Category Archives: Prayer

Entries dealing with prayer.

How I learned the Good News – and then some Better News.

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Have you ever heard this one?

The Good News is: There’s a Messiah!
The Even Better News is: It’s not you.

frustratedI think I need to write this joke on my mirror, because I often feel like everything’s up to me: I’ve gotta write that email! I’ve gotta be involved in that meeting! I can’t get sick or rest, because if I do, everything’s gonna fall apart!!!

Wrong.

Recently, we’ve all gained a hero in this regard. By his abdicating what’s arguably one of the most powerful seats in the world, the Chair of St. Peter, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made everyone stop and think, ‘Hold on…did he really just do that?’ And yes, he did. Taking all the consequences into consideration, he decided to step down from being THE POPE. The leader of over 1 billion people. The Vicar of Christ on earth. Yes, he did it.

That decision took an almost-unbelievable amount of humility, a virtue quite rare in our modern world. Today, people give up their privacy, safety, and health for just minutes of fame on TV. In politics, business, and even schools and churches, we accept cherished leadership positions for which we’re not prepared, qualified, or to which we cannot dedicate our time. Social media, while giving voices to once-voiceless minorities, have also contributed to a culture of vanity, egoism and pride.

Where did we go wrong?

jesus-and-the-disciples-going-to-emmausUndoubtedly, you and I have responsibilities; we’ve each been entrusted with a mission from God that no other person can accomplish. He ‘calls us by name’ and sends us forth to accomplish this mission (cf. Isaiah 43:1). However, Jesus teaches us repeatedly in the Gospels that we are stewards. We have a mission, but God provides the mission and the means to accomplish that mission. To make this point, he asks his disciples, “‘When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?’ ‘No, nothing,’ they replied.” (Luke 22:35)

When we begin congratulating ourselves for what God has helped us accomplish, we start nudging God out of the picture. Certainly, we should have joy and ‘take pride’ in skills, talents and abilities that we’ve refined with hard work. But we cannot lose sight of the Source of every good thing in our lives: Our Heavenly Father.

God has taught me this lesson by allowing me to suffer greatly over the past several years, in my body, my mind, and my spirit. The pain often led me to immense frustration with God. Over time and with prayer, however, my pain helped me realize how little, weak, fragile and frail I am. I realized that I couldn’t accomplish anything without God’s help. God had given me my body, my soul, my spirit. He filled me with talents. He provided me with wonderful opportunities, a family, and friends. With every sunrise, He’s brought me a new day of life.

We cannot live the Good News without remembering “the Better News,” as the joke calls it. God lives! And despite how everything may appear to you, He is taking care of everything. So, cultivate your sense of gratefulness. Start your own ‘ritual’ of daily offering; for me, that means getting on my knees every day and saying, “Lord, I love you. I thank you, and I give you everything that you have given me. Help me serve you well today.”

Let God be God. You, be you.

I always knew that the Lord is in the ship, that the ship of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.
– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, during his final General Audience

Why We Can’t Stay on the Mountaintop – Following and Resting in Jesus

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Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

“Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray.” In the Gospels there are several moments of significance when Jesus takes Peter, John and James to be alone with him. Here, on Mt. Tabor the three apostles will witness something that the other apostles did not. They will see Jesus glorified speaking with Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. All that God had revealed to His Chosen People could be summed up in the Law and the Prophets. Now, Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah and he is above them; he is the fullness of God’s revelation, being God and man.

Mt. Tabor is unlike most of the mountains or hills in the region which are usually connected or part of a chain. Mt. Tabor is a mountain all by itself in the middle of several valleys, only a few miles from Nazareth and Cana. As a matter-of-fact, you can see Nazareth from the top of Mt. Tabor, which you reach by way of a zigzagging road which is too narrow for a bus.

Nowadays, when you arrive at the top, you see a beautiful church with three domes; the one in the center is larger and taller because it is over the altar dedicated to Jesus Christ. The one on the left is dedicated to Moses and the one on the right is dedicated to Elijah. These three domes were inspired by the words of Peter, “…let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For the moment, Peter was caught up in the ecstasy of that mountaintop experience and wanted to remain on the mountain.

