Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Is There Anything Else You Need?": A Conversation Between St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe is my favorite Marian apparition. I have always been drawn to her and the story of her appearances to St. Juan Diego.  I love so many things about her:
  • the fact that she is pregnant, as indicated by the Aztec maternity belt that she is wearing
  • the extravagance and beauty of the sign she gave to Bishop Zumarraga : Castilian roses, miraculously picked in full bloom on the hills of Tepayac, Mexico in the middle of December
  • the rich intricacy of her image mysteriously placed on Juan Diego's tilma, which should have long since disintegrated, but remains intact as a sign of contradiction to the wise and learned of the world and an image of hope and joy to the childlike
  • the staggering number of Aztec conversions to Catholicism which occurred in Mexico in the years following her apparition and the continuing steadfastness faith of the Mexican people
Most of all I love the words which she spoke to Juan Diego: words of comfort, solace and hope - words which she speaks to us and to all her children today:

As the Church once again celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I find myself pondering her pointed question to Juan Diego: "Is there anything else you need? Over and over that phrase turns in my mind -- is there anything else I need?  Juan Diego could answer that question and place his complete trust in the Mother of God who was standing directly in front of him. I have not been given such a privilege. I am, however, asked to have the same trust and faith that he did.

I find myself asking her to beg her Son, our Lord Jesus to give me the grace of complete trust in her words. I long to be able to live freely as a child of God, knowing that my heavenly Mother is with me, as she was over 500 years ago with Juan Diego and the embittered, enslaved Aztec people.

How do we come to the full trust and belief that if the Mother of God is with us, then there is nothing else we need? The answer lies in our Lady's own words: "Listen and let it penetrate your heart..." To grow in complete trust and surrender to the will of the Lord, we must listen carefully - to the Word of God in the Scriptures, to the teachings of the Church and to the still, small voice of the Lord that speaks to each and every one of us in the depths of our hearts. We need to soak in those words and let them penetrate every aspect of our lives. The we too, like Juan Diego, will be able to go forth in trust, in peace, and in power to bring the Good News to the hurting world around us.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
Read related posts here:
Recourse to Thee
The Angelus: Domestic Church Style
31 Ways to Grow In Devotion To Mary
7 Lessons From the Visitation

Friday, December 8, 2017

Recourse to Thee

As the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I am reminded of the words given by Mary to St, Catherine Laboure which are inscribed around the edge of the Miraculous Medal: 
"O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." 

The words "O Mary conceived without sin" are exactly the reality which we celebrate on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - the fact that our Blessed Mother was preserved from all sin, including that of original sin, by a special grace. It is the second part of the prayer that I have been thinking about recently: "pray for us who have recourse to thee." Those words are not exactly 21st century suburban lexicon. I have come to understand this powerful phrase through the lens of my own motherhood.

As a Mom I have experienced the perplexing phenomenon of having my children run straight past their Dad and directly into my arms sobbing and relaying their latest tale of woe -- anything and everything from "I'm hungry" to "I don't feel well" to the perennial "We have no toilet paper." Often, their needs are not something that I can directly meet - at least on my own. It is my role to take those needs and advocate for my children - with my husband, or the pediatrician, or a teacher, or even another child. As a Mom, I sometimes feel like the majority of my day is spent anticipating my children's needs and seeing that they are met. I do so out of my great love for my children and they, in turn, sense that love and have recourse to me. There is no greater satisfaction for me than knowing that it is my love and help that have brought peace and comfort to one of my children.

The reality is that my children don't analyze this recourse - they don't read books about it; they don't question it or debate it; they don't agonize over whether they should be calling the pediatrician or the piano teacher directly. They seek out and accept my help as naturally as they accept breathing.

From the cross the Lord Jesus gave us the most precious gift of being able to call his Mother, our Mother.  He gave us the ability to have recourse to her - to seek her help and intercession whenever and wherever we need it. In our Blessed Mother, we find those maternal arms open and waiting for us to run to her and tell her our latest tale of woe. In her, we find an Mother who will advocate for the well-being of us, her children. More than that, we find in our Blessed Mother, a mother who is constantly watching for the as yet unnoticed and unspoken needs of her children and asking her Son to meet those needs as she did for the wedding couple who had run out of wine so many years ago.

Thank you Lord, for the gift of Mary as our Mother. Help us to see and recognize
the love she has for us as her children and give us the grace to seek her help and prayers,
knowing that she takes them directly to you!

