Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Pray for Us!

She wrapped Him in clothes and laid Him in a manger. . . .( Holy Hill Basilica)  ©, 2011.

She wrapped Him in clothes and laid Him in a manger. . . .( Holy Hill Basilica) ©, 2011.

The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph and the child cradled in the manger (Luke 2:16). – Entrance Antiphon from today’s Holy Mass, and Antiphon 3 from Evening Prayer I.

The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the special relationship created by God, to exemplify His unfailing tenderness. Today it is His voice that ever so gently reminds us of the dignity and sanctity of the family in the readings from Sacred Scripture in both the Liturgy of the Hours and the readings for today’s Mass. Throughout the hours of this great Feast day, we are subtly reminded of the beauty of God’s plan for the family.

Last night’s Vesper’s readings, from Deuteronomy 5:16, directs:

Honor your father and mother, as the Lord, your God has commanded you, that you might have a long life and prosperity in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you.

This commandment is the only one with a promise attached, and it is significant that it is placed immediately after the three commandments dealing with one’s relationship to God. Our relationship with our human family is quintessentially important, second only to our relationship with God. God wants us to enjoy peace within this relationship. Even so, He recognizes our human weaknesses and offers us the guidance we need to live in harmony. Just like in the reading from Deuteronomy, God again promises us rewards of grace for even attempting to abide in family unity. The First Reading from today’s Holy Mass directs us:

God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and he preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he obeys his father who brings comfort to his mother. My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be  forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins – a house raised in justice to you (Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14).

God could have chosen to save us as an adult, a royal monarch, visiting His people with ostensible power and might. However, instead He chose to be born into that fragile human relationship called a “family”. He chose to save us from a crib and a cross, rather than from a cloud and a throne.

The ideal family, is a perfect reflection of the beauty and grace of the Blessed Trinity. In the Holy Family we see the purity of God’s love – the refulgence of His Brilliance – unified in three hearts: one Sacred, one Immaculate, and one Holy. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph labored together- as individuals and as family, they cooperated with God’s grace and fulfilled His Plan. From the outside, their family appeared just as messy as any of ours. The unplanned pregnancy that preceded the marriage of Mary and Joseph probably did not  endear them to relatives. A quick glance at the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1: 1) reveals not only kings, and nobility, but also prostitutes, thieves and murderers. In the ultimate act of humility, the Incarnation, Jesus chooses to be born into this complex nexus of humanity. He could have created an extended family of saints- each with pristine character, and spotless lives to call his own. But He didn’t. Instead, he reserved that singular grace and privilege of an Immaculate Life for the woman whose flesh would form His own, and whose blood would fill His tiny veins.

He was Obedient to them. . . .( Holy Hill Basilica)  ©, 2011. EA photographer

He was Obedient to them. . . .( Holy Hill Basilica) ©, 2011. EA photographer

From the Old Testament to the New, God directs us how to behave as a family. For it is in family that His tender love is most visibly revealed. He spells out clearly how we need to interact with one another, and then He offers us the ultimate example of such love in the Holy Family.

Today’s Second Reading (Colossians 3:12-21) details the Almighty’s plan for harmonious family life:

Brothers and sisters: put on as God’s chosen ones holy and beloved heartfelt compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. Over all these put on love, that is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. . . .

It goes on to specify:

Wives be subordinate to your husbands as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so that they might not become discouraged.

Wow! If one wants details, there they are. It is so difficult to translate those specifications into daily practice. I fail constantly. Yet, I know in my heart, that at least trying to comply with God’s command brings grace. Contemporary life is so messy- secular threats to family life are everywhere: relativism, materialism, spiritual starvation, isolation,  addictions, vanity, etc.. We need this Feast of the Holy Family to remind us that with God’s grace, we can achieve the joy He ordained for each of us, and our beloved family members, long before time began. Our omnipotent God would not have outlined His plan for family life so explicitly, and then leave us to flounder. He has given us the plan, and in Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the ultimate example. Thus, He will also grant us the grace to reach the goal of family bliss, if only we ask.

Please join me in praying the closing prayer from tonight’s Vespers:

Father, help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love. Bring us to the joy and peace of your eternal home. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Joyous Feast of the Holy Family,

Christmas Blessings,

Ad Jesum per Mariam


Let Heaven and Earth Rejoice!

