Last Tuesday, November 21, we celebrated the feast of the Presentation of Mary. According to tradition on this day, Mary, at the age of 3, was presented in the temple by her parents St. Ann and St. Joachim, and her life was consecrated to God. For many years this feast was something I didn’t understand, and it wasn’t until last spring when I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land that I was able to more fully appreciate this beautiful feast.
When in the Old City of Jerusalem, you are able to see how small the city was at the time of Jesus’s life. One example of this is the proximity of the place where Mary was presented to Mount Calvary. It only takes a few minutes to walk from one place to another. During the passion, Mary would have passed this place. In other words, in the midst of the greatest suffering of her life, Mary would have passed the place where her parents, in gratitude, gave her life entirely to God – the place where her ‘fiat’ began.
I often find myself meditating on this idea when praying the fourth sorrowful mystery of the Rosary – that Mary in suffering would be consoled with the memory of God’s faithfulness to her parents in bringing them a child. In passing the place where both she and her son were presented to God, how her heart must have felt both the overwhelming joy and premature sorrow of the sword Simeon promised would pierce her heart as he sang his canticle rejoicing in the Incarnation. In the midst of watching her only Beloved Son mocked, beaten, and killed, she remembered the song of her Magnificat and sang the praises of the psalms in her heart. Her heart must have been pulled into the prayer of Psalm 23 as she walked up towards Golgotha, “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.” Mary did not forget that God had been faithful her entire life, and did not doubt His faithfulness at the darkest hour of history. Rather, she clung to Him and obediently received His will, despite the sorrow it caused her immaculate heart.
We learn to suffer well from the model of Our Blessed Mother, and one of the most important aspects of faith in suffering is to remember God’s own faithfulness. Like Mary, we can turn back towards God in the midst of suffering, we can remember the moment that we met Jesus and our lives changed, remember the moments where we experienced the overwhelming radical love of God, and hold onto that love and faithfulness as truth. Mary’s presentation calls us to reflect on all the different times throughout our life that we have seen God be faithful, and trust that He will be faithful once again. This feast calls us to give ourselves wholly to God as Mary did, and trust that His will be done – and that His will is good – in all things.
When I was first introduced to the Congregation of Holy Cross as a student at Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame, I was confused why their patron is Our Lady of Sorrows. I see myself as a cheerleader for my loved ones and try to bring joy to everything I do in life. Studying psychology and theology taught me more about the depths of joy and the paradox of holding joy and sorrow simultaneously. Joy and sorrow are not analogous to happiness and sadness. So, I can still bring joy even when accompanying others in sorrow.
In the first letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians, we learn that faith, hope, and love are the three things that will last forever. We cannot have one without the other two. We have hope because we have faith and love.
As a Christ-centered marriage and family therapist, I have a couple of images of the sorrowful mother in my office so my clients are reminded that they are not alone in their suffering. The Church provides a way to reflect on the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. In each of these arrows that pierce her heart, she is either holding, searching for, or gazing at Jesus.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary:
At the Wedding at Cana, Jesus told his beloved mother that if he began his public works, their humble life together as a family would never be the same. He would no longer be just her son but recognized as the Savior of all. She would no longer be just his mother but the mother of all. She consented to this road of suffering because she trusted God and meant her words at the Annunciation, “may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Imagine Mary at the foot of the Cross. She was full of sorrow watching her son take his last breaths. What kind of mother would she be if she was not sad watching her son suffer? In her tears, she believed (“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45) in the God she knew so intimately and loved with a heart that was not tarnished by sin. So, if it is okay for her to be full of sorrow, it is okay for each of us, too. We must be cognizant that our sorrow does not turn us away from the Cross in despair, but rather leads us toward the Cross in hope.
We do not venerate the Cross because it is a torture device, but rather an instrument of salvation. Good Friday is not the end of the story, and Easter Sunday cannot exist without Good Friday. St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “all things work for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28) God does not waste anything and does not leave us alone in our sorrow. As Catholics, we believe in redemptive suffering; we can offer our suffering for the redemption of the souls of others. Mary is the first and greatest disciple and her intercession is incredibly efficacious. In my life and the lives of the clients I journey with, I have witnessed that the greatest transformation comes from seasons of sorrow. It is in those most challenging moments that Jesus and Our Sorrowful Mother embrace us with such tenderness and empathy.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Mother Teresa so beautifully says that, “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
As you carry your crosses this week, may you see it just as a piece of the puzzle that God is building in your story. Jesus is not defined by the Cross; He overcame it. You are not defined by your crosses, either. St. John Paul the Great says, “we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.” In tragic circumstances, look for the heroes. In times of darkness, look for the light.
