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Archive for December, 2012

The Holy Innocents

December 28 is the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents, the day when we commemorate the innocent children killed by King Herod, when he ordered the massacre of all male children under the age of two.  He was “greatly troubled” by the magi who came  from the east following the star, inquiring about the whereabouts of the “newborn king of the Jews”. Matthew 2:1-18.

Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was cronies with the Romans, and hostile to religion.  He was resented by the people, and insecure of his hold on the throne. Herod was well aware of his unpopularity, and consequently was afraid of any threat to his kingdom. This narcissistic, egotistical ruler was gravely concerned about the reports that a boy had  been born with the ancestral lineage to rule over Israel.   Herod wasn’t even a Jew by birth and his reign would never have stood up to someone with Jesus’ ancestry.  He was brilliant but brutal, as he had murdered his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, among many others, and he wasn’t about to let some young upstart get in his way.

Herod shrewdly tried to enlist the wisemen in seeking out the “messiah”  and asked them to come back to him with their findings, so that he could also “do him homage.” “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”  

Joseph was again visited by and angel and warned to “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  The Holy Family took heed of the warning and left during the night, and safely escaped to Egypt.

Herod was furious at the magi’s duplicity, and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horrific bloodshed and the devastating grief of the people led Matthew to echo Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children…” (Matthew 2:18).

One facet of bible exegesis that fascinates me are the parallels between the old and new testaments.  In the old testament, Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died in childbirth when she was on the way to Bethlehem. Scholars believe she died and was buried in the area of Ramah.  During her difficult delivery, Rachel knew that she was dying, so the midwife tried to comfort her with the news that her child would be a boy. In Jeremiah 31:15  “Thus says the Lord:  In Ramah is heard the sound of sobbing, bitter weeping!  Rachel mourns for her children, she refuses to be consoled for her children-they are no more!  Rachel’s joy at her newborn son was mixed with sorrow at having to lose him so soon.

Examining the historical context, we find that in Jeremiah’s day, the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem and taken the Jews captive; from Ramah the Jews were forced into exile.  Jacob was called “Israel”, as he was the patriarch of the Israelites.  Rachel was the wife of Israel, and the ancestor of the chief of the northern tribes, Ephraim.  As matriarch, she represented Israel as a mother whose grief for her lost children is especially touching because she was barren for many years before finally giving birth.

In weeping for her children, Rachel is crying for an end to her descendants’ sufferings and exile following the destruction of the ancient temple. Rachel weeps over her children once more, this time because they are being led into captivity and exile near the very spot where she is buried. She is then comforted with the promise that her children will return one day.

Another historical parallel to King Herod’s massacre is the Egyptian pharaoh who ordered the slaughter of Hebrew children. One child, Moses, escaped the mass murders and grew up to become the instrument God used to free his chosen people from their captivity, and to end their exile. Just as one child with an important destiny escaped, so Jesus escapes the murder of the innocents, again like Moses, by going into exile in Egypt. The Israelites were led into Egypt by a man named Joseph, the man with the amazing multi-colored coat, and likewise Jesus, King of Kings, was safely delivered by Joseph, his foster father, to Egypt to escape a similar fate.

Just as the Jews in Jeremiah’s day lived in exile far from home, the child Jesus personal encountered banishment, and like the Israelites of Moses’ day, he had his own exodus from Egypt. There are even more parallels if we look at the way Rachel was comforted with the promise that her children would be restored, with the sign of Moses’ birth that the Israelites’ deliverance was near.  These similar events and Matthew’s reference in Chapter 2 to Rachel are meant to highlight  the birth of the long-awaited Messiah who would bring the hope of salvation.

As Rachel, after the fall off Jerusalem, wept for the sons of Ephraim, she now weeps again for the slaughtered children of Bethlehem. The ruin of her people, led away to Babylon, mirrors the infant Prince of Peace who was forced to flee from his homeland to escape the menace of King Herod.  Rachel’s lament of the downfall of her people, finds it’s fulfillment in the slaughter of the holy innocents and the banishment of the Messiah.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is within the octave of Christmas, since the Holy Innocents gave their lives for the newborn Savior. These first blooms of the Church, the first martyrs, were redeemed by Christ’s birth.  So today, instead of only grieving for their deaths, we can celebrate their birth into eternal life.

