“It’s 11:11… make a wish!” Have you heard of that phrase before? I roll my eyes every time someone eagerly pauses in that moment, thinking that whatever they wish for will magically appear. Though superstitions like this detract from actual prayer, the idea of praying a daily devotion has a long history in the Church. Prayers like the Angelus, a Marian devotion that commemorates the Incarnation, have been around since at least the Middle Ages. Often prayed at noon, the devotional provides the faithful with an opportunity to re-focus and recommit their days to Christ.
Marian devotions in particular can help us grow closer to Christ because Christ himself dedicated Mary to us after his death. When Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother,” he was providing Mary as an intercessor for us. After Jesus’ death, the Acts of the Apostles records her as being present when the disciples gathered at Jesus’ Ascension and then later in the Upper Room during the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Because of Mary’s continual intercession for the followers of her Son and because of her role serving with the Apostles on earth, she has historically been known as the Queen of Apostles. As tradition goes, it is Mary who bolstered the Apostles in moments of discouragement and fear after the death and Resurrection of Christ.
Prayers to Our Blessed Mother never go unanswered. As a personal devotion to her, I offer up a Hail Mary for my vocation every time I see an 11 on the clock. I like to pray when I see the number in order to turn the superstitious ‘11:11 practice’ into something for the glory of God; you could pray when you first wake up, or at noon like those who pray the Angelus, or during your commute to work or school. Daily devotions are flexible! The important part is to make sure that you are checking in with our Heavenly Father every day. In particular, praying with Mary encourages us to adopt as our own her obedience and love for the Father. And of course, Mary is never outdone in generosity, and her intercession to Jesus is the most powerful of all.
I encourage you to begin a daily devotion of your own. It can be for your vocation, for a personal trial, for someone else – for whatever is on your heart that day. My prayer for my vocation was inspired by a friend who made a daily offering of prayer for her future husband and is now married and has four beautiful babies. She told me her life wasn’t always pointed straight to God’s will, and how she grew up neglecting her Catholic faith. As she grew older, she knew that her soul was yearning for something to grasp, to hold onto, to fill the void in her heart. She decided to go to adoration, and was inspired through prayer to begin a daily devotion to Christ through Mary. That devotion she made fifteen years ago to Our Mother changed her heart and her life. I pray that you also will be inspired to take up a daily devotion to Our Mother, who so graciously hears our intercessions and carries them to her son. As I pray each day this devotion, I will pray for you, and this journey to Heaven that we are taking together.
Question for Reflection: What do my daily devotions look like? What is an easy moment in the day that I can take some time to pray to Our Mother for guidance and intercession?
Kathleen O’Reilly is a senior at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Have you ever made a bargain with God? I have—I do it all too often!
“Listen Lord, I promise to pray every day and spend more time with you if you would just please fix… (fill in tough situation here).”
I have come to the realization that I do this without being so explicit. I expect, subconsciously, that because I strive to be a “good” Christian my life’s outcome will be perfect, without suffering or challenges. I wrongly think that if I finally start walking in my identity as a beloved child of God then all my human sufferings will dissipate and my time on earth will contain a storybook ending. It’s a results-oriented mentality: if I put in good work, then I will get a “good” outcome, almost like a math equation.
This realization was spurred from walking with friends who have been enduring profound suffering: childless friends who want the gift of a child, friends who have lost babies, friends who are waiting ever so patiently for their vocations, and friends who have been persevering faithfully through physical and mental trials. I have been wondering during prayer why these good people are getting such poor results. “This is not how it should work, Lord, they are good people, and they love you,” I tell Him. The problem with a results-oriented Christianity is that it typically results in disappointment—disappointment in yourself, and ultimately even doubt in God’s infinite goodness and love.
Enter Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who completely destroys this toxic thinking. A few of her titles are: Mother Most Pure, Virgin Most Powerful, Morning Star, Mother Most Chaste, Mother Most Faithful, Mirror of Justice—the titles continue, but the point is that she is the perfection of humanity. She is without sin. She prayed perfectly. She said “yes” to the Lord with total trust and love. In her goodness, Mary teaches us how to be good, how to be more like Her and Her Son.
I used to struggle with Mary. I mean, she’s perfect. She’s called the Morning Star, for crying out loud! It’s a tad intimidating to attempt to imitate Her. Then, I pondered Her life’s “result” and Her humanity seemed more relatable. Though perfect, she experienced emotion, and she experienced deep suffering—from losing Her Son in the Temple, to standing at the foot of the Cross as Her Son gave the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me. I cannot imagine the pain Her Immaculate Heart suffered. The Mother of our Lord shows us that the Christian life is not one that lacks suffering—rather that the Christian life is one of faithfulness during times of joy and hardship.