The Lord is close at hand, come let us worship. . . .©, 2011. EA Photographer

The Lord is close at hand, come let us worship. . . ©, 2011. EA Photographer

As Advent draws to a close and Christmas is but a breath away, I marvel at how each day has unfolded in preparation for Christ’s birth. In the past few weeks I have written about the beauty of the readings in the the Liturgy of the Hours and those for Holy Mass during this sacred season. Each day has built as a sort of crescendo in the symphony of the season. Even the secular celebration of the season – the music, lights, cookies, cards, wrappings and trappings of Christmas all flow together into an overwhelming sense of anticipation and joy. Our senses are alive; and our souls rejoice.  Advent and Christmas are steeped in emotion and tradition.

Each family has a set of traditions that enhance the spiritual significance of religious celebrations. Christmas traditions are especially treasured. My Mom’s nativity set sits in our foyer. I delight in watching my young children kiss baby Jesus each night before bed, as I did as a child (and still do as an adult).  The yearly recitation of the St. Andrew’s Novena  helps to focus our hearts on the essence of Christmas. Our Christ-child’s crib is stuffed with colorful strips of paper- each representing sacrifices lovingly offered to warm His infant Heart. The glow of the tree, the scent of the cooking, the rhythm of these chilly days are all replete with meaning – cherished memories are being forged as Christmas is lived.

There are three things that last, Faith, Hope and Love...., 2011. EA Photographer

There are three things that last, Faith, Hope and Love...., 2011. EA Photographer

Perhaps no tradition is more cherished in our family than that of taking a lighted Christmas tree to the cemetery and celebrating Christ’s birth with my parents- the children’s grandma and grandpa. Tomorrow night will be the tenth year we have engaged in this bitter-sweet celebration.

My Dad had been diagnosed with immunoblastic multiple myeloma only four short months before Christmas 2000. This aggressive bone cancer had quickly serpentined its way through my dad’s body, leaving holes in his skull, and hip, and zygoma. The radiation to his hip and eye-socket had greatly reduced the pain, though left his vision a blurry fog. Chemo had taken its toll, and this once stocky man was now a frail shadow of himself. This Advent,  Dad was waiting for a bone-marrow transplant, and living with my young family.

Though cancer had ravaged his body, Dad’s spirit was as effervescent as ever. He LOVED Christmas. My childhood memories are replete with his and my mom’s self-sacrifice, and efforts to make Christmas joyous and beautiful. Christmas was always focused on Christ, and their love for Him spilled forth into our family celebrations. As Dad became Grandpa George, he continued to share that same spirit with my children. Singing Christmas carols, telling stories, and just beaming as the little people approached Christmas with wonder and joy. He’d let the little ones curl up in his lap, and snug close as they shared Christmas stories and secrets- even when he was most ill.

Well, here we were on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 2000, I was sitting upstairs on my Dad’s bed, reading the morning paper to him out-loud. I came to a story about a family from West Bend, just a few miles from my parents’ home. They had lost a lovely lady to cancer six years ago. She had been a wife, mother, and daughter. Each year since her death, her family would gather by her grave with a generator and a Christmas tree, and pray and sing. As I read this story out-loud, my Dad sat up in bed, his eyes twinkled and he said– “Wow – that is faithfulness and love!”

Merry Christmas Grandpa & Grandma! ©, 2011.

Merry Christmas Grandpa & Grandma! ©, 2011.

With tears in my eyes, I said, “Dad, if you begin eternity before the rest of us, we’ll still celebrate Christmas together every year. I promise, I’ll bring a lighted Christmas tree to you, and we’ll pray and sing, and celebrate Christ’s birth together.” Little did I know, that he had lest than a month left. Eleven months after his death, Ken and I, and four little ones kept our promise, and began this special tradition.

Over the years our group has grown. My Mom joined my Dad on the other side of eternity within a few years of his passing. Pregnancies and adoptions have enlarged our family, and now ten of us pray and sing on Christmas Eve. We bring the tree on the way to the 4:30 Vigil Mass- leaving it lit all night, and return after Christmas morning Mass to pray and sing, and bring it home. Some years snow covers our little tree, shorting out the battery operated lights by morning – other years bitter cold renders our prayers short and sweet. This year I don’t think we will have to worry about climbing over icy snow-banks to reach their resting place. Year by year, the rhythm of life continues- and joy has replaced sorrow. The Communion of Saints is such a consoling doctrine, and I love being able to unite Heaven and Earth in one joyous celebration of Christ’s saving love.

This tradition is cherished. As we head off to Holy Hill Basilica to celebrate the vigil of Christ’s birth, we bring a quiet sense of joy. Again there is a crescendo in the sense of anticipation as the Holy Sacrifice of the  Mass is celebrated. Receiving our Infant Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, resting with Him in our souls while pondering the miracle of His birth is the pinnacle of Christmas joy!  After Mass we usually drive by the cemetery to view the glow of the brightly colored lights on our little tree. Christmas morning is filled with the sights and sounds of Christmas, as we ready eight excited children for Holy Mass. Their exuberance is contagious! Again we celebrate the miracle of Holy Mass and rest from the whirlwind of activity to again welcome the newborn Christ into our souls, Christmas becomes real and alive. Christ’s joy becomes our joy.