These children received the baptism of blood, which cleansed them of original sin and united them to the body of Christ. Instead of water, these precious little ones were washed in their own blood, allowing them to share in his glory.  Just as the first innocents were killed in place of Moses, so the Holy Innocents murdered by Herod are honored by the Catholic Church as the first martyrs for Christ.  But they weren’t simply martyrs for their faith; they actually died in his place.  So today their sacrifice is both honored and mourned. These darling infants may properly be considered as the ‘protomartyrs,’ the first witnesses, ‘the blossom of martyrdom’ (‘flores martyrum,’ as Prudentius calls them).
Do you remember the tsunami in Thailand on December 26, 2004?  Tens of thousands of sweet children drowned in that appalling tragedy two days before the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  The reminder of the sacrifice of the Holy Innocents honored by the Church brought me comfort in coming to terms with the seemingly useless loss of so many young lives.  Today on this same feast, I hope you can find some joy in the midst of grief as we remember the loss of 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary 14 days ago.
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Mary is the mediatrix of all graces; this is a fancy term which basically means that ALL graces flow through Mary.  Not some, not most, but literally ALL graces flow through her.  In other words, if you don’t have a devotion to Mary, you will probably spend a fair amount of time in purgatory.  On the other hand, if you pray the rosary often, wear the miraculous medal, consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary, wear a scapular, or practice other Marian devotions, you have a much better chance to bypass purgatory and go right to heaven! 

 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

Momentous words to describe the supernatural conception of Jesus, the Incarnation.  (Not to be confused  with Immaculate Conception, Mary’s conception).  The Holy Spirit left “the word made flesh”, after he “dwelt within Mary”; we could spend the rest of our lives pondering this immense mystery!  Pope Paul VI described Mary as “fashioned by the Holy Spirit into a kind of new substance and new creature”.  When the Holy Spirit intervened to sanctify her at the moment of her conception, it was a defining and crowning moment in the history of our salvation, transforming her into the “Ark of the Covenant”.  The mystical relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit is extremely close, but inexplicable, and almost beyond our human comprehension.

Mary is the epitome of surrender, and when we turn to her, she shares her holiness and docility, allowing us to benefit from her unique union with the Paraclete.  The Holy Spirit proceeds from the love between the Father and the Son, and is representative of love, manifesting it’s warmth and fruitfulness.  Mary too, was formed from love, and uniquely mirrors the Holy Spirit.  In the mysterious relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit there is an aspect of marriage, which is why Mary is referred to as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.  Their union is so intimate, that Mary became eternally intertwined with the Holy Spirit, and henceforth became the fountain through which the Holy Spirit pours all grace, including his supernatural gifts.

It’s hard to fathom God “overshadowing” and dwelling within Mary; yet there is a parallel between this event, and the “cloud of God”, the symbol of his presence that hovered over the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament.  The Ark was a chest overlaid with pure gold, inside and out; it had to be perfect, since God himself would dwell there.  It makes sense that Mary was immaculately conceived, since she had to be flawless to be a vessel to hold God’s only begotten son.  To establish the new covenant, the shadow of the Most High penetrated and enveloped the new tabernacle, the womb of Mary.

Christian perfection is conforming one’s will to God’s will.  The only way to achieve heaven is to bend our will to God’s will, accepting and fulfilling his plans for us.  Mary conformed her will to God’s will in a manner unmatched by anyone else in the history of mankind.  Just as Mary’s will was always perfectly aligned with the will of the Father, so too we must follow the nudges of the Holy Spirit and follow his direction.  Through original sin, we were estranged from God; but baptism removed original sin and restored us to his covenant.  Mary never experienced this separation, since she was sanctified from the moment of her conception.

