Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent - Season of the Key

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Antiphon, December 19

Reflection – So we continue with the messianic theme from yesterday – from Root of Jesse (David as emerging from the shadows of history and the mystery of human ordinariness and hidden life, yielding to Christ and his Church springing from the soil of the world), we now see David regnant, David the king of the kingdom, the Key of David who holds the authority of God over his people Israel.

There are so many scriptures which converge here – the whole fulfillment of Jesus of the Davidic authority and power, the whole reality of the Lordship of Christ. But then, speaking of keys and opening and shutting, we cannot miss the reference to Peter in the Gospels, understood in our Catholic faith as the basis of the authority of the Pope to teach and govern the Church as Christ’s vicar. Christ’s authority, which is absolute, blends with the authority of the Church and of the Pope, which is limited and derivative.

It is hard for us, wounded by our sin and the sin of others against us, to hear of authority and lordship and things getting opened and shut and the Pope telling us what to do without getting a little tense somewhere inside. Very few people have a simple and unreserved welcoming of authority and its strictures and structures.

There are all sorts of reasons for this, some good, some bad, all perfectly understandable. But we have to go deep here. We have to understand that the whole purpose of authority, the whole reason for leadership in this broken poor world of ours, is to lead us out of darkness and the shadow of death, out of the prison house which imprisons us.

Tough stuff here, really. Authority is abused so often; authority is sometimes, simply, wrong. And there are so many aspects to all this—the proper limits of religious authority, the freedom of the Christian conscience, the need for oversight and transparency. Suffice to say that I do understand all that—but I’m not going to talk about it here, OK?

The godly function of Christian authority is to liberate us from prison. What prison? The prison of self-will, self-governance, self-centredness, self-limitation. By having an authority to whom we must give both account and obedience, we are called out of our limited and small world of concerns and ideas and plans. We are called to move out of all that into a bigger world, ultimately (even if the human authority is itself limited and foolish and may, being a poor sinful human being, be quite small in its own scope). As we strive to move not from our own will but from the obedience due to rightful authority, so many prison doors are burst open, so much light shed on so many difficult and dark subjects.

But we know that all this business of keys and opening and closing and obeying and dark and light and prisons and freedom is a very messy business in this world. We are called, we Catholics, to obey the Church, to obey the Pope, to obey right authority in its rightful sphere. But in that, we experience most deeply at times the need for Christ to come and establish his kingdom in fullness.

The Church is to be obeyed, but the Church is made up of sinners, and that sinfulness extends from the Pope to the smallest child. So ecclesial obedience brings us into a great passion of faith, a great experience of our need for a new coming of the messiah.

We cry out, Come, key of David, and lead us, lead all of us, to the full liberty and light of your kingdom, and use the obedience we offer to your representatives to begin this leading, this liberation, this enlightening, according to the mysterious workings of your wisdom in our lives.


  1. Well, your post sort of stirs a lot in me. We could all write tons about our experiences of obidience and freedom...or how those understandings have changed and grown. I was reading something tonight about this- the story of the wall eyed pike- told by Father Ron Rolheiser. Have you heard of it?
    He talks about an American research center that did an experiment with a walleyed pike. They placed the fish in an aquarium and fed it at regular intervals. After a time, the placed a piece of glass in the tank effectively sealing it off.. Then they began to put the walleyes food on the other side of the glass. At first, the walleye came to the glass at regular intervals with its mouth open, but each time it bumped the glass and came away empty. Eventually, it would swim up to the glass and then at the last second turn away. At this point the researchers removed the glass plate. But, it was too late, the damage had been done. The fish still swam up to the food and at the last second turned away, not knowing the plate had been removed. The walleye eventually died of malnutrition, surrounded by food.
    Anyway, in that story in the light of the o antiphon- there is a lot to reflect on... People are dying from a lack of love in a world where many people want to love...and we are unable to pour the love out to people who are starving for it. There are no glass plates between us ...
    The I antiphon names the situation clearly- it is not by our own efforts hat we can free ourselves.
    Who erected the barriers in the first place? Not God, he is always trying to break down the barriers.
    I think it is more than our own self will- sometimes it is our woundedness- and sometimes it is the actions of someone else- another's ill will or woundedness places the barrier to love in our soul.
    No amount of telling people that the church is open to all if we are obidience to it will do- if for years they have experienced a glass wall of rebuff because of social position, their gender or their sexuality.
    We each have such a huge responsibility to look at those barriers- and our perceptions of them.
    There are no glass barriers between ourselves and God. God came for all of us - not just the many. When God became flesh he came to be with us , remove the glass barrier. If all of us, despite our selves, despite our roles- if all of us had eyes to see.
    Bless you

    1. Thanks, Catherine - that is kind of what I was trying to say, coming at it from another angle. It is a tangled and painful web, this whole business of authority, Church, human brokenness... ultimately I believe it is in our wrangling with it and our efforts to obey right authority that our cry for God to come and complete his work in our hearts becomes most urgent. And yes, there are so many for whom the barriers and obstacles seem so unsurmountable or unbreakable - it is a constant prayer and work of love to try to overcome that. Bless you.

  2. Catherine, you should be a guest writer here.
    As I think about prisoners and glass walls and obedience to the Church. It seem to me our personal mission begins with a very human effort to set someone free in some way in the spirit of the good Samaritan (reaching though the glass wall). Maybe help in repeated ways over time. This helps a person to see the path of love which is God's path. If the person you helped is inclined "pay it forward" they are intentionally showing love to a neighbor (God's path). As we walk the path of obedience and following the example of Jesus to set prisoners free we can cause people to change because we have changed by growing in faith action. Whether or not they will ever join the Catholic Church will likely require many more interventions of God's love to over come whatever barriers are in the way. They may never make it to the fullness of Catholic faith in this life. Our mission is to set them free in the moment, God will lead them home if they are open to his invitations to continue the pilgrimage. There seem to be many spiritual homes with a door open along the path of love. One of them is at Cumbermere.

    1. Well, in a certain sense, she kind of is! As are you! God bless and may you have a most merry Christmas.

  3. Well, many people know me as a guest of Madonna House.

    These words are as I said - mostly Father Ron's and Father Dennis' . I am more of a foot to my neighbors light.

    Bless you.

    1. Ha! Well put, although my experience is that you shine plenty of light yourself. Merry Christmas to you.

  4. Merry Christmas to you too!


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