Tuesday, December 27, 2016

For Every Season...

This entry is about change.

First, allow me to apologize for not posting lately, but that has a lot to do with what this submission is about.

This one is personal, so it's not easy for me to write about, but I feel like I have to speak about it.

As some of you know, I've found myself with a lot more responsibility at the parish lately. Some of you may not know, but John Murray is no longer serving in the capacity of parish services coordinator. A lot has changed in a very short period of time. As we wrap up the Christmas services here, I'm finally allowing myself a chance to exhale and take it all in. John is a very good friend of mine, my fraternity brother, a mentor, and the first person to connect me to a deeper relationship with the Queen community. I am forever grateful to what he has done and what I know he has yet to do.

This post isn't about him though. As I said, it's about change.

Change is hard and most of time unwanted. I find myself turning to my favorite part of Pope Clement XI's prayer:

I want whatever you want,
Because you want it,
The way that you want it,
As long as you want it.

I always found that last line to be the most haunting. It's really hard to answer God's call most of the time. It's even harder when you've answered it, and he says, "That's it. That's all I wanted you to do." How do we move on? How do we learn to trust that voice again, when we've been on the fast track of doing God's will? Usually, answering this call means moving forward. It's really tough, when we have to leave something behind. Personally, I've struggled with why Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt just for simply looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah. It's starting to make sense now through the lens of God's eye. We can't look back. To dwell on the past, whether regretfully or nostalgically, can hold us back. God is constantly calling us to work on being the best version of ourselves. It is impossible that that version of us can be in the past. It's not even in the future. Since God is eternal, he is always in the "now". He wants us to strive to make decisions in every moment that choose Him. It's so simple. It's binary. Like how computers work. It's either on or off; for us it's either yes or no. There's no grey area. There's no in between. We're either choosing God's plan or we aren't. This is the trickiest part if free will. But it's such an honor, that God loves us so much that he allows us to play a role in the Beatific Vision, in the Salvation Story. 

I don't know what the future holds, but I know the journey will be worth it. I think about my friend often. I miss having my friend around, as I'm sure he misses being here in his role. I'm stressed out by the enormity of it all. I still grapple daily with the responsibility I've been entrusted with. But numerous people believe that I can, and most importantly, God believes that I can. So I will move forward, without hesitation, without looking back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fr. Michael Gaitley

I had the pleasure of hearing Fr. Gaitley speak on my birthday (that and a concert at the Cathedral were presents to myself). He spoke about maybe one of the coolest things I've ever heard. He calls it the second greatest story ever told. The second, you say? Well yeah, he assumes his audience knows the original greatest story ever told... Charlton Heston played John the Baptist... ok, we're on the same page. Anyway. I am not going to do any justice with what I am about to tell you. Fr. Gaitley is a genius with this stuff and he makes so many connections and tells so many of these stories so wonderfully. You really need to check him out directly.

Divine Mercy
I'm just here to wet your appetite because I think it's such a powerful story and everyone needs to hear it.

It revolves around the two hearts of the Immaculate Conception: the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary's Immaculate Heart. The mission set forth by Jesus and the Blessed Mother in the twentieth century to St. Faustina and the children of Fatima are intimately connected with the major events of the past century. World War II and the rise of communism were both predicted in these apparitions. Both Jesus and Mary gave powerful messages and weapons to these new era prophets. The story is so amazingly interwoven that onl;y God could have wrote this story. The fact that the Divine Mercy message came to be known by the whole world is a miracle in itself. The role Poland plays in this whole story is amazing in itself. Again, I don't have room here to expound on all the wonderful twists and ironic turns present in the story. I can tell you though that after hearing Father Gaitley speak, it truly is the second greatest story ever told. If you are a member of the parish you can access the video series and accompanying study guide at


using the parish access code Y4MJDZ all caps.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Renee Descartes

A long time ago, there was a philosopher names Renee Descartes. He wrote a work called The Meditations. In it, he proposed to start from scratch to figure out what was really true. Now in philosophy there are two kinds of truth. A posteriori is what we think about as truth in modern terms. Scientific, or empirical, truth is known from experience; which is why science does experiments. If we see something happen a bunch of times the same way, we call it a fact. The problem with this kind of truth is that it is truth with a small "t". There's always a chance it can be disproved if we have an experience that contradicts it. For example, we can say that "fire is always hot", but if we ever felt a cold fire that statement would be proven untrue. There is nothing inherent in fore that says it has to be hot, we've just always experienced it that way. Descartes was looking for what philosophers call A priori truth (with a capital "T", conversely), that is, something that cannot be unproven because the fact is inherent of our understanding of the subject. A statement like "a triangle has three sides" will always be true because we could never hope to find a four sided triangle. It would obviously be a square or a rhombus, or some type of parallelogram. Anyway, that little foray into Philosophy 101 is to set the stage for Descartes.

He wanted to find something that was undeniably true aside from our senses and experience. He would eventually become the father of a whole line of thought called Rationalism. Western Philosophy really then breaks down into two camps at that point. Rationalism (which was more popular in continental Europe), and Empiricism (more popular in the British Isles). But back to The Meditations. Descartes eventually arrives at the point that he cannot doubt his own existence. This becomes the basis of all the other truths he claims to uncover afterwards. This is the one True fact that he cannot deny. He famously wrote it in Latin, "Cogito ergo sum." Which roughly translates into I think therefore I am. As he works through his meditations, he finds that he while he can trust in his own existence, he can still doubt everything around him. Anything he knows through his senses, his body, other people, the entire outside world, are things that he can only know conditionally. He can therefore find reason to doubt their existence. This sets up what is later referred to as Cartesian Dualism. Essentially, there is a fundamental difference between the self and everything else: the True and the doubtful. He eventually uses God as his go between. He cannot bring himself to believe that an omnibenevolent or "all good" God would choose to deceive him. He also says he cannot doubt God since the idea of an infinite being has to originate from an actual infinite being, since a finite, or limited mind, his self, could not conceive of an infinite or limitless being on his own.

I think this dualism has set us up for what we call the postmodern condition. We believe ourselves to be something different than the rest of the world. This has the potential of leading the human self to be separate from everything around it. It can lead to a real sense of loneliness. I think this is the reason so many of us, while so connected through technology and our daily interaction with others can feel so isolated, so alone. We don't see ourselves as a part of creation, but as a single entity, that has some privileged view of the world that no one else can experience.

True knowledge then comes from the realization that we are not alone. Our world is shaped through experience and interaction. Our self, or soul, is affected by the things that happen to us and around us. And thanks to the Christian viewpoint, we are most definitely not alone. Christ plays an intimate role in who we are, and has an infinite desire to shape us into the best version of ourselves. We have all been invited to play a special role in the salvation story. We are not merely individual selfs on a journey through an isolated life. We are called to be Christs for each other. We need the other in order to realize the true potential of who we are. This, in a roundabout way, leads us back to Descartes juncture in his reasoning. It is through God that we can begin to see the connection from our undeniable self to the rest of the speculative world. We realize that we are not special because we are a singularity in the universe, but that we are deeply connected to the universe through our connection to God and the Sacred Heart.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

All Souls Day and Grief

Last night was our parish's Remembrance Mass. After the homily, the names are read of all of those parishoners that have gone home this past year. I was shocked at how many people I knew in the congregation this time. I knew that they had lost a loved one, but to see them all together is a different story. It made me think about the sadness that can accompany that kind of loss. Last year, I lost my grandfather, who was the last of my grandparents. As an aside, my grandparents were two of the most amazing people I ever had the privilege to know. I'm not saying this to brag. I'm sure your grandparents were awesome in their own right. I say this to point out that I miss them terribly. We had a remarkably close relationship.

No, I'm not using the parish blog for sympathy points. Later in the mass, I was paying special attention to the Liturgy of the Eucharistic. It had extra meaning for me last night, because I remembered that the mass takes place in heaven too. Every time the priest lifts the host and the chalice, we are not only united with Christ, we are united in the Body of Christ... with the "communion" of saints (see what I did there?).  I realized when I was a kid, I felt something special when we were all together at mass, my extended family. I never really put it together until last night. It was a foreshadowing of how I would be with my family, those still here on Earth and those in Heaven. It's the ultimate family reunion. Every saint is present at the sacrifice of the mass. And this lead me to another thought:

I never really mourned their passing. At first, I thought maybe I was in denial, or not present emotionally, or closed off somehow, all of the classic psychoanalysis terms. Let me clear, I was sad, I knew how empty life seemed without them. But it certainly didn't feel like the classic mourning that I was picturing. I had lost friends and other relatives before that, but never someone as close to me as they were. I guess, in my mind, mourning had something to do with feeling bad that the person has died, like they lost something, or that death itself is a bad thing. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't associate negative feelings with their deaths. How could I? I knew where they were and I knew it was the most amazing place they could be. I guess I could compare it to your best friend landing his or her dream job working at Disney World. Sure, you'd miss them, but if you truly loved them, you couldn't be anything but happy for them.

So there it is. The consolation of the Eucharistic. I don't know if you've lost someone. I don't know if perhaps someone in your life is ill. But there is so much solace and comfort, if you truly understand and embrace what is happening during the mass. I am so grateful to God for choosing to place my soul in this time and place; for letting me meet such amazing people and have the honor of calling them Mommom and Poppop. But I am most grateful for the gift of His Son, for the gift of His ultimate sacrifice, for the gift of never having to really say goodbye since He has conquered death.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why be a Christian?

