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Annunciation

It’s amazing how one phrase can change your life.

“You won!”

“You passed.”

“Marry me.”

“I love you.”

“I’m pregnant.”

“You have cancer.”

“It/She/He’s gone.”

Each of these phrases has the ability to lock you into an emotional roller coaster. It has ups and downs that make your spirits soar and your stomach churn into knots.  For me, each of these phrases take me back to very specific times in my life.

I mean what kid wasn’t relieved to hear that he/she had passed a test they didn’t study for and were certain they failed? It made you feel like doing backflips of joy that apparently enough information had stuck in your brain during class that you were able to pull of a grade that didn’t have to be signed off by a parent or warrant an e-mail home.

Likewise, when we’ve heard bad news, those words haunt our memories. For years I have had mysterious health problems that no one has been able to accurately label. I’ve been to every doctor under the sun for over ten years and am just now starting to get answers. But it wasn’t until I heard the word ‘cancer’ did I really stop in my tracks because this diagnosis wasn’t mine but my sister’s. Before I could fully grapple with it, she was gone.

Each phrase invokes an emotion, a memory, a reaction.

It is no different then when we pray the rosary. We have to keep in mind that these are actual events that happened in real time. They are not merely nice little tales drawn out of someone’s imagination.  Mary, Jesus, the apostles and people of Israel actually lived the rosary.

Mary was human. She would have had strong emotional reactions to the events of the Rosary. Not because she was completely caught off guard by God’s plan but because she had to make a conscience choice to be a part of the mission God had laid out centuries before.

Some people like to paint Mary as an ignorant young girl who was suddenly confronted with an unplanned pregnancy and thrust into the events of the life of Christ without a clue of what was going on. On the contrary, Mary would have known a lot just from her upbringing in the Jewish faith. Which would mean that on that day when Archangel Gabriel appeared before her at the Annunciation she would have known very pointedly that her life was about to change.

So, let’s set the scene.

It’s a warm day in Israel. A young woman in her early teens is strolling along in a garden when suddenly a bright light bursts before her. From the light emerges a heavenly figure radiating with power and peace. Stunned, the young girl awaits his words. Then, he speaks, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Her stomach leaps in surprise at the angel’s presence and greeting. A greeting like this was not what she expected from such an angel.

We’re going to pause right here.

A garden? I’ll be honest, no one is certain where Mary was when Gabriel appeared to her but many theorize that it would be appropriate for her to have been in a garden. The first woman who assisted in the Fall of mankind did so in a Garden, so it would make sense that the ‘New Eve’, the one to assist in the redemption of man would be in a garden. It also seems reasonable that Eve’s ‘no’ to God’s command and declare herself more wise than God would be countered by Mary’s joyful yielding ‘fiat’.

Now, the greeting,

“Hail, full of grace”

In Greek, this phrase is translated as “Hail, you who is, who was and who will be full of grace.” It is a statement not of just one time but for her entire life which has been, is now and will be. Her soul will always be full of MaryRosarygrace. This grace points directly to her unique role in humanity. She is the New Ark of the Covenant for the people of Israel. (Check out, Exodus 25-40 for the specifics of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle/Tent of Meeting)–the Ark was the most prized possession of the people of Israel. The golden vessel was adorned with golden cherubim, beneath them were inclosed manna from the desert, the rod of Aaron and the tablets of the 10 Commandments. But the most cherished feature of this sat nestled between the wings of the cherubim: The Shekinah, the Holy Cloud, the presence of God. God dwelled among his people between the golden wings of angels. When their days of conquering the Holy Land were over, the Ark was moved to the Temple. But God’s people sinned against him many times. Many believed however, that nothing bad would happen to them since God’s presence remained in the Temple. When the people did not change, God’s Holy Cloud left the Ark of the Covenant and the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to take the Ark of the Covenant and hide it in the hills, never to be found again. Despite what Indiana Jones may claim, it still has not been found.

Yet, I ask, as valuable as the Ark of the Covenant had been, how much more valuable would it have been if God’s fingernail were in there? His hand? Arm? Leg? Heart? Head? The materials of the Ark were meticulously chosen and arranged to hold His presence and the most sacred objects of Israel. Why would the place where His Son would dwell for nine months, whose home He would be raised in for thirty years, whose care He would be entrusted to be any different. She would have been treated greater then the Ark. She would be more beautiful, more pure, more sacred then any golden encasing. Now, in an amazing step, God no longer hides among the wings of angels or veiled in a cloud or behind a Temple veil, instead He dwells inside the womb of a virgin, consecrated to Himself and free from sin.

Most importantly, the Ark was not an end of itself. Yes, it held valuable things within itself but without God’s presence it was just a golden box with artifacts inside. It is God’s presence that set it apart. The Ark, was designed by God and given to the people to build. The Ark itself always pointed past itself and onto God.

Pope BenedictMary is the greater than the Ark. Unlike the Ark whose materials are plain and meaningless on their own, she as a person has innate value and dignity. Her role as God-bearer is not everything. Because once He was born She is a mirror, a reflecting pool, an outward sign which always points onward to her Son, Jesus. Why else do you think his name is in the middle of the Hail Mary?

