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

 

Feed My Lambs! © SalveMaterDei.com, 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....© SalveMaterDei.com, 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. . . . © SalveMaterDei.com, 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

M.A. JMJ

Rejoice in the Lord Always: Again I Say Rejoice!

Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.  EA photographer

Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice! © SalveMaterDei.com, 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!  © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.  EA photographer

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

Fr. Cyril Guise of the Mother of God, O.C.D., © SalveMaterDei.com, 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!  © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.  EA photographer, Holy Hill

Rejoices in God My Savior! © SalveMaterDei.com, 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

CHRISTMAS MORN!!!”

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

– 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

M.A.  JMJ

Unless You Become as a Child. . . .

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

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

Crib of Sacrificial Love- © SalveMaterDei.com, 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. . . . © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.

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

M.A.  JMJ