The Burning Bush (2): Presence, Incarnation, and the Blessed Virgin Mary

Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-7).  (3D render illustration. iStock: vlastas)

Presence and Name

Thou art near, O Lord: and all thy ways are truth. (Psalm 118[119]:151)

We have seen in Part 1 some of the divine “qualities” that the Burning Bush revealed: Holy Fire, “uncreated” Light, “limitless” Love.  By appearing in this way, the transcendent God clearly showed His desire to come close to His people, to manifest His Divine Presence.  And, because Moses dared to ask, the Lord revealed to him His all-holy Name (Exodus 3:13-16), which Moses would say to his people to explain Who had sent him. When He revealed His Name, the Lord reminded Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Thus, He established His continuing presence through Time. God created Time and his creatures live in time, therefore, even his Name is bound up with the promise of his presence extending in Time.  “He is present at all times, for He dominates time, He who is the First and the Last” (“Presence of God,” in Dict. of Biblical Theology, p. 455).

But again we come upon the question: What kind of “appearing” is this? God, who is Pure Spirit, made His presence known and felt to His creature, seen and heard by him. As in Part 1, the precise phrasing of the Dictionary of Biblical Theology comes to our aid:

“The presence of God, in order to be real, is not material, however. If this presence manifests through sensible signs, it is still the presence of a spiritual being whose love envelops His creature and vivifies it, whose love wishes to communicate itself to man and make of him a luminous witness of His presence.” (p. 455; emphasis added)

When we pray, to take a different example, we may feel God’s presence because he allows these sensible signs in us as our consolation, to strengthen the loving bond between us. As this relationship of prayer grows and deepens, this sensible consolation may be withdrawn by the Divine partner, so that our love can be strengthened further, in faith and trust, and become more selfless. We know He is there, even without the support of sensing his Presence.

But for Moses, the astonishing material manifestation of the paradoxical Burning Bush was chosen by God to confer this great mission on His prophet. It was a miracle operating in the great Providence of God.  This brings us to our next topic, a unique sort of Divine presence.


Gregory of Nyssa (c. 332-395),  one of the important Cappadocian fathers of the early Church, wrote a  Life of Moses.  Among many other fascinating observations, he discussed the Burning Bush as a type of Incarnation. Gregory pointed out both the ineffability of God and the physicality, or material nature, of the flaming Bush chosen to convey this event of his real Presence on Mount Horeb. He saw this Incarnation in the Burning Bush as a figure of the Incarnation of Christ, a Divine foreshadowing of the Word become flesh. Let me quote Gregory’s own words:

“It is upon us who continue in this quiet and peaceful course of life that the truth will shine, illuminating the eyes of our soul with its own rays. This truth, which was then manifested by the ineffable and mysterious illumination which came to Moses, is God. And if the flame by which the soul of the prophet was illuminated was kindled from a thorny bush, even this fact will not be useless for our inquiry. For if truth is God and truth is light–the Gospel testifies by these sublime and divine names to the God who made himself visible to us in the flesh*–such guidance of virtue leads us to know that light which has reached down even to human nature.  Lest one think that the radiance did not come from the material substance, this light did not shine from some luminary among the stars but came from an earthly bush and surpassed the heavenly luminaries in brilliance.” (The Life of Moses, Book II, 19, 20, p. 59)

By the Burning Bush, the Lord manifested His Divine Presence and gave proof of His continuing desire to be palpably close to His Chosen People. But how can we envision or understand this “appearing” of the Lord to Moses? Holy Scripture itself shows the way to an answer, and iconography, especially in the Eastern churches, has followed its lead. When He reveals his Name, the Lord reminds Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For each of these patriarchs, the “Angel of the Lord” was the means by which the invisible God would “appear” and interact with his beloved human creatures. This Angel was unique–it was not one of the created angels, the spiritual beings such as the archangels Michael, Raphael, or Gabriel, but rather the unique angelic manifestation of the “uncreated energies” of God Himself. Vladislav Andrejev proposes this distinction in his fascinating book The Angel of the Countenance of God: Theology and the Iconology of Theophanies (pp. x, 59).  As the Psalmist says,

“O Lord my God, thou art exceedingly great. Thou hast put on praise and beauty: And art clothed with light as with a garment” (Psalm 103 [104]:1-2; DR).

Icons use symbolic images to convey ineffable truths of faith such as these, the miraculous events revealed by Scripture and meditated upon in Sacred Tradition.  The Angel of the Lord, when depicted, is portrayed in many different ways depending on the scene and its interior meaning. To Abraham, the Lord appeared in a most extraordinary visit of three angelic dinner guests at the Oaks of Mamre:

Adonai appeared to Avraham by the oaks of Mamre as he sat at the entrance to the tent during the heat of the day. He raised his eyes and looked, and there in front of him stood three men. On seeing them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, prostrated himself on the ground, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, please don’t leave your servant. Please let me send for some water, so that you can wash your feet; then rest under the tree, and I will bring a piece of bread. Now that you have come to your servant, refresh yourselves before going on.” “Very well,” they replied, “do what you have said.” (Genesis 18:1-5; Complete Jewish Bible trans.).

The Trinity, Andrei Rublev, early 15th c. Wikimedia.

It says distinctly that the Lord, Adonai, appeared to Abraham, but when he raised his eyes and looked he saw three men (to whom he proceeded to serve a meal, with the help of his wife Sarah). Thus, the famous icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev depicts just this incident of the Lord’s appearing as three angelic travelers, who eat a meal and have a mysterious dialogue with Abraham, informing him that he and Sarah will have a son in a year’s time. Much later, at the decisive moment for both Abraham and his son Isaac, the Angel of the Lord called out to Abraham and stayed his hand to prevent him from completing the act of sacrifice of his beloved son, as soon as the obedient offering had been made in his heart (Genesis 22: 11-12). Icons of Abraham and Isaac at this moment may show the Lord as a hand reaching down from heaven, or as a fully depicted Angel intervening with Abraham to stop his imminent action. The icons are not meant to usurp the text but rather to reveal its significance, its impact on the soul of Abraham and thereby convey a spiritual truth to the contemplating viewer.  Again much later, when Isaac was old, his son Jacob would wrestle with the Angel of the Lord for a blessing, leaving Jacob forever marked in his hip and changed, bearing a new name, Israel (see Genesis 32:22-32; Hosea 12:3-5).

In his book, Andrejev considers the “Angel of the Lord” spoken of at crucial moments in Genesis and Exodus as incarnating only the “uncreated energies” of God,  acquainting His People with his Presence among them, and thereby preparing them for the fullness of the Lord’s Incarnation later, in the Messiah–the Christ–who is the God-Man, the eternal Word (Logos)-made-flesh. No one can see the full glory of God and live–that is, the full Beatific Vision is reserved for Heaven.  Yet when the Lord chose to manifest his Angel to His People, He not only directed and led them according to His Will, but the Lord also intensified their longing for Himself.

Blessed Virgin Mary as the “Unburnt Bush”

The Prophet Isaiah told King Ahaz that he would receive a prophetic sign: Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14). The Hebrew עִמָּנוּאֵל, ‘Immanu’el, means “God with us,” and this verse is quoted in the first chapter of the New Testament with its meaning:

Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying:  Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:22-23)

Both the Incarnation of the Son of God (at the Annunciation) and his Birth from the womb of a Virgin Mother were such great mysteries that the early Christians searched the prophecies and signs of the Messiah’s coming in the Law and the Prophets to deepen their understanding. The New Testament and the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Church are full of their findings.  In Catholic teaching, Mary is ever-Virgin: before, during, and after Jesus’ birth, and for the remainder of her earthly life.** 

First, the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 was understood as one complete thought, foretelling the miraculous birth of Jesus: Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son. Who will bear a son? This must refer back to the virgin, and this Child, who was the Messiah, was as miraculous in his birth as in his conception, not altering the virginity of his chosen Holy Mother.  

“St. Ambrose expressed this magnificently when he wrote: ‘This is the Virgin who conceived in her womb, the Virgin who bore a son. For thus it is written: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son (Is. 7:14). Not only is it said that the virgin would conceive, but that the virgin would bear a child.'” (See S. Manelli, All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed, p. 29, for more on this quote from Ambrose.)

The fact that the Gospel writer Matthew cites this prophecy in his first chapter, as he introduces Mary, Joseph, and the soon-to-be-born Jesus, confirms that he identifies Mary and Jesus with the Virgin and Child of Isaiah’s prophecy. The holy Fathers of the early Christian Church agreed (see Manelli, p. 30).

Another passage that was adduced to support Mary’s perpetual virginity comes from Ezekiel’s astonishing vision of the Temple, specifically his vision of the Gate of the outer sanctuary:

 And he brought me back to the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary, which looked towards the east: and it was shut.  And the Lord said to me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it, and it shall be shut. (Ezekiel 44:1-2)

Seeing Mary as the Gate of Heaven, the Church Fathers interpreted this passage as referring symbolically to Mary’s virginity before and after giving birth. After greeting Mary as “full of grace,” the angel declared: Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. (Luke 1:31). Mary asked how this could come about, because I know not man?   The angel answered, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee (Luke 1:34,35).  Thus, in line with Ezekiel’s vision, the Holy Ghost enters the womb of the Virgin Mother by overshadowing her and this Gate is shut, and not to be opened. As the Song of Songs poetically puts it, my spouse is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up (4:12). And St. Ambrose explains the prophetic symbolism:

“She is closed because she is a virgin; she is a gate, because Christ has entered through her…. This gate faces east, because she has given birth to him who rises, the sun of justice.” “Mary is the good gate that was closed and was not opened. Christ passed through it but did not open it.” (citations in Manelli, p. 73)

Why is this important? Mary occupies a position absolutely unique between heaven and earth.  She is chosen and prepared to be the sinless Mother of the Saviour, who will reconcile human beings to God, from whom they estranged themselves by sin.  Being uniquely the Mother of the Son of God, Mary is set apart, that is, consecrated, in a wholly extraordinary manner as the sinless and ever-Virgin Mother. Her womb is preserved free from all but the supernatural action of the Holy Trinity: the Father who chooses her from all eternity, the Holy Spirit who sanctifies and espouses her, and the Son who is incarnate of the Holy Spirit from her substance while retaining his Divine Nature. The Son of God will emerge from this Holy of Holies in which he has gestated without opening this Gate of Heaven.  Indeed, no word shall be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

St. Gregory of Nyssa, again in his Life of Moses, was the first to have written that the Burning Bush of Exodus prefigured Mary’s Virginity, unaltered by the Christ Child’s miraculous birth, in a particularly apt way. Continuing his discussion of the Light of the Burning Bush as a special Incarnation, Gregory wrote: “From this we learn also the mystery of the Virgin: The light of divinity which through birth shone from her into human life did not consume the burning bush, even as the flower of her virginity was not withered by giving birth” (The Life of Moses, 21, p. 59). As the Bush was not consumed even by a blazing Holy Fire, Mary’s Virginity was not consumed by the birth of the Son of God, but left intact.  Although a variety of icons portray Moses’ encounter with God in the Burning Bush, the icon called “The Unburnt Bush” takes up this Marian theme in a strikingly vivid way.  

The Icon of the Theotokos “Burning Bush” of the Old Testament. 19th century, Polissya, Ukraine. Wikimedia.