Church of the Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor

Church of the Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor

However, if they would have remained on the mountain, they would have neglected their mission. It is a temptation for all of us to hope we will find a place where everything will be okay and we won’t have to be concerned with trials and difficulties. However, that was not real life for the Apostles and it is not real life for us. The Lord will continue to take us to places where we must depend upon him so that we can become spiritually mature and be filled with hope, even in the most difficult circumstance.

By his transfiguration, Jesus is preparing Peter, James and John for the scandal they will witness when he enters into his Passion. As they follow Jesus, there will be many things they will see and hear that will challenge their faith, so Jesus has given these three this glimpse of his glory to strengthen them.

We are beginning the second week of Lent. The purpose of this liturgical season of Lent is to renew the mission of Christ in our lives so that by cooperating with his grace, we will be reconciled to God and one another. It doesn’t happen automatically. We must make concrete choices. That is why we once again look at prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a means of surrendering our hearts to the Lord. If we do not take time to pray, if we are not generous with what we have, and if we allow our appetites to dominate us, we are far from the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is not just a God of miracles that we look to in our time of need, hoping he will fix everything for us. Sometimes he does that, but most of all he wants a personal relationship with us that draws us into intimate and fervent prayer, that leads us to trust him completely with every aspect of our lives. This trusting relationship will free us from anxious dependency on our own resources so that we will be generous with what we have, knowing that God cannot be outdone in generosity.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus by being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. He is the one who brings peace and happiness into our lives, but on his terms because he knows what is best for us. If we do not look to God for direction as we make our plans, we are destined for unhappiness.

St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless O’ Lord until they rest in you.” Lord, you have created us to be in relationship with you. There is no other way we can reach our potential for happiness. Give us the grace Lord to love you above everything else and our neighbor as our self so that we may be happy now and for all eternity. Let our prayer be, Lord I desire that my heart should rest in you.

The Gift of Silence Can be Sweet: Lent + Valentine’s Day

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This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall side by side; Valentine’s Day is the day after Lent. They are dissimilar – Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and reminds us of penance, fasting and almsgiving; Valentine’s Day reminds us of lovers, sweets, flowers and feasting. The Lenten period of 40 days begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday, in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Valentine’s Day is well – one day.

Forty days is very symbolic in the Bible; here are a few references, although there are many others:

  • It rained 40 days and 40 nights during the Flood (Genesis 7: 4)
  • Noah waited 40 days after the waters receded and the Ark settled on Mount Ararat before he sent out the raven (Genesis 8: 3-8)
  • The Israelites spent 40 years “wandering” in the desert (Numbers 14: 33; Deuteronomy 29: 4)
  • Elijah fasted 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19: 8)
  • Purification of Mary is 40 days after birth of Jesus (Luke 2: 22-4)
  • Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism (Matthew 4: 1-2)

desertMy husband, Tom and I, had the opportunity to lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during Lent. Pilgrimages are journeys of faith, a time to think about God and experience the land He sanctified with His very life. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism in the desert near the River Jordan, a 10 minute bus ride to the vast Judean Desert. Our pilgrimage includes spending 40 minutes in this desert! Our bus driver leads us off the main highway into a gravel pathway leading to an area where he parks the bus, turns off the motor…and immediately one experiences the silence of the desert. As pilgrims get off the bus and walk up the hill, their breath it taken by the view of the vastness of the desert, and most especially the silence! They are asked to take this symbolic 40 minutes (remembering Jesus’ 40 days) and experience a time of prayer and total silence. For Tom and I, this time passes too quickly! The view of the desert, realizing Jesus was in that area and spending time just embracing the silence is an unforgettable moment! Numerous pilgrims have told us how much they appreciated this experience. One man in his 40’s said, “I have never experienced a silence like this, never!” Others have commented on how this experience of silence gave them a desire to include silence in their daily lives upon their return home.

How can we choose silence in today’s world filled with noise from television, radio, traffic, music, conversations? It’s possible – it’s a choice! Consider a time in your daily schedule when there is less noise. (Early morning? Late evening? Lunch period? When children are sleeping?) What do we benefit from silence? Personally I become more aware of God’s presence and I experience a peace.