The Hail Mary itself is the telling of His story, of His incarnation, of His journey to fulfill prophesies.

“The Lord is with thee”

This is no ordinary small talk. To have the Lord with you was to have His power and favor. Figures like Moses, David, Noah, Joseph and even the entire nation of Israel have all heard these words applied to themselves. This phrase appears when the chosen ones of God are being given a mission, are battling to bring their mission to its fulfillment, and is given a special movement of the Spirit of the Lord over them.

To have God with you was to defy logic.

(The Israelites never should have been able to enter the Promised Land. Two out of twelve of their own spies said the people were too large and too many, their walls to large for them to penetrate. Yet, they won. In another battle Moses’ arms were raised to God in heaven and as long as his arms were raised Israel won the battle, when they dropped they started losing (no, this is not like wearing your lucky jersey during a game so your team will win or if you leave a football game to go to the bathroom and the other team scores that your bladder is mystically holding the game’s fate). When Israel faced enemies under Gideon, the army was reduced to a mere regimen of 300 men. And they won.)

And so it would be that a young woman, pure and consecrated virgin would become the mother of God. It defies logic, yet, it happened.

Next up, the Visitation…until then, may the Lord be with you 🙂

Joyful! Joyful! We Adore Thee!

I will be honest with you…I’m a pessimist. It’s true, when I look at a glass it is usually half empty, it is always partly cloudy instead of partly sunny, and no, I don’t see the silver lining.Lincoln

Despite this negative trend I am a happy person. Happy. But not joyful.

Have you ever met those people who are so full of joy that you would swear that they never had a bad day in their life? You know, those people who have the broadest, biggest most infectious smiles that you can’t help but smile along with? Those people who can’t seem to contain the inner joy of their hearts that outshines every inch of darkness of their day? I don’t understand these people yet I am oddly and irreversibly attracted to their beauty like a mosquito to a bug zapper.

It is only getting close to these beautiful souls that joy is uncontrollably zapped into me.

And then for a brief time I feel like they do. And I’m not going to lie, joy is great.

It is a deeply rooted beauty that bubbles up inside my heart that longs to become a permanent fixture of my life. Yet, Johnny Raincloud inevitably returns and I’m back to being me.

The Gospel readings of the last few weeks of Mass from the beginning of Advent to now have focused on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. We had Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, the Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Like many, these readings seem routine. Yeah, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary traveled to visit Elizabeth, Jesus is born yadda yadda, prophet says some stuff and then Jesus is lost then found. Big whoop.

Whenever we are ‘bored’ as Catholics we need to slam on the spiritual brakes. Because boredom means we missed something.

 

minion of boredom

So, let’s throw our spiritual cars in reverse and look at these events again.

These 5 Mysteries of the Rosary are called Joyful. That in of itself is interesting. Why? Because they show that there there is a distinct reason that God chose Mary as His mother. Put yourself in her place.

First, the Archangel Gabriel appears.

In Scripture, Gabriel only appears at the most vital, integral and pivotal points of change in Israel’s history. When he appears, it means something HUGE is about to happen. The Gospel of Luke opens with Gabriel appearing twice. First, to Zechariah (husband to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth) who is offering the prayers of the people to the Lord inside the Holy of Holies. It is here that Gabriel appears and tells him that his prayers have been answered and that his wife will have a son. EPICALLY HUGE!

His job as a priest was to offer the petitions of the entire country. He was there to pray for their return to God’s grace, redemption, forgiveness and the worldwide kingdom and blessing promised Abraham, etc. And Gabriel says his prayers have been answered: your wife will bear a son.

Jigga what?!

Did I miss where it said he slipped in a prayer for he and his barren wife to have a child?

Nope.

Gabriel doesn’t stop there but goes on to say that his son will be named John. He will not drink wine, be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will go before him like Elijah and he will prepare the way for God’s chosen one (Luke 1). To the ears of a Jewish person bells would be ringing. Gabriel is saying that John will be set apart, like a Nazarite (check the old testament for others like him) and he will be a prophet like Elijah (HUGE!)

He will prepare the way for the Messiah. In the Eastern Rite they refer to John the Baptist as the ‘Forerunner’.

So, Gabriel has just set the forerunner in motion.

Now it is time for the Messiah.

From there, Gabriel goes onto appear to Mary–the mother of the Messiah.”Hail, full of Grace. The Lord is with Thee”, he tells her she will bear a son who will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. And Mary replies, ‘fiat’. An unreserved and joyful ‘YES!’ to God’s proposal. And yet these are called the Joyful Mysteries…

It is Joyful, right?!

Would you be joyful?

I’m pretty sure if this had been asked of me, these would not be called the Joyful Mysteries but the ‘Mysteries of Worry’ or the ‘Anxiety Mysteries’.

My Persepective:

Annunciation: Angel Gabriel–Hey, I know you haven’t moved in with your husband yet and you’ve consecrated yourself to God as a virgin but you have been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Don’t worry though, you won’t conceive Him through human means but through Divine Grace. Me: Haha, yeah right. Oh, you’re serious?