The Light of the Unconsumed Bush, which is the incarnate image of the ineffable God, now becomes the image of the Incarnate Son who is the Light of the World, the infant Jesus in the arms of His Ever-Virgin Mother.  At the bottom  of this icon, Moses is still tending his flock, not yet aware of the Theophany awaiting him. Here we are not in the realm of the literal. Icons are formally called “writings” rather than pictures because they offer a summary representation of spiritual teachings in a symbolic form, in order to stimulate contemplation and devotion. It is not being suggested that Moses saw Mary and the infant Christ.  He saw what Holy Scripture says he saw–the thorn bush burning but not consumed–and he heard the voice of the Lord. However, the icon creates a link between this theophany and another, the Nativity of the Lord, in which the newborn Infant Jesus appears bathed in his own Light, while Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds watch at his crib with loving adoration.  These two images propose to the viewer the contemplation of the properties they share. 

The Preface of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1962 Missale Romanum), which is said in all her festive and votive Masses, enshrines these divine mysteries of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus. It begins by giving thanks “to Thee, holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God” and says, in part, “that we should praise and bless and proclaim Thee” in the Annunciation (or whichever  feast is being celebrated) “of the blessed Mary ever Virgin: who conceived Thine only-begotten Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, and the glory of her virginity still abiding, gave forth to the world the eternal Light, Jesus Christ our Lord:…”  This miraculous birth brings us back to the icon of the Unburnt Bush. The Light of the World dawned (John 1:1-14) without consuming the virginity of the one who gave birth. Truly, the sign given to king Achaz had been fulfilled: “a virgin will conceive, and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14). As St. Ambrose noted long ago, both the “conceiving” and “bearing” of the son are predicated of the Virgin.

The two parts of this essay on the Burning Bush in Genesis have followed a line of contemplation that led us to the two Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Both of these loving Hearts are implicated in the Burning Bush in different ways. In Part 1, the Sacred Heart of Jesus burns with its divine fire of sacrificial love, eternally poured out to win souls. Fire and Light lead to the inexhaustible source of limitless Love.  Here in Part 2, the Immaculate Heart of Mary perfectly reflects this fire of mercy and love in its perpetual purity. The pure Presence of God so vivid in the Burning Bush is miraculously contained in the womb of the Virgin Mother in order that the Word can be made flesh and dwell among us. May our continuing contemplation of Moses at the Burning Bush, in the company of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, serve to set our own hearts ablaze with reverence and awe, and above all, with the holy Love that will never be consumed.

La Fuente, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary


* The editor of this edition cites in a footnote two sayings of Jesus alluded to by Gregory :“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12); and “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). See The Life of Moses, Bk II, Note 27, p. 159.

** For theological discussion and Biblical support for Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, see, for example, Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Bk 3, Part 3, chap. 2.5, pp. 220-224; Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Mother of the Saviour and our interior life, Part I, chap. 3, article 4, pp. 118-122; and Fr. Stefano M. Manelli, All Generations Shall Called Me Blessed: Biblical Mariology, “The Virgin Mother,” pp. 21-36, and “Marian Figures and Symbols,” especially pp. 71-79, on Mary as the Gate of Heaven in Ezekiel’s vision of the sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:1-2).


Dictionary of Biblical Theology (2nd ed.) by Xavier Léon-Dufour. Trans. by Geoffrey Chapman. Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 1988. (Original work published in French in 1962)

The Life of Moses by St. Gregory of Nyssa. Trans., Intro., and Notes by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.

The Angel of the Countenance of God: Theology and Iconology of Theophanies by Vladislav Andrejev. Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2021.

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott. Trans. by Patrick Lynch, and ed. by J. C. Bastible; rpt. ed. by Robert Fastiggi. Baronius Press, 2020. (Original work 1952)

The Mother of the Saviour and our interior life by Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Trans. by Rev. Bernard J. Kelly. Catholic Way Publishing, 2013. (Original work 1948)

All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed: Biblical Mariology by Fr. Stefano M. Manelli. Trans. by Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner. New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2005.

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The Burning Bush (1): Light, Love, and Creation


Moses and the Burning Bush, 12th-13th c. icon, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai. Wikimedia.


Exodus 3 brings us the call of Moses from the Burning Bush (also known as the “Unburnt Bush” in the Eastern Church). The icon above depicts very well the decisive moment when Moses, once a prince of Egypt, but now in exile and a shepherd of Midian, turns aside from his work to see this great sight on the mountain of God.

Now Moses fed the sheep of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he drove the flock to the inner parts of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt. And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am. And he said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. And he said: I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face: for he durst not look at God.
(Exodus 3:1-6)

Moses received his call only after he turned aside to see” (Exodus 3:4; RSVCE translation) the Burning Bush that was not consumed. What did this mysterious fire reveal to him? Holiness certainly. Once he began to approach, the Lord called him by name from out of the Bush, Moses, Moses, and when he answered, the Lord told him to remove his sandals because he stood on holy ground. The unlatching of his sandals is depicted in the icon above, and for Moses, the attitude of his whole body speaks of his willing awe and reverence. Indeed, the holy fire announces the Lord’s appearance, as His voice declares, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Whereas Moses has turned aside from his path expressly to see, now, with his mind illumined, he hides his face and does not dare to look. 

As a natural fire, which consumes its material, radiates light and heat, so too the fire of the Burning Bush conveys a supernatural Light, when applied to an encounter with the Lord.


The first day of Creation was all about Light.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

The Dictionary of Biblical Theology, in its entry for “Light & Dark,” highlights the primacy of light in God’s creative act:

“the separation of light and darkness was the first act of the Creator…. Light, like everything else, exists only as a creature of God….Like other creatures, light is a sign which visibly manifests some aspect of God. It is like a reflection of His glory.  As such, it is part of the literary device used to suggest theophanies. Light is God’s clothing (Ps 104,2).” (p. 316).

In the Psalms, one might well speak of the use of light as a literary device, and a very effective and beautiful one at that.

Bless the Lord, O my soul:

O Lord my God, thou art exceedingly great.

Thou hast put on praise and beauty:

and art clothed with light as with a garment. (Psalm 103 [104]: 1-2; Douay-Rheims)

In the Burning Bush, however, the Light of the Lord is no literary device, but part of the very substance of the manifestation of God in our reality, so that the human eye and mind can take it in.  The Fire burns and the Light attracts, to gain the attention of the one man, Moses, whom God has chosen to speak as He will direct him, to lead His people out of Egypt, and to make a new, more demanding covenant with Him. 

The Lord who speaks to Moses out of th Bush is clothed with fiery light, but this light is so much more than a sign.  The fear of the Lord which it engenders is indeed “the beginning of wisdom,” as the Proverb says. The Lord is the source of all true wisdom, and the Light of the Burning Bush manifests this. The light of the Living God will always be the  way and the truth. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths” (Psalm 118 [119]:1-5).

Only by this Light can we find our way to true peace and rest:

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
    Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, O Lord!”

Thou hast put more joy in my heart
    than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:6-8; RSVCE)

The Light of the Lord leads those who love Him to offer right praise and worship, for it is the Light of salvation, the wellspring of their lives, and their only help:

Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.

For thou art God my strength: why hast thou cast me off? and why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?

Send forth thy light and thy truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto thy holy hill, and into thy tabernacles.

And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.

To thee, O God my God, I will give praise upon the harp: why art thou sad, O my soul? and why dost thou disquiet me?

Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God. (Psalm 42[43]; Douay-Rheims)

This Psalm (Lat. Judica me, Deus, “Judge me, O God”) is prayed at the foot of the altar before every Mass in the Traditional Latin Mass (also called the “Extraordinary form).” In verse 3, the priest implores the Lord to Send forth thy light and thy truth” before he dares to ascend the steps and go unto thy holy hill, and into thy tabernacles”–the altar itself–to offer sacrifice.


The one God to whom we offer praise, worship, and sacrifice came in compassionate love to his people because He had heard their cry (Exodus 3:7).  This was true in Moses’ time and it is still true for us.

“the Heart which never ceased to burn with love for us, should be for the devout a haven of rest and for the penitent an open refuge of salvation” (from the Preface for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 1962 Roman Missal)

The Lord hears us because His Love is greater than all our disobedience and He will not be deterred. I could pile up examples from the Psalms and Prophets, from any book of the Hebrew Bible, but the single verse engraved in my memory, and which never fails to melt my heart, was spoken by the Lord through his holy and suffering prophet Jeremiah :

I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jer 31:3)

Love like this is the Burning Bush that is never consumed, the Flame that never goes out. Oh, let us never douse the answering flame in our hearts! Let us never turn away from it by sin or despair.

In his inspiring essay, “The Burning Bush,” Orthodox monk Lev Gillet meditates upon the “Limitless Love” which calls to us throughout our lives. He compares it to a “door of hope” which beckons our approach:

“Every day, at every moment, the door of hope opens before us. The resulting opportunity is different for each one of us. It may be that the door opens onto some exceptional task for which God has chosen us. But usually the opportunity or possibility brought to us by the present moment is not something spectacular or sensational. The door opens before us not so that we may do extraordinary deeds, but so that we may do the most ordinary things in an extraordinary way, thereby imparting to these ordinary things the temperature and the flame of the Burning Bush and the Love without limits.” (The Burning Bush, p. 28)

Let us imagine that we have “turned aside” from our daily work, as Moses  did, to investigate this unusual sight. Here is the ‘door’ now in front of us. What should we do? Gillet continues his parable:

“The door is about to open before me now. It is now–never tomorrow–that I must go through it. Perhaps the door appears to be shut. But what a lamentable mistake to sit in front of it, merely looking at it, waiting for someone else to come and open it for me! I have only to push gently (the beginning of an effort, or at least an intention, is necessary on my own part) and it will open of itself.” (p. 28)

Amazing! And how simple. Gillet gently reminds us now that this door only begins our approach to Limitless Love. It is like the betrothal of the union that will grow beyond our imaginings in Eternal Life.

Gillet brings out beautifully how in the book of the prophet Hosea, the Lord beckons Israel as a whole people to this spiritual marriage:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards,
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

 “And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Ba′al.’ “ (Hosea 2:14-16)

Now we can see the Biblical root of his metaphor of the door: I will… make the Valley of Achor a door of hope (see “The Door of Hope,” in The Burning Bush, pp. 23-29, for Gillet’s full discussion of this passage).

Jesus is that door of hope, the hope of a Light dawning in the world, which could conquer the darkness of sin and death and reconcile Earth and Heaven. Israel longed to see that day when the Messiah would come. 

Back to the Beginning

Although the great Prologue to John’s Gospel was written much later chronologically than the Book of Exodus, it begins at the Beginning, the same place as Genesis.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14; DR)

In the Beginning God spoke. All things were made from and through his Creative act. He made light and dark, day and night, land and water, life and fruitfulness, man and woman. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Hebrews, God continued to speak through his prophets, until the moment came when he would speak to us by his Son:

God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all,

In these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world.

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

The Son is Word, the Word that was with God and that was God, from the Beginning. He is Life, Light, and Glory. He has come as Love. The Love of God for men flamed forth in the Burning Bush, clothed in light and splendor. Then God so loved the world (John 3:16) that He sent his Word among us in Person–the Word became flesh–taking a human nature from his mother Mary and uniting it to his Divinity. As St. Paul would say in his letter to the Colossians, He “is the image of the Invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). God, remaining fully God, assumed a fully human nature, except for sin, through the mystery of the Incarnation.