The Ark of the Covenant accompanied the Israelites on all their journeys, and was without doubt an integral element of victory at the  Battle of Jericho.  A wonderful source of grace and means of ‘conquering’ evil, we should keep Mary, our beloved Ark, close as we evangelize by sharing scripture, praying, and attacking evil by battling walls of pride and anger.  There is no stronghold that can withstand the power of God’s presence in the Ark of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Blessed Mother is a formidable opponent and a force to be reckoned with!

To understand Mary’s importance as an intercessor, we need to look at the role of the Queen Mother in the ancient Near East and then in the Old Testament (giberah), especially Bathsheba, mother of King Solomon, who became his queen.  The Queen Mother was highly revered and had an important place of honor in her son’s kingdom.  Jesus as king, would certainly give his own mother a place of honor, especially since Mary is doubly honored as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

” A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.  And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.”  Rev. 12:1

This passage is clearly talking about the woman that gave birth to the Savior; she is described as having a crown, and fiercely battles the devil. And of course we know the allusion to king refers to Jesus, who was crowned King of the Jews.   In the old covenant, when there was a king, the queen had no authority of her own.  But, the queen could influence the king with her gentle and wise advise.    Likewise, Mary has no authority whatsoever over her son’s decisions; all she does is make known to him the needs of his children. Just as Bathsheba influenced her son:

So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. Then she said, ‘I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.’ And the king said to her, ‘Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.’ (1 Kgs 2:19-20)

We see this repeated in the New Testament, when Mary asks Jesus to turn the water into wine, which he does.  Even though he first seemed to ignore her, when Mary pointed out a problem, he quickly solved it!

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana ….When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-5)

Are you surprised about the role Mary has in our salvation?  Amazing that a lowly young girl should wield so much influence?  Even more puzzling is the fact that just as Jesus came through Mary, so we also come “through” Mary.  St. Louis de Montfort described Mary as a “the great mold of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a man who is God by the hypostatic union, and through grace to make persons who are like to God.”

So Mary was the mold that shaped God into a human being, as well as the mold that forms us into the image of God. Between Mary’s role as Queen of Heaven, and her position as Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she is a powerful intercessor, both in times of need, and for helping us grow in holiness.  When Mother Teresa had a great need, she would pray her “flying novena” nine times in a row.  We too, in time of need should turn to Mary, our mother.

Remember O most loving Virgin Mary that never was it that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided, inspired by this confidence, therefore I fly to thee O Virgin of Virgins my Mother, to thee do I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful, do not O Mother of the Word Incarnate despise my petition but in thy mercy graciously hear and answer them.  Amen.

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The Real Enemy

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Another senseless, tragic shooting; this time in an elementary school.  How in the name of God could anyone murder 18 adorable, innocent children in cold blood.  Our world is in turmoil and chaos.  But too many people waste time pointing fingers at each other as the cause, or they use this nightmare to politicize and rally for gun control.  Unfortunately they are misguided.  The problem isn’t you; the problem isn’t me; the problem isn’t guns.  The real problems in the world stem from evil, pure and simple. Remember Eph. 6:12 “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

Everyone asks how something so horrific could happen; my nephew, Johnny Stover, articulated the root of the problem “I believe that this is a direct result of teaching our young people that a human is just a highly evolved ape, that a child’s life is of no more value than a mosquito’s. When people are not taught the truth that man is created in the image of God, and that every human life is valuable for that reason (Gen. 9:6), the inevitable result is a culture that does not value human life. This is what creates a situation in which a young man could commit such an atrocity as this. Of course guns will get the blame, but the problem is not the gun, it is the heart of the man holding the gun.”

Pope John Paul II spoke extensively about the “Culture of Death” in our society today. He described the “contraceptive mentality” as taking every step possible to avoid conception of a child, and he felt “contraception and abortion are very closely connected, as fruits of the same tree”.  Currently political leaders and journalists are railing about the need for free birth control to solve poverty and to “liberate women”, and have passed legislation forcing businesses to provide it free.

Children in our culture are too often seen as an inconvenience, or an expense, or a financial burden.  Full term babies can be aborted; and in fact over a million babies are aborted every year.  Why are we so surprised at the seemingly endless accounts of murders and bombings throughout the world?  If we can be so casual about ending the life of a child inside of the womb, why be so shocked at the next logical step of killing children after they are born?  When babies are disposable, respect for the sanctity and dignity of life loses all value.

In their 2001 revision of the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities “A Campaign in Support of Life”, the United States Catholic Bishops speak of the connection between abortion and contraception when they write: “It is noteworthy that as acceptance and use of contraception have increased in our society, so have acceptance and use of abortion. Couples who unintentionally conceive a child while using contraception are far more likely to resort to abortion than others. Tragically, our society has fallen into a mentality that views children as a burden and invites many to consider abortion as a ‘backup’ to contraceptive failure. This is most obvious in efforts to promote as ’emergency contraception’ drugs that really act as early abortifacients.”

For decades politicians have claimed that contraception will end poverty, yet in America the largest contributor to poverty and hunger stems from the breakdown of the family unit.   The largest group in poverty are unwed moms,  but our president and liberal politicians are obsessed with forcing Catholic and other Christian groups and businesses to dispense free contraception.  They have actual disdain for traditional values such as self-control, chastity, and other virtues.  These politicians think children, the greatest gift God has given us, as the enemy, instead of understanding that selfishness and lust are the real adversary.

You have probably heard the term “know your enemy”.  It is actually a military term  attributed to an ancient Chinese warrior.   Sun Tzu taught his men to “know your enemy” before going into battle. For if “you know your enemy and know yourself,” he wrote, “you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” But, Sun Tzu warned, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”  In other words, if you don’t know who you are actually fighting, you can just keep spinning your wheels, fighting the same battles over and over, never making any headway.

Back in the seventies there was a lot of propaganda, and the media convinced us there were too many people, and not enough agricultural land to grow enough food for everyone.  We were told people were starving all over the world because we didn’t have enough resources.  It turns out, this claim was an absolute lie!  The farmers in the US amply supply Americans with food, and are the largest exporter to other countries.  World hunger has absolutely no correlation with supply.  The main reason for world hunger comes from leaders of governments who systematically starve their people in order to subjugate them.  Stalin purposely starved to death 16 million Ukranians;  Kim Jong II, dictator in North Korea, deliberately starved 23 million to death; Farah Aideed, in Somalia, Castro, and Mao all used food deprivation to achieve allegiance and compliance with their corrupt regimes.  Yet many scholars today still claim the enemy is overpopulation, instead of the real enemy, the overriding need for power and control.

If your husband is abusive, you may think he is the real enemy.  If your house or business has been robbed by a teen with a drug addiction, you may be tempted to think teens are the enemy; or if you have been physically reprimanded by a stern nun when you were a child, you may be tempted to think of the Church as the enemy.  If the government strangles your business with taxes and regulations, you may think the enemy is the government.  On all counts, you would be wrong.

The real enemy is satan, a/k/a Lucifer, or the devil.  The devil hates God and all of us, because we are God’s beloved children.  The devil knows he will ultimately lose, but he wants to take as many people to hell that he can.  It all traces back to Adam and Eve and the tragic decision they made to disobey God.  By listening to the devil’s lies, sin entered the world.  Instead of fighting each other, we should try to be united, pray, and fight the real opponent, sin!  We should fight the demons of pride, anger, despair, lust, fear and shame and all the other “principalities and powers”.

So how do we defeat the devil and his demons?  First, put on the “armor of God”; in Eph. 6:13 we’re told to “put on the armor of God; the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the spirit, and the shield of faith”.  When doubts and anxiety overtake you, put on your shield of faith with the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.  How did Jesus fight with devil?  With scripture!  Keep comforting verses handy, like Psalm 27 “the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear?”  Prayer is our mightiest weapon against the tactics of the evil one, and we are so blessed in the Catholic faith with sacramentals such as the St. Benedict and St. Michael medals, rosaries, holy water and crucifixes.  The greatest weapons to fight the devil are mass, adoration, confession, and the rosary.

The devil particularly hates the crucifix, because the moment Jesus died on the cross is when he defeated the devil.  The St. Benedict crucifix is doubly powerful, as St. Benedict is the patron saint for protection from evil.  His own monks tried to poison him because he required them to be holy.  When St. Benedict made the sign of the cross over the cup with the poisoned wine, the cup shattered!  The St. Benedict medal is supposed to be to be effective in many ways:

  • to destroy witchcraft and all other diabolical and haunting influences;
  • to impart protection to persons tempted, deluded, or tormented by evil spirits;
  • to obtain the conversion of sinners into the Catholic Church, especially when they are in danger of death;
  • to serve as an armor against temptation;
  • to destroy the effects of poison;
  • to secure a timely and healthy birth for children;
  • to afford protection against storms and lightning;
  • to serve as an efficacious remedy for bodily afflictions and a means of protection against contagious diseases.

The devil also hates Mary because she is the embodiment of humility.  As Father Gabriel Amorth, the chief exorcist of the Vatican explains:

“One day a colleague of mine heard the devil say during an exorcism: “Every Hail Mary is like a blow on my head. If Christians knew how powerful the Rosary was, it would be my end.” The secret that makes this prayer so effective is that the Rosary is both prayer and meditation. It is addressed to the Father, to the Blessed Virgin, and to the Holy Trinity, and is a meditation centered on Christ.

Today more than ever, the world is in need of prayer and meditation. It is in need of prayer because people have forgotten God, and without God the world has put itself on the edge of a precipice. This is why in Her messages, Our Lady insists so much on prayer. Without God’s help, Satan wins. The world is also in need of meditation because if the great Christian truths are forgotten, souls become void. This void is grabbed up by the enemy, and he fills it with his lies. And today we see the results with widespread belief in superstition and occultism.”

Pope Leo XIII wrote the Saint Michael prayer in 1884, after supposedly seeing a frightening vision of evil spirits fiercely attacking the Church. The Pope was so horrified by what he saw he felt compelled to compose this prayer to strengthen us in our struggle.  This prayer is also especially effective against the darts of the evil one.

Picture of Saint Michael courtesy of Chant Art

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

Another weapon in our arsenal is love.  1st John 4 “perfect love casts out fear”; our love and kindness will heal division, arrogance and shame.  We should always stand up for truth, and against injustice, but we can’t fight hatred with hatred.  So know your real enemy and fight with all your being against the forces of evil threatening us today!

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The Joy of Heaven

Advent is a time of waiting, and we can certainly emulate Mary in patiently waiting for Christ to come.  Every advent when we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, the lyrics stir my heart to yearn for Emmanuel, “God with us”, for Him to end our lonely exile from heaven.  I can rejoice knowing this often complicated and difficult journey here on earth will eventually end, and I will joyfully join our savior in heaven,  where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Rev. 21:4  Advent stirs a longing in my heart for heaven, a place where there won’t be any disappointments or failures, where there is an absence of pain and sorrow; where evil doesn’t exist!

So many loved ones have gone before me, and I’m comforted knowing one day I will be reunited with my parents, my brothers, and so many other extended family members.  Since my mother died 11 years ago, there is a loneliness and ache in my heart that never goes away, leaving a longing to be reunited with her again.  How wonderful it will be to rejoin my loved ones, and never experience grief or hurt ever again!

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel, 
That mourns in lonely exile here 
Until the Son of God appear. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

So many friends are out of work, suffering from cancer, or grieving the loss of a family member.  Yet no The Visitation by Carl Bloch, Luke 1matter how troubling our circumstances, we can always have joy in our heart.  Not because of our trials, but because we have God’s promise to always be with us, along with joy of the promise and hope of heaven.  When Mary went to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth and assist her at the delivery of John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s baby “leapt with joy” when the two women embraced.  The infant John was jubilant to be in such close proximity to the “King of Kings”, who was coming to save the world from it’s sins.

