Category Archives: Advent

The Gift of Death for Christmas

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For the first time in recent memory, this Christmas’ extended family gift exchange was not a game. Gathered around the fireplace at my aunt’s house, each of her siblings chose a number to determine their turn. Then, in order, each sibling carefully took one of their mother’s precious keepsakes as their own. In a complex atmosphere of bittersweet memories, one person picked the photo of Grandma with her sisters; another selected the Christmas wreath that had hung on her door; and on it went… until nothing was left.

Just five days prior, gathered around a casket in parish pews, we prayed the Rosary in a way we never had before. Grandma’s eldest daughter, in a moment of remembrance after prayer, noted, “My mother’s favorite mystery of the Rosary was the Nativity.” Many times over the next twenty-four hours, we were reminded that Grandma prayed 15 decades of the Rosary daily, entrusting all of us to Jesus through his Heavenly Mother, but also entrusting herself.

The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: “From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord”; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us “at the hour of our death” in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1014)

Because of the loss of my grandmother, I re-discovered this Christmas. I noted how the Church celebrates—yes, celebrates—St. Stephen’s bloody martyrdom on December 26. On December 27, we celebrate the death of Saint John the Evangelist, who gave up each day of his life completely to God and died a natural death. Then, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 (those innocent children whom Herod slaughtered in a paranoid rush to protect his sovereignty from a baby King). Thus, we begin the Christmas season by celebrating three martyrdoms: chosen martyrdom by blood, chosen martyrdom of daily life, and unchosen martyrdom of innocent blood.

It is a strange wonder to think that our religion celebrates death at a time like Christmas. Yet, it is not strange when I think back to the end of my grandmother’s Rosary service. Having completed the final prayer, my uncle Deacon John reflected, “We will remember always that now, whenever we pray the Rosary, we pray it along with her.” Jesus’ birthday made possible his self-gift on the Cross, transforming the curse of death into a gift: the hope of abundant and everlasting life.

If you have experienced a loved one’s death recently, I encourage you to take hope. When Jesus explained to his disciples what it takes to enter Heaven, they looked at him in astonishment, asking, “Then, who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

When we see a body lying in a casket, it seems impossible for that person to do anything more. Death appears to be final. Yet, Christians dare to hope in knowing that God—who created that person, who knows all the hidden sufferings and trials of his or her life, and who loves perfectly—is Judge. Therefore, we must pray often in hope and trust, commending his or her soul to God who became Love Incarnate, whose ways and wisdom are far beyond our weak ways and short-sighted wisdom.

God became a human because he could not bear the thought of living without each one of us in Eternity. He was born to show us his love; penultimately expressed by his death and resurrection. That is the gift of Christmas.

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.” –  Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (1948—2013)

To go deeper into this topic, consider watching our recent episode of Catholicism Live! We invite you to watch Catholicism Live! every Tuesday morning at 11am CST. Find out more about the show that helps you keep your faith alive at CatholicismLive.com.

Where is your Bethlehem? Closer than you think.

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Last week I overheard a young woman ask someone if they celebrated Christmas. The person responded “Yes, of course I do!”. The young woman said, “Oh, do you know that some people don’t celebrate Christmas?” Upon hearing this, I began to think about those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps they haven’t experienced God’s love or mercy directly. Perhaps they don’t believe in God.

A Long Time Ago

What happened in Bethlehem, Palestine over 2,000 years ago has impacted millions upon millions of souls. God, the Creator of the Universe, sent His Son to be born of a virgin in a humble place, a grotto or stable. You have heard the story – Joseph takes Mary from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census held by Caesar Augustus (ref. Luke 2:1).

It is impressive to learn about St. Joseph through John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer. In it he describes Joseph as a just and righteous man who was obedient to the law:

“Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority, Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire (Jn 1:45). This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, but also as Savior of the World!” (#9)

Not Very Different From Today

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary see the hustle and bustle of the town – people arriving from various areas for the census, donkeys and camels in the streets, marketplace busy, Joseph searched for a place at the inn, and perhaps several inns.

No room at the inn for them! So thanks to an innkeeper, they are told they can stay at a grotto where animals are kept. Here, in this simple, humble, and most likely quiet place, the Son of God is born.

“Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness to the birth of the Son of God in the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that humanly speaking, were embarrassing.” (#10)

The Journey Home

The first time I experienced visited Bethlehem, I was quite emotional because I was able to touch and pray at the place where my Savior was born! My husband and I have led numerous pilgrimages to the Holy Land and our time in Bethlehem is very special. The birthplace of Jesus, our Savior, is still there! A church, the Basilica of the Nativity, is built over it to protect it. Thanks be to God for this – now, we can visit this sacred site, where the Son of God was born, where Hope was born!

Do Mary & Joseph have a place in your home?

Oh, but what if one cannot visit Bethlehem in the Holy Land? Bethlehem can be our parish church and our homes where we have a nativity scene set-up.

Parish churches can be called “little Bethlehems”. It is there where we unite with other Christians to worship God and see the Creche, or the Nativity.

Let us approach the Creche with new eyes, not as before, as we casually looked at it and thought it was nice. Let us look at the Nativity – whether it be plastic, clay, metal or whatever it is made of – and see what took place 2,000 years ago in a small town in ancient Palestine.

Have you prepared a place for Jesus?

Imagine the scene! Mary and the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes… Would you be attracted to spend time with this family? The Shepherds did! The Magi did!

A Nativity scene, a Creche – as simple as it may be; this symbolic representation of Christ’s birth can help us meditate and contemplate God’s love for each of us, God’s mercy to give us a Redeemer born so poor and yet majestic, because He is the Savior!

When life throws challenges at us, whether it be elderly parents, sickness, problems with family or work; think about the Holy Family. They certainly faced their challenges!

Oh yes, let us humble ourselves before the infant Jesus. His gifts of peace, hope and joy last forever! The Christmas Season (Dec 25 – January 6) can be our time in “Bethlehem”, let us take advantage of this time to thank Him for His gifts and humbly present ourselves to Him.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope seeks to offer you opportunities to encounter Christ as a gift. We pray that you and your family find ways to encounter Christ wherever you are and have a blessed Christmas season.

Why did the Angels announce Christ’s birth to shepherds?

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b-shepherds-fieldMy husband and I enjoy watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. Who could forget that classic moment, when a deeply perturbed Charlie Brown yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” and Linus recites from the Gospel of Luke? It’s a real tear-jerker.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

How often have you pictured that scene in your mind: so many angels singing God’s praises, their glory contrasting with the poor, amazed, and simple shepherds? Did you know that even to this day in Bethlehem, shepherds continue to tend their flocks in the very same fields? During my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was privileged to visit and see this amazing place with my own eyes.

Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem

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Have you ever realized that this historic event is commemorated during Mass on Sundays and major feast days? Each time we sing, “Glory to God in the highest…”, known as the Gloria, we are echoing those words of the angels that forever changed the world and sent a message of hope for all people! Wow!

However, have you noticed that during Advent, we skip this part of the Mass? Why?

Shepherd of Bethlehem

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people lived under the Roman Empire’s occupation, and they longed for a Savior. They looked for a “Son of David”, because the prophets had promised a Messiah (Savior) from the line of King David. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was born into such a family.

Now recall King David’s background: he was a shepherd from Bethlehem. He was the youngest and smallest of his father’s sons—an unexpected new king, yet the most famous and revered of all Israel’s rulers.

Why Shepherds are Significant

Imagine spending your days and nights outside with a flock of sheep…not the most exciting gig in the world! Shepherds were servants, hired by landowners to tend their flock. An ideal shepherd was a patient, loyal, strong person, willing to stay with his job despite boredom, bad weather, and the occasional predator or wandering sheep. To these simple servants, the host of heaven revealed itself!

Similarly, we ourselves are charged by our Master to go about our everyday lives accomplishing the tasks he gives us. Under blue skies or gray, rain or shine, in boredom or danger, we are called to be out in the fields, doing our duty.

Advent is a time of preparation and waiting. Unlike the world around us which is already celebrating Christmas, we are called to patiently wait for our Savior. Just like the shepherds, we must stay awake and alert. Then, finally, when eternity explodes into our lives—either by death or Second Coming, we will be ready to run and greet Christ!

So, during Advent, we do not sing the Gloria as a reminder that we are waiting, like those shepherds. For me, Christmas Mass is one of the most emotional of the year, because I can sing the song that, along with millions of other Catholics, I have been waiting so long to sing. Together, our Church family sings the song that brought hope to a people longing for a savior; the song that the host of heaven sang to some humble little “nobodys”…

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

If you’d like to walk across Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem and sing the Gloria where it was first sung, join us for a journey of faith to the Holy Land! I invite you to learn about the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s unique Ministry of Pilgrimages and view upcoming pilgrimages on our website.