In another lifetime, I purchased Bertrand Russel's Why I Am Not A Christian. I have to admit that I put it on my book shelf and there it has sat ever since. I bought it thinking that I'd like to hear what the other side has to say. I know personally after studying a myriad of different philosophers and their respective thought, that I was pushed further into believing that there must be a God. I'm sure we've all had moments of doubt, or as the Church likes to call it, conversion. So what drives people to develop a deeper relationship with God? Looking back, and even reflecting on my current journey, good prayer is hard. I usually compare the spiritual journey to training for something physical, like weightlifting or a marathon. I still can't imagine what it must be like to run for 4 hours or bench press 400 lbs, but it didn't stop me from trying running or lifting weights. Not being able to imagine what it must be like to accomplish these Herculean tasks must be a nonstarter for a lot of people. So it is with being an engaged Catholic. So many people must see the transition necessary from their everyday lives to that of a religious person as overwhelmingly daunting. Just the thought that we'd have to change anything in our lives, or to give up even the most minor things, seems anathema to us. No matter the reason, there is a reluctance. As Saint Augustine said, "Make me a saint, just not yet."

So what makes someone begin on the spiritual path? Is it out of desperation? Does one have to hit rock bottom? Or does it take a divine revelation that they are broken and need healing? Well, in some cases yes. But I think there's another entrance. It makes me think back to freshman year of high school. I tried out for the football team. Why? I wanted to be a football player. I couldn't get over how cool the upperclassmen looked in their pads and helmets, the taped knuckles, high top cleats, playing under the lights. I knew I wanted that to be me. I did not grow up in a "sportsy" household. I barely even watched football. I had absolutely no idea what it would entail to go from a grade school soccer player to a high school football player. Everything was new. The first thing you notice is that getting used to wearing a helmet hurts. The next thing you notice is that practice seems impossibly long. The next thing you notice is that you have to run everywhere; you have to do it with 10 extra pounds of equipment on, in late August. I won't lie. Football camp is miserable. Two to three practices a day will make anyone start to question their decision. My high school didn't cut anyone from the team, but a lot of guys weeded themselves out pretty early on. Pretty much in that first week. I don't know what drove me to make it past the quitting point for those other guys. There were other guys on the team that seemed to just love it. There were other guys that had a special gift for perseverance. I was neither of those. But what kept me going was their example. I wanted to keep at it until I loved it, or at least got past the dreading going to practice every day.

I think that's how it goes for Christianity. It is our witness to the joy of the Gospel that inspires others to begin that journey. Right now, I have the privilege of watching our candidates go through RCIA. In case you didn't know, it is a year long process. It involves weekly meetings, serious discernment and a lot of prayer. I don't know the numbers on how many seekers "wash out" before Easter Vigil. I have to imagine that there are a certain number that choose not to continue at some point. I think the ones that persevere, however, are the ones that see the light at the end of the tunnel. They have some example that they look to, to see that the journey is worthwhile. This finally leads me to the big question. Are fewer people sticking out the journey, because the ones that are on the path aren't obvious witnesses? Are we leading joy-filled lives? Does someone look at you and say, "Man, now there is a happy Christian! I want some of what they have!" My hope is that we are the cool upperclassmen. We are the people who's lives are so joy-filled, so blessed, that another person can't help but wonder what it's like to have God as an integral part of his or her life. Let's always keep that in mind, that those on the outside looking in have no idea what it feels like. They have to have examples to look toward to begin to imagine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October, Month of the Rosary

Full disclosure: I'm stealing this from Father Mike's homily during the Mass to open the PREP (or CCD for us old-school types) semester. In my experience, stealing someone else's work is the highest form of flattery.

There is so much to be said about the Rosary. It's literally a weapon given to us by Our Lady. I can't say enough about it, but Fr. Mike said it better than I ever could. He talked about something that I never before considered. When we reflect on the mysteries, do we ever stop to reflect on how they mirror our own lives? As an aside, he was speaking to parents of children and was using the Joyful Mysteries as the example. The Annunciation is the same joy we felt when we found out we were going to be parents. The Visitation is when we wanted to tell everyone the good news. The Nativity is obviously to joy at the birth of our own child. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is paralleled beautifully in the Sacrament of Baptism.

How amazing! I never thought to reflect on my own life while praying the Rosary. But how fitting, to see our own lives in the journey of  Christ through the Rosary, which is essentially a journey through Holy Scripture. I started thinking about all the times that I felt close to Christ through that filter. I saw my sufferings in the Sorrowful Mysteries. I saw the great gifts of grace I received throughout my life in the Luminous Mysteries. I felt the hope of the Resurrection promise in the triumphant moments of the Glorious Mysteries.

This new view really inspired me to appreciate the Rosary in a whole new way. I just wanted to finish this up with my two favorite recent revelations about praying the Rosary. The first is that it's contemplative. I think when people first engage the Rosary, they see it as repetitive. I know I fell into that trap. An exercise that bestowed grace, but something that was to be completed. A task that I needed to get through, like push-ups. Essentially saying, I'll be happier with myself when they are done. What I found though was that the repetition settled my mind and let me think deeper thoughts, to hear things that one can only here when his or her soul is quiet. The second revelation is that praying the Rosary is a form of Lectio Divina.

The what now?! Allow me to explain if this is a new term. Lectio Divina is an ancient Catholic practice, that dates back to the early Middle Ages. The most basic explanation is that one uses a reading from the Bible as the backbone of his or her prayer. The best analogy I've heard is that it's the foundation of our prayer skyscraper. You don't build the penthouse first. I know from my personal experience, and from what I've heard for others, that it's hard to go right into the highest form of prayer, which is conversation with God. Sure, we can talk to God, but conversation is also listening. Many people get discouraged when they don't hear God in prayer. The problem is that we're not tuned in to listen to him. Think of your own earthly experience. It's hard to listen to someone until you're prepared to listen. My wife can try repeatedly to tell me something important while the Flyers are on, but there's little chance that I will even remotely begin to grasp what she is trying to tell me. But I digress. Let's tie this back into the Rosary. The Mysteries of the Rosary, as well as the majority of the prayers, are taken from scripture. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. If we want to hear what God is saying, we have his words right in front of us! By starting there, by focusing on how God speaks we can begin to tune in to hear his voice. God speaks to us first through written word, and then he speaks to us in conversation! For me, it's like reading the book before you go see the movie. Anyone who has read Lord of the Rings, knows how different your experience was of watching the movies than someone who had not.

I won't insult your intelligence by expounding any further on the just how wonderful the Rosary is. I know you know how to use Google. But do yourself a favor and do some homework on this collection of 5 prayers, set in 5 decades in 4 sets of mysteries. It is so simple, yet so profound.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Faith in Action 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how our love for God translates to action. That we are moved by the love of the Father to care for all of his children. Twice this week (and hopefully again this Sunday), I've had the pleasure of hearing Marie Joseph speak about perhaps one of the most important ministries in our area. She is the founder of the Legacy of Life Foundation. This organization operates two centers, one in Bristol and one in Center City. The centers exist to aid men and women who are dealing with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Marie spoke of the many situations that make it difficult to welcome a new life into the world. The people seeking the services of the center may be financially disadvantaged, homeless, in transition, or lacking the support of a partner. Mostly, they feel alone and afraid. As powerful as her talks were, I was particularly moved by a poster that is now at the front left of the church. It is a collage of pictures of all the babies that were born through the efforts of the center. Perhaps some of the babies on that poster would have come into this world regardless. But to see all of those hundreds of beautiful smiling faces, it hit me that many of them would not. They are real human beings. Their tiny, happy, little hopeful faces are all blessings to the world that may not have been. It hit me hard. I was no longer thinking about faceless fetuses. I was no longer seeing a political or legal situation. That's when it hit me:

Pro-Life is not about a supreme court decision made 40 years ago.

Marie was so optimistic about my observation when I shared it with her. She said plainly, "Some day when that decision is reversed, we will be in such need for all of those that viewed this as a purely political issue to show up at our doors and help." It really got my wheels turning. We can do so much for our brothers and sisters that really need our help. Allow me to be frank. Laws do have the impact of protecting those they seek to protect. But we know that drug use, violence, theft all still exist in our society even with laws that seek to prevent them. The same will be true for abortion. Laws cannot dictate morality, only what is legal and illegal. Even if one is pro-choice, my hope is that he or she can still see the good in helping someone not be coerced into their decision based on their situation. Without an alternative, many feel that there is no choice, despite in their heart wanting to bring that life into the world. The real answer is found in our hearts. We must love everyone enough to want to help them in what could be the most soul-testing moment of their lives. This is about people, not about politics.

This Sunday, Queen of the Universe is having a baby bottle drive. There will be empty baby bottles at all of the entrances. Please take one. Take it home and fill it with your loose change. It may not seem like a lot. It's money we usually don't even think about. It sits in our car consoles, under the couch cushions, or in a jar on our dresser. It may not seem like a lot, but the cumulative power of coming together turns it into a lot. Last year, this parish alone, raised $11,000. That translates to supporting over 500 babies born last year. I can't even begin to do the math on how many fathers, mothers, brother, sisters, grandparents, etc. that now have the gift of a son or daughter, brother or sister, or grandchild. Thanks to that small amount of generosity on each of our parts. So bring that bottle back the following Sunday and know that are making a real difference in so many lives.