In her book Cause of Our Joy, Mother Mary Francis, a contemplative Poor Clare nun and spiritual writer, expounds on another Marian title, Mary Inviolate, meaning “being without violation.” One might look at the result of Mary’s life and see many “violations,” but her peace, trust, and humility in the Father’s Goodness surpassed any fear of suffering. Mother Mary Francis says, “With [Mary’s] help, I will not let every little thing that happens to me disturb me, break in on the peace of my heart, make fissures in my prayer, make cracks in my relationship with Jesus … She could suffer without being violated, so that she could go forward in her life inviolate, unassaulted, nonfissured, with no fortifications destroyed ... Only our reactions assault us. Other things can merely invite us to suffer with the Man of Sorrows and Our Lady of Sorrows” (Francis, 30). Suffering is always an invitation to grow closer to the Lord—to realize that we’re never alone. If we pray, trust, and hope through suffering like Mary did, then we start to move away from a results-oriented Christianity, where we treat our relationship with the Lord like a math equation, and toward true discipleship, where we follow wherever the Lord leads us.
When we next encounter suffering—which is inevitable in the Christian Life—may we say “yes” as Mary always did. When we struggle through our suffering, may we go to Her open Heart that has suffered so greatly and there find the understanding, peace and love that only a Mother can tenderly bestow.
Question for Reflection: Do I turn to God and His Mother like I would a beloved friend or family member when I suffer? Do I pray only for an alleviation or my suffering? Or do I “talk through” my struggles like I would with a friend or family member? How can I approach the Lord and His Mother like I would these confidants I have on Earth?
Whenever you think of Christianity, it is next to impossible to overlook the role and importance of love in the story of salvation. God’s love for us is one that is infinitely more enduring than any infatuation or passing attraction. It is one that gives and purifies, sacrifices and yields for the good of another -- again and again and again. God’s love is one that extends through, before, and beyond eternity and is ultimately expressed from Calvary to each and every person, fully, freely, and forever.
The Church has dedicated the month of June to a reminder of the depth of God’s love: the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In His Most Sacred Heart, we see how absolutely consumed with love God is for us — so much so that He was willing to bear those heinous wounds, false accusations and derisions, and even His death in order to grant salvation for all. Artistic depictions of the Sacred Heart remind us of the torment Christ endured on our behalf: the heart is wrapped in a crown of thorns, pierced, bleeding, and aflame with a cross rising from the tongues of fire. The visible wounds of Christ’s heart reveal His invisible love. Thus, devotion to the Sacred Heart is described as “devotion to the love of Jesus Christ in so far as this love is recalled and symbolically represented to us by His Heart of Flesh.” As creatures that have both soul and body, bodily representations of Christ’s love sometimes touch us in ways that words do not. The Sacred Heart teaches us that authentic love incurs great costs, but it also always gives life.
Historically, devotion to the Sacred Heart is believed to have grown from another devotion to Jesus’ body: the Sacred Wounds of Christ from His Passion. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said that the piercing of Christ’s side revealed His goodness and the charity of His heart for us: “How good and pleasant it is to dwell in the Heart of Jesus! Who is there who does not love a Heart so wounded? Who can refuse a return of love to a Heart so loving?” Other religious and saints, such as Francis of Assisi, have themselves exemplified closeness to the love poured out by Christ’s Five Wounds and Sacred Heart.
The devotion as it is most commonly known today is said to have begun with the 1673 appearance of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Over a series of visits, Our Lord revealed to St. Margaret Mary the importance of devotion to His Sacred Heart:
"Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love … But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus. Therefore, I ask of you that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honor My Heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that My Heart shall expand Itself to shed in abundance the influence of Its Divine Love upon those who shall thus honor It, and cause It to be honored."
In 1856, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart was officially added to the liturgical calendar — the day before the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The faithful have several options for honoring the Sacred Heart as requested by our Lord:
The Love that Christ continually showers on us should totally consume us. Christ’s death is an infinitely huge debt that we can never repay—but in His infinitely huge capacity to love and be merciful, all our Lord asks in return is our love. As we are invited to share in His Divine Love, we are called to let that love change us to become better disciples and better witnesses. Most of all, let us strive to become authors of great love stories, never ceasing to wonder at the incredible truth that the God of the Universe loves us!
The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. Please pray for the priests in your parish and any other priests who have touched your life!
When my husband and I were preparing for marriage, we spent time in reflection and prayer carefully choosing our Mass readings. It was such an exciting decision to make, and we prayed that the readings would reflect and inspire us in our marriage and all whom we would witness to by our marriage. Some of these same readings will be read at Masses across the world on the upcoming feast of the Holy Family, serving as a reminder of how we can live as reflections of the Holy Family in our daily lives.
In the second reading, Paul tells the Colossians, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12). Just like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, we are God’s beloved, chosen and loved by God, and with that, we are called to live by these same virtues that Paul shares with the Colossians. The stories of Mary and Joseph consistently show us their lives of humility and gentleness. I think of Mary’s fiat (Luke 1:38), Joseph’s obedience to the angel of the Lord (Matthew 1:24), or how Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be presented in the temple in this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40). Just like Mary and Joseph, we are called to serve and love God with faithfulness that is radical, but gentle and sweet.
What does this faithfulness look like? For the Holy Family, not only did it manifest in the stories we read about in Scripture, but also in the mundane moments of the every day. Mary nursed Jesus as an infant, Joseph taught him carpentry, and Jesus served his parents and brought them joy! Jesus carried this love in his ministry that nurtured all to whom he preached, and it continues to carry on in the legacy of the Church. These little acts of faithfulness yielded enormous fruits and carried the Holy Family through times of immense suffering.