These moments of grace flood my soul with profound gratitude. Our Savior- loves us so much that He shivered in a straw-filled stable on His first night on Earth. He blesses us with family and friends – offering us the opportunity to share His faithfulness and love with them. My heart overflows with awe as I contemplate the joys of past Christmases and  hopes of those yet to come. May our Lord’s birth fill you and yours with every grace and joy.

Advent Blessings,

Ad Jesum per Mariam


The Lord is Close at Hand; Come, Let Us Worship Him.


Feed My Lambs! ©, 2011.

I love the readings for this week!  The interplay between the daily Mass readings and those of the Divine Office are so beautiful. They echo the deepest yearning of the human heart for the coming of Our Savior. The “O” antiphons that accompany the Magnificant, and are recited before and after this Canticle of Mary during the Evening Prayer are particularly poignant:

O Key of David, O Royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom- Liturgy of the Hours for December 20.

And tomorrow’s is equally beautiful:

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of Eternal Light, Sun of Justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death- Liturgy of the Hours for December 21.

Without the Light of Christ, our lives are indeed prisons of death and darkness. Sin, weakness, failure, hopelessness are inescapable without Him. However, Jesus is willing to be born in our human hearts- to enter into our misery with His Divinity, and save us from the consequences of sin. The first intercession in the Evening Prayer of today’s Divine Office is:

Dispel our darkness with the Light of Your Presence, and make us worthy of Your Gifts.

To which we are instructed to “cry out to Christ Our Lord, the Light of the World, with joy:”

Come, Lord Jesus!

In the First Reading from today’s Holy Mass, Ahaz was directed by the Lord to ask for a sign from the Lord. This weak and worldly king, who ruled Judah in Jerusalem in 735 B.C. is the legitimate ruler of Israel, and as such the God speaks to him and says:

Ask for a sign from the Lord your God: let it be deep as the nether world or high as the sky- Isaiah 7:11.

But Ahaz – like the rest us-  is weak, stubborn and bold enough to defy God. He prefers to rely on his own strength (and that of Assyria) rather than putting his confidence in God. He responds:

No, I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord! – Isaiah 7:12.

I don’t know about you, but this fits me perfectly! How often do I see God’s plan sketched out before me – His rules, His directives, His plan – and I excuse myself with resounding, “No!”. Like Ahaz, I even twist it to make it seem that rather than laziness or lack of confidence in Him,  I’m disobedient because I merely do no not want to offend Him. (Yes, it is pathetic- how often I need the Sacramental Grace of Penance!) Yet , even in this sinful, dark state, Our Lord is willing to bring the Light of His Love.

Then Isaiah said:

Listen, O House of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the Virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. – Isaiah 7: 13-15.

A Virgin Shall Conceive and Bear a Son....©, 2011.

God Himself offers the sign, and it is truly deep as the nether world and high as the sky. Jesus dies, and descends to the nether world, rises from the dead, and ascends into  Heaven. Thus, just as foretold,  the sign is both as deep as the netherworld and as high as the sky. The Virgin Mary does indeed conceive and bear the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In today’s Gospel, we hear of the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel of Our Lady’s high calling. St. Gabriel refers to Our Lady as “Full of Grace (Kεχαριτωμένη),” and presents to her  God’s plan. Unlike Ahaz, The Blessed Mother affirms God’s plan with her whole being, and in the instant of her fiat, God acts within her to fulfill the promise made so very long ago.

The Child of the Promise is Our Lord and Savior, and it is His coming into our hearts for which we have been readying ourselves. These final few days of Advent direct us to finish our preparation- and like the Virgin Mary to offer Him our fiat – a robust and confident “yes”. 

When the children and I were at Holy Mass this morning at the Basilica of Holy Hill, National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, we stopped by the outdoor nativity. Over the weekend, this nativity was full of life – the Carmelite Friars held their annual living nativity. Teens from the St. John Bosco Youth Group sang carols, as Fr. Cyril Guise, O.C.D., and Fr. Jude Peters, O.C.D. narrated the story of Our Lord’s Birth. As the crowd watched and listened, Mary and Joseph sat amid the hay with baby Jesus. The three Wise Men and multiple shepherds stood close to the stable, while camels, donkeys, chickens, and sheep fed nearby. It was like standing in a living Christmas card! My family loves attending this annual display. Watching the young Mary pull her veil close to shield her face from the chill of the breeze, while the sheep “baaaaaed” at her feet conveyed a sense of reality. Each time we participate in this event, I am struck by the humility of Our Lord in choosing such a stable for His birth.


