Mary’s yes

I wonder what Mary thought about the gifts the Magi brought, which were odd for a baby, but not so odd for the Savior of the world.
Did Mary know what they foretold or did she just accept them graciously while trying to make some sense of them. We look now and say, of course: gold for a king, frankincense a sign of his divinity, and myrrh a foreshadowing of his suffering.
What did Mary do with the gifts? Were they sold so the family could live in Egypt? Or saved until Jesus began his public ministry and then given to him as a mother’s blessing?
Before we are told why in scriptures the climate of joy at Jesus’ birth changes to one of distress. Mary and Joseph must take Jesus and flee into Egypt to avoid Herod. The family becomes strangers in the land that was once the home of Israel.
God frequently calls people to another place. He does this to give us a new opportunity or chance to change. The Holy Family had an opportunity to live without fear of Herod’s persecution. So they stayed in Egypt until it was safe to return home to Nazareth.
All of this occurred because of Mary and Joseph’s multiple yeses to God.
So, of course, I wonder, what has happened in my life because of my yeses to God? Some of this may resonate with you and some may not. All of it comes from my deep faith and belief that God has a plan; that we are here in this place and this time, together – as a people who have said yes and agreed to cooperate with God’s plan for our good.
What have I said yes to – believing after prayer and discernment that it is God’s will for my life?
I have been married to John for over 30 years. Our love for each other has been tested, but it is true and real and sustains us both. We have two wonderful children who are currently living out their dreams. They bring us joy and give us hope.
I am able to live out my vocation of service to the Church by working in a parish as my profession. My ministry provides laughter, tears, happiness, contentment, frustration, peace, disbelief, amazement and wonder. My favorite times are when I have the privilege of walking with people on their faith journey and watching God work in people’s lives.
Sometimes, though, a yes can bring sadness. Years ago a new friend walked into the Mom’s Group at St. Peter. We did not have a lot in common at first glance but shared a deep faith and love of family. Later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We began a journey together into exile; many of us willingly went with her and her family. We all did it out of love. Her death was difficult. Would I have said yes to her friendship if I had known the whole story? Without a moment’s hesitation I would do it all again.
I believe that Mary would have said yes if she knew the whole story as well. Her yes was a gift not only to all of us, but to herself. I’m not speaking here about theological reasons such as being born without original sin or being the Queen of Heaven. I am talking about giving the opportunity to love so fully and completely that it is always about the other.
This is what her yes does – it shows me how much to love. She loved and trusted God enough to listen and obey; to be the first disciple and be responsible for God’s son. It makes what I am asked to do seem simple by comparison. I always keep in mind, though, that Mary had a supernatural grace and lack of sin.
In all our lives, we have gone to Egypt and then been called to the place God has planned for us if we are willing to say yes. It is part of life for people of faith. I pray, that like Mary, we all continue to say yes to God and grow in holiness.

What is Faith?

In Hebrews 11:1 we read that “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Paul continues to tell us of the many Old Testament figures who lived out their faith in God in countless ways.
After Jesus suffered, died, and rose the faith of the early Christians was changed from what was possible to what actually happened. We will never have that same experience, but I believe we have times in our lives that point us to faith as the only possible answer.

God does not demand we have faith, he offers it to us. Our response is either yes or no. Why do some have faith and others not? Does God only give it to some of his children? Why do some people appear to have weak faith and others a strong faith?

Since faith is a gift, we choose to accept it or not.

People who profess no faith usually fall into two categories: they do not need faith or they are afraid to accept it. I am speaking here of people raised with some sort of a religious background, not those who were never spoken to of God.

When I work with teens I am often struck by how many of them say they don’t need faith. They believe faith is useless, made up, silliness to somehow force them to do things they don’t want to do. It is not part of the visible world, science can explain everything, and living out faith within a religious experience is just ridiculous.

Others want faith; they see in people of faith something that they do not have in their own lives. But they know that by accepting the gift, there are responsibilities that come with the gift of faith. Changes would have to be made and possibly difficult choices, so instead of accepting faith they are adrift, constantly trying to fill the emptiness.

As St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in thee.” Or, from Plumb, A God Shaped Hole.

Faith is the ability to see God at work in this world.
It is to believe in a power much bigger than you. With faith the impossible become possible.
It is faith that gives us the courage to bring children into this world. The desire to walk with another on their life’s journey is part of faith. It is the strength in our soul to say yes when every other part of us is screaming no.

