18 December 2010

Holy Mother, Holy Child, Born of Each Other

An ordinary day had suddenly become the most miraculous day in human history.  She was no longer simply Mary, no longer alone in herself. How astonishing is the news the angel has just given her! The God she loves above all else has called her name; called her to come receive the most splendid gift. He chose Mary, and she chose Him. And in an instant the God whom the universe cannot contain was safely tucked inside the darkness of her womb, growing and becoming. Though she could not feel Him yet, He was there. Not just in spirit now, but in her… part of her as He’d never been part of anyone before.

Weeks pass…she looks no different, yet she is the chamber that now protects the Holy One as He grows.

Then one day out of the blue she feels Him! That first exhilarating movement that feels like bubbles… so slight yet unmistakably baby.  Mighty God now softly stirs with delicate arms and tiny legs. He formed the vast oceans and filled them with marvelous creatures, and now He floats quietly in the warm, pure sea created only for Him.

Soon He is kicking her, pushing her, and forcefully! He enjoys doing flips in this private pool; His ears now hear the sound of her voice, and He is quickly taking up more and more space in her body. He has always occupied her heart, and now she looks down at her round belly, places her hand over the spot where He kicks, and marvels at how He has taken her over. She eagerly awaits the moment when she can kiss His tiny face, count tiny fingers and toes, and hold Him close to her heart…the heart He captured long ago.

Finally, the appointed hour comes, and He who gives life to every man and creature now waits for His own birth. I AM the LIFE waits for His first breath. She must deliver her Redeemer. And suddenly, there He is in her arms! Eternity was cradled sleeping in her lap.

The mighty, sovereign Lord she bowed before was now wearing the skin of her own flesh and nursing at her breast! To be twice overcome with fierce and tender love; once as a mother for her child, and again as a servant daughter of her Savior.

What exquisite joy and affection she must have felt to smell the sweetness of His head, feel the softness of His new baby skin (all parents know there’s nothing better than baby skin), hear His baby sighs and snores, and snuggle His warm little body against her own in sleep. Heaven on earth – literally – and every moment was hers to savor. How indescribably sweet! No mother has ever known greater joy, nor ever will.

Yet she who was blessed with such an unspeakable gift also bore the greatest sorrow of any mother on earth. She gave Him life, raised Him, taught Him, tended Him, and adored Him only to suffer with Him the cruel death that would bring us Life.

By His Incarnation a holy mother was born.  And as though the blood He shed on the cross wasn’t gift enough, in His magnanimity He gave to us heaven’s most fragrant rose.

Now the Mother of the Savior is our mother, and how blessed we are to have the guiding light of her obedience and humility to illumine our lives and show us the way of faithfulness.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and do not delay!
  Blessed Mother, give us your heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of love and humility that we might receive Jesus and love Him and you loved Him!

10 December 2010

Who God Uses

Stealing this from a friend's blog.  I know he won't mind.  It made me laugh, and it's just plain encouraging. 

The next time you feel like GOD can't use YOU, just remember...

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
John the Baptist ate bugs
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer...
AND Lazarus was dead!

07 December 2010

1st Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

At Catholic Online

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!” “You shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Let this mystery teach us humility.

Mary’s answer to Gabriel is simply incredible, but it became much more precious for me when I stopped to ponder the middle of this story. We may miss the best part is we fail to recognize the humanness in Mary. Not sinfulness, but humanness. That’s the quality that makes this event so marvelous.

“But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”

She was greatly troubled! Scared, even? Can you see her expression; hear the thoughts racing through her mind? What in the world is going on?!? He’s telling me not to be afraid… what is this all about? A son? Now I’m confused. How can this be? I do not know man. God Himself will do this? The child will be holy? The Son of God?

Now comes the glorious ending: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

She went from being troubled and confused one moment to being perfectly willing and trusting the next because of true humility. Her reply is remarkable not only because of what she said but because of all she didn’t say. She didn’t say, “Me? Why me?” Or, “But, but, wait…” She didn’t say, “I can’t…” Gabriel gave her precious few details about how this would all unfold, yet she didn’t hesitate to agree.  She understood it wasn’t really about her; it was about Him.

Mary didn’t say “yes” with a proud spirit or a self-congratulatory attitude, nor did she refuse out of a feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness. She knew she was a mere mortal, most unworthy. She also knew God was wise and loving and able. Her “yes” had nothing to do with her and everything to do with Him.

Yes to His plan, His will, His power, His authority. She took Gabriel at his word and believed that God knew what He was doing, and her part was to simply say, “I am at your disposal.” It was up to God to do everything else. It’s also noteworthy that she didn’t offer any assistance. She didn’t presume that she could add something to the mix that would make it better. She said yes, and then carried on as usual. Not knowing what would happen next or how it would happen, she left everything after that moment up to God.