I think of a hymn written by Steve Warner that is often sung on the campuses of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. The refrain is:
“Cross of our hope, and tree of our salvation,
Sown in our land, and spread near and far,
Life-giving fruit, our portion and our promise,
Ave Crux! Spes Unica!”
**This image is from: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/study-of-the-pieta-127796**
On September 12th, the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary. Throughout the year we honor countless saints who have uniquely modeled for us the path to holiness. However, Jesus and Mary are the only two people for whom the Church sets aside a feast just for their name. Each person’s name deeply and intimately reveals something about who they are. If this is true for myself, you, and each of the saints, it is all the more true for Jesus and His Blessed Mother.
Throughout the centuries, Mary has earned countless and various titles based on the places she has appeared and the different characteristics that define her. But before all of these, she was given her first title by the child Jesus: Mom. This wasn’t a title Mary could have given herself; rather it was bestowed on her.
The Father chose Mary to conceive and bear Jesus, and it was in His birth that she became a mother. It was through the Incarnate Lord that Mary’s motherhood was fulfilled and she became “Mom.” For all of the times you have called your own mother’s name, Jesus called Mary “mother,” too. He spoke her name in joy and in sorrow, in petition and in gratitude. He models for us how to live in relationship with His own blessed mother and how to speak her name. However, even with Jesus showing us the way to His mother, it can still be a challenge to have a relationship with Mary. How do we relate to her and live under her maternity? How do we speak to Mary, our spiritual mother?
The Church models so many beautiful devotions in answer to this question. We can pray a morning offering through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, asking her to be with us throughout our day. We can pray the rosary, walking alongside her through Jesus’ life. We can sing a Marian hymn with our nightly prayers, inviting her to watch over us in our rest.
When we speak Mary’s name and call out to her as our spiritual mom, we are fulfilling St. Francis de Sales' words to “run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.” We can give ourselves to Mary, like Jesus did, and she will in turn bring us closer to God. In the repetition of these Marian prayers and hymns we spiritually speak our mother Mary’s name and ask for her help from the depths of our hearts.
Just like our earthly mothers cherish the little gifts we give and imperfect efforts we make, Mary graciously receives and multiplies everything we call out to her from our heart. Mary doesn’t need us to come to her with perfect devotion, but with an honest desire to grow closer to Jesus through her. Day after day, we can speak her most holy name and call on her assistance with the confidence that she will come to our aid.
As we honor the Most Holy Name of Mary, we pray the Lord will enkindle in us a deeper trust and devotion to His mother. Let us speak Mary’s name with love and devotion, trusting in the power of her intercession and mediation for us. Mama Mary, pray for us!
**This image is from:
Both of my grandmothers had great devotion to the Blessed Mother. I remember going to their homes and seeing statues of Mary and other saints, prayer cards, and crystal and silver rosaries. I learned much from them and my mother about devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Back in 1901, on this day, the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, my grandmother, Millie Donio, was born. During my childhood, though, I did not know that it was a feast day, because with the reform of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the feast was removed. Restored by Blessed John Paul II in 2002 in the revised Roman Missal, it is now an optional memorial. Interestingly, there is only one other feast related to the name of a person, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated on January 3rd. This feast day was restored in 1996.
The name, Mary, could mean “sea of bitterness” or, possibly, “beloved”. Consider for a moment how many situations Mary found herself in that could have resulted in bitterness. When the unwed young Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was pregnant by the “power of holy Spirit,” she did not focus on her own situation, but made herself available to her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-40). When her son, Jesus, went off preaching suddenly at age 30, the scriptures show no evidence of her complaining about it. Instead, she says, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). No bitterness there. When she is at the foot of the cross watching her son die before her eyes, powerless to do anything about it, she accepts being given over the care of the Beloved Disciple, he as her son, she as his mother (John 19:26-27). Sorrow, yes. Bitterness, no. A “sea of bitterness” around her, but she, being the perfect disciple, shows us the way to be. She shows us how to live as beloved by God.
My grandmothers showed me how to live as one beloved by God. They each had their various hardships in life – physical sufferings, emotional difficulties, financial challenges – but each held firm to her faith and it was faith in God that sustained them. They each moved outside of themselves and cared for others, even in the midst of their own struggles. I will never forget going with Grandmom Donio quietly dropping off bags of fruits and vegetables at the back doors of the homes of people she knew were in need of them, but were not able to ask others for help. No words exchanged, we were not even seen, just an action done for good because the other is beloved by God.
Being beloved by God does not mean there will be no suffering or challenge in life. Being beloved by God, called by our name in Baptism, which claimed us for Jesus Christ, we are not left alone to simply move through life. We have the ones we call by name, Mary who intercedes for us with the other person we call by name, Jesus, who is also the Son of God. We call also on the names of the other baptized in the community of faith, the Church. We call out with all of our needs as we live in what can seem at times like a “sea of bitterness.” But, we are not meant to be bitter in life, no matter what we experience. Pope Francis offers us encouragement to move out of ourselves toward others:
“Let us never yield to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day; let us not yield to pessimism or discouragement: let us be quite certain that the Holy Spirit bestows upon the Church, with his powerful breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, so as to bring the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8)” (Audience with the College of Cardinals, March 15, 2013).