Your Light Shall Come Jerusalem. . . . ©, 2011.

Well, today the stable was rather quiet, and a bit empty. Lovely plastic statues have taken the place of the human figures that filled the stable  only a few days ago. The hum of cars moving to and fro replaced the sounds of camels and donkeys braying. The empty manger in the cold stable reminded me of the cold and empty places left in my own heart that needed to be warmed and readied for the arrival of my King of Kings.  I need Him, and am acutely aware of the clock ticking toward His impending arrival. I want my life to be a living Nativity – warm and real in what often seems a cold and plastic world. Only with the Light of His coming can my life be transformed. With joy we wait and hope:

Your Light Will come Jerusalem, the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty- daily Advent Liturgy of the Hours Morning Responsory.

Advent Blessings,

Ad Jesum per Mariam


Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pray for Us!


Holy Mother of God, pray for us! ©, 2011. EA photographer

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas! The origin of this feast goes back to the 16th century, when a radiant Heavenly visitor appeared to a simple Indian peasant, – a 57 year old widower named Juan Diego, who was on his way to Holy Mass in honor of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, on December 9, 1531. As Juan passed Tepeyac Hill, he heard beautiful music, and then a lovely voice calling his name: “Juanito, Juan Dieguit.”  He then saw Our Lady wearing the raiment of an Aztec Princess – one who was with child. Our Lady spoke to Juan in his own language, and gave him the mission to request of Bishop Juan de Zumarraga that a chapel was to be built in her honor. She stated:

“Know and understand well, you the most humble of my sons, that I am the ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of Heaven and the Earth. I wish that a chapel be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a chapel be built to me; you will accurately relate all you have seen and admired, and what you have heard. Be assured that I will be most grateful and will reward you, because I will make you happy and worthy of recompense for the effort and fatigue in what you will obtain of what I have entrusted. Behold, you have heard my mandate, my humble son; go and put forth all your effort.”

Juan reluctantly carried out her request. The Franciscan Bishop, though kind, thought Juan was hallucinating. Our Lady appeared to Juan two more times, and again Juan conveyed the Blessed Mother’s requests to Bishop Juan de Zumarraga . Finally, the Bishop sent Juan away with the seemingly impossible task of bringing back a sign – Castilian roses from the Bishop’s home region in Spain (recall this was the middle of December in Mexico).

The morning of the fourth apparition, Juan’s uncle became gravely ill, and as Juan hurried to find a priest to administer the Last Rites, he purposely avoided seeing Our Lady. He skirted around Tepeyac Hill, fearing that should he run into the Heavenly visitor, she might detain him in his important task of finding a priest. Our Blessed Mother is not easily deterred, and simply found Juan on the other side of the hill. She compassionately assured Juan that his uncle would completely recover (which he did). Our dear Lady of Guadalupe gently stated again in his own tongue:

“Hear me and understand well, my son the least, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything. Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle, who will not die now of it. be assured that he is now cured.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Please Pray for Us! ©, 2011. GM photographer

The Blessed Mother pointed to a patch of Castilian Roses growing in the cold and instructed Juan to pick them. After he did, her loving hands arranged them in his tilma (coarse Indian cloak). Empowered by our Lady’s words, Juan again visited the Bishop. When Juan entered the room, and opened his arms, the Castilian roses cascaded to the ground, and the amazed Bishop fell to his knees. A beautiful, inexplicable image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the rough fiber Indian cloak. While the cloak itself should have disintegrated in about 50-75 years as others of the same time period did, this cloak, and its miraculous image have endured for 480 years.

The image itself is the object of much study and writing, and someday I’ll devote an entire post to it. This image has survived much – even an attempt to bomb it that severely damaged the church which contained the treasure. NASA scientists have analyzed the image, and find no known earthly element involved in its existence – it is not painted, nor is it a photograph. The stars on Our Lady’s mantle appear exact pattern that would have occurred in the sky on that December morning in 1531. Computer analysis of the eyes of the image  – when magnified – reveal several figures who appear to be kneeling. The number of miracles associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe and this image are uncountable. Perhaps the greatest miracle is that within a decade after Our Lady’s appearance 9 million people were converted, and the gruesome Aztec practice of human child sacrifice was abandoned.