That’s real humility. To say to God, “As You wish. You will do it. Do with me whatever You please. All glory is Yours.” It seems plain enough, but so often real humility gets all mixed up with false humility (which is actually pride). It seems more humble to refuse when asked to do something, especially something important, and we say self-deprecating things like, “Oh, I’m not that good,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or “I’ve never done that before,” or “There are lots of people who are better at this than me,” and on and on and on.

Don’t you shudder to think what might have happened if Mary had responded that way? She’d never been a mother before, so she was inexperienced. She may have felt there were smarter women in the community. She could have tried to defer and list all the reasons why she was right to defer. But thank God she was humble enough to say yes.

It’s not a mark of humility to say to God that His plan can’t be done because you’re not the one, you’re inadequate, you’re not smart enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not ________________ (fill in the blank).

Of course you’re not good enough. So what? It isn’t about you or me and what we don’t have. God has everything, God is everything and humility is just saying “yes” and not thinking too much or too little of you, but only of how great God is.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49

Mary, most mild, pray for me that I will humbly say “yes” to God in whatever He asks of me.


One Last Christmas

Grab the Kleenex now.  I'm still wiping away tears as I type this.  Sit down and watch, weep, and be amazed.

04 December 2010

Emmanuel: God's One-Word Letter of Love to the World

At Catholic Online

We hold in our hands during these weeks of Advent the treasure of all treasures.  The season beckons us to once again contemplate something truly astonishing.  It will pass us by if we are not careful.  In the stillness, as the earth is falling asleep for the winter comes a message, spoken with a single word.


The headlines are shouting doom and despair but today I am not listening.  Our culture is yelling obscenities but today I am not listening. Problems and annoyances are mocking and taunting me, but today I am not giving in.

Not today. Not now. For this moment I am enthralled by Emmanuel.

God is with us. GOD is with us. GOD is with us. Emmanuel. Close your eyes, quiet your heart and hear the word pass through your lips and realize what it means.

This is the thing that makes Christianity unique. This is what makes the Christian faith more than a philosophy or an abstract idea.  It’s what makes it the real deal.  This is what renders every other belief in every other god meaningless and a sham.

The Incarnation is the tenderest, most revealing, most daring love letter ever written:

“I love you so much.  I long for you.  You cannot become as I am, so I will become as you are.  You cannot reach Me, so I will inhabit you.  There shall never be anything between us ever again.  Your darkness is now My light.  There is no part of you I refuse.  I withhold nothing from you.”

Jesus came. He shed His robe of glory and put on vulnerable flesh. He became one of us, clothed in our skin and bones and blood and sweat and tears. He blessed and restored our humanity by inhabiting it Himself and closed the gap between mortal and immortal. By taking that mortal flesh to the cross to shed His precious and perfect blood, He bridged the impassable chasm between us and our Creator.

Our God has done the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible, the radical, and the incredible. He came, and He remains. He is with us still.

Does a God of anger or arrogance humble Himself and take on the very form of His created ones in order to save them from their own sin? Does a God of contention lay His authority down and subject Himself to the law of the world He created? Does a vengeful God surrender Himself to an unjust death for the sake of those murdering Him?

And still, the world doesn’t get it! Still, the reality of Christ’s unabashed love for us is not understood. Still, He is with us, unnoticed. Still, we forget the magnitude of what He has done. Still, we are unaware of who He is. 

Rejoice! There is no distance between us and our God. We do not stand outside His door weeping, begging for a glance from His furrowed brow, or a crumb from His table. He has demolished the wall between us and carried us inside His house to enjoy everything He has, including the food of Himself.

Our God alone is worthy of praise and honor and awe and obedience because He has left no measure of separation between us and Himself. Out of love our King became our servant. Love compelled the spotless Lamb to become every wretched, repulsive, disgusting sin in order to free us, cleanse us and make us new. Love compelled the Lord who owes us nothing to pay everything to cancel our debt.

There is none beside Him.  Only Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Nothing in this world is more deserving of our attention, especially this season. Whatever else may be going on, our gaze should be fixed on Emmanuel. We should be looking expectantly at that manger with grateful hearts. We not only can rejoice, we must rejoice.

Of course, life will go on, and our obligations must be met. Work must be done and should be done. Important current issues must be dealt with and not ignored. But heaven forbid we blow past Advent in our haste, worry and stress, and fail to open our minds and our hearts each day to the miracle of Emmanuel. 

Heaven forbid we do not read this love letter.  It is an astounding reality our language cannot articulate.  It is the summation of our every need; the complete expression of God’s desire.  The Word made flesh.  It’s the only word the world needs to hear.

Emmanuel ~ God is with us! Rejoice!

