January 1, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, one of the holy days of obligation in the Church. This celebration is a special way to celebrate Mary’s special role in God’s plan in the Christmas story, as well as a way to start the year full of grace, ready to tackle those New Year’s resolutions. Although the practice of New Year’s resolutions is not distinctly Christian, our resolutions gain a new significance when we attend to Mary’s story.
Discern Your Resolutions
The story of Mary’s call to motherhood is a paradigm of Biblical discernment. When Mary received Gabriel’s announcement, “She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). In faith, Mary wrestles with God’s calling. Even after her great “Yes,” and giving birth, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), revealing she is still learning what her vocation means and how to live it.
What’s this got to do with New Year’s resolutions? Discernment is a spiritual, prayerful decision-making process between possible courses of action. What specific habits or practices is God calling you to work on this year? There are plenty of worthwhile resolutions—there’s a million things I need work on—but it’s just not all possible to accomplish in a year, or ever. Prioritize resolutions that strengthen your personal vocation.
Expect Without Expectations
Mary’s faith is “expectant” but without “expectations.” In other words, Mary expects God to act in her life, but doesn’t place limitations on who, what, when, and where. Mary trusts the angel Gabriel’s words, “nothing will be impossible for God” and is free to live and say, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:37-38).
Maybe God will bring about the outcomes of your resolution through unexpected ways or people. That’s the way it often works in scripture and the lives of the Saints. When you give God permission to act on his terms, you are free to boldly expect that God will do new and great things in your life this year.
Make Room For Others
Even free from original sin, God uses other people to accomplish his plan in Mary’s life. Mary’s story was made possible through her reliance upon truthful friends and family. Her cousin Elizabeth speaks truth and hope into her situation (Luke 1:42), and her husband Joseph goes to heroic lengths to let God’s call come to fruition.
Share your resolution with someone you trust. Whether it’s a major lifestyle change or not, ask them to keep you accountable, and always with prayer. Accountability also prevents goals from becoming purely self-centered or even idols from seeking God first (e.g., just to impress people at the beach). No one can accomplish your resolution for you, but you can find people to accomplish it with you.
Resolve to Live the Truth
Mary shows the true path by always making everything about Jesus. “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). A true personal change will always lead us to more fully reflect our true identities as sons and daughters created in the image and likeness of God.
But the truth is, sometimes resolutions are born of self-loathing or lies we’ve bought instead of the desire to more fully reflect God’s truth. This often happens with body or image-related resolutions; to be thinner, smarter, stronger, etc. While these aren’t de facto bad things, the tendency becomes seeking physical solutions for a spiritual or psychological wound that really needs healing. That’s why discernment with spiritual direction and honest accountability is vital. Exercise programs or supplements say we should consult a physician first- but it’s also true when it applies to spiritual exercises for our soul! Mary and the saints save us from spiritual self-medication, which close us off from the Divine Physician.
"On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?" - Pope Francis (Christmas Homily, 2014)
The past year has seen many moments that called out for the "tenderness of God." Challenging moments of war, suffering, natural disaster, and human-caused neglect - seemingly harsh, rather than tender. Some might use the harshness of the world as an excuse to move away from God or render God irrelevant. Yet, there is still a seeking in the human heart given by God who desires to embrace us and draw us close. When we look at the scene of the Nativity, do we see the tenderness of God in the midst of the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph were not shown tenderness in their need, but instead were rejected? The Son of God came into the world in poverty. At the end of his earthly life, he was rejected once again. The Father, though, continued to show mercy, love, and tenderness by raising him up, opening the way to salvation, and leaving us a share in Christ's mission of love and mercy until he comes again.
During this Jubilee of Mercy and beyond, may we go about doing Christ's mission well through living tenderness, reviving faith, rekindling charity - living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These works of mercy are practical ways for us to welcome and share the "tenderness of God."