What are we to do then? Not live in bitterness, but witness as ones beloved. We are to call others by name and assist them in being good disciples of Jesus Christ, following the pattern of life and asking the intercession of the one called Mary.
**This blog was originally posted on September 12, 2013.**
On May 31st, our Church celebrated the Feast of the Visitation—that hallowed moment when Elizabeth was greeted by her cousin Mary and when Scripture tells us that the infant leaped in her womb. We hear that the very first thing that Mary did after she was visited by the angel Gabriel was go and visit her cousin Elizabeth.
The line that always sticks out to me from this Gospel account of the Visitation is: “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste.” Mary did not just travel to visit her cousin - to celebrate the faithfulness of God and what He had done for her – but she traveled immediately, quickly, and with haste.
Not only did Mary know that the good news of the Incarnation - of God dwelling in her very womb - was too good to keep to herself, but she also knew of the importance of showing up for those whom she loved most. One of the things I believe most firmly about our lives as Christian disciples is that when we encounter the faithfulness of God (either in our lives or in the lives of those around us) we are called to share it with others.
It can be all too easy to think that the stories of Mary and Elizabeth - one conceiving by the power of the Holy Spirit and the other receiving the gift of a child after being called barren - is some far off story that happened 2,000 years ago and not something applicable to us. We must ask ourselves: Where have I experienced the faithfulness of God in my life? Where have I seen it around me? Where am I being called to share it? Am I making haste to get there?
I was lucky enough to attend a school called Visitation High School; as you drove up the main drive to our school building, there was a beautiful statue of Mary and Elizabeth embracing. Every day I was reminded of the great joy that they shared with each other and ultimately the peace that came by believing that what was promised to them would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45).
In our hurting, broken, and messy world, we could use more moments of making haste. Making haste to show up for a friend that we know is suffering. Making haste to share the good news of Jesus with a family member or friend. Making haste to celebrate our loved ones even while we experience sorrow or hardship.
It is the great privilege of the Christian to make haste like Our Lady, to show up and to share the good news that,“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:49).
**This post was originally published on 6/13/2019**
Did you know that as Catholics we commemorate the month of October as the month of the rosary? The rosary calls us to reflect on thelife of Christ through the intercession of Mary, our Blessed Mother. The rosary is an invitation for us to build a relationship with Mary, so that we can better know her son. St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” One way to get to know Mary is by reading about her life from scripture. Mary’s words are not recorded often, and her actions seem to skim by even more subtly. Even so, the presence of her words and actions are profound, calling us to a deeper relationship with her and her son.
First, we learn from Mary that it is okay to ask questions on our faith journey. When the angel Gabriel announces to her that she will be the mother of the Son of God, she simply asks, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34). To know ourselves and have confidence in what we believe, we should always be asking questions. As a teacher, I encourage my students to ask questions all of the time. Although I am not as good as I want to be myself, from Mary I can take courage to ask more questions so that I can learn and grow in hopeful faith. When Mary questioned the angel, she learned: “Nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). And from there, we are called to take Mary’s example of humility and trust in her “Fiat” when she says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The second lesson that I have learned from Mary in the Bible has had the most profound impact on my life. After the birth of her son, and in the presence of the shepherds and angels, Luke records that “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). For me, this calls me to a life of deep reflection and intimacy with God. What I keep in my heart can move me closer to God if I invite him to share it with me: the goodness of each day, the little and big miracles, and even the hard and difficult trials. With God, everything is divine and happens with purpose; it is how I react, reflect, and let him mold me with the contents of my heart that I can become most pure. Mary is the perfect model of this. She remembers God’s glory, and holds it fast to her heart. Her life is characterized by this. I want to revel in God’s glory in all things like Mary, so that I can share this joy and love with others, and trust in his goodness when trials arise.
