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Treasures Old and New: Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

This image of God pitching his tent and filling it with his glory has been richly reflected upon in the Christian Tradition. It has been seen by many holy men and women as giving us an insight into the role which Mary, the Mother of the Lord, played in God's plan of redemption. She was seen as a new tent of meeting, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; the new Ark of the Covenant, who became the place where Jesus, the New Covenant, took up residence - and from whom - was born, given for the sake of the world.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, we encounter Moses constructing the tent of meeting. God has always wanted to draw close to us, to dwell with us. He did so with Israel by overshadowing that tent with His glory.  "Then the cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling. Moses could not enter the meeting tent, because the cloud settled down upon it and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling" (Exodus 40: 34)

The Apostle John, in the beginning of his Gospel, used language meant to call to mind this Old Testament encounter, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." (John 1:14)  The words rendered in English "dwelt among us" in the biblical text, are literally rendered "He pitched His tent among us." Think about it. The God of the whole universe, who dwelt in inaccessible light, whom no man had ever seen and lived, became a real man - and pitched His home among us!

The last Gospel to be written, John contains the inspired mature reflection of the early Church. In the Catholic tradition, this first chapter was recited at the conclusion of every Mass for centuries. It was called the "Last Gospel". Within these pregnant words we plumb the depths of the meaning and mystery of the Incarnation.

This image of God pitching his tent and filling it with his glory has been richly reflected upon in the Christian Tradition. It has been seen by many holy men and women as giving us an insight into the role which Mary, the Mother of the Lord, played in God's plan of redemption. She was seen as a new tent of meeting, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; the new Ark of the Covenant, who became the place where Jesus, the New Covenant, took up residence - and from whom - was born, given for the sake of the world.

The promise of the messenger (which is what the word angel means) was that "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the son of God." (Lk 1:35) That promise was fulfilled. The imagery surrounding this encounter speaks to all of us of the deep mysteries of the Christian faith.

This overshadowing is connected, through its rich symbolic language, to the creation account when the Spirit hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2). In the Annunciation, the Spirit of God hovers over this chosen woman whom the early fathers called the Second Eve. Her "Yes" undid the "No" of the first Eve. In Jesus, the Incarnate Word, the new creation has begun. He is the New Adam (See, e.g. 1 Cor. 15: 45- 49)

The encounter calls to mind the cloud of glory which covered the mountain when God gave Moses the Law on Sinai (Exodus 24).  Here the cloud overshadows the one through whom the New Law of Love, the Incarnate Word, would be born for the sake of the world.  In today's first reading, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting (Ex 40), and no one was able to enter because the glory of God filled the tabernacle.

Mary was seen by the early Christian fathers as a living tabernacle, the Ark of the new covenant, the dwelling place of God Incarnate, a new temple, because the Incarnate Word of God lived within her. Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of the Old Testament. In and through Him, the new creation has begun. His Church, birthed from His wounded side on the Hill of Golgotha, is the new Israel and the seed of the Kingdom to come.

In our Gospel this morning Jesus said to the disciples: "The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."

He then sought to explain the parable, "Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Yes." And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there. (Matt. 13: 47-53)

Today, we commemorate one of the treasures of the Church, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, a master of Moral Theology. He lived a long life, dying at the ripe old age of 91. He lived during a time of real decline in the Church, and, as a result, the culture of Europe also declined. He died in the year 1787, near Naples, surrounded by sons in the faith. They were drawn to live radically for Jesus through his holy witness of life, his profound preaching, and his inspired writings on the Christian life.

This treasure was St. Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorist community . He left a lasting legacy for the Church.Not only in the religious community he founded but in his profound books, reflections and spiritual writings which are still read by millions.  He is particularly known for his deep love for Mary, the Mother of the Lord. The Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours offers us this beautiful excerpt from one of his homilies:

From a sermon by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop, On the love of Christ

All holiness and perfection of soul lies in our love for Jesus Christ our God, who is our Redeemer and our supreme good. It is part of the love of God to acquire and to nurture all the virtues which make a man perfect.  Has not God in fact won for himself a claim on all our love?

From all eternity he has loved us. And it is in this vein that he speaks to us: "O man, consider carefully that I first loved you. You had not yet appeared in the light of day, nor did the world yet exist, but already I loved you. From all eternity I have loved you."

Since God knew that man is enticed by favors, he wished to bind him to his love by means of his gifts: "I want to catch men with the snares, those chains of love in which they allow themselves to be entrapped, so that they will love me."

And all the gifts which he bestowed on man were given to this end. He gave him a soul, made in his likeness, and endowed with memory, intellect and will; he gave him a body equipped with the senses; it was for him that he created heaven and earth and such an abundance of things. He made all these things out of love for man, so that all creation might serve man, and man in turn might love God out of gratitude for so many gifts.
 
But he did not wish to give us only beautiful creatures; the truth is that to win for himself our love, he went so far as to bestow upon us the fullness of himself. The eternal Father went so far as to give us his only Son. When he saw that we were all dead through sin and deprived of his grace, what did he do? Compelled, as the Apostle says, by the superabundance of his love for us, he sent his beloved Son to make reparation for us and to call us back to a sinless life.

 By giving us his Son, whom he did not spare precisely so that he might spare us, he bestowed on us at once every good: grace, love and heaven; for all these goods are certainly inferior to the Son: He who did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for all of us: how could he fail to give us along with his Son all good things?

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