Mother TeresaBlessed Mother Teresa explains it well in a way that is called the Simple Path:
The fruit of silence is PRAYER.
The fruit of prayer is FAITH.
The fruit of faith is LOVE.
The fruit of Love is SERVICE.
The fruit of service is PEACE.

What does silence have to do with Valentine’s Day? Spending time in silence with someone we love is a gift, perhaps greater than the best chocolates or beautiful flowers. A time when one appreciates the other and experiences the ‘inner beauty and sweetness’ of that person. My husband and I enjoy sitting in swinging bench in the yard and just enjoying being with each other without conversation or outside noise to distract our moment of silence with one another.

Consider giving the gift of silence to someone you love this Valentine’s Day. Begin the Lenten Season by planning time for silence.

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Soul Searching at Mardi Gras

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My family loves Mardi Gras parades. My husband, two sons and I return often to our hometown New Orleans so we can join this annual party. If you’ve never experienced a Mardi Gras parade, let me tell you it’s quite an interactive event. As floats roll through the streets, throngs of people line the route yelling, jumping and waving their hands in the hope of getting the “throws” that are tossed or more often hurled at the crowd by the masked riders. These “throws” are traditionally plastic bead necklaces, plastic cups, stuffed animals, plastic swords, and wooden spears; in other words, pretty worthless junk. I am not a fan of crowds so I prefer to stand back while most, including my family, push their way up screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!” It’s very entertaining to watch all the ways people try to get the attention of the riders and what lengths they will go to get this junk.

"Miss Louisiana" by thepipe26

“Miss Louisiana” by thepipe26

One year, an interesting revelation came to me when I noticed what often happens after the victor gains his treasure. Without even a backwards glance, the throw is tossed in a pile and forgotten. I realize that it’s not the throws but getting them that is the fun. The whole value of a throw then is the few brief seconds from when it is spotted in the rider’s hands until it makes into the victor’s grasp. After that, it reverts to junk and will soon be stuffed into a box and stowed in the attic or garage until an industrious spring cleaning day relegates it to the curb.

…which is just how Satan views our souls.

Satan will try any antic to get our attention and like a Mardi Gras throw, once he wins our souls we are tossed away never to be thought of again; left to the boxed confines of our sins. Because you see, the devil has no desire to spend eternity with us; he only wants to get us so he can make sure God does not. He hates God; we are simply a means to an end.

The good news is that the devil is not the only searcher of souls. Our Lord is there as He always is, waiting for us. But unlike that pile of beads that ends up in the trash bin, garages or storage sheds in New Orleans, He has wonderful plans for you and me. . .

I know well the plans I have in mind for you; plans for your welfare and not for woe. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Why then, if our Lord desires such great plans for us, do we more often feel as worthless as those discarded pair of plastic Mardi Gras beads?

"Christ Embracing St. Bernard" by Francisco Ribalta (16th-17th century)

“Christ Embracing St. Bernard” by Francisco Ribalta (16th-17th century)

I received the answer to that question over ten years ago when my choices had brought me to my knees lost, alone and weary from battling the grasps of darkness. My Lord came to me, picked me up, put His arms around me and loved me out of my debilitating depression. He promised I would never feel alone again as He gently led me back to His Church and my Catholic faith.

In my return to the faith of my youth that I so ignorantly dismissed as archaic and unnecessary for my happiness, I discovered that God does not want to get us, but rather He wants to be with us now and forever in the complete and continuous exercise of our free will. We cannot be passive and expect to find the joy we so desire. God wants us to want to be with Him and joins us in discovering our happiness through Church teachings, His word in Scripture, through the Sacraments and most significantly by joining our suffering with His in the Eucharistic Celebration of Mass.

God does not view our souls like cheap plastic beads to be tossed at the mercy of the rider, but rather active participants in His wonderful plans for our happiness. We have a choice in whose hands we land.

The devil could not care less whether we cooperate with him or not. Since the beginning he has lied and tricked to get his way like when he told Eve, “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil,” (Genesis 3:4-5) but failing to mention that along with the knowledge of evil will also be the desire for evil and the consequences to pay. He flat out lied when he told her you will not die. He will make any effort to grasp our souls and keep them away from God and His wonderful plans for us.