Finally, Mary’s last words in the Bible occur at the Wedding of Cana when the reception has run out of wine. She tells her son of his time to perform his first miracle, "They have no wine" (John 2:3), and it seems as though Jesus is not convinced. But next, Mary tells the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) with the utmost simplicity and confidence. Not only does she know that he is capable of great things, but she knows that her son will do great things. And so we must “do,” too. This message – “do whatever he tells you” – is a call for all of us to follow the words of Christ. Mary can only lead us to her son if we submit to his will with the trust and confidence she has modeled for us. Like Mary, we too must live our life as a Fiat, “Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”
What beautiful gifts Mary gives to us to know her faith and to let her mold us to be more like her son. Do not be afraid to let Mary be the one to lead you to Christ. She is perfect, in that she knows how to live her life for God: “Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself” (Deus Caritas Est, 41). Let her help you magnify the Lord. Today I will be praying the “Magnificat,” which is found in Luke. It is Mary’s prayer of joy and thanksgiving to God. Please join me in asking for Mary’s guidance towards her son, to lead us to a life full of grace as hers.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
*This post was originally published on 10/20/2015*
Mary is known by many titles and depicted in a variety of ways. Today’s feast, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, offers us an image of a woman filled with sorrow, a grieving mother. This title reminds us that she was no stranger to suffering. Indeed, the Church contemplates seven sorrows she endured, which Pope Francis described in a homily in April 2020:
“The first, just forty days after the birth of Jesus, is Simeon's prophecy that speaks of a sword that will pierce her heart (see Lk 2:35). The second sorrow is the flight to Egypt to save her Son's life (see Mt 2:13-23). The third sorrow, those three days of anguish when the boy remained in the temple (see Lk 2:41-50). The fourth sorrow, when Our Lady meets Jesus on the way to Calvary (see Jn 19:25). The fifth sorrow of Our Lady is the death of Jesus, seeing her Son there, crucified, naked, dying. The sixth sorrow, Jesus’ descent from the cross, dead, when she takes Him in her arms as she held Him in her arms more than thirty years before in Bethlehem. The seventh sorrow is Jesus’ burial. Thus, Christian piety follows this path of Our Lady who accompanies Jesus.”
Blessed Basil Moreau, who founded the Congregation of Holy Cross and dedicated the congregation to the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows, said of her, “It is (in her sorrows) that we shall see to what extent she has loved us! She stood at the foot of the cross, among the executioners and soldiers, so close to her dying Son that no detail of his death could escape her. ‘There by the cross of Jesus stood Mary his mother’ (Jn 19:25). What did she do in this circumstance, so painful for her heart, being minister before the altar on which the sacrifice of our redemption was accomplished?”
Though it must have been unbearable to behold the abuse and brutal murder of her Son, Mary did not turn away. She remained as close as possible to her Son and participated in Christ’s gift of self.
When I am confronted with sorrow—either my own or that of others—I am sorely tempted to simply look away, to live in denial or numbness, or to let myself be distracted by anything else. Working through grief, facing injustice, embracing the cross is incredibly difficult. “But if we shirk the cross, gone too will be our hope. It is in fidelity to what we once pledged that we will find the dying and the rising equally assured” (Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, 8:121).
Truly, the Christian life calls us not to look away but rather to have ‘a heart which sees’. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly” (Deus Caritas Est, 30). Allowing ourselves to be moved by suffering, acting and trusting that suffering can and will be transfigured by God’s grace is not weakness. In fact, as Pope Francis described in his Lenten message for 2015, “Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters.” When we remain as close as possible to Christ and allow our hearts to see as Mary did, we find new strength. In the pierced heart of the Sorrowful Virgin, we find consolation, refuge, and tenderness. We find a mother who can truly empathize, who embraces our wounds with her gentle touch, just as she embraced the bruised and broken body of her Son.
May our tears mingled with Mary’s be a worthy offering of love. May we, like Mary, cultivate a heart that sees, a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, and bears pain and sorrow well, “with strength, with tears” (Pope Francis, homily, April 2020).
May we make our own the words of today’s sequence (also known as the Stabat Mater and used frequently in the recitation of the Stations of the Cross):
O sweet Mother! font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with yours accord.
Make me feel as you have felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ, my Lord.
When I was pregnant with my first child, who is now eight, so many people talked to me about how much my life would change when the child was born. At the time, I thought that was mostly related to my day-to-day life: changing diapers, figuring out feeding schedules, coordinating childcare, managing doctor appointments, buying clothes and school supplies, and driving from soccer practice to Girl Scout meetings to gymnastics. While this is definitely part of it, what I did not fully understand is how profoundly my internal life would change—the incredible amount of love and devotion that would flow out of me on a daily basis to these two little humans. It is such a gift to be their mother and to have a front row seat to their lives.
My daughters started back at school last week. It is exciting that they can be fully back in-person and we can somewhat go back to how things were before the pandemic hit. I pick up both girls at the end of the day. In the past, when I would walk into the classroom, they would run towards me with arms wide open and a giant smile on their faces. This has always been the best part of my day: seeing the love and devotion they have for me so clearly as they bound through the classroom or playground once they catch sight of me.
As they get older, this changes. Last week, neither of them ran towards me; there was no smile or open arms. I was disrupting prime play time or the art project that would not be completed because it was time to go. Even though it was a small act, and I know of their love and devotion to me, it was such a punch to the gut for me. I know there will be more and more moments like this as they get older. No one can fully prepare you for when that happens. It just happens.