Yet Jesus possessed the same fullness of Light as in the Burning Bush. It was present in his Divine nature but concealed from view. The transfiguration of the Lord’s human nature on Mount Tabor (referred to in John 1:14), and witnessed by Peter, James, and John (see Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, and Luke 9:28–36), revealed the splendor of that Light, which was always at work in the Incarnate Son. In that vision of Light were seen Moses and Elijah speaking with the Lord Jesus about the final Exodus from the bondage of sin that He was about the accomplish for us on the Cross. Jesus told his three disciples not to speak of this privileged vision, His Transfiguration in Light, until the Son of man is raised from the dead (Matthew 17:9), because only then would they even begin to understand its meaning. The Fire that was not consumed–the Light of eternal holiness and love that Moses beheld in the Burning Bush–still burns unceasingly in the Sacred Heart of the Risen Lord.  


It also burns in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Ever-Virgin, who is so perfectly united to her son.  In The Admirable Heart of Mary, St. John Eudes compares Mary’s Heart to the “Burning Bush of Moses,” because it is so completely filled by the same Love and Grace that ignited the Bush and enabled her Son’s Incarnation. (There will be much more to say about the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Burning Bush in Part 2 of this article.)

Every time we open Holy Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, we have a chance to hear the voice of the Lord, who kindles His flame in our hearts. Lev Gillet repeats the question raised by the disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). Gillet links the burning hearts of Emmaus to the fire on Mount Horeb, urging us to stay close to the Burning Bush, even allowing the Lord to draw us within it. He writes:

“We cannot remain within the Burning Bush unless we are constantly communicating to others the flame of which we are the carriers (and this is possible even when ‘the other’ is not physically present). … We should therefore give both shelter and warmth; we should help those who suffer from outward misfortunes and also those who suffer from interior sadness.” (p. 56)

Any encounter with this fire of Love, this unrivaled holiness, will surely draw us into deeper prayer and worship, but we must also be ready to undertake whatever works of mercy God has planned for us, however unlikely or challenging they may at first seem. Like Moses, we must be willing to turn aside in the midst of our daily duties to investigate and confront the mystery of this unceasing fire of love, and listen for our own call.  


Dictionary of Biblical Theology (2nd ed.) by Xavier Léon-Dufour. Trans. by Geoffrey Chapman. Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 1988. (Original work published in French in 1962)

The Burning Bush by Lev Gillet. Templegate Publishers, 1976.

The Life of Moses by St. Gregory of Nyssa. Trans., Intro., and Notes by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.

The Admirable Heart of Mary by Saint John Eudes. Trans. Charles di targiani and Ruth Hauser. Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, 1947. This saint died in 1680, but his complete writings were not published (in French) until 1905. This is his most important work, a very early treatment of devotion to the Sacred Hearts of both Jesus and Mary.

Related posts:

Mary’s Immaculate Heart, Our Sure Refuge for These Times


My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.

Thy plants are a paradise of pomegranates with the fruits of the orchard. Cypress with spikenard.

Spikenard and saffron, sweet cane and cinnamon, with all the trees of Libanus, myrrh and aloes with all the chief perfumes.

The fountain of gardens: the well of living waters, which run with a strong stream from Libanus. (Song of Songs 4:12-15)

Adam and Eve, our first parents, truly lived in “a garden enclosed,” “a fountain sealed,” the paradise of Eden. But human beings did not truly appreciate their peaceable union with their Creator until they were cast out, and had to yearn and seek again for the only true paradise, that is, an unbroken loving, friendship with God, on earth and in Heaven. Moreover, in Eden, they had already lost their first battle with the great tempter, Satan, the serpent, who had chosen eternally to oppose God rather than to serve Him and obey His will in all things, including obedient service under Christ, the Son and Saviour, and His holy human Mother, who would be Queen of Heaven. All this was foreseen at the moment of choice, and Satan foresook his God to be instead the chief devil in Hell, who would also “prowl about the earth seeking the ruin of souls” (St Michael prayer). Or, as St Peter put it, “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Where would God’s human creatures — “poor banished children of Eve,” as the prayer “Hail, Holy Queen!” calls us — ever find refuge in a world fallen away from the grace of God? How would we endure what would prove to be a long, many centuries’ struggle full of toil, pain, tears, temptations, and difficulties of all kinds, in the hope of one day returning to God? Above all, God Himself would be “our refuge and strength: a helper in troubles” (Psalm 45:2; DR).

Lord, thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation. Before the mountains were made or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity thou art God. (Psalm 89:1-2)

He would come successively to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, and to David, to make a series of covenants with his people, Israel, who were called to receive his revelations and to witness to His goodness, love, and mercy. They were to live righteously with Him, observing all that He commanded for their good to preserve them in truth. 

The world was still full of temptations to infidelity to God, and there were many falls, but God would send his prophets faithfully to call His people back to Himself, that they might lead all peoples ultimately to reunion with Him. He gave them many chances to declare, as Joshua did at Shechem:

Choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve,…but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. –Joshua 24:15

The Lord wished to dwell with his people, to help and counsel them, to instruct them in everything they would need to do in order to be faithful to him. As the people wandered in the desert, he would dwell with them in a movable tabernacle (מִשְׁכָּן‎, mishkān, a dwelling) within the tent of meeting (אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵד֩ ’ōhel mō‘êḏ).   He instructed them (see Exodus 25 -27) exactly how they should build the Tabernacle, and most important, how to build an Ark to hold the covenant, the holy tablets of the Law given to Moses on Sinai. Both the Tabernacle and the Ark would go with the people wherever they went. In the culminating 40th chapter of Exodus, Moses pitched the Tabernacle and set up all its prescribed appurtenances. He put the tablets of the Law in the Ark and brought it on its poles into the Tabernacle, and “he drew the veil before it to fulfil the commandment of the Lord” (Exodus 40:19). After he had done all this, the Spirit of the Lord came and filled the Tabernacle in the glory cloud.

Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation (אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, ’ōhel mō‘êḏ), and the glory (כָּבוֹד, kāḇôḏ) of the Lord filled the tabernacle (מִשְׁכָּן, mishkān)And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.  For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:34-38; KJV)

More than four hundred years later, King Solomon, David’s son, would build the first immovable Temple, in great splendor (see 1 Kings 5-8).  It would contain the Tabernacle, where the glory of the Lord would come, that God might dwell with his people, and the Ark of the Covenant would be placed within the Holy of Holies.

In the Psalms, we can see that men began to see the Tabernacle as providing a means of expressing, in an interior way, God as their refuge in time of trouble.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple.

For he hath hidden me in his tabernacle; in the day of evils, he hath protected me in the secret place of his tabernacle. –Psalm 26(27):1,4-5

Our God is our refuge and strength: a helper in troubles, which have found us exceedingly.

Therefore we will not fear, when the earth shall be troubled; and the mountains shall be removed into the heart of the sea.

Their waters roared and were troubled: the mountains were troubled with his strength.

The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful: the most High hath sanctified his own tabernacle. –Psalm 45(46):2-5

The greatest proof of God’s desire to dwell with men and women is the Incarnation of the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. God desired to dwell with humanity in person, by taking to himself a human nature; the Incarnate Son would be both fully human and fully divine. Here was the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Abraham to his son Isaac: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). For Abraham, this was fulfilled by the ram caught in the thorn bush, to be sacrificed in place of his son Isaac. But it also pointed to the Lord’s sending of his own Son as the Lamb of God, who would perfectly atone for the sins of the world, wearing a crown of thorns. This Son would reconcile humanity to God the Father by offering a perfect sacrifice, once and for all, of himself. 

To prepare for this unprecedented event, the most High hath sanctified his own tabernacle (Psalm 45:5). He prepared a fit tabernacle for his Coming and a new Ark in which to dwell for the nine months of a baby’s gestation. 

And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.  Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.  And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.  And of his kingdom there shall be no end. –Luke 1:26-33

Mary was declared by the Angel Gabriel to be “full of grace” and “blessed” among women. She had been sanctified from the moment of her Conception by the prevenient (antecedent and foreseen) grace won by her Son’s act of Redemption, and thereby preserved from bearing the Original Sin of Adam and Eve; hence her Immaculate Conception allowed her to become a fit tabernacle for the Most High, the Ark of the New Covenant.  But it was still required that she agree to become the Mother of the Messiah, for God made his human creatures in His own image, with the noblest gift of His love, our free will.

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?  

And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.  And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren:  Because no word shall be impossible with God.

And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.  –Luke 1:34-38

In her womb, the new Adam, the Messiah,  was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit), and he would grow in this spotless Paradise for the normal term of nine months. When St. John the evangelist undertook to describe the Incarnation of the Son (his Gospel was the last to be written), he understood the deep relationship of this event to the coming of God’s Spirit to accompany his people wandering in the desert, by filling their Tabernacle with his glory. In the beautiful Prologue to his Gospel, John explains:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. …

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 14)

Since John’s Gospel is in Greek, I compared John 1:14 to Exodus 40:34 in the Greek LXX Septuagint. The Greek word used in John for dwelt has the same root, σκηνόω (skēnoō), as the Greek word for tabernacle in Exodus 40:34. The tabernacle is the dwelling of God. Also, the Greek root word for glory, δόξα (doxa), is used in both John 1:14 and Exodus 40:34. Therefore, the Word was made flesh in Mary’s womb, and dwelt in her as in a Tabernacle, when the glory cloud of God’s Holy Spirit overshadowed her at the Annunciation. John makes clear that he is referring to the miraculous Incarnation in Mary, by repeating St. Luke’s phrase, full of grace, spoken by the Angel Gabriel to greet her. Furthermore, he testifies to seeing the glory of Jesus as an adult in his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (see, e.g, Luke 9:28-36).

He received his fully human nature from Mary and his fully divine nature from the Holy Ghost, two natures in the one Person of Christ.  As the angel promised, the birth of Jesus did not alter her Blessed Virginity–she would keep her vow to the Lord. Our Lady is truly “a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed” (Song of Songs 4:12), the only Immaculate, Virgin Mother.  She was and is a living miracle and yet a real human woman, not divine, but now glorified in Heaven. And she extends her Motherhood, by the power of God, to all her children, that is, to all human beings.

Two people who must have been the first to recognize the miracle of Mary’s maternity were Mary’s older cousin Elizabeth and her own gestating infant, who would be named John, and later called John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth was already six months pregnant, expecting the son of her husband, the priest Zechariah. Mary did not hesitate to travel to help her.

And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda.  And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth.  And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.  And Mary said:

My soul doth magnify the Lord.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.

He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:

As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. –Luke 1:39-55

The exalted state of Mary’s soul at this time was revealed in this ever beautiful prayer of praise, the Magnificat, where she gives all the glory to God. The effects of the Incarnation were already at work through her, for the newly conceived Jesus was  able to sanctify his prophet, John, who leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary, as King David had leaped and danced before the Lord in the Ark of the Covenant (2 Kings 6:14-16).

We too cannot help but praise Mary (Ave Maria! Hail Mary!) who said yes to being the Mother of Jesus. She knew from the prophecies of Isaiah that the Messiah would be a Man of Sorrows and suffer greatly, and she would suffer with him. She is our Refuge in suffering because she accepted the sorrows as willingly as she accepted the glories and the joys.

As the chosen Mother of the Messiah, Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, the fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 7:14), and the Tabernacle of the Most High. When the heavenly Father sent his Son to redeem his fallen children, and free them from the bondage of sin and death, He might have achieved the Incarnation another way. But in his divine Wisdom and Providence, He chose to accomplish the miraculous Incarnation through the maternity of Mary. She would give to her Son his human nature, united perfectly to his Divine nature received from the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, in the one Person of Jesus. As Saint Louis de Montfort emphasized, God desired to give us Jesus through Mary, and likewise, God desires us to return to Jesus with the help of his Holy Mother. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus said to Mary, “Behold your son” (John 19:26) to his beloved disciple John, who stood with her at Calvary.   And to John, he said, “Behold your mother.” The Church has always taken this mutual gift effected by Jesus to be the type of the relationship all his disciples should have with Mary: she is the  true spiritual mother of all disciples and the Mother of the Church.

