Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Feast of the Holy Innocents: A Prayer

Holy Innocents, you died before you were old enough to know what life means, pray for all children who die young that God may gather them into His loving arms.

Holy Innocents, you were killed because one man was filled with hatred, pray for those who hate that God may touch their hearts and fill them with love.

Holy Innocents, you experienced a violent death, pray for all who are affected by violence that they may find peace and love.

Holy Innocents, you were murdered at the hands of men who probably felt they were merely following orders, pray for all who act against their consciences that they may turn to God for strength to do what is right.

Holy Innocents, your parents grieved for you with deep and lasting sorrow, pray for all parents who have lost young children that God may wrap a warm blanket of comfort around them.

Holy Innocents, those around you certainly felt helpless to prevent your deaths, pray for all who feel helpless in their circumstances that they may cling to God for courage and hope.

Holy Innocents, you did not know Jesus during your brief lives, but now you praise Him for all eternity, pray for all those who do not know Jesus that they may open their minds to His voice and their hearts to His love.

Holy Innocents, you died as infants and toddlers, pray for those who are in danger of dying before they are even born through the horrors of abortion that their mothers may recognize the sanctity of all life, turn to God for help, and give their babies a chance to live.

Holy Innocents, you who are now in Heaven, pray for all of us that one day we may join you there to bask in God's love forever.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Little Something Extra...Christmas

Christmas Meditations from the Saints

“Celebrate the feast of Christmas every day, even every moment in the interior temple of your spirit, remaining like a baby in the bosom of the heavenly Father, where you will be reborn each moment in the Divine Word, Jesus Christ.” – St. Paul of the Cross

“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you. Yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand.” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

“Let the just rejoice,
for their Justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their Saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.” – St. Augustine

“All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.” – St. John Chrysostom

“He made Himself a enable you to become a perfect man; He was wrapped in swaddling clothes to free you from the bonds of death....He came down on earth to enable you to rise up to heaven; He had no place in the inn so that you might have mansions in heaven. He, being rich, became poor for our sake – St. Paul says – so as to enrich us with His poverty....The tears of this crying child purify men, they wash away my sins.” - St. Ambrose

“Let Your goodness Lord appear to us, that we
made in your image, conform ourselves to it.
In our own strength
we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder
nor is it fitting for us to try.
But Your mercy reaches from the heavens
through the clouds to the earth below.
You have come to us as a small child,
but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts,
the gift of eternal love
Caress us with Your tiny hands,
embrace us with Your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Wishing You a Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The Fifth Glorious Mystery – The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth

Scripture References

John 2:1-12; Revelation 12:1

The Story in Brief

After Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven, the Blessed Trinity, with great love, crowned her as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Under this title, Mary acts as Queen Mother, Advocate, and Mediatrix to the human family.

Points to Ponder

 1. After being assumed body and soul into Heaven, Mary was crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth by the Blessed Trinity. We catch a glimpse of Mary as Queen in Revelation 12:1. Picture Mary in the splendor of her queenship.

2. Mary stands as the Queen Mother. In the ancient world, it was quite common for the king's mother to hold the position of queen in the royal household. The queen filled the roles of advocate for the people and mediatrix between the king and his subjects. Reflect on Mary as the Queen Mother.

3. Mary serves as an Advocate, interceding with her Son for the needs and longings of the human race. Ponder Mary's intercession.

4. Saints and theologians have often asserted that all graces come to humanity through Mary. They call her the Mediatrix of All Graces and explain that Jesus has given His mother Mary the right to nourish all her children with grace. Ponder Mary's role as Mediatrix of All Graces.

5. To better understand Mary's roles as Advocate and Mediatrix of All Graces, read the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-12. What did Mary do at Cana? Why did she do so? What did she say? How did her Son respond? How do Mary's words and actions at Cana illustrate her queenship?

6. Mary is the Queen because she is the mother of Jesus, the divine Son of God. Reflect on Mary's loving, intimate, maternal relationship with her Son

7. Mary is also our mother. Reflect on Mary's loving, intimate, maternal relationship with her human children.

8. We owe obedience and honor to our Queen and Mother. Think about the special veneration, not worship, that we show toward Mary.

9. Even though Mary is very close to us, she also reigns in supreme dignity. Pope Pius IX explains: “More than all the angels and all the saints has God ineffable freely endowed Mary with the fullness of the heavenly gifts that abound in the divine treasury; and she, preserving herself ever immaculately clean from the slightest taint of sin, attained a fullness of innocence and holiness so great as to be unthinkable apart from God Himself, a fullness that no one other than God will ever possess.” Reflect on these beautiful words.

10. Pray the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary before beginning the Rosary. Ponder each of Mary's titles.

11. Meditate on various images of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. How do these images portray Mary? What kinds of symbolism do they use?

12. Read about some modern Marian apparitions like Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorje. Why does Mary appear to some of her children? What messages does she bring?