Visitation: “Mary! My son is a prophet and is leaping before you like David in front of the Ark of the Covenant! He’s going to be the King…aka take on the Roman Empire.” Shoot. That’s not going to be easy.

Nativity: I’ve just traveled for this many days, on a donkey, nine months pregnant and there is no room in the freaking inn? And now, this child, conceived by the Holy Spirit is coming, yeah, great, why not?

Presentation: “Lord, we dedicate our Son to you.” Simeon, “This is the Messiah!: Me: Wohoo! Simeon: he will be a light for the Gentiles. Me: Wait, the promise of Abraham being fulfilled? Uhh, wow. I’m the Mother of the Messiah…Simeon: He will be a sign spoken against, he will divide the nation. Me: Wait, what? That’s not good. Simeon: And for you, Mary, a sword will pierce your heart.” Me: Should’ve seen that one coming.

Finding of Jesus in the Temple: “I lost who?!”

So, how is it that these are called the JOYFUL MYSTERIES?! Two things: the events themselves and also Mary’s ‘Yes’. Many people growl at the rosary because they believe Mary is too overemphasized. That Mary scores 10 Hail Mary’s and Jesus only gets mentioned in the Glory Be. On the contrary, as always, Mary points onward to her son. The mysteries themselves revolve around the crucial points of Christ’s life. Just like when parents get to see their first positive pregnancy test, it is an incredible moment. It is a memorable event.  That is when Christ’s life on earth began. The events of the rosary, especially the joyful can be traveled through the eyes of a mother watching her Son grow in a very unique way. (I will explore the Hail Mary more in the next post)

Mary’s response to God’s joyful proclamation that the time of the Savior had come was one of joy. In my mind, this only furthers the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin or concupiscence (our tendency to sin thanks to the Fall of Adam and Eve). She did not begrudgingly give her consent to God’s request for her to be the mother of His Son. She didn’t ask for some time to think about it or go ask her close friends for advice. She did not look at herself, she did not see fear or worry, she saw only God’s will.

Mary yields freely without fear and full of joy. Because through her the Messiah would come, Israel would be restored, Gentiles would be converted and God would dwell among His people once more. She saw Jesus’ life with joy. It is her perspective and joyful response that set into motion the other joyful events heaven had in store–the events that would lead to the redemption the entire world.

The rosary allows us, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, “contemplate with Mary the face of Christ” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 3).  And that is precisely what I will do in the following posts!

 

A Little Pick-Me-Up

“You of little faith. Why did you doubt?”

I recently saw this picture on Facebook and it was exactly what I needed to see.

by Yunsung Kim

by Yunsung Kim

Me being a mighty theologian automatically thought of Jim Gaffigan, the comedian. Classy, right? Gaffigan, in one of his routines talks about life with four kids. He describes it like this:

“Imagine you’re drowning and then someone hands you a baby.”

This. is. my. life. I love my kids more than I ever thought possible. But there are days. Days of stepped on toys, mounding laundry, spit up so volcanic that it calls for multiple garment changes, spilt milk on carpet, fights over trains, planes and the fact that one kid looked at a toy in the near vicinity of the other child, etc. There are days that I feel myself sinking beneath the responsibilities of motherhood.

Peter, who this picture’s perspective is really from, sank beneath the waves when he lost faith in Jesus (Matthew 14). “You of little faith,” Jesus says, “Why did you doubt?” What a dagger to the heart of St. Peter! Because of this people are quick to throw old Peter under the rutter. “What a weak man! He didn’t trust Jesus. As in, JESUS, the Son of God. As in the man he’s been following for three years?!”

Let’s give St. Peter a chance. This episode plays out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, AT NIGHT, during a STORM. The apostles are busy trying to keep their boat on course during the storm. Suddenly, they see a figure moving across the waves and wonder if it is a ghost. Peter is the one who calls out to the figure.

“Lord, if it is you then tell me to come to you on the water!”

Boom!

Right there!

Freeze frame!

Read that again.

What does it tell us about Peter’s faith in Jesus?

Peter reveals that he has a sturdy faith by telling the Lord to call him. He does not simply yell, “Come up to this boat and prove to me that you are Jesus!” nor does he say, “Lord show me a sign that it is you and I will believe.”

Instead, like a man, he throws out a bold challenge. “Lord if it is you, tell me to come on the water”. First of all, sweet request. I hope if I’m ever presented with a chance to challenge the Lord in this way I can come up with something awesome like that. Second, it shows he is ready to test his faith in Jesus. He is ready to step out into the unknown. Into the storm. Into the night and meet his Lord. Not on a boat but on the firmness of hope and faith. His faith is sure and is ready for testing it, to make it better, to perfect it.

(Side note: hope has gotten a bad rap these days. Hope is never talked about in a way that is sure. It’s always in the context of “I hope this happens” “I hope I don’t break my leg” “I hope he does”, etc. It’s just shy of wishing on a star. But the hope of Christians is firm, it is meant to be walked on, to set beneath our feet and guide our path. It is sure.)

So, down climbs Peter and he walked on water.