How to be Imperfect and have a Perfect Christmas!

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This is the first year that I have not put up my Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. I really love all the lights that go up during this season in preparation for Our Lord’s coming. This year’s Advent season has been very different for me spiritually. The more I meditate on Advent, the clearer I see that the real journey to Christmas day was not so perfect.

The real journey can be experienced by placing yourself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph. They had an experience very far from the picture perfect Christmas. From the moment that Mary learned of new life within her, Jesus was the center of a situation that was full of uncertainty and danger. A mix of emotions were certainly aroused in Joseph when he learned of a new child on the way. Although this picture was not perfect, Mary and Joseph trusted in God and put their own plans aside. Were they still stressed and on-edge of the reality of their situation? Most likely.

Jesus was sent to this world for us. He was sent to a world full of joy, sadness, anger, and brokenness. He did not enter into a fully decorated home with everything in place. He did not only come to save families with the best manners and servant hearts. He came for those of us who have no decorations for our home. He came for those of us who have all the decorations for our home. Find the true joy of Christmas knowing he came for us all!

In any way that you are broken and imperfect, connect to Mary and Joseph and ask for their intercession. And ask for Jesus to come and heal and make you new again. Christmas is about new beginnings and hope for the world.

mary-and-child-angel-lullabyHere is a prayer from St. John Paul II to the Baby Jesus for Peace:

Wipe away, Baby Jesus, the tears of children!
Embrace the sick and the elderly!
Move men to lay down their arms
and to draw close in a universal embrace of peace!
Invite the peoples, O merciful Jesus,
to tear down the walls created
by poverty and unemployment,
by ignorance and indifference,
by discrimination and intolerance.
It is you, O Divine Child of Bethlehem,
who save us, freeing us from sin.
It is you who are the true and only Saviour,
whom humanity often searches for with uncertainty.
God of peace, gift of peace for all of humanity,
come to live in the heart of every individual and of every family.
Be our peace and our joy!
Amen!

During this season of Hope, allow Mary to facilitate peace and healing in your life. Every month, we present an Evening with Mary to provide spiritual tools from Mary for your faith journey. Mary is the sacred channel to Jesus that is a gift to every one of us. We wish you a blessed journey to Christmas.

10 Questions to ask yourself this Advent season

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Homily for 1st Sunday in Advent

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Am I living for myself or for God?

“As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

People were living as if the only thing that matters is the way they are living. They were living for themselves; not for God and neighbor. They were swept away by the flood.

As Jesus says, it will be the same when the Son of Man comes; in the field and in the mill –one will be left and one will be taken. Was God`s choice of who He would take arbitrary? Were both men the same and both women the same?

Jesus then says, “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come….So to, you also must be prepared…”  It seems that the ones he took were prepared.

What does it mean to be prepared?

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Mt 7:21.

If you asked people if they believed they were going to heaven, almost everyone would say yes. And yet Jesus says only those who do the will of His Father will enter heaven.

How do you know what God`s will is?

We begin with the Scriptures. Jesus says, “Blest are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.

To keep it is to hold it in our hearts, to believe it and to live it. In a letter from the Bishops of the U.S. they tell us “…if you have not undergone conversion, you have not accepted the Word of God.

In what authority do we place our trust?

To be prepared is to be changed. Jesus also gave his authority to the Church so that it could guide us, but if we refuse to listen to the Church how can we know the will of God?

Through the Church, Jesus gives us the Holy Mass, which is the greatest of all prayers and he gives us the sacraments as the source of grace we need to discover and do the Fathers will, which is often in conflict with our will.

We have the Scriptures, the Word of God to guide us. St Jerome once said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” If we don’t know Christ we aren’t prepared.

We have the lives of the saints as models of what faithful discipleship should look like. Ignorance of the saints is ignorance of the Church and the powerful presence of God it has been through the ages.

What commitments am I willing to make to God?

A commitment to daily prayer is a necessary aspect of our relationship with God. No prayer means no faith. St. Paul says — “we should pray always; we should begin everything we do with prayer”.

Being prepared is not something that will just naturally happen; it’s a choice we must make and it will take a great deal of effort on our part. God has not asked something of us that is unreasonable.

Do you need a wake-up call?