Application Questions

1. What kind of relationship do you have with Mary? How important is she to you in your spiritual life?

2. In what circumstances has Mary acted as your Advocate? How often do you ask Mary to intercede for you?

3. What are the needs and longings in your life? Will you take them to your mother Mary and ask her for her help?

4. Have you ever turned to Mary as Mediatrix to receive a special grace? Why or why not? Do you understand that the graces you receive from God come through Mary? What do you think of this?

5. How is Mary your mother? How do you respond to her mother's love?

6. How do you venerate Mary? How do you explain your veneration of Mary to others who question or criticize it?

7. Which of Mary's titles resonate most with you? Why?

8. What is your opinion of Marian apparitions? Is there a particular apparition or message that speaks to your heart?

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer

Blessing and Adoration – Blessed Trinity, we bow before You in silent adoration as we gaze with eyes of faith upon Mary, our Mother and Queen. We bless You for the great blessings You have poured out upon her, and we adore You as we venerate her.

Praise – We praise You, Jesus, for loving us so much that You have made Your Mother our Mother. We praise You for designating her as our Queen, Advocate, and Mediatrix. We praise You as we sing her praises.

Thanksgiving – Thank You, Lord, for Mary. Thank You for sending her to us in apparitions all over the world. Thank You for her messages, her guidance, and her love, which communicate Your messages, Your guidance, and Your love.

Intercession – Lord, we lift up to You all Christians who do not have a devotion to Mary. We lift up those who do not believe that she is their Queen, Mother, Advocate, and Mediatrix. We lift up those who scoff at Mary and say that she was “just the mother” and no more. Introduce them to Your mother, Lord, so that they may see how much she loves them, nourishes them, and prays for them.

Petition – Lord, help us to grow ever closer to Mary. Inspire us to turn to her for love, assistance, guidance, and motherly care. Help us to love Your Mother as You love her.

Quotes from the Saints

“Such is the will of God that we should have everything through Mary.” - St. Alphonsus Liguori

“But the power of Mary over all the devils will especially shine forth in the latter times, when Satan will lay his snares against her heel: that is to say, her humble slaves and her poor children, whom she will raise up to make war against him. They shall be little and poor in the world’s esteem, and abased before all like the heel, trodden underfoot and persecuted as the heel is by the other members of the body. But in return for this they shall be rich in the grace of God, which Mary shall distribute to them abundantly. They shall be great and exalted before God in sanctity, superior to all other creatures by their lively zeal, and so well sustained with God’s assistance that, with the humility of their heel, in union with Mary, they shall crush the head of the devil and cause Jesus Christ to triumph.” - St. Louis de Montfort

“Mary is the sure path to our meeting with Christ. Devotion to the Mother of the Lord, when it is genuine, is always an impetus to a life guided by the spirit and values of the Gospel.” - John Paul II

“As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.”” - St. Thomas Aquinas

“To give worthy praise to the Lord's mercy, we unite ourselves with Your Immaculate Mother, for then our hymn will be more pleasing to You, because She is chosen from among men and angels. Through Her, as through a pure crystal, Your mercy was passed on to us. Through Her, man became pleasing to God; Through Her, streams of grace flowed down upon us.” - St. Faustina

“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.” - St. Maximilian Kolbe

“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.” - St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.” - St. Francis de Sales

“In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.” - St. Therese of Lisieux

“Mary has the authority over the angels and the blessed in heaven. As a reward for her great humility, God gave her the power and mission of assigning to saints the thrones made vacant by the apostate angels who fell away through pride. Such is the will of the almighty God who exalts the humble, that the powers of heaven, earth and hell, willingly or unwillingly, must obey the commands of the humble Virgin Mary. For God has made her queen of heaven and earth, leader of his armies, keeper of his treasure, dispenser of his graces, mediatrix on behalf of men, destroyer of his enemies, and faithful associate in his great works and triumphs.” - St. Louis de Montfort

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Advent


In today's Psalm, we hear the word “covenant” twice as God proclaims through the Psalmist that He has made a firm covenant with His servant David. In the First Reading, we actually witness the establishment of the covenant when God promises David that He will establish a house, or dynasty, for him that will endure forever. We also catch a glimpse of a new covenant to be established in the future through David's heir, and in the Gospel we are invited to contemplate the beginning of this new covenant as Mary says yes to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Heir of David and Son of God.

What is a covenant anyway? Dr. Scott Hahn defines a covenant as a sacred family bond created by swearing an oath and involving a sacred exchange of persons. In other words, when God makes a covenant with His people, He is making them part of His family. He is giving Himself to them in an intimate way by swearing an oath, and His people are giving themselves to Him in an intimate way by swearing an oath. Covenants create family relationships.

Covenants are not merely contracts or agreements between two parties. They are much more powerful. Dr. Hahn identifies seven differences between covenants and contracts that help us better understand what a covenant is and is not.

1. Determination – Covenants are determined by God before they are made while the terms of contracts are determined through mutual negotiations between humans.

2. Initiation – Covenants are initiated by oaths sworn in God’s name while contracts are initiated by promises made in the names of those signing the contract.

3. Administration – God administers covenants while human parties administer contracts.

4. Application – Covenants apply to a person's entire life and very self while contracts apply to a more limited scope of time or responsibility.