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s miraculous intercession continues to this present day. Please join me on Her Feast in requesting her unfailing aid.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the America’s and Protector of the Unborn, please pray for us, for our beloved country which desperately needs Your Miraculous and Motherly intercession. Please give us the grace to respect each other regardless of race, handicap, income or age. Please pray that we may also end the scourge of child sacrifice performed daily under the clinical name of abortion. Please help us to convert our hearts, and mend our lives as You aided others so long ago. Recognizing that you are “the ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of Heaven and the Earth,” we place our confidence in the protection of Your Immaculate Heart. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Please pray for us!

Blessed Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Ad Jesum per Mariam


Rejoice in the Lord Always: Again I Say Rejoice!

Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice! ©, 2011.  EA photographer

Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice! ©, 2011. EA photographer

How did I get here so soon? Here I find myself in the third week of Advent, 2011. It seems only a few weeks ago that the Summer breezes were turning chill, and the leaves were beginning to fall. Nonetheless- here I am: time to prepare myself and my family for the entrance of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords into my heart- our hearts- our world. This is a rather daunting task, yet even so, it is a task that to be properly accomplished requires joy.

Of all the weeks of Advent, this one has a particular significance; indeed, the Church reserves it as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. Rose-colored vestments and Advent Candle highlight its uniqueness. The Latin name for this special day is derived from the opening words of the Introit, or First Reading:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum (Psalms 84:2). Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob (Philippians 4:4-6).

The English translation of today’s First Reading is:

 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God  (Psalms 84:2). Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob (Philippians 4:4-6).”

Keep Christ as the Center of Christmas!  ©, 2011.  EA photographer

Keep Christ as the Center of Christmas! ©, 2011. EA photographer

We are called to actively rejoice and be glad because our captivity is about to end, just like the ancient Israelites who first sang these exact words when they were released from exile. This is a dynamic call to exuberant expectation. Like Mary, our souls are to “proclaim the greatness of Lord, and rejoice in God my Savior.” We are lowly creatures, and the One, True, Eternal, Omnipotent God is willing to descend from the Throne of Grace that has rightfully be His from before the dawn of Creation, to enter our imperfect world, and our humble hearts. I don’t know about you, but contemplating the magnificence of His gift makes my heart skip a beat or two!

Gaudete Sunday compels us to make ready our hearts! Penance, prayer, sacrifice, and contemplation are the requisite tools to clean the stable of our hearts. (Yep, the sacrament of Confession is a good place to start.) While Christmas decorations, parties, shopping and gifts are important elements of the season, and can beautifully unite friends and family in Advent joy; in themselves they are not essential to Christmas. I have to keep reminding myself that when I appear before Jesus’ throne, He is not going to ask how many Christmas cookies I baked, nor how many cards I sent, and whether they arrived on time. What is essential is Christ and a ready heart to welcome Him. Each year, I grapple with the challenge of providing an Advent and Christmas that are meaningful- steeped in tradition and replete with joy. I want my children to grasp the true meaning of this sacred season, and carry with them the memories of laughter and family closeness. It is indeed a complexity that often leaves me perplexed – especially when I find myself rushing around like a deranged wind-up toy. It sounds so simple: Keep Christ in Christmas! Yet in reality, it involves daily conscious struggle.

Fr. Cyril Guise of the Mother of God, O.C.D.,  ©, 2011.  EA photographer

Fr. Cyril Guise of the Mother of God, O.C.D., ©, 2011. EA photographer

Perhaps that is the reason the Holy Catholic Church, in Her Wisdom, instituted Gaudete Sunday. This special day has ancient roots – going back at least to the year 740 A.D. The rose-colored vestments and candles help us to comprehend that in a season of celebration, something extra-special is happening. The tradition of these rose-colored vestments is worth noting.

Both Advent and Lent are penitential seasons of preparation for the great Solemnities of Christmas and Easter. For many centuries, during Advent and Lent, special celebrations of Holy Mass occurred at “station” churches in Rome. While the third Sunday of Advent is celebrated as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, it also corresponds to a similar celebration during the fourth week of Lent – Laetare Sunday (which, by the way, also means rejoice). The station Mass for “Laetare” Sunday was the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, near the Pope’s cathedral of the Lateran Basilica. From the time of Pope St. Gregory the III (740 A.D.), it was the tradition for the Holy Father to bless special gold roses that were sent as a gesture of grace to the Catholic kings, queens and notables. That special Sunday was termed Dominica de Rosa– the Sunday of the Rose. It was as if the Holy Father was subtly reminding even the most powerful in the world of their need to keep Christ as the center of their preparation. The rose-colored vestments have grown out of this ancient tradition (source for this information is Fr. Z’s Blog).

