Advent: Mary’s Song of Trust And Acceptance



A little history of this dogma and liturgical Feast Day in the Christian tradition might be in order. Pope Pious IX, in agreement with the Catholic Church’s first Ecumenical Council, made official a long-held belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived in her mother’s womb without the effects of, or in any way presence of, sin or stain of sin. This belief had an up-and-down history of acceptance and rejection throughout its history. Some monasteries and dioceses chose to celebrate this devotion while others actually forbade it. There are writings in the early centuries of the Church which attempt to explain this mystery from various aspects. Is it based in Scripture? In our First Reading for today’s Eucharistic liturgy there are the familiar verses about God’s promise that there would be a blockage between a “woman” and the serpent or symbol of evil. The first woman, Eve, tasted sin, the second woman would not.

The Gospel for today is known as the Annunciation, and Mary, a woman, is greeted as “full of grace”. This phrase has been used also as a scriptural proof. I wonder if Gabriel had said, “Hail Sinless One from the moment of your soul’s entering your-bodily substance”, would it have made this mystery any easier for acceptance. Would Mary have understood any more clearly? We are dealing with biblical and not biographical history. We love sound-bite clarity which leads us to certainty and agreement. We are left with the same verbal response as Mary gave to Gabriel, “How can this be?” My question is “Why can this not be?”

There have to be doubts and questions and mysteries and fears in order to have faith, trust and love. It’s just the way of things. Virginal births, bodily assumption into heaven, being Mother of God, are strange and impossible according to our categories.

I was listening recently to a man who told me that he once was Catholic, but left that community, because of “Man-made beliefs.” I asked him which ones bothered him the most. He replied that the one about not eating hamburgers on Friday and the one about adoring Mary. He said he basically didn’t like dogmas of any kind. I knew that was going to be a short conversation; no sound-bites availing.

I am writing this the day before the national election here in the United States. There have been all kinds of dogmatic statements by all kinds of candidates which are taken as truth by those who want to take them so. Those who reject them as false do so with their facts and counter-statements. I am wondering how many voters change their choices because of stated facts or challenges. There must be ambiguity for the possibility of choice. Mary did not have a choice to be born or conceived without sin. She did not have a vote about being enrolled in the “first census” nor giving birth in a stable. She did not have an option about standing at the foot of the cross. She did have an opportunity to say “yes” to the mystery of her life. Her obedience, her listening, her eating of the angelic apple of invitation began the final project of God’s completing creation. The old Adam-and-Eve partnership is represented and refigured in the new Mary-and-Jesus duet. Adam hid himself in shame, because he knew himself to be naked. Jesus clothed Himself in shameless flesh which he had received from the shameless body and soul of His mother, Mary. Both sang the song of trust and grateful acceptance to the invitations to their facing the fears, doubts, and questions in their lives of immaculate receptions.

Today’s reflection was written by Fr. Larry Gillick, SJ, the director of Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Creighton University. Gillick says, “I enjoy sharing thoughts on the Daily Reflections.  It is a chance to share with a wide variety of people in the Christian community experiences of prayer and life which have been given to me.  It is a bit like being in more places than just here.  We actually get out there without having to pay airlines to do it.  The word of God is alive and well.”

Queen of Heaven

Hail, Queen Of Heaven! Pray For Us!

The church has acknowledged Mary as “queen” since its earliest days. As soon as Mary accepted God’s plan for her to be the Mother of the Savior, our King, she was Queen. Mary was never a queen in a palace, attended by ladies-in-waiting, nor did she rule over any lands. Like her Son, Mary’s royalty was wrapped in mystery and humility. This royal family lived in simplicity and obedience to God.

In 1954, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (Queen of Heaven). Sixty years later, this encyclical sounds as fresh as if it was written yesterday. Bearing in mind that Pope Pius was addressing a world still recovering from a horrific world war, he knew that weary hearts needed a mother’s love:

Following upon the frightful calamities which before Our very eyes have reduced flourishing cities, towns, and villages to ruins, We see to Our sorrow that many great moral evils are being spread abroad in what may be described as a violent flood. Occasionally We behold justice giving way; and, on the one hand and the other, the victory of the powers of corruption. The threat of this fearful crisis fills Us with a great anguish, and so with confidence We have recourse to Mary Our Queen, making known to her those sentiments of filial reverence which are not Ours alone, but which belong to all those who glory in the name of Christian.

Today, we watch these same circumstances unfold around us. Our neighbors in Louisiana are overcome with the aftermath of flooding. Our cities have been on fire with riots and shootings all summer long. Our Syrian brothers and sisters have been driven from their homes, their cities, towns and places of worship destroyed. How do we continue to be faithful in our sorrow? We must turn to Mary, our Queen.

Pope Pius XII pointed out that referring to Mary as “queen” is nothing new to Christians:

6. In this matter We do not wish to propose a new truth to be believed by Christians, since the title and the arguments on which Mary’s queenly dignity is based have already been clearly set forth, and are to be found in ancient documents of the Church and in the books of the sacred liturgy.