As I feel overwhelmed with my day to day duties of family life as a wife and mother, or my job as a teacher, I find comfort in knowing that perhaps Mary and Joseph felt these demands, too. They were faithful to their vocations, to each other, and to the Lord. Life is a balancing act, but with “Christ dwell[ing] in you richly,” like the Holy Family, all can be done in love, “do[ing] everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17).
You show faithfulness when you do the dishes, when you submit an assignment for work or school, when you make the bed. You show faithfulness when you play with your children, when you have coffee with a friend, when you stop and pray. You show faithfulness when you show up to Mass. Opportunities for faithfulness, humility, and gentleness are in the every day, both big and small.
Through these opportunities for faithfulness I have learned that God is never outdone in generosity. He wants to bless us and let us know His love, and He does this in the most profound way when we show Him our faithfulness and love, just as the Holy Family has modeled for us. As we continue to navigate the demands of our daily lives, let us cling to the intercession of the Holy Family, that we may be gentle and humble, showing radical faithfulness in all that we do.
Question for Reflection: What are some opportunities to show for faithfulness in your life?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, click here.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C.
Besides receiving and visiting Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at Mass and Adoration, I find that the most nourishing aspect of my spiritual life is friendship with the saints. The Church holds celebrating the saints and asking for their intercession in high regard, as the Solemnity of All Saints, which falls on November 1st each year, is a holy day of obligation. The Vigil of All Saints, then, falls on October 31st each year.
One goal of the Christian is to engage in prayer with God, and prayer, simply put, is conversing with God. Each day, we can offer our work to God and talk to Him frequently. This is not always easy, though, and I have found that friendship with the saints helps immensely.
A friendship, which is the mutual willing of the good between people, is cultivated with communication and time spent together. Aristotle and Shakespeare, in their genius commentaries on friendship, always return to the simplicity of authentic friendship. Developing a friendship with the saints does not need to be overly-complex. It can also be founded upon communication and time spent together, ultimately bringing us closer to God and strengthening our communication with Him.
Communicating daily with the saints further orients our minds to the supernatural, to the existence of the “things…invisible” that we recite in the Creed, and it also strengthens us in the fight for our souls.
By communicating with the saints, we will become more like the saints, who in their devotion to Christ became like Christ. Thus, the saints will help us to become more Christ-like. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins gets at this point in one of his poems:
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
The “just man” is the saint, and the saint’s Christ-like actions help him to become like Christ.
As I mentioned in my last blog, stories of the saints are dramas of the highest caliber. Each saint had a unique personality and found their way to heaven in their own special, grace-filled way. There are so many saints that everyone can find someone they relate to or want to emulate. Below, I have listed just a few of my friends, and I pray that they will intercede for you!
Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Edmund Campion, St. Ignatius, St. John the Beloved Disciple, St. Luke, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. John Paul II, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Bl. John Henry Newman, Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, St. Robert Southwell, St. Henry Walpole, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Berchmans, St. Francis Xavier, St. Leo the Great, St. Augustine, St. Vincent Pallotti, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. John Vianney, St. Joseph, Guardian Angels, Our Lady…
Ora pro nobis!
As we enter into Holy Week, I invite you to reflect on the week that changed the world as understood in the Christian context: the celebration of the salvific event of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord. Let us contemplate that great exemplification of Christianity in the symbol lifted upon Golgotha on Good Friday for the world to gaze upon: the Cross.
“Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” we hear on Good Friday. It’s a strange symbol, isn’t it? An instrument of ignominious death, the Cross is for Christians not a sign of defeat but of certain victory! Rare is the Catholic home or school that does not have at least one prominently displayed in it somewhere—but perhaps rarer still are Catholics who pray while actually holding not a cross, but a crucifix. Upon seeing the Crucifix, however, a person must decide whether to accept Christ’s death— including the truth of all He revealed—or to reject Him. For the faithful, it remains a powerful prayer tool, one that does not require elegant words to be meaningful. In holding a Crucifix, one is offering a very powerful prayer. The Crucifix invites us to more deeply meditate upon the precious wounds of Christ. Indeed, one is reminded of our Lord’s words to St. Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,” while tracing one’s fingers over the tiny replica of His wounded hands, feet, side, and the crown of thorns upon His head.
Each of us is called to take up our cross and follow Christ (cf Mt 16:24). Our lives should model the Way of the Cross, which St. Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad hailed as “the most beautiful of all because on this path I have met and known my Lord and Savior.” St. Josemaría Escrivá, however, urges:
Don’t drag the Cross... Carry it squarely on your shoulder, because your Cross, if you carry it so, will not be just any Cross: it will be... the Holy Cross. Don’t bear your Cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous word. Love the Cross. When you really love it, your Cross will be... a Cross, without a Cross. And surely you, like Him, will find Mary on the way. (St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way of the Cross (New York: Scepter, 1990), n.p.)
Whenever we are weak, how surely will our Mother at once fly to our aid when we faithfully call upon her name!
