See the Lord Coming from Afar; His Splendor fills the Earth: the First Week of Advent

"Let us casts off the darkness and put on the armor of light." © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

“Let us casts off the darkness and put on the armor of light.” © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

“It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13: 11b-).”

Blessed Advent! With the Vespers last night and Holy Mass this morning, those of us in the Roman Rite and the West marked with beginning of the Season of Advent: those four special weeks of prayer, penance, pondering and purification in preparation for the Birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Today, I was fortunate to attend Holy Mass celebrated at Holy Hill by a spiritual father and friend, Fr. Cyril Guise, OCD. The central theme of Father’s homily was the Pilgrimage of Advent. I was so touched by his wisdom that I requested permission to share a bit of it here.

Father began with: “Today we embark upon a pilgrimage more difficult than a pilgrimage to Lourdes or any other location. It is the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and it must take place within each one of us if we are to realize the joy of Christmas.”

"Today we embark upon a pilgrimage. . . a Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem." © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

“Today we embark upon a pilgrimage. . . a Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.” © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

This message is so simple, yet absolutely essential to the meaning of Advent and Christmas. Advent is a journey – we are traveling from where we are to where we long to be. There are a myriad of hazards on the way – bright lights, distractions, and social and family obligations – all mingle and compete for the limited hours of a few short weeks which comprise this sacred season. While the festivities and joy of this season are indeed a blessing and can facilitate kinship with others, they can also detract from our primary task, which is to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

We are called to prepare our hearts to receive the real Divine Infant. © SalveMaterDei.com, -2013.

We are called to prepare our hearts to receive the real Divine Infant. © SalveMaterDei.com, -2013.

Fr. Cyril reminded us that while the embellishments of Christmas are indeed lovely and can stir within us sentiments of devotion, they are impermanent. The crèche of wood and straw and the babe of plastic, plaster of Paris, wood or even marble is a mere image, and as such is transient and fleeting. We are called to find the real Jesus, to prepare our souls and find Him waiting deep within our own hearts.

Having begun to delve into Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (available as a pdf download from the Vatican website at: http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm), today’s homily resonated deeply with the theme of joy presented in the initial pages of the Holy Father’s document. Paragraph 5 begins with, “The Gospel, radiant with the joy of Christ’s Cross, constantly invites us to rejoice (Evangelli Gaudium, 2013)”, and continues with a multiplicity of scriptural citations demonstrating the call to joy.

We are indeed called to joy. However, like small children we are often more intrigued by the brightly colored wrapping than the gift itself. As such, we tend to be willing to trade true and lasting joy for the ephemeral baubles and trinkets offered along the way. True joy is of the heart and is demanding; it requires perseverance but is well worth the effort. In contrast transitory pleasure is by definition incapable of perseverance; it is sought after, consumed and just as quickly gone and forgotten. Through Advent we are called to open our hearts to authentic joy and journey toward receiving it. Yet, as Fr. Cyril counseled, receiving such a gift requires anticipation and readiness. Like the Blessed Mother, we have the opportunity to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in our hearts, and prepare a place for He Who Is the ultimate source of joy to dwell forever.

"May the God of Peace Make You Perfect in Holiness." © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

“May the God of Peace Make You Perfect in Holiness.” © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

Fr. Cyril mentioned that when we are expecting a guest to enter our home, we prepare; we clean the house, dust, vacuum, wash the windows, etc. In just the same way we are called during Advent to prepare the dwelling place of our hearts for the Divine Guest. It’s time to sweep out the cob-webs, shine a light into the darkest recesses and make ready for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thus, these weeks of prayer, penance, pondering, and purification cleanse our hearts and ready an appropriate crèche for He Who Is Not Made by Human Hands.

Yes, the expedition from Nazareth to Bethlehem is arduous and requires our vigilance and consent. Perhaps the best way to initiate this journey is, like Our Lady, to offer Our Lord our own fiat, our unreserved “YES”, each and every morning. In so doing, we allow Our Lord to lead us toward the joy He has prepared for each and every one of us.

Blessed First Week of Advent,

Ad Jesum per Mariam,

M.A. JMJ

Wednesdays Through the Holy Heart of St. Joseph: Solemnity & Inauguration of Pope Francis

The Just Man Shall Blossom Like a Lily © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA photo

The Just Man Shall Blossom Like a Lily © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA photo

The just man shall blossom like the lily (Divine Office, Feast of St. Joseph).

Heaven and earth united in heartfelt joy yesterday, as the Solemnity of St. Joseph was celebrated as never before. On this solemn feast day, set aside to reverence the merits of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis was inaugurated as the 266th man chosen to fill the sandals of St. Peter, and Shepherd the Holy Catholic Church.