I'd like you to consider something larger too. Think about giving your time and volunteering for the foundation. Or think about setting up an annual donation. I even know some wonderful parishoners who have adopted through the center. If you won't be able to donate through the bottle drive, please visit their website legacyoflifefoundation.org/ You can also see, in more detail, all of the wonderful things they are doing on said website. If nothing else, when someone criticizes the pro-life movement of really only being pro-birth, you'll be able to respond with what it really means to be pro-life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Pope Francis

I've been conflicted with something about Pope Francis. I know that if you've ever read or seen the news or been on social media, you're probably thinking that my problem lies in a sound bite about the upcoming election or an excerpt from an encyclical. But I set you up. My problem isn't with anything that Pope Francis has done or said. My conflict lies within me. Why is it that we are attracted to leaders that "walk the walk"? Allow me to expand. It seems that we desire something in those we see in the public spotlight. We love that Francis lives in the Papal apartments instead of the palace. We love stories of Saint Francis' eschewing any personal comfort. We applaud the effort of a guy like Pat Tillman, who left the NFL to join the army. There's nothing wrong with admiring people like that. I'm finding though, that we've taken it a step farther. We tend to not just admire these choices, but we've come to demand them. We now have come to expect that kind of sacrifice and full self-giving from anyone whom we deem to be in a position of great responsibility. Why does a Spartan existence have to presuppose the measure of a person?

Bigger question: Do we demand that same level of austerity in our own lives? How many of us do without? Listen, I like a hot shower and my trash picked up twice a week just as much as the next guy. I'm not being critical. I'm just wondering how much we demand of ourselves that we expect from our leaders. So, there's my conflict. How can I look at another and see their desire for comfort or wealth or power and not analyze myself with the same magnifying glass? There's a real dissonance there.

There's a two part answer to resolving that internal conflict. One, start giving others the slack I provide for myself; and Two, start turning around that proverbial magnifying glass. Have I moved into my own Papal apartment? I'm not talking about making an outward display of my unattachment. I'm talking about making a concerted effort to live simply. There's the rub, right? I know that living simply is about living unfettered, but man, do I like to think about the those fetters. I wonder what car will be my next. I think about turning my back yard into a personal retreat. I think about how good a steak tastes served to me, perfectly medium rare, by an overattentive waiter offering me a deep red that will compliment my already sumptuous meal. None of those things feel very Francis-y. The real answer lies in what I'm really asking for. My thoughts of a new car is a desire for what it can do for me. Honestly, I can do most of those things for myself. I don't really need a GPS in my console, or a bigger engine. I have GPS on my phone, and I get places pretty quickly as it is. I don't need an English garden in my backyard to find solitude, I need a quiet place that inspires me to think deep thoughts. I don't need to eat my steak in a fancy restaurant. I can cook a medium rare steak on my own grill, thank you very much.

These are just a tiny sampling of examples of things that pull at me. I'm sure I could fill an entire chapters worth of things that I don't need if I really think about the real want that I'm expressing. I think that's why we are so critical of others. It's very easy to be critical of another when they want stuff. They're not our desires. We make ours more pressing. We are merely concerned with our own happiness. In moments of true introspection, I ask myself, "If I had everything I wanted, would I still resent others for what they have?" The answer is sadly yes. When I realize that more possessions or comforts will not make me love my fellow human more, I truly put them into perspective. So there it is, we want those we look up to to have perspective. It seems hollow to hear about sacrifice from someone who has a lot. While we admire success and drive, we still secretly ask about their motives.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Matthew Kelly

I know I got you all excited out Mr. Kelly last week, and I don't aim to disappoint! The one thing that struck me about his 4 hour session (4. F-O-U-R hour session!) is how entertained I was. I expected to be inspired and receive a lot of insight about the faith, but he was much more. The man has a real gift for drawing you in. A true story-teller in the old bard tradition. I felt like I had spent the evening sharing the corner of a bar and hearing about his life over a beer by the end. I wanted to try and tell you who he is, because I'm assuming that most of you, like me, only know his written voice. But inside all of the laughs and insights was something profound. His sense of urgency. There is a real message of RIGHT NOW! I've been given the pleasure of previewing his new book and ironically (or not so ironically), it's about the same thing. I don't want to give a synopsis of his book here. You should really read it for yourself. I just wanted to convey something I wrote a couple blogs back. He talks about resistance. Up until now I haven't been able to put a word to it. It's so clear now. How we, as human beings, are constantly struggling with it. I think I've come to my personal place of understanding with this concept.

My resistance comes from being overwhelmed. I look at the mountain and think, "There is no way I'm getting to the top." I could be training on smaller hills, or even start my assent on smaller, easier climbs. I find myself though, instead, sitting at the bottom of the mountain playing on my phone, waiting for the inspiration to start what seems an impossible task. I think we all have that predilection. We want write a novel, but don't start with the first page. We want to run a marathon, but won't put our sneakers on and go around the block. We want to lose weight, but don't push away the piece of cake. OK, I said "we", but I meant me. But I thought that sharing it in the plural would help you realize the thing that you've been putting off because of intimidation. I think this works for our relationship with God too. I don't think we can set off with a clear image of what it must be like to be Padre Pio or St. Theresa, to be that in tune with God. It seems unattainable for us regular Christians. But that's just it. Jesus calls us to be as locked in as we can be at this moment. He just wants the seconds or minutes we can give. He wants us to concentrate for as long as we can in our busy, noisy minds.

So that's my thought for this week. Let's just start. Let's forget about everything else we have to do. Let's forget about the little things that keep us from the big things. Let's start on that path, and trust that we have the best personal coach in the universe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Faith in Action

I was planning on writing about getting to see Matthew Kelly last Friday, but something else has been on my mind. The question keeps coming up, "Am I living out the Gospel message to the fullest?" There have been several moments that have drawn me back to this question recently. One is a chapter from a book the parish staff has been reading A Church on the Move by Joe Paprocki. It's an excellent study on where the Catholic Church currently is and where it could be. It addresses the framework of the parish in light of Jesus' message and exhortations from Pope Francis. Chapter 43 focuses on those that are in need. He talks specifically about the poor in a financial sense. There are a lot of really wonderful suggestions on how to meet their needs as a parish, but it led me to a deeper question. What about those that are deprived in other ways? What about the grieving widow, or the depressed and lonely, or those that have hardships or are dealing with a crisis? This leads to the Biblical question, "Who is my neighbor?" I am drawn in by this weeks Gospel reading, the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The point that keeps sticking out is that Jesus never says that the rich man is aware of Lazarus' suffering. The point is that this man was so caught up in his own world, that he paid no attention to what was going on around him. He built a chasm between himself and the outside world. Lazarus didn't even have access to the scraps from his table. (Did the rich man even keep his garbage on lock down?!) That chasm get reemphasized when Abraham tells the man that that is exactly what exists between Heaven and Hell.What is scary for me is that Jesus isn't talking about addressing just the needs that we are aware of, but that we need to increase our awareness and seek out those places of need.

This brings me to my friend. Please excuse the story, but I feel like this needs to be explained. We are only Facebook friends. We have never met in person and neither of us can recall how we even became connected electronically. She randomly chatted me up one day based on something I posted. Suffice it to say, we talked about how many kids we have, where we're from, the usual small talk. As our conversations progressed she shared with me that her mother is very ill and she needs intervention that her current situation is not providing. So, how is this relevant to the previous paragraph? She started a gofundme page in hopes that people would be moved to assist her in any way they can. Long story short (I know, I'm way past that), it hasn't been going so well. Last time we talked, it has raised about $90. The hardest part is the spiritual toll that it's taking. She is not Catholic, but is very connected to her congregation and she has a very robust faith life. Part of the issue is the cold reception she received from her faith community. She wonders what that translates to as a reflection of faith.

What a question! What does faith look like? Is it faithfully attending Mass every Sunday, going to confession monthly, putting our offering in the basket, belonging to a prayer group? Or is it something bigger? Is it being so in love with Our Lord and his flock, that we are moved to action when we see a need? Is it acting how He would in those situations? When someone asked Jesus to heal them, he didn't respond with, "Can't, it's the Sabbath." or "Umm, you're a Samaritan, no can do." No Mosaic law would keep Him from doing His Father's will. We can obviously see from his actual responses that the Father's will is to love Him and love our neighbor. I would be typing until next week if I tried to elucidate what love is. But I certainly know what it looks like. People will do just about anything when they are in love: move across the country, quit their job, turn their entire lives upside down. If that's the case what should we look like if we're in love with God and our neighbor? We are called to action when we love. "Faith without works is dead." To expound on the message of the Gospel and do nothing about it is to be a "clanging gong or tinkling cymbal". I'm going to include the link to her gofundme page. I am in no way telling you that you need to or should donate. But if you feel moved to do something, then you should. What I will leave you with is a parting thought, that we all need to look around us and see how we can live out the Gospel by helping others. The Kingdom of God is certainly at hand if we choose to remake the world in His image.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Joe Raposo

If you didn't Google the name in the title, I'm guessing you're scratching your head right now, "Who is Joe Raposo?" And if you didn't click on his name right there, then allow me to elucidate. Mr. Raposo was a composer. He wrote beautifully and simply. He wrote the theme songs of my childhood. He wrote for Sesame Street and The Muppets. You're actually quite familiar with his work already. Being Green, Sing, C is for Cookie are all songs to which you most likely know at least the refrain by heart (My apologies if any of these are now stuck in your head. It may take a week or more until it subsides.). While there aren't many song writers out there that can create a song about an aardvark from a first person perspective, that's not what I want to focus on here.

Joe wrote a song that I haven't been able to get out of my head this week. I hope you've heard it. Somebody Come and Play. Yes, it's a children's song sung by a muppet. But it speaks to something so much deeper. It's the child's version of No Exit or Waiting for Godot. There is a yearning in it. It calls out to us the deep need for "the other". We were built for this, for human contact, for authentic relationship. We are constantly asking if anybody will want to "come and play today".