When bearing our crosses, we may be tempted to cry out, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” This utterance of Christ from the cross, however, was not merely a lamentation but Him offering Psalm 22 to His Father. Let our every word, then, be a prayer, let our every action be an act of faith, our every thought be of kindness, and our every deed, one of love, the same kind offered upon the Cross. And, Pope Francis gently offers, “When everything seems too much, when it seems that the world is crashing down on you, embrace Christ’s Cross, draw close to him, and please, never let go of his hand.”
Question for Reflection: How can you pick up your cross more diligently in these last few days of Lent?
“She said yes!” is commonly heard in engagement stories, echoing the excitement and joy of making the decision to have one’s life forever complemented with another in marriage. As we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation on Saturday, the Church rejoices in Mary’s acceptance of God’s place for her in His divine plan of the salvation of mankind. Of course, Mary’s “yes” to God is not the only such instance in Scripture; on the contrary, each protagonist’s story within its pages involves his or her responding to the will of God throughout history, from God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” to Adam and Eve through his instruction to the exiled St. John the Evangelist to “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Just like each person in Scripture, we too can share in the delight of accepting God’s will for us through our faith and the surrendering of our personal desires and wants to Divine Providence.
Every book of the Bible recounts at least one instance of God calling a prophet, judge, king, or another figure, no matter their status, to a higher purpose. I particularly enjoy the story of the boy Samuel, whom God called three times before the future judge and prophet, finally understanding Who kept waking him, answered. All of these accounts are more than nice stories—they serve to illustrate the different ways of answering God’s call as well as how God continues to guide us after we answer. The biblical theme still rings true today: “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”
On the occasion of the Annunciation, Mary’s “yes” undoes Eve’s “no” to God. Through Mary, the Word was made flesh and she became the new “Mother of the Living” (CCC 489). This motherhood extends to us all! As a result of Mary’s “yes,” she became a tabernacle of the living God now made man. Christ’s complete embrace of humanity during His earthly ministry still affects us today. We are called to allow Him to more fully enter into our lives just as He did in the Virgin’s womb. By creating space for Christ, as Mary did, we are enabled to fully surrender to the Divine Will; our “yes” to God can then echo Mary’s crucial response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
How shall we respond?
At the Archdiocese of Washington’s Rite of Election this past month, I was blessed to observe over a thousand adults, teens, and children be presented to Cardinal Wuerl in order to be baptized or confirmed as Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington this Easter. They, like Mary, have said “yes!” to God’s invitation. It’s a beautiful witness to see the participants’ formal expression of their desire to become Catholic before their loved ones, sponsors, and the Church. The Rite of Election kicks off a final period of intense spiritual preparation much like our experience of Lent. This call to conversion, Donald Cardinal Wuerl noted, “is a visible sign that women and men, young and old, from all walks of life, are continuing to respond to our Lord’s invitation: ‘Come, follow me.’” As baptized members of Christ’s Body, we are called to offer our support, love, and prayers for these catechumens and candidates as each continues his or her faith journey, that all may strive to remain close to the Lord Who has called them to Himself.
Our “yes!” does not occur in a vacuum. Even the already baptized are called to be a light for each other as each of us experiences darkness in our lives. No matter our insecurities or doubts, no matter our past failings or unworthiness, God still continuously calls to us, ever lovingly, ever patiently, ever gently, ever earnestly. Mary had her own questions when the archangel Gabriel dramatically announced God’s plan for her. If you’re like me, you want all the details before making a decision! But, as we read throughout scripture, one’s trust in God is never misplaced. God can—and does—do great things through us if only we allow ourselves to be like “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God.” May we, then, always share the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection, the hope that we share as we receive Communion, as we journey to the Cross, and as we profess—and experience—God’s love. By the grace of God and the support of each other, may we, at every moment of our lives, join with the whole Church and the heavenly host to praise God for His mercy and goodness: “‘Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has destroyed death, and brought us light and life!’ No wonder we [reply], ‘Alleluia!’”
Praying for vocations is an important task we are given as members of the Church, one that is often overlooked or only half-heartedly remembered during National Vocation Awareness Week in November. Yet, our collective failure to significantly pray for and encourage the thoughtful discernment of vocations is one of the bigger problems we face as a Church. It directly affects our ability to carry on the faith to future generations. On top of that, there’s another vocations problem that we face; in fact, there are four of them. We are called to pray not only for priestly vocations, but also those to marriage, consecrated religious life, and the single life.
This is something we often forget: there are multiple vocations. When we pray for vocations, are we truly open to whatever God is calling us to do? Are we willing to consider and discern what cross he is asking us to take up, what sacrifices he’s asking us to make as either a priest, religious, spouse, or single person?
To be clear, we do have a serious priest shortage on our hands. We should pray for vocations to the priesthood in a particular way. We have far too few men entering our seminaries to sustainably manage the Church we’ve grown. Too few have taken up the mantle as more and more priests are hitting the ever-increasing age of retirement. Too many parishes have been consolidated due to the lack of priests. It is "truly right and just" that we pray for more vocations to the priesthood!