01 December 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things: Traditions That Bring the Season Alive

at Catholic Online

Simple and profound, done with paper, yarn, glue and lots of prayer, these little efforts reap wonderful spiritual rewards for young and old alike.

Far beyond the decorations I’ve been pulling out of boxes all week, my most favorite Christmas things are the traditions we unpack and dust off during this joyful season.

This week I was providentially gifted with a brand new Advent/Christmas tradition for my family, one I’d never heard of before but instantly loved when I read about it. (Catholic Family Vignettes, thank you!)  Perhaps some of you will be familiar with it, but it’s more likely you’ve not heard of it before either, since I now know that it’s not practiced much anymore outside of monasteries in Europe.

I don’t even know what to call the tradition.  But it goes like this:  Every character in the Nativity scene has something valuable to teach us as we prepare for the Savior’s birth.  Each one has a unique role, and virtues they embody and model for us.  The names of all the characters are printed on slips of paper, along with the virtues they best demonstrate.  The slips of paper go in the proverbial hat, and each family member draws one.

You must trust that you will draw the one you’re “supposed” to get.  God knows!  Then you spend your Advent trying to learn the lessons and virtues of the character you drew.  You do your best to “be” who you drew, asking the Lord in prayer to help you each day.

Christmas Star
Virtues: provide a steady light to guide weary pilgrims.  A source of guidance and illumination.

Virtues: Proclaims the “tidings of great joy.”  A source of inspiration.  Obedient to the will of God.

Blessed Virgin Mary
Virtues: Meek, humble, modest and pure.  Full and complete obedience to God.  Holiness.

St. Joseph
Virtues: Humility, leadership and trust in God.  Chastity and patience.

Virtues: Leadership.  Listens to God.  Kindness to the lambs.  Goodness, tenderness, watchful care.

Virtues: Humility, docility.  Patiently bears all burdens.

Virtues: Hard work, diligence, patience and sacrifice.

Virtues: Docility, innocence, obedience and trust.

After dinner the other night, we all drew our “parts” and talked about what it meant to have humility or docility or to be a source of illumination.  It took a minute, but I was able to convince my 9 year-old that she really could “be” St. Joseph this Advent!  (She never expected to draw that one!)  Then she asked me, “Hey, Mom – what about the Wise Men?”  I think she’s absolutely right.  They should be in on this as well.  So this is my own addition:

Wise Men
Virtues:  Humility, perseverance, faith, piety, trust in God’s promises.

A beloved Austrian priest friend explained to me that this tradition was once very popular in Central Europe, especially the Alps and in Italy, but today it’s known only in a few monasteries and parishes.  He said that his order has been practicing this tradition for decades and their version includes things like the crib, the fire, the stone, etc.  There is a beautiful meditation for each character.  In his monastery, they do the drawing during the O-antiphon days before Christmas.

It is surely a beautiful new tradition in our family, one that I pray we will cherish for generations to come.  (If you’re wondering, there were some characters that didn’t get drawn at all.  Again, God knows what He wants to teach us and who we need!)

Other Favorite Advent/Christmas traditions:

Let’s call this one “Making a Comfortable Bed for Jesus.”  It’s wonderful when you have young children in the house.  I type up a long list of helpful deeds and sacrifices that can be offered up to Jesus, and cut them into slips of paper.  The slips go into a jar or bowl and we draw one or more out each day and do the suggested task.  When we’ve done our selfless deed, we put a small piece of yarn into a small “bed” we’re making for Baby Jesus.  The idea is we want Him to have a very soft, warm bed when He’s born, so we must do lots and lots of sacrificial deeds before Christmas!

I cut up pieces of yarn and leave the yarn and the deed slips somewhere the kids can all reach, and then we watch our little bed of yarn grow as the days go on.  This can be a great “course corrector” when a child is having a bad day, or frankly, when Mom is having a grouchy day!

We also love putting shoes on the front porch for St. Nicholas Day!  Visit The St. Nicholas Center website for all the details about this tradition, as well as great craft ideas you can do with your children.  St. Nicholas’s feast day is December 6, so hurry!!

Finally, we are so grateful to the hard-working family behind Holy Heroes.  They’ve put together a wonderful Advent experience that includes activities each day for the kids to do, including the Jesse Tree, fun word searches, coloring pages, and how to use St. Therese’s sacrifice beads to teach your kids about making a sacrifice, and learn the Rosary as well!  You can sign up to participate free of charge, and you’ll be glad you did.

All these traditions, these little efforts pay big rewards in bringing the Advent/Christmas seasons alive for children and passing on the truths of our rich inheritance, our Catholic faith.  It does a grown-up heart much good as well.

Do you have any great traditions to share?

Thank You

Thank you, Good Shepherd, for loving this little lamb today.  Thank you for a most surprising and unexpected gesture of love and affection.

I love you, Jesus!


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