Today, as we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cannot help but think about both St. Anne and Mary as mothers. I think about the love and devotion they poured out to their new babies: keeping them safe and happy. I also think about those moments of punches to the gut that each of them felt when their children were small: how the love and devotion that poured out of them was slowly sucked dry as their children grew up and were not as reliant on them for all of the basic needs of life.
For me, it is in these small but challenging moments that I need the support of the Blessed Mother, the supreme example of motherhood. Her grace and strength provide such an excellent example for mothers as we go through the day-to-day of life—the ups and downs, the challenges and the joys, the moments of light, and the punches to the gut.
I love the line in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus’ birth when he writes: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). It is almost as if she took a mental picture of everything that was happening, so she could remember back to that particular moment when she needed to. I try to do this in those moments of joy we experience as a family, so I can remember them when the girls are challenging me directly or indirectly, as was the case last week. We need to have moments of challenge to make us appreciate the moments of light and joy.
How much time do we spend fretting about the items on our to-do list? Whether it’s a long-term goal or a set of tasks for the day, the pressure to do all things (and to do them well) seems overwhelming at times.
In tomorrow’s feast of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we see how the Blessed Virgin Mary offers us an alternative to our preoccupation with personal accomplishments. Her response to the angel Gabriel’s message focuses instead on God’s initiative.
The angel greets her saying, “Hail, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28), or in other biblical translations he refers to her as “highly favored.” Gabriel goes on to describe the greatness of the child she will bear: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). If I imagine myself in Mary’s place, I would find it very hard to resist merely contemplating my merits and basking in the divine recognition I had just received. Our Blessed Mother, however, thinks only of her lowliness before the Lord, identifying herself simply as “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).
She knows that her “yes” to the Lord is far from simple. Because she was only betrothed to Joseph, her pregnancy could mean not only shame, but death by stoning. Despite such difficult circumstances and uncertainty as to how this could possibly come about (she asks, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)), she trusts in the power of the Most High. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely within her, she grants her full assent: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She gives no thought to how she can do this, but instead marvels at all that God does. Just a few verses later (Luke 1:46-55), Mary offers her great canticle known as the Magnificat, in which she proclaims the greatness of the Lord and all God’s mighty deeds. In her singular role within the history of salvation, Mary directs all attention to the grace of God that works within her.
What a timely message during this liturgical season! It can be tempting to focus on what we have been doing (or not doing) for Lent. Yet this joyful mystery of the Annunciation prompts us to recognize what God is doing within us. After all, the purpose of a Lenten resolution is not simply to achieve a goal we have set for ourselves but to allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s grace.
Perhaps in prayer over the next few days we might consider:
How has God’s grace been at work in me lately?
How can I entrust myself to the power of the Most High instead of getting bogged down in what I need to do and how challenging it may be?
How can I allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through me?
May our celebration of Mary’s life of charity, hidden sanctity, and faithful fulfillment of God’s will lead us to imitate her example, so that we too may be mindful of the great things the Lord has done in us and for us.
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.
**This post was originally published on 12/30/2015.
On October 22nd, we celebrate the feast of St. John Paul II, a saint of our times! He is remembered for many things, including his passion for the arts, outdoors, youth, and families. St. John Paul II also had a deep devotion to Mary, and in what I know of St. John Paul II’s life and loves, we can bring no greater joy in celebrating his sainthood than by honoring our blessed Mother.
St. John Paul II’s favorite prayer was the Rosary, and I too, have developed a fondness for praying it. I stumbled upon a recording a couple of years ago in my desire to pray it intentionally. As I would listen and pray along in my car every morning before work, I discovered a love for each mystery and the fruit they bear, as like Mary, I “pondered them in [my] heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). The mysteries of the Rosary invite us to contemplate the life of Christ through the memories of Mary. St. John Paul II says remembering these mysteries “were to be the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §11). In this remembering, the account of the Gospel from the eyes of Mary are timeless, “not only belong[ing] to ‘yesterday’; they are also a part of the ‘today’ of salvation” (John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §13). In this, St. John Paul II reminds us that the Rosary is an invitation to participate in Christ’s divine life, and it is relevant across time to the faithful of all ages.
Recently my routine for praying the Rosary has changed as I am now on maternity leave and spend the day taking care of my newborn daughter. Instead of rushing to get my two-year-old son into the car and dropped off at daycare before work and enjoying my prayer time alone in the car, we have the opportunity to hop in the stroller and walk to daycare, spending time together saying hi to neighbors and marveling at the changing of seasons before he starts his school day. Despite the enjoyment both my son and I get from these walks, in the transition of summer at home with mommy to school, and the transition from being an only child to living the realities of being a big brother at only two years old, for quite a few weeks my son was not happy about leaving home for the day. Although my son loves school, he was hating drop off, and his anxiety (and let’s be honest, mine, too) crept in the closer we got to school each day.