Many years ago when we were going door to door we met a woman who was in her last stage cancer and in much pain; death was imminent. Even so she thanked God for the cancer because it brought her back to God and the Church. She said it helped to save her soul. In that sense cancer, or any crisis can be a blessing because it can help to save souls.

Do you have any hatred, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, etc.?

If so you are not prepared!

Do you love God more than anything else and your neighbor as yourself?

During the Advent season we pray for the second coming of Christ with the emphasis on being prepared. The reality is, the same Jesus Christ who will come in glory at the end of time is coming to us in this Mass; are we prepared to receive him. We will not be receiving just a piece of bread, but the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ! We prepare ourselves by being free of all serious sin through frequent of the sacrament of reconciliation and by preparing ourselves spiritually and mentally in our personal prayer before Mass and by active participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. This is the best preparation for the coming of Christ.

What is the purpose of all of this?

The purpose is not only to be prepared when Christ comes for us. This preparation will help us to experience our greatest happiness now. Being prepared not only has a transforming effect upon us, but on all our relationships, our community and so on. When we are prepared we will help others to be prepared. Then we can all say, “Come Lord Jesus, come! “

How can I serve this Advent season?

We invite you to give your time, talent, and treasure to a cause that means something to you this Advent season. As a non-profit, we are very grateful when people offer themselves or their resources to help us help the community. When we work together, great things happen. Find out more about how you can volunteer at the Pilgrim Center of Hope. May you have a blessed Advent and Christmas season!

How Far Are You From Bethlehem?

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No, I am not thinking of the cities named Bethlehem in Connecticut, Pennslyvania or Georgia. How far are you from the Bethlehem in your own area?

That’s right – we can say that we are all on a journey to see the newborn King – Jesus, our Savior. This Bethlehem can be our parish church and our homes where we have a nativity scene set-up.

Parish churches can be called “little Bethlehems”. It is there where we unite with other Christians to worship God and see the Creche, or the Nativity. Most Churches are open through the early evening for visitors, for people who want to stop and enter a building consecrated to God! Let us approach the Creche with new eyes, not as before, as we casually looked at it and thought it was nice. Let us look at the Nativity – whether it be plastic, clay, metal or whatever it is made of – and see what took place 2,000 years ago in a small town in ancient Palestine.

First of all, it’s impressive to learn about St. Joseph through John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer. In it he describes Joseph as a just and righteous man who was obedient to the law:

“Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority, Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire (Jn 1:45). This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, but also as Savior of the World!” (#9)

Think of their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is around 90 miles…they may have traveled in a caravan. Nevertheless, Mary was pregnant. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary see the hustle and bustle of the town – people arriving from various areas for census, donkeys and camels in the streets, marketplace busy, Joseph searched for a place at the inn, and perhaps several inns.

No room at the inn for them! So thanks to an innkeeper, they are told they can stay at a grotto where animals are kept. Here, in this simple, humble, and most likely quiet place, the Son of God is born.

“Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness to the birth of the Son of God in the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that humanly speaking, were embarrassing.” (#10)

Imagine the scene! Mary and the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes… Would you be attracted to spend time with this family? The Shepherds did! The Magi did!

"Holy Night (Nativity)", Albrecht Altdorfer

“Holy Night (Nativity)”, Albrecht Altdorfer

The Magi saw the Star which led them to Jerusalem/Bethlehem area. As they arrive in Jerusalem, they inquired about the Birth of the newborn King of the Jews. Then they set out where the Star led them

…until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering … they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11)

Let’s take a look again at what the Magi did upon arriving at the birthplace of Christ; they did him homage first, then presented their gifts. There is an order here that we can learn from. We must always remember to first do homage to Christ.

A Nativity scene, a Creche – as simple as they may be; this symbolic representation of Christ’s birth can help us meditate and contemplate God’s love for each of us, God’s mercy to give us a Redeemer born so poor and yet majestic, because He is the Savior!

Are you closer to Bethlehem now?

The Ultimate Personality Test

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Have you ever taken a personality test?  They ask you a few questions, and then “reveal” something about who you are…

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • Which Color Are You?
  • The 5 Love Languages (9 million copies sold)
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  • Strengthsfinder 2.0 (Wall Street Journal #1 and BusinessWeek #1 bestseller)

I used to gleefully spend hours taking personality tests.  Some were even school course requirements.   While they can offer some helpful insights, personality tests can also – especially for Christians – distract us from where we should find our identity.

John the Baptist’s Test

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My fellow pilgrims walking to the site of Christ’s baptism, in Jordan.

