Friday, November 26, 2021

Thanksgiving All Year Long

As Catholics we know the gift of the Eucharist. Aside from the Real Presence that exists within this Holy Sacrament we are also aware of the fact that we are able to receive this gift on a daily basis. Many of us who have attended Protestant churches who lack both the Real Presence as well as the daily and/or weekly reception of Communion recognize the great loss that these Christians have in their faith life. This is also why many devout Catholics say that once you understand what the Eucharist truly is that you can never leave the Church. 

This hit me hardest during the pandemic when the opportunity to go to Mass was taken was away from us. I remember what it was like to return, to kneel during the Consecration and then to approach the altar again. It was such a gift to be back at Mass and I hope and pray that a shutdown like this never happens to any of us again. 


Jesus and Gratitude 

We look to Jesus for so much because of the examples He set for us on so many occasions.  Being both God and man we know that He experienced the same things that we all experience as human beings, which means that He, too knows of the importance of being thankful. With that in mind, we too can learn from our Lord, in this case, by the way He lived and not in some lesson He offered during His earthly ministry.   

As stated by Leonard J. DeLorenzo: Eucharistia means thanksgiving. How wonderful that Jesus gives thanks by endlessly offering himself and making a gift of himself to God and to men...Most certainly, he thanks God the Father, the model and ultimate source of all giving. 

Many of us have learned the lesson of generosity from our own parents, both in the lessons they have taught us along with the way many of them choose to live. Over the years it has been my privilege to read assignments from my theology students as well as hear them share in class discussions many of the lessons they have learned from their own parents in terms of what it means to give to others. 

Jesus would also be thankful to those who are willing to trust Him in their reception of Him. As DeLorenzo says: He surely also thanks the poor sinners who are willing to receive Him, who let Him enter under their unworthy roof. 

For those of us who are in the world of ministry and/or education as well as parents who seek to reconnect with their children; all of this requires the earning of the person's trust and once that happens it is truly a gift for the one seeking to prove themselves. The hope is that the mentor can help provide more to the other person's life in a way that is similar to the Eucharist making us better Christians. 

Finally, there is the example of faith and trust that Jesus would have learned from our His Mother. As stated again by DeLorenzo: I would say that He thanks the poor Maid from whom He received this flesh and blood through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. . . . What does Jesus learn from His mother? He learns to say Yes, fiat. Not just any Yes, but a Yes that goes ever farther, without getting weary. Everything that you desire, my God…. ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.’

It is natural for us to focus on the courage it took for Jesus to face His Passion and Death but there is so much more to this idea. Being human ourselves we can imagine what it took for Him to commit His life to His earthly ministry, which could have included Him setting aside some of His own needs and wants for the sake of the Kingdom. With that in mind He too would have trusted in His Father while also receiving guidance from our Blessed Mother, who too knew what it was like to trust in the Father when it came to honoring her own Fiat. 


Catholics Are a Thanksgiving People 

We hear a lot that we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. Yes, indeed because without the Resurrection we have nothing (1 Corinthians 15:17). However, there is more to being Catholic than that because there is great depth to our faith. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in 1324 says: The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Of course, this begins with the Incarnation which in turn means we should always be thankful for the fact that Jesus did come to us as one of us when God could have simply continued with the Law and the Prophets while putting the responsibility on conversion on us due to the fact that we are the sinners. For Jesus, that was not enough. He came to show us the way and to lay His life down for us as an offering for our sins (John 15:13). Thank you Lord. 

Further, we are also told in 1327: the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking. With that in mind, it should impact the way we feel when we attend Mass, as this is the place where we are able to receive the Eucharist.  There are some who claim that Mass is boring but like anything else in life, we get out of it what we put into it. 

I can think of the many time I sat through a baseball game that I was watching hoping to see my favorite team win. Many times they did not but I still took to the time to watch and see if it would happen. In most cases, it was very disappointing. However, during the Mass I will hear the Word of God, I will have a chance to pray with my community and most importantly, I will receive Our Lord in the Eucharist so how could this ever be a waste of my time? 

After receiving the Eucharist we should also make the effort to focus on prayer on what we have truly received. As stated by Fr. Michael Van Sloun: it is a perfect time to have a chat with the Lord, to mention a few of the blessings we have received over the past week, and to tell Jesus just how grateful we are. All we have is from God, and without God we would have nothing. 

In other words, we are able to do this after each moment of receiving the Lord in His Real Presence. And, if our thinking is truly in tune with the Eucharist we will recognize all that we have to be thankful for, from our daily blessings to the struggles that help us continue to build the Kingdom of God by doing the Lord's work as well as all of the things that offer us a chance to become better Catholics. This is why John Burger tells us that the term (Eucharist) used for the Catholic Mass and Sacrament have a special meaning, not just for one holiday. 

Burger continues: It is called Eucharist “because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim—especially during a meal—God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification.”

Lord, please continue to open our eyes so we can see all of the ways You proclaim Your Glory. 