One morning as I was trying to get him excited for the day, I asked him if he wanted to pray the Rosary with me, telling him it always brings me calm and comfort, and he said yes. I told him I would let my recording play, and I would tell him the stories of each mystery. Thus began a new routine for us each morning. As the Joyful Mysteries play, I tell him about how much Mary loved God that she said yes to being Jesus’ Mommy, and how we pray that we can love God like her and say yes to Him when he needs us to. When the Luminous Mysteries play, I tell him about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, and that through Mary, she will lead us to Jesus and help us see the miracles he’s performing in our own lives. In praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, I am very closely brought to tears as I think about explaining death to a toddler, and moved by Jesus’ sacrifice for us, telling my son that no sin stops Christ’s love for us. We pray to be good people and follow the will of God. And when we pray the Glorious Mysteries, I get to teach my son about the glories of the Holy Spirit and Heaven, praying for our ultimate happiness with Jesus, Mary, and all the saints. In praying these, I am in awe of how parenting is transforming my heart, teaching me to be like a little child, loving Jesus without abandon like my son does. By the time we’ve prayed our Rosary for the day, we’ve arrived at daycare. Filled with his spunky confidence and newfound graces, my son hops out of his stroller and says “let me give you a kiss for the road,” and sends me off on my way. Each day, he runs off to the playground to play with his friends, and I am amazed by the graces we’ve both received by praying the Rosary together.
In his great love for both the Rosary and the family, St. John Paul II called families to pray this prayer together, acknowledging how its graces unite the family:
Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.
Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §41)
From daycare drop-offs to contemplating our family’s deepest sorrows and joys, we too as a family have found this hope and strength of the Rosary to be true and timeless.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of St. John Paul II, I invite you to honor him and our Blessed Mother by taking the time to pray the Rosary, finding twenty minutes of your time to devote to contemplating the face of Jesus. St. John Paul said, “a prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community… I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §43). Know of my unending prayers for you as you begin this rediscovery of the Rosary for yourself, as with Mary, you too ponder these mysteries in your heart and recognize their fruits in your life.
St. John Paul II, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
*This post was originally published on October 22, 2019.
Pope Francis eloquently writes in his post-synodal exhortation Christus Vivit, “After this brief look at the word of God, we cannot just say that young people are the future of our world. They are its present.” In the last decade, and especially since Christus Vivit was promulgated in 2019, the Church has sought to help the Church’s youth become protagonists in their own right. This is seen in many parish, diocesan, and archdiocesan initiatives to form young Church leaders. Some examples of this include creating new diocesan offices for youth and young adult ministries and the growth of many high school and collegiate campus ministry offices. Nevertheless, young people crave young role models for the Faith. Pope Francis recognized this and listed many examples, including Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Joan of Arc. In this blog, I wish to discuss three saints in particular--Bl. Carlo Acutis, St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, and St. Therese of Lisieux—and how their witnesses are a model for young people (especially youth leaders) who wish to dive deeper into a relationship with Christ and his Church.
Young people everywhere crave to see an aspect of themselves in the people they look up to, and Bl. Carlo Acutis is a soon-to-be saint who allows young people to see commonalities between themselves and the saints. Carlo was a typical Italian teenager who played soccer and video games. Nevertheless, he also made great strides for God in his work, uploading Eucharistic miracles to a website to spread devotion to the Body and Blood of Christ. He was called “an influencer for God” by his mother in an America Magazine article. Bl. Carlo stands as a soon-to-be saint accessible to the Church’s youth because of his young age and his connectedness to 21st-century culture. Bl. Carlo Acutis models for youth leaders how evangelization must occur within the culture and modern media, not from an ivory tower of formal theology and scholarship. The Gospel must be spread in a way that all generations can appreciate, and Bl. Carlo accomplished that with the creation of his website.
Another young person who bore witness to the Faith in the context of his own time was St. José Sánchez del Rio. Saint José was a young man growing up in Mexico during the Cristero Wars. The Cristero Wars were a series of conflicts between the Mexican President Plutarco Calles's secularist government and Cristero fighters (formally known as the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty). The Calles government imposed the 1917 Mexican Constitution, which contained anticlerical policies and sought state atheism. Catholics across the country opposed this and began resisting through liturgical services and military resistance against the Mexican army. Saint José was a young man during the war and wanted to fight to defend his Faith. His mother, however, refused to let him formally join the Cristero Movement. This made St. José contribute to the movement indirectly and attend Mass whenever possible. Nevertheless, when a Cristero General lost his horse in battle, young José offered his, and this led to his imprisonment by the Mexican army. After being tortured to renounce his Faith, José refused and was martyred. St. José Sánchez del Rio’s witness to the Faith is one of the best examples of what a Catholic is called to do by Christ: witness the Faith within your own culture and times while not renouncing our Lord. Despite his young age, St. José believed in Christ’s love and graces, and that gave him the strength to be countercultural and stand with Jesus instead of with the popular culture and the government that stood against Him.