Mary was given a unique role as the Mediatrix of all graces. We might imagine that Mary’s mediation would remove us farther away from God. On the contrary, she draws us in closer to each person of the Trinity, as she is daughter of God the Father, mother of God the Son, and chosen spouse of the Holy Spirit. St. Louis de Montfort said:

“It is by her that Jesus Christ came, and it is by her that we must go to Him. If we fear to go directly to Jesus Christ our God, whether because of His infinite greatness, or because of our vileness, or because of our sins, let us boldly implore the aid and intercession of Mary our Mother.  She is good, she is tender….  In seeing her, we see our pure nature [human nature in its purest state]. She is not the sun, who, by the vivacity of his rays, blinds us because of our weakness; but she is fair and gentle as the moon, which receives the light of the sun, and tempers it to render it more suitable to our capacity. She is so charitable that she repels none of those who ask her intercession, no matter how great sinners they have been…” (True Devotion to Mary, Part II, #85)

The grace that effects our salvation was won solely by Jesus on the Cross: a perfect sacrifice, himself a spotless victim, offered freely to his Father in love, for our redemption.  But those graces are applied to human souls through the sacraments, through prayer, and however God wills. But human beings must be willing to receive this abundant love of God and not continue to turn away from Him in sin and practical atheism.

“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” –John 14:23

Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. –Revelation 3:19-20

Mary’s one desire is to lead all her children to her Son during their earthly life and, when it is done, back to the Father’s house in Heaven. Her will is perfectly united with the will of her son Jesus. Another way of saying this is that the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus are united in the same love for souls.


Doves and the Hearts of Mary and Jesus. Holy Card Heaven,

Her many honorific titles testify to the operation of grace among her children in the past two thousand years and how it has been understood and appreciated:

Holy Mother of God, Holy Virgin of Virgins, Mother of Christ, Mother of Divine Grace, Mother most pure, Mother of our Creator, Mother of our Saviour, Virgin most merciful, Virgin most faithful, Mirror of justice, Seat of wisdom, Cause of our joy, Spiritual vessel, Mystical rose, Tower of David, Ark of the covenant, Gate of Heaven, Morning star, Health of the sick, Refuge of Sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, Queen of angels, Queen of patriarchs, Queen of prophets, Queen of apostles, Queen of martyrs, Queen conceived without original sin, Queen assumed into Heaven, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Queen of peace. (These are only some of the titles given to Mary in the Litany of Loreto.)

She is our Refuge, and we can entrust, or consecrate, ourselves to her along with the fruits of all our prayers, our labors, our joys and sorrows of each day, and know that she will use them most wisely for the glory of God, for our own salvation, and for the salvation of others, in order that the whole world might be saved. When we consecrate ourselves to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, we can learn to remain in her “tabernacle,” our Refuge, in contact with the sanctifying grace of our Lord’s Heart, which will protect us “in the day of evils.”

Hail, then, O Immaculate Mary, living Tabernacle of the Divinity, in which the Eternal Wisdom deigned to be hidden and to be adored by Angels and by men! Hail, O Queen of Heaven and earth to whose empire is subject everything that is under God! Hail, O sure Refuge of sinners, whose mercy fails no one! Grant the desire which I have to obtain the Divine Wisdom, and for this end deign to accept the offering and promises which my lowliness presents to Thee. (Excerpt from the “Act of Consecration to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, by the hands of Mary” by Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort; from The True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, Baronius Press, 2015; emphasis added)

As God sent his prophets to his people when they strayed from him, in our time He has sent Mary many times to warn and instruct us. In the last 200 years, it seems that Mary’s appearances (apparitions) on the earth have come with greater frequency and urgency. Of the very many apparitions, I will mention only a few among those which have been approved by the Catholic Church after extensive, careful investigation. Mary appeared: in the Rue de Bac, Paris, to Catherine Labouré (1830); at La Salette, to the children Mélanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud (1846); at Lourdes, to Bernadette Soubirous (1858); and in Fatima, Portugal, to the child Lúcia dos Santos, and her young cousins Jacinta and Francísco Marto (1917).  The  six appearances of Our Lady at Fatima, along with her later appearances to “Sr. Lucy,” as Lúcia became, at Pontevedra and Tuy, Spain, are Our Lady’s most important recent apparitions and the best guide she has given us. And, they are deeply focused on quite literally showing us her Immaculate Heart and teaching us how to take spiritual refuge in it, including by praying the daily Rosary faithfully and by total consecration to Jesus through Mary.

In the June 13, 1917 apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Mary told young Lucia two vital truths: “my Immaculate Heart will be your refuge” and “my Son wishes to establish devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” In the first statement, “my Immaculate Heart will be your refuge,” Mary was offering a great promise of comfort to the child Lucia who was sad after learning that her cousins would soon be taken to Heaven (they died in 1919 and 1920 during the flu epidemic), but she, Lucia, would need to stay on the earth a very long time (she lived until 2005) in order to spread and explain the devotion to her Immaculate Heart. From the apparition:

[Lucia:] “I would like to ask you to take us to Heaven.”

[Our Lady:] “Yes, I will take Jacinta and Francisco soon. But you are to stay here some time longer. Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and those souls will be loved by God like flowers placed by Me to adorn His throne.”

[Lucia:] “Am I to stay here alone?” I asked sadly.

[Our Lady:] “No, my daughter. Do you suffer much? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”

As Our Lady spoke these last words, she opened her hands and, for the second time, she communicated to us the rays of that same immense light. We saw ourselves in this light, as it were, immersed in God. Jacinta and Francisco seemed to be in that part of the light that rose towards Heaven, and I, in that which was poured out on the earth.  In front of the palm of Our Lady’s right hand was a heart encircled by thorns that pierced it. We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity and seeking reparation. (Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words, p. 177; emphasis added)

Our Lady of Fatima

We should not wonder at the promise of salvation, because devotion to the Immaculate Heart is not some special new gospel, but rather a way of comprehensively embracing and following the whole Gospel of Mary’s son, Jesus. Every element of the devotion (daily Rosary, First Saturday devotion, Consecration) refers us entirely to the birth, teaching, suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. As Mary accompanied her son, from the moment of his Conception, to standing at the foot of his Cross, to his Ascension into Heaven, she accompanies us as we grow in love and fidelity to Jesus through prayer, worship, and repentance from sin.

All through her life, Lucia continued to reflect on all that Mary had told her, and she faithfully carried out her mission to make Our Lady and her Immaculate Heart known and loved.  Here are excerpts from two of her letters written in the 1940s, along with the footnoted sources of them:

«I always remember the great promise which fills me with joy: “You will never be alone. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the road which will lead you to God.” I believe that this promise is not for me alone, but for all souls who wish to take refuge in the Heart of their Heavenly Mother, and let themselves be drawn wherever She leads them… It seems to me that these are also the intentions of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: to make this ray of light shine before souls, to show them once more this Port of Salvation, always ready to welcome all the shipwrecked of this world… As for myself, even as I savour the delicious fruits of this beautiful garden, I strive to make them more available to souls, so that there they may quench their thirst with grace, comfort, and heavenly aid.»69

In another letter, Sister Lucy reports confidences made by Our Lord Himself:

«I desire most ardently, He says, the propagation of the cult of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, because the love of this Heart attracts souls to Me; it is the centre from which the rays of My light and My love go through all the earth, and the unquenchable fountain from which the living water of My mercy flows into the earth.»70

69 Letter to Mother Cunha Mattos, April 14, 1945, FCM, p. 21-22. Cf, our Vol. III, p. 150-151.

70 Letter of May 27, 1943, to the Bishop of Gurza. FCM, p. 62-63. Cf. our Vol. III, p. 149-150.

(From The Whole Truth About Fatima, Vol. II: The Secret and the Church, chap. II.V.)

Let us honor her by recognizing her Immaculate Heart as our refuge and by taking shelter there, to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). 

As Fr. Karl Stehlin explains in his book Fatima: A Spiritual Light for Our Times, the Devotion to the Immaculate Heart is interior veneration and love, our close relationship with Mary, placing our heart in her Heart, as a trustful child does, when placing her hand and heart in her mother’s care. The “cult” is not some mysterious secret practice but rather it is simply the public veneration of Mary, honoring her for her indispensable role in salvation as the Mother of Our Lord, observing and celebrating her feasts such as her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, and, especially, receiving the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession on First Saturdays and making our Consecration to Jesus through her Immaculate Heart. We do these things with the awareness that Mary’s Heart is united with her Son’s Sacred Heart, and most important, that Jesus is in the closest possible communion of relationship with God the Father: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). As one writer puts it, “Our Lady doesn’t stand between us and Jesus but brings us to Jesus and Jesus to us” (Fatima and the First Saturdays, p. 24).

Mary’s perfect humble devotion to the Most Holy Trinity, and her conformity to Christ, along with her many virtues, serve as model and guide to us, her children by adoption through Jesus.  We can never repay the goodness of our Lord, Jesus, in giving us his Mother to be our Mother too. Only by love, and more love, can we begin now to offer love for love, in return for the outpouring of love from these two Hearts. 

For more information on making the Total Consecration to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, see the following Resources.  I have also included some resources on the apparitions at Fatima.


Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary

True Devotion to Mary: With Preparation for Total Consecration by Saint Louis de Montfort; trans. by Frederick William Faber. Catholic Way Publishing. St Louis de Montfort (1673-1716) wrote the work during the course of his missionary preaching but it was lost until 1842. The Faber translation into English was originally published in 1863. This edition includes the classic 33-day preparation of prayers and readings before making the Act of Consecration of oneself to Jesus through Mary.

The True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort. Baronius Press, 2006, 2015. Beautiful hardcover reprint.

True Devotion to Mary, with Preparation for Total Consecration by Saint Louis de Montfort. TAN Classics. TAN Books, 2010.

Family Consecration to Jesus through Mary: 33 Days of Preparation with Saint Louis de Montfort by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. Sophia Institute Press, 2020. Cooper O’Boyle beautifully crafts a 33-day preparation with prayers, inspirational quotes, and activities, with special sections geared for parents and for children. For the Family Consecration Day, she offers alternative prayers for Adults, for Children, and for Adults and Children together. She concludes with a helpful chapter on living your Marian consecration.

33 Days to Morning Glory by Michael E. Gaitley. Marian Press, 2011. Fr. Gaitley’s excellent book offers a popular alternative preparation for Total Consecration, based on the teachings of four saints exemplary for their Marian devotion: Louis de Montfort, Maximilian Kolbe, Teresa of Calcutta, and John Paul II.

Total Consecration to Mary (Spouse of the Spirit): A Nine-day Preparation for Individuals or Groups in the Spirit of St. Maximilian Kolbe by Anselm W. Rolb. Marytown Press, 2004. With numerous quotes from the saint’s writings.

How to Make Your St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary.” Although the Catholic Company also offers products, this instructional page provides helpful links to all the free content necessary to make St. Louis de Montfort’s 33-day preparation for Total Consecration.