I guess Raposo might have had someone in mind when he wrote this, but I like to imagine that the emphasis is in the lack of a particular person. It's like he's saying, "It doesn't matter who you are, or what you believe, or where you come from, or what you brought to play with. I want to play with YOU, whoever you are. Just be you, and be my friend, and share yourself with me and I will love you for it." Do we do that anymore? Looking back, I know that my happiest times were spent with others. I don't think I need to expound on this. I'm sure everyone can recall laughing a little harder, being more at peace, feeling just a little more present when they are with people who are really engaged. I fear that this song rings so true because I've lost a little bit of that. I want real, authentic experiences, but I don't find myself doing the things necessary to make them happen.

I am so tempted to rail against social media and smart phones right now. How we've substituted "coming out to play" with Facebook updates. Even when I'm with people I want to be around, I find myself turning to the phone, checking a text message, seeing who liked my last comment, etc. It's become so habitual, I don't even think about it. While I won't go so far as to call it an addiction, it has become vice. But I'm not going to delve into my electronic crutch. I want to get to the root of the matter.

I think I've fallen prey (dare I say "we"?) to the post-modern condition. The world is so accessible, that contact with others has become commonplace. It used to take effort to meet up with friends. It used to take a proactive move to keep up with people. Connecting has become so easy, but I'm not really connecting. I'm getting updates. I think we are suffering because of it. We were built for interaction. We have five senses that all need to be engaged. I want to feel a hug. I want to hear your voice or laughter (LOL just doesn't cut it). I want to smell a charcoal grill or freshly brewed coffee. I want your eyes to look into mine as I talk about something that is important to both of us. I want to  be in the moment, fully engaged. I can't do that on a screen. I can't do that when the screen becomes a barrier even when you are physically present.

I'm not challenging anyone reading this to go on a cell phone fast, or cut out technology. I don't yearn for the days before electronic communication. I just feel like I need to get past it. I need to rely on the real things. I don't know the perfect answer to what I perceive as the problem. But I think I'm going to start not by cutting back, but by doing more. By really being intentional with what I do: my conversations with others, my conversations in prayer, when my children are participating in the serious work of play, the few precious minutes alone with my spouse. I really feel if I approach everything I do with purpose, it will all become more important. I will be more careful with how I spend my hours.

This brings me to my final point about the song. It not only asks for someone to come and play, but it implores that it happens today. What a powerful notion! Take the time "to ride the rides and sing the songs, it won't take long". It's so simple, yet so profound. The promise to eventually be in the moment, is another excuse to put off happiness; to delay the gratification of real human interaction. So let's really listen to what Ernie is singing about. Let's really get to the heart of the matter. Let's find what really makes us happy and do it.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

33 Days: Consecration

Prayer of Consecration

Okay, so you’re ready to make your consecration. Now you’ll need the right prayer. You can use either the one that follows, one from the saints, or one that you write yourself. Whatever prayer you use, I recommend that you recite it after attending Mass or even after receiving Holy Communion  (if there’s time). If you can’t get to Mass, you can still make the consecration — Mass is highly recommended but not essential. With or without Mass, after you recite the consecration prayer, I suggest that you sign it, date it, and keep it in a safe place. (When I renew my consecration annually, I like to recite the prayer from the original copy and then sign and date it again.) Anyway, once again, here’s the 33 Days to Morning Glory Prayer of Consecration that summarizes the main ideas of our four Marian giants:

I, ____________, a repentant sinner, renew and ratify today in your hands, O Immaculate Mother, the vows of my Baptism. I renounce Satan and resolve to follow Jesus Christ even more closely than before.

Mary, I give you my heart. Please set it on fire with love for Jesus. Make it always attentive to his burning thirst for love and for souls. Keep my heart in your most pure Heart that I may love Jesus and the members of his Body with your own perfect love. Mary, I entrust myself totally to you: my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions. Please make of me, of all that I am and have, whatever most pleases you. Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for bringing the greatest possible glory to God. If I fall, please lead me back to Jesus. Wash me in the blood and water that flow from his pierced side, and help me never to lose my trust in this fountain of love and mercy. With you, O Immaculate Mother — you who always do the will of God — I unite myself to the perfect consecration of Jesus as he offers himself in the Spirit to the Father for the life of the world. Amen.

33 Days: Day 33

Putting It All Together

For the last four days, we’ve been reviewing the last four weeks of our retreat. During these days, we’ve not only been reviewing the material, we’ve also begun to put together all that we’ve learned. I say we’ve begun to put it together. We’re probably not yet at a point where we can grasp the manifold truth of Marian consecration “in a single gaze,” as John Paul put it. To get to this point, a unifying statement may be helpful, something like the “First Principle and Foundation” that St. Ignatius of Loyola came up with to summarize and give clarity and focus to his spirituality. Actually, I think we need more than just a statement. We need a prayer, something we can frequently repeat, even everyday, that not only reminds us of the meaning of our consecration but actually expresses the gift of ourselves to Jesus through Mary. While several of the saints we’ve learned from during these past weeks have written excellent prayers or “formulas” of consecration, I’m not going to present their formulas here. (If you’re interested, I’ve included them in Appendix One.) Instead, I’m going to present an updated prayer of consecration that combines the main insights we’ve covered during the retreat. Even though I’m no saint, I feel confident to do this because I’m making use of the actual words and ideas of all four of the Marian saints of our retreat. Moreover, I feel emboldened to compose this new prayer because of the words of Pope Pius XII on the occasion of St. Louis de Montfort’s canonization:
True devotion … aims essentially at union with Jesus under the guidance of Mary. The form and practice of this devotion may vary according to time, place, and personal inclination. Within the bounds of sound and safe doctrine, of orthodoxy and dignity of  worship, the Church leaves her children a just margin of liberty. She is conscious that true and perfect  devotion to Our Lady is not bound up in any particular modes in such a way that one of them can claim a monopoly over the others.
Inspired by these words and taking the liberty the Pope gives us, I offer the following updated prayer of consecrationthat aims to capture the essentials of what we’ve learned during our retreat. Now, if it doesn’t fit with your personal  inclination, don’t worry. You can always take the liberty to write your own prayer or use one written by the saints. Anyway, here’s a summary statementof what we’ve learned, a statement that’s also a prayer from the heart:
I, ____________, a repentant sinner, renew and ratify today in your hands, O Immaculate Mother, the vows of my Baptism. I renounce Satan and resolve to follow Jesus Christ even more closely than before. Mary, I give you my heart. Please set it on fire with love for Jesus. Make it always attentive to his burning thirst for love and for souls. Keep my heart in your most pure Heart that I may love Jesus and the members of his Body with your own perfect love. Mary, I entrust myself totally to you: my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions. Please make of me, of all that I am and have, whatever most pleases you. Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for bringing the greatest possible glory to God. If I fall, please lead me back to Jesus. Wash me in the blood and water that flow from his
pierced side, and help me never to lose my trust in this fountain of love and mercy. With you, O Immaculate Mother — you who always do the will of God — I unite myself to the perfect consecration of Jesus as he offers himself in the Spirit to the Father for the life of the world. Amen.
Tomorrow, you’ll consecrate yourself (or re-consecrate yourself) totally to Jesus through Mary. And that’s great! To do this, though, you’ll need a prayer of consecration. Whether you use the one I just presented, one from the saints, or one of your own making, I encourage you to meditate on its meaning today. Such meditation on the prayer of consecration is a perfect preparation for Consecration Day

33 Days: Day 32

St. Pope John Paul II

Three words summarize what we learned from St. John Paul II: (1) Mother, (2) “Entrust-acration,” and (3) Mercy. Let’s ponder each one in turn.

MOTHER John Paul’s teaching on Marian consecration not only carries with it his authority as Pope but also the authoritative weight of an Ecumenical Council, because he repeats and deepens Vatican II’s teaching on Mary. Therefore, his teaching actually constitutes the mind and heart of the Church today, and we should pay particular attention to it. So what is the mind and heart of the Church telling us about Mary? It’s pointing to Mary’s maternal mediation. It’s saying she’s our mother in the order of grace. It’s proclaiming the Good News that God has given us a spiritual mother who prayerfully, lovingly attends to our growth in grace and holiness. This new motherhood of Mary in the life of the Church, in the life of each of one of us, is the constant, consoling, beautiful background to everything we’ve said about Marian consecration — or what John Paul often calls “entrustment.”

ENTRUST-ACRATION Seeing Mary standing at the foot of the Cross next to his beloved disciple, John, Jesus said, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then, to John, “Behold, your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). These words summarize what we already covered in the last point, that Mary is our spiritual mother. But then we read the next verse, “Then the disciple took her into his home.” Here is the heart of our response to Jesus entrusting us to Mary as our mother: We are to then entrust ourselves to her by taking her “into our homes.” In other words, we’re to take her into our inner life, into all that concerns us. We are to let her into our joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, plans and activities. When we let Mary into our lives, when we entrust ourselves to her care, she intercedes for us, consoles us, and gives us courage and strength to unite ourselves more fully to Jesus’ own consecration of himself for the life of the world. In other words, she brings us to the Cross of Jesus, which is the final meaning of Jesus’ self-consecration, and she inspires us to spend ourselves for the salvation of the world, to take up our part in the work of redemption. As we take up our cross, as we live within Christ’s own consecration, we may become spiritually thirsty, desolate, and tired. That’s when Mary carries us to the pierced side of Christ, the Fountain of Mercy, where we find a ceaseless source of strength and holiness. Thus, to John Paul’s mind, entrustment to Mary leads to our consecration to Christ. In other words, one might say it’s a movement of “entrust-acration.”