Finally, St. Thérèse of Lisieux remains one of the most commanding forces in the Church’s lexicon for youth witnesses. Becoming a Carmelite at age fifteen, Thérèse began to pray incessantly and pioneered her famous “Little Way” for the spiritual life. St. Thérèse’s “Little Way” seeks to help people encounter Christ in their day-to-day activities and pray to Jesus with childlike dependency. St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s powerful devotion to the Eucharist, prayer, and a joyful attitude allow many to realize that one can be close to Christ no matter what they are doing. St. Thérèse stands as a strong role model for young Catholics since her relationship to Christ reached such profound depths at her young age.
Young people crave role models in the Church, and older generations can find powerful witnesses and wisdom from young Catholics as well. The Church has been and must remain dedicated to telling and promoting the stories of young saints to inspire every generation to become protagonists in the Church and saints for Christ’s kingdom. Young people can be inspired by these saints since they can “…offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to ‘rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments’” (Pope Francis, Christus Vivit).
What motivates us to do what we do? If it is love, then we are called to “will the good of another” (St. Thomas Aquinas quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1766). The object of our love is not ourselves or our self-interest. It is God and neighbor. St. Vincent Pallotti universalizes love in this way:
“If we are really animated by the spirit of love, we will always treat all with love, we will look on all with love, we will think of all with love, and we will speak of all with love” (OOCC III, 338).
This type of love requires sacrifice and generosity. Of course, the greatest act of love was the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. We see generosity and sacrifice in the Blessed Virgin Mary saying “yes” to the Angel Gabriel and St. Joseph setting aside what he wanted to do and always doing the will of God.
Sacrificing ourselves for the other, thinking not of self, but the other, is not a typical way of behaving. We seem to be able to do it on a small scale with those closest to us, which is the place to start. Bit by bit, through self-sacrifice, a generosity of spirit grows, love grows. Does this happen on its own? No, the Holy Spirit is moving in and through each of us. The grace of God gives us the ability to sacrifice and be generous, moving us toward universal love.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
Being a dad is heroic stuff. It demands strength, hard work, a quick wit, a compassionate heart, and an unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of this cute little stranger that has captured your heart. Being a dad is usually intentional. Being an adoptive dad is intentionality on steroids. If all men look to St. Joseph as a guide, companion, and mentor, we will have a more just, prosperous, and peaceful world.
While I am writing this reflection for all dads, I want to address young dads or men who are thinking about being dads. My hope is that St. Joseph will awaken in you a clear-eyed grasp of the “fiat” or “yes” of fatherhood.
Let me share where I am coming from. I am an adoptive dad with three sons; the oldest is married with three kids of his own, the middle son is headed to college, and the youngest will be a high school junior in the fall. A life-long Catholic, my professional life is in the Church: campus ministry, priestly formation, and mission. Barb and I, married 23 years, wrote a book a few years ago – Rise, Take the Child – Reflections on the Vocation of Adoption.
Joseph was an “in the background” saint to me until I became an adoptive dad. In my office, I have an icon of the Holy Family. Our oldest was baptized on the Feast of the Holy Family. In that icon, Joseph is holding Mary (on his right) and Jesus (on his left). He is holding Mary, who is holding Jesus, and he completes the “embrace” of Jesus. Who is this “third person” in the Holy Family?
I wanted to encounter Joseph the man. I examined my assumptions. I thought of Joseph as an old man even though biblical evidence suggests he was a strong man, capable of protecting his family, leading them into exile in Egypt and back home, and establishing himself as a successful carpenter.
There is nothing “romantic” about Joseph if Shakespeare’s Romeo is our model of a man in love. I find Joseph, in Franco Zeffirelli’s film Jesus of Nazareth, is authentically conflicted; balancing the longing for the completion of marriage, his desire for Mary, the promise of family, the hurt and anger he feels when he learns Mary is pregnant, and his deep desire to do good and avoid evil.
Finally, contrary to Joseph’s Song, which I like in many ways, Joseph was not a “simple” carpenter. In the time of Jesus, and even in our time, a carpenter is much more than a laborer. Carpenters were craftsmen – highly skilled and “essential” for society. Some, perhaps even Joseph, were artists.