Also important. Peter didn’t sink right away. Scripture doesn’t say, “Peter climbed out of the boat and sank like a rock.” or “Peter tripped on a wave and fell” or “Climbing out of the boat his feet instantly sank beneath the stormy waves”. Which means Peter didn’t have one of those “What in the world was I thinking?!” moments. He wasn’t scared or panicked as he placed his feet on the waves. If he had been he would have sunk right off the bat. Instead scripture says that he walked on the water. Peter’s faith buoyed him toward the Lord.

I think its important to note that Scripture doesn’t say how many steps Peter was able to take towards Jesus that night on sea. How far away was Jesus? Was he half a mile? Fifty feet? We don’t know. But we do know that Peter in fact made enough headway to be termed as walking on water.

So far so good. St. Peter has the faith to call to Jesus and to go out to him.

When does it falter, then? When he saw the storm around him. Felt the wind, saw the waves, etc. It was when the storms of the world built up around him that he took his eyes off of Jesus. Fear entered his heart.  Peter looked at the world around him with human eyes. Fear robbed him in an instant of the reality that he was WALKING ON WATER. 

It is interesting though, Jesus doesn’t calm the storm as we’ve seen in other places in the Gospel. He doesn’t give Peter, the future leader of His Church, a calm serene path to Himself. In fact, it seems like the opposite probably happened. Peter made the request to walk on water during the storm. If he wasn’t afraid then nor when he was climbing down onto the sea then something must have changed once he was out there.

Anyone who is chosen to be the Lord’s al-byit (his right hand man and holder of the keys to the kingdom until Jesus’ return. Read Isaiah 22:20-23 and Matthew 16:18-19; it is an office meant to be passed on until the return of the King), has to be able to stand firm and fearless in the darkness that this world possesses. In the midst of his fear his feet dive beneath the water’s surface.

Again, something interesting, Peter’ has time to yell out, “Lord save me!” before he’s consumed by the storm. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure only a gasp of fear and a four letter word would have slipped out of my mouth in that moment. Instead, Peter uses what could be his last breath to call out for the Lord’s mercy.

Some may view this as a failure of faith on Peter’s part. Yet, I still think there is an incredible amount of merit in his actions even to the end. Yes, Peter sank. Yes, he let fear steal his heart from God, yet, in the end he implored God’s mercy to save him.  Epic save. This is a HUGE theological principle. Even when we fail and focus on our fears, Christ is still there when we call out to Him. His mercy endures forever.  He could have punished Peter, could have let him drown or at least stay down there for a few seconds to really scare him. But He didn’t. Instead, Scripture says He reaches out and catches Peter. There is a good chance that Peter’s head didn’t even get wet.

With all of this in context. The line of Jesus does not seem like a dagger to the heart but a gentle disappointment like that of a Father trying to teach His son to ride a bike without training wheels. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then, Jesus does something that makes my heart happy. Matthew tells us that the two climbed into the boat.

I’m going to make a biblical assumption here (dangerous, I know)–but if Peter’s faith was shaken by the storm and the storm is still raging, I’m going to guess that he did not walk back to the boat on his own volition. Instead, having been caught by Jesus, is carried back to the boat in the arms of Christ. If that is true, I can’t imagine how uplifted Peter must have felt. Not only did Christ have mercy on him to save him from his fears and from death. Jesus pulls him into his arms and carries him back to the safety of the boat. It is said that the apostle John often laid his head on Jesus’ chest. But I’m going to guess that this may have been the only time that Peter was able to lay his head on the heart of the Jesus. And what a better scene then that? To be in the arms of your Lord in the midst of his storm with the beating of his heart as the calming echo in your soul as you walk together on the water toward the safe haven of the boat. Makes you think of heaven, doesn’t it?

So, as my footsteps seem to sink beneath the waves of work, toys, fears of the world and the relentless sense of failure, I can look at this picture and relate. Peter may not have made it beneath the waves but no matter how deep I am, I am never out of the reach of Christ who will come for me if only I call on His mercy. Then, Christ will cradle me in His arms and carry me through the storms of this life toward the safe haven of heaven.

The Pope’s Parish

For the upcoming feast day!!!

10 Fun Facts: The Pope’s Parish

St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, St. Peter’s and St. John Lateran make up the four major churches of Rome. Among them is hidden the Cathedral of Rome. Many may be surprised to learn that the cathedral of Rome is not St. Peter’s. In fact, the true cathedral of Rome is St. John Lateran whose feast day we celebrate this month. Why? How? What makes it special? So here are 10 facts about St. John Lateran:

  • John Lateran was a gift from Constantine to Pope Melchiades together with a parcel of imperial property and its buildings specifically for a church and papal residence. The property was known as “Lateran” because it had previously belonged to Plautius Lateranus. It was consecrated in 324 A.D.
  • The Cathedral served as the residence of the Pope until 1304. It was originally dedicated to the Savior in 324 and later St. John the Baptist (904-911) and later St. John the Evangelist (1144-1145).
  • Five Ecumenical Councils (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, 1512) were hosted here.
  • It is home to the Holy Door which is only opened during a Jubilee year. It was last opened in 2000.
  • It is the home of the Tomb of Pope St. Leo XIII and houses relics of Sts. Cyprian, St. Giustina, Rufina, Secuda and Venatius.
  • The Baptistry, found in the northwest corner of the church, is the original to the Lateran. Built by Constantine this Baptistery features a step down circular area for baptism by immersion. In the center is a basalt where baptisms are now performed. Around the baptistery area are eight oil paintings depicting scenes from the life of John the Baptist.
  • The Egyptian obelisk found in the plaza in front of the Lateran is the oldest in Rome and dates back to 1500 B.C. It was originally placed in the Circus and moved here in 1588.
  • The Lateran is home to the Papal Altar where only the Pope can celebrate Mass upon. The altar itself is said to contain portions of a wooden altar which was used by Peter, the first pope, and subsequent popes up to Sylvester I.
  • Above the Papal Altar is a silver grate. Behind this are two silver busts said to contain the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul.
  • The Altar of the Holy Sacrament is crowned with a bronze relief of the Last Supper. Behind this is fragment of wood thought to be a piece from the table used at the Last Supper.

St. John Lateran is at the heart of the Church in Rome. Its walls have seen many wars, been sacked, damaged, rebuilt, etc. Yet the Lateran stands as a measuring tape for the growth of the Church in Rome. From the relics of the earliest papal altar to a portion of the Last Supper the Lateran houses two of the most amazing and pivotal moments of the Church which served as a springboard for the papacy and the Eucharist. In a way which no other church can claim, St. John Lateran has seen the artistic contributions from many different centuries thus connecting generations of Christians beneath one roof. The physical beauty of this church is astounding in all the symbolism, paintings and sculptures. Yet, the most beautiful contribution comes through the spiritual graces which exudes from every sacrament celebrated within its boundaries.

A Mother’s Vision

My mom was always full of wisdom. Whenever I struggled to find my way through a situation she would come up with some great perspective. “You don’t know what they may be going through”, “Don’t throw rocks”, “You’re face is going to get stuck like that”, “Turn the other cheek”, etc. The one that stuck with me the most was, ‘Put yourself in their shoes’. For some reason, this always worked. I may not have liked seeing the other side of the story but it always made me stop and think. Almost instantly my heart would soften. Though she was wise, my mother did not come up with the phrase or wisdom on her own. Whether she knew it or not, she learned it from the rosary.

Each year the Church sets aside October as the month of the Holy Rosary. Viewed by some as an antiquated and unnescessary prayer, the rosary appears to be a monotonous Marian prayer for the beloved devotees twenty minutes before Mass; a generational prayer that has lost its functionality and potency.JPII rosary

The Saints of the Church beg to differ. One of our newest saints, Pope John Paul II, did not hide his devotion to this litany of love. During this month of his feast day I thought it appropriate to explore his document Rosarium Virginis Mariae (RVM). This document, of all his documents I believe sets the tone for Pope Saint John Paul II to unfold a small corner of the preciousness of Our Blessed Mother’s rosary to his heart and her Son Jesus.

In a sense the rosary is pocket sized Paschal Mystery. Every mystery of the rosary leads us deeper into the mystery of the Gospel and allows us to see the beauty and face of Christ.

In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son… The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son’s side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life. (RVM, 10,11)

The quiet rhythm of the rosary and the lingering pace are there to help us meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. The litany of Hail Mary’s becomes in itself a praise of Christ who is the object of Gabriel’s announcement and of Elizabeth’s greeting at the Visitation. (RVM, 18) The repetition is an outpouring of love. Just as a husband lavishes his love upon his wife with every word of affection and endearment so too, do the rosary beads lavish love on our Lord. No wife would say to their husband, “You say ‘I love you too much’, can’t you think of anything else to say?” No, we take pleasure in the words of our beloved and the reminder of their sustained love.

At the heart of the Rosary is Jesus. His Incarnation at the forefront, the fulfillment of prophesy in the middle, and His mercy of intercession at the end. The Hail Mary is not about praising Mary above Christ but praising Jesus who is with Mary.

Like a good mother, Mary uses these mysteries not just to teach what Jesus taught but to help us learn of him. (RVM, 14) Through its mysteries, Pope Saint John Paul II argues, the rosary mystically transports us to Mary’s side. (RVM, 15) No creature knows Christ better than Mary. No one can lead us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than His mother. Just like if someone were to come ask you to describe your child. A mother can do this uniquely precisely because of her perspective. The details would vary between their likes, dislikes, quirks, accomplishments, virtues and qualities. We always want to give the full picture of the beauty of our children.

That is why the Rosary goes through the joyful, sorrowful, luminous and glorious mysteries. Mary is painting the whole picture for us to see of Jesus, to attempt to convey the depth of beauty, devotion and love which Christ has for His people. These precious beads are meant to share in the joy, sorrow and glory of Christ through the eyes of Mary. Saint John Paul II once said, “The rosary is our daily meeting which neither I nor the Blessed Virgin Mary neglect.” Don’t wait to talk to your mother. She is waiting to put you in her shoes.

(Read this article also on Radiance + Grace online magazine.)

