Ad-Venire

“At this Christmas when Christ comes,
will He find a warm heart?
Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving
the others with God’s own love and concern.”

-Mother Teresa

This evening, I had the opportunity to attend a Rorate Caeli Mass at my home parish. It is a Mass about which I know very little, but it was quite beautiful! The Mass is a votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The entire church was lit by only candles, and some of the seminarians from my diocese were there to chant some of the Mass parts. Also, when it came to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest celebrated ad orientem – to the East – so that the priest was facing the same direction as the people. The Mass was indeed beautiful. Father’s homily was especially wonderful. I had never heard this priest from my parish preach, but I learned this evening that he is a great homilist. He reflected on two things as we approach Christmas throughout this Advent season. Those two things are what I would like to reflect on here.

Firstly, Father discussed the ad orientem posture of the Mass. He explained that it is an ancient posture of the Church, by which the priest and the congregation all face in the same direction. Everyone faces the East (or liturgical East) in anticipation of the coming Christ, both in the Incarnation and in the Second Coming. Therefore, it is a most appropriate posture to take during this Advent season, for we indeed anticipate the coming Christ. We look to the East as we seek to wait for the Lord. Christmas is the joyous season in which we remember when the Jesus Christ was born. The Advent seasons is a semi-penitential season in which the Church anticipates Christ’s coming at Christmas, at the Second Coming, and in our hearts. We are encouraged to utilize this season in order to prepare ourselves to bear Christ.

That leads us to the next portion of what Father discussed. God gives us a lovely and perfect exampleMary Help of Christians to follow as we seek to prepare our hearts for Christmas, for the coming of Christ: the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it is common for Protestants to neglect Marian devotion, we Catholics recognize her as a gift from God. God did not have to become man through the Blessed Virgin, but He did, and so we venerate His Mother as our own. During her pregnancy and during Christ’s childhood, the Blessed Virgin Mary had a relationship with Jesus more intimate than any other person would ever have. Having born the Christ to the world, Mary knows what it is that will make us worthy to bear Him. We must turn to Mary, to her intercession, to her love, so that we may be truly worthy and truly prepared to bear Jesus Christ within us. We must constantly turn to the Blessed Virgin, so that, as much as she is present within us, so too will Christ be present within us.

“Lovely Lady dressed in blue –
Teach me how to pray!

God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say!

Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to Him the way
Mother does to me?

Did you hold His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories of the world?
O! And did He cry?

Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things –
Little things that happen? And
Do the Angels’ wings

Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me – for you know.

Lovely Lady dressed in blue – 
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.”

-Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue

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Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea

“Loving Mother of the Redeemer,
gate of heaven, star of the sea,
assist your people who have fallen
yet strive to rise again.
To the wonderment of nature
you bore your Creator,
yet remained a virgin after as before.
You, who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting,
have pity on us poor sinners.”

-Alma Redemptoris Mater

The Church, since her origins in the 1st century, has honored and venerated Mary, the Mother of God. On this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I want to reflect on two titles given to Mary. The first is ‘Gate of Heaven,’ and the second is ‘Star of the Sea.’ Firstly, it would be good to discuss the idea behind Marian titles. Someone might say “Mary’s not a gate or a star; she’s a human person.’ Mother of GodWell I have a response to such a snarky remark. Marian titles can have different purposes. Some Marian titles express doctrinal truths. Marian doctrine is so essential (in a philosophical sense) to Mary herself, that these titles express truths at the core of her being. The Church holds 5 doctrines (4 dogmatically defined) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She believes that Mary was conceived without original sin. Mary is believed to have remained a Perpetual Virgin. She is believed to be the Mother of God. Mary is believed to have been assumed body and soul into Heaven. She is believed to have participated in the redemption, to mediate grace to mankind, and to advocate for mankind. Mary has been given many titles, some of which specifically refer to these doctrines: the Immaculate Conception, the Aeiparthenos, the Theotokos, Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces, and Advocate. By dogmatically defining Marian doctrines, the Church has received much grace from increased knowledge of the work and significance of Mary, which is why many people seek the dogmatic definition of Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate.

There are also Marian titles based on apparitions, like Our Lady of Fatima or Our Lady of Lourdes (or Our Lady of Guadalupe). These titles seek to commemorate Our Lady’s apparitions and the messages of those apparitions. Because there are so many supposed apparitions, the Church investigates and discerns the validity of each one. It is important, therefore, to stress and seek the intercession of approved Marian apparitions. The Church also says that the Faithful can spread the message of apparitions that have not been formally approved or condemned. It is important in those instances, however, to accept the Church’s ruling on that apparition, whatever it may be. It is important to remember that apparitions are private revelation, and, because the messages do not belong to the Deposit of Faith, belief is not necessitated by the Church.

Other titles of Mary express the roles that she plays, either with relatively direct language or Our Lady, Rosaryutilizing images. Mary is Our Lady of the Rosary, for the power of the rosary is so immense, and we as Mary’s children can always seek her intercession through the rosary. She is also the Queen of All Saints. While the saints are indeed in paradise with the Lord in Heaven, Mary was the sole human person (since Christ is a Divine person) to neither sin nor experience the stain of sin throughout all her life. Therefore, she is lifted above all the other saints (also as the Theotokos) as Queen of All Saints.

As I said, there are also more figurative titles of Our Lady that express the roles she takes. Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. Like the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, Mary bore the present of God. Just as the Spirit overshadowed the Ark, so too did the Spirit overshadow Our Lady. The Ark of the Covenant held a sample of manna, the rod of Aaron, and samples of the 10 commandments. The manna is a type of the Eucharist, while the rod and commandments symbolize priesthood and the Law, respectively. Mary thus bears these three things within her in the Person of Jesus Christ. So, while she is not literally an ark, Mary does fulfill the same role as the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, but in a fulfilled manner.

Like I said, I wanted to discuss two Marian images that we find in the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which is the Marian antiphon during this time of Advent: Gate of Heaven, and Star of the Sea. They might be my favorite Marian images. Firstly, Gate of Heaven. Mary is the Gate of Heaven, for it is through her that Christ came from Heaven to earth. And it is through her that we attain paradise, that we can get to Heaven. Mary is the Mediatrix of All Graces, so it is through Mary that we are equipped with that which we need to get into Heaven, whether we do it intentionally or not. St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri said that “Mary having co-operated in our redemption with so much glory to God and so much love for us, Our Lord ordained that no one shall obtain salvation except through her intercession.” So Mary is the Gate through which all of mankind must go in order to get to Heaven. Either Mary grants us the grace because we seek her Son, or she grants us the grace because we seek her Son through her. The former is out of mercy, while the latter is right and just. It is only right that we seek to go to Christ through Mary, for Christ came to us through her.

Secondly, Mary is Star of the Sea. This is indeed a rich image. We are all out at sea, seeking our home. Some people are concerned Star of the Seaabout getting home, so they are just milling about, having a joyride at sea. Others are consulting maps and constellations. Others are looking out at sea for different landmasses to indicate where they are. In reality, as long as we look up at Our Lady, the Star of the Sea, we will never get lost. She always leads us in the right direction. If we follow her, we cannot get lost. That is a relieving thought, for, when we entrust ourselves to Mary, she will not fail to transform us into the Beloved Children of God, in order that she may present us to her Son, Jesus Christ. Sometimes, the seas get stormy, and we get lost, for we lose sight of the star. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Our Lady, we can battle through any storm that this life can give us.

Therefore, I encourage you to seek Our Lady, to seek her help, her guidance. Our Lady is the Gate of Heaven, through which we may attain eternal paradise with the Lord. She is the Star of the Sea, who leads us on our journey at sea to arrive safely home in paradise with the Lord. We can arrive there without acknowledging her. However, it is easier to get there by way of her. It is also more just, for Christ has desired for it to be that way. I encourage you to honor Our Lady, and hold her within your heart, so that the Holy Spirit can come place Jesus Christ within you.