This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday;  the significance is to remind us that joy and gladness in the hope of eternal life should always be present in our heart.  We are “strangers and sojourners in the world” 1st Peter 2:11, and our time on earth is short, compared to eternity in heaven.    This Sunday is a wonderful time to ponder the joys of heaven, our final destination.  Many think heaven will be a boring place where everyone stands around in choir robes singing hymns; but nothing could be further from the truth!  Every experience we have here on earth, all the knowledge we acquire, every memory in our heart will be carried to heaven as a part of us.

Cover of "A Travel Guide to Heaven"

The book,  “Travel Guide to Heaven“, by Anthony Destefano, is a wonderful book about heaven; the author takes descriptions of heaven from the fathers of the church and from scripture, and paints you an inspiring picture of paradise.  As Destefano tells us in his book “heaven is fun!  It’s a place of unlimited pleasure, unlimited happiness, and unlimited joy.”  It’s an actual, physical place, NOT a state of mind; it’s “dynamic, bursting with excitement”!  “It’s the ultimate playground, created purely for our enjoyment”.  But when we go to heaven, we undergo a transformation described by St. Paul in Phil. 3:20 “…our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

In this transformation, God will remove your negative traits such as laziness, greed and anxiety, and instead, you will enter heaven with your true identity; the identity God saw in you when he created you in his image and likeness, as his beloved daughter or son.  After your transformation, the only qualities that will remain are your good qualities such as kindness, compassion, trust and patience.  In heaven our physical desires will no longer control us; instead, “our bodies will be totally subservient to our wills.  We won’t have any bad vices, bad habits or urges we can’t control.  We’ll finally be in total command of our actions and behaviors.” (Travel Guide to Heaven)

Do you remember the way Jesus would magically appear through closed doors? Then he would mysteriously leave and appear days later on a fishing boat?  Just imagine that you will have this same ability.  Your body will do whatever it’s told and will go wherever it is told, instantly! I will probably never get to half the exotic places I want to visit in this lifetime, but it doesn’t matter, because in heaven I will have the chance to travel to Paris, Rome, Hawaii, or any other exciting locale I desire!

In the afterlife, your body will be metamorphasized for eternity; you will never again experience hunger, cold, fatigue or pain.  The book of Revelation tells us heaven itself will be spectacularly beautiful with “light as radiant as precious stones; the city itself of pure gold, the walls adorned with emeralds, sapphires, jasper and agate; the 12 gates adorned with pearls; and the streets of the city of pure gold, like transparent glass”.  I’m sure heaven will be full of fabulous mountain ranges, brilliant sunsets, extraordinary waterfalls and gorgeous beaches.

In 1st Peter 1:3 St. Peter reminds us that God’s great mercy has given us “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish,  spoil or fade.”  And this inheritance is kept in heaven for you, when at the end of time, you will receive the result of your faith, and you will be filled with “inexpressible and glorious joy, and praise, honor and glory”!  So don’t be afraid; your inheritance is waiting for you!

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“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Enya 

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Mary Did You Know?

During advent I try to spend time meditating on the Christmas story, and try to imagine what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary as they awaited the birth of their baby.  Sometimes I can be somewhat cerebral and have Millennium Personalized Prayer Card (Priced Per Card)difficulty contemplating the reality of the mixed emotions they would have experienced.   It’s hard for me to understand the confusion Joseph must have felt when he found out Mary was pregnant, and whether Mary was shocked when the angel asked her to be the mother of God.  Music has always helped me to take detached facts, and turn them into tangible realities deep within my heart. This time of year I particularly enjoy listening to the song “Breath of Heaven”, by Amy Grant, as she describes in Mary’s words the wonder of being chosen from all women by God to carry his son.  When I listen to this song, I can imagine Mary questioning why she was entrusted with this enormous responsibility; why not someone wiser or older?