Everything is a Gift, including our Suffering 

It is important to note that in Luke 22:17 Jesus gave thanks before offering the cup and bread to His apostles. Prior to that, He tells them that He was eager to have that particular Passover meal with them before He suffered. This should be an important lesson for all of us as it shows the importance of having our loved ones present prior to enduring a great trial. No wonder Jesus gave thanks before sharing the cup and bread with His apostles. Further, the apostles received the Eucharist before having to also endure the suffering and death of Our Lord. And like the apostles, we should seek and receive the Lord when we are about to encounter a great trial in our own lives. 

In the words of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi: You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering the greater will be the reward. If these are the words of a Catholic saint it would certainly be in regards to living a Christian life. Therefore, it would be the perfect example of uniting oneself to Christ whose suffering had purpose as it was for the benefit of the Kingdom. 

If that is the case then again, we follow the example of Jesus' Mother: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.’ Let us go with confidence knowing that all we do has purpose. In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola: Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve You as You deserve. 

 And let us do it with thanksgiving, every single day of the year, as we remember all that You have done for us, dear Lord. 



Sources

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Catholic Education Begins at Home


We are at a crossroads.  Many of the narratives and ideals being pushed in the secular world are seeping into school systems, and even Catholic institutions are being affected.  A nun who teaches at a local Catholic school had expressed her fear that the educational system will push for a curriculum that goes against our Catholic beliefs and may cause a shut down of Catholic schools.  Just this month the National Catholic Register reported students walked out of an assembly on a prolife talk at a Catholic school, citing that students were claiming to be prochoice.  In the same week, Loyola Marymount, a Catholic Jesuit university, approved an on-campus fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, claiming it’s because they do more things than abortions.  Both schools being in California, the liberal, left-wing type of attitude and culture of the state may be a huge factor in the mindsets of the students.  But there is more to it that I’m realizing.  When what is being taught in school is not being reinforced or practiced at home, it will not stick. 

A study published in 2018 found that the disaffiliation for those born into the Catholic faith begins at a median age of 13 years old.  Various reasons were cited for the reason, but there is one thing they all have seemed to have in common: the why behind the "rules."  Whether they have been immersed in a secular culture in which faith is an option and societal norms oppose Church teaching, a traumatic event that causes them to question its importance or the existence of God, or the inability to get a satisfactory answer to their questions, young people are looking for the reasoning behind what is being taught.  It is no longer enough to just give a set of rules to follow.  It must be done in way that is meaningful and loving.  But a good example that is set by a child's first teachers, the parents, is one very important tool to ensure that they see the true value in the Church's teachings.
 
I am a product of Catholic school education, having been taught in a Catholic school for 12 years.  Growing up it was something I had taken for granted.  It was not my experiences in school that made me curious about my faith, but the spiritual experiences I had outside of it.
My grandfather was what my aunt called “very Catholic”.  Before his passing this year, he had told me that he was not actually born into the faith. He was a young boy raised in another Christian denomination in the Philippines that was similar to Catholicism in some practice but not all.  But a local priest was giving Bible study lessons after school and he began to attend. Before the age of 10, he chose to convert and raised our family to be Catholic alongside my grandmother.  We prayed at family gatherings, waiting for everyone (all 60 relatives to arrive) and gather to bless the food before we dug into our feast. My parents took my sister and me to Church on Sundays, the same Church where I received all of my Sacraments, and eventually took my children to receive their Sacraments.  Being Catholic was so engrained in me that when I had not practiced my faith for some time, I began to miss it on my own, finding my way back into my parish that had been home since I was baptized at only a few weeks old. 

Eventually that longing turned into a desire, turned into a passion for my faith until I hit the ground running and am now in this ministry that I love and am helping to grow. Having my own children taught me how much we need to lead by example at home.  My son coming home and reminding me of the 10 Commandments when I accidentally say “Oh my God!” as a reaction or watch violent films reminds me how much they are watching in our actions.  When we go to Church, my kids follow what I do, not what everyone else is doing.  When I kneel, they kneel, even though the rest of the assembly is standing after Communion (the practice they implemented at my Parish).

These are small examples of a larger picture.  Our children learn the values of being Catholic from us, not by what we tell them but by how we show them. The issues of social justice being presented today will be a source of contention, and perhaps for a very long time.  There is the possibility of it worsening before it gets better, if it will ever get better.  However, the intrinsic values of a person that is gained in the home can greatly influence their beliefs. If only we could show how these Catholic values are not just as a set of archaic and outdated rules and regulations, but actually continuously protect the dignity of our humanity.  No, not every child will follow.

We all have free will, and each person is influenced by different factors.  But unless we begin at home with the family, our children may never learn these values anywhere else.  Teaching them from an early age, praying with them, reading with them, and most importantly talking to them in a loving way that helps them to understand each person's worth and dignity may yet help them to see where the Church teachings are actually to protect that dignity from conception to natural death, and to value themselves as a gift from God.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Faith Unblinding (Sunday Reading Reflections, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 10.24.2021)


We all live our lives vaguely aware of the issues around us.  Then with time, we become desensitized, we it take for what it is, accepting the situation as the "norm".  We are unable to see where it is hurting us, and where it is pulling us away from God.  Even if we are not doing anything wrong ourselves, we become immersed in this environment.  It is only when we pull away for some time and look back do we actually see where it may have been toxic.  As they say "hindsight is always 20/20".  How much more do we see clearly when we have faith?