Read related posts here:
The Angelus: Domestic Church Style
31 Ways to Grow In Devotion To Mary
7 Lessons From the Visitation
"Is There Anything Else You Need": A Dialogue between Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Silence of Remembering

The details of my first visit to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery are permanently etched in my mind. My family and I were on a sight-seeing vacation to Washington, DC and I was a just entering my teen years. I was at that age - you know the one - the age when my knowledge of the mysteries of  life far surpassed that  of my parents, or any other authority figure, or so I thought. The age when the future lay ahead and sitting around remembering the things of the past seemed like a colossal waste of my adolescent time.

It was a steamy, sunny day as we made our way to the Tomb. Away from the city noise of D.C., the first thing I noticed at the Tomb was the silence. This was no ordinary silence. It was a silence filled with solemnity, with ritual and with sadness. We stood and watched the military guard, dressed from head to toe in the most pristine uniform, sweat dripping from his brow, his jaw set and his eyes fixed forward. He marched back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in a mesmerizing rhythm before the tomb of his fallen brothers.

After a what seemed like an eternity of silent watching, we witnessed the ceremony of the changing of the guard - a ceremony, I later learned, which takes place around the clock, day and night, rain or shine, no matter who is or isn't watching. The guards, it occurred to me, are not putting on a show for the sake of the grumpy teenage tourist and her family. They are about something far greater.

In the silence and rhythmic repetition of the Tomb Guard's walk, my own adolescent brain, seemingly hard-wired for noisy activity, had the time to stop and reflect on what was really happening in front of my eyes. Here I beheld a soldier, who saw it as his greatest privilege to stand guard over the grave of fallen soldiers whom he had never met, indeed, whose names he would never know.

He walked the guard shift as a way of honoring those who had given their lives so that he could have the privilege of standing guard over their graves in silence and freedom. He walked the guard shift as a way of consoling the parents who never had the opportunity to bury their sons and daughters. He walked the guard shift as a promise that the memory of those who have died for us would never be lost in the noise of everyday life. He walked the guard shift as a way of offering his life to honor those who had offered theirs.

Our nation dedicates two days each year to remember those who have served our great country in the military: Veterans' Day and Memorial Day.  For the Tomb Guard - each day of the year is a day to honor our veterans.  Let us all join the watch of the Tomb Guard in silent remembering of those who have given everything for us, the friends whose names they never knew. .

Read more about the life of a Tomb Guard here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Beating the Easter Monday Blues

The overriding sentiment which prevails at my house and in my heart each Easter Monday is the same.  It is finished.  The long 40 days of Lenten fasting, prayer and penance are completed.  The late nights of the Triduum liturgies are over.  Crumbs of the traditional Italian Easter bread and a handful of neon colored peeps are all that remain from Easter dinner. He is Risen indeed – so why does Easter Monday always get me down?

The Antidote

Pope Francis provides the antidote to my Easter Monday blues in his weekly audience which took place on Wednesday of Holy Week, 2015. The Holy Father highlights the “Easter Triduum of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ” as the “culmination of the Liturgical Year.”  He goes on to describe each of the events of the Triduum, their significance, and the direction they provide for living an authentic Christian life – one lived in imitation of the Paschal Mystery.

The Triduum is not merely a once a year reflection on events past.  It does not end on Easter Monday, or even at the conclusion of the Easter season.  Instead the Triduum is a mystery meant to be lived out every day, most perfectly in our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In his exposition of the Triduum, the Pope encourages the faithful to live out the virtues exemplified by our Lord Jesus  – different virtues for each event, united under the overarching virtue par excellence – love.

Holy Thursday: Christ the Servant

Pope Francis begins by reflecting on the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday saying:

“… the Gospel of this celebration expresses the same meaning of the Eucharist under another perspective. Jesus – as a servant – washes the feet of Simon Peter and the other eleven disciples (Cf. John 13:4-5). With this prophetic gesture, He expresses the meaning of his life and of his Passion, as service to God and to brothers: “For the Son of man has come not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).”
The Pope explains that by virtue of our Baptism, we too are called to imitate “Christ the Servant.” We are not merely to be casual observers of Jesus’ act of washing the feet of the apostles – sitting back and nodding in approval. The Holy Father stresses instead that we are to examine our consciences with regard to Jesus’ gesture of humility, service and love – challenging us with the following:

“If we approach Holy Communion without being sincerely disposed to wash one another’s feet, we do not recognize the Body of the Lord. It is Jesus’ service, giving himself totally.”
Good Friday: The Blood of the Martyrs

In speaking about Good Friday, Pope Francis encourages us to imitate not only the total self-giving sacrifice of our Lord, but also to imitate those “men and women in the course of the centuries, who with the testimony of their life reflect a ray of this perfect, full, uncontaminated love.”  The martyrs in particular, the Pope points out, “offer their life with Jesus to confess the faith” and in doing so provide a “service of Christian witness to the point of blood.”