7. It is Our pleasure to recall these things in the present encyclical letter, that We may renew the praises of Our heavenly Mother, and enkindle a more fervent devotion towards her, to the spiritual benefit of all mankind.

8. From early times Christians have believed, and not without reason, that she of whom was born the Son of the Most High received privileges of grace above all other beings created by God. He “will reign in the house of Jacob forever,” “the Prince of Peace,”the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” And when Christians reflected upon the intimate connection that obtains between a mother and a son, they readily acknowledged the supreme royal dignity of the Mother of God.

9. Hence it is not surprising that the early writers of the Church called Mary “the Mother of the King” and “the Mother of the Lord,” basing their stand on the words of St. Gabriel the archangel, who foretold that the Son of Mary would reign forever, and on the words of Elizabeth who greeted her with reverence and called her “the Mother of my Lord.”Thereby they clearly signified that she derived a certain eminence and exalted station from the royal dignity of her Son.

The pope warned about exaggerating Mary’s role in the church and in our lives, saying that any recognition of Mary’s “divine dignity” must always be attributed to the “infinite goodness that is God.” That is, Mary has no power or ability or role that God Himself has not granted her; she does nothing of her own will but only that of God’s.

Pope Pius XII concluded this encyclical:

51. By this Encyclical Letter We are instituting a feast so that all may recognize more clearly and venerate more devoutly the merciful and maternal sway of the Mother of God. We are convinced that this feast will help to preserve, strengthen and prolong that peace among nations which daily is almost destroyed by recurring crises. Is she not a rainbow in the clouds reaching towards God, the pledge of a covenant of peace? “Look upon the rainbow, and bless Him that made it; surely it is beautiful in its brightness. It encompasses the heaven about with the circle of its glory, the hands of the Most High have displayed it.”Whoever, therefore, reverences the Queen of heaven and earth – and let no one consider himself exempt from this tribute of a grateful and loving soul – let him invoke the most effective of Queens, the Mediatrix of peace; let him respect and preserve peace, which is not wickedness unpunished nor freedom without restraint, but a well-ordered harmony under the rule of the will of God; to its safeguarding and growth the gentle urgings and commands of the Virgin Mary impel us.

52. Earnestly desiring that the Queen and Mother of Christendom may hear these Our prayers, and by her peace make happy a world shaken by hate, and may, after this exile show unto us all Jesus, Who will be our eternal peace and joy, to you, Venerable Brothers, and to your flocks, as a promise of God’s divine help and a pledge of Our love, from Our heart We impart the Apostolic Benediction.

By acknowledging Mary as Queen, we acknowledge Her Son’s Divinity. She shines only in reflection of His Light. She is our mother, because we have been adopted by God the Father through our baptism in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae; vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve. Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.

prayer journal

Prayer Journal: A Love Letter To God

Prayer journaling is nothing new: many saints have kept them. The point of a prayer journal is not to be a diary, or a chronicle of one’s day. A prayer journal is a love letter to God.

One great thing about a prayer journal is that it’s easy to do. All you need is a notebook – fancy or not – and a pen. You can take your journal with you anywhere, tucked into a purse, a briefcase or backpack. Sure, you could keep a journal online or in a computer writing program, but using your own hand to write your prayers is really best. It requires a different part of the brain to get a thought from brain to fingertips. Using your own hand to write is far more personal than a typed journal.

If you’re not sure what to journal, start with blessings or gratitudes. What are you grateful for, right here and now? It might simply be that you have food for breakfast. Perhaps you’re grateful for a cup of coffee in the quiet of the house before everyone else starts their day. Even in our darkest moments, we can find blessings. A shoulder to cry on perhaps, or a nurse who gently cares for a dying loved one: once we tune our ears and eyes to gratitude, we find it in abundance. If you’re really not sure where to start, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. The Spirit of God never disappoints.

Another way to journal is to use a Scripture verse as a starting point. Perhaps it’s a line from the Mass readings on Sunday that struck a chord with you. Write that line down, and let your prayer flow from that. One might do the same with a song or a line from a hymn.

A prayer journal should be real; don’t hold back. There are times in our lives that we are really mad at God – maybe we aren’t really mad at Him, but we have no where else to place our anger. When a loved one dies unexpectedly, we might rail at God, “Why did you take her so suddenly?? I wasn’t ready!” Pour out your heart. Remember, a prayer journal is not getting turned in for a grade; it’s a conversation between you and God.

Prayer journaling can be easier if you follow a formula, at least at the beginning. Start with gratitude and praise. Then let God know what is on your heart right now. Nothing is too trivial. Maybe you’re worried about your health or there is a difficult situation at your job. Maybe your toddler is sick and you just want her to feel better. Ask God to give you whatever it is you need to manage for that day. Move towards an examination of conscience. Perhaps that situation at work is partially your fault; ask for the grace to mend it. Finally, end with asking a favorite saint or the Blessed Mother for intercession.

A prayer journal can be as simple as a notebook and a pen. Other people like to draw or decorate their prayers; the process of creativity helps them to “zone in on” prayer. Use markers, colored pencils or whatever feels right if you decide to be more creative in your prayer. This process is terrific because it forces one to slow down and really examine what’s on one’s mind and heart.