The Treasure Hunt

Watching my kids play outside I can’t help but wonder how their little minds work. They jump, they climb, they make up stories about their cars and planes. Goodness knows their toys have been to more countries in their minds than I will ever visit in my entire lifetime. One of the most special times in our relationship comes when we tell the stories together. Finally, dull old mom gets to help tell the story of a great drag race or plane adventure that takes us all over the world. Of course, I always try to slip in something educational, but there is something wonderful that happens when we are both on the same page. The discovery of a common thread warms my motherly heart.

Though precious, I pray that this bond with my children will grow beyond the stories of toys and bloom into other areas as well, especially the Catholic faith. To be a part of a Church which is so rich in traditions, feast days, customs and teachings the depth of material to cover is amazing. For this journey, I look to St. Helena who shared a unique bond with her son that took her to the most sacred places on earth to recover a great treasure near to both their hearts. The treasure which was most precious to them is one in which the whole world is indebted to them for.

After Constantine’s conversion around 312 A.D. he converted his mother St. Helena. As time passed, Constantine desired to find the relics of Christ’s Passion and build a Christian church on the site. Like a good son, he sent someone he would trust to do the job right—his mother. Though she was nearly eighty years old, St. Helena agreed and journeyed to the Holy Land. The excavation led to the discovery of three crosses buried together.

Septemeber 14th is credited for being the day the True Cross was recovered and thus the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross was borne. How were they able to identify the True Cross? Many credit St. Helena with bringing forth a woman burdened with an incurable illness and had her lay upon the crosses. The one upon which she was fully cured revealed the True Cross. Others, like St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom argue that the cross could most accurately be identified by the sign which hung on Jesus’ cross. The charges were written in three languages and clearly state the to whom the charges were rendered. It is unlikely that another Jesus of Nazareth would have been executed at the same time. Also, the wood Christ was crucified on would have been black pine. (Grzegorz Gorney, Witness to Mystery:Investigations into Christ’s Relics. (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2013), 95.

After finding the Cross, St. Helena split it into three parts, one to stay in Jerusalem, another to go to Rome and the last went to Constantinople. (Gorney, 80) Upon her return to Rome St. Helena brought numerous relics, among them was half of the titulus (the sign stating the crime), one of the three nails, fragment of the Cross and sacks of earth from Golgotha to be scattered on the chapel’s floor. (Gorney, 84)

A church was commissioned in Rome and is now known as Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. To this day, a person can enter the Chapel of St. Helen built on that soil from Calvary. In the Chapel of the Relics of the Passion are housed six relics. Three fragments of the true Cross, a portion of the titulus, finger of the Apostle Thomas, a nail, two thorns, fragments from the Holy Sepulchre, the column of flagellation and the Bethlehem crib.

St. Helena and Constantine knew something about the human heart even at the beginnings of the church. Humans are tangible people. Relics of such sacredness deserved to be resurrected so that the whole world may come to know that the life of Jesus is more than a story but one that is true and beautiful. On the feast of the Exultation of the Cross let us not get complacent but gaze longingly at the Cross upon which our Savior died for the entire world.

(Article also found at Radiance + Grace Magazine )

Value of Life

Recently, there was a police officer shot and killed in the line of duty. She was serving a search warrant to a wanted felon and known gang member. She was a mother to three, one of which was scheduled to be released from the NICU the day after she was killed. She served as coach to an inner city team, served the special olympics, etc. It is a tragic and heartbreaking story. She was a person trying to make a difference in the world.

In the wake of this woman’s murder there has been a rant circulating around Facebook firmly stating that not all lives matter, not all lives have value. The article goes on to argue that the man who shot this police officer had no value, even going as far to say that he didn’t even deserve to have his name mentioned. The author claimed because of this man’s choices and actions that his life had no value.

Here is a brief quote from the rant: So circling back to my original thought, do all lives matter? No, all lives have the potential to matter. It’s up to the individual whether they want to matter or not. Everyone can make a difference; everyone has that opportunity to matter. What have YOU done with your life that matters?

First thing to get straight–I, in no way condone the actions or choices this man made. Second, it is a great tragedy when ANY life is lost. Third, I have no agenda against police officers or for gang members.

St. John Paul II worked arduously to educate people on the dignity of the human person. The Catholic Church ardently defends that all life has value from conception to natural death. Why? And how?

I have been wrestling with this for days, as a co-worker posed it to me and asked how to argue human dignity without referring to God or Christianity.  There is one thing I have come to the conclusion of:

If one human person is ruled not to have value then no one has value.

Let me clarify.

If we are to say that our value is based on our choices, on our actions or on our words then how about those who are unable to make choices i.e. the unborn, the elderly, the sick, etc. Are those without the ability to choose unworthy or unvaluable?

Which leads me to ask, who determines the value of people? There are many political and social leaders who have tried in the past (Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Sanger). Is it their ability to be productive? The fact they have senses, feelings, thoughts, etc.? But what about those born without sight or the ability to move from their bed? Do they not have value because they cannot perform actions as others do? For many atrocities of humanity, they were based on leaders determining the value of certain people over the other. To some, the Jewish people and Christians alike had no value. Those of certain descent had no value and were seen as sub-human. Because they were seen as not having value they were no longer seen as humans but as animals or beasts that could be killed easily without penalty. If we are to argue they have value then we cannot base them on actions or having a perfectly functional human body.