Holy Saturday: Mary, Our Mother

The Holy Father highlights our Blessed Mother as the model of the virtue of hope – hope that continued even on the darkest of days – Holy Saturday.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in reflections on our Lord’s passion, describes the intensity of Mary’s hope: “ she hoped in God when she saw the last human reason for hope disappear.” No other day in human history tempts the world to despair as much as the silence of Holy Saturday.

The readings from the Liturgy of the Hours tell us: “The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh…”

Mary’s witness to us encourages us to persevere in hope, even when we are experiencing our own dark days.  Father Cantalamessa sums up what our response should be when darkness covers our corner of the earth: “When this hour arrives, remember Mary’s faith and pray , ‘Father, I no longer understand you, but I trust you!’”

Pope Francis concluded his audience by exhorting the church:

“…in these days of the Holy Triduum, let us not limit ourselves to commemorating the Lord’s Passion, but let us enter in the mystery, let us make his sentiments are own, his attitudes, as the Apostle Paul invites us to do: ”Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).”

There are no Monday morning blues on Easter Monday when we choose to truly “enter the mystery” that we have just concluded celebrating in the Triduum. Easter is not an end of the celebration but rather,  a new beginning – another opportunity to imitate the Lord, to grow in virtue, to live the mystery.

Quotes from Father Cantalamessa are from “The Fire of Christ’s Love – Meditations on the Cross”  Word on Fire Press

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How To Be Successful At Lent

If I had to list my most "successful" Lents I would probably say the following ranked as the top three:
  1. The year I gave up shopping and did really well except for the pair of shoes that I bought and hid in my desk at work until Easter so my husband wouldn't notice them.  I sure did save a lot of money that year!  
  2. The year that I gave up coffee and no one at work wanted to speak to me before Noon.  Boy did that one require perseverance-especially on the part of  my co-workers. I did kick that nasty caffeine habit, though!
  3. Finally, there was the year I gave up grated parmesan cheese - what a major sacrifice for this Italian girl.  I practically top brownies with that stuff.  Talk about HOLY!!!  Plus, I lost a few pounds that year as well!  
Epic successes, all of them. Well done, Debbie. 

The problem is, Lent isn't about being successful.  Or about saving money. Or about losing weight. Lent is a matter of the heart. The celebration of Ash Wednesday begins with a reading from the book of Joel in which the Lord, speaking through the prophet Joel exhorts us to:

"Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting weeping and mourning. 
Rend your hearts and not your garments. (Joel 2:12-13

In the Psalm for Ash Wednesday, we read David's cries to the Lord, begging Him for his mercy after he has been caught in the grievous sin of arranging to have his lover's husband killed.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God." (Psalm 51:10)

Within the Daytime Prayer of the Liturgy of the House we read from Ezekiel:

"Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, 
and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit." (Exekiel 18:31)

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? In all of these readings, we are being urged to seek the Lord with our heart first. Furthermore, the condition our heart is in is also important: our hearts must be clean, pure, new, and whole. God doesn't want half of our heart. He doesn't want a heart intent on performing religious actions with an ulterior, self-serving motive. The Lord wants all of our heart and he wants us to surrender it to Him freely and  for the right reasons - out of love, thanksgiving and adoration.  The common failure of all my Lenten "successes" was that I had not given the Lord my heart. My resolutions focused on what the fasting would do for me. I was successful because I achieved my goals, but success was not what God was asking of me.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that fasting during Lent isn't important. Fasting is a key element of the three-fold practice of Lent which also includes prayer and alsmgiving. In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus warns of having the right motives when you fast, when you pray and when you give alms. (Matthew 6:2-16). The implication in his use of the word when is that all three of these practices will be observed. Jesus' warning is about the motive behind these practices. He is looking at the heart.

My prayer in the trenches of everyday life during this Lenten season is not that I am successful at fasting, prayer or almsgiving, but rather that, through the Lord's grace, Lent truly becomes a matter of the heart.

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