On the other hand, if we are going to pray for vocations, we should also pray for a proper understanding of all four. I often hear of my peers being asked when they’re going to "settle down and have some kids." If each of us has his or her own particular calling, shouldn’t we encourage one another to earnestly discern our respective vocations? Shouldn’t parents encourage their sons and daughters to look at the possibility of marriage, priesthood, religious life, and single life as equally viable answers to God's call? Or is the expectation that they get married and give their parents grandchildren? “God, please inspire more young men to answer the call … but, please, not MY son!”
This doesn't discount the great need to shift our view on the vocational nature of marriage. If we don’t, we risk: a) overly romanticizing marriage and b) placing the priesthood and religious life in an ivory tower, reserved only for the most noble and selfless among us. And of course, most people are ultimately called to marriage; it's necessary in order to keep humanity—and the Church—alive through the ages. But we desperately need more holy marriages, more vocational marriages. Not only do they contribute to the work of sanctifying the secular world, but they are also directly responsible for creating the next generations of priests and religious. Without an increase in vocations to marriage, our shortage of religious vocations will continue as well.
And let’s not forget about the single life. Some people do, in fact, have a calling to serve the Church and sanctify the world through a life of lay celibacy. That calling is of equal importance to the other three; such individuals have a unique capacity for service that the other three vocations just don’t allow. The celibate single life, when discerned well, is an incredibly life-giving vocation.
We need more vocations, period. So when we pray “for an increase in vocations,” let’s pray for an increase in all of them: vocations to the priesthood, religious life, single life, and marriage. The truth is that all four types of vocation have distinct strengths that contribute to the Church's mission of sanctifying the world.
Most importantly, when we pray for vocations, do we acknowledge that we ourselves are the answer to those prayers? Like it or not, we are. We pray to God to end hunger, but we are the ones he's sent to end that hunger. We pray to God for world peace, but we are the ones he's sent to bring about that
peace. We pray to God for more vocations to the priesthood, but we are the ones he's sent to encourage (and answer) them. When we pray for vocations let us also pray that we come to know our own and can fulfil it with a joyful heart.
May our Blessed Mother encourage us to faithfully discern how her Son calls us to serve each and every day. Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!
Lately, I have found myself in circumstances of trial and uncertainty, unsure where the Lord is in the midst of everything. The waiting certainly parallels the season of Advent in which we await the coming of Our Lord, the Messiah. Waiting is painful and uncertainty requires trust, both of which my control-hungry self wrestles with.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, is the remedy to our fear and doubt. There’s something unique about the portrayal of Our Lady of Guadalupe: she wears a black belt. In the Aztec religion, a black belt indicates someone who is with child, showing that She too is waiting for Christ in solidarity. She wants to wrap her motherly love and protection over us, to mother us through the waiting, through the anticipation, and straight to Her Son Jesus Christ.
Our Lady came to peoples who were deeply enthralled in the Aztec religion, with angry gods who required sacrifice. She spoke a language they understood. The image left on St. Juan Diego’s cloak for the people of what is now Mexico destroyed the power of the Aztec gods and elevated the glory of Her Son. She wants to do the same for you this Advent season. Look at these words she spoke to Juan Diego, the simple farmer turned saint, “My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains existence.”
In my circumstances, I am comforted to know that I am not abandoned. I have a Mother who will fight for me, exclaiming, “Let not your heart be disturbed. Am I not here who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happy within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not be grieved or disturbed by anything.”
As we wait for the coming of the Messiah, find comfort that Our Lady waits with us. From the moment she encountered the Angel Gabriel, to searching for a place to give birth, to fleeing to the desert, to the painful prophecy of Simeon, to the loss of Her child for three days, to the witness of His persecution, to the foot of the Cross, Mary waited. Mary waited in faith of the Father’s goodness, exclaiming, “be it done unto me according to thy will.”
Just like in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pregnant with Our Lord, Our Lady knows how to wait with peace. She wants to give you Her peace; she wants to speak your language, love you where you are, and guide you to the joy of the coming of the Lord.
For the past 141 years on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (16th of July) in my hometown of Hammonton, New Jersey, there is a procession through the streets of the statues of various saints that usually reside inside the local parish church. The faithful who are devoted to each saint distribute prayer cards of their patron as they process with the statues through the streets – St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Anthony, St. Rita, St. Jude, St. Rocco, St. Lucy, St. Vincent Pallotti, and so forth. The Blessed Mother, while at the end under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, appears also in the procession under various names – Milagrosa, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Assumption, and the Immaculate Conception, whose Solemnity we celebrate today.
Sometimes, these various titles and ways of representing the Blessed Mother can be confusing for some of those who line the streets of the procession route. My mother, Angela, who has been part of the procession for over 50 years, makes a float with a large Rosary and a statue of the Blessed Mother under the title of the Immaculate Conception on it, although some would call the statue “Our Lady of Grace.” The statue, which is over 100 years old, is patterned after the image on the “Miraculous Medal,” around which is inscribed the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Since many who come to the procession are not necessarily practicing Catholics, my mother always offers a form of “street evangelization” to those who come to her float to receive a prayer folder that provides instructions on how to say the Rosary.
