Monthly Archives: January 2016

Most Powerful Woman In the World

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When you think about powerful women, who first comes to your mind?

A CEO? A queen? A ruler? A military leader?

National Geographic magazine’s December 2015 issue calls Mary, Mother of God, “The Most Powerful Woman in the World”, with an image of Mary on the front cover. Imagine that: Mary, the Mother of God, on the front cover of National Geographic magazine! The feature article is quite extensive. In it, the reporter travels to some Marian apparition sites, and writes about the impact that Mary has had on the world since the beginning of Christianity.

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The New Testament records Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, her part in the miraculous changing of water into wine at Cana, her presence at the foot of the cross on which Christ died, and with the Apostles in the upper room on Pentecost.

Let’s think about her time in Bethlehem. We know from Scripture that she and Joseph had to stay in a stable, a manger, because there wasn’t any room in Bethlehem due to a census that had brought in an influx of people.  She gave birth to the Son of God in a humble, simple manger—where animals were kept. She lay on hay, and the baby Jesus lay in a trough. Here we see the love and mercy of God; to give us His Son through a young woman (a virgin), born like us—human in the midst of disarray. Can we imagine that stable with Mary and the baby Jesus?  With Joseph looking on, caring for them? Would you imagine an incredible peace there?

Mary is with Jesus throughout his life—from the wood of the trough/manger to the wood of the Cross, where she stands and Jesus says to us, “Behold you mother.”

Do you think of Mary as a woman whose name has come down to us in history merely because she happened to be the mother of Jesus Christ?  Is that all that she means to us in this day and age?

Let us hope that we can discover what the saints and popes through the centuries have discovered about Mary.

We know that there are a few passages in Scripture that speak to us about Mary. Beyond that, there have been volumes written about her by numerous faithful authors throughout the history of the Church. There are thousands of churches named after her, all over the world. The saints all had a great love and devotion to her.

Mary is the crowning glory of God’s creation, the most favored of all humans, and yet she did not live in luxury and comfort. She lived a relatively poor life, only wanting to be “the handmaid of the Lord”. In Mary, we see God’s wisdom in His plan for humanity. For, as with Mary, God also expects to be first in our lives; that we totally trust in Him in all things—especially those things we don’t understand.

This brings us to Mary at the foot of the cross. Before Jesus dies, he says, “Woman, behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your Mother.” The Church has always taught that, when Jesus gave his mother to John, he was—in reality—giving her to the Church; to you and me. Mary was present in the upper room with the apostles when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and the Church was born. Mary is the Mother of the Church according to the order of grace. It is God’s will that all grace come to us through the Mother of Jesus, whom Jesus has given to us, to be our mother. It is Mary’s desire that we approach her as our mother to receive the help that she wishes to give us. This is confirmed in her apparitions, especially when she appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in 1561. She said:

Do not fear…Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.

Read the National Geographic article here.

Would you like to “meet” Mary? The Pilgrim Center of Hope offers Evenings with Mary on specific dates in various Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. For a list of those dates and locations, visit our website.

R.I.P. David Bowie

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Yesterday, I read the morning news with palpable dread: rock legend David Bowie had died.

I was late to love his music, first introduced to Bowie at age 15 via the soundtrack covers in the 2004 Wes Anderson flick, The Life Aquatic. Even cooled by the unclad, mellifluous strumming and voice of Seu Jorge, the essence of Bowie blinked through: searing pain, open-veined longing, and a fearless dazzle in the dark.

After college, I picked Bowie up directly after hearing “Rebel Rebel”. I fell quite flatly for the alien mystique of Ziggy Stardust, one of the alter egos Bowie took up throughout his musical career. There was something rigorously, honestly cool about this man, this character, who could pretend to be from outer space, on a mission to share rock ‘n roll with the waiting coasts of the world. Completely out there. And yet the focus of his music was always other people’s lives. His art expressed the anxieties and flops, and yearnings, of the denizens of Earth.

Immediately after Bowie’s death, praise began to circulate with an emphasis on his out-there-ness. Simcha Fisher at Aleteia admitted that, in fact, Bowie’s extraterrestrial persona was never what she appreciated about his music:

“That voice. Alien? No. It sounded like wood weathered to silver by the ocean; it sounded like steel corroded into intricate designs; it sounded like crazed glass that had cracked but not shattered. Pain and anger and weariness and wit — these are not alien or martian or otherworldly. They are human, and so was he.”

In a world of hackneyed artists, David Bowie’s songs had nothing of the poisonously insipid malaise that makes up so much of mainstream culture. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano paid tribute to Bowie, calling him artistically rigorous and “never banal”.

The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, tweeted fitting lyrics from Bowie’s song Space Oddity:

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Is it crazy that I find Jesus Christ in this? No. Christ is the most sublime, transcendent. He entered the world from eternity, from glory unfathomable, from the very arms of the Creator–and he became human. “Pain and anger and weariness and wit” – these are things that describe Christ’s life. Shaped in the waters of Mary’s womb, his bones would become pressed to the point just before breaking, for our sake.

For love of us, Christ carried our agony and angst, our nostalgia for a world of seamless joy and peace, and then poured that love out for everyone on the cross. I believe some of that love entered into David Bowie, and made his art possible.