Fatima Apparitions

Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s MemoirsEd. by Fr. Louis Kondor; trans. by Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary. Fundação Francisco e Jacinto Marto, 21th edition, July 2017.  Sister Lucia wrote several memoirs, at the instigation of her religious superiors, to record the apparitions and locutions she received, along with her biographical reminiscences about Jacinta and Francisco, and the children’s experiences of persecution during and after the period of the apparitions. Nevertheless, the October 1917 apparition, the “Miracle of the Sun” promised by Our lady was witnessed by more than 70,000 people, including pilgrims, journalists, skeptics and atheists, and even sailors miles away at sea.

The Whole Truth About Fatima, Vol. II. The Secret and the Church by Michel de la Sainte Trinité. Trans. by John Collarafi. Immaculate Heart Publications, 1989 (First published 1984). This volume is the second in a trilogy of books, which are considered the most authoritative and complete, reflecting the author’s extensive research into all the documents on Fatima and the papers of Sr. Lucia. Comprehensive and insightful. Paperback copies are rare and hard to find, especially for Volume I, but the full trilogy is available online at  which also includes links to for obtaining other formats such as epub and mobi (kindle).

Fatima: A Spiritual Light for Our Times, Volume I by Fr. Karl Stehlin. Kolbe Publications, 2016. See chap. 8 on the second apparition of Our Lady, on June 13, 1917.

Fatima and the First Saturdays. First Saturdays Book Series,, 2017. 

Bible Study Resource Online

Blue Letter Bible: Bible Search and Study Tools.  Search for verses (or words) and find word-by-word annotations in Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament), with Strong’s Concordance numbers for words in the King James Version.  Excellent tool via desktop website or phone app.

Tota pulchra es, Maria! Immaculata, pray for us!

Notre-Dame-des-Eaux, Saint-Gildard, Nevers. In a favorite garden frequented by St. Bernadette. Credit: Cypris, via Wikimedia.

“Tota pulchra es” is a 4th century Catholic prayer of praise to the Immaculate Virgin, set to music by many composers, and chanted by the Church in the Divine Office for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Tota pulchra es, Maria.
Et macula originalis non est in Te.
Tu gloria Ierusalem.
Tu laetitia Israel.
Tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tu advocata peccatorum.
O Maria, O Maria.
Virgo prudentissima.
Mater clementissima.
Ora pro nobis.
Intercede pro nobis.
Ad Dominum Iesum Christum.

You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [spot] (of sin) is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem,
you are the joy of Israel,
you give honour to our people.
You are an advocate of sinners.
O Mary,
Virgin most intelligent,
Mother most merciful.
Pray for us,
Plead for us,
To the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is based on a verse from the Song of Songs, in which the Bridegroom praises the beauty of the Bride:

Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee. (Song of Songs, 4:7)

It is a glorious exclamation of God’s love for a soul steeped in purity, and therefore, it is the ideal praise for Mary, the purest of human souls before Christ–He who will be both fully human and fully divine, two natures in one Person. Chosen to be the Mother of God, the God-Bearer (Theotokos), the Ark of the New Covenant, Mary was prepared by God to be Immaculate from the first moment of her own conception. The Incarnation of the Word of God, the Divine Child, is therefore to be placed in a spotless Ark, a bride preserved from the original sin of our first human parents, who disobeyed God in the Garden. Therefore, she is prefigured as the Bride of the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs.

And yet the Holy Spirit fairly blushes to come and claim his Bride at the moment of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), sending the Angel Gabriel ahead to ask for her hand, for her free agreement to be his spouse and the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. The Angel’s first words of greeting–Hail, full of grace!–praise her purity, her unique blessedness before God.

We human souls are not spotless like the Bride in the Song of Songs, and we know it. If we know ourselves, we can say with royal David in his great penitential Psalm 50(51) that indeed, we know our sins, and they are ever before us (50:5). They are present to our inward eyes and our memory. But by God’s tender mercies, we can be washed, little by little, again and again, in prayer, through repentance and the sacraments.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity.

Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. (Psalm 50:3-4, 11-14)

Who better to help us, what better companion in prayer, than the spotless Mary, the Immaculata? She is called “advocate of sinners” in the hymn. She is invoked in the Miraculous Medal prayer, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Full of maternal love, she is ever ready to intercede for us, taking all our miseries to the Merciful Heart of her Son Jesus. Just the thought of her perfect beauty–Tota pulchra es–raises our own hearts and minds to a higher place, where the journey seems easier, and our own burdens lighter. The hymn also takes a verse from the Book of Judith (15:10) to praise her : Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people. Let the thought of Mary Immaculate encourage us. Humbly, we can follow her example and imitate her virtues. The whole Song of Songs is an extended series of poems on the soul’s journey to God, describing the wonderful and sometimes painful work that the Holy Spirit will do in a soul, even a soul like ours, when we offer ourselves faithfully in prayer, willing to be transformed in perfect love.

Here is a chanted version of Tota Pulchra Es that includes even more verses from the Song of Songs (see the description under the video on Youtube):


*Text and translation from: .

Jesus built his Church on the Rock of Peter

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82), Fresco, Sistine Chapel. Wikimedia.

Jesus built his Church on the Rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18) and promised that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Here is the context:

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-19; KJV)

Therefore, we should have confidence in Jesus, that He knows what He is doing in building His Church, even with the imperfect men–all–who must occupy the See of Peter. Mark Mallett (in the video below) explains that the confusions in teaching that Christ has allowed at this time have made it a time of sifting (Luke 22:31), like that Jesus spoke of during the Last Supper.

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:

But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.

And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. (Luke 22:31-34)

Peter was “sifted” and sorely tempted by Satan. He denied his Lord three times. But Jesus prayed for him, knowing this would happen, and instructed him that when he repented (i.e., converted, turned back to Jesus), he should strengthen his brethren. That is the role of the Pope among the Bishops and priests even today. Imperfect men will fail our Lord, and their flocks, and need to repent and turn back to him, not once but many times. The Pope was charged by Jesus to be the Rock, guarding the deposit of faith, so that he might strengthen his brethren and all the faithful in times like these, through all time, until Jesus returns.

Through the successor of Peter, Jesus remains “a sign which shall be spoken against,” “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34,35). Mallett explains well how to distinguish when the Pope–any Pope–is teaching infallibly (ex Cathedra), when he is teaching in his ordinary magisterium, and when he is speaking off the cuff or giving his own opinions; the first (and rarest) requires our complete assent of faith, the second is for our edification in faith and morals, and the third may justly elicit our respectful disagreement. Even the ordinary magisterium may be subject to the respectful correction of brother Bishops, if it should depart from the constant teaching of the Church in the deposit of faith and tradition (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15; KJV: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”)

Jesus established his Church, which is beginning to go through its own Passion.* Therefore, staying close to Christ, we are wise to stay close to what He established, and its “true magisterium” in the constant deposit of faith, so that we may be found faithful to Him to the end.

See Mark Mallett, “Remaining on the Rock”:

I also recommend this excellent article at Catholic Stand, “The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Church (Part 1),” by Karol Orsborn. She considers the proper attitude of the laity toward their Popes, at all times, but especially during this time of terrible scandal, sin, and confusion in the Church, and the obligation to pray for our Pope. We as laity must pray for Pope Francis, the bishops, and priests throughout the Church, as Jesus prayed for Peter in his night of temptation before Good Friday.

A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Dr. Ralph Martin is an excellent book for getting perspective on the crisis in the Church and in the papacy, along with sound teaching on the best ways we can respond.


*See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which explains this necessary time in the Church, “The Church’s Ultimate Trial,” prophesied in Scripture (especially, Revelations 19 to 21).

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. [CCC, 675]

The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world. [CCC, 677]


Catechism of the Catholic Church (second edition). Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Also online at . Article 7 of the Creed includes the discussion of the Church’s ultimate trial and passover.

Mark Mallett, “Remaining on the Rock,” Queen of Peace Media, Youtube: , April 2, 2021.

“The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Church (Part 1),” by Karol Orsborn, Catholic Stand, September 27, 2018.

A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Ralph Martin. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2020.

“Yet Will I Trust in Him”: A Meditation on Job’s Immovable Faith

Job [detail], Gonzalo Carrasco (1881). Wikimedia.


Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. (Job 13:15; KJV)

Job is praying in his great affliction. In a series of sudden and catastrophic events, Job, who is described in the very first verse as “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil,” loses nearly everything that makes up his life: first, his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and all his servants who tended them; then, his daughters and sons; and finally, his own health and reputation. His wife blames him. His friends deride him and suspect him of some hidden sin. Hardest of all to bear, God seems to have deserted him, after blessing him for so many years. Without Job’s awareness, God has consented to let Satan test him in the most severe of trials, just short of taking Job’s life.

Yet, his statement of faith and trust is one of the strongest in all of Scripture. It is worth much long reflection and prayer. The arguments that Job and his friends exchange about God and the nature of suffering are sublime and revelatory–especially after Job’s climactic dialogue with God himself–but the linchpin of this profound book is Job’s unwavering faith. It is inexplicable to his friends, yet it plunges him into the heart of God, provoking an even deeper confession of faith at the end. God knew Job, as he knew Jeremiah (“before I formed you in the womb I knew you” Jeremiah 1:5), and He trusted Job–enough to honor Job’s righteous questioning with an answer from the whirlwind, a manifestation of God’s glory so powerful that Job was led to “repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). What is inexplicable to Job’s censorious friends must become explicable to us, if we seek to trust the Lord as Job did.

Job’s Tormentors, William Blake (c1785-1790). Wikimedia.

In his book Hebrew Word Study: Revealing the Heart of God, Chaim Bentorah devotes a full chapter to this verse and explains how the Hebrew verbs chosen, here translated as “slay” and “trust,” reveal the force and conviction of Job’s declaration.

The root word for “slay” is a rare word, qatal (קָטַל).* Bentorah says that it “can mean not only a physical killing but also a killing of the spirit or the killing of all hope” (p. 341). The root of the verb used for “trust,” yachal (יָחַל) is also rare, and has the connotation of “waiting with expectant hope.” In other words, Job, though fully expecting to die, utterly bereft of God’s support–still he will persist in trust and hope, never breaking the relationship himself.

For comparison, consider Psalm 27, a Psalm of David, in which, surrounded by adversaries, with a host of enemies encamped around him, David begs the Lord not to cast him off:

Hide not thy face from me.

Turn not thy servant away in anger,
    thou who hast been my help.
Cast me not off, forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me up.

Teach me thy way, O Lord;
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    yea, wait for the Lord!
(Psalm 27:9-14; RSV)

Job’s trust is like this, and extends even beyond death, when earthly hope seems exhausted. Job waits and hopes even when the Lord withdraws from him and seems poised to wrench him from the land of the living. He trusts the Lord even into the unknown future.

What is the basis of Job’s trust and can we base our trust on the same foundation?

Job was not an Israelite, but rather from the mysterious land of Uz. He did not have the promises of the God’s covenant with Abraham, nor the further covenant with Moses. Lawrence Feingold describes Job as a “just pagan” and highlights the importance of his outsider status:

“He represents the upright man outside the influence of God’s revelation. His experience of suffering is heightened by the fact that he is not comforted directly by the hope of Israel, but only by the common patrimony of natural religion present in what is best in human culture.” (The Mystery of Israel and the Church, Vol. 2, p. 72)

Nevertheless, he feared God and even had the habit of making atoning sacrifices for his children’s possible sins. He had come to a natural understanding of God’s created order that finds echoes in the other Biblical writings. With the Psalmist Job could say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). This was Job’s state in prosperity, but after he suffered God’s testing he might have said, with Isaiah:

All the nations are as nothing before him,
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nought,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
(Isaiah 40:17, 21-24; RSV)

Job had been a sort of “prince” of Uz with wealth, many animals, many children, and many servants in his care, and indeed God permitted Satan to blow on them and carry them all off like stubble. When they were all gone, he proclaimed:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:21-22)

When his wife despairs and urges him to give up and curse God, Job replies, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). With all his blessings, Job had also acquired wisdom and fortitude, and possessed a philosophical mind sharpened by self-examination.

