Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today is not only a feast day on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, but a Solemnity – the top of the feast day hierarchy in the Roman Rite. Like Christmas and Easter, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is also a holy day of obligation where all Catholics center their joy (Lat. – festes) in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is also one of the very few solemnities (Lat. – solet, annus; “yearly celebration”) on the Universal Calendar with a fixed date (e.g., Dec. 8) each year.

Clearly this is a special day, but what is so special about this day that it is placed right smack in the middle of Advent and only two weeks before Christmas? What is the Church, our Mother and Teacher, calling to our attention as we wait with expectant hope for the birth of our Lord and Savior? Why should we care?

All Solemnities are Christological, meaning, they call special attention to Jesus Christ either directly or indirectly through Mary or the saints. The Marian days – Mother of God, Annunciation, Assumption, Immaculate Conception – are no exception. As with Mary herself, these Marian Solemnities take their dignity from, and direct us to, Christ himself.

Two peculiar things challenge us, however, with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The first is that is refers to the conception of Mary not Jesus. That point has not only stumped every CCD or RCIA student, but arguably every adult since 1854, the year of Pope Pius IX’s dogmatic proclamation in Ineffabilis Deus:


“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”


Admittedly, the title alone – Immaculate Conception – does seem to speak to the incredible event of God becoming man – the Incarnation – in the womb of a seemingly unremarkable, ordinary virgin woman. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, so the Immaculate Conception must celebrate the conception of Christ, right?

Here, you well-catechized readers shout “No!”. But, a more nuanced answer would be, “Not exactly…” – begging the question of our second challenge: How and why was Mary conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Anne?

As one of the precious few dogmatic beliefs of the Catholic Faith, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception must be believed by every faithful Catholic. Therefore, our first principle is that this is no longer a matter of proving or convincing, but of our faith seeking understanding. Our posture is like Mary herself questioning the angel Gabriel (“How can this be since I do not know man?”), not Zechariah (“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”). So, how can this be, and why?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers this directly, quoting the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church):

To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role (munus).” CCC 490; LG 56

It is the work of God, and God alone. By particular grace of God, He made Mary full of grace at the moment of her creation. Keep in mind that the conception of every human person is the direct action of God, specifically the work of the Holy Spirit whom we proclaim every Sunday as “…the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Therefore, the particular, singular grace of Mary’s conception was not the participation of God in her creation, but


“The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first moment of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is ‘redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.’ The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.’” CCC 492


Mary was conceived without sin for her munus (Lat. – gift, role, task, mission, vocation, high office, high honor) as the Mother of God.

In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace. CCC 490

The dignity (worth, value) of this munus included the ineffable grace of being the first new creation in Christ. With Christ as the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve: the true mother of all the living. We are the living. She is our Mother (“Here is your mother”, John 19:27). “Death through Eve, life through Mary.” (LG 56). What had kept us bound is now unloosed! In the words of St. Irenaus:

“And so, the knot of Eve’s disobedience received its unloosing through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by incredulity, that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by faith.”

So, what is so special about this day that is placed right smack in the middle of Advent and only two weeks before Christmas?

On this day, we celebrate the reality of our inheritance. With awe, wonder, and fascination we celebrate one who has already received what we hope for: eternal life, fullness of grace, and fullness of joy! Alleluia! What we long for has already been done for our Mother.

May the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception prepare and encourage our fiat:Let it be done to me according to your Word!” Amen.

Damon Owens is the executive director of joytob (joytob.org) and served as the first executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute near Philadelphia. He lives in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with his wife Melanie and their children – including their “true image of Mary” Veronica Mary celebrates her birthday each year on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception!

How the Power of God’s Word Can Change Your Life

The miserable young man felt hopeless. Despite his talents and promising career, his life was a mess. He was drawn to God but resisted, because he didn’t want to give up his sin. He was addicted to lust. Sitting in a garden one day, pouring out his heart in prayer, he suddenly heard what seemed like the voice of a child chanting in Latin, “Tolle, lege!” “Take and read!” Picking up the closest book, a Bible, the young man read, “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:13-14). Shaken, that was all Augustine needed to read. Those words took hold of him completely and he went through with his conversion. He not only became a great saint, but also one of the most brilliant theologians and Doctors of the Church.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has just finished the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Mt 7:24). All of us have heard God’s word. It comes to us in many ways: through the Scriptures, preaching, inspirations in our heart, the encouragement of friends. But how well do we listen? Just because we’ve heard it doesn’t mean we will put it into practice. Advent is a time to grow in our spiritual life. It starts with listening to God’s Word, but our Advent will only bear fruit to the extent we put that Word into practice.