MERCY Ultimately, Marian consecration leads us to Divine Mercy. Acts of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary lead to acts of trust in the Merciful Heart of Jesus. We see this in the story of Fatima and Pope John Paul, and especially in the Pope’s homily during his pilgrimage to Fatima in 1982, a pilgrimage of thanksgiving “to the mercy of God … and the Mother of Christ” for having saved his life. In that homily, John Paul repeatedly pointed out how Marian consecration leads us to the pierced Heart of Jesus, the Fountain of Mercy. This connection is part of the will of Jesus himself, who said to Sr. Lucia in 1936 that he wills the consecrationto Mary’s Heart “because I want my whole Church to acknowledge that consecration [that my mother requested at Fatima] as a triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that it may extend its veneration later on, and put the devotion to
this Immaculate Heart beside the devotion to My Sacred Heart.” Jesus wants to extend veneration and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary because she leads us most perfectly to him and helps us to receive the infinite mercy of his Heart.

Today’s Prayer: Spend the day pondering John Paul’s Marian teaching as it is summarized by these three words: Mother, Entrust-acration, and Mercy.

33 Days: Day 31

Blessed Mother Teresa

Three words summarize what we learned from Blessed Mother Teresa: (1) Thirst, (2) Heart, and (3) Covenant. Let’s ponder each one in turn.

THIRST … [Our Lady] was the first person to hear Jesus’ cry “I Thirst” with St. John, and I am sure Mary Magdalen. Because Our Lady was there on Calvary, she knows how real, how deep is His longing for you and for the poor. Do we know? Do we feel as she? Ask her to teach … . Her role is to bring you face to face, as John and Magdalen, with the love in the Heart of Jesus crucified. Before it was Our Lady pleading with Mother, now it is Mother in her name pleading with you —“listen to Jesus’ thirst.”
Let us try in a special way to come as close as the human heart can come to the Heart of Jesus and try to understand as much as possible Jesus’ terrible pain caused to him by our sins and His Thirst for our love. Thank God our Lady was there to understand fully the thirst of Jesus for love. She must have straight away said, “I satiate Your thirst with my love and the suffering of my heart.”
So let us ask Our Lady to help us understand.

HEART A key to Mother Teresa’s understanding of consecration is “heart,” specifically, the Immaculate Heart. Recall her two prayers to Mary, “Lend me your heart” and “Keep me in your most pure heart.” Also, recall the importance of our imitating Mary’s pondering heart. Let’s start with the two prayers and then review Mary’s heart-pondering attitude. Lend me your heart. By this prayer, Mother Teresa was asking Our Lady to give her the love of her heart. In other words, she says “Mary, help me to love with the perfect love of your Immaculate Heart.” Remember, Mother Teresa’s passionate desire was to satiate the thirst of Jesus for love, and she wanted to do this in the best possible way. What better way to love Jesus than with the perfect, humble, immaculate heart of his mother? Here, Mother Teresa found the secret to living out her vocation to the full: “Mary, lend me your Immaculate Heart.” Keep me in your most pure heart. Or, stated more fully, one prays, “Immaculate Heart of Mary, keep me in your most pure heart, so that I may please Jesus through you, in you, and with you.”116 This part of Mother Teresa’s consecration to Mary is the most profound. She’s not just asking for Mary’s heart to be in her but for her to be in Mary’s heart! So, this is a prayer to
love Jesus through Mary, in Mary, and with Mary. This is something more than simply having Mary lend us her heart. To understand this and live it requires a loving dependence and profound union with Mary. This is expressed more fully in the next section “covenant.” Pondering heart. Mother Teresa developed an “attitude of gratitude” by following the example of Mary who was always “pondering in her heart” the “good things” that God was doing in her life (see Luke 2:19, 51). Specifically, Mother Teresa followed this example through her fidelity to the examination of conscience. In other words, at the end of each day, she would ponder in her heart all the good things God had done for her that day and would reflect on how she was or was not fully responding to his love.

COVENANT Moved by an ardent desire to live in the closest union with you [Mary] possible in this life, so as to more surely and fully arrive at union with your Son; I hereby pledge to live the spirit and terms of the following Covenant of Consecration as faithfully and generously as I am able.

Today’s Prayer: Spend the day pondering Teresa’s Marian teaching as it is summarized by these three words: Thirst, Heart, and Covenant.

33 Days: Day 30

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Three words summarize what we learned from St. Maximilian Kolbe: (1) Mystery, (2) Militia, and (3) Love. Let’s ponder each one in turn.

MYSTERY Who are you, O Immaculate Conception? St. Maximilian gives us the key to this mystery: The Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception, and Mary is the created Immaculate Conception. She is perfectly united to the Holy Spirit, because she was conceived without sin, never sinned, and always does the will of God perfectly. She allows the Holy Spirit to  overshadow her, take possession of her soul, and bear fruit through her. The Holy Spirit delights in always working in and through Mary to save all the other creatures made in God’s image, first by bringing about the Incarnation in her womb and then by making use of her to form the image of her Son in all of the baptized. While Kolbe gives us the key to the mystery, he doesn’t fully unlock it. Rather, he invites us to ponder ever more deeply the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit, a relationship that goes even deeper than that of marriage.

MILITIA The name “Maximilian” means “the greatest.” Saint Maximilian Kolbe was given this name because his superiors recognized his immense natural and spiritual gifts. He accepted it because it corresponded to his heart of hearts: “I don’t just want to give God great glory but the greatest glory.” Kolbe recognized that the greatest way to give glory to God is to unite oneself to the creature who glorifies God most perfectly, Mary Immaculate. He also realized that the way to give God the greatest glory is not to do so just as one person, but to have a whole army (“Militia”) of people who give God the greatest glory. In fact, he wanted this army of the Immaculate (“Militia Immaculata”) to eventually get the whole world to give God the greatest glory, through her, and as soon as possible. While the goal of Kolbe’s program is the conversion of the whole world, it begins with oneself. One must first give himself completely to the Immaculata as her possession and property and stay in union with her and totally dependent on her. Then, one is to inspire others to give themselves to her and to live in total dependence on her, so she can use them as consecrated instruments to bring the whole world to the Merciful Heart of Jesus. “Through the Immaculata we will attain the ultimate purpose of the [Militia Immaculata], that is, the greatest possible glory to God.”

LOVE Kolbe was united to Mary through a dependence of love. He tells us that we also ought to love the Immaculata. How? By relying on her powerful intercession, experiencing her tender care, speaking to her from our hearts, letting ourselves be led by her, having recourse to her in all things, and trusting her completely. Recall his words, “My dear, dear brothers, our dear little, little mother, the Immaculate Mary, can do anything for us. We are her children. Turn to her. She will overcome everything.”
When we experience Mary’s tender care for us, we’ll fall more in love with her. But we have to speak with her. We have to ask her. Yet what if, even after many signs of her love and care, we still don’t feel love for the Immaculata or her love for us? Kolbe explains: Never worry that you do not feel this love. If you have the will to love, you already give a proof that you love. What counts is the will to love. External feeling is also a fruit of grace, but it does not always follow the will. Sometimes, my dear ones, the thought, a sad longing, as if a plea or a complaint, may occur to you: “Does the Immaculata still love me?” Most beloved children! I tell you all and each one individually, in her name (mark that: in her name!), she loves every one of you. She loves you very much and at every moment with no exception. This … I repeat for you in her name.

Today’s Prayer: Spend the day pondering Kolbe’s Marian teaching as it is summarized by these three words: Mystery, Militia, and Love.

33 Days: Day 29

St. Louis de Montfort

Three words summarize what we learned from St. Louis de Montfort: (1) Passion, (2) Baptism, and (3) Gift. Let’s ponder each one in turn.

PASSION Recall that St. Louis inherited his father’s fiery temper. This could have led to disaster, but Louis consecrated himself to Jesus through Mary. He allowed Mary to take charge of his life and to do with him as she willed. And what did Mary do with him? She set him on fire. She transformed his unholy anger into a blazing holy fire. She acted with her Spouse, the Holy Spirit, to fill Louis with passion and zeal for Christ, and he proceeded to set all of Brittany on fire with a love for Jesus the Incarnate Wisdom — and not only Brittany. De Montfort’s inspiring teaching blazed through the centuries, igniting saints, popes, and even poor sinners with a burning love for God. We may not have been born with St. Louis’s fiery temper, but we could all use a portion of his zealous spirit. We could all use a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who stirs souls into flame and fills them with holy fire. How do we invite this fire? How do we call it down? By imitating de Montfort’s example of going to Mary, depending on Mary, and being with Mary. For, as Louis himself says, when the Holy Spirit, Mary’s spouse, finds a soul united to Mary, “He flies there. He enters there in His fullness; He communicates Himself to that soul abundantly, and to the full extent to which it makes room for His spouse.” The Holy Spirit wants to work his wonders even in our day. He wants to raise up new saints, great saints. Why, then, does he do so, so rarely? According to de Montfort, it’s because he rarely finds in us a sufficiently great union with Mary. In this final stretch that leads to Consecration Day, may we go with great zeal to give ourselves completely to Mary and allow the Holy Spirit to fly to us and fill us with holy passion and fire.