5. Obligation – Covenants require 100% commitment on both sides. They unconditional and irrevocable while contracts are conditional and require only partial commitment on both sides.

6. Duration – Covenants are permanent while contracts are temporary.

7. Motivation – Covenants are created for the exchange of persons in self-giving love while contracts are created for the exchange of property for profit.

God made several covenants with His people throughout salvation history, each of which expanded the family of God and was marked by a special sign to help people remember the covenant. For a more detailed explanation of these covenants, please read Dr. Hahn's book A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

1. God made a covenant with Adam that created a covenantal marriage and was marked by the sign of the Sabbath.

2. God made a covenant with Noah that expanded the family of God into a household and was marked by the sign of a rainbow.

3. God made a covenant with Abraham that expanded the family of God into a tribe and was marked by the sign of circumcision.

4. God made a covenant with Moses that expanded the family of God into a nation and was marked by the signs of Passover, the Tabernacle, and the Ark of the Covenant.

5. God made a covenant with David that expanded the family of God into a national kingdom and was marked by the sign of the house (dynasty) of David.

6. God made the New Covenant through His Son Jesus Christ that expanded the family of God into the international royal priesthood of the Catholic Church and is marked by the sign of the sacraments. This New Covenant fulfills and elevates all the previous covenants, which served as preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant.

Take some time throughout this final week of Advent to ponder 1. how God has made all of history holy through His covenants; 2. how He has entered into an intimate relationship with all of us; and 3. how He has made us His family.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The Fourth Glorious Mystery – The Assumption of Mary

Scripture References

Genesis 3:15; Luke 1:28; Revelation 12:1

The Story in Brief

Mary remained on earth for several years after her Son ascended into Heaven. At the end of her natural life, she was taken, body and soul, into Heaven to live in eternal joy with the Blessed Trinity.

Points to Ponder

1. Although the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is not explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures, the Church's Tradition has held for centuries that Mary was assumed into Heaven body and soul at the end of her natural life. Reflect on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. Think about how Tradition gave rise to Scripture and how the seeds planted in Scripture often bloom in Tradition.

2. Mary's Assumption grows out of her Immaculate Conception. If death and bodily corruption came about because of sin, certainly the sinless one, Mary, would not have been held by such things. Meditate on the wonderful fact that Mary was conceived without sin and remained sinless her entire life.

3. Read Genesis 3, paying special attention to Genesis 3:15. This verse is often called the Protoevangelium or first Gospel, for it promises a Redeemer born of a woman. Ponder how this verse predicts and describes Mary and Jesus. Focus especially on the word “enmity,” which here refers to a complete antagonism between the woman and the serpent and the woman's offspring and the serpent's offspring. How does this enmity illustrate the dogma of Mary's sinlessness?

4. In Luke 1:28 the archangel Gabriel called Mary “full of grace.” A literal translation from the Greek is“the one having been filled with grace.” Meditate on Mary's fullness of grace.

5. Read Revelation 12:1-6 and reflect on how Mary is depicted in these verses.

6. Even though Mary was sinless, she still relied on Jesus for her salvation. Theologians explain that the merits that Jesus Christ would win on the cross were applied to Mary beforehand in a form of preservative redemption. She was preserved from sin. Meditate on these truths.

7. Why was it so important for Jesus to be born of a sinless mother? What message does this send about Jesus and Mary and about God's salvific plan?

8. Why did Mary remain on earth for many years after Jesus ascended into Heaven? What was her role in the early Church? Ponder the suffering Mary must have experienced through her separation from her son.

9. No one knows for sure whether Mary actually died at the end of her life or whether she was assumed into Heaven without tasting death. The Eastern Church tells of Mary's dormition (i.e., her transition to eternal life through a kind of sleep) while the Western Church leans toward the idea that Mary, in imitation of her Son, did actually die. Contemplate these ideas. Which seems more likely to you?

10. A pious legend that has come down to us from the early years of the Church describes the end of Mary's life. All of the apostles except Thomas gathered around Mary's deathbed to say goodbye. Reflect on the relationship between the apostles and Mary and on the apostles' sadness at losing her.

11. According to the legend, Thomas arrived after Mary had been laid in her tomb. He wanted to see her one last time and went to the tomb to take one last look at the woman who had become his mother. When the tomb was opened, Thomas found a multitude of fragrant flowers, roses and lilies. But Mary's body was gone. Imagine the scene and Thomas' reaction.

12. Imagine Mary's arrival in Heaven and her joyous reunion with her Son.

13. Except for Jesus, Mary is the only being in Heaven who has both a body and a soul. Reflect on the significance of this. How does Mary's Assumption foreshadow the general resurrection at the end of time?

14. Meditate on Mary's great love for God and His people.

15. Spend some time meditating on one or more images of the Assumption. How does each image present the event? How does it depict Mary?

Application Questions

1. How do you view the relationship between Scripture and Tradition? Do you fully understand and appreciate the rich Tradition of the Catholic Church?

2. Do you have a strong relationship with Mary? Is she your mother? Why or why not? How might you strengthen your relationship with Mary?

3. Of which sins do you especially need to repent? Which are most challenging to you? How might you claim Mary's help in overcoming your sins?