Since the statue of the Immaculate Conception is on a special float, many will come and ask if it is of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Sometimes, my mother is asked what the difference is between the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. She responds cheerfully, “Same Lady, different dress.” My mother then goes on to explain why the Blessed Mother has so many titles. She also assists these curious onlookers in understanding how Mary offers us the greatest example of how to follow Jesus as his disciple. She helps them learn that Mary was prepared from the time of her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, to receive Jesus and did so throughout her life.
We, too, are meant to be prepared to receive Jesus into our lives in an ongoing way, especially during the Advent season. We have not been conceived without sin, but we have been washed clean of Original Sin at Baptism (and all prior sin, if one was baptized as an adult). While we have all sinned since that time, our Baptism offers us a share in the mission of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King. Though followers or disciples, he also sends us as apostles, or as missionary disciples, out into our challenging world to witness to him by what we say and do. The Blessed Virgin Mary offers us the best example of how to follow Jesus Christ. No matter what title of hers might appeal to us spiritually, she is always “same Lady, different dress.” She was the same in her following of Jesus during her life and continues from her heavenly home to invite us to follow her Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
The Catholic Apostolate Center is a ministry of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). The Pallottines and the Center staff will remember you in special prayer on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
"This encouragement to holiness is renewed and takes on particular resonance – we love to repeat it – in this year of the Council, it highlights the note of holiness and apostolate of the church."
– Pope St. John XXIII, Homily during the canonization of St. Vincent Pallotti, Rome 1963
For a city that has seen the rise and fall of emperors, dictators, generals, politicians, popes, saints, and sinners over the millennia, it's hard to imagine that a humble priest from the peasant-filled mountains of Bergamo, Italy could make such a difference in the world. On a moonlit night in October 1962, Pope St. John XXIII stood on his balcony in Rome and addressed the people below:
I hear your voices. Mine is only a single voice. But what resounds here is the voice of the whole world; here all the world is represented. One might even say that the moon rushed here this evening. Look at her high up there to behold the spectacle. This is how we close a great day of peace. Glory to God and peace to men of goodwill. (Discorso della Luna)
And so began the Discorso della Luna, or “Moonlight Speech” by Pope St. John XXIII. Earlier that day, he opened the Second Vatican Council. Knowing he needed inspiration, this humble Bishop of Rome looked to another simple priest of Rome, St. Vincent Pallotti.
A year later, Pope St. John XXIII declared Vincent Pallotti a saint. During the canonization, he called on the intercession of Saint Vincent Pallotti for himself, priests, laity, and the council and actually went to the body of St. Vincent Pallotti to pray before him. Before the election of St. John XXIII, popes rarely left the confines of the Vatican. Pope St. John XXIII himself made few official outside trips and only did so under great consideration. Because of this, one can only imagine the gravity of a visit from the Pope to pray before the body of St. Vincent. At St. Vincent Pallotti’s canonization, Pope St. John XXIII once again implored the crowd to follow this new saint’s example both in life and indeed. One month later, while visiting the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary (the seminary of the diocese of Rome) he also begged the students to follow St. Vincent Pallotti. The pope went as far as to call him his own "choicest guide". He called St. Vincent a wise custodian 'of pastoral spirit' and a source 'of teaching and encouragement for all times!'
The spirit of Saint Vincent Pallotti can be seen throughout the Council and the work of the council. Pope St. John XXIII shared St. Vincent's vision that we are all called to holiness – that the universal call to holiness is open to the laity too, not just priests and bishops. He had a vision that Christ’s love needs to be accessible to all believers. Pope St. John XXIII demanded that the Church teach that Christ came for all! The concept of the universal call to holiness was written into multiple documents of the council, such as Lumen Gentium.
Though Pope St. John XXIII did not live to see the completion of this important council, his spirit and the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti helped to guide its direction. One of the key documents of the council was Apostolicam Actuositatem, or, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. It emphasized the role of the laity within the Church:
They should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life, and they should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit ... They should also hold in high esteem professional skill, family and civic spirit, and the virtues relating to social customs, namely, honesty, justice, sincerity, kindness, and courage, without which no true Christian life can exist. The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. (Apostolicam Actuositatem)
The title “Mary, Queen of Apostles” was one that was revived by St. Vincent Pallotti. This was an ancient title that had fallen out of use. During his ministry, St. Vincent Pallotti invoked this title to demonstrate that all were in the Upper Room, not just the twelve apostles. He had a portrait commissioned showing the number of woman and men at the moment of Pentecost. Like the symbolism behind the painting suggests, Apostolicam Actuositatem forever enshrined the notion that all people are called to be apostles of Christ. This document had two main writers: Fr. William Mohler, S.A.C. Rector General of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers and the youngest bishop in attendance, Karol Wojtyla. Fr. Mohler and the future Pope St. John Paul II wrote into this document the shared vision of two humble priests John XXIII and Vincent Pallotti. We must follow these examples in our lives. Let us strive to bring the gospel to all, just as St. John XXIII and St. Vincent Pallotti did.
If you visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., you may recognize many of the titles of the Virgin Mary marvelously illustrated in nearly 50 chapels and oratories throughout what is the largest Catholic church in North America (and tenth largest church in the world!). To me, one depiction stands out from the rest, an image that causes many a visitor to gasp, stop in his or her tracks, and call to mind a particular event in salvation history. Whereas the National Shrine is filled with beautiful images of the Blessed Mother in splendor furnished by various religious orders or benefactors of a national or ethnic devotion to Mary, the Slovakian chapel’s central work of art is not the characteristic mosaic or even a portrait, but rather a statue of the Sorrowful Mother holding in her arms the lifeless body of Jesus.