My Catholic faith has taught me that I am not to find happiness on my own and there are two good reasons why. Firstly, no matter how intelligent, educated, willing or brave any of us may be, we are no match for the cunning and sinister ways of the devil.

Secondly and so very wonderfully, that is not God’s plan for us. We need our God with us just as He has wonderfully planned, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I look toward the floats and imagine the people clamoring for God rather than throws. I see our Lord reach down and pull people up into His arms calling each by name. He searches the crowd and when our eyes meet, He holds out His arms for me.

I run to join the party.

My Visit to the Jordan River

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This Sunday, we heard about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. I want to share with you a reflection that I wrote over two years ago while in the Holy Land. On a cloudy November day, I visited the Jordan River:

The Jordan River is not a spectacular scene worthy of a movie set. It doesn’t have extraordinarily blue water nor is it surrounded by fantastic rock formations, flora or fauna. It’s really just a river. (Click for today’s photos.)

And yet, God chose it for His own baptism, and for the initiation of the Sacrament of Baptism. It was at the River Jordan that the Holy Trinity was first revealed to the world (see Luke 3:21-22).

Everyone is loved by God. That’s without question. So what’s the big deal with baptism? Isn’t it some sort of sign that the person is a “child of God”? Isn’t everyone a child of God? What happened to me when I was baptized? Why be baptized in the first place?

Walking through the wilderness today, after having visited the site of John the Baptist’s birth, I tried to imagine John in the flesh. I’ve always heard him described as the ‘wild man’ prophet, Jesus’ cousin (see Luke 1). So this wild man was “crying out” a message of repentence and baptism for the forgiveness of sins – what a remarkable individual. Only the Spirit of God could compel someone to live such a radically simple lifestyle, totally dependent upon God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers the questions above. Baptism is “the seal of eternal life” (CCC #1274) and “constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn” (CCC #1271). Beyond that, baptism is where God graces us with the theological virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and empowers us to live a moral life (CCC #1266). This is why we are baptized, with Jesus setting the example for us. He gives us a glimpse of the life that we can have, both here and in Heaven, through baptism. By this public sign and sacrament, persons become united to God and the faithful in a new and powerful way.

Of course, the sacraments are mysteries. If anyone knew this best, it must have been St. John the Baptist. He relentlessly sought God in his life and for others’ lives. He unashamedly proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. Still, he knew that Jesus – his own cousin – was beyond his understanding:

…One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16)

Today we renewed our baptismal vows at the site where Jesus was baptized. How often do you think about the significance of your baptism? Do you realize that it has changed you forever? Are you lead by the Holy Spirit like St. John the Baptist? In what ways? What habits do you have which do not proclaim the coming of Jesus?

Ask the Holy Spirit to renew the gifts that God gave you at your baptism. While you’re at it, ask St. John to pray for your fervor and commitment to Christ.

Are you listening to God?

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Sunset on green Field Landscape

Be still and know that I am God… (Psalm 46:10)

When was the last time you spent quiet, unhurried time alone with God? Time spent focusing on no other request than to be in communion with Him?

I recently spent two days in solitude at a quiet retreat location surrounded by nature. It was a great gift to myself and I came back renewed and refreshed. The busyness and noise which can so easily strangle my inner being, was cast off in this quiet, still place.

Communion with God is the greatest need of our soul and vital communion requires that we remove ourselves from the noise and distractions around us (cell phones, television, radio, honking cars and endless activities) and venture boldly into the silence. But retreating into silence does not come easily to everyone. Many people are afraid of silence for it is in silence that we are forced to confront our innermost nature.

There is a deep inner calling within each of us to simply “be present” in His presence. Rather than asking and presenting a list of things for God to fix in our world, spend time simply seated at His feet, gazing up into His face…asking for God…loving God…praising God.

Is the Holy Family a realistic model for us?

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"The Holy Family with the Infant St. John" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The Holy Family was the happiest family in the history of humanity, not because they were given special privileges, but because of their faithfulness and humility. We might expect the mother of God and his foster father to live as royalty as they cared for the child Jesus. However, they had the same living conditions, concerns and trials as any other working-class family. As faithful Jews, they did not consider themselves above the law, but instead were obedient to the letter of the law. Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the Word of God was their source of hope. They in turn would teach Jesus to be obedient even as he was beginning to discover his purpose in the plan of his Heavenly Father.