BAPTISM Saint Louis places his devotion to Mary squarely within the mystery of Christ.The best example of this is how he begins his formula for consecration with a renewal of baptismal vows; for Baptism is all about Christ. At Baptism, we’re transformed into members of the Body of Christ, made into “other Christs.” Baptism also has to do with the Holy Spirit. I say this because it was the Holy Spirit who first formed Christ, and it is the Holy Spirit who continues to form other Christs — the members of Christ’s Body — at every Baptism. Now, who does the Holy Spirit use to form Christ? He uses Mary, even though he has no absolute need of her. So, for example, he made use of Mary at the Annunciation, which led to the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior. He made use of Mary just before Pentecost, which led to the birth of the Body of Christ, the Church. He makes use of Mary at every Baptism, which gives birth to “other Christs,” the members of his Body. The Holy Spirit always makes use of Mary to give birth to Christ! And the more he finds a soul that is united to Mary “the more active and mighty He becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul, and that soul in Jesus Christ.” It is fitting, then, that de Montfort has us renew our baptismal promises in the context of giving ourselves to Mary. For it is her job, with the Holy Spirit, to bring the grace of Baptism to its fulfillment. Baptism isn’t the end; it’s a marvelous beginning, a gloriously new morning. Yes, it transforms us, making us into members of Christ’s Body — but there’s more work to be done. Baptism is an already-but-not-yet reality. It already makes us into Christ (as a member of his Body) but not yet fully formed in Christ. After Baptism, we still have to grow in Christ, and it’s Mary’s job to oversee and nurture this growth, with the Spirit. Thus, there’s no question of de Montfort’s devotion to Mary “taking us away from Christ.” Mary’s whole goal is to lead us to Christ and to bring us to the point where we can say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I that live but Christ” (Gal 2:20). The whole goal of true devotion to Mary is our ongoing, post-baptismal transformation in Christ.

GIFT If only we have the courage to give ourselves completely to Mary, then we’ll experience Marian consecration as an incredible gift. Moreover, the more we give ourselves to her, the more we’ll experience the greatness of this gift. We give, and she gives back infinitely more. We give her our sinful selves, and she gives us her Immaculate Heart. We give her our own meager merits, and she not only augments and purifies them with her perfect love but gives us her infinitely greater merits and graces. We become empty after having given her all, and she fills us with the Spirit of God. She cares for our family, friends, and loved ones on our behalf — even better than we ourselves can. She anticipates our needs and orders every detail of our lives for the greater glory of God. The path of holiness with her is “a path of roses and honey” compared to walking it without being consecrated to her. Indeed, she makes even our crosses and trials into something sweet. Moreover, she protects us from temptation and the attacks of the evil one. Belonging completely to Mary is the quickest, easiest, and surest way to Jesus. If we were to fully realize how great a gift consecration to Jesus through Mary is, we’d almost never stop smiling and praising God for giving it.

Today’s prayer: Spend the day pondering de Montfort’s Marian teaching as it is summarized by these three words: Passion, Baptism and Gift.

33 Days: Day 28

Marian Entrustment (Part Two)

Let’s return to Fatima, where we started this week — but this time let’s go with St. John Paul II. Exactly one year after being shot in St. Peter’s Square, John Paul went to Fatima “in order to give thanks that the mercy of God and the protection of the Mother of Christ” had saved his life. On that occasion, he delivered a heartfelt homily that’s a rich source of the theology of Marian consecration and entrustment. The entire homily and Act of Entrustment are too long to cite here. So, I’m going to summarize. Specifically, I’m going to draw out from them the connection the Pope makes between consecration to Mary, Divine Mercy, and the redeeming consecration of Christ. Let’s start with the connection between Mary and Divine Mercy. Before we begin, a few things about Divine Mercy: (1) According to John Paul, Divine Mercy is the limit imposed by God on evil, the love of God in the face of evil; (2) Divine Mercy is symbolized by the pierced side of Christ and the blood and water that gushed forth from his side; (3) a central part of the modern Divine Mercy devotion is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which offers atonement and implores mercy for our sins and those of the whole world. In what follows, notice how these three aspects of Divine Mercy are central to the Pope’s most important homily on Marian consecration. The homily’s context is the widespread, “almost apocalyptic” evil of our time, an evil that “menaces,” that is “spreading,” and that gathers “like a dark cloud over mankind.” The Pope confesses that this evil causes “trepidation” in his heart. Despite this, he finds hope in “a Love more powerful than evil” which no “sin of the world can ever overcome.” This Love he identifies as “merciful Love.”
And what about this merciful Love? What does it have to do with Marian consecration? Everything. It has everything to do with consecration because Mary is the one who brings us to the source of merciful Love. Mary is the one who brings us to the love that is more powerful than evil. Indeed, as John Paul says in his homily, consecration to the Immaculate Heart means “drawing near, through the Mother’s intercession, to the very Fountain of Life that sprang from Golgotha.”102 What is this fountain of life? The Pope identifies it as “the Fountain of Mercy.” It’s the pierced side of Christ from which blood and water flowed as a source of grace and mercy. And it’s through this wound in Christ’s Heart that “reparation is made continually for the sins of the world.” Moreover, through this Fountain of Mercy, we find “a ceaseless source of new life and holiness.” The Pope goes on to explain that consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means “returning to the Cross of the Son.” It means bringing the world and all its problems and sufferings to “the pierced Heart of the Savior” and thus “back to the very source of its Redemption.” It means bringing the world, through Mary, to Divine Mercy! The power of the Redemption, the power of merciful Love, “is always greater than man’s sin and the ‘sin of the world’” and is “infinitely superior to the whole range of evil in man and the world.” Now, Mary knows the power of the Redemption, the power of merciful Love, better than anyone. In fact, John Paul says she knows it “more than any other heart in the whole universe, visible and invisible.” Therefore, she calls us not only to conversion but “to accept her motherly help to return to the source of Redemption.” For again, Mary’s task is to bring us to the Fountain of Mercy, to the pierced side of Christ, to his Merciful Heart. Essentially, then, consecrating ourselves to Mary “means accepting her help to offer ourselves and the whole of mankind” to the infinitely Holy God. It means entrusting ourselves to she who was most united to Christ’s own consecration: “Hail to you who are wholly united to the redeeming consecration of your Son!” It means entrusting ourselves to Mary’s prayers, that she may “help us to live with the whole truth of the consecration of Christ for the entire human family of the modern world.” In other words, consecrating ourselves to Mary means relying on her motherly intercession to help us offer ourselves more fully to Christ in his own consecration for our redemption. After putting himself and the world into Mary’s hands and Heart, after giving himself to she who is most wholly united to Jesus’ consecration, the Pope prays the heart of his act of  entrustment. Let’s conclude by pondering it deeply in our own hearts:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). It was precisely by reason of this love that the Son of God consecrated himself for all mankind: “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19). By reason of that consecration the disciples of all ages are called to spend themselves for the salvation of the world, and to supplement Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the Church (see 2 Cor 12:15; Col 1:24). Before you, Mother of Christ, before your Immaculate Heart, I today, together with the whole Church, unite myself with our Redeemer in this his consecration for the world and for people, which only in his divine Heart has the power to obtain pardon and to secure reparation.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Draw me in, with, and through Mary to the Fountain of Love and Mercy.

33 Days: Day 27

Marian Entrustment (Part One)

Now that we’ve completed our three-day, mini-retreat with Mary, we should have a clearer sense of Mary’s maternal mediation. This motherly mediation is the key that unlocks the whole theology of Marian consecration. And now that we have this key, we’re ready to learn exactly what John Paul means by Marian consecration, or as he usually refers to it, “Marian  entrustment.” To begin, we need to go back to the foot of the Cross. “Woman, behold, your son.” With these words, Jesus is entrusting all of humanity to Mary’s motherly care. He’s making her the spiritual mother of all. And as we learned yesterday, Mary fully accepted this gift “with burning love.” Next, Jesus speaks to John, the beloved disciple, who represents all of us: “Behold, your mother.” Jesus is now giving us a gift, the great gift of his mother as our spiritual mother. Do we accept this gift? Yes. At least we’re trying to (otherwise, we wouldn’t be making this retreat). But how do we accept it? This is the crucial question. According to Pope John Paul, the following Gospel text tells us how we are to accept Mary as our spiritual mother, “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn 19:27). The Pope describes this action with one word: “entrusting.” We see an example of this in the person of John, who entrusted himself to Mary, who was herself entrusted to John by Christ, “Behold, your mother.” John’s entrusting of himself to Mary is his response to Christ’s command from the Cross, but it’s not only that. It’s also a response to Mary’s “burning love” for us: “entrusting is the response to a person’s love, and in particular to the love of a mother.” John Paul goes on to describe the nature of this entrusting of oneself to Mary:
Entrusting himself to Mary in a filial manner, the Christian, like the Apostle John, “welcomes” the Mother of Christ “into his own home” and brings her into everything that makes up his inner life, that is to say into his human and Christian “I”: he “took her to his own home.” Thus the Christian seeks to be taken into that “maternal charity” with which the Redeemer’s Mother “cares for the brethren of her Son,” “in whose birth and development she cooperates” in the measure of the gift proper to each one through the power of Christ’s Spirit. Thus also is exercised that motherhood in the Spirit which became Mary’s role at the foot of the Cross and in the Upper Room.
This entrusting of oneself to Mary, which the Pope beautifully describes as taking her “into one’s own home,” should be understood as our following of Christ’s own example — he first entrusted himself to Mary at the Annunciation and then throughout the Hidden Life — and as his will for his disciples. After all, he himself initiates such entrustment, “Behold, your mother.” But why does Christ do this? Is it that he wants to distance himself from us? No. He’s bringing us closer to  himself by giving us to the one who is closest to him, the same one who directs everything to him, “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary wants to act upon all those who entrust themselves to her as children. “And it is well known,” says the Pope, “that the more her children persevere and progress in this attitude, the nearer Mary leads them to the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ.’" Again, this is so both because of the unique closeness of Mary to Christ and because of her special role of bringing others into the intimacy she shares with him. Tomorrow, we’ll see how this closeness of Mary to Christ, particularly in his consecration of himself for our sake, helps us make our own consecration to Christ. This is the whole purpose behind why we entrust ourselves to Mary: It’s so she can bring us even closer to Christ through her powerful prayers and motherly love.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Prepare me to entrust myself completely to Mary so she can bring me closer to Christ

