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.  Memorial Day is uniquely dedicated to honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in service to our county, while Veteran's Day honors all those who have served in the Armed Forces. 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.

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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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life Lessons From Saint Peter

I LOVE St. Peter. The Scriptural accounts of the missteps of this outspoken, hot-tempered, passionate first Pope reveal a man who is flawed and weak. I can relate. Equally, the Scriptures reveal to us  a man whose life has been thoroughly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit - his flaws are remade into his greatest strengths. I can relate.

St. Peter's life, like that of all the Saints, opens up to us a litany of examples that we can both meditate upon and imitate in our own striving for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life.

Let's look at seven life lessons that we can draw from St. Peter. 

Grace builds on nature.
Boldness was a gift that Peter possessed in abundance - a gift that made him a natural born leader. The problem with natural gifts is that they are not always directed to the right ends or exercised in the right manner. Time and time again, Peter's natural gift of boldness landed him in hot water with the Lord. See Mt 16:22-23 and Jn 13: 6-11 for two examples.

Natural gifts need supernatural grace to purify them and build upon them. After Pentecost, Peter's natural gifts had been anointed by the Holy Spirit and we see his propensity for bold statements now transformed into his ability to preach the core Gospel message (the kerygma) in power. (Acts 2:14-37) Like Peter, we too need to ask the Lord for the anointing of the Holy Spirit to transform our natural gifts and talents into ones that will bear supernatural fruit.

Fear blocks faith. 
Perhaps one of the best-loved stories from the scriptures is that of Peter walking on the water. Here we see Peter, walking across the stormy sea at Jesus' command. This courageous act of faith is quickly overcome by the paralyzing grip of fear when Peter's eyes drift from Jesus to the wind and the waves which surround him. He begins to sink. (Mt 14:27-33)

Like Peter, I too have had moments in my relationship with Jesus where my faith and trust has led me to "walk on water". Similarly, I can recall far too many episodes in my own life where my focus has been on the wind and the waves around me and I have hit bottom like a lead brick. This Gospel account teaches us so many lessons, but perhaps the one that strikes me the most is that fear is a block to faith. When we allow our fears of "what could happen" or even "what should happen" to block our faith, we effectively block the power of grace. The Lord knows this and the words "Be not afraid" are one of the most often-repeated phrases in all of the Scriptures. In moments of conflict between fear and faith, let us ask St. Peter for his intercession to help us keep our eyes on Jesus and continue to walk on water.

No sin too great for the Lord's mercy.
Denying the Lord is a grave sin. Jesus, in a discourse directed to the Apostles, warns them of the consequences of such a denial: "But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father" .(Mt. 10:33)  He directly foretells Peter's denial to him. (Lk 22:34) In spite of these warnings, Peter does indeed succumb to his own weakness and vehemently denies that he knows Jesus three times. (Lk 22: 54-62)

Luke's Gospel relates to us that immediately after his denials, the "Lord turned and looked at Peter." (Lk 22:61). I can only imagine that look of love and mercy - of sheer compassion that Jesus gave to Peter in that moment. A look which expressed his desire to forgive Peter and his knowledge of the great potential inside Peter in spite of his outward failings. No sin is above the mercy of the Lord. When we sin, we have only to seek that look of love from Jesus in the sacrament of Confession to be restored to his grace.

Discipleship sometimes requires a career change.
Peter's encounter with the Lord led him to abandon his fishing career to follow Jesus as his disciple. After only a few short years in training, he made a post-Pentecost career change to preacher, healer, foreign missionary and head of the budding universal church. None of these changes came up after reading What Color is Your Parachute? and meeting with a career counselor.

Encounters with Jesus still lead to career changes today. Not long after I experienced a powerful conversion in the year 2000, I was led to quit my six-figure job and trade my successful career for a life of service as a stay at home Mom. Nearly two decades later, I am homeschooling, studying theology, writing, speaking and still in awe of all the Lord has done in my life.

Not all disciples are required to make such dramatic career changes. What is required of all disciples is that we submit our career to the Lordship of Jesus and allow him to direct our path, trusting that his plans for our lives are far better than any that we could conceive for ourselves.

Try not to fall asleep in the chapel.
One of my favorite accounts from the Gospels is that of the Lord rebuking Peter, James and John for falling asleep while he was praying in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus says to Peter: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Mk 14:37-38)

Why do I love this account?  Because more often than not, I too find myself  giving in to the weakness of my own flesh. It is a comfort to me to know that I am not alone in my struggles. Prayer can sometimes be difficult. Every time I sit down to pray I battle distractions, fatigue, and the temptation to insert my own agenda into my prayer time. Far from being discouraging, Jesus' words spurn me on to continue to persevere in prayer in spite of the obstacles - asking the Holy Spirit to "come to the aid of our weakness". (Rom 8:26)

Share what you have been given.
In Acts Chapter 3 we read about the crippled beggar asking Peter and John for money. Here is Peter's reply: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk.” (Acts 3:6) The crippled beggar was intermediately healed.

Peter gave the beggar a far greater gift than the alms that he was asking for. He gave him the gift of healing which he had received through the power of the Holy Spirit sent to the church by the Risen Lord Jesus at Pentecost. All of us, by virtue of our Baptism, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and like Peter, we too need to share that gift with others. 

The sharing of what we have received may not always take the form of physical healing, but we must be open to opportunities to see through what people are asking for to what they really need. Our world is filled with people who are crippled in many ways - let us imitate Peter and boldly share the gift of hope and salvation in Jesus that we have received. 

Prepare your testimony.
Peter writes in one of his letters a directive that applies to us today as much as it did to his readers nearly 2000 years ago: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..." (1 Pet 3:15) Our testimony is simply that: a witness of what Jesus has done for us which is the foundation of our hope. Peter goes on to describe the way this testimony should be delivered: "with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet 3:16)

When we follow Jesus, people will be curious about our beliefs and our lives. Not all of us have dramatic conversion stories, but all faithful disciples of Jesus have moments of encounter with the Lord that can serve a lifeline to those walking in darkness. It is helpful to intentionally reflect on those special moments in prayer  - perhaps even writing them down in a journal. In this way, we too will be ready to give this "explanation" to anyone who asks.

St. Peter, pray for us.

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