4. Have you even been separated from a loved one by death? How does that feel? How do you cope?

5. Are you looking forward to happy reunions with those who have already passed over into eternal life? Can you imagine what those reunions might be like?

6. How do you express your longing for eternal life with God in Heaven?

7. Do you imitate Mary in your love for God and other people? How might you do so more?

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer

Blessing and Adoration – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we bow down before You in silent adoration as we contemplate the great graces You gave Mary and as we meditate on her Assumption into Heaven. We bless You for the wonders of Mary, for she magnifies You, dear Lord.

Praise – Jesus, we praise You for Your saving power. We praise You for applying that power to Your mother at the moment of her conception that she might be a sinless vessel fit to bear You, her God and her Son. We praise You for assuming Your mother body and soul into Heaven that she may stand as a sign of hope for all of us who await the fullness of eternal life.

Thanksgiving – Jesus, thank You for Mary, Your mother and our mother. Thank You for her sinlessness that shows us how to love and her assumption that gives us reason to hope that we, too, will one day be with You in Heaven body and soul.

Intercession – Jesus, we lift up to You all Christians who do not have a relationship with Mary. We lift up those who do not understand or believe that she is their mother who loves them and prays for them. Introduce them to Mary, Lord, that they may know her and love her.

Petition – Holy Trinity, we pray that we might follow Mary more closely. We pray that we may love as she did, open our hearts to You as she did, and surrender ourselves to You as she did. We pray that someday we may with You and with Mary forever in Heaven.

Quotes from the Saints and Popes

“The Apostles took up [Mary's] body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, she rejoices with the Lord's chosen ones.” - St. Gregory of Tours

“Today, in union with the whole Church, we celebrate the triumph of the Mother, Daughter and Spouse of God. ...We are now happy that Mary, after accompanying Jesus from Bethlehem to the cross, is next to her Son in body and soul, glorious forever. … But don’t forget: if God exalted his Mother, it is equally true that he did not spare her pain, exhaustion in her work or trials of her faith. A village woman one day broke into praise for Jesus exclaiming: 'Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nourished you.' Jesus said in reply: 'Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.' It was a compliment to his Mother on her fiat, her 'be it done.' She lived it sincerely, unstintingly, fulfilling its every consequence, but never amid fanfare, rather in the hidden and silent sacrifice of each day. … To become Godlike, to be divinized, we must begin by being very human, accepting from God our condition as ordinary men and sanctifying its apparent worthlessness. Thus did Mary live. She who is full of grace, the object of God’s pleasure, exalted above all the angels and the saints, lived an ordinary life. Mary is as much a creature as we are, with a heart like ours, made for joy and mirth as well as suffering and tears. Before Gabriel communicates to her God’s plan, our Lady does not know she has been chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of the Messiah. She sees herself a humble creature. That is why she can acknowledge, with full humility, that 'he who is mighty has done great things' in her.” - St. Josemaria Escriva

“The Assumption is the culmination of the struggle which involved Mary's generous love in the redemption of humanity and is the fruit of her unique sharing in the victory of the Cross.” - Pope John Paul II

“It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in the act of giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God's Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.” - St. John Damascene

“You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.” - St. Germanus of Constantinople

“As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.” - St. Modestus of Jerusalem

“For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” - Pope Pius XII

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday of Advent

Three Little Verses, Three Big Commands

Today's second reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians packs three big commands into three little verses.

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

These three verses are easy to read. They flow smoothly off the tongue or through the mind. But when we actually try to follow the three commands contained in these verses...well, there we run into some difficulties. Let's begin by taking a look at what God, Who is writing through St. Paul, requires of us.

1. Rejoice always. – The Greek word for “rejoice” here is chairō. It is a verb that can mean “to be delighted or pleased”; “to be glad”; “to rejoice”. Here we find it in its imperative form; it is a direct command. Are we to be joyful only when we feel like it? Only when we are happy and everything is going well? Nope. We are to rejoice, to be glad, always, constantly, at all times.

2. Pray without ceasing. – We are to be in contact with God constantly. The Greek word for “without ceasing” is adialeiptōs, which also means “without intermission” and “incessantly” or “assiduously.” In other words, we're not to pray only when we need something or when times are tough. We are to communicate with God continually and devoutly.

3. In all circumstances, give thanks... – Everywhere and at all times, we are to give thanks to God. He gives us all we have and all we are. The least we can do is give Him thanks. The Greek word for “give thanks” is eucharisteō. Look familiar?

How are we to obey these commands? How are we to be joyful when we feel sad, pray when we are busy, or give thanks when everything seems to be going wrong?

Perhaps our first step toward obeying these commands is to realize that we can't do so on our own. We need God's help. We need to ask God to remind us everyday of the many reasons we have to rejoice, especially during the Advent and Christmas seasons when we celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Who came to save us from our sins and open the way to Heaven for us. We need to ask God to help us focus our minds upon Him throughout the day until we learn to speak to Him naturally as a friend by our side. We need to ask God to help us count our blessings and thank Him for them even when we feel as though we may not have any.

Obeying these three big commands requires effort, focus, commitment, and plenty of help from God, but it's the worthwhile work of a lifetime with fruits that will carry over into eternity.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The Third Glorious Mystery – The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Scripture References

Acts 2:1-42; John 14:15-31

The Story in Brief

For nine days following Jesus' Ascension into Heaven, the disciples gathered together to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, they were together in one place. A noise like a strong, driving wind filled the house, and tongues as of fire rested on each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as they Spirit inspired them. Jews from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Hearing the commotion, they flocked to the house where the disciples were. The crowd was amazed for each person heard the disciples speaking in his own language about the great deeds of God. Peter stood up and preached a sermon, explaining to the crowd how Jesus, the Messiah, fulfilled the prophecies contained in Scripture and how He suffered, died, and rose again and was now pouring out the Holy Spirit. He invited the Jews to repent and be baptized that their sins may be forgiven and they may also receive the gift of the Spirit. Three thousand people were baptized that day, and with the rest of the Christian community, they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and prayers.

Points to Ponder

1. The descent of the Holy Spirit took place on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. For the Jews, Pentecost followed fifty days after the post-Passover sabbath. It was commonly known as the “feast of weeks” or the “feast of harvest of the first fruits” and commemorated both the harvest and the end of the Paschal season. At Pentecost, the Jews also remembered God's giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, which occurred fifty days after the Israelites left Egypt. Reflect on how the Christian Pentecost both fulfills and elevates the Jewish Pentecost.

2. On Pentecost, the disciples were all together in one place praying. Why did Luke make a point to mention this? What is the significance of this kind of gathering? Note that many saints have commented that the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost constituted the first novena (nine days of prayer).

3. The Holy Spirit arrived with a sound like a violent wind. Meditate on this. Why would the Spirit choose to manifest through the sound of wind? Remember that the word “spirit” in Greek is pneuma, which derives from the Greek word pnoē, which means “wind” and is used in Acts 2:2.

4. The sound of the wind filled the entire house where the disciples had gathered, and it must have been quite loud. Why did the Spirit manifest Himself so dramatically?

5. Luke tells us, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” What is the symbolism of fire? Think especially about fire's purifying, warming, and enlivening qualities.

6. Reflect on the fact that each of the disciples received the Holy Spirit individually, as symbolized by a tongue as of fire resting on each one of them.

7. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? What do you think the disciples experienced internally at that moment?

8. The disciples experience of the Holy Spirit did not remain internal. They began to speak out loud in other languages, for the Spirit gave them the ability to do so. This seems like a strange miracle. What might it signify?

9. Luke makes a point of telling his readers that there were Jews from all over the world in Jerusalem at the time. He even lists many of the nationalities present on that Pentecost. These Jews gathered around the house where the disciples were. Apparently, they had heard or seen something that caught their attention. They were bewildered because each of them heard the disciples speaking in his own language. Picture this scene. How would you have felt if you had been part of the crowd?

10. Many saints and scholars have identified the miracles of language as the reverse of the Tower of Babel. Re-read the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, and reflect on this idea.

11. The crowd heard the disciples speaking about God's deeds of power. Meditate on these great deeds. Which ones would the disciples, or rather the Holy Spirit speaking through the disciples, have emphasized on Pentecost?

12. Some members of the crowd were amazed by what they were seeing and hearing. Others scoffed and said the disciples were “filled with new wine.” Reflect especially on the later group. Why did they refuse to be amazed by what they saw and heard?

13. Look at Matthew 9:17, and think about the idea of being “filled with new wine.” Might the scoffers have hit upon the truth in a way they didn't even understand? The disciples certainly hadn't been drinking alcohol, but were they actually filled with a very special kind of new wine?

14. Carefully read and ponder Peter's message to the Jews. Consider his proclamation of how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies by His life, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension.

15. Peter further proclaimed that Jesus, the crucified Messiah, was raised up, exalted at God's right hand, and had poured out the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Re-read John 14:15-31, and meditate on how Jesus had kept His promise.

16. Ponder the Holy Spirit. Who is He? What is His role in Christian life? Refer again to John 14:15-31. Also spend some time examining EWTN's pages about the Holy Spirit.

17. Meditate on each of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. Read the article “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” by Fr. William Saunders for more information on the seven gifts.

18. Ponder the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. According to the Baltimore Catechism, these twelve fruits grow in our souls out of the seven gifts of the Spirit.

19. The Jews were “cut to the heart” by Peter's sermon. Why? What does that mean?

20. The Jews asked Peter and the other apostles what they must do. Reflect on their need to respond to Peter's message.

21. Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Ponder the great gifts of repentance, Baptism, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit.

22. Peter continued, assuring the crowd that God's promises were for them, for their children, for all who were far away, and indeed for everyone called by God. What promises was he talking about?

23. Peter testified with many other arguments and exhorted the crowd to save themselves from this corrupt generation. The Greek word for “testified” means to solemnly bear witness and to attest to the truth. The Greek word for exhorted means to call to one's side. The Greek verb for “save” here is actually passive, “be saved.” Peter was calling the crowd to join him in following Jesus Christ. Ponder Peter's testimony and exhortation.