Advent is not some kind of self-improvement program, however, like a new diet or exercise regimen. Those have their value, but as Christians we have a great advantage. Jesus, our Teacher, lives in our hearts through grace. When we read his words in the Gospel, it’s not like reading some ancient sage’s advice on how to live. No, Jesus is teaching us how to become holy. He is alive! Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, who speaks to each of us as our Teacher. And he has also sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts. The Spirit gives us light to understand, and special grace to strengthen us to be holy. The Word we receive has the power to change us. It’s the Rock on which we can build our lives so that when the floods and storms come, we can survive it all.

The first week of Advent is almost over. If you haven’t done so yet, take a little time in prayer to listen to what Jesus is telling you. We usually have one thing in our lives that we should focus on, the one thing that’s most important for us right now. That one thing is whatever will most help us grow in our lives as disciples of Jesus. It could be something big, like Augustine had to face. Or it could be something that seems smaller, but is blocking us from growing in Christ. Focus on that one thing. Don’t try to do too many things, because in the end nothing will happen. Build your life on the Rock that is the Word of Jesus, our Teacher who lives in us and imprints his Word on our hearts.

Copyright 2017 Daughters of Saint Paul

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve’ has been a member of the Daughters of Saint Paul since 1976. She has an MA in theology from the University of Dayton and has served on the editorial staff of Pauline Books & Media for over 20 years. She is the author of several books, including Mary: Help in Hard Times and Angels: Help from on High. When she’s not writing, editing, or working on logic puzzles, she can be found blogging at www.thomasfortoday.blogspot.com.

Advent: a banquet for the soul

Thanksgiving in the convent is pretty amazing. Sometimes the stereotype of religious sisters is that they are solemn, serious, and strict, but in my experience, religious sisters carry within them a deep joy that simply bubbles over when there is an occasion like Thanksgiving to celebrate.

The thing that Jesus does most often in the Gospel accounts is to share a meal with others. Jesus must have grown up really enjoying his daily meals with Mary and Joseph. I am sure Mary was a good cook, but with their simple lifestyle the meals couldn’t have been fancy. I think it was the shared communion around the meal that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph must have cherished. In keeping with the Jewish tradition (as in Psalm 23), Jesus also uses the image of a feast several times to describe the kingdom of God.

Given this background, Matthew’s description of a thrown-together, last-minute, potluck-kind-of-picnic in today’s Gospel reading (Mt. 15:29-37) has multiple layers of meaning for us, especially during Advent when we are in a time of preparation for the eternal banquet with God.

  • Out of compassion, Jesus performs a miracle by feeding thousands of people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread.
  • Jesus worked this miracle with what people brought with them—a few loaves of bread and a few fish, and through the disciples, who passed the bread and fish out to the crowds.
  • The miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, which is the closest we can come to heaven here on earth.
  • The abundance of the bread, the satisfaction of all present, are a foreshadowing of the abundance of heaven.

A meal is a place where everyone shares the fulfillment of two common human needs: to be physically nourished and to belong to a family or community by sharing food and drink together. Jesus feeds everyone in that crowd, whether they believe him or not, whether they accept him or not. ALL are fed, ALL are satisfied.


In this account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, I also see an account of the kind of Advent I want to have:

1) I enter the Advent season needy, hungry, and wounded. Sin has deformed my life—both my own sin and that of others. Perhaps I have misused the power of speech with unkind words; perhaps I am stuck in a bad habit and, spiritually lame, cannot move forward; perhaps I have been betrayed by a loved one, and I struggle to forgive.

Whether we are wounded by others’ sins, our own, or both, none of us come whole to Jesus.

2) I take the risk of going out to a deserted place to meet Jesus, who welcomes me as I am. Jesus is moved with compassion for my neediness. In his great love, he invites me to stay with him. And he offers to heal me in the way that I most need healing at this time.

3) I seek to stay with Jesus—perhaps by praying with the Word of God, perhaps by going to Mass and Communion more often. In staying with him, I give our relationship an opportunity to grow deeper and stronger. And Jesus, never outdone in generosity, strengthens me with exactly what I need (even if I don’t know it), especially in his Word and in the Eucharist.