Yesterday, I was speaking on the phone with a dear friend, Fr. Cyril Guise, O.C.D. regarding my difficulty in keeping focused on the joy of Advent amid the various pressures of the world. In response he read a lovely poem – a version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” that he had recently penned. This simple gesture had the desire effect of refocusing my attention on the Essence of Christmas. As Our Lord would orchestrate it, Fr. Cyril celebrated this morning’s Gaudete Mass at Holy Hill Basilica, National Shrine of Mary. As I watched my boys serve Holy Mass beside this wise and gentle priest, I could not help but thank God for the abundance of grace He pours upon us daily.  I asked Fr. Cyril if I might share His poem, and he graciously offered it for me to post here.

Rejoices in God My Savior!  ©, 2011.  EA photographer, Holy Hill

Rejoices in God My Savior! ©, 2011. EA photographer, Holy Hill

The Night before Christmas.

“T’was the night before Christmas

and all through the house,

not a creature was stirring,

not even a mouse!”


“When all of a sudden I heard so

much chatter that I sprang from my bed

to see what was the matter and what to my

wondrous eyes should appear but a gathering

of angels giving praise to our God;

For there in their midst was a young married couple,

Mary and Joseph were their names,

and Mary had just given birth to a Son and mind you

this was no ordinary Son but the Incarnate Word,

Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Promise of the Ages.”


“Now I could return to my bed and continue my

slumber, for I knew that our God had blessed us

and would continue to watch over me till I woke on



– Fr. Cyril of the Mother of God, O.C.D. Shrine Minister, Director of Development

© Used With Permission.


As we all seek to follow the directive of St. John the Baptist, and “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” may you find joy!

Blessed Gaudete Sunday!

Ad Jesum per Mariam


Hail Full of Grace (Kεχαριτωμένη)!

—Hail Full of Grace! ©, 2011. photo from St. Mary's Maternity of the Blessed Virgin, Richfield, WI, EA photographer

—Hail Full of Grace! ©, 2011. photo from St. Mary's Maternity of the Blessed Virgin, Richfield, WI, EA photographer

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is among my favorites. Today we celebrate the singular grace and privilege that was bestowed upon Our Heavenly Mother: namely that she was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. The Blessed Mother was to provide a pure Tabernacle of human flesh within which Our Divine was to rest and grow for nine months. In anticipation of Mary’s fiat, Our Lord prevented the disfigurement of Original Sin from ever touching her Immaculate Soul- His gift of grace to Our Lady who existed absolutely and totally replete with grace from the first moment of her being.

Indeed, the Angel Gabriel greets the Blessed Mother not with the words “Hail Mary,” but rather “Hail Full of Grace.” The Greek word, kechatitomene (Kεχαριτωμένη)  is used exclusively to name the Blessed Mother, and it means full (overflowing) with grace. The connotation of this word is that Our Lady, was so brimming with the gift of God’s grace that there was not even an iota of room for anything opposed to that grace. My Koine Greek is pretty rusty, but what I remember is that kechatitomene  is in the aorist tense – a past perfect tense denoting an action that was begun in the past, but continued into the present. Mary was conceived sinless, and that state continued into present.

When God uses a word in place of a person’s name or renames an individual, it bears deep significance as it reflects the very being and mission of the individual. Recall for example that:  Abram (exalted father) was renamed Abraham (father of many nations), Jacob wrestled with an angel and was given the name Israel (contended with God), Simon the fisherman was renamed Peter- the Rock,  and the Pharisee Saul was transformed into the Christian Paul.  Thus, when the Angel of the Annunciation refers to the Blessed Mother, not by her given name of Mary, but rather as “kechatitomene,” it reflects the past of her sinless conception, the present of the moment of the Annunciation, and the future of her mission as the Immaculate Conception – a mission which continues to this very day.

Throughout history we have been given glimpses of this glorious mission of hers. In 1858, Our Lady appeared to14 year-old Bernadette Soubirous in a series of eighteen apparitions in Lourdes, France. On March 25, Our Lady revealed to Bernadette her singular and unique role with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Since then we have seen a superabundance of grace pour through this place through Our Lady’s Immaculate intercession. The apparitions at Lourdes clearly demonstrate that Our Lady had been sent by God to Earth to give heavenly ascent to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which had been infallibly proclaimed only four years earlier by Pope Pius IX. It never ceases to amaze me how Our Lord transcends space and time, and communicates His plan to us in every generation.

Our Lady of Good Help ©, 2011 EA photographer

Our Lady of Good Help ©, 2011 EA photographer

One year ago today, on December 8, 2010, my family and I were given the tremendous blessing of being present at the Shine of Our Lady of Good Help, as Bishop David L. Ricken officially proclaimed the Marian apparitions which occurred there in 1859 to be worthy of belief and gave the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help the full approbation of the Church. I will remember that Holy Mass as long as I live!