This faithfulness and obedience that was the source of happiness for the holy family is also God’s plan for each of us. The holy family is an example of how we all should live our lives close to God. It’s in our family that we should first learn about God and the importance of daily prayer.

The most important gift that parents can give their children is that their children know without a doubt that their parents love each other and that they are loved by their parents. This gives the children the security they need, especially in their developing years. It is also important that children see their parents pray together and are taught by their parents how to pray.

How Can We Join God’s Family?

When a child is baptized, the parents agree to be the first teachers of the way of our faith. In baptism, we all become children of God and part of His family, which is the Church. The Church that Jesus Christ founded is also called our Mother because it is in her that God’s specific plan of salvation unfolds for His family. It is through this Church that we receive the Word of God and the sacraments which allow us to encounter Jesus Christ in an intimate and personal way, especially when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist.

"The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz" by Francisco Goya (1819)

“The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz” by Francisco Goya (1819)

Now that we are adults – no matter if we are married or single – whether we live alone or as a family, we are members of the family of God. We call ourselves Christian because we claim Jesus Christ as our Savior and we agree to be his disciples. This is no casual thing; it requires each of us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.” No matter if we should gain the whole world, we can only be truly happy now and for all eternity by being a faithful witness to what Christ has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

The wonderful thing about God Our Father is that no matter who we are or what we have done He longs for us to come to Him with a humble heart so that we may experience His mercy and love. It is for this purpose that He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, it does take humility to confess our sins to Jesus Christ through his minister the priest, but then it is Jesus Christ who through his priest says, “Your sins are forgiven,” and then gives us grace to help us overcome sin.

Making Our Home a Domestic Church

In the month of October, we began the Year of Faith which continues until November 2013. The purpose of this year is to help all of us to re-focus our lives on what is really important so that we can be filled with hope and peace. We are encouraged to follow the example of the Holy Family and live our lives in communion with God. Our homes should become a domestic church where we pray with the people we love and grow together in the faith by reading the Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and the teachings of our Mother the Church, given to us for our sanctification.

There is no one on this earth who has a greater possibility of having the experience of being a member of the family of God than those of us who belong to the Church He founded. We have everything we need to live a life close to God if we so chose. It begins with the desire to place God first in our lives and then follow the example of Mary, Joseph and all the saints who have gone before us. There is no shortcut to becoming holy; the path is the same as it always has been.

Mary and Joseph, pray for us that we will receive the desire to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, so that we may be truly happy now and for all eternity.

This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for The Feast of the Holy Family (C) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.

The Ultimate Gift

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Star marking the birthplace of Jesus, in Bethlehem

Star marking the birthplace of Jesus, in Bethlehem

When my husband Tom and I first visited Bethlehem several years ago, we were so surprised when we saw the marked birthplace of our Savior, Christ the Lord. He was born in a very simple place – a Grotto that is around seventeen feet long and nine feet wide. Grottos were used by families in the Bethlehem and Jerusalem area.

The Grotto of our Lord’s birthplace has a large Church, the Church of the Nativity, built over the site in order to preserve it. Upon entering this ancient Church built by Constantine in the 4th century, you need to walk several yards to reach marble steps taking you down around ten feet to the Birthplace. Many oil lamps hang over a niche of marble and a silver Star with fourteen points marks where Jesus was born. The middle of this large star has an opening where you can see the original ground. One has to imagine a bit how it must have been at the time of Jesus…simple, quiet, the opening of the Grotto looking out into the village of Bethlehem. The experience of standing and seeing the birthplace of Jesus is very powerful! You can’t help but want to touch the Star, to bend low and almost crawl down to kiss the Star!

Yes, then I can imagine how it must have been. Mary knew her baby was Jesus. Mary could see His face and contemplate His face. Mary and Joseph looked with amazement at the infant Jesus.

Then the Shepherds came to see what the Angels told them: They went to Bethlehem and see what had taken place – they would find Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger. (cf. Luke 2:15-20). The Shepherds were considered the ‘poorest’ in the community at that time. They lived in caves with their flock and they lived simple lives. Why would the Heavenly Angels come to Shepherds in a field near Bethlehem to tell them the good news of Christ’s birth?