33 Days: Day 26

Mary’s Retreat (Day Three)

Yesterday, at the wedding feast of Cana, we saw a glorious example of Mary’s motherly mediation. After this event, Mary surely pondered it deeply in her heart and discovered much about her maternal mediation. Yet Cana was not the most  important part of her preparation. The “crowning  moment” of her preparation — indeed, its full actualization — came at Calvary. At Calvary, Mary suffers with Christ. Through faith, she is “perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying.” Through faith, she shares in the whole “shocking mystery” of his gift of himself out of love for us. Through faith, “the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death.” Before his death, Jesus has one more lesson for his perfect disciple, who has  followed him to the Cross and fully accepted to suffer with him. Seeing her standing at the foot of the Cross next to his beloved disciple, John, he says, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then, to John, “Behold, your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). With these words, Jesus gives Mary as Mother “to every single individual and all mankind.”91 According to John Paul, this “new motherhood of Mary” is “the fruit of the ‘new’ love which came to definitive maturity in her at the foot of the Cross, through her sharing in the redemptive love of her son.” This “new love,” says John Paul, actually causes a “transformation” in Mary’s motherhood such that she burns even more with love for all those for whom Jesus suffered and died. This idea that Mary, at the foot of the Cross, received a new, burning love for souls may remind us of Mother Teresa’s deep insight about Mary. Recall that, for Teresa, Mary is the one who took Jesus’ words “I thirst” most deeply to heart and that she helps others to take them to heart as well. Anyway, John Paul further reflects on Mary’s transformation in love:
[A]t the foot of the Cross there was … accomplished her maternal cooperation with the Savior’s whole mission through her actions and sufferings. Along the path of this collaboration with the work of her Son, the Redeemer, Mary’s motherhood itself  underwent a singular transformation, becoming even more  imbued with “burning charity” toward all those to whom Christ’s mission was directed. Through this “burning charity,” which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of  “supernatural life to souls,” Mary entered, in a way all her own, into the one mediation “between God and men” which is the  mediation of the man Christ Jesus.
At Calvary, Mary’s preparation is ended. She has received the full gift of her universal spiritual motherhood and mediation, which is a unique cooperation in Christ’s work of redemption and a sharing in his mediation. After Jesus’ death on the Cross, we don’t hear about Mary exercising her new motherhood until the day before Pentecost, when the apostles, together with “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brethren” (Acts 1:14), are devoting themselves to prayer in the upper room. John Paul comments, “We see Mary prayerfully imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already  overshadowed her at the Annunciation.” He goes on to point out that Mary is the “discreet yet essential presence” that indicates the path of “birth from the Holy Spirit” first at the Annunciation and now at the birth of the Church. Mary’s new spiritual motherhood is deeply connected with the Church, “‘with maternal love she cooperates in the birth and development’ of the sons and daughters of Mother Church.” This birth and development has its source in the Church’s sacramental life, where Mary’s motherly mediation is particularly present. For instance, Mary is surely interceding and active with her Spouse, the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit transforms us into members of Christ’s body at Baptism. Moreover, she is just as present and active with her Spouse at Mass; for it is at Mass that Christ’s “true body born of the Virgin Mary” becomes present. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in Christian faith and life, Mary is always striving to lead the faithful to it. As we close today’s reflection, which concludes the three days of “Mary’s spiritual motherhood retreat,” we should keep in mind one important point: Mary’s new motherhood is not some vague or abstract sort of thing. It’s concrete and personal. And even though it’s universal, it’s also intensely particular. Mary is yourmother. She is mymother. In this light, John Paul thinks it’s significant that Mary’s new motherhood on Calvary is  expressed in the singular, “Behold, your son” not “Behold, your billions of spiritual children.” The Pope gets to the heart of it when he says, “Even when the same woman is the mother of many children, her personal relationship with each one of them is of the very essence of motherhood.” In short: Mary is uniquely, particularly, personally your mother and my mother, and she doesn’t lose us in the crowd.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Thank you for the gift of my loving Mother, Mary.

33 Days: Day 25

Mary’s Retreat (Day Two)

Yesterday, we began a “retreat within our retreat” by joining Mary’s retreat. In other words, we began to ponder the ways that Jesus prepared Mary to understand and fully embrace her new motherly role in the kingdom of God. Today, we continue this retreat at the wedding feast of Cana, where Mary’s motherly mediation gloriously shines forth. Let’s review the scene (Jn 2:1-12). The mother of Jesus is at a wedding feast, and Jesus and his disciples are also invited — presumably because of Mary. The wine runs short. Mary notices this, and brings it to the attention of her Son, “They have no wine.” Jesus seems to rebuke her, “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary nevertheless tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” The servants follow Jesus’ orders to fill stone jars with water. Then the water becomes wine, and the disciples believe. Let’s now ponder deeply John Paul’s commentary on this scene. His words get to the heart of Mary’s role in our lives and explain why we should be seeking to consecrate ourselves to her:
[Cana] clearly outlines the new dimension, the new meaning of Mary’s motherhood. … [It is] a new kind of motherhood according to the spirit and not just according to the flesh, that is to say Mary’s solicitude for human beings, her coming to them in the wide variety of their wants and needs. At Cana in Galilee there is shown only one concrete aspect of human need, apparently a small one of little importance (“They have no wine”). But it has a symbolic value: this coming to the aid of human needs means, at the same time, bringing those needs within the radius of Christ’s messianic mission and salvific power. Thus there is a mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs, and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as Mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she “has the right” to do so. Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession: Mary “intercedes” for mankind. And that is not all. As a Mother she also wishes the messianic power of her Son to be manifested, that salvific power of his which is meant to help man in his misfortunes, to free him from the evil which in various forms and degrees weighs heavily upon his life. … Another essential element of Mary’s maternal task is found in her words to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” The Motherof Christ presents herself as the spokeswoman of her Son’s will, pointing out those things which must be done so that the salvific power of the Messiah may be manifested. At Cana, thanks to the intercession of Mary and the obedience of the servants, Jesus begins “his hour.” At Cana Mary appears as believing in Jesus. Her faith evokes his first “sign” and helps to kindle the faith of the disciples. … [T]he episode at Cana in Galilee offers us a sort of first announcement of Mary’s mediation, wholly oriented toward Christ and tending to the revelation of his salvific power.89 I’d like to highlight a few important points from this passage for us to ponder. (1) Not by necessity but by God’s choice, “the handmaid of the Lord” who does the Father’s will perfectly has a “right” as mother and mediatrix to point out to her Son the needs of mankind. Shouldn’t we have recourse to such a powerful Mother of Mercy with regard to our own needs and intentions? (2) Mary needs servants who will obey her words, “Do whatever he tells you.” Are we ready to be her servants so Jesus can begin his “hour” in our day? (3) It’s clear from the words “Do whatever he tells you” that Mary’s role is “wholly oriented toward Christ” and tends to the revelation of his saving power. Mary’s mediation, therefore, is in union with and subordinate to the one mediation of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Remind me to ask for Mary’s powerful intercession in my times of need

33 Days: Day 24

Mary’s Retreat (Day One)