Sometimes faith means trusting just enough to get out of bed believing that God will clear a path, knowing that when I fall, he will lift me up. Faith also gives us the ability to question the nuts and bolts of our religious beliefs and practices, knowing that God is there in those details and wants us to come to him using our intellect as much as our soul.

Faith is my reason for living as I do each and every day.

It forms me, colors my worldview and gives me passion to live as a person who is constantly experiencing Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

Merry Christmas!

Yes, it’s still Christmas even if the neighbors put their tree out today because it’s trash day! Mine, however, will stay up until the Feast of the Epiphany. But let’s go back to, “it’s still Christmas” for a bit.

We celebrate Christmas for eight days. The celebration begins on Christmas Eve and continues until January 1 with the celebration of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Within these eight days we celebrate a few important feast days. On December 26, we celebrate St. Stephan, a deacon and the Church’s first martyr. The 27th St John, apostle and evangelist is remembered. December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents in honor of the children killed by King Herod just after Jesus was born. (See Matthew 2:16-18) On December 30 the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is honored.The Church continues with the Christmas season with the Epiphany on Sunday, January 8 and then the Baptism of the Lord on January 9. Tuesday the 10th begins Ordinary Time again.

A little tip on how you know the season changes; the colors you see in Church will change! The Christmas season color is gold or white. The priests’ and deacons’ vestments, as well as banners or cloths used on the altar are gold and/or white. When we move into Ordinary time the color is green.

Enjoy celebrating Christmas for the entire season. Jesus is the greatest gift, a visible sign of the Father’s love for us. The Incarnation gives us new life, both literally as we see a newborn baby and spiritually in that Jesus’ becoming man saves us. He brings us joy and an abundance of love. Celebrate!

Book List for Gift Giving

Books are a favorite gift of mine to give and receive.  If you are in need of some inspiration for someone on your list I have a few favorites.

Daily Reading

For moms, I recommend The Catholic Moms Prayer Companion edited by Lisa Hendey and Sarah Reinhard, with over 80 contributors and topics ranging from saints to smiles you will enjoy these short reflections with a prayer and point to ponder each day.

For everyone, Sacred Reading, The 2017 Guide to Daily Prayer from the Apostleship of Prayer.  It combines prompts for prayer with reading the day’s Gospel.  Always makes me think!

Favorite Books (for men and women)

  • The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by Fr. James Martin, S.J.
  • The Holy Longing and Sacred Fire by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser
  • Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly
  • Our Lady Undoer of Knots by Marge Fenelon
  • Breath of God, Living a Life Led by the Holy Spirit by Fr. Dave Pivonka

Favorite Books for Women

  • In this House of Brede by Rumer Godden (Fiction)
  • Stay with Me by Carolyn Astfalk (Fiction)
  • Who Does He Say You Are? by Colleen C. Mitchell

Books that can Transform You

  • Unbound by Neil Lozano
  • For the Greater Glory of God, A Spiritual Retreat with St. Ignatius by Fr. Manuel Ruiz Jurado
  • the Ignatian Workout, daily spiritual exercises for a healthy faith by Tim Muldoon

Happy shopping and don’t forget to get one for yourself!

Bonus:  If you subscribe to my email list, you can have this for yourself! 

 

A Birthday Cake for Jesus

Family traditions are so important for children, especially when they can incorporate faith, family, food, and fun!  This tradition of ours was one we all looked forward to at Christmas. It began, as many traditions do, when our children were young and continued with my daughter eventually taking over making the cake!  We don’t do it anymore, but I hope it is a tradition my children will revive when they have their own little ones.

Christmas is our Savior’s birth and most of us celebrate our birthdays with cake.  So why not celebrate Jesus’ that way as well while incorporating a little teaching about him and all he does for us.

  1. Make it round — like the never-ending circle of His love for all of us.
  2. Make it chocolate — like the darkness our sins brings to us and others.
  3. Make it covered with white frosting — like His purity covering our weakness.
  4. Top it with a yellow star and put an angel —bearer of the first glad tidings.
  5. Put twelve red candles on top — like the twelve months of the year that Christ is our light; red for the blood He willingly shed for us.
  6. Encircle this loving cake with evergreens — the symbol of everlasting life.