In his level of trustful acceptance of God’s will, he reminds me of Abraham, the prototypical giant of faith, who accepted God’s test of his faith, when the Lord commanded him to prepare to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac (Genesis 22). When the Lord stayed Abraham’s hand and provided a ram for the sacrifice instead, He recognized Abraham’s faith and promised him a superabundant blessing: “because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore” (Genesis 22:16-17). But Job’s predicament was quite different. Job’s children were suddenly taken away without his consent, and God’s apparent favor was replaced with unspeakable suffering. Yet the collision of his suffering with his faith yielded a new level of faith and trust, raised to a supernatural degree.

Natural trust may depend on blessings and promises fulfilled, but supernatural trust must come from within, from a heart bonded in relationship to God. By the end of the Book of Job, he knows more deeply who God is and who he is in relation to God. The promises of God are seen in a new light as well–as fulfilled but not without the persistent element of mystery, the veil that still separates the humble creature from the Creator.

In his discussion of Job’s words, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” Chaim Bentorah argues persuasively that Job’s faith goes well beyond the realm of promised gifts or favors in this life. Indeed, he says that Job is saying the opposite: even if God appears to break all his promises, yet will I trust in him. Such trust suggests an unshakable love. How else could it survive on so little visible food? Moreover, he was confident in God’s justice, and insisted on a hearing before God: “but I will maintain mine own ways before him. He also shall be my salvation” (Job 13:15-16; KJV). Job would defend his own uprightness, resting assured that God himself would acquit and save him from an unfair judgment.

Bentorah also remarks that the Epilogue (Job 42:10-17), in which Job’s goods and family are doubly “restored” to him, does not contradict the theme of Job’s supernatural faith and fidelity. It never depended on such a visible restoration. He concludes:

“The theme of the story of Job is that when everything was taken away from him, and it seemed like his life was going to end in poverty and shame, he still trusted God; he was waiting and hoping expectantly to be with the God whom he loved.” (p. 343).

So, we can say that love is the basis for Job’s unshakable trust, and it should be ours as well.

The restoration of Job’s possessions, prosperity, and family life may seem to be proof of God’s justice in the end (notwithstanding the irremediable loss of his first sons and daughters). But it was not the sort of just validation that Job had sought. God was just to Job when he heard the cries of anguish from his faithful servant and responded to them, speaking to him out of the whirlwind (Job 38-42). God adjudicated the dispute with Job’s friends, rejecting their simple notion of retribution for sin as the cause of human suffering, and instead ratifying Job’s insistence on God’s justice, truthfulness, and goodness, however hidden they might be from our full understanding. The Lord pronounced his verdict and sentencing to Eliphaz the Temanite:

“My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7-8)

It couldn’t be plainer. All the long-winded speeches of the three friends are swept aside by the voice of God from the whirlwind. The mystery of human suffering remains. But it is equally clear that God hears our cries in suffering, and He is moved. Far from condemning Job, He comes to his defense. He engages Job in dialogue and reveals Himself, as much as his human creature can bear. Perhaps it is merciful that God’s presence is not so dramatic for most of us, as it was for Job. But he is the same God who hears the cries of our hearts in prayer.

In the Bible, there are so many occasions where great promises and blessings to Israel, secured through God’s Covenants (with Noah, Abraham, and Moses), alternated with almost unbearable sufferings for the people, whether attributed to their disobedience or to other evils that God permitted. The kind of faith that survived Israel’s Babylonian exile and return, for example, emerged from this churning of hope and suffering and hope, again and again. Nevertheless, the people of God held fast to one ultimate promise: that peace and justice, mercy and truth, would one day prevail, most especially through the eventual coming of the Messiah. This would be true for the individual soul, a soul like Job, as much as for God’s people as a whole.

Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.

They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.

For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.

Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. (Jeremiah 31:8-12; KJV)

In the New Testament, Saint Peter, the apostle, would speak of the “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4; RSV) of God, by which Jesus Christ would rescue from eternal death all those who kept faith in him, through trials and persecutions, and he would make them partakers of the glory which was his by nature but became ours by grace. Job prefigures and exemplifies to a very noble degree such persevering faith, which endured throughout his sudden and severe sufferings, and ventured into the hope beyond death, the hope of life eternal.

Job never received an “explanation” from God for the specific sufferings he had to endure. He was never privy to the dialogue between God and Satan in Heaven (Job 1:6-2:8). Rather, he was shown something greater by being drawn more deeply into God’s presence. He saw God’s face in the whirlwind, he heard his voice, and he received a powerful new infusion of “fear of the Lord,” one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Isaiah 11 in one of this prophet’s great Messianic prophecies:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
(Isaiah 11:1-3)

Job was already singled out for his exemplary piety and reverence for the Lord, but this personal encounter with God confirmed him in humility, wisdom, and understanding. If we are to be more like Job, we must be constant in prayer, asking for these gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are offered to all who ask with love. Furthermore, our trust must be willing to accept the uncertainty of not knowing, for now, how much we will see fulfilled “in the land of the living” (Psalm 27) here on earth and how much must await “the new heaven and the new earth” promised in the Book of Revelation (or, the Apocalypse of John), where “God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).


*For Hebrew words, I used the Blue Letter Bible online, which gives word-by-word analysis of the Masoretic text, with pronunciation and roots, and its lexical entries are keyed to Strong’s Concordance numbers. See entry for Job 13:15.


Hebrew Word Study: Revealing the Heart of God by Chaim Bentorah. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016.

The Mystery of Israel and the Church, Vol. 2: Things New and Old by Lawrence Feingold. St Louis, MO: Miriam Press, 2010.

Related post:

The Faith of Abraham and His Seed, Numerous as the Stars

Loving God With Our Whole Heart

This morning, a church that I have been “visiting” online (St John Cantius,* in Chicago) was doing a Forty Hours Devotion in preparation for their patronal feast tomorrow. In this devotion, the Blessed Sacrament (in a monstrance) is exposed continuously for Eucharistic adoration. Those participating agree to be present to adore the Lord in the Eucharist for a certain number of hours, in order that all 40 hours are covered. It is based on the traditional forty hours between Jesus’ being placed in the tomb on Good Friday and his Resurrection Easter morning. The number 40 already carries much sacred significance in recalling the forty days of the Great Flood, and the forty years of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness between the Exodus and their entrance into the Promised Land. Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai while speaking with the Lord and receiving the tablets of the Law (Exodus 34:27-28). Likewise, Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert (where he was tested by Satan) before beginning his public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).

I have never participated in a forty hours devotion but I have made a Eucharistic Holy Hour as part of 24-hour adoration days. Today, after watching the livestreamed Mass, I decided to spend some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament at another favorite online spot, the Fundación Nevi livestream.

The YouTube landing image quotes Psalm 99:5:

Extol the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he!

Eucharistic adoration during a Holy Hour generally consists of a combination of saying written prayers from a prayer book, meditating on Scripture, and offering personal prayer and meditation. I found a beautiful prayer specifically for the Forty Hours Devotion. It was written by Saint Alphonsus Liguori and begins this way:

O most lovely, most sweet, and dearest Jesus! life, hope, treasure, and only love of my soul! Oh, how much has it not cost Thee to remain with us in this Sacrament. It was necessary for Thee to die in order to remain afterwards upon our altars; and how many injuries hast Thou not been made to suffer in consequence of this presence among us! But Thy love, and Thy desire to be loved by us, have surmounted all. Come then, Lord, come and occupy my heart and afterwards close the gate to it for ever, so that no creature may ever enter again to take away a part of this love which belongs entirely to Thee, and which I am unwilling to give to any other. Do Thou alone, my dear Redeemer, reign over me!” —The Roman Missal (1962), Baronius Press, p. 1869

The lines I have highlighted in bold struck me as being such a powerful prayer in itself, and more than enough to inflame deeper love and inspire meditation. These words might sound as if we no longer open our hearts in love to our neighbor–to our family or friends or others we encounter in life. But that cannot be so, since the Lord has commanded us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:37-39). When Jesus taught in the Temple in Jerusalem, he affirmed this dual command to love God and neighbor:

And there came one of the scribes that had heard them reasoning together, and seeing that he had answered them well, asked him which was the first commandment of all. And Jesus answered him:

The first commandment of all is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one God. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:28-31)

If we reserve all our heart for God, inviting the Lord to “come and occupy my heart and afterwards close the gate,” as St Alphonsus prays, then we will be bound to love our neighbor with that very love, with God’s love itself, which has taken residence in us.

Thus, St Paul could say, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Here is the whole verse:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul’s statement of being thoroughly filled with Christ’s life points back to the Crucifixion, where Christ gave up his life for us. Paul felt the full force of this gift personally. Christ’s self-emptying on the Cross was an act of love that called forth a corresponding self-emptying gift from Paul, thereby making room for the Christ life, and Christ’s supernatural love, to flood his interior being.

The Eucharist, which Jesus instituted at the Last Supper with His disciples, is the re-presentation of this Paschal Sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross. By this once-and-for-all gift, which firstly accomplished our redemption, Jesus also found a miraculous means to be with us always (Matthew 28:20) in the Blessed Sacrament.

Therefore, it is appropriate indeed to pray for the love of God to fully occupy our hearts as we contemplate the Eucharistic Lord. It may take much prayer, and a big helping of God’s grace, for us to learn to open our hearts and receive all the love God wishes to give us. But then, filled with His love, we have the best of all possible gifts to give to those we meet.


*St. John Cantius Church offers livestreamed daily and Sunday Masses in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms. Visit their YouTube channel.

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The Preeminence of Love

Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938). Source:

In a striking passage from the Diary of St Faustina, she writes:

I know well, O Lord, that You have no need of our works; You demand Love, love and once again, love of God – there is nothing greater in heaven or on earth. The greatest greatness is to love God; true greatness is in loving God; real wisdom is to love God. All that is great and beautiful is in God; there is no beauty or greatness outside of Him. O you sages of the world and you great minds, recognize that true greatness is in loving God! Oh, how astonished I am that some people deceive themselves, saying: There is no eternity! (Diary, 990)

Thus, this saint, who received from God a very high degree of mystical insight, asserts the preeminence of Love — the greatest thing we can ever do for God or offer to God, the practice above all practices. Is she right? Let us examine this question as if coming to it new, as if it were not already the conviction of our own life, which it may well be. Let us go to the Holy Bible and read, with fresh and joyous eyes, about the love of God and how we should return our love to Him who created us. Let us also see what a few other saints have to say about it too. Fundamentally, the Bible is the story of God’s love reaching out to us, His beloved ones. We could point to a thousand verses–from the Torah, the Psalms, the Writings, and Prophets, from the Gospels and Epistles–we could mine words of wisdom from nearly any saint–and never be done, but we can at least begin.

‘Love, Love, and Once Again, Love of God’

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament agree that the greatest duty of human beings is also the most profound expression of love for God. Moses taught the people of Israel the Lord’s unequivocal commandment, the Shema Yisrael (“Hear, O Israel”):

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; RSV)

Jesus affirmed this preeminent tenet of Jewish faith when asked to assert the greatest commandment, and he paired it with the further command in Leviticus 19:18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

For God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and Our Creator reached out to love us first; therefore, the correlative command to love our neighbor follows from God’s overflowing love for us. Sinful though we proved to be, right from the start in the Garden of Eden, God sent Jesus, the Son and Messiah, to reconcile us to Himself for eternity. St John the Evangelist proclaims this great dynamic of love (1 John 4:7-21) in a chapter that rivals in poetic beauty and power the famous “love chapter” of St Paul (1 Corinthians 13).

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-12, 19-21; RSV)

Regarding these two intertwined loves, commanded by God for our good, St Teresa of Avila wrote:

The most certain sign, in my opinion, as to whether or not we are observing these two laws is whether we observe well the love of neighbor. We cannot know whether or not we love God, although there are strong indications for recognizing that we do love Him; but we can know whether we love our neighbor. And be certain that the more advanced you see you are in love for your neighbor the more advanced you will be in the love of God, for the love His Majesty has for us is so great that to repay us for our love of neighbor He will in a thousand ways increase the love we have for Him. I cannot doubt this. (Collected Works, Vol. II, p. 351; i.e., Interior Castle, V:3, no. 8)

Thus, love of God is the “root,” as she says, but love of neighbor is the visible fruit and measure of both loves and their progress. Again, it is not in great deeds or projects but in humble day-to-day loving and bearing with our neighbor (and ourselves) that we grow in love (see Interior Castle, V:3, nos. 9). It is intriguing to me that she identifies love of God as both the impetus and the reward of love of neighbor. There is a supernatural, reciprocal bond at work here.

Now let me return to the New Testament and let St Paul have his say on love too, in his own unforgettable testimony.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39; RSV)

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Make love your aim… (1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 14:1)

If we yoke our Love to God’s love and our thoughts and actions to loving each other, we participate in something imperishable, something infinitely valuable, even now in this life. “Only love has meaning; it raises up our smallest actions into infinity” (St. Faustina, Diary, 502).

Loving in Difficult Times

We are living in difficult times. Who would doubt it? We may not be shipwrecked, stoned, or beaten and run out of town as St. Paul was, but each of us, according to our state in life, has a full helping of undeniable struggles, sorrows, and trials to bear. Many of us are enduring sufferings of seeming “Biblical” proportions: fire, flood, hurricanes, pestilence, persecution and injustice, even martyrdom. This is certainly true around the world too, where one must add locusts, desperate famines, and war. If we have been spared most of these things, depending on our circumstances, each of us still faces a host of challenging tasks (short- and long-term) that constitute our work and our daily life, conducted in the midst of family and friends, interacting with co-workers and anyone we chance to meet. But behind these overt life tasks, as a sort of hidden foundation and support, is our vocation to love. St. Thérèse of Lisieux discovered this for herself even in her very circumscribed existence as a Carmelite nun. In fact, it was this realization that catapulted her into a worldwide spiritual fellowship that has continued burgeoning to this day.

Thérèse in 1886, age 13. Wikimedia.

For years, she had been feeling powerless and supremely frustrated, since her desires to serve and love God far outstripped what she felt were her natural abilities. As she herself said, she was not made for great penances and she even fell asleep saying her rosary. She was conscious of her faults and weaknesses in an acute way (so often true of the saints). One day she turned to reading St. Paul, his first letter to the Corinthians, chapters 12 and 13, on the different spiritual gifts, and she hoped to find an answer there. She did! She read that all the other gifts depended on love and were nothing without them. In her letter to her sister Marie (Sept 8, 1896, MS B) she declared:


Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my love …. my vocation, at last I have found it…. MY VOCATION IS LOVE!

Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized. (Story of a Soul, Chap. IX, Manuscript B; Study Edition, p. 302)

The capital letters are all Thérèse!–the outpouring of her joy. Thérèse suffered considerably during her short life, dying of tuberculosis at age 24. But she had found the secret of doing everything as an offering of merciful love to God, a return of the love she received as his “little child.” She is so well-known and loved by people now because her “little way” is not inaccessible but open to all. Like Faustina, she could say, love, love, and once again love. Doing this, we are doing all. Loving God and loving each other in the smallest daily actions and sacrifices, we are doing God’s will and trusting in His mercy for our frailty. As it turns out, love is enough, more than enough, the universal vocation we were all born to take up. Even if we are able to do nothing else, that path is open to us.


Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 1987. (First Polish edition, 1981)

Fr Seraphim Michalenko. Homily on St Faustina’s mission (and her sufferings) to proclaim the Divine Mercy of God and intercede for humanity. Fr Seraphim was the postulator for the cause of sainthood for Sr. Faustina (canonized April 30, 2000).

“The Shema: The Daily Declaration of Faith”

The Collected Works of Saint Teresa of Avila: Volume Two. The Way of Perfection, Meditations on the Song of Songs, The Interior Castle. Trans. by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1980.

Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St Thérèse of Lisieux. A Study Edition. Trans. by John Clarke; Study ed. prepared by Marc Foley. Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2005, 2016.

Hunger and Generous Gleanings: The Book of Ruth*

iStock. Credit: IakovKalinin.

Recently, I saw a news story asking for volunteers to collect “gleanings” from the local fields, in order to help feed hungry people. To glean a field is to gather the grain or other produce left behind in a field after it has been harvested. Collecting the gleanings is an ancient practice, to alleviate hunger and avoid waste. Since the economic hardships of this spring, and now into the summer, we have seen people line up for hours to receive the produce from free farmers’ markets, such as this one supported by Rolling Harvest Food Rescue. Food banks and school meal programs have been operating steadily and quietly for a long time, but this new phenomenon shows the increased state of hunger and economic need in America today.

I was reminded that this same practice of gathering gleanings from a field was a crucial element in the Book of Ruth in the Bible. It became the occasion for God’s mercy and the care of his people to extend even beyond Israel. It was also the occasion for the descent of God’s blessings on human beings; these blessings crucially linked Ruth to the lineage of Jesus (see Matthew 1:5-6). Let’s review the chief events in the moving story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, and consider how this ancient practice of gleaning a field might connect us to some of the themes of this short but compelling book.

The Story of Ruth

Ruth in the Field of Boaz (1828), Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Wikimedia.

The story of Ruth begins with hunger. It takes place during the period of the Judges in Israel and it happens to be a time of famine. Elimelech, a man of Bethlehem in Judah, leaves his home in search of food, taking with him his wife Naomi and their two sons. They resettle in the country of Moab but after a while, Elimelech dies, leaving Naomi a widow. Her grown sons, Mahlon and Chilion, each marry women from Moab, Ruth and Orpah, respectively. After ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion die. Naomi feels she has lost everything: her husband, her sons, and the possibility of having grandchildren.

She decides to return home to Judah, where, she has heard, the LORD has visited his people and given them food (Ruth 1:6). Her daughters-in-law begin to journey with her but before they go far, Naomi decides to send the two young women back to their mothers’ homes in Moab, where they might have a chance to remarry and have children. Naomi blesses them and kisses them: she is treating them with kindness and mercy, just as they treated her and her sons with kindness during their marriages. Both Ruth and Orpah burst into tears and protest that they will accompany Naomi, but Naomi is firm that this is best for them. Reluctantly, Orpah kisses Naomi and turns back toward Moab, but Ruth makes no such move, but rather clings even closer to her mother-in-law. Naomi says, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law” (1:15) but Ruth refuses, declaring her intentions in these beautiful words:

“Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17; RSV)

These unmistakable words have the force of a covenant-oath, a binding promise in which Ruth commits herself to Naomi, Naomi’s home, her people, and her God. She will live and die with Naomi and her people from now on, until her own death, and she also swears to a covenant curse, should she fail in her promise, or even depart from the land after Naomi’s death.

The depth of this commitment cannot be exaggerated. Ruth’s hunger clearly goes beyond her physical hunger, which can be assuaged by physical food. She has a hunger for lifelong family fidelity, a true kinship of hearts based on loyalty, mutual kindness, and love. Ruth also evinces a deep spiritual hunger for the true God, whom she has begun to know through her mother-in-law and husband. Her conversion to the God of her new people is total and unqualified.

Naomi accepts her daughter-in-law and they continue together to Bethlehem. Although she is greeted by friends there, her heart is still heavy. She tells them: “Do not call me Na′omi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:20-21). The Hebrew name Naomi means “my delight” or “pleasant” whereas Mara means “bitter.”** Ruth’s name, meaning “she who comforts,” is also apt, expressing her role as well as her desire be a steady consolation to her mother-in-law.

Ruth begins her new life with Naomi by seeking to provide for their food. She asks her mother-in-law’s permission to go and glean in the fields of grain. She sets to work at this task, and happens to glean in the fields belonging to Boaz, a near kinsman of Naomi’s. Boaz notices the unfamiliar young woman and asks about her among the other reapers. He learns she is Ruth, the daughter-in-law of his kinswoman Naomi, and he is pleased because Ruth’s good reputation for kindness and loyalty is already known among her new adopted people. He addresses Ruth with gentleness and politeness and adjures her to continue to glean only from his fields, staying close to the other young women who are reaping there. He assures her of his protection: none of the men working there in his fields will bother her. When she bows and even prostrates in gratitude, asking Boaz why she, a foreigner, has found such favor in his eyes, he explains and blesses her:

“All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:11-12; RSV)

He gives her some bread dipped in wine at mealtime, and when she rises and goes away to continue gleaning, he instructs the repears to leave extra ears of grain for her to gather, pulling out some of the grain from their own bundles, and not to rebuke her in any way.

When she returns home to her mother-in-law, Naomi is overjoyed to learn that Ruth has been gleaning in the fields of Boaz, her kinsman. She praises God and blesses Boaz: “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (2:20). She approves greatly of the whole matter, and Ruth continues gleaning in Boaz’s fields for the rest of the barley and wheat harvests.

At the time of the threshing, Naomi proposes that Ruth make it known to Boaz that she is seeking his protection as a “redeeming kinsman” (Hebrew, go’el). According to Naomi’s direction, Ruth waits until Boaz has eaten and laid down on the threshing floor to sleep for the night. She uncovers his feet in the dark, and lays down at his feet. Startled to find someone there, he asks, Who is there?

And she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant; spread your skirt over your maidservant, for you are next of kin.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; you have made this last kindness greater than the first, in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear, I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of worth.” (Ruth 3:9-11)

An upright and honest man, Boaz explains to Ruth that there is one other man who is a closer kinsman, with whom he must settle matters first. He seeks out this other man immediately and offers him control of the inheritance left by Naomi and her sons, as his due portion as next of kin. At first this man agrees, until he learns that he would be further obliged to marry Ruth, in order to continue Elimelech’s family and lineage–that is, he must take on all the just obligations of the go’el, the redeeming kinsman. But this other man declines, relinquishing his right, and sealing this decision by handing Boaz his sandal in front of witnesses (an ancient custom). Therefore, Boaz becomes free to marry Ruth, which was joyful news, not only because of the duty fulfilled, but because of the mutual love and regard that was clearly growing between Ruth and Boaz. Their marriage also brings joy to Naomi, who cares for the infant son born to them. The women of the neighborhood name the boy Obed and speak this blessing to Naomi:

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” (Ruth 4:14-15

I love reading these exuberant words of praise for the Lord’s blessings, for Boaz, and for Ruth’s great value, “worth more than seven sons”–high praise indeed in a society where sons were the invaluable protectors and heirs of their families.