Fr. Marie Dominique-Philippe, O.P. (founder of the Congregation of St. John) writes:

He (Jesus) is not born in the temple of Jerusalem, but at Bethlehem in Judea, in a cave reserved for animals and poor, homeless people. He wants His first visit to be really for the poor, for those who have nothing. He wants to rebuild everything, starting from the nakedness of the crib. …Their praise becomes the same as that of the Angels – glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men and whom he is pleased.

Depiction of shepherds receiving announcement of Christ's birth (Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds' Field, Bethlehem)

Depiction of shepherds receiving announcement of Christ’s birth (Located inside Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem)

The Shepherds have nothing to give to this newborn King; they were too poor. What they gave was their time, their adoration, their belief in the message of the Angels.

I would like to be like the Shepherds – simple and trusting in a Heavenly Message to run and see the newborn babe in the manger. To spend time in adoration of this incredible mystery – the Word of God made flesh through Mary!

However, if we really think about it –we ALL can be like the Shepherds now, today! By approaching Christ in the crib – in prayer, in adoration, presenting ourselves to Him and giving Him the gift of our time. The Christ Child came for everyone – He wants us to come to Him first in adoration and in doing so, we receive the ultimate gift – His peace and His joy!

Every day can be a Christmas in our hearts, as we too sing on Christmas Day and everyday – “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

“The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person with singular intensity this Christmas.” – Blessed John Paul II

Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Mary’s fiat: “Bring it on!”

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"Annunciation" by Vasily Surikov (1914)

“Annunciation” by Vasily Surikov (1914)

It is only recently I took the time to appreciate the mother of Jesus.

I was born in the 1960s, came of age in the 1970s and soaked in the culture that can best be summed up with the song lyric, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

I never questioned if I had a voice because I just assumed I did. I did not know the woman whose only place was in the kitchen. My Mom was a very happy homemaker but never modeled that stereotypical 1950s version. My parents raised five daughters with the idea that our world was open to whatever we wanted to achieve.

My mother has always had a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother, but somewhere along the way I grew in the opinion that she was too meek and timid and no model for modern women like myself. It didn’t help that she was just too perfect and I was far from it. I remember thinking, “It’s easy to be Mary. If I was born ‘full of grace’ and without original sin, I would be holy too.”

Detail from "Missal of Bernhard von Rohr,Archbishop of Salzburg"(1481)

Detail from “Missal of Bernhard von Rohr, Archbishop of Salzburg” (1481)

I discovered the true Mary one day while meditating on the Joyful Mystery of the Annunciation and on her fiat – her yes to God.

I compared her life to Eve’s, the first woman born without original sin. I believed Eve had gotten a bad rap, “How can a woman who had no idea about sin or evil know that the serpent was conning her?” Yes, she was gullible and naïve, but culpable?

My Catholic faith teaches that Eve’s choice evicted mankind from paradise and Mary’s choice restored the dignity of mankind; but I wondered, “Who had the easier choice?”

I imagined the culture Mary lived in and saw a young woman living 2000 years ago in violent and masculine Judea. Much like many cultures in that same region today, Mary possessed no rights or status as far as society was concerned. True, she was sinless and full of grace but must have observed all her life the inhumanity of man to one another and the consequence of sin in her world. She knew Scripture but also had to know what justice her society would dole out to an un-wed girl with child. But with no assurance of what the future brings and only a knowledge and trust in God’s love for her, Mary makes her choice, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

In Eden, Eve did not have to work for food, shelter or clothes. She felt no shame and had all of nature at her disposal. She did not know sin because there was no sin. The only rule is that God forbade her to eat or touch the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden or “You will die.” (Genesis 3:3) Her trust in God’s love and care for her should have been rock solid but, “She took some if its fruit and ate it,” (Genesis 3:6) choosing instead to trust the words of the lying serpent, “You certainly will not die.” (Genesis 3:4)

I had it all backwards. Eve was the meek and timid one; allowing the opinion of another creature to question her intelligence and knowledge.