Here is our favorite (really only) chocolate cake recipe we use.  I make substitutions of coconut oil and water and it still tastes delicious!

And a bonus; Jesus ‘ birthday cake means you can skip the fruitcake!

That little blonde girl in the picture; she’s getting married soon!  Time flies.

For more ideas on Keeping Christ in Christmas check out the Siena Sisters Blog Hop!

Respond to Jesus

Do you ever pray for God to say something to you? For a tiny tidbit to be revealed when you are praying or reading? I ask on a regular basis; I may be annoying though I choose instead to go with persistence is a positive trait. Today I heard something and was convicted. I read Matthew 21:23-27 and heard the chief priests and elders questioning Jesus about his authority. Jesus turns their question back to them asks about John the Baptist authority and they say nothing out of fear. Nothing, no response, not a word because they knew, deep in their souls, that a response would require something of them much greater than the simple answer. It would require believing in Jesus.
I sat and sat, asking God what I was supposed to learn from the behavior of those questioning Jesus. First, any response given to Jesus would have been fine; Jesus would turn it into a gift, probably of faith, to those who needed it and wanted it but were afraid to ask outright. Second, when Jesus asks for a response, I need to respond. If I get a clear word or direction and choose to not follow it, I am not acting in faith, but in fear. My non-response is a very poor witness to faith. Instead, I am giving into fear. I am not responding to Jesus who wants only good for me.
I have no quick or easy answer for myself or you if this applies, except to believe that faith is greater than fear. Let’s hold on to him as we move forward in faith.

Rejoice!

Today is the third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday.  We are reminded today to rejoice, for Christ will be born soon!  Instead of purple vestments, the priest has the option to choose rose colored ones.  If you have an Advent wreath, today you will light the pink (rose) candle along with the two purple ones.

The readings for Mass today remind us that when Jesus comes all will be made right again.  The land itself will burst with life, sick will be healed, and the weak strengthened.  But we must have patience.  Patience is not easy, especially at this time of year when it seems that our to-do lists outweighs our time and there are so many people in our way.  Why can’t they go faster? Be better prepared? Do it my way?

Why?  Well, it’s because the world does not revolve around me!  I know, shocking isn’t it?  But it’s true.  If we want the world to be better, then we have to remember that it’s all about others! Take some time to spread some joy.  Be present to those around you.  Hand out candy canes in line.  Smile.  Don’t be in such a rush that you don’t notice others.  Let someone ahead of you at the store.

Today is the day to rejoice.  Rejoice in all the goodness around you.  Rejoice in the love of God.  Rejoice that Mary said yes. Rejoice in our Savior!

 

Mary and her Immaculate Conception

Today is an important feast day in the Catholic Church.  We celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  People sometimes are confused and think we are celebrating Jesus’ conception, but we aren’t, it’s Mary’s.  What exactly does this day celebrate?

Mary was conceived in the usual way people are conceived, with two parents, Anne and Joachim, who wanted a child but did not have one until they were a bit on in years.  The stain of original sin never touched Mary.  She was always filled with sanctifying grace which prevented her from sinning.  This grace protected her so that she remained pure.  That purity was necessary so that she could fulfill her purpose as the mother of Jesus.

This doctrine was declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854 though it was a part of the Tradition of the Church since the early Fathers, beginning with Justin in the 100’s.  (New Advent Encyclopedia)

In my mind, I see it this way – God knew he would need to send his Son,our Savior to the world.  He also knew that his Son needed a pure place in which to grow and develop and an extraordinary person to raise him until Jesus went to fulfill his purpose on earth, which was to save us all.  Of course he would protect this woman, keep sin from her, and give her grace beyond measure so she would raise his Son.

Madonna of the Streets by Roberto Ferruzzi in 1897; a favorite image of mine

No matter if you are a parent or not, you know the responsibility of raising a child.  It is tremendous and not for the faint of heart.  If I did not have God’s grace to help and guide me, I doubt my children would be who they are today.  Imagine how much more Mary needed that grace, not only to explain her unprecedented pregnancy but to rely on as she was raising the Savior of the world.

Celebrate today with gratitude to God for all he gave to Mary and ask Mary to help and guide you in your daily life.

My favorite Marian prayer, The Memorare by St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen