Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Preparations of the Christmas Mystery

We are only nine days away now from the Christmas Mystery – the birth of Emmanuel, the coming of the Christ in the Incarnation. At Christmas, we celebrate with great amounts of joy the coming of Jesus Christ as an infant. God becomes man and dwells among us. The Word that always is is now Incarnate. The Little Child is God eternal!

As we continue in the week that follows Gaudete Sunday, I found it fitting to provide to you three paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that talk about the preparations of the Christmas Mystery. Focusing on the main character of this past Sunday’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist, the Catechism explains the importance of his role in Salvation History as the precursor of the coming of the Messiah. Furthermore, the Advent Season prepares for this coming as well as the second coming when Christ will return.

St. John the Baptist icon

Icon of St. John the Baptist

The Catechism states,

The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the “First Covenant.” He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming. (#522)

St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. “Prophet of the Most High,” John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being “the friend of the bridegroom,” whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom. (#523)

When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (#524)

Keep in mind that Christmas is still not here for us Christians. Although the world is celebrating Christmas right now and has been for multiple weeks in the retail shops, we must continue our focus on preparing for the Coming of the Messiah. If you have a Nativity set in your home, make sure you don’t place baby Jesus in it until December 24/25. For when Christmas arrives, we celebrate an entire liturgical season and not just one day.

“Mondays with Mary – ‘Mary’s Nine-Month Advent’

Last year in the blog post, “Mondays with Mary” – The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I wrote the following –

“Trying to understand what the Blessed Virgin Mary was feeling one week before giving birth to Jesus is difficult since nothing about her thoughts are revealed to us in the Sacred Scriptures. At this point, it’s purely a speculative assessment. We know what Luke 2 tells us, however, we don’t know much more than this revelation. Was it difficult on Mary to be away from her family and her mother during this time? Even though the birth of Jesus was miraculous, as was his conception, what was Mary feeling? Did she know what was to occur?”

As is always the goal with these blog posts on Our Lady, I try to help you see the bigger picture with Mary’s role in Salvation History, the importance she plays in the life of Christ, and the importance of Marian theology in the life of the Church.

For today, I turn our attention to the words of the great 20th century Swiss Theologian and Catholic Priest, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who in his book, Mary for Today, focuses on “Mary’s Nine-Month Advent.” What Von Balthasar writes in this section plays in the same arena as what I sought to articulate last year in the blog from above. Mary’s Expectation and Mary’s Advent are in correlation with one another since her expectation comes in the final days of her advent.

Writing about the Blessed Virgin, Von Balthasar states,

“Mary’s nine-month Advent was not without pain…What Mary underwent during her Advent were above all mental and spiritual sufferings: every pregnancy that is lived in a genuinely human way includes a certain intercession, a certain suffering on behalf of the child on the way that is given to him as his birth as an invisible present of grace to take on the journey through life. It is a selfless hope, a commending to God or – if one does not know God – to the invisible powers that guide the fate of men and women. With what concern must Mary have prayed for the child growing within her and worried about it in advance! Did she have a premonition that the Messiah would have to suffer? We do not know.

Mary with Child - light

But some overpowering fate must await him. Simeon in the temple would confirm this to her: ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against..’ For woman, pregnancy does not proceed without some element of fear: for Mary not without some presentiment of the Cross. From the outset she had a share in it that could not be defined.

We do not know to what extent physical hardships were linked with these mental and spiritual sufferings; but it is quite possible that they lasted until shortly before the birth, which in the end took place as a miracle, as the sudden beginning of what is final and definitive. At the birth every pain was dissolved in pure light. How her womb opened and closed again we do not know, and it is superfluous to speculate about an event which for God was a child’s game, something much less important than the original overshadowing by the Holy Spirit.

Someone who accepts this first miracle as valid – and as a believer one has to, otherwise Jesus would have had two fathers – should not toss and turn over accepting the second miracle, the Virgin Birth. For Jews it is truly astonishing that that they should have been able firmly to translate into Greek with the work ‘virgin’ the old Hebrew prophecy ‘Behold, a young woman shall conceive’ (Is 7:14, where the term could already mean ‘virgin’). And thus only is it fitting that from the virginal son onward virginal fruitfulness should become a specific ‘vocation’ for men and women in the Church (1 Cor 7).”

So as we get more and more closer to the Incarnation on December 25, let us turn our gaze to Mary’s final days of her advent and ask her to lead us closer to her infant son, Jesus Christ. For it is always Mary, our Mother and Virgin, our Advocating Queen, who desires to bring us closer to Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

To learn more about Hans Urs Von Balthasar or to purchase his writings, please view his page on the Ignatius Press website.

12 Quotes from Pope St. John Paul II on Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today we celebrate the great Marian feast of Mexico – Our Lady of Guadalupe. Known as the Patroness of the Americas and patroness of my home diocese, Phoenix, the Virgin of Guadalupe is loved by both Mexicans and Americans. Not only does this continent love her; many Catholics across the globe also have a great devotion to Our Lady under this title as well.

JP II in sombreroOne man who had a deep devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe was Pope St. John Paul II. Visiting Mexico four times during his Pontificate, John Paul II loved visiting Mexico and speaking about Our Lady of Guadalupe, once saying he knew what it felt like to be a “Mexican Pope.” He also understood the correlations between his home country of Poland, and that of Mexico – two Catholic nations that had endured persecutions, yet remained faithful to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

Here are 12 quotes from Pope St. John Paul II from a variety of his homilies, speeches, and addresses during his four visits to Mexico -

“…to all of you, Mexicans, who have a splendid past of love for Christ, even in the midst of trials; to you who bear in the depths of your heart devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Pope wishes to speak today about something which is, and must increasingly be an essential Christian and Marian feature of yours: faithfulness to the Church.”

“…while waiting for the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Mother of God of Guadalupe, I experience the same sentiments, as when I used to go—and I hope that I will be able to go again in the not distant future—to the Sanctuary of the Mother of God of Jasna Gora at Czestochowa.”

“I have great hopes in your love for Christ and for men. There is a great deal to be done. Let us set out with renewed enthusiasm; united with Christ, under the motherly gaze of the Virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe the sweet mother of priests and religious.”

“In fact, when the first missionaries who reached America from lands of eminent Marian tradition taught the rudiments of Christian faith, they also taught love for you, the Mother of Jesus and of all people. And ever since the time that the Indian Juan Diego spoke of the sweet Lady of Tepeyac, you, Mother of Guadalupe, have entered decisively into the Christian life of the people of Mexico.”

“We also are awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit, who will make us see the paths of evangelization by which the Church must continue and must be reborn in this great continent of ours. We also wish today and in the days ahead to devote ourselves to prayer with Mary, the Mother of our Lord and Master—with you, Mother of hope, Mother of Guadalupe.”

“We offer you the whole of this People of God. We offer you the Church in Mexico and in the whole continent. We offer it to you as your own, You have entered so deeply into the hearts of the faithful through that sign of your presence constituted by your image in the Shrine of Guadalupe; be at home in these hearts, for the future also. Be at home in our families, our parishes, missions, dioceses, and in all the peoples.”

JP2 and Our Lady of Guadalupe

“…The Church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death. May the Continent of Hope also be the Continent of Life! This is our cry: life with dignity for all! For all who have been conceived in their mother’s womb, for street children, for Guadalupe!…Grant that Christian families may exemplarily raise their children in the Church’s faith and in love of the Gospel, so that they will be the seed of apostolic vocations.”

“I wish to entrust and offer the future of the continent to Blessed Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church. For this reason, I have the joy now of announcing that I have declared that on 12 December Our Lady of Guadalupe faith of our brothers and sisters, so that in all areas of social, professional, cultural and political life they may act in accord with the truth and the new law which Jesus brought to humanity.”

“…I would like to turn my thoughts to Tepeyac, to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the first and the new evangelization of America. To her I entrust the pilgrim Church in Mexico and the American continent, and I fervently ask her to guide her children, so that they will enter the third millennium with faith and hope.”

“‘The Guadalupe Event’, as the Mexican Episcopate has pointed out, “meant the beginning of evangelization with a vitality that surpassed all expectations. Christ’s message, through his Mother, took up the central elements of the indigenous culture, purified them and gave them the definitive sense of salvation” (14 May 2002, No. 8). Consequently Guadalupe and Juan Diego have a deep ecclesial and missionary meaning and are a model of perfectly inculturated evangelization.”

“In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God. Thus he facilitated the fruitful meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for the new Mexican identity, closely united to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose mestizo face expresses her spiritual motherhood which embraces all Mexicans.”

‘Dear Mexicans: thank you for your hospitality, for your constant affection, for your fidelity to the Church. Continue to be faithful on this journey, encouraged by the marvelous examples of holiness born in this noble nation. Be holy! Repeating what I said to you in the Basilica of Guadalupe in 1990, serve God, the Church and the nation, each one assuming personal responsibility for passing on the Gospel message and witnessing to a faith that is alive and active in society.”

Pope St. John Paul II…Pray For Us.

Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe…Pray For Us.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

“Mondays with Mary” – Picturing Mary at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception today, I want to draw your attention to the capitol of the United States of America, Washington, D.C. Not only does this city have the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but until April 12, 2015, the National Museum of Women in the Arts will host the exhibition, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea.

Drawing upon sixty artistic masterpieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and which were gathered from public and private collections, the Vatican collection, and the European state, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, is a visual delight depicting the sacred life of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a young woman, mother, and queen.

Although you can view this collection with a purely secular eye, as Catholics, I would highly encourage you to also check out an accompanying website – PicturingMary.com. This website developed after friends of the exhibit asked the Dominican Sisters Mary, Mother of the Eucharist to write spiritual reflections that correspond to the masterpieces displayed in the collection. The reflections give individuals an opportunity to learn more about the Marian doctrines and virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary that surround her immaculate and beautiful life.

Picturing_Mary_Billboard-3

Following the reflections are additional resources that draw from Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you are a Catholic school teacher, Catholic artist, or just someone looking to teach others about great Catholic art that depicts the many truths of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then this website is an excellent starting point for you and those under your educational care.

As I always do with my writings, I highly encourage you to share this post, the website – picturingmary.com, and the website to the National Museum of Women in the Arts on your social media sites. If you have a Facebook page or Twitter account, please use the hashtag #MeetMary whenever you talk about this phenomenal collection of Marian art. If you find yourself in Washington, D.C. before April 12, 2015 and can check out the exhibit, make sure you post something about it on your social media outlet(s).

Let us give all Praise, Adoration, and Honor to Our Lord Jesus Christ for giving us the great lady, our Gebirah, our Queen, Virgin, and Mother, Mary Most Holy. Let this exhibit and collection of art shine as an example of true feminism in a world darkened by a false understanding of the feminine genius and the true beauty of women.

Advent – A Penitential Season

In Day 1 of Fr. Robert Barron’s Advent Reflections – Our Tainted Offering, he says,

“We all know that Lent is a penitential season, a time when Christians get in touch with their sins. But Advent has a penitential dimension, too. It is the season in which we prepare for the coming of the Savior, and we don’t need a Savior unless we’re deeply convinced there is something to be saved from.”

At work yesterday, one of my co-workers and I was talking about the importance of prayer and penance in our daily lives, particularly we were talking about the prayers and offerings we can do for the souls in Purgatory. This then led us to the discussion that many have forgotten about the penitential nature of the Advent Season.

Like the Season of Lent, where we enter the desert with Jesus for 40 days, we should also enter a season of waiting for Jesus during Advent. This waiting for Jesus to come on Christmas can and should be done with the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is through Mary’s intercession, as our Advocating Queen Mother, that she will assist us in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Following the Church’s vision, we should go “to Jesus through Mary.”

Just like in Lent, where we Fast, Pray, and Give Alms, we should also fast more, pray more, and give alms more during this Season of Advent. Our Eastern (Eastern Catholics and Orthodox) brothers and sisters have not forgotten the penitential nature of this season for they mirror Lent during Advent every year. Although Advent may not be a “desert” for 40 days, we can still be sacrificial (we should always be sacrificing!).

I would encourage you during this Advent season, if you have not begun already, to do the same things you do for Lent – Fast, Pray, and Give Alms. So to give you a practical example of what you could do, I will share quickly my sacrifices.

Although I don’t eat meat on Fridays any longer (with a few exceptions), not eating meat will continue as a fast. I have also decided to fast from Facebook, going on only once a day (to highlight these posts and to post things on our parish page). I am going to spend time praying in front of Our Lord for 30 minutes in Eucharistic Adoration to increase my prayer life. For alms, I will donate a gift to the Christmas Giving Tree at my parish.

It’s my hope, since hope is another theme of Advent, that my relationship with Jesus Christ through the intercession of our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary will increase during this Advent Season helping me to give of myself more and more each day.

Let us pray, fast, give alms…wait with hopeful patience…and be JOYFUL!

“Mondays with Mary” – The Star of the Sea that Shines Through Advent

As we enter the Season of Advent, our attention is drawn to the coming of Emmanuel – Jesus Christ. We see his first coming in the Incarnation which in turn will prepare us for His second coming, where He will judge the living and the dead. Just as Mary welcomed Jesus with great hope, the Church does the same. The first half of Advent, through her liturgy, prayers, readings and antiphons, the Church anticipates the eschatological return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day as Supreme Judge.

Within the Advent season, we see two Marian feasts that display the important role that Mary plays in Salvation History, the role of preceding Christ – the Immaculate Conception on December 8 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. As the sunrise follows the dawn so too does the Blessed Virgin prepare the Church, and all of humanity, for the coming of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. As the Star of the Sea, which shines with great brilliance, Mary not only guides us through the night of Advent, but through the waves and storms of life helping us to reach the port of Heaven.

Mary - Star of the Sea

Pope St. John Paul II summarizes this with great articulation when he says,

“It is a fact that when “the fullness of time” was definitively drawing near-the saving advent of Emmanuel- she who was from eternity destined to be his Mother already existed on earth. The fact that she “preceded” the coming of Christ is reflected every year in the liturgy of Advent. Therefore, if to that ancient historical expectation of the Savior we compare these years which are bringing us closer to the end of the second Millennium after Christ and to the beginning of the third, it becomes fully comprehensible that in this present period we wish to turn in a special way to her, the one who in the “night” of the Advent expectation began to shine like a true “Morning Star” (Stella Matutina). For just as this star, together with the “dawn,” precedes the rising of the sun, so Mary from the time of her Immaculate Conception preceded the coming of the Savior, the rising of the “Sun of Justice” in the history of the human race” (Redemptoris Mater #3).

As we enter this Advent season, let us go “to Jesus through Mary”, which follows the identical path of Our Lord who came through Mary His Mother. Let us invoke the Marian antiphon, commonly recited following Compline (night prayers or solemn vespers), known as the Alma Redemptoris Mater. It is in this song of honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary that we as sinners seek the intercession of Mary, our perpetual Ever-Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, Open Gate to Heaven, and the Star of the Sea -

Loving mother of the Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea, assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again. To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator, yet remained a virgin after as before. You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting, have pity on us poor sinners.

“Mondays with Mary” – The Blessed Virgin Mary in Lumen Gentium, Part III

Today we pick up right we where left off in Part II and finish our discussion on the Blessed Virgin Mary in Chapter 8 of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. For the final post on this short series, we will focus our attention on paragraphs 65-69.

# 65: Although Mary, the perfect creature in God’s creation is free of all sin, the faithful of the Church are not and must strive to reach holiness by overcoming the sin that entrap them. As the faithful seek to rid themselves of sin and strive for personal holiness, they should do so by living the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which are rooted in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the perfect example of all virtues, the faithful should desire to be like Mary in their daily lives. Mary, in her love for Jesus Christ, looks to bring the faithful in relationship with Him by being the everlasting Mother of all humanity – “The Virgin in our own lived an example of that maternal love, by which it behooves that all should be animated who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church for the regeneration of men.”

#66 and #67: Paragraph #66 says, “…Hence after the Synod of Ephesus the cult of the people of God toward Mary wonderfully increased in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: ‘All generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me.’ This cult, as it always existed, although it is altogether singular, differs essentially fro the cult of adoration which is offered to the Incarnate Word, as well as to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favorable of it.”

The cult of the Blessed Virgin in the Church that the Council Fathers profess is a theological term, which means devotion. The devotion we show to the Blessed Virgin is not the same we show to God. As Catholics, we don’t worship or adore Mary since worship and adoration are meant for God alone (latria), however, being that she is the great Mother of God, we give her honor and veneration in a higher degree (hyperdulia) than the saints who we give recognition and reverence (dulia).

To avoid against excess and defect, as the faithful we must refrain from false exaggeration towards the Blessed Virgin. By following the Magisterium, who has the final word on all matters of faith and morals, we will come to know authentic doctrine in regards to the many teachings on the Blessed Virgin Mary given to us throughout the centuries. The knowledge of authentic knowledge protects us from the extremes when it comes to the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “…True devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God…” (#67).

Theotokos - Orthodox

# 68: To provide hope for the faithful of the Church, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, the great Blessed and Immaculate Virgin is assumed into Heaven and Crowned the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Mary is “a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.” She shines as a beacon of hope until the Lord returns someday.

#69: To conclude Lumen Gentium and this chapter on Our Lady, the Council Fathers make an appeal for unity to the Eastern Orthodox (“separated brethren”), since they are our brothers and sisters in the same faith, and who give honor to the great Mother of God. Just as Mary aided in the early church with her prayers, we now pray that Mary, as the Mother of Unity, will unite us once again. In the end, mothers unite children far better than children unite children.

Knowing full well the impact that this document would make on the Church and the impact of Mary, Mother of the Church, Blessed Pope Paul VI solemnly declared on the closing day of the third session in Saint Mary Major,

“For the glory of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our own consolation, we declare most Holy Mary Mother of the Church, that is of the whole Christian people, both faithful and pastors, who call her a most loving Mother; and we decree that henceforth the whole Christian people should, by this most sweet name, give still greater honor to the Mother of God and address prayers to her.”

It’s been my hope that this series focusing on Our Lady from the Second Vatican Council’s document, Lumen Gentium, has taught you some things you did not know before. Please feel free to pass this part as well Parts I and II on to your family and friends.