In November 2010, I remember walking through the tall grass of the Jordanian wilderness, accompanying my fellow pilgrims to the site of Christ’s baptism.  We were privileged to trek there, rather than the typical Jordan River ‘pilgrim stop’ in Israel which is busy and developed.  Here, though, it seemed we were discovering uncharted territory.  As we walked, our shoes crushing rock and fallen foliage, and I almost expected to hear the voice of hairy, wild John the Baptist shouting, “Prepare the way for the Lord!”

On Gaudete Sunday, we read that Jewish priests and Levites tested John the Baptist about his identity. I am amazed by his disarming authenticity and self-knowledge:

He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”

Three times, John affirms who he is not. Then, he answers them:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’

as Isaiah the prophet said.”

I wonder if John’s mother, Elizabeth, ever told him the story of his name.  He would know that instead of being named after his father, זְכַרְיָה – meaning “YHWH has remembered” – the Lord sent an angel to ensure that John would be named יוֹחָנָן – “YHWH is gracious”.

God wanted John’s name to say something: That he was sent to call people toward repentance and conversion.  John prepared the way for Jesus, who would eat with sinners, forgive them, and die for them, revealing that God is gracious.  John’s entire life was directed toward preparing people for Jesus’ coming.

Hence, John found his identity in his relationship to Jesus, and to his fellow man: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.'”

Discovering Who We Are

From John, we learn that the ultimate personality test consists of two simple questions:  What is my relationship to Jesus Christ?  How does that inform my relationships with other people?

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Christian rediscovers his true identity in Christ […] In identifying with him, in being one with him, I rediscover my personal identity…” Benedict also taught us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, “As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance.”

This Advent and Christmas, take time to rediscover your true identity. Consider journaling or sitting in silence to reflect:

  • How did my relationship with Jesus begin? How has it grown?
  • How would I describe my relationship with Jesus today?  (Who is Jesus to me?)
  • How has Jesus transformed my relationship with others?
  • In what ways might Jesus be calling me to be more authentic in my relationship with Him?  In my relationships with others?

Thank you, Lord Jesus – for becoming human, for being gracious, and for showing me who I truly am.  Amen.

How to Escape Anxiety and Stress

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Everybody knows this time of year can be stressful; no need for me to prove that point!

Last night, I began crying while unloading the dishwasher. Looking to the living room, I saw my husband sitting on the couch, which made me cry even more… ‘Why is he sitting on the couch when there’s so much to do??’ I went to blow my nose, and when I returned he motioned for me. “Come sit down with me for a second,” he said.

“No! There’s too much to do!” I argued. But I sat down anyway.

Stroking my hair, he asked what I was so stressed about. As I (blubberingly) listed everything, he asked me questions like, “Can we schedule a time for that?” and assured, “We’re in this together.” Slowly, the Enormous Problem Monster evaporated into thin air. My husband had helped me see the truth: I didn’t have to tackle everything at that very moment.

Sometimes, you’re so run-down because you feel like your entire world is set on your shoulders. That’s how I felt last night. So, imagine how I felt waking up this morning, sitting on that same couch, and reading the Gospel for today (the day I’m writing this)…

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Yoke

Jesus knew that sometimes we’d feel just like cattle, our shoulders carrying a heavy yoke tied to our entire world, plowing back and forth…back and forth…all day long…every day. That gospel, and my husband’s wisdom, reminded me of the key to escaping anxiety:

Just be with God. “Come to me,” Jesus beckons.

“No! There’s too much to do!” we argue. When we’re constantly go-go-go-ing, and doing, we get so tired. We start thinking, ‘What can I do, so I’ll feel less tired, so I can do more?‘ But we get burned out. We weren’t made to ‘do’ everything, all the time. We’re taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “human life has a rhythm of work and rest” (2184).

And what is rest?

“Come to me,” Jesus tells you, “and I will give you rest.”

After someone passes away, we pray the traditional — “Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.” — which reveals Heaven as the place of eternal and peaceful rest! Why?

Heaven is a state of being in complete union with God, forever. That’s ‘Eternal Rest.’ Shouldn’t that remind us that, while we’re alive, the only time and space we’ll find rest is being with God? “Come to me,” Jesus says. He wants to offer you an exchange: He’ll carry the world. You just come, and learn from Him.

I’ll leave you with a song that I heard a few days ago. It reminds me of a dialogue between our weary souls and God.
Enjoy resting.

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.