After years of visiting this holy site, finally seeing it officially recognized by the Holy Mother Church was beyond words. I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my face as Bishop Ricken read his proclamation and explained the extensive process of investigation which had led to the decree. I was simultaneously numb and exuberant. All those years longing for Our Lady’s message to receive the attention it deserves had finally come to fruition. The emotion was overwhelming! I could not help but be aware of the uniqueness of that moment in history, and I was so grateful to witness it.  As if it were not enough to merely be present, my son Kenny had the privilege of serving as the Bishop Ricken’s Miter and Crosier bearer for Holy Mass. This mother’s heart swelled with gratitude as I prayed for the aspired vocation of my son, and experienced an incredible outpouring of grace.

This year we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, at Holy Hill Basilica, National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, another place that is dear to my heart.  I love these exquisite Holy Masses con-celebrated by the entire Carmelite Community. Our Lady, as the Immaculate Conception, continues to send God’s grace upon this community, and they respond to it with such beauty and devotion.

Mother of God Pray for Us! ©, 2011 EA photographer

Mother of God Pray for Us! ©, 2011 EA photographer

This year the children and I are adding The Holy Hour of Grace to our celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Drew Mariani of Relevant Radio spotlighted the Holy Hour of Grace a few days ago, and complete information can be found on the Mother of All Peoples website. This  bimonthly on-line magazine is compiled by the renowned mariologist, Dr. Mark Miravalle, and the address is:

 Evidently, in the Spring of 1947, Our Lady appeared as Mary the Mother of God to a young nurse, Pierina Gilli, in a hospital chapel in the small Northern Italian town of Montichiari. Our Lady was very sad, and her heart was pierced with three swords. The first sword represented the unworthy celebration of Holy Mass and Holy Communion unworthily received. The second sword represented being unfaithful to and relinquishing one’s vocation as a priest or religious; while the last sword stood for the betrayal of the True Faith. In response, Our Lady requested prayer, sacrifice and penance. Our Lady continued to appear to Pierina eleven times, including an apparition at the Basilica of Montichiari on December 8, 1947, where thousands of people were present.

On that day, Our Lady appeared to Pierina in the following manner and stated:

“ Our Lady appeared on a large white staircase, decorated with a white, red and yellow rose over her heart. She said with a smile: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” And descending several steps with great majesty She continued: “I am Mary, full of grace, Mother of My Divine Son Jesus Christ.” Descending even more, She said:

Through my coming to Montichiari, I wish to be known as the Rosa Mystica. It is my wish that every year, on 8th December, at noon, the Hour of Grace for the World be celebrated. Many divine and bodily graces will be received through this devotion.

Our Lord, my Divine Son Jesus, will send His overflowing mercy if good people will pray continuously for their sinful brother.

One should very soon notify the Holy Father of the Church, Pope Pius XII, that it is my wish that the Hour of Grace for the World be made known and spread throughout the world. If anyone is unable to visit his church, yet will pray at noon at home, he will also receive graces through me. Whoever prays on these tiles and weeps tears of penance, will find a secure heavenly ladder and receive protection and grace through my motherly heart (Mother of All Peoples Jonathan Baker, 12/2/11) .”

Our Lady specified that this world-wide Hour of Grace was to be celebrated in the following manner. It is to begin at noon and end at 1pm on December 8th. One must begin by reading Psalm 51 three times with arms extended in prayer. The remainder of the hour can be spent as in prayer as one chooses, (rosary, personal prayer, meditation, etc). However, additional care to resist distractions is requested, and we are to intercede in penance and reparation for not only ourselves, but all those in our lives. One does not need to be in a church to participate in the Holy Hour of Grace.

Regarding this devotion, Our Lady stated:

“This Hour of Grace will produce great and numerous conversions. Hardened and cold hearts resembling this marble will be touched by divine Grace, and they will become faithful to Our Lord in loyal love heart (Mother of All Peoples Jonathan Baker, 12/2/11) .”

 While not yet officially approved, the Bishop of Giulo Sanguineti  has publicly expressed his openness to the apparitions and has encouraged pilgrimages there.

I am not certain how much undistracted prayer I will be able to offer with my brood of eight in tow at the Basilica of Holy Hill today, but we are going to try. Please consider joining me where ever you may be in this world-wide Hour of Grace in honor of Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception.


Ad Jesum per Mariam


Unless You Become as a Child. . . .

Our Little Holy Family at the Christmas Parade- ©, 2011.

Our Little Holy Family at the Christmas Parade- ©, 2011.