When we pray with Saint Joseph, we need to see him first as a man with his own story, network of relationships, aspirations, work, skill, and deep, abiding faith. This is Joseph, Mary’s tender and loving betrothed, a fierce and decisive protector, a skilled and dedicated provider, and a humble and faithful father who raises Jesus, with Mary, into manhood in first century Galilee.
We know the most about Joseph from the Gospel of St. Matthew, which records his four dreams. In his first dream, Joseph “wrestles” with what the law of his faith teaches and what his heart says. Fatherhood is born out of love of a woman. Heterosexual men “long for” the completion a woman provides. This sexual longing (eros) finds its perfection in self-sacrificing love (agape). Joseph does not ignore Mary’s pregnancy – he embraces it as an act of faith and love. He sets aside his fears, welcomes her into his home as his wife, and witnesses God’s saving act unfolding in and through her.
His second dream compels Joseph to protect the Mary and the infant Jesus from Herod. Mary, in Luke’s Gospel, “makes haste” to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Joseph, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “makes haste” at night into an unknown exile to Egypt, away from the threat of Herod. I am sure there were other dangers on the way to Egypt and challenges in finding work and establishing a home there.
There is far less drama in the third dream. Joseph was able to hire himself out as a skilled craftsman and establish a home in Egypt. And yet, he is called by God to help write the great “theo-drama” of salvation so that Jesus, his adoptive son, can fulfill his destiny as God’s “only begotten Son” who is “called out of Egypt.” In some ways, this is Joseph’s “fiat,” his “yes” to God. Through his actions, Joseph accepts the responsibility of raising Jesus as a Jewish man among his people.
The fourth dream, on the road home, points to Joseph as provider – choosing a place where Mary and Jesus would be safe, where Jesus could grow “in wisdom and age,” and he could provide for them through the work of his hands. St. Luke’s Gospel points to the peace and tranquility of this domestic time (sometimes referred to as the “hidden life”) for Joseph when he tells the story of Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the Temple. Imagine the frantic search for Jesus followed by Joseph seeing and hearing his son teaching the elders of Israel in the Temple, the most sacred place on earth. Imagine the rush of emotions – the relief, the wonder, the astonishment.
As I prayed with this passage, I was reminded of my experience of my own son playing basketball. He was about ten or eleven years old, he was fouled, and he cautiously approached the free-throw line. He took command of the ball, set his body, and did a perfect shot. Nothing but net. It took my breath away. Others too. We just did not expect “perfection” from someone so young. Was that what Joseph felt when he heard Jesus teaching the elders of Israel in the Temple?
In many ways, every father is called to be an “adoptive” father in the sense that they, too, must be intentional, like Joseph, in how they love their children. First, love your wife and partner with her to be a family. Protect her and your children from all that is evil with your strength, perseverance, and decisiveness. Provide for your family through your labor, your craftsmanship, your artistry. And raise your children to adulthood through the witness of your life, integrity, and faith.
Pope Francis declared 2021 the Year of St. Joseph, and he wrote a wonderful apostolic letter, Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), that provides further insights into this ordinary hero, this extraordinary “every man,” who raised to manhood the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
Click here to read more about St. Joseph in this post written by Barbara and Don McCrabb.
We are in the time of the Upper Room, the Cenacle. The days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost are liturgically the time when the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the disciples were together in prayer, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. They did not really know what to expect. In fire and wind, the Holy Spirit came, and their lives were transformed forever. The world is also transformed and is transforming. The mission continues in the name of Jesus Christ! We are sent as apostles, as missionary disciples, out into the world. Hiding in a room, in our homes, even in a church is not our call. Instead, we go forth, going where the Holy Spirit moves us to go.
We can do amazing things in the name of Jesus Christ. There is no need to wait until someone invites us. No, if we are baptized, and especially if we are confirmed, then we can go forth! We need to recognize, though, that we do not send ourselves. We are sent by Christ, in and through his Church. The community of faith that we call Church is where we go forth from and to which we return. The Church teaches us, forms us, heals and nourishes us through the Sacraments, and sends us on mission. The mission is not ours; it is Christ’s. We, as members of Christ’s Faithful, are called to live his mission until he comes again, just as the Apostles were told to do.
In all of this, Mary, Queen of Apostles, is with us as our Mother and Queen. Her feast day is the day before Pentecost. She was the perfect disciple of Christ. St. Vincent Pallotti said of her: “We have most holy Mary, after Jesus Christ, the most perfect model of true apostolic zeal, and of perfect love” (OOCC I, 7). The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity of the Second Vatican Council echoes this sentiment of Pallotti:
“The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, who while leading the life common to all here on earth, one filled with family concerns and labors, was always intimately united with her Son and in an entirely unique way cooperated in the work of the Savior… All should devoutly venerate her and commend their life and apostolate to her maternal care” (4).
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
To learn more about Mary, Queen of Apostles, please click here.