I remember the week after the Catholic Marketing Network conference in Chicago this year.    We had spent 5 days among other Catholics.  Not just any Catholics, but Catholics on a mission.  We met so many wonderful people in ministry, heard some great speakers.  We saw some good friends.  The conversations we had that week were deep, awe-inspiring.  Carlos and I both got to our respective homes and began to re-evaluate some things in our own lives.

For me, it was how much more I could live out my faith.  It changed the way I prayed, the way I saw Mass.  The reverence in that ballroom as we prayed as one, first the Rosary, then the Divine Mercy chaplet, and then said Mass, humbled me in so many ways.  It also showed me how much more I needed to be the example to my kids, to show them how to live out their own faith.

For Carlos it was re-evaluating his musical endeavors.  In order to support his family, he became a working drummer, joining bands and playing late-night gigs.  Less than 24 hours after landing home from Chicago, he was back at one of these venues to perform and do his job.  Before this, he had already expressed several times how much being there weighed on him; that though he did not partake, he was surrounded by the things and others whose values went against his own Christian values. But this time, he saw it differently.  It was through a spiritual awakening that his eyes were opened; this time he found truth through a heart of faith. While others were mingling and doing what they do, he called me and asked me to pray with him. Outside from across the street of this venue, he sat in the silence of his car and prayed the Rosary with me.  A few weeks later, he told me that as he was putting his drums away, he prayed and said, "Lord, there has to be another way." It still took a lot of discernment on his part.  He was about to let go of something that had been a a part is life for decades.  It still took months of back and forth, between his head and his heart. But eventually he listened to God's call to go elsewhere.  It took a leap of faith, but he finally decided it was time to let go and accept a new way of living and thriving.  The moment he said "Yes, Lord, I am listening," God answered his prayers.  Just as the blind man said to Jesus, "Master, I want to see."   Jesus replied "Go your way; your faith has saved you."

It is in our nature to continue in our ignorance.  As St. Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews, even the high priest, "is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness." None of us are perfect.  But with God's grace, with willingness to follow, He will call all of us in our own time to come out of our ignorance.  Even Jesus did not choose for Himself, it was the willingness of the Father.  St. Paul emphasized that even Jesus, Himself had not "glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my son."  We are all called in our own time.  

What is revealed when our eyes are opened can eventually be used for the good of others.  Whether it was my work in aesthetics allowing me to see the plight of women struggling to remain societally beautiful on the surface in order to be accepted;  whether it's Carlos having to let go of something that had been part of his life for nearly 3 decades. There are are stories of those who are given sight by being immersed in the midst of sin and enlightened to truths.  Even Saint Paul, himself, former persecutor of Christians.  By the grace of God, we can see again.  But it takes faith, and it takes our willingness to ask the Lord to heal our blindness to give us the clearer vision of the truth.  And then "I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble."




Angelica Delallana, MSN, RN, NP
Co-founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate
Creighton Model Fertility Care Practitioner Intern

Friday, October 22, 2021

Mary, the Feminine Woman and Mother Exemplified


It is no secret that in this modern age, women have risen above and beyond what they were historically able to do.  Women fought for rights that society did not give.  In some ways it is a great time to be a woman because women have been given a voice they once did not have.  But on the downside, in order to fight for equality with men, women seem to have rejected what truly makes them feminine.

In a recent blog post, my ministry partner, Carlos, beautifully illustrated the courage of our Blessed Mother.  A young girl, pregnant with a child that is not her betrothed's.  A young girl who faced rejection and the possibility of death.  Yet she was courageous enough to say, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."  She was willing to risk everything, the life she was about to have, risk losing the man she loved, because of the calling God gave her.  And even Saint Simeon told her of the suffering she would endure as the mother of our Lord, the heartache, the struggles, she never relented her role.

A stranger that I had recently met revealed to me that she had her daughter as a teenager.  She told me it was difficult in the beginning, but she wouldn't trade it for the world.  My response to her was, "Well, you were able to give your daughter a life."  Knowing that could have meant anything, she admitted, "Yea, I could have had the choice.  I didn't listen to other people.  My dad wasn't happy."  I wasn't expecting the conversation to turn in that direction, but it did.  My heart burst for this woman whose daughter is around my age.  Was she afraid? Of course.  To raise child to live at a time you have barely begun to live your own life.  It is a scary thing, a challenge.

This wasn't the first and it is likely not to be the last conversation I have had where a woman has admitted that at the time they got pregnant, the circumstances caused them to consider the alternative... and the only alternative they could see was to give up the life of their child.  But they knew they could not live with themselves had they done it.  They all talk of the difficulties they faced, the backlash, the criticisms, the scrutiny.  But they all saw the blessings as their children grew older.  Their children were the reasons they strived to become better.