4) Truly and deeply nourished by my encounter with Jesus, I share that nourishment and joy with those around me. Together, we become a little more prepared for the eternal banquet of heaven.


We are already well into the first week of Advent. If we come to Jesus as we are, if we trust him and tell him what is weighing most on our hearts, if we ask him to heal and nourish us, our loving Shepherd will bless us this Advent in ways more abundant and gracious than we can imagine.


Copyright © 2017 Daughters of St. Paul.

Sister Marie Paul Curley entered the Daughters of Saint Paul when she was a teenager. A published author, Sr. Marie Paul invites others to encounter Christ’s love in the rapidly-developing digital culture. You can find her online at: www.pauline.org/mariepaulcurley

Where’s the Cranberry sauce!! Creating Family Traditions

This Thanksgiving as the adults were finishing the last preparations for our Feast, my brother-n-law called out, “hey, where’s the cranberry sauce?” To which all of us sisters crinkled our faces and stated, “that tradition is long gone!” The conversation then turned to all of the food traditions that have come and gone over the years and who was responsible for their removal. The conversation ended in laughter and satisfaction as we looked over the spread of food we were about to Consume.

In our reading today, Isaiah 11:10 says, “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the peoples—Him the nations will seek out; his dwelling shall be glorious.”

For many, family traditions provide a source of identity, a connection to our relatives and to our Catholic Christian values, and of course strengthen our familial bonds. The Advent Season is a good time to slow down and take time to renew old traditions or begin a new one.

The Jesse tree helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth. It helps us to build joy and anticipation in this time of waiting. The Jesse tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David. We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.

For several years our Children adorned our little red Jesse tree, with laminated ornaments they colored themselves. We gathered in the evening just before bed to read Scripture and remind ourselves of the lineage of our Lord. It was a beautiful tradition.

Our Children are getting older so we decided our Jesse Tree should grow with them. Check out our new family Jesse tree http://bit.ly/2AFf5BW. We created our tree again with help from our Children. The Scriptures and activities in each of the envelopes help us grow in our understanding and love for our Beautiful Catholic Faith and strengthen our family Bond! If you have a family tradition, maybe its time to spruce it up! If you have yet to create some Advent traditions, it’s not too late. Click here to get ideas for your family Jesse tree. https://www.myjessetree.com/

Andrea Perry is a Project Coordinator for myParish app at Diocesan. Andrea has worked at the Parish Level in Youth Ministry and Adult Faith Enrichment for the past 8 years. She joined the Diocesan team in 2017. As a project Coordinator, Andrea desires to bring the Word of God to others through modern means of social communication, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Advent: A Time to Remember

One year ago, today, as I watched snow fall down on my windshield, I was a perfect concoction of nervous and excited. I remember the brief instance of cold as I walked out of my car and then the wave of warmth as I entered that little coffee shop on Drake Road. Little did I know that this first date would be with my future wife.

Nathalie and I are now engaged and I love to look back on that day and the plans God had for us and how they have started to become part of our beautiful history. Anniversaries give us a chance to look back on how we started, the journey so far, and the anticipation for the many blessings to come.

It’s no different when we celebrate the anniversary of the coming of Christ, Christmas. I’m sure you have heard at some point in your life, possibly CCD class or confirmation, that Jesus came to earth to die for your sins, and that is true. But I think Jesus also came for another reason. I like to tell people that God became man not only to redeem us, but to remind us of who we are.

Think about it, God made human beings as his most incredible masterpiece. We can look around at creation and see the most immense beauty, and this beauty can’t help but draw us to the Creator. But of all the beauty of creation, the only creation that was made in the image and likeness of God is… That’s right, YOU!

Human beings are the crown of creation, the very heart of God molded into a masterpiece from the dust of the ground and formed with the breath of life. This is why Pope John Paul II said,

The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it” (Theology of the Body, 19:4).


A terrible injustice has been done because we no longer speak of or look at the human body in these terms. Often, we are tempted to use other human beings instead of seeing them as an image of God. It doesn’t take much more than a glance at the news to see that our world is fallen and broken and at times there doesn’t seem to be much hope. We would rather claim ourselves as a fallen humanity because it is easier to admit we are fallen than it is to rise above.