The book ends with a genealogy:

Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron of Ram, Ram of Ammin′adab,  Ammin′adab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, Salmon of Bo′az, Bo′az of Obed, Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David. (Ruth 4:18-22)

Thus, the line from Ruth and Boaz would lead to King David, and this lineage would appear again in the first chapter of Matthew to show the familial descent of Jesus, who is Messiah and “son of David.”

The Role of Generosity

The sequence of events that leads to the marriage of Ruth and Boaz is facilitated at several crucial points by Naomi, who gives wise counsel to her faithful daughter-in-law. When the harvest time is nearing its close, Naomi says to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not seek a home for you, that it may be well with you?” (3:1). In a footnote to this verse, David Stern comments that once again Naomi is watching over Ruth’s interests, not merely her own. She generously seeks opportunities to help her. In fact, he says, all three main characters–Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi–are consistent in showing chesed–“mercy, constant grace, and generosity toward one another” (Complete Jewish Study Bible, p. 1193). This is one of the most beautiful concepts in the Bible. It is a quality displayed by God toward his people; therefore, when people display it toward each other, they are living in accord with God’s will.

Without doubt, Ruth showed mercy and generosity of spirit toward Naomi; she would not let her widowed, childless mother-in-law return from Moab alone. Naomi felt she had lost everything and instead she gained a daughter beyond price, who served their humble needs willingly and adopted everything about Naomi’s home and faith as her own. Naomi, in turn, had the opportunity to exercise generosity in welcoming Ruth into her family in Bethlehem and, furthermore, in doing what she could to help Ruth make a new start in her new life.

As legendary as these women are for their mutual kindness, the one who is most surprising in his exercise of chesed, his mercy and graciousness, is Boaz. On one level, everything he does is prescribed by Jewish law. He allows Ruth to glean from his fields according to the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy:***

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

“When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 24:19)

In their chapter on Ruth, John Bergsma and Brant Pitre comment that Ruth fulfills all of the criteria to be eligible for gleanings. She is a poor sojourner and a widow, without a father to defend her. Boaz is praiseworthy to follow the law here, but clearly he goes beyond this in generosity, even before marriage becomes an issue. He promises her safe passage while she gleans his barley fields, and makes sure she receives good food and drink for herself, and extra grain to take back to Naomi. He is also demonstrably kind and gracious to her, never treating her as only a servant.

Once the subject of Ruth coming under his direct protection as his wife is broached, Boaz knows his duty as a potential goel, and he carries it out with exactitude. But I would submit that he is also generous, first in deferring to the nearer kin, if he should desire to marry Ruth and have the inheritance. Clearly, Boaz’s feelings are already involved and this would have been a personal sacrifice for him, if the other man had stepped forward to marry Ruth. I also sense generosity toward both Ruth and Naomi in the speed with which he removes any lawful obstacles to his offering Ruth marriage. He doesn’t hesitate and he doesn’t delay, but promptly follows the protocols with tremendous dignity.

Finally, all of them, including the women of the neighborhood, acknowledge the mercy and providence of God in bringing everything to such a blessed conclusion. The reader knows that the blessings God bestowed on them bore amazing fruit for generations to come.

“for I was hungry and you gave me food”

Feeding the hungry starts with one hungry person. Jesus addressed hunger, thirst, sickness, and other human needs with great compassion, and he expected his disciples down through the centuries to do the same, just as if he, Jesus, were the one in need:

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:34-40; RSV)

The King, who is also Judge, blesses those who do these generous things when they encounter someone in need. He rewards them with eternal life (Matt 25:46). They have shown by their actions that they desire to live within the “economy” of love whereby love of God is also expressed through love of neighbor, especially for the poorest and least powerful, those in dire straits as Ruth and Naomi were. In the time of the Judges, Boaz was living this commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18), which Jesus would elevate alongside the Great Commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; see Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31). God blessed him with a virtuous wife in Ruth and he became the progenitor of the line of the kings of Judah and Israel. In the first chapter of Matthew, where the genealogy of Jesus is outlined, it says: and Salmon the father of Bo′az by Rahab, and Bo′az the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king (Matt 1:5-6).

Generosity begets blessings, which are not always apparent right away to those who are doing the acts of kindness, because, of course, these generous acts are done out of love rather than for some kind of gain. God sees and blesses nevertheless. May God bless those who feed the hungry of our time with “generous gleanings” from the harvests.


*I thank Naomi Backer, for her insights into the character of Boaz, and Elizabeth Page, for encouraging me to pursue the connection between the news story on Rolling Harvest Food Rescue and the Book of Ruth.

**Most English translations footnote the contrasting meanings of Naomi and Mara in Ruth 1:20. The Navarre Bible (p. 194n) gives the meanings of the names of the rest of the major figures in the first chapter: Elimelech (“my God is King”), Mahlon (“pain”), Chilion (“destruction”), Orpah (“she who turns back”), and of course, Ruth (“she who comforts”).

***See The Navarre Bible, p. 197, note to Ruth 2:1-17; A Catholic Introduction to the Bible, p. 343.


“Ruth” in The Navarre Bible: Joshua–Kings, pp. 189-205. Four Courts Press/Scepter Publishers, 2005.

The Complete Jewish Study Bible: Insights for Jews and Christians (David H. Stern, Trans. & Rabbi Barry A. Rubin, Ed.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998 and 2016 (updated).

A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament by John Bergsma and Brant Pitre. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018.

The Call of July 4th

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8; NKJV)

These words from the prophet Micah are simple and clear: do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. They call individuals to a higher standard, enacting both justice and mercy, and tempering them both by humility, as we walk with the Lord, our God.

This resounding verse is also a call to nations to practice these same virtues. Do individuals always live up to justice, mercy, and humility in their dealings with God and with each other? No. It is a call for us to keep trying, with prayer and fasting, and the help of God’s grace. We pledge to repent when we fail and to try again. Likewise with nations. Do countries practice these virtues as they should? No, certainly not yet. The call of July 4th is an annual reminder to examine ourselves as a nation: for injustice, to remove it swiftly; for mercy, to extol and extend it; and for humility, to increase it. All the while let us remember that God walks with all peoples of the world, to help and guide them, if they choose to seek His holy will.

Praying for Our Nations

Saint Faustina Kowalska, receiving Divine Mercy message. Catholic Online.

In May of 1938, Jesus instructed Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a nun of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, to pray for her native Poland. She wrote:

As I was praying for Poland, I heard the words: I bear a special love for Poland, and if she will be obedient to My will, I will exalt her in might and holiness. From her will come forth the spark that will prepare the world for My final coming. (Diary, 1732)

One can notice several things about Jesus’ words here. First, Jesus is approving of Sr Faustina’s prayer intention, praying specifically for her country of Poland. By extension, we should feel confident in praying for our own nations (Fr. Chris Alar, MIC pointed this out today in his homily at the Shrine for Divine Mercy, Stockbridge, MA). On July 4th, we pray not only for peace, justice, and mercy to flow over the whole world but we can pray specifically for the United States to do much better at exemplifying justice, mercy, and humility, and we can practice those virtues personally as we take actions to reform our institutions to serve all our citizens equitably, taking special care to redress racial injustices done to those who have suffered most in the past, and still–Black people and all people of color, and Native American people.

Second, there is a conditional promise: if the country is obedient to God’s will, she will be exalted in might and holiness, and she will send out sparks to prepare for Jesus’ final coming. Faustina wrote these words in her Diary in 1938, on the brink of World War II. Soon, Poland would be conquered, occupied, and governed by the ruthless military of Nazi Germany, and it would be the main site of the world’s most brutal genocide of six million European Jews in horrific death camps, the worst of which was Auschwitz, a whole network of extermination camps in Poland. Tragically, this genocide was carried out with the cooperation or complacency of too many of the Polish people. How could this scarred and suffering nation, then, send out any effective sparks of goodness, let alone Divine Mercy?

We know from the Hebrew scriptures that God would spare invoking his full wrath on a place if there were but a handful of righteous men there (Genesis 18:22-33) or especially if its people repented and turned back to Him in obedience (Jonah 3). Were there such people living in Poland at the time Faustina wrote? It seems there were, because of at least three huge sparks that the country of Poland sent out to the world. The first of these was St. Maximilian Kolbe, born in 1894, who became a Conventual Franciscan friar and later a priest. He had a tremendous devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Immaculate Conception, the “Immaculata.” In 1917 he founded the Militia Immaculatae (a devotional organization) and published extensively about Marian devotion in Poland and later in Japan where he founded a second friary. After the German occupation began, his publishing work was suppressed and he was imprisoned, but upon his release, he returned to his friary at Niepokalanów where he sheltered and hid 2,000 Jews from arrest. Fr. Kolbe was himself arrested in February 1941, and he died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in August 1941, after volunteering to take the place, in an underground starvation bunker, of a married man with children who had been selected to be transferred there. He has continued to have a seminal influence on the theology of Marian devotion and the need to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary, especially in our times of rejection of faith.

The second spark was St. Faustina herself, who was born as Helena Kowalska in 1905 and died in 1938, having fulfilled Jesus’ call for her to be the “apostle and secretary” of His Mercy. She recorded her mystical experiences and Jesus’ words and instructions to her in her Diary, as her spiritual directors had requested. Furthermore, she made Jesus’ wishes for the Divine Mercy image, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the Feast of Divine Mercy understandable to her confessor Fr. Michael Sopoćko, so that he could help her and follow through on making them known after her death.

The third spark was young Karol Józef Wojtyła, now known as St. John Paul II, who was born in Wadowice in 1920. He experienced both the Nazi occupation of Poland during WWII and the Russian Communist occupation in its aftermath. He studied for the priesthood in an underground seminary in Krakow during the War. He often had to hide from arrest and many of his fellow students were arrested and killed. He had occasion to help a 14-year-old Jewish girl who had escaped a Polish labor camp, and “B’nai B’rith and other authorities have said that Wojtyła helped protect many other Polish Jews from the Nazis” (Wikipedia). He was ordained in 1946, and so began his ecclesiastical service that led to his selection as pope in 1978. With his defiance of Communist repression as Archbishop of Krakow and his influential support of freedom as Pope, he was able to witness the end of Communism in his country. During his papacy, he would canonize both Maximilian Kolbe (October 10, 1982) and Sr. Faustina (April 30, 2000); on that same day (April 30, 2000), he would institute the Feast of the Divine Mercy for the entire Roman Catholic Church; it was to be observed each year on the Sunday following Easter Sunday, starting in 2001.

I have gone into this example in such detail to urge prayers for one’s native country and to ask for God’s mercy, when even a few people seek to walk in God’s ways and try to achieve His purposes of love for human beings. So, let us pray on July 4th, and always, for our country and for ourselves as individuals. Earlier that same month of May 1938, Jesus told Faustina:

If souls would put themselves completely in My care, I Myself would undertake the task of sanctifying them, and I would lavish even greater graces on them. There are souls who thwart My efforts, but I have not given up on them; as often as they turn to Me, I hurry to their aid, shielding them with My mercy, and I give them the first place in My compassionate Heart. (1682)

Let us pray to have more of God’s grace to conquer racism in ourselves and racial injustice in our countries: “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Amen.



To learn more about Saint Faustina, see this brief video:

To learn more about St Faustina, Divine Mercy, and the Diary, visit and this page on the Diary of St. Faustina, as well as her tremendously rich and inspiring Diary:

Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 1987. (First Polish edition, 1981)