The image of the Pietà described above is one of the three common artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary, the other two being Mater Dolorosa (“Mother of Sorrows,” portrayed with seven daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding) and the 13th century hymn, Stabat Mater (which comes from the first line of the hymn “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” meaning “the sorrowful mother stood”). The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated on September 15th, while a feast of Friday of Sorrows is observed in some Catholic countries on the Friday before Palm Sunday. It’s an opportunity to remember that the Blessed Mother’s life was not without sadness or pain in light of her Immaculate Conception. The popular devotion to Mary’s Seven Sorrows recalls seven such instances in her life (likewise the Pietà in the Shrine’s chapel is flanked by the other sorrows on the wall):
While we may tend to think of Mary’s life as being purely one of perfect serenity and union with God, it is important to remember that she was human— she had emotions, doubts, and pains like the rest of us! In a world where violence and suffering are all too frequent headlines in the news, how much more closely can we relate to and depend upon the Mother of God who was no stranger to anguish and distress? However more quickly can we fly in prayer to our Mother’s tender embrace for comfort and peace when we are faced with great tribulation and uncertainty!
Below is a hymn often used for the Stations of the Cross that is composed with the verses from the Stabat Mater. When sung reverently, this hymn solemnly and deeply touches the hearts of the faithful and helps to place each at the foot of Calvary in vigil with the Blessed Mother:
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
In the end, however, like Mary, we must not dwell solely on the pains of our lives, but look ahead with hope and faith in God (as sculptor Ernest Morenon uniquely depicted in the Shrine chapel with Mary looking towards heaven). For Mary, as well as for each of us, Christ did gloriously resurrect on the third day. How much more confidently, then, can we proceed with our lives, even after great turmoil, as we pray:
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.
Each year on August 15, we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Feast Day commemorating when she was taken body and soul into heaven after her earthly life was completed (CCC 974). By wholly trusting the Lord and following his will, Mary is the most exemplary model we have in living out our faith and trusting in God. We have several instances of the kind of trust Mary displayed toward God: saying “yes” to miraculously giving birth to our Savior, trusting in God’s care of her family when giving birth in Bethlehem, completely trusting in Joseph’s warning from a dream to flee Herod’s lands for Egypt, and placing her trust in God to overcome hardships—especially watching her own son being beaten and dying on a cross.
St. Faustina frequently referred to Mary as the model of her life. In her diary, St. Faustina said, “[Mary] believes the words of God’s messenger and is confirmed in trust” (Diary, 1746). St. Faustina would often ask Mary to teach her to continue to trust God even in sorrow, not wanting suffering to break her faith.
Trust goes both ways. One of the many reasons God chose Mary to care for his son was because he could trust her as well – in the good times and the bad. We are called to learn from Mary’s example and trust in the Lord, just as he trusts in us. God has a plan for every person, and it is up to us to show our trustworthiness in him and for him. Trust isn’t just about a one-time event. Philippians 1:6 says, “…the one who has begun a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Trust lasts our entire lifetime.
Trusting in the Lord can certainly be easier said than done. With trust comes obedience to God. This kind of submission takes risk, but God promises us that everything will work out for the good in the end. Trust is the foundation in any relationship. What would happen in our lives if we followed Mary’s example every day, willingly offering ourselves without hesitation to God and his plan for each of us?
Who was it that claimed the Church is irrelevant to young people? Who was it that claimed young people did not seek or yearn for Christ? My experience of World Youth Day (WYD) has shown me otherwise. WYD is the largest gathering of Catholic young adults in a series of events sponsored by the Church. First initiated by St. John Paul II in 1985, WYD is celebrated at the diocesan level annually and at the international level every two to three years at different locations around the world. People do not attend as tourists, but rather as pilgrims, since the nature of the composite events are religious in character. Typically, pilgrims will arrange lodging in the host city before participating in the opening ceremonies, catechesis, and cultural exhibitions. Taking advantage of all the host city has to offer, pilgrims will usually also spend time exploring the region (especially churches), shopping for religious souvenirs, and tasting the local cuisine… and very rarely alone! As the locals are quick to notice, the host city will be absolutely inundated with pilgrim groups, each identified by various flags, shirts, and chants. In spite of the inconveniences experienced (such as crowds, traffic, and long lines), for the most part, the locals are excited to greet so many peoples; local businesses are especially happy to cater to the pilgrims’ needs.
The focus of WYD events centers around the arrival of the pope: everyone wants to hear what the Holy Father has to say to the young pilgrims at various sites and events. Traditionally, the Holy Father will address crowds from his residence, during Masses, Stations of the Cross, and the overnight vigil during which millions camp out together in prayer. The conclusion of the Vigil Mass the following day signals the end of the official WYD program, though at that time the next host city is formally announced.