But hope was born into the world over 2,000 years ago not only to redeem us and our fallen world, but to remind us of who we are as sons and daughters of God. Through the incarnation, we have a model of love. So, next time you are tempted to despair at all the evil and brokenness in the world, remember that little baby who was born into the poverty of humanity. That little child who reached right into our brokenness and not only healed us to remind us of how we were created, but allowed us to go beyond our original state into the perfection of our final state in heaven, perfectly happy with God in a wedding feast that will never end.

As we prepare for this anniversary of Christmas, let’s remember to thank God for how He originally created us, do penance for the many sins we have committed that have made us fall, and finally rest in His mercy and love as we await the joyful hope of heaven, all thanks to that little child born in a manger. Happy Advent and from all of us here at Diocesan, God Bless!


“The heritage of our hearts is deeper than the sinfulness inherited” (Theology of the Body, 46).

As Diocesan Publications’ Solutions Evangelist, Tommy is committed to showing parish and diocesan staffs how to use our communication tools to their best advantage.  He has worked for years in various, youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. As an expert on Catholic communication, Tommy uses his parish and diocesan experiences to help you make your ministry effective. To bring Tommy to your parish or for general inquiry, contact him at tshultz@diocesan.com or find him online at www.rodzinkaministry.com

Copyright © 2017 Diocesan.

Advent: poetry for the spiritual life

When I was little, one of my older sisters lent me a tiny book of lines from Shakespeare’s sonnets. Dazzled by their brilliance, insight into human nature, and eloquence, I decided I would be a poet!

My dream of writing poetry didn’t last long, but I remember well the favorite poem I wrote during my “poetry phase.”  It was about my sister’s golden hair. I loved that poem—but now I realize that it was not so much about the poem itself. Rather, I loved how writing the poem enabled me to see the unique golden quality of the blond hair of another of my sisters. To this day, I have never seen anyone else with hair that exquisite golden color.

Like all the arts, poetry has an ever-more important role in our rapid-paced culture: to help us to stop long enough to really see something as it is.


In the Gospel for this very first Sunday of Advent (Mk. 13:33-37), which sets the tone for the rest of Advent, Jesus repeats the injunction to “watch” at least three times: “Watch!” “Be watchful!” “Be vigilant.” He really doesn’t want us to be caught sleeping, or unaware, or off-guard. Who (or what) is Jesus telling us—even warning us—not to miss? The “master of the house” — the Lord— when he comes.


Advent is a season of expectation for one of the most startling, unexpected, and heart-rending events ever: the coming of the almighty Word of God into the world as a vulnerable Baby. Advent is a season for artists, poets, musicians, and theater to express humanity’s deepest longing: for the Universal Lover who descends from unapproachable heights to be with the Beloved.

Yet, what is the logic of Advent? The Infant God-Child has grown up and the Second (Final) Coming of the Lord will happen at the end of time (most likely not within the next four weeks). How can we live these words of Jesus this Advent? What (or Whom) are we looking for?

We look for the coming of the Word of God into our here and now.

Advent, nature, and our Catholic Christian tradition each give us ways to look anew for the faithful presence of God in our lives, in our world, and most especially, in others and in ourselves. The expectant tension of Advent—which is so short—helps us to stop and pay attention. By looking deeper, by noticing details, by seeking the “essence” of things, we can see and hear the Word of God coming to us today: the same Word of God who has put his mark on every creature and his image in every person. What Word is God speaking to us, to you and to me, this Advent?

My favorite Advent poet, Christina Rossetti, offers us one possible answer.  Rossetti wrote the lovely popular poem, “A Christmas Carol.” She also wrote a short, eight-line poem-prayer that asks God to grant the spirit of attentiveness that Jesus wants for us. What is one practice we can take on to “stay awake” this Advent?


‘Judge not according to the appearance’

By Christina Rossetti

Lord, purge our eyes to see

Within the seed a tree,

Within the glowing egg a bird,

Within the shroud a butterfly:


Till taught by such, we see

Beyond all creatures Thee,

And hearken for Thy tender word,

And hear it, ‘Fear not: it is I.’

Sister Marie Paul Curley entered the Daughters of Saint Paul when she was a teenager. A published author, Sr. Marie Paul invites others to encounter Christ’s love in the rapidly-developing digital culture. You can find her online at: www.pauline.org/mariepaulcurley


Copyright © 2017 Daughters of St. Paul.