But what these stories bring up is the issue of choice. About 64% of women, more than half, the majority, felt the pressure to abort their babies from others.  They didn't feel they had a choice.  They are forced to believe that they will only succeed of they do not have a child, making a decision they later regret. I know of a woman who got an abortion in her 20s who was not able to conceive another child after.  Now in her 40s she talks about it saying, "I think God is punishing me."  Whether of not that is the case can only be known by God.  What is apparent is the guilt she felt.  That though she was acting out of fear and desperation in that moment, looking back she regrets it.  What pushed her were the social pressures and fear of her family.  Yet it is being marketed as a woman's right to choose what to do with their own bodies.  But who never got the choice was the one innocent party in the whole situation.  That child created in the womb is completely another human being, with its own unique DNA sequence, separate from the mother.  

The issue lies in the perception that society gives.  We have been pushed to believe in a narrative that degrades the beautiful creation that women are, without giving the proper education on the effects that it can have on their bodies, or even their hearts.   Multiple resources will state that the pill is "generally safe".  Some studies have shown that the use of hormonal contraceptives for more than 2 years increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies.  There is also the increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, heart attack.  Yet, the use of artificial contraception is so widespread, women don't think twice about what it could possibly be doing to their bodies.  In order for the pill to work, it essentially "shuts down" a functioning part of the woman's body.  The ability to have a child means that the woman's body is working correctly.  Yet, instead of caring for their fertility, it is rejected, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.

In his encyclical, Letter to Women, Pope Saint John Paul II, he recalls Mary's willingness to serve the Lord. "Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love." He recognized the difficulties of our Blessed Mother.  Mary, our mother, is the example for women everywhere.  She faced similar struggles.  She faced heartache and heart break.  Yet she continued to love the child conceived in her womb beyond the moment He gave Himself for the sake of the world.  She accepted her position despite the hardships; the threat to hers and her family's lives; having to escape to a foreign land to ensure the safety of her family.  But what we must also remember is that she did not do it alone.  With the love and help of her husband, Saint Joseph, she was able to safely and diligently raise the Son of God.

In the same way, those who are facing struggles need help.  Women do not make the choice to rid themselves of their babies easily.  It is often based on fear; fear of others; the lack of support; the lack of a loving environment and loving home.  Once when I volunteered at the hospital, a doctor asked me to be with a teenager giving birth.  Her mother said no one could be there with her while she delivered her baby as a punishment. The gratitude she had toward me, and the emotions I felt for this girl who at the time was not much younger than me.  I applaud her for keeping her baby, even with what I assume continued to be a lack of support.  Perhaps it was the mom's way of saying "Your baby, you raise him/her."  But I think of her often, hoping and praying that she was able to come out of the hole and provide a good life for her child.  It is during this time of transition for mothers that they need the most support.  It was very apparent during the pandemic as the isolation increased the incidents of post-partum depression and anxiety. Women felt the lack of support.


If there is one example of a woman, we must turn to our Blessed Mother. Her strength.  Her compassion.  Her faith.  Her capacity to love, not only her husband and her child.  She loved the world.  She accepted the world as her children.  What mother would not try and stop the Crucifixion?  What mother would stand by weeping on the side while her child gave their life to the world?  She is the ultimate example of faith, someone who accepted the will of God even in the face of heartache.  By the same token, we as a society must turn to the example of Saint Joseph, the one who loved her, supported her and protected her while she carried and raised her child.  If only we could provide the education, the support, and the resources to those who find themselves in this position, we may be able to save more unborn.



Resources for the Promotion of Life:

- Fights the legal system to push for pro-life laws and provides resources for pregnancy.

- International Catholic Organization that works to teach communities and community leaders around the world to promote a pro-life world

- Links to the abortion pill reversal, resources for adoptions and more

- Provides resources and options for those with unplanned pregnancies

-  For those suffering from the emotional after-math of abortion

- Conducts research and promotes a culture of life



Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Leader Who Serves (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reading Reflections October 17, 2021)

     All too often do people long for power and leadership, not to lead, but to rule.  We use our position of authority and abuse it.  It can be something as small as an older sibling who manipulates younger siblings into doing tasks and chores that were supposed to be their responsibility, not the younger ones'.  It can be in the workplace where someone in a higher position assigns tedious, menial tasks to others just for the sake of delegating, overworking those below them while not lending a hand to clean up the mulch.  It can be in the political scale, where leaders become dictators.  No matter what level in life, no matter how small or large of a scale, we as humans have the tendency to want to feel more important than others.  This has been a situation that has plagued human kind, an animal-like tendency to want to dominate others; an alpha-mentality in which we want to exert authority over others.

    We see the subservient servants throughout the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament.  The word itself was used in context of slavery, such as the Hebrews' plight in Egypt (Exodus 1:14, 2:23), or attending to rulers.  It was Jesus who transformed the word when he said "whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).  What is more, He did not just ask this of us, but showed us.




    In John 13:1-20, He willingly took a lowly position and washed His disciples' feet and told them, "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." (Jn 13:14-15).  He, the master and teacher knelt down and cared for those who followed Him.  But what greater example of this than His dying on the cross?  To be crucified, punished, humiliated like a criminal.  And for what?  He bore the Cross of all of our own burdens; what more the burdens we have placed upon ourselves.  In his Passion and death, we see the sacrifice it takes in order to lead others from the heart the one who did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.  The journey is a painful and selfless act.