In reality, when a person is stripped down of all their accomplishments, good deeds, failures, faults, sins, etc. we have value simply by the fact that we are human.

Yes, you can immolate this value by living a virtuous life, serving others, and doing the right and good thing. Yet, what happens when we fail? When we sin, fall, choose wrongly? Is that it? How does the world dish out forgiveness or determine who has more value? Can you ever regain value in the eyes of society once a serious offense is committed? We can hide this value under a mud puddle of bad choices and end up on a cold wet street somewhere wondering what happened to our life. But does it deteriorate our value as a human being? I would argue that it does not.

Society may see this person as a drain, a nuisance and an unwanted pile of bones and skin. The Church does not see with eyes of this world. As hard as it is to swallow, the Church would say that that person curled up on a street corner has the same amount of value as the teacher in a classroom or a police officer on the streets.

The Church is a church of hope. Even if the gang member in this case had survived and served his prison term, a priest or a pastor would have come to visit him. Why? Not because he is a lost cause but because every life matters. The Christian people  hold out hope for those who have made bad choices that they can come through the mud and rediscover their dignity. That man’s life had the potential for conversion and a new life.

Yes, the police officer chose a nobler path, she directed her life to immolate all the goodness that can come from a good life. A life of service was rewarding for her. She saw a community hurting and wanted to help it, coach it and protect it. She entered into the crosshairs of hope. Hope that she would protect the community from a violent felon. Hope that this man would come peacefully, remorsefully and willingly to face the consequences to his actions. Hope that his infant daughter would witness this act and vow never to fall into the same life her father had. That man, no doubt, probably thought he didn’t have value and that I believe is at the root of his bad choices.

When we stop believing our lives matter or have value then we have no reason to keep living, to keep making the good but hard choices, to pursue anything but what I think will make me happy for the fleeting minute–no matter the consequence to those around me.

Yes, our lives have value.

Yes, our choices matter.

Yes, our choices effect not just our lives but the lives of others.

Yes, our choices have consequences.

Value has to be something inherirantly given to each human being. It is up to us if we enhance and immolate that value or if we hide it and try to destroy it. But value is the constant factor it is ever present in each individual.

Rescue workers, seeing someone floating down a raging river don’t first yell down to the person, “Hey, are you a good person?” before diving in to rescue them. Same with a bad car accident. The workers don’t ask to see a resume or a list of good things they’ve done to determine if their lives are worth saving. Even that man who killed the police officer was taken to the same hospital as she, received the same treatment by doctors employed by the same hospital and they tried to save his life. Rescue workers, priests, doctors, nurses, firefighters, they don’t ask the value/worth of a person before helping, they just do it. If there is a human in trouble they will try to save that life.

When a natural disaster occurs we mourn the loss of life, not just a few lives. We don’t say, “Oh, I feel so sorry for the doctor that was killed but not for the garbage man who lived next door.” The media doesn’t try to dig up dirt about the people killed to convince people not to feel sorry for certain people.

All lives have value: young, old, mother or father, gang member or student. It is up to us to immolate that value, to show it to the world and use it to draw others to realize that they too have this immense worth within them. When we start saying that a person’s value is up to them we begin to wade in the murky waters of what value is, who determines it, and to that person what value means–if value to them means sex, money, selling drugs and killing those who get in their way then who can counter that if that is what they have determined for themselves to give their life value? There has to be a universal, inherent value or worth placed on every life. To foster this will only lead to a better world.

The Easter Journey

We are tangible people. To think of things or places is great but it can only get us so far. I can imagine the green fields of Ireland and the rugged stone fences. I can picture at need a whitewashed cottage with thatched roof and steaming pete from its small chimney stack. I can even imagine the rich Irish brogue trickling along in beautiful sentences. But no matter how much I imagine Ireland, it is not the same as being in Ireland. If I have never smelled pete or walked past an Irish pub at night, tasted their amazing potato soup or walked their drizzle covered highways I would not be able to fully place myself in that beautiful country.

Sacred Scripture presents much of the same problem for me. I have never been to the Holy Land and always imagined it to be a desert desolate, windy and hot. Water would be scarce save a few seas here and there. And beauty…well let’s say it would be in the people more than the land.

Then, two of my siblings went to the Holy Land and brought back their pictures. I couldn’t believe it! This place was not dusty, dry and dead (everywhere) but lush, green and thriving with life.jordan river Jesus did not enter a desolate land but into one of the most beautiful places He had created. A land ripe for the nourishing rains which would lead to an abundant harvest. With history in the foundation of every town and building, the whole of scripture could be traced through the footprints of the Old Testament and the New.

I think that is significant.

God knew we needed a physical path to heaven. He knew we needed to be able to walk the footsteps of Christ. To see what He saw. To be able to sit with a Bible in our laps as we float on a boat on the Sea of Galilee like the apostles. Or to stand at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes.