Finally, don’t get discouraged. Finding your own way of prayer journaling can take some time. It’s a process, and you have to find your own manner of prayer. Just remember: this is your love letter to God, and like any parent, He loves to hear from His children.


May: The Month Of Mary

In our part of the world, it’s spring. For those of us who live in colder climes, that means we can ditch coats and boots. We can enjoy watching the world around burst into life: the trees’ first, soft green leaves are unfurling, the colors of tulips and daffodils replace the dull browns of late winter, and kids are out on bikes or kicking a soccer ball around.

The church dedicates this beautiful month to Mary. Parishes have May crownings, a long-standing traditions that faded for awhile, but now seems to be commonplace. Author Elizabeth M. Kelly reflects on a May crowning from her childhood:

Once there, and with as much pageantry and pomp as a farming community church could muster, we processed away, singing our “Ave Maria” and crowning our Mary while the angels kept us company. I imagined angels turned out in especially big numbers for Marian events, those “singing seraphim” that seemed often to appear in Mary’s songs. I still think of that church as filled with angels, country angels, angels meant to protect country people, whose days were spent in labor over soil and crops and barnyard animals. Simple angels for simple people, scrubbed squeaky-clean for Mary and the Mass. I still remember the aroma of flowers, the coolness of the spring air, the lightness of spirit that lingered. The promise of everything made new.

May Crowning marked a new spiritual season. Our Mary, queen of heaven and earth, lifted us right out of the last long, cold days of winter and firmly planted our hearts in the warm and promising soil of spring.

Liturgically, during May, the Church celebrates two feasts associated with Mary: Mary, Queen of Apostles (the Saturday after the Ascension) and the Visitation (May 31.)

But why May? And why a whole month dedicated to Mary? First, May is spring for much of the world, a time that marks growth and birth and new life. Mary, of course, was the bearer of Life itself: our Lord Jesus Christ. Our lives depend on the growth of trees, vegetables, grains. But even more so, our lives depend on Christ, who was brought into this world through God’s graciousness and Mary’s “yes” to Him. With that in mind, setting aside a month to honor her makes sense.

(Every month has liturgical significance, by the way. You can learn more here.)

The celebration of Mary reminds us of her willingness to do God’s will. Not only did Mary say yes to God when He asked her to do the unbelievable and immense task of carrying the very God of the universe in her womb and bring Him into the world for its salvation, she is our model in faith. At the wedding at Cana, Mary gave us the perfect way of the Christian when she told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

We can celebrate the month of May in our homes and with our families. The University of Dayton has some suggestions for involving even the youngest members of the household.

Regardless of how we celebrate May, Mary’s month, we will all do well to follow her example, seek her motherly guidance in prayer, and praise God as she didMy soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.


Who, Me? A Saint?

Perhaps you grew up with a saint statue on your dresser. When you were confirmed, you likely mulled over which saint you which choose for your patron in that sacrament. Put to the test, you could probably list quite a few saints.

But do you know YOU are supposed to be a saint?

While Catholics worship God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – alone, we rely on the holiness of others as examples of the Christian life. While the Church declares some “saints,” she acknowledges that not all those who live on eternally in the presence of God will be officially recognized as saints. Regardless, we are called to live in communion with the saints:

In the communion of saints, ‘a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.’In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1475

We “pilgrims on earth” frankly need all the help we can get, and our brothers and sisters in Christ who have preceded us in faith to Heaven are some of the best friends we can have.

But we need to go further than this; we need to recognize that we are ALL called to be saints. Yes, you. And me. And that lady that sits behind you every week in church, singing off-key. Your teenage son, who seems to have lost the give of speech and merely grunts at you. Your boss. Your uncle who still refers to your by your childhood nickname no matter how many times you’ve asked him not to.

Saints, all of us.

You may protest, “I can’t be a saint. I’m not holy enough. I swear at other drivers. I get mad at my kids. I can’t concentrate on Father’s homily most of the time.” Yeah, well, you’re still called to be a saint.

Oh, we may not get official recognition from the Church; most saints don’t. It may be hard for us to achieve holiness; it is for most saints. Saints are real people, though, not plaster statues or figurines pinned to our car’s visors. They are not softly colored and angelic faces staring at us flatly from a holy card. They are men and women who faced real challenges: hatred from their family for converting, crippling illness, doubts in their faith, criticism from those around them.

What makes a person a saint is that they try to be holy. They recognize their sinfulness, and they repent … and repent … and repent. They learn to tame their temper, their tongue, their pride. They rely on Christ, His Church, the Sacraments, in order to gain grace that no person can gain on their own. They are not perfect. They are, however, holy – not by their own efforts, but by the grace of God.

It is your calling to be a saint. Don’t say you can’t (which is really saying, “I won’t.”) Instead, get to know the saints. Learn how they did it. Ask Mary, the Mother of God, for help. Seek to do good works in your family, in your place of work, in your community, in your parish. Sainthood is not out of reach. In fact, God is handing it to you as a gift, and all you need to do is live out that gift.