    Jesus, Himself, was the Sacramental image of God's grace and mercy.  The God of the Old Testament is thought to be full of wrath.  But even in the Psalm, we realize and see the longing for His mercy and kindness.  What better way to see that than in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Throughout His ministry, He showed God's kindness and mercy.

  But God's kindness and mercy should not just end with Jesus.  The truth of God's kindness and mercy started with Jesus.  We as Christians are called to be like Christ, to follow in His Way.  It is up to us to show God's kindness and mercy to others.  The greater our positions, the greater our duty.  We must learn to serve those considered to be below us.  And rather than speaking down to them from above, like Jesus knelt down to wash the disciples feet, we must come humbly bend down and raise them above us, caring for others in a loving manner.  In doing so, we may just yet cleanse the world of the hatred one person at a time.


Friday, October 15, 2021

Reflecting on the Rosary

I am pleased to say that the Rosary is my favorite prayer.  The root of my love for this prayer comes from my parents as both of them prayed the Rosary on a regular basis. In my younger years we also prayed the Rosary as a family. While I can't say that I have prayed the Rosary on a consistent basis throughout my life I can say that is has always been my go to prayer both when I was anxious and when I wanted to spend some quiet time with the Lord. 

Like many boys at a young age I remember getting a Rosary as a gift during important moments of my faith life and though I am not a big collector of Rosaries there are a few that mean a lot to me. In most cases I have use my Rosary ring as it is something I tend to keep in my left front pocket. I think the main reason for that is that while I do love to pray inside of a Church I also like to pray when I am moving around my house, which means that there is not chance for my Rosary to get caught on something.

Many people describe the repeated prayers of the Rosary as a mantra, a rhythm that is supposed to assist us with our concentration. As a drummer this is something I can really appreciate because while many discuss how the universe moves in rhythm I was conscious of that before ever coming across the concept. One of my favorite times to pray the Rosary is when I am watering my plants because I really love the sound of the prayer in my head while hearing the consistent flow of water.

While some question how this repeated prayer is of any benefit to us I also like to think of the gift it can be to us when we are angry or hurt and not in a condition to know what to say to Our Lord. Such moments are when these memorized prayers are of great assistance to us.

Being a part of the Universal Roman Catholic Church, I know of the traditions and practices that are known by my brethren around the world. While I prefer to pray in private I have very fond memories of attending Catholic conferences with people from around the world as we prayed this simple prayer that I grew up with. It was both exhilarating and comforting to know that I am part of this tradition that is truly, catholic! 

The Rosary to me is also an equalizer. In other words, it can be done by anyone who simply comprehends what is going on. Therefore, the people next me to could be highly educated or illiterate, rich or poor, famous or unknown. It doesn't matter. And Our Lady and Our Lord hear our prayers equally. 

Now I would like to offer some short observations on the Mysteries of the Rosary. 

 

The Joyful Mysteries

As a student of the Theology of the Body these Mysteries are very moving to me because of the fact that they center around the Incarnation. Of course this is not just the moment when God became man but also showed humanity our true value. To come into this world as one of us always reminds me of the love that Our Lord has for us. This empowers me most during those moments when I struggle both with myself as well as my relationships with others. 

Of course the Nativity could not occur without Our Lady's Fiat, which always reminds me to pray fo the same faith and courage as Our Lady. And, since we pray these Mysteries twice a week I focus on this regularly during my spiritual journey. 


The Sorrowful Mysteries 

What is interesting for me is that I rarely meditate on my own struggles as much as I pray for the struggles of others. I tend to focus a lot on those who are persecuted with violence or even slander as my heart pleads with the Lord to be with them. I also focus on those who have carried burdens for many years as I wish them the peace that only God can offer. 

There are also times when I focus on Our Lord's suffering, usually after I hear a religious song that speaks of Our Lord's Passion. It is always important for me to remember all that Jesus endured for us, from the rejection He encountered during His ministry to the complete suffering He endured during His Passion. 


The Luminous Mysteries. 

I still remember when Pope Saint John Paul II added these Mysteries and right away, I loved them! It just made sense that we had some Mysteries from Our Lord's earthly ministry and our Holy Father gave us some beautiful moments to meditate on. 

These are my preferred Mysteries to pray with my ministry partner, especially when it comes to The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God because that is what we are all called to do. Further, the Institution of the Eucharist always reminds me of how Our Lord left Himself with us, which is why I always love attending Mass. 


The Glorious Mysteries 

These Mysteries have always been my source of hop, which is why I am filled with joy when I complete them. The thought of Our Lord not only conquering death but also the the thrill it must have been for His followers to see their faith rewarded. Meanwhile, the Risen Lord is also a gift for us while the witnesses to His Resurrection wish for us to see the same thing that they saw on that fateful day. Further, while I am aware of Our Lady always being with us while we pray the Rosary, thus, allowing us the chance to fulfill Matthew 18:20 as he pray alone, I also feel the presence of the apostles as they are participants in the first two Mysteries. 