In this beautiful season of Advent, I am perpetually reminded of the need to embrace Jesus with the heart of a child. Sacred scripture is replete with Christ’s admonitions to approach Him with child-like faith. In Luke 18:16-17, Our Lord states: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter into it (NAB).”

Living with eight children makes it abundantly clear how often Our Heavenly Father “hides things from the learned and reveals them to mere children (MT 11:25).” It is in their eyes that I most often find the glow of faith, and in their hearts that I find a pure love that   humbles me to near spiritual envy.

Crib of Sacrificial Love- ©, 2011.

Crib of Sacrificial Love- ©, 2011.

During Advent, we try to offer additional acts of sacrifice. This year, our family is initiating a new tradition. The kids and I are writing our sacrifices on small strips of colored paper, and leaving them in the Christ Child’s crib. The tiny crib is located in our family shine, under the table which holds our Pilgrim Virgin statue.  Like many pieces of straw, we hope to provide a warm place for Our Savior to rest His infant head.  When the kids first began leaving their sacrifices, I smiled at their efforts, but thought myself a bit above the need to do the same. However, at the prodding of my 7-year-old, I too have begun to offer my little trials in the same manner.  The first time I left a slip of paper, I realized that to place it in the crib under the table, I would have to get down on my knees to do so. God has a wonderful way of providing humility as an antidote to pride! As the week has passed, I have found this little exercise to be spiritually fruitful. Amazing what one can learn from a 7-year-old!

The same spiritual progress that I have to actively work to achieve seems to come almost instinctively to children. Over the years there have been many new arrivals in our home- some via St. Joe’s Hospital, and others via American Airlines and the adoption agency. The eager anticipation that accompanies the arrival of a new child is familiar territory for my children- even the really little ones. They seem to instinctively transfer the same joyful expectation to the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas. The glow of the lights, the glimmer of decorations, violins softly practicing for Christmas Eve Mass all add to the atmosphere of Advent bliss. The rhythm of the daily Mass readings and those of the Divine Office provide a backdrop against which our Advent days pass in advance of Holy Christmas. There are still (many) moments of anxiety, sibling squabbles, and homeschool headaches. However, Advent has afforded us the opportunity to present these as straw in the crib of Our Infant Savior. He gives us so much; the kids teach me how to return it all to Him.

May We Be Enlightened by a Ray of Light. . . . ©, 2011.

May We Be Enlightened by a Ray of Light. . . . ©, 2011.

One of my favorite saints is St. Therese of the Child Jesus (1873-1897). In humility, this Carmelite saint understood that austere penances and bloody martyrdom of the great saints were beyond her capabilities. Instead, the Holy Spirit lead this, the youngest Doctor of the Church to develop a path to Heaven, her  “little way,” based upon childlike love, confidence and sacrifice for her Beloved Spouse. A few days before her death, St. Therese was asked about the “Llittle Way,” that she hoped to teach souls, to which she replied:

“It is the path of spiritual childhood, it is the way of trust and of entire self-surrender. I want to make known to them the simple means that have so perfectly succeeded for me, to tell them there is but one thing to do here below: to cast down before Jesus the flowers of the little sacrifices, to win Him by caresses. That is how I have won Him, and why I will be so well received (The Story of A Soul, Ch. XII).”

I love St. Therese! I too, am well aware that the martyrdom of saints like: Philomena, Agnes, Felicita, Perpetua, Cecelia, Margaret Clitherow, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and so many others is well beyond my grasp. After years in healthcare I’m o.k. with other people’s blood, but the sight of my own still makes me ooogy. Thus, St. Therese’s “Little Way” is a path to sanctity that I can embark upon. I easily recognize my littleness- my imperfections are too glaring to ignore- thus, with St. Therese’s guidance, I can offer them as straw in the crib, and likewise hope to attain the sanctity for which I long. In God’s profound goodness, He has given me eight little professors in His school of child-like sanctity- all I have to do is pay attention.

In this week’s Angelus Message for the Second Sunday of Advent, Pope Benedict exhorts us to: “find time for self contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives.” In my home, quiet time for contemplation is rare; thus making our Holy Father’s directive a bit of a challenge. Yet I find that in His Providence, God supplies those moments of enlightenment through the noise and chaos that is our busy home. It is in listening to children, and observing the care with which they prepare their hearts, that my own heart is indeed transformed. In Sunday’s Angelus Message, Pope Benedict went on to say: “May we be enlightened by a ray of the light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of He who is “the Greatest” and made himself small, he who is “the Strongest” but became weak.”

I am beginning to realize that it is in the small and weak around us, in their tiny voices that I can best hear the Infant Christ. Lord, speak, Your servant is listening!

Blessed Second Week of Advent.

Ad Jesum per Mariam