Mary was pregnant, and Joseph, her betrothed, was not the father.  This was a shocking crime punishable by death!  How alone and abandoned she must have felt when Joseph found out she was pregnant with a child that was not his. Every time Mary felt the baby move under her ribs, she must have reflected on the tremendous task of carrying the redeemer of the world.  She must have mused during those long nights about the pending birth; knowing she would give birth to the word made flesh.

The bible doesn’t say a word about what Joseph thought, it only tells us “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  Matthew 1.  That’s it?  Nothing about how horrified he must have felt to discover that his beloved was pregnant with some other man’s baby?  Not a word about how betrayed and angry he must have been?  I’m sure he indulged in speculation about the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy; was she in love with another man?  How could she have betrayed him; didn’t she care about him?  She was his betrothed!   In spite of what Joseph must have felt, his main concern was for Mary.  He decided to divorce her quietly, so no one would find out, and so she wouldn’t suffer the hideous punishment of being stoned to death.

Thankfully God was merciful and appeared to Joseph in a dream “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Seriously, that’s the entire explanation Joseph gets?  No wonder Joseph is called “St. Joseph”!  How scary to realize that God’s child would be entrusted into his humble care to protect, guide and nurture.  Quite a daunting enterprise! Did Joseph puzzle over the manner in which the Holy Spirit was able to miraculously transform the essence of an omnipotent and magnificent God, into a fragile, helpless baby boy in Mary’s womb?

Another song that moves me to breathless anticipation of the arrival of Christ are the moving lyrics to “Mary Did You Know”.  For nine months Mary pondered the coming birth of the long awaited messiah.  She was Jewish, and was well versed in the promises in scripture which referred to the messiah, which means “the anointed one” in  Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

How could Mary wrap her mind around her child being divine; how did she come to terms with the knowledge that he would have the ability to perform miracles?  Did she know that he would one day walk on water?  That one day he would overcome the sting of death, and bring the dead back to life?  Bring sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf?  She must have spent long hours in prayer, pouring out her heart to God, asking for wisdom and strength for the days ahead.  Can you imagine her excitement and longing for the day when her cherished child would finally come?  But not just ANY child; her child would bring hope to a weary world, light to our darkness, an end to oppression and hunger, and truth to a world lost in error.

The Holy Spirit ‘overshadowed her”; incomprehensible words to describe such an incredible, earth shattering event!  Mary is the only one in the history of mankind to have the Holy Spirit dwell within her, and leave the Incarnate Word.   Did she really truly understand the significance of her yes to Gabriel’s request when she answered “be it done to me according to your word”? Luke 1:38   She must have spent hours simply daydreaming about what it would be like to kiss the face of God, knowing his coming would redeem the entire world, including herself!  How could she grasp the knowledge that he would heal the lame, cast out demons and become the Lord of all creation and the ruler of all nations.

What a tumultuous roller coaster those nine months must have been for the holy couple.  And just when they were able to come to terms with being the future parents of the “Prince of Peace” and await the blessed birth of their divine son, God sends another zinger!  Caesar Augustus decrees a census must be taken of the entire Roman world; so Joseph would have to take Mary to his home town of Bethlehem, the town of David, as Joseph belonged to the line of David, to register them both.  They would be undertaking a long journey of many days while Mary was nine months pregnant and due to deliver at any time.  Joseph must have been frantic trying to keep Mary comfortable and safe on such a hazardous trip over difficult roads when she was so cumbersome in her advanced pregnancy.

Throughout their lives, Mary and Joseph were exemplary models of a childlike trust and steadfast faith even in the most distressful or frightening situations, and their example can certainly help us in the trials and difficulties in our own lives.  Pondering the life of the Holy Family helps you to come to know Christ in a deeper and more intimate way, making our faith more relevant and meaningful; the more you ‘know’ Jesus, the stronger your faith. God can often feel distant and far removed.  Meditating on the incarnation gives you insight into the mystery of salvation, making the life of Christ concrete and real, and drawing you closer to God.   So find your method which works best, and try to spend time delving into advent with an expectant hope of the long awaited birth of the messiah!

“Breath of Heaven”, by Amy Grant

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