The last three Mysteries are also moving to me. I always pray to be open to receiving the same Spirit that came upon the early Church during Pentecost so I too can fulfill God's will. Then, as I reflect on all that Our Lady endured during her time with Our Lord I rejoice at the way Our Lord honored His Mother when she was welcomed into heaven. 


Let us conclude this blog with the following from St. Louis de Montfort:


The spiritual rewards are without measure. 


Carlos Solorzano
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Our Lady of Courage

Many Christians say that we are living in very trying and dangerous times. That is certainly true but one thing that Christians have to realize is that there has never been a safe time to follow Jesus Christ. His way has always been counter cultural and while different eras of history as well as geographic location could determine the type of danger we face, we must realize that each threat is real as are the feelings of fear and rejection. 

This was a reality not only for Christians in the early Church but for Jesus' family. In this year of St. Joseph we reflected on all that we can learn from Jesus' earthly father in an earlier blog (https://blog.hcdtalks.com/2021/03/honoring-st-joseph.html) but during this month of Mary we will now reflect on what we can learn from the courage displayed by our Blessed Mother. 

Yes, there are places in the world right now where being a Christian is a threat to your physical life. There are organizations out there right now who provide updated information on such threats.   https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/ However, we should not forget the struggles that many of us face in the secular world, which has created an atmosphere where people of faith are not welcomed to share their beliefs while those with other forms of subjective beliefs are allowed to speak openly. It has become such a part of our culture that such attitudes exist in some Catholic schools where faith filled students are frowned upon when they speak of their faith outside of the classroom...while still being on campus.

As part of Humana Corpus Dignitate Catholic ministry I, along with my partner Angelica Delallana speak openly about how we are available for talks on some of the hard topics in our Church. Still, that does not mean that we do not face our own doubts and fears, especially when it comes to the potential backlash from those with a great passion for the opposing view. Therefore, a lot of what I am going to share in this blog is not just for those reading it but also for myself as well as my partner in ministry.

We are always reminded to take our concerns and struggles to Jesus. Still, we are reminded that aside from His love and grace Jesus has also given us the Communion of Saints in order to offer us various examples of how we can live as He wishes. No better example of this than the Queen of all Saints, which is why I took the time to write this blog to honor our Blessed Mother during this Month of the Rosary. 

 

Who is This Woman? 

The name Mary is the same as Miriam, who was the sister of Moses & Aaron, which also means that it is a name of great status. The name is defined as bitter or grieved, which might serve as a sign of things to come in our discussion. 

One of the titles that Our Lady is known for is the Virgin Mary. Some believe that it refers to her being a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth while others see it as a reference to her perpetual virginity throughout her life. There are those who actually challenge the belief in the virgin birth based on the Hebrew word almah, which is found in Isaiah 7:14. This word refers to a young woman of marriage able age. It is true that such a woman may not necessarily be a virgin but that does not mean she is not a virgin. 

The Greek translation uses the word virgin for almah and while this could challenge the idea of Mary's virginity at the time of Jesus' birth we have to also consider Joseph's intention to divorce her since he believed that she had been with another man (Matthew 1:19) as well as Gabriel's Annunciation where he explained to Mary, who was clearly a virgin at the time of this exchange, that the child's conception in her womb would be will of the Most High (Luke 1:35). Perhaps we are seeing not so much the fulfillment of the Law but the fulfillment of a divine revelation that began with the prophet Isaiah that would be fully pronounced by the angel Gabriel, who as stated to Zechariah in Luke 1:19, stood before God. 

This divine revelation would be fully manifested in Mary's Fiat in Luke 1:38: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. This is a beautiful portrayal of her faith in God's promises to His people (Luke 1:55) and is also the reason why she is described in Catholic Tradition as being Jesus' first disciple due to the fact that she knew Who she was carrying in her womb. Still, there was a great risk in accepting this blessing. As stated by Leslie Church: Never was a daughter of Eve so dignified as the Virgin Mary was, and yet in danger of falling under the imputation of one of the worst crimes; yet we do not find that she tormented herself about it; but, being conscious of her own innocence, she kept her mind calm and easy, and committed her cause to Him that judgeth righteously.

 

Holy Mother of God, teach us to accept Jesus' call for our lives and to have the courage to accept this mission knowing of the peace that He will give to us once we get closer to Him.


The Birth of the Promised One 

Matthew 2:1-4 tells us that Joseph had to take his family to his hometown of Bethlehem to enroll in the census. Censuses were taken to assess taxation and to find those who would be available for military service.  It occurred every 14 years and there is actual documentation from the years 20 to 270 AD. Jews were exempt from military service so the purpose for this census during the time of Jesus' birth was for taxation reasons.

Taking the journey to Bethlehem was both necessary and a great challenge for the Holy Family as it was 80 miles from Nazareth with travel and accommodations being far from comfortable. Travelers were responsible for their own food with innkeepers only providing fodder for the animals as well as fire for their guests to cook. It was certainly disappointing for this difficult journey to end with Joseph and Mary having to stay in  manger where animals feed but the Spirit within our Blessed Mother most likely gave her an insight as to the meaning of this struggle. William Barclay suggests that the reality of no room in the inn being a symbol of the cross: there was only room for Him on the cross since He seeks entry in the over-crowded hearts of men. With that being said, perhaps we could also suggest that Jesus was rejected from the beginning and in this case, our Blessed Mother was also a part of this experience.