During this retreat, we’ve been pondering in our hearts certain truths of our faith that relate to Marian consecration. One might say we’re on a kind of “pilgrimage of faith” leading up to Consecration Day. During her earthly life, Mary, too, was on a kind of retreat and pilgrimage of faith. She, too, pondered in her heart different truths related to Marian consecration. After all, she didn’t discover all at once her vocation to be a spiritual mother and mediatrix. Like us, Mary needed to walk by faith while pondering in her heart. She, too, needed a time of preparation regarding her special role as our “mother in the order of grace.” Because Mary’s maternal mediation is so central to a proper understanding of Marian consecration, we’re going to spend the next few days making a retreat within our retreat. We’ll do this by peering in on Mary’s retreat. In other words, we’re going to accompany Mary along the way that God led her to progressively discover her vocation to be our spiritual mother and mediatrix. In some sense, Mary’s retreat begins at the Annunciation. By her “yes” to God, her “fiat,” she accepted her vocation to be the mother of Jesus. But did she also know that she was accepting the call to be the spiritual mother to all Christians as well? I don’t know. What I do know is that the whole mystery of the Annunciation gave Mary something amazing to ponder, something that happens to be deeply related to Marian consecration and entrustment. Let me put it this way: Who was the first  person to entrust himself to Mary? It wasn’t St. Louis de Montfort. It was God the Father. John Paul explains, “For it must be recognized that before anyone else it was God himself, the Eternal Father, who entrusted himself to the Virgin of Nazareth, giving her his own Son in the mystery of the Incarnation.” Mary surely marveled at this act of humility on God’s part. As she marveled and pondered it, might she have begun to have some inkling that God would later want the people he came to redeem to follow his example? Mary had many other things to ponder during her preparation to be ever more completely our mother in the order of grace. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) offer several points of reflection that speak to Mary’s spiritual motherhood. Take, for example, the passage in the Gospel of Mark (3:31-35) where Mary and Jesus’ cousins are outside, wanting to see Jesus, and so they send for him and call to him. Jesus responds by asking, “Who are my mother and my bretheren?” Then, looking at those sitting around him, he says “Here are my mother and my bretheren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” In giving this response, was Jesus being a bad son? No. He was being exactly the kind of son his Father wanted him to be. At the same time, he was preparing his mother for who he wanted her to be. Specifically, he was revealing to her the new filial bond of the kingdom that goes beyond the bonds of the flesh. In other words, he was pointing out the primacy of the spirit to the flesh, the primacy of the supernatural Fatherhood of God to the natural fatherhood (or motherhood) of man. It’s likely that Mary immediately grasped some of what Jesus was trying to teach her. After all, for years she had pondered in her heart another strange response of Jesus, the one he gave when she found him in the Temple after three days of sorrowful searching: “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). During his public ministry, Jesus was indeed completely concerned with his Father’s business. Now, a key part of this business involved preparing his mother for her new role in God’s kingdom. Jesus knew that “in the dimension of the Kingdom of God and in the radius of the fatherhood of God” Mary’s motherhood “takes on another meaning.” In the words reported by Mark that we read earlier, Jesus points to this meaning, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” We can be sure that Mary pondered this in her heart and that she realized that by these words, Jesus was not rejecting her but rather preparing her. Can we be sure Jesus wasn’t rejecting Mary? Yes, we can. Even if Jesus’ words sound like he’s rejecting her, they aren’t. In fact, if we consider a similar passage in the Gospel of Luke (11:27-28), it’s clear that Jesus is actually blessinghis mother. In this other passage, “a woman in the crowd raised her voice” and said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” Jesus responds in a way similar to what we read in Mark, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” At first reading, this may seem like a rebuke of Mary. But it’s not. After all, who heard the word of God and kept it better than Mary? Nobody. Thus, Jesus is actually blessing his mother, and she would have realized it. Mary is an incredibly perceptive woman, and she paid close attention to Jesus’ every word and action. The subtleties of his teaching were not lost on her, and she progressively came to realize the unfolding mystery of her own unique motherhood:
[A]s the messianic mission of her Son grew clearer to her eyes and spirit, [Mary] herself as a mother became ever more open to that new dimension of motherhood which was to constitute her “part” beside her Son. Had she not said from the very beginning: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38)? Through faith Mary continued to hear and to ponder that word … . Thus in a sense Mary as Mother became the first “disciple” of her Son, the first to whom he seemed to say: “Follow me” … .
What a joy it must have been for Jesus to have one disciple who fully understood him. What a consolation to his Heart to find such attentiveness to God’s Word! Tomorrow, we’ll reflect more on Mary’s attentiveness and how it led her to discover yet another aspect to her “part” beside her son in his work of salvation. This part does indeed involve, as John Paul wrote, a “new dimension of her motherhood.” Thus, at Cana, we’ll see that she gives birthto the faith of Jesus’ disciples by initiating his first miracle, which comes through her motherly attentiveness to human need.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Help me to be faithful to heart-pondering prayer,  as was Mary.

33 Days: Day 23

Maternal Mediation

As one of our guides to Consecration Day, St. John Paul II is a triple gift. Not only is he a Marian saint, like our other three guides; not only is he brilliant and thoroughly trained in theology, like de Montfort and Kolbe; but he is also a Pope. Therefore, his words carry the teaching authority of the successor of St. Peter … and the authoritative weight of an Ecumenical Council! Well, this is true in the sense that his teachings on the Mother of God are deeply rooted in the authoritative Mariology of the Second Vatican Council. Because of this dependence on the Council, before we look to John Paul’s teaching on Marian consecration, let’s see what the Council has to say about Mary. (Tomorrow, we’ll begin to ponder how John Paul builds on Vatican II’s teaching.) One can find the main Marian teachings of Vatican II in the last chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, known by its Latin title, Lumen Gentium. The heart of these teachings has to do with what’s usually called Mary’s “maternal mediation.” Maternal mediation basically means that Mary is our spiritual mother (hence “maternal”) who assists us from heaven with her prayers and motherly care to help bring us to God (hence “mediation”). While the term “maternal” should be familiar, “mediation” may need some explaining. A mediator is someone who stands between two people for the sake of bringing them into unity. Thus, Jesus Christ is a mediator. He is the one who, after the Fall, stands between God and fallen humanity to bring us back into communion with God. And there’s only one, as St. Paul makes clear, “[T]here is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 2:5). If there’s only one mediator between God and man, and if that one mediator is Jesus Christ, then why does the Second Vatican Council describe Mary as a mediator? Because God is generous. In other words, Jesus doesn’t keep his role as mediator to himself. He wants Mary — and not just Mary, but all Christians — to share in his one mediation, though in subordinate ways. For instance, each of us shares in Christ’s one mediation when we pray for one another “in Christ.” I mentioned a similar point in the  introduction when I wrote that God wants all of us to participate in his work of salvation. I also mentioned there that Mary has a uniquely important role in this work. Again, according to Vatican II, this special role is captured by the phrase “maternal mediation.” Among creatures, Mary’s role in the ongoing work of salvation is by far the most important. She was given such an important role “not from some inner necessity” on God’s part but “from the divine pleasure.” Again, we see God’s generosity in including us in the work of redemption, we the very same creatures he came to redeem. The following passage from Lumen Gentium summarizes Mary’s cooperation in this work both when she was on earth and now as she is in heaven: [T]he Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ. She presented him to the Father in the temple, and was united with him by compassion as he died on the cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of our Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace. This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal  fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant  intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth  surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.85 So, while on earth, Mary cooperated with God’s plan of salvation “above all others,” particularly by giving birth to and caring for Jesus. Now in heaven, Mary still cooperates in a special way in God’s plan of salvation. Through her “constant intercession” and “maternal charity,” she brings us grace, mercy, and the “gifts of eternal salvation.” Tomorrow, we’ll begin to see how John Paul develops this teaching on Mary’s motherhood in the order of grace. For now, we can reflect on this great gift of God: Mary is our spiritual mother whose Godgiven task is to nurture us with tender care and the gifts and graces that come to us through her loving prayers.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Fill my heart with praise to God for giving me Mary as my spiritual mother.

33 Days: Day 22

Mary’s Gift of Mercy

In 1917, while World War I raged, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. She told them that the war would end but if people didn’t convert, a worse war would follow and Russia would spread its errors throughout the world, causing more wars, martyrs, and persecutions of the Church. To prevent this, Mary asked that the Holy Father consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart and for people to make five consecutive “First Saturday” communions of reparation. In the end, she said, her Immaculate Heart would triumph. It’s interesting that Mary mentioned Russia. At the time, this was cause for confusion: Russia? Holy Russia? What errors would this devoutly Christian country spread throughout the world? And how could such a poor Russia exercise so much influence? (At this point in history, the Soviet revolution was in its infancy; the communist, atheist, totalitarian regime had not yet been established.) After Mary gave her prophesy about Russia, the children saw a vision involving a “bishop dressed in white,” who they understood to be the Pope. With great distress, they saw that he would suffer much and then be shot and killed. The children described what they saw only to Church authorities, who decided not to disclose it to the public. This became known as the last “secret” of Fatima.
Now, the very first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima happened on May 13, 1917, at 5 p.m. Exactly 64 years later, May 13, 1981, at 5 p.m., a small, open-air jeep rode out into St. Peter’s Square, carrying Pope John Paul II, who warmly greeted pilgrims gathered in the square. At one point, the jeep stopped so the Pope could take a little girl into his arms. After he gave her back to her jubilant parents, the jeep continued on its way through the sea of waving, cheering pilgrims. Suddenly, a gunman fired two shots at the Pope from close range. The first bullet grazed his elbow. The second struck him in the abdomen and ricocheted inside him, shredding intestines and piercing his colon. Miraculously, the bullet missed the main abdominal artery by one tenth of an inch. Had it been struck or even grazed, John Paul would have bled to death on the way to the hospital. Realizing this blessing, the Pope stated that “One hand fired, and another guided the bullet.”82 What hand guided the bullet? John Paul believes it was the hand of Our Lady of Fatima (the May 13th anniversary was not lost on him). In fact, after the shooting, he asked for the  envelope containing the last secret of Fatima, the one about the “bishop dressed in white.” Then, with Fatima much on his mind, he thought to consecrate the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart as soon as possible, and he began composing an act of entrustment, which he solemnly prayed less than a month later. Even before this, within a week of the shooting, he repeated his own personal consecration to Mary in a recorded address to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square: “To you, Mary, I  repeat: Totus tuus ego sum.”83 On March 25, 1984, in St. Peter’s Square, before the official statue of Our Lady of Fatima that had been flown in for the occasion, John Paul made a more solemn entrustment of the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. He concluded the prayer with the following words:
Let there be revealed, once more, in the history of the world the infinite saving power of the redemption: the power of merciful Love! May it put a stop to evil!
May it transform consciences! May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of Hope!
After learning of the Pope’s solemn entrustment, Sr. Lucia, the lone survivor of the three Fatima seers, declared that it fully satisfied Our Lady’s original request. Five years later, the horrific, Soviet, totalitarian regime that had terrorized millions of people suddenly came to an end. That victory won, the Pope didn’t rest. What he once called the “century of tears” was far from over. To confront the ongoing evil and injustice in the world, he forcefully proclaimed, with growing frequency, the saving power of God’s “merciful Love.” His efforts to promote this message culminated in the establishment of the universal Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2000 and a solemn Act of Entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy in 2002. Three years after this entrustment, the great Marian Pope, the great Mercy Pope, died on a first Saturday and the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. Mary had saved his life at the dawn of his pontificate so that, through him, her divine Son could lead the Church to the victory of Mercy and the triumph of her Immaculate Heart.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Have mercy on us and on the whole world!