the sick with oil, and worked many cures.” —Mk 6:12-13
Praise: Praise You, risen Jesus! You are “the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). Alleluia!