After the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family were visited by shepherds, who were despised due to the fact that they were unable to keep the ceremonial details of the law, the meticulous hand washing rituals along with the other rules and regulations. They were also seen as robbers, thieves and outcasts, so it would seem odd to have them be present at the birth of Jesus since the cultural tradition was to have local musicians serenade boys that were born (Note: Jesus' birth brought a chorus from heaven, see Luke 2:13-14). Of course the presence of the shepherds speak right away of the mission of Jesus: I did not come to call the righteous but sinners (Mark 2:17).  

In this episode we see how much was gained from the courage of our Blessed Mother to take this trip to Bethlehem. Not only was she able to assist her husband in honoring his legal duty but also saw how the birth of Jesus was already changing the lives of others.  


Holy Mother of God, teach us to trust the paths that the Lord gives to us knowing that He will lead us to those who need to know Him. 


Simeon on the Suffering to Come
 
While the Holy Family was safe from Herod the reality of what was to come was further stated by Simeon during the Presentation of our Lord.  Although Jesus speaks of division in Matthew 10:34-36 it was foretold by the righteous and devout Simeon from Jerusalem.  As stated in Luke 2:34: Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. As stated by Barclay: Towards Jesus Christ there can be no neutrality. We either surrender to Him or are at war with Him. And it is the tragedy of life that our our pride often keeps us from making that surrender  which leads to victory. Still, to be a part of this journey would mean that Jesus' family would also suffer. As further stated by Bergant & Karris: The shadow of the cross falls upon the Holy Family. Suffering would also be expected by Jesus' later followers (Matthew 16:24). 

This was of course best demonstrated in The Rejection at Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). While the Gospel does not state clearly if Mary was present she certainly would know of the episode and have suffered knowing that this occurred in her hometown of all places. As stated by Church: There are those who will be prejudiced and enraged against him. In other words, how could the Promised One be such a simple man that we have seen grow up before our eyes? The question though should be, why not such a person since these people are descendants of a faith tradition with a history of God using people from humble backgrounds to do His will.


Holy Mother of God, teach us to see with the eyes of faith, those who the Lord sends to us with a genuine faith in order to lead us to your Son. 


The First Sign 

At the Wedding of Cana, we find out in John 2:3 that they had run out of wine. When Mary informs Jesus of this predicament His response was: Woman, how does your concern affect me? (John 2:4). According to Barclay, while we are unaware of Jesus' tone when He responded to Mary we are aware of the fact that this was a common phrase at the time. If stated in anger, it represented a complete disagreement. If stated gently, then it was not so much reproach but misunderstanding. It was Jesus' way of letting Mary know that He was able to deal with the situation.

To those in the modern world, the use of the word woman may be seen as insulting but we must remember that Jesus used the same word on the cross when He gave our Blessed Mother to John (John 19:26-27). Barclay tells us that this was a sign of respect, similar to the English word Lady. Barclay further tells us that use of the word woman in this way was also known in other ancient cultures as we also saw it used by Odysseus in addressing Penelope, his well beloved wife and by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus when he addressed Cleopatra, the famous Egyptian Queen

Mary had complete confidence in Jesus as her prompting of Jesus to do something about the lack of wine gave Him the chance to offer a glimpse of His glory. Still, with Jesus also stating in John 2:4 that His hour had not yet come, we sometimes fail to recognize the courage it took for her to show that confidence in public because after all, Jesus could easily have denied her request. Still, like most loving sons,  Jesus essentially changed His plans, which was not a foreign concept in the Jewish tradition as we have numerous occasions of God working with a situation that did not quite go according to plan. However, in this case, Our Lord did it in order to address His mother's concern for the wedding party.  


Holy Mother of God, help us to stay the course when struggles interrupt our plans. To trust in your Son to be there with us as He continues to guide us on our way. 



The True Family of Jesus 

Acts 2:44 tells us this about the first Christian community: All who believed were together and had all things in common. For this to occur the community would have to live in a very family like atmosphere knowing that most if not all of their fellow Christians were not blood relatives. Such an idea had to be taught by Jesus, who made if very clear in Mark 3:35 that His family are those who do the will of God

Mary certainly understood what that meant but there is still the reality of Mark 3:33 when Jesus said:
Who are my mother and my brothers? While we can focus on Mary being conceived without original sin, thus, not being one to retaliate or harbor any ill will towards Jesus. Still, we cannot forget that she was a human being with a mother's heart for her Son.
 
Aside from that, Jesus also challenged his own people to look beyond what was familiar to them....and this was not the first time. We can look to the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), where Jesus featured the goodness of a person who would not have been highly regarded by His own people.  However, in the idea of who is truly a member of Jesus' family, He takes it to a more personal level. Consider this statement by Bergant & Karris: In a society that placed a very high value on blood relationship, Jesus' teaching about His disciples forming a spiritual family would be quite challenging. 

