Monthly Archives: December 2012

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.

Take a Daily Spiritual Dump: 3 Steps You Shouldn’t Go Without

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Two weeks ago, I met a man who made a lasting impression on me. What struck me so deeply about this man was his unshakeable conviction that God loves everyone. He said,

[God] loves us in an intimate and personal way. He has a passionate love for each one of us.

God loves me? As you might, I wrestle with this idea, because I am imperfect, flawed, and wounded. At times, I experience pain, sickness, challenges and frustrations…and then I wonder, Does God really love me? Well, I’ve recently remembered the answer. All I had to do was go to Confession.

Wooden outhouseHOW I LEARNED ABOUT THE ‘DAILY DUMP’

When I recently walked into the Confessional “box,” the priest asked me how I was doing. My heart was very heavy with many things, so I cried, confessed my sins, and Father listened very patiently. He told me that—from my own words and disposition, he could see that I’d forgotten how much God loves me. For my penance, he wrote down some Scriptures on which I should reflect.

Then, he told me something I’d never heard before: Just like we have to go to the bathroom every day, we also need that spiritually! (I almost chuckled when he said this.) The truth is that our souls have to daily get rid of all the junk: the lies we have believed about ourselves, about others, and about God.

In other words, we need to take a daily ‘spiritual dump.’

THE THREE-STEP CHALLENGE

This made perfect sense to me. We can all get very down on ourselves (I’m such a failure, I’m no good, I’m worthless, Why aren’t I like her/him?) and we play the blame game toward others & God. What we need is a fresh start. Here’s how Father explained this process to me.

STEP ONE: Remember and affirm who you are in God’s eyes.

Open up your BibleDust off your Bible, open it up, and write down the Scriptures that especially speak about God’s love for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in this process. Here’s what Father recommended to me:

  • 1 John 3:1-3
  • Romans 8:1
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Galatians 2:19b-20
  • Psalm 23:4

Then, Father recommended I write my own “litany” of reminders about who I am in God’s eyes. For example: I am a new creation. I am a daughter of God. I am God’s beloved child. I am desired by the King of Heaven. I am a precious temple of the Holy Spirit. I am redeemed by Christ’s cross…(etc.) Base your “litany” on the Scriptures you find.

Every day, begin your ‘Daily Dump’ by praying this litany. Give thanks to God for His love and goodness!

STEP TWO: Examine your conscience.

After declaring who you are in God, reflect back on your day: When were the times that I lived up to this litany? When were the times that I failed?

STEP THREE: Repent, reject, and praise.

Repent of your sins and failures — these are the times you failed to live as God’s beloved child, temple of the Holy Spirit, etc. Ask God for his mercy.

Rest in ChristThen, the dump: Reject in Jesus’ name the evil and lies which have led you into sin. For example: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that I am a failure. In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that [Person’s Name] is lesser than me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that [Person’s Name] is the object of my lust. In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that I do not have time for prayer… (etc.)

Finally, say a few words of thanks and praise to God — maybe pray the “Glory Be” and say, “Thank you, Lord! I love you. Help me to live for you.

GET GUARANTEED RELIEF

While this daily process takes only a few minutes and helps us combat sin, there’s a place where we can get guaranteed relief.

Both outhouses and confessionals are awkward little boxes where we dump the junk that’s weighing us down. Neither box looks particularly appealing! But confessionals are unique; if we enter them sincerely willing to give all the grime to God, we’ll get guaranteed relief.

Yep, confessing our sins and failures can be terribly embarrassing. But we often forget that Confession is not merely confessing sins. It is a sacrament — tailor-made by God, to give us new life! Humbling ourselves and admitting our failures in Confession, we slowly conquer our pride — and God gives us sacramental grace to become stronger against temptation. Through the priest, he listens to us, speaks to us, forgives us, fills us with his love, and unites us to himself. Don’t wait any longer — go to Jesus in the Sacrament of Confession!

Whoever confesses his sins … is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear “man” — this is what God has made; when you hear “sinner” — this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. … The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light. (Saint Augustine)