On behalf of the board, staff, collaborators, and advisors of the Catholic Apostolate Center, may you have a Blessed Christmas and a good New Year! You will be remembered by me at Masses during the Christmas season!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
Christmas is on Friday. Wait, really?! Have we bought all of our presents? Are we ready for a Christmas feast? Is work ever going to end? These are the thoughts that plague us right now, but what we really should be asking is: are we ready for the birth of Christ? Advent is almost over - was there really enough time to prepare for the birth of the Son of God? The short is answer is 'no,' and the long answer is still 'no.’ But we know that as we prepare each liturgical year we take another step on the long journey toward Christ. Each celebration gives us the chance to refocus on that journey and draws us back into living out our faith wholly and fully.
Who better to help us refocus our sight on Christ than the Holy Family? The Holy Family is the PERFECT example for us as we share in similar struggles. Through the Incarnation, Jesus became man and we believe him to be both fully human and fully divine. In a beautiful way his humanity is formed by Mary and Joseph. Who better to relate to then Mary and Joseph themselves? They were there when they thought Jesus was lost in the temple and there throughout his adolescence. Mary was there to inspire him to begin his ministry at Cana and was there as her son gave up his life for us. During Advent and Christmas we are watching Mary, Joseph, and Jesus grow and become a family. We should take this opportunity to allow ourselves to walk in their footsteps and live a life wholly committed to Christ. We should take this opportunity to ask for their intercession and assistance on our journey to God.
Please do not think that their example only applies to families! Their example applies to each and every Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, and human being. The virtues that they live in the Bible are virtues that we should all be living. Look to how Mary and Joseph interact and form Jesus and open yourself up to them. No matter where we are in life we can learn from their unwavering commitment and their steadfast love.
I challenge you to think about someone in your life who embodies these qualities: “unwavering commitment” and “steadfast love.” I only have to think back to last week at my father-in-law’s funeral. My wife was delivering the eulogy and said, “[he] reminded me of the importance of the ‘virtue of selfishness,’ as he so called it. This means that you can take control of how you feel, and you must take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. If you have nothing to give, what then are you authentically giving?” He got it. He understood that God is calling us to form ourselves in our faith, to root ourselves in him because we cannot lead others to God without first opening ourselves to his grace. How do we do this? We commit ourselves to Christ with steadfast love.
This Advent, as we are preparing for the birth of Christ, let us remember to ground ourselves in his love so that as the new year comes we can go out and evangelize the world. Let us also remember Saint Pope John Paul II’s words on the Holy Family:
“I wish to invoke the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth…it is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families…St. Joseph was a “just man”…may he always guard, protect and enlighten families. May the Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of the Church, also be the Mother of “the Church of the home”…May Christ the Lord, the Universal King, the King of Families, be present in every Christian home as He was at Cana, bestowing light, joy, serenity, and strength”.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional working in Washington, DC.
This Saturday, December 12th, is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Some know the story of how Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego and asked him to build a church in the spot she appeared. Juan Diego then went to the bishop and presented, as proof of the apparition, beautiful flowers that Our Lady had given him in the middle of the winter. When Juan Diego opened his tilma to show the bishop, the tilma had an incredible image of Our Lady on it - just as Juan Diego had described. Our Mother’s mission was to show compassion on her children so that those who interceded for help could receive peace in their hearts and find solace in their troubles.
When I was in high school, my family began praying the Rosary together with a portable shrine that circulated around our parish community of Our Lady of Guadalupe, called the “Pilgrim Queen” of the Family. We had a certain time each month to host and guard Mary - praying for our parish, the diocese and bishop, and all families. While she was under our care, we prayed the Rosary each day and when our time was up, another family had the honor of hosting Our Lady. Looking back, I think it was because of those years that we hosted Mary and prayed the Rosary together, my family experienced deep peace. Mary’s compassion was at full force in the Kirby house!
In this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis has called Catholics to show mercy to others with Works of Mercy and become an effective source of God’s love and compassion for each other by learning from Christ’s example. We can learn from Jesus and his Mother about how to live out mercy and compassion by clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, counseling the doubtful and forgiving offenses, to name a few.