The struggle was also beyond Jesus' words in terms of what made up His true family. John 7:5 tells us that Jesus' brothers did not believe in Him (for clarification of the use of the word brothers please see: https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/jesus-had-brothers). While this seems tragic it is not exactly something many of us are not familiar with. While many of us recognize the special bond we have with our families we also recognize the value of a genuine friendship. As stated by Barclay: Friendships are founded on common ideals & experiences. True love is found on obedience (John 15:14). True kinship is not always a matter of flesh and blood. Such relationships begin with a choice on who to befriend and/or marry, so the power of choice is in fact grounded on something that could be defined as deeper than blood. 

Some of us are blessed not only with such friendships and marriages but also faith communities. Working with people who truly seek to live the Gospel as the first Christian community from Acts of the Apostles. A community that Our Lady was also a part of. This goes to show what can be achieved through the power of God's grace along with our commitment to live as those who do the will of God. 
 

Holy Mother of God, teach us to open our hearts and welcome our neighbor not just as a child of God but as a member of both God's family and our family. 


The Suffering Mother

Theologians speak of Jesus being abandoned by the Father on the cross even though Our Lord said in John 10:18: No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. In other words, Jesus was always aware of the fact that He would Rise after laying His life down for others.  

Historically speaking, Jesus was not alone on the Cross. As stated in John 19:25: Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Mind you, this went on after Our Lord's apostles had already abandoned Him. Some argue that the women faced no risk of danger due to their lack of status in the ancient world. However, Barclay responds with the following: It is always a dangerous thing to be an associate of a man whom the Roman government believed to be so dangerous that He deserved the Cross. It is always a dangerous thing to demonstrate one's love for someone whom the orthodox regard as a heretic. In other words, the women had to be concerned of the backlash they could receive both from the Romans as well as the Jewish leaders but had no regard for that because, as Barclay says, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). 

This perfect love is most apparent in all of these women but only one of them was Jesus' mother. Therefore, she also endured a pain that these other women could never endure. Jesus is both her Son and Her God. Therefore, her suffering was one that only she could know. Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise to humanity but He could only have one mother. Therefore, even though we grieve at the thought of what He did for all of us none of us could ever know the suffering of Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. 

As we try to contemplate all that Mary could have felt at that moment let us look to Barclay's reflection: If Mary did not understand she could still love. Her presence was the most natural thing in the world for a mother. Jesus was a criminal to some but He was her Son. The eternal love of motherhood is in Mary at the cross. 

In other words, Mary teaches us what it means to be a mother.

And yet, there is still more for us to learn in Barclay's reflection. 

There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the Cross, when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of His mother in the days ahead. He never forgot the duties that lay to His hand. He was Mary's eldest soon, and even in the moment of His cosmic battle, He did not forget the simple things that lay near home. To the end of the day, even on the Cross, Jesus was thinking more of the sorrows other than of His own. 

We can speak a lot on Ephesians 5:25-27 but that teaching came from this moment of Jesus on the Cross. Here is the moment when Our Lord demonstrated the self-denial that He calls for all husbands and fathers as He both cared for His mother while also giving Her to us: the Church. His Bride. 

Jesus teaches us what it means to be a husband and a father. He died for all of us while also giving us what we need (Matthew 7:9-11 & Luke 11:11-13). In this case, His mother. 

Further, had it not been for Mary's courage from her Fiat to the moment she would suffer the agony of watching her Son die on the cross, we would not have her as our mother along with her example of what it means to have a courageous faith.  
 

Holy Mother of God, teach us to love when our hearts are broken and please comfort us when we are close to losing hope in the promises of your Son. 

  

Conclusion 

We have so much work to do but in the midst of that work we also have much to endure. We have seen many people of faith lose their careers, their status, their reputations as well as their peace of minds. People of faith have always faced rejection from family and friends. In other words, the people of Christ do in fact carry many crosses. 

One of those crosses is the burden of fear. While many American Christians speak of us not having to live in parts of the world where our faith can cost us our lives we still have the burden of rejection, which for any person is a great challenge since we are both communal beings and people of faith who are called to share the Gospel with others. 

Let us look to Our Lady as an example of courage and know that we can turn to her for inspiration and guidance on how to endure our own struggles. Allow her to show us the maternal gaze of her Son while we seek to follow and imitate Him. 

 


Carlos Solorzano
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/

 

Sources

  • https://bible.usccb.org/bible 
  • https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/did-the-father-forsake-jesus
  • Achtemeier, Paul J. (editor) Harper's Bible Dictionary Harper San Francisco 1971 p. 610
  • Bergant, Dianne & Karris, Robert J (editors). The Collegeville Bible Commentary. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 1986 pgs. 422, 865, 881, 941-942
  • Brown, Raymond. An Introduction to the New Testament. Doubleday, 1997. pgs. 232
  • Church, Leslie F. (editor). Matthew Henry's Commentary in One Volume. Zondervan Publishing House, 1961. pgs, 1204, 1419 
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew Volume 1. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 18-21 
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew Volume 2. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 p. 53
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 20-23, 26-27
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of John Volume 1. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 97-99
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of John Volume 2. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975 pgs. 255-257