Perhaps Kristen Walker Hatten said it best when she wrote,

We are all creators, because we were made by a Creator, and He made us something like Himself. David Bowie … took his pain and loneliness and … his experience on this planet and made it Art. He made Music. He was a human. He tried to be on this earth in a way that was beautiful and made sense. … This sinner created beauty on earth that wasn’t here before he got here, and he shared it with the whole world, and he let us all see his pain and loneliness and brokenness and weirdness so we would feel a little bit better about ours.

To take a little bit of pressure off us. Was David Bowie a saint? No. But he was a soulful weirdo, a beneficent genius, an incredible showman. He was a child of God who worked tirelessly to give his audience the gift of good music up until the very end. He died of cancer two days after releasing his latest album, Blackstar.

That same day, his wife Iman posted an image to her Instagram with the words, “The struggle is real but so is God.” Indeed. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace, Starman. Amen.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope works constantly to help those who are seeking the light of Christ, especially those most in need of hope. One way of doing this is by hosting pilgrimages throughout each year, in which pilgrims are immersed in the culture of the historical Church and the lives of the saints. To learn more about our various ministries, visit PilgrimCenterofHope.org.

Confessions of a Lector

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The entire room stared at me.  They had never heard this before.  I saw a spark in their eyes grow into a bright light.

I was just explaining the ambo.

Do you know what an ambo is?  Most people don’t.  In a Catholic church, the ambo is one of the most important and meaningful furnishings representing Christ’s threefold identity.  Ambos continue an ancient practice, mirroring the Jewish synagogue.  They are sacred places reserved for God’s Word.  But for most people?  The ambo is just a podium or pulpit, where a “reader” stands.

How tragic!

A while ago, when I was asked to give a ‘crash course’ in lectoring to my parish youth ministry team, I realized how much profound, beautiful meaning has been lost on almost every Catholic, related to the first part of Mass.  Now is a perfect time to learn more.  Until January 10, the Church still celebrates the Christmas Season, when God’s Word became flesh.

We often hear about the flesh of God during Mass… but what about the Word?  How much are you missing?  Let’s get a taste!

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
– Isaiah 40:9

The word ambo comes from the Greek for an elevated or high place, such as a mountain.  Elevated places have always been associated with the proclamation of God’s word.  Remember Moses bringing the Commandments down from the mountain?  Or Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount?  You will find dozens of similar examples in Scripture.

If you’ve ever visited a Jewish synagogue, you’ve seen the bimah, which is the ancestor of the Christian ambo.  (Bimah and ambo are the same word, just in different languages.)  The bimah is the elevated platform from which the Torah is read.  As early as the Book of Nehemiah (400’s B.C.), people stood on a bimah and read God’s words for all the people to hear.

So, the next time you see this at your parish, think about what an ancient tradition you are witnessing!

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Synagogue in Padua, Italy.  Notice bimah on righthand side with steps leading up. Photo by Olivier Lévy.

 

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Ambo – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio  (See how it juts out into the congregation?)

For Christians, the ambo is particularly important.  As I mentioned, it is one of three key furnishings within the church building that represent Christ’s threefold identity: priest, prophet, and king.  When we are baptized, each of us is “incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king” (Catechism CC, no. 1241).  The altar represents Christ as priest, the presider’s chair represents Christ as king, and the ambo represents Christ as prophet.

This is why, especially in older cathedrals or basilicas, the ambo is not only a simple ‘podium’ but actually juts out into the congregation’s seating.  This represents Christ the Prophet who goes out to the people, proclaiming the Good News!

The official instruction manual for Mass confirms how important this part of the Mass truly is:

When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, the readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone, for they are an element of the greatest importance in the Liturgy. – GIRM, no. 29

Typically, the person who reads the Scriptures during Mass is called a lector.  This word comes from the Latin which means “chosen reader”.  Consider all that we’ve learned about the Scriptures’ amazing role during each Mass. It may not surprise you, then, to discover that Lector is not just a job description, but is actually a ministry instituted by the bishop.

On a typical Sunday, you would probably hear a priest see me and say, “Oh, hi, Angela.  Are you the lector today?”  That use of “lector” is actually shorthand, because I am not an instituted Lector.

However, a dear friend of mine, Brother Sean Stilson, BBD, is truly a Lector.  He received the ministry of Lector from Archbishop Gustavo almost two years ago, because he is a seminarian on the way to becoming a priest.  It is most appropriate for instituted Lectors to proclaim the Scriptures during Mass* because of the importance, sacredness, and tradition in that moment.  However, when instituted Lectors are not available, the Church appoints lay people (like me) to proclaim the readings.  *The Gospel reading is the exception.  As the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word, it is proclaimed only by a deacon or priest.

My responsibility to proclaim the Scriptures during Mass has deepened my love and appreciation for Scripture—an appreciation which developed naturally in my childhood and progressed as I grew.  Every day, I spend time with the Scriptures.  They are ancient stories of my spiritual family.  They are my heritage as a Christian.  The Scriptures are God’s living words; every time I read them, they pierce my heart and speak to me about my life and identity.

I hope and pray that this little “confession” of mine will entice you to learn more about the Scriptures, both inside and outside your parish walls. After many years of study, I am still learning!

What treasures await us!

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Here is a fond memory from 2010: I proclaimed the readings during Mass at the birthplace of the greatest prophet, St. John the Baptist, in Ein Karem.