"The Virgin of the Rosary" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1650)

“The Virgin of the Rosary” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1650)

Mary knew what those around her would think, but secure in her value as a daughter of God, drew on this knowledge and with real courage gave her fiat what in today’s vernacular could have been, “Bring it on!”

Mary was a woman who defied what the culture said about her womanhood and stood erect in her personal dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God who loves her unconditionally. She was fearless, she was courageous; a true model for the woman of today.

I regret my former opinion of our Mother. I now know she would have been a great companion along my path of singlehood, newly married and young mother. What hurt, guilt, sin and obstacles to happiness I could have avoided had I just drawn on the strength of this woman secure in her womanhood.

With Mary as my model for the modern woman, I grow in the confidence to defy this culture of lies and give my own “Bring it on!” fiat. With every Hail Mary I recite, she encourages me to have courage in who God created me to be, to be fearless in expressing my femininity and to welcome a life pregnant with the Way, the Truth and the Life in her Son, Jesus Christ.

How to Have a Better Christmas: Don’t Forget to Wait

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by Daniel Quintero, former Media Ministry Assistant

As we begin the second week of Advent, we are reminded again of this time of anticipation. I must admit, there was a time where it was spiritually and mentally difficult for me to fully embark on the Advent Journey. Don’t get me wrong, I loved and appreciated the coming of Christ. Yet there is something about this season I had not fully grasped, something about it that made it difficult to appreciate the excitement of Advent.

The Solution is in the Anticipation

This problem plagued me for many years. Why was I not fully partaking in the spirit of Advent? Then I realized it was obvious: I wasn’t fully embracing Advent, because, I, like the rest of the world, wanted Christmas to come even earlier.

Advent is concealed, hidden away from a world that cannot wait. The world’s celebration of Christmas advances sooner and sooner each year — not because of Christ, but rather for products.

When Advent is Forgotten

Stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day for Christmas shopping; an irony, considering that gifts are supposed to represent love we have for friends and family. Yet on a day meant for families to be together to build that love, the lure of products keeps them apart. Cardinal Timothy Dolan expressed this as a time of  “a further descent into a highly privatized, impersonal, keep-people-at-a-distance culture, one that values having stuff and doing things over just being with people whom we love, cherish and appreciate.”

This was indeed my mindset when I was a younger. At that time, Christmas meant presents, a long break from school, and eggnog. As I grew more in my faith, I started to fall in love more with the real meaning of Christmas. Despite that, I still had difficulty growing in the spirit of Advent. Why? I had to learn the value of patience.

The Beauty of Being Ready

Good things come to those who wait. Just as a dating or engaged couple abstaining from physical intimacy continually offers that up and, through that, grows in love day by day — until the glorious splendor and bliss of their marriage unites them in body and soul, so too is the time of Advent meant to bring us closer in excitement and love to greet the One who is Love. When Advent is decreased, Christmas is decreased.  Advent is a time of preparation; I like to compare it to the season of Lent in anticipation for Easter Sunday. In our Advent time, we can sacrifice in order to grow. As a community, we sacrifice the beautiful prayer of the Gloria (“Glory to God in the highest…”). In our personal faith, we can fast and pray.

In this time of preparation, the Church offers numerous holy days to shape our anticipation. How disappointing it is for the secular world to only know one day of the holiday: December 25th, the first day of Christmas. The Catholic Church has the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Feast of Saint Nicholas, the Feast of Saint Lucy,  Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent), and the Hispanic tradition of posadas. These days help advance our salvation narrative, culminating in the arrival of our Savior. There are also the candles on the wreaths, the readings during Mass, the hymns in our songbooks which separate Advent music from Christmas music. Advent is the gem of waiting; the gem that propels Christmas to be understood as fully special and unique. Christmas is so magnificent, it has to be prepared for.

United with Mary 

In conclusion, I invite you to share in the beauty of Advent with the Virgin Mary. I am in awe when I reflect on the beauty of Our Virgin Mother bearing God in her womb.  I often wonder what she was thinking during that preparation. Perhaps she imagined how her Son would look, maybe what activities she would like to do with Him. Mary experienced the first Advent. We too are eagerly anticipating His Second Coming. Let us continue this season in hope and anticipation.  Happy Advent.