Not only did Christ set a physical path to heaven (namely through His path to the Cross) but a liturgical one. In the Gospel of Mark, this path is constantly referred to as ‘the way’. The way is a traceable pilgrim route to Jerusalem and the Cross. The entire Liturgical year, starting with Advent, then Christmas, Ordinary Time and Lent all lead up to Easter (The highest feast of the Church).

During these seasons we not only hear differences in the text of the Scriptures read but also of the decorations of the Church as well. In Advent there are purple vestments and candles, advent wreaths and rose trimmings. During Christmas white and gold flourish in vestments, light is fully realized as all the candles of the wreath is lit, evergreen trees are brought in and the music changes to bold joyful music. Then there is the brief period of ordinary time before entering into Lent. All decorations are stripped for Lent. The church itself enters the desert of Lent in preparation for Easter. Prayer and fasting take the forefront. Stations of the Cross are recited regularly, the Gloria is removed from the liturgy and then as the journey’s end nears, holy water is drained from the fonts, statues are covered and Jesus is removed from the Tabernacle.

All of these physical signs are carefully crafted to lead us on a sense filled journey through the liturgical season. Now, during the Easter season, every candle is lit, grand music fills the choir lofts, incense wafts around the altars and aisles, the Gloria has returned and the priest is clothed week after week in white.

The Church does not just want to appeal to our minds which wants to see the historical progression of Jesus’ life and Passion. She wants us to enter into it. To feel it, touch it, hear it, smell it–she wants to make it present to each soul that enters the doors.  And for the first time since Holy Thursday, the faithful can take part in tasting the Eucharist with a sweetness perhaps forgotten prior to the Passion.

Did you know that the Easter Season is longer than Christmas? I guess I should emphasize first that both Christmas and Easter are SEASONS. They are not just one day…which means those radio guys get it wrong year after year when they start playing Christmas music during Advent and stop it the day after Christmas. Christmas actually lasts until the Baptism of Jesus or if you want to follow the Vatican tradition prior to 1962, it goes until the Presentation of Jesus.

Easter lasts from Easter Vigil until Pentecost. Fifty days. That’s 50 days of celebration, of rejoicing Christ’s triumph over death and forty of those are spent enjoying God’s presence among His people again.

I will admit, I didn’t know until college that after Jesus Resurrected and showed himself to the faithful that he actually stayed for forty days with them.

Can you imagine?

The man died!

You saw Him on the Cross. He was taken down, wrapped and buried in a tomb. A huge stone was rolled in front. And now, here He is before you with the the holes still in his hands and side. He now sits and eats with you and opens the Scriptures to you and the other disciples as though nothing had changed…it all seems surreal.

The celebration of Pentecost is the celebration of the Church–not to be confused with the feast of Pentecost for the Jews (that’s right, they have one too which deals with the giving of the Ten Commandments).  At Pentecost, we see the passing of an age. The age of Christ’s physical ministry in His human body has now given way to that of the Holy Spirit. With tongues of fire, the apostles are enflamed with boldness for the Gospel of Christ. Armed with the knowledge given to them by His ministry, His Passion and those 40 days they no longer fear the tortures of the human world. This is the age that continues in the Church to this day.

Yet these ages only build off of each other. In the sacraments, Jesus opened an avenue for the common soul to have direct access to God. No longer do we need to chase down or buy a goat to sacrifice by fire to make amends for our sins. Now, we simply walk into a confessional and confess our sins to Christ who takes form in the priest, his appointed disciple through the laying on of hands.

The most astounding sacrament He left us is in the Eucharist. This small host has become so routine for us that many don’t realize WHO they are receiving. I once heard someone say that they had spoken to a modern day Jewish man who said, “If you truly have God in that building then I would crawl on my hands and knees to see Him.” If we truly have the Christ, Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity present in every Eucharist and Tabernacle of the world then why don’t we crawl into each church? Heck, why do we fight tooth and nail to get out of that place once the final blessing has been given? If we as Catholics truly believe that God dwells here as He has never dwelt before in human history (including the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple) then why don’t we act like it?!

No longer is God smonstranceeparated from man with a veils or tents or mountains. He is no longer a distant yet close entity, shrouded in the form of a cloud and sitting upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. His presence and command were so powerful that only the High Priest could enter to the inner most sanctuary once a year to offer prayers on behalf of the people. To touch the Ark bore the penalty of death (not by human  hands, a man was actually struck dead in 2 Samuel 6: 1-7, 1 Chronicles 13:9-12). Now, we may not only touch the vessel which holds the law and sacred manna but we can consume the presence of God Himself.

At every consecration, Jesus enters the host. I don’t know about you but if I were Him there would be a lot of hoopla around this action—earth shaking, window shattering, trumpets blaring, sun dancing, angels descending awesomeness to direct everyone’s attention to my awesome action. But I am not God (thank goodness). He does not enter with great fanfare. Instead, he enters quietly, gently just as at the Incarnation.

Next time you are at church, take a look around. Use all of your senses to walk through salvation history, to feel the teachings of the church and partake in them. Don’t go to God’s house and forget to look for He who lives there.

(Picture of the Monstrance at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Huntsville, AL)