24. Three thousand people were baptized that day. Ponder this great work of the Holy Spirit.

25. The new Christians joined the rest of the Christian community. They all devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist), and prayers. Meditate on these early Christians and their devotion. How is our modern Christian life similar and different?

Application Questions

1. How important is it to you to gather and pray with other Christians? What are the advantages of sharing one's faith and prayer with others?

2. How is God trying to get your attention today?

3. Are you on fire with the Holy Spirit? Why or why not? How might your life be different if you allowed the power of the Spirit to set your heart aflame?

4. Do you need to be purified in your attitudes, thoughts, words, and/or deeds?

5. Have you ever been filled with the Holy Spirit (think especially about your baptism and confirmation)? Were you conscience of it at the time? What did it feel like? How did you respond?

6. What is your current relationship with the Holy Spirit? Does the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity play a major role in your life? Why or why not?

7. What deeds of power has God performed in your life? Are you properly amazed by them?

8. Have you encountered scoffers who sneer at Christianity? How do you respond to them?

9. Do you believe that Jesus always keeps His promises? How has He done so in your life?

10. How are the seven gifts and twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit present and active in your life? In which areas do you need to ask the Holy Spirit to increase His gifts and fruits?

11. Have you ever been “cut to the heart” by something you heard or read? What were the circumstances? How did you feel? How did you respond?

12. How do you testify to Christ and exhort others to join you in following Jesus?

13. How do you devote yourself to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the Eucharist, and prayers in the Christian community?

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer

Blessing and adoration – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Blessed Trinity, Three-in-One, we bow before You in silent adoration as we contemplate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We adore You for Your great power and love that fills the whole world and all of us.

Praise – Holy Spirit, we praise You, for You are our Breath of life. Holy Spirit, we praise You, for You are our Advocate. Holy Spirit, we praise You, for You are our Comforter. Holy Spirit, we praise You, for You are our Guide. Holy Spirit, we praise You, come to us.

Thanksgiving – Holy Spirit, thank You for filling our hearts with Your power and love. Jesus, thank You for pouring out Your Holy Spirit upon us. Father, thank You for sending Your Son to be our Savior and the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate.

Intercession – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we lift up to You all those who lack faith and those who scoff at Christianity. Touch their hearts and change them. We lift up to You all who are hearing the Christian message for the first time. Open their minds that they may understand and their hearts that they may assent to You. We lift up all those who have abandoned their Catholic faith. Teach them the truth and bring them home.

Petition – Holy Spirit, please pour out upon us Your great gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. Please help us to continually bear Your fruits of charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. Increase all of these in us, Holy Spirit.

Quotes from the Saints

“'And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit' (Acts 2:3-4). They partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives luster to the soul. This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles. And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads. A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift.” - St. Cyril of Jerusalem

“But as the old Confusion of tongues was laudable, when men who were of one language in wickedness and impiety, even as some now venture to be, were building the Tower; for by the confusion of their language the unity of their intention was broken up, and their undertaking destroyed; so much more worthy of praise is the present miraculous one. For being poured from One Spirit upon many men, it brings them again into harmony. And there is a diversity of Gifts, which stands in need of yet another Gift to discern which is the best, where all are praiseworthy." - St. Gregory Nazianzen

“Was it upon the twelve that it [the Holy Spirit] came? Not so; but upon the hundred and twenty. For Peter would not have quoted to no purpose the testimony of the prophet, saying, 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith the Lord God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams' (Joel 2:28). 'And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.' For, that the effect may not be to frighten only, therefore it is both 'with the Holy Spirit, and with fire. And began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance' (Mt. 3:11).” - St. John Chrysostom

“Jesus tells us that His holy Disciples will be more courageous and more understanding when they would be, as the Scripture says, Endowed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), and that when their minds would be illuminated by the torch of the Spirit they would be able to see into all things, even though no longer able to question Him bodily present among them. The Saviour does not say that they would no longer as before need the light of His guidance, but that when they received His Spirit, when He was dwelling in their hearts, they would not be wanting in any good thing, and their minds would be filled with most perfect knowledge.” - St. Cyril of Alexandria

“...For as of old on the fiftieth day after the Sacrifice of the Lamb, the Law was given on Mount Sinai to the Hebrew people, now delivered from the Egyptians, so, after the Passion of Christ, in which the True Lamb of God was slain, on the fiftieth day after His Resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and upon the people who believed (Acts ii.3); so that an earnest Christian might know beyond any uncertainty, that the sacred rites of the Old Testament had served as foundations for the Gospel, and that by this same Spirit was the Second Covenant laid down, by Whom the first had been established.” - St. Leo the Great

“Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of sons, our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all "fulness of blessing," both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us, by promise hereof, through faith, beholding the reflection of their grace as though they were already present, we await the full enjoyment.” - St. Basil

“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.” - St. Augustine

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Little Something Extra...Second Sunday of Advent

A Strange Figure in the Wilderness

In this week's Gospel reading, we meet John the Baptist, who appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. He was a strange figure, clad in camel's hair and a leather belt and surviving on locusts and wild honey.