I’ve been blessed to have been able to attend two World Youth Days, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013 and in Kraków, Poland this year. So much more than a sightseeing trip, WYD for me has been all about seeing how God’s love for us manifests itself in each culture. Encountering millions of young believers (in addition to curious observers) who are inherently joyful in their witnesses to the Lord, I am especially delighted to see them interact with each other through songs, chants, prayers, and games during scheduled events or out in the streets. For me, some of the most powerful witnesses given happened outside of the official program (though seeing millions kneel before the Blessed Sacrament with lit candles during the vigil was indescribably moving). I remember seeing a group of Italian pilgrims run over to help a local disabled man carry groceries up a number of street stairs; another group immediately rushed to comfort a female pilgrim who had broken down during our 12 kilometer (about 7.5 miles) hike from the site of the overnight vigil. Simple acts of love like that really touched me as being authentically Christian: to love in even the smallest matters and, by doing so, answering the call given at the end of Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Pope Francis gave many beautiful and encouraging addresses to those assembled in Poland, but I was most impacted by an action of his. At the beginning of Mass at the great Shrine of Czestochowa, Pope Francis missed a stair step and fell, thankfully uninjured. He later explained that, "I was watching (an image of) the Madonna, and I forgot the step." He literally fell for Our Lady. When I heard the news, I remembered a similar experience of my tripping on the stairs upon seeing a lovely peer of mine go by. To have that ineffably tender and peaceful focus on the Blessed Mother, to be in awe of the Virgin, reflects the perfect love God has for her and for each of us.
WYD may have ended, but the mission entrusted to the young pilgrims by Pope Francis still burns in our hearts:
Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us, like Mary of Bethany, to listen attentively to those we do not understand, those of other cultures and peoples, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. Make us attentive to our elders, as Mary of Nazareth was to Elizabeth, in order to learn from their wisdom.
May each of us always endeavor to accomplish it!
To learn more about World Youth Day, please click here.
For more World Youth Day reflections, please click here.
This year, the Church experienced the collision of a feast day and a day of fasting on March 25. For some, the day was approached with awkwardness, “This is both a Marian Feast Day and the Day of the Cross?” But, as Holy Mother Church exercises her wisdom, She encouraged the faithful to first enter into the solemn day of Good Friday on March 25th, while today, April 4th, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.
The “stacking” of these Holy Days happens irregularly in the Church’s history, and we will never experience them again in our lifetime (unless you live to 2157). Because of the moving of the Feast of the Annunciation, we continue to have the opportunity to soak up all the graces we can from the two days, to ponder the beauty and similarities of the day of feast and the day of fast.
“Hail full of Grace!” (Luke 1:28)
“Hail King of the Jews” (Mark 15:18)
In Scripture, the word “hail” is synonymous with a naming, a giving of a title. As Mary is given the title “Full of Grace,” our Lord is given the title “King of the Jews.” These titles are given to reveal their deeper identity—Mary, as the Mother of Christ; Jesus, as the Savior of all.
Just as Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:28), we too must ask ourselves this question. What does it mean to venerate Mary the Mother of God and Jesus Christ? What do these titles and these identities mean to us as Catholics living in the world today?
“May it be done to me according to your will.” (Luke 1: 38)
“Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Mary’s faith and trust in the Lord carries her to make the journey to a city of Judah to visit Elizabeth. This prayer then carries her to Bethlehem, to the journey to Jerusalem, to the raising of the Child Jesus, to the act of faith at Cana, and to the foot of the Cross. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, too, carries Him to make the journey to Calvary, to make the greatest Sacrifice for the sake of our sins. These prayers of trust in Nazareth at the Annunciation and in the Garden of Gethsemane both find their glory on Calvary.
When we are presented with moments to trust God, do we make that act of trusting surrender or do we run? Imagine if Mary operated out of fear and Jesus rejected His Cross. Let us pray to Our Lady and Her Son to increase in us faith and confidence to walk this journey on earth to our heavenly home.
“The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:34)
“Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
As the Angel of the Lord announces to Mary that the child within her womb will be the Son of God, the centurion at Calvary proclaims that Jesus is “truly… the Son of God.” Mary’s faith in the Lord brings others to the salvific realization that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah! Due to her faithfulness and receptivity to the Holy Spirit, she bears the Son, bringing Jesus, bringing Redemption, to the world. The Angel of the Lord comes to Mary to announce His Divinity. Let us sit with Mary and find Her Son through her receptive heart.
It makes sense that we encountered a bit of awkwardness at the clashing of the Annunciation and Good Friday, but these days reveal the paradox of the Christian Faith. We cannot have one without the other; in suffering comes joy. Let us cling to Mary’s motherly heart and ask her to show us the way to her Son.
As we venerate Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation, may Her faithfulness bring us to a deeper faithfulness in Her Son. As we celebrate the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus Christ, we remember the birth of Holy Mother Church through the flowing of Blood and Water from the side of Jesus on the cross. This demonstrates that Jesus is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. These stories, the Annunciation and Good Friday, are actually our own and show how our “yes” can be used by God to bring about the salvation of the world in unexpected ways. May Mary’s “yes” to God’s plan through the Angel Gabriel and Jesus’ “yes” to the will of the Father through the Cross be our joy throughout this Easter Season.