The Canticle of Mary
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
Third Week of Lent, Tuesday
Daniel 3:25, 34-43
Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael), Abednego (Azariah), and Belteshazzar (Daniel) managed to preserve their Israelite heritage intact in the midst of Babylonian power and prestige. Uprooted from their homes by force to serve the Gentile king, the four young men kept the Mosaic law and remembrance of the covenant alive in their hearts. Babylonian names, dress, and official positions did not erase their core identity as sons of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.
Refusal to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar landed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the king’s white-hot furnace, a consequence they calmly and fearlessly accepted.
They walked about in the flames, singing to God and blessing the Lord. Azariah stood up in the midst of the fire and prayed aloud:
For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever,Daniel 3:24-25, 34-36
or make void your covenant.
Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.
Azariah’s appeal to God began with his promise to Abraham, the father of many nations and the patriarch of the Hebrews. His prayer flowed from the relationship initiated by God with his people. God’s friendship with Abraham was rock solid and imperishable, a covenant built on the steadfastness of divine love and fidelity.
As the prayer of Azariah intensified, the flames rose higher and higher, “burning the Chaldeans that it caught around the furnace.” But an angel of the Lord “made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it” (Daniel 3:48-50). Then the trio broke into one of the most sublime and heavenly songs in all of Sacred Scripture, blessing God and calling upon the angels, heavens, waters, sun, moon, stars, wind, fire, frost, mountains, seas, birds and beasts to bless the Lord and exalt him forever (Daniel 3:52-90).
As chaos and mayhem raged outside the furnace, unearthly peace emanated from within. An angelic vision pacified the king’s rage and stoked his wonder.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered. “But,” he replied, “I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”Daniel 3:91-92
Patristic commentators identified the fourth, godlike figure as Christ, but most interpreters leave the vision enigmatic, like the angelic figure who wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:25). In any case, God’s presence was manifested in visible form and divine protection was complete: “not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them” (Daniel 3:94).
In awe and amazement, King Nebuchadnezzar added his own line of praise following the “Hymn of the Three Holy Children”:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him.”Daniel 3:95
God’s covenant with Abraham
Stamped upon the heart,
No idol of Babylon nor
Fire can take apart.
First Week of Lent, Saturday
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus’ description of the Father’s impartial love takes its inspiration from the sun and the rain— natural phenomena devoid of passion, and blind to merits and demerits. Divine love energizes all living beings regardless of their response to their Creator. Even the “enemies” of God exist because he continually sustains them in being.
In the light of Christ’s merciful words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), it becomes clear that his clashes with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests were manifestations of divine love. No malediction ever issued from his lips.
Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you?Psalm 139:21-22
Those who rise against you, do I not loathe?
With fierce hatred I hate them,
enemies I count as my own.
Jesus, the Son of David, knew and prayed the “cursing” Psalms in the Hebrew tradition, but showed by his life the ultimate end of the psalmist’s prayer. Christ drove all curses into himself on the Cross, assumed blame for human sin, and expired with benediction on his lips.
The second Adam reversed the finger-pointing of the first couple in the garden of Eden who blamed the serpent, the woman, and ultimately God. Jesus, though blameless and innocent, assumed the punishment of the lawbreaker and transformed culpability into love.
Pure, disinterested love desires the good of others without distinction, seeing all persons as one in Christ. St. Maximos the Confessor writes:
The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion knows no distinction between his own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. Having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of man, he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For him there is “neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free man, but Christ is everything in everything” (Gal 3:28).1
Sunrise and sunset,
Showers and snow
Of friend and foe.
Both just and unjust
Are rolled from clay—
Pearl of God’s play.
God sees all children
As his own Son,
Victims and villains
On the Cross won.
1 St. Maximos the Confessor, Chapters on Love II.30.
First Week of Lent, Thursday
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Matthew 7:7-8
Asking, seeking, and knocking presuppose desire. In some wisdom traditions, desire is the root of suffering and must be extinguished in order to be liberated, but in the protological account of human origins in Genesis, desire is presented as primordial—an energy that must be directed in accordance with the Law of Knowledge and Life to blossom into godlikeness.
The serpent’s temptation to Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit contained a partial truth: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Jesus said to the Jews, quoting Psalm 82:6, Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? (John 10:34)
Early Christian writers like St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Gregory of Nazianzus believed that Adam and Eve were created in an intermediate state, with the potentiality for deification and infallible knowledge hinging on obedience to the commandment.
St. Ephrem writes:
For had the serpent been rejected, along with the sin, they would have eaten of the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge would not have been withheld from them any longer; from the one they would have acquired infallible knowledge, and from the other they would have received immortal life. They would have acquired divinity in humanity; and had they thus acquired infallible knowledge and immortal life they would have done so in this body.1
St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes:
This being He placed in paradise… And He gave him a Law, as material for his free will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the Tree of Knowledge; not, however, because it was evil from the beginning when planted; nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to men—let not the enemies of God wag their tongues in that direction, or imitate the serpent. But it would have been good if partaken of at the proper time; for the Tree was, according to my theory, Contemplation, which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter upon; but which is not good for those who are still somewhat simple and greedy; just as neither is solid food good for those who are yet tender and have need of milk.2
The primordial desire to “be like gods” is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who deified Adam by his Incarnation, obedience unto death, and resurrection.
Asking, seeking, and knocking is the process of walking hand in hand with the Father as his child in his only-begotten Son, and receiving freely the fruit of wisdom and life from the Spirit.
If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”Luke 11:13
The syllabic count in the following poem adds up to fifty—the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church. ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK are 3, 4, and 5 letter words, and their respective stanzas consist of 3, 4, and 5 syllable lines.
32 + 42 + 52 = 50 syllables
Son of God,
King and Priest
Strolls with Abba—
Eating fruit of
Knowledge and Life.
Kingdom of Heaven,
Come, Holy Spirit,
Kingdom come on Earth.
1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis II.23, in St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 214. St. Ephrem’s view is also found in the Palestinian Targum tradition at Genesis 3:22 and in Nemesius, On the Nature of Man 5. See Brock’s introduction (footnote 39).
2 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45.8.