Since both Matthew and Mark emphasize John's apparel and diet, these details must tell us something important about the Baptist. Let's take a closer look.

John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist. This was the clothing of lower class workers like shepherds and camel drivers. Camel's hair fabric, which was also used to make tents, was cheap, course, rough, and prickly, but it was also sturdy and would have stood up well to a life in the wilderness. John's rough leather belt kept his garment in place and probably served other practical purposes during his time in the desert.

John's simple, course garment and belt revealed his humility and asceticism. He wasn't dressing to impress anyone. He wasn't looking for comfort or worldly wealth. In fact, he preferred not to be distracted by such things. His focus was elsewhere, and by denying himself the pleasure of fine clothing, he kept his attention firmly centered on his prophetic mission.

This brings us to another point about John's rough apparel; it was the clothing of a prophet. In 2 Kings 1:8, the prophet Elijah is described as a “hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” Elijah was probably wearing a camel's hair garment similar to that of John. Remember that before John was conceived, the archangel Gabriel appeared to his father, Zechariah, to announced that the son to be born to him would come in the “spirit and power of Elijah” to prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 1:17). John was the last Old Testament prophet, the heir of Elijah, the one who would proclaim God's plan to the people and help them prepare for the Messiah. John's garments, then, were a physical sign of his important role.

During his ministry, John the Baptist survived on a diet of locusts and wild honey. Most modern readers are probably repulsed by the idea of eating locusts, but they were a common food in the ancient world, and the poorer classes of Israel ate them frequently. They were easy to obtain, sometimes too easy when they swarmed and destroyed farmers' crops. They were considered clean under the Jewish Law (see Leviticus 11:21-23), and they were actually quite nutritious because they were packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. People usually ate locusts roasted, sun-dried, or salted. John supplemented his diet with the wild honey that was deposited between rocks and in the hollows of trees by wild bees.

Locusts and wild honey certainly did not make up a huge, sumptuous feast. This was sparing food but enough to stay alive and physically strong. Once again, John's focus was elsewhere. He didn't have time to pay much attention to himself or what he ate. He was too intent upon announcing the imminent arrival of the Messiah and helping the Israelites prepare their hearts and minds to greet Him when He finally appeared.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The Second Glorious Mystery - The Ascension

Scripture References 

Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11 

The Story in Brief 

Jesus appeared to His disciples for forty days after His Resurrection. On the day of His Ascension, the disciples gathered together. They asked Jesus if the time had come for Him to restore the Kingdom to Israel. He replied that it was not their place to know the times set by the Father, but they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. When He finished speaking and blessing His disciples, He was lifted up before their eyes. A cloud took Him from their sight. While they were still gazing intently at the sky, two men in white robes appeared and asked them why they were standing there looking up toward Heaven. They then promised the disciples that Jesus would return. 

Points to Ponder 

1. Jesus appeared to the disciples over the course of forty days and spoke with them about the Kingdom of God. During this time, He proved to them that He was alive, risen from the dead. What is the Kingdom of God? Why did Jesus appear for forty days? 

2. At the end of the forty days, the disciples gathered together with Jesus. Think about how assembling as a community was already important to the disciples. 

3. The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when You will restore the kingdom to Israel?” What kind of kingdom did they envision? Was their vision of the kingdom different from that of Jesus? 

4. Reflect on Jesus' response to His disciples: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority.” Think especially about mystery. 

5. Jesus promised the disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and that they would be witnesses to Him throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Ponder the power of the Holy Spirit. 

6. Reflect on how Christianity has indeed spread to the ends of the earth. 

7. What does it mean to witness to Jesus? 

8. According to Luke's Gospel, Jesus lifted up His hands and blessed His disciples before He ascended. Reflect on the meaning of this gesture. 

9. After He had spoken, Jesus was lifted up before His disciples' eyes and a cloud took Him from their sight. Envision the scene. 

10.Why did Jesus ascend to Heaven in a visible way? He could have simply disappeared. Remember that even in His risen state, Jesus is still fully God and fully Man. Remember also that He accommodates Himself to His disciples. 

11. Jesus both ascended to Heaven by His own power and was lifted up by His Father. Why is this not a contradiction?” 

12. The disciples stood in awe, gazing up toward the heaven. Picture them. Note that the Greek word translated here as “gazing” suggests looking steadfastly and even stretching or straining one's eyes in order to see. 

13. Suddenly two men in white robes appeared beside them and asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Think about the implications of this question. Why did the two men ask it? Do the disciples have to redirect their gaze now that Jesus has ascended into Heaven? How so? 

14. The two men continued, “This Jesus, Who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.” Ponder these words, which provided both reassurance and a promise to the disciples. 

15. Who were the two men in white robes? 

16. In the Creed, we say that Jesus “ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” What does it mean for Jesus to sit at the Father's right hand? 

17. Jesus ascended into Heaven as the God-Man. He ascended into Heaven with a glorified human Body. Ponder this awesome truth. 