The Solemnity of St. Joseph has always been among my favorite feast days. I love St. Joseph, and especially since the death of my own father, have felt deep closeness to this formidable saint. I recognize his presence in my life, and the lives of my family, and feel a deep sense of gratitude for the gifts God bestows upon us, through his powerful intercession. As a family with deep ties to Carmelite Spirituality, St. Joseph is a revered patron. Several years ago, one of my sons specifically chose to make his First Holy Communion on the Feast of St. Joseph at Holy Hill Basilica, as a reflection of his devotion to this powerful saint. Celebration of St. Joseph’s feast is also therefore a celebration of that important anniversary in our family history. Thus, here in the middle of winter, and the long penitential weeks of Lent we revel in the joy of this great solemnity. St. Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite Holy Mother, directed that St. Joseph’s Feast be celebrated with the “highest Solemnity” in all of her monasteries, so great was her personal devotion to this beloved intercessor.

Our Prayers as Incense Rise © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA Photo

Our Prayers as Incense Rise © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA Photo

Who are we to argue with the Holy Mother? As this special feast was accentuated by the inauguration of our new Papa, Pope Francis, yesterday we celebrated in grand fashion. The older kids, three Labrador Retrievers and I camped on the family room floor in front of the T.V. to watch the Inauguration Mass; it began at 3 a.m. our time. Outside, the wind howled and the thermometer read a balmy 11 degrees Fahrenheit (with wind chill we were definitely subzero). Our dogs eagerly shared their floor space with the kids and I as we huddled around the television to witness history and to pray for our new supreme pontiff. The Holy Mass was beautiful! We were particularly moved by the scene of our Holy Father praying outside of the tomb of St. Peter, and the long procession of cardinals prior to Mass – an unbroken succession stretching from the tomb of he who had been told by Our Lord: “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:18)”- through Pope Francis and extending toward the horizon of the future.

Carmelite Community Singing "Salve Regina" at the Basilca of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA photo

Carmelite Community Singing “Salve Regina” at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA photo

Later, we headed to Holy Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary at Holy Hill to celebrate with the Carmelite Community. Our prayers rose with incense in the sanctuary at Holy Hill, just as the prayers of 1,000,000 Catholics rose in St. Peter’s square as Pope Francis celebrate Mass there. Truly from sunrise to sunset a perfect offering is made around the world, and Heaven and Earth united in glory, praise and thanksgiving to the one True, Triune God. The mystery of salvation is unfathomable and wondrous to contemplate!

After Holy Mass we headed home and celebrated with a few little treats throughout the day, as we embarked upon our daily tasks – homeschool, chores, and prayer. At meals we chatted eagerly about our new Pope – enumerating his virtues: humility, wisdom, simplicity, poverty of spirit, compassion, zeal. . . . The children and I have been impressed by the manner in which Pope Francis conveys the relevance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The EWTN footage of the Holy Father winding through St. Peters Square yet stopping to greet a disabled gentleman and kiss babies moved us all as profoundly beautiful and relevant. Like St. Joseph, Pope Francis possesses the unique ability to demonstrate the Gospel through actions even in moments of verbal silence. As our family discussed our aspirations for Pope Francis and shared hopes for the renewal of our Church, it became evident that among the Christian community there is a hunger for the authentic Gospel, and even in his first few days as pontiff this Holy Father is truly feeding and leading his sheep as commanded by Christ.

Habemus Papam!

Habemus Papam!

For a taste of the spiritual direction that Pope Francis has already offered his flock, I invite you to read the full text of yesterday’s inaugural homily: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-TxSJa5tpCmE/UUiX0aZByRI/AAAAAAAAPLo/ouDCTY_j1l8/s1600/pf1in3.jpg (provided through Whispers in Loggia) and the full text of his Lenten message as Cardinal Bergoglio http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-XBNBP3VukYE/UUmB35e6ZXI/AAAAAAAAPME/6HL5faPfS-8/s1600/f1sbi.jpg .

All Creation Gives You Glory, O Lord of Hosts © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013

All Creation Gives You Glory, O Lord of Hosts © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013

Yes, just as St. Teresa of Avila specified, our Feast of St. Joseph was commemorated with the “highest Solemnity”: we witnessed the Inauguration of the Holy Father, assisted at Holy Mass, attended to our daily duties, and celebrated with sweet treats on a cold, blustery March 19th. As twilight turned to night, a herd of nine deer munched seed from the bird feeders on our back porch, we gazed through the window at their serenity as we enjoyed a slice of blackberry cheesecake and chocolate éclairs in honor of the sweetness of the feast day. A single flame glowed in the St. Joseph candle on the kitchen table, as together in gratitude and supplication we prayed:

Celebrating the Sweet Joys of St. Joseph © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA Photo

Celebrating the Sweet Joys of St. Joseph © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013 EA Photo

Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my interests and desires. Please, St. Joseph, do assist me with your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, all possible spiritual blessings. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.

Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and the child Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls – Pray for me.

May the Holy Heart of St. Joseph be a source of blessing and inspiration for each of you and your loved ones. Happy Feast Day!

Ad Jesum per Mariam,

M.A. JMJ

Habemus Papam! Habemus Papam Franciscus! VIVA IL PAPA!!!!

Habemus Papam! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

Habemus Papam! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

Habemus Papam! Habemus Papam Franciscus!

We have a Papa!!!!! I’ve spent a good portion of the day wishing I could hug the Holy Spirit. Like a billion or so Catholics, my heart is overflowing with gratitude at the election of our new Holy Father, His Holiness Pope Francis.

Having spent the better part of the last few weeks in prayer and speculation regarding who would be ultimately chosen to carry the Keys of the Kingdom, like so many other Catholics, yesterday I finally felt like I could exhale. To say these weeks since the February 11th announment of the pending resignation of our beloved Holy Father Emeritus, Benedict XVI have been tense is an understatement. Rampant mudslinging by the secular press has no doubt heightened an uneasiness that has hung over these weeks like a dark, dense, winter storm cloud.

However, with the billows of white smoke which yesterday poured forth from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, our hopes began to soar. Our day began early. We had a feeling white smoke would appear on the 13th. The 13th of each month has long been significant with regard to Our Lady of Fatima, and since yesterday was also a Wednesday – the day of the week the Holy Church devotes to honoring St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church – many of us felt certain that an election would take place. With that in mind, the kids and I camped out on the family room floor, (with the 3 dogs). We watched twice as dark smoke wafted from the Sistine Chapel chimney around 4 a.m., and later raced back from morning Mass at Holy Hill Basilica to wait anxiously for the result of the afternoon votes. As the white smoke issued forth, the cheers around our kitchen table united with those in St. Peter’s Square and around the world – we glimpsed again that threshold of hope so eloquently ushered in by both Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Viva IL Papa! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013

Viva IL Papa! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013

Throughout these weeks the profound humility of Pope Benedict XVI has become evident. In a world dominated by vainglory and pride, the resignation of His Holiness has stood in stark contrast as an ultimate act of humility. His successor meets humility with humility. Tonight’s reading from the Divine Office instructs: “Be humbled in the sight of the Lord and he will raise you on high (James 4:10).” Certainly, both our Holy Father Emeritus and Pope Francis exemplify this scriptural passage.

Pope Francis truly reflects the Gospel – he doesn’t just preach it; he LIVES it. Watching detractors in the liberal press attempt to find fault with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been like watching a celebrity version of the game Twister. No matter how one bends and twists the facts, the virtuous character of His Holiness, Pope Francis shine through any darkness they attempt to spew. It must be a challenge to find fault with the Cardinal who washes and kisses the feet of AIDS victims and impoverished women, who cooks his own meals and regularly takes public transportation to and from his appointed duties, who bowed on the balcony before 100,000+ well wishers and asked for their prayers for God’s blessing before imparting his papal blessing.

You are Peter. . . © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

You are Peter. . . © SalveMaterDei.com, 2013.

In the Gospel, Our Lord Jesus Christ bids us: “Take up My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls (Matthew 11: 29).” Our new Holy Father seems to embody this directive. He has accepted the yoke of Christ, and carries a meek and humble heart.

As Holy Father, Pope Francis continues to move with meekness – paying his hotel bill in person, taking the bus with fellow Cardinals, and slipping in the side door of St. Mary Major Basilica to leave a bouquet of flowers in humble supplication before Our Lady. In so doing, even in his first 24 hours, His Holiness Pope Francis has won the hearts and esteem of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Like St. Francis of Assisi, Our Lord has commissioned Pope Francis with a monumental task: “Rebuild My Church!” Were he merely the CEO of a multi-national corporation with its headquarters in Rome, this task would be insurmountable. However, Pope Francis is not the leader of a purely human enterprise. No, he is not a CEO; he is a Fisherman, a Peter. It is to his capable hands that the unsullied Bride of Christ has been entrusted. God has promised that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18), and HE will empower our new Holy Father with the requisite grace to overcome each and every obstacle in its path. Let us both turn to the Holy Spirit with supplication and thanksgiving for our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.

For the Holy Spirit has not just spoken, He has THUNDERED!!!!! We have a Papa!!! Habemus Papam! Habemus Papam Franciscus!

VIVA IL PAPA!!!!

Blessings,

Ad Jesum Per Mariam,

M.A. JMJ