Within our own homes there can be difficulties and affliction that may seem unbearable at times. When that happens, I invite you and your family to pray the Rosary. When life is at stake or danger is imminent, pray the Rosary. If life is desolate and despair creeps in, pray the Rosary. At any time, in any place, with anyone - pray the Rosary.
Mary is on our side. She is our Mother and loves us and wants us to be consoled. She will never abandon us. Blessed John Henry Newman was enamored by the beauty and meaning to Our Lady’s apparition at Guadalupe. He wrote the poem, “The Pilgrim Queen,” to help people and families better understand the meaning behind the portrait that he describes, which you can find below.
“The Pilgrim Queen”
by Blessed John Henry Newman
There sat a Lady
all on the ground,
Rays of the morning
circled her round,
Save thee, and hail to thee,
Gracious and Fair,
In the chill twilight
what wouldst thou there?
'Here I sit desolate,'
sweetly said she,
'Though I'm a queen,
and my name is Marie:
Robbers have rifled
my garden and store,
Foes they have stolen
my heir from my bower.
'They said they could keep Him
far better than I,
In a palace all His,
planted deep and raised high.
'Twas a palace of ice,
hard and cold as were they,
And when summer came,
it all melted away.
'Next would they barter Him,
Him the Supreme,
For the spice of the desert,
and gold of the stream;
And me they bid wander
in weeds and alone,
In this green merry land
which once was my own.'
I look'd on that Lady,
and out from her eyes
Came the deep glowing blue
of Italy's skies;
And she raised up her head
and she smiled, as a Queen
On the day of her crowning,
so bland and serene.
'A moment,' she said,
'and the dead shall revive;
The giants are failing,
the Saints are alive;
I am coming to rescue
my home and my reign,
And Peter and Philip
are close in my train.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of God, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us!
To learn more about the Rosary, please visit our Prayer and Catechesis resource page.
“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (Pius IX. Ineffabilis Deus).
With these words, Pope Pius IX declared ex cathedra the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; only twice in recent history has this occurred (the other being Pius XII’s declaration on the Assumption). For centuries, the faithful have commemorated the belief that Mary, from the moment of her conception, by a loving act of God, was free from sin. This, of course, does not mean that Mary was exempt in some way from Jesus’ redemption of humanity. Rather, as Blessed John Duns Scotus put it, she acquired the greatest of redemptions through her special role in Salvation History (Lectura III Sent., 119).
Many who do not agree with the doctrine argue that if Mary was not born with Original Sin or did not sin at any point in her entire life (as Church teaching proclaims), then she could not have been fully human. Therefore, if the Blessed Mother had never been born into sin and never sinned in her life, how could she have been truly human? Some reason, how could she have experienced what humanity really goes through if she didn’t live with sin? Basically, how could she have been truly free to be a person, struggling with the temptations, the ups and the downs, the “messiness” that is life? The concept of a sinless life, to many, seems boring and totally reliant on some higher being. How can one be totally dependent on God’s love?
In one of his earliest homilies as Pope, Benedict XVI answered these questions quite definitively. He stated, “The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself.” Indeed, many of us feel reluctant to fully give in to the love and mercy of God for fear that we would be giving up our ability to choose to be whomever we want to be. In that case, we rely not on God’s love, but on our own powers and abilities. This may sound preferable to some, but the Pope-Emeritus reminds us, “Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited.” Our knowledge and abilities as humans are but a speck in comparison to God’s love. Therefore, in choosing not to live in accordance with what is right and true, we actually limit ourselves from fully living.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the prime example of total abandonment to God’s love – she is truly free. Though she was sinless throughout her life, Mary still faced the temptation to sin. However, because she lived in complete openness to the Lord’s will, Mary did not choose sin, but rather, chose God. In his homily, Benedict notes, “The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people…The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.” Sinless, she was the pure vessel, the new Ark of the Covenant, through which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) She is the mother of God, and thus, the mother of Love itself, for God is Love. (cf 1 Jn 4:8) Living in that love, she calls out to us: “Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness!...so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!”
Today, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis has proclaimed the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Please visit our Year of Mercy resources by clicking here.
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.