18. Imagine the welcome Jesus received in Heaven. 

Application Questions 

1. How do you understand the Kingdom of God? In what ways are you already living in the Kingdom? 

2. How important is it to you to assemble with other Christians? 

3. How good are you at accepting mystery? 

4. How is the Holy Spirit working in your life? Do you have a relationship with the Holy Spirit? 

5. In what ways are you a witness to Jesus? How might you extend your witness? 

6. How would you have responded to the Ascension if you had been standing in the disciples' place? 

7. Have you ever stood in awe of something God did in your life or someone else's life? What was that experience like? 

8. Have you ever been in a situation in which you had to redirect your gaze? What were the circumstances? 

9. Is Jesus Christ the King of your life? 

10. Do you look forward to the time when you will be in Heaven with Jesus? 

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer 

Blessing and adoration – Dearest Jesus, we bow before You in silent adoration as we contemplate You seated at the right hand of the Father. We fall before You there in wonder and awe, knowing that although You are fully human like us, You are also fully divine, and You reign with Your Father and the Holy Spirit in Heaven. 

Praise – Jesus, we praise You for Your ascension. We praise You for being completely awe-inspiring. We praise You for Your glorious reign as King of the universe. 

Thanksgiving – Thank You, Jesus, for Your promises. You promised to send the Holy Spirit down upon Your disciples, and You did. We thank You for sending the Spirit down upon us. You promised to come back again from Heaven. We thank You ahead of time, Lord, because we believe that You will keep Your promise. 

Intercession – Lord, we lift up to You the missionaries who work to spread Christianity to the ends of the earth. Guard them and guide them, Lord. We lift up those who are outside the Church and do not understand the importance of gathering with other Christians. Touch their hearts, Lord, and bring them home to Your Church. 

Petition – Lord, please give us the strength and courage we need to be Your witnesses to the ends of the earth. Please enkindle within us a strong appreciation for mystery. Help us to realize that we need not understand everything in order to have great faith. 

Quotes from the Saints 

“Christ is already in that place of peace, which is all in all. He is on the right hand of God. He is hidden in the brightness of the radiance which issues from the everlasting throne. He is in the very abyss of peace, where there is no voice of tumult or distress, but a deep stillness--stillness, that greatest and most awful of all goods which we can fancy; that most perfect of joys, the utter profound, ineffable tranquility of the Divine Essence. He has entered into His rest. That is our home; here we are on a pilgrimage, and Christ calls us to His many mansions which He has prepared.” - Venerable John Henry Newman 

“Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.” - St. Augustine 

“I answer that Christ’s Ascension is the cause of our salvation in two ways: first of all, on our part; secondly, on His. On our part, in so far as by the Ascension our souls are uplifted to Him; because...His Ascension fosters, first, faith; secondly, hope; thirdly, charity. Fourthly, our reverence for Him is thereby increased, since we no longer deem Him an earthly man, but the God of heaven; thus the Apostle says (2 Corinthians 5:16): “If we have known Christ according to the flesh — `that is, as mortal, whereby we reputed Him as a mere man,’” as the gloss interprets the words — “but now we know Him so no longer.” On His part, in regard to those things which, in ascending, He did for our salvation. First, He prepared the way for our ascent into heaven, according to His own saying (John 14:2): “I go to prepare a place for you,” and the words of Micheas (2:13), “He shall go up that shall open the way before them.” For since He is our Head the members must follow whither the Head has gone: hence He said (John 14:3): “That where I am, you also may be.” In sign whereof He took to heaven the souls of the saints delivered from hell, according to Psalm 67:19 (Cf. Ephesians 4:8): “Ascending on high, He led captivity captive,” because He took with Him to heaven those who had been held captives by the devil — to heaven, as to a place strange to human nature. captives in deed of a happy taking, since they were acquired by His victory. Secondly, because as the high-priest under the Old Testament entered the holy place to stand before God for the people, so also Christ entered heaven “to make intercession for us,” as is said in Hebrews 7:25. Because the very showing of Himself in the human nature which He took with Him to heaven is a pleading for us. so that for the very reason that God so exalted human nature in Christ, He may take pity on them for whom the Son of God took human nature. Thirdly, that being established in His heavenly seat as God and Lord, He might send down gifts upon men, according to Ephesians 4:10: “He ascended above all the heavens, that He might fill all things,” that is, “with His gifts,” according to the gloss.” - St. Thomas Aquinas 

“But you will say, How does this concern me? Because you also shall be taken up in like manner into the clouds. For your body is of like nature to His body, therefore shall your body be so light, that it can pass through the air. For as is the head, so also is the body; as the beginning, so also the end. See then how you are honored by this beginning. Man was the lowest part of the rational creation, but the feet have been made the head, being lifted up aloft into the royal throne in their head.” - St. John Chrysostom 

“It has always seemed logical to me that the most holy humanity of Christ should ascend to the glory of the Father. The ascension has always made me very happy. But I think that the sadness that is particular to the day of the ascension is also a proof of the love that we feel for Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is God made man, perfect man, with flesh like ours, with blood like ours in his veins. Yet he leaves us and goes up to heaven. How can we help but miss his presence?” - St. Josemaria Escriva