“When the Holy Spirit, her spouse, finds Mary in a soul,
he hastens there and enters fully into it.
He gives himself generously to that soul
according to the place it has given to his spouse.
One of the main reasons why the Holy Spirit does not work
striking wonders in souls is that he fails to find in them
a sufficiently close union with his faithful and inseparable spouse.”

-St. Louis de Montfort

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Goodbye, ’14; Hello, ’15

“Be at war with your vices,
at peace with your neighbors,
and let every new year find you a better man.”

-Benjamin Franklin

Here we are once again: the end of our calendar year. The Earth has revolved around the sun one more time. We have gone through 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. How much has happened? How much have you done? Where have you gone? Was it a good year? A bad year? Did you lose weight? Gain weight? Did you gain friends or lose friends? Did you break promises? Did you reconnect with those long-lost friends? Did you respect? Did you love?

Did you stay true to your resolutions? What?! How do you expect us to remember our resolutions? That was a whole year ago! My question to you: why should that be so hard? Every single year, we stand in anticipation of the New Year, ready with our resolutions. We think, Okay. THIS is the year. I will change this year. We see all of our failures in the last year, noticing all of the potential in this next year. I want this year to be a good year. I will get in shape. I will improve my friendships. I will respect. I will love. The question is: Will you? But seriously, think about it. WILL YOU? These resolutions should be taken seriously. We cannot expect to change if we’re not willing to…well, change!

Once again, let’s take a look at this last year. Was it perfect? I doubt it. Did you perfect your friendships, Self-loathingyour relationships? I highly doubt it. Did you change in the ways you wanted to? I hope so. Probably not perfectly. Did you love perfectly? I doubt it. How should we respond to these thoughts? Wallow in self-pity? Stare into the abyss? Drink the night away to forget these failures? These all sound like terrible ideas. How often do we allow regrets to overcome us? We look to our past, thinking that these regrets will actually help. So, if we should not regret, why think about the past? Like we have established, we are not perfect; we tend to lead imperfect lives. As we tend to hear from History teachers, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). We need to understand our own past in order to improve our future. We must know our failures in order to learn to succeed.

How often do we attempt to make resolutions that we can never keep? “I won’t drink this year.” “I’m going to eat healthy this year.” “I’m not going to cuss.” If these are the resolutions we are making, they are probably things we need to changebut would have difficulty changing. We also present ourselves with very vague ideas of what we are going to do. If we want to change, we need concrete ideas of how we can improve ourselves and our lives in this coming year. We try to take the whole year by storm in one fell swoop through that idea of what needs to change. We say that this will change, and we won’t do that this year, but we never provide ourselves with how we will achieve those ends. For that reason, we fail. We make it hard for ourselves, because we give ourselves no guidance.

We also try to do it all on our own. Is it not completely appropriate that we begin our Mary Help of Christiansyear by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (which is indeed a Holy Day of Obligation). Mary is known as the Help of Christians. We have the opportunity to begin our new year by seeking the help of our dear Mother. She can give us any assistance that we need as we begin this year. There is definitely no problem with making resolutions. It’s obviously a good thing – seeking to better oneself by looking at one’s past mistakes. Our Mama can help us. All we have to do is seek her help. If we give ourselves realistic resolutions, she can indeed give us the help and grace we need to achieve those goals, as any good mother would.

One of the most important aspects of seeking one’s own change: tFirst day - BrBaaking it one day at a time. We cannot expect to seek our entire self-improvement at one moment. We only need to seek to become our best selves each day. We must be able to accept that any changes we make must start today, on this day. Our change starts today. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. We cannot change anything that has happened in the past. All that we can do is take what we are today and transform it in our days to come. Life comes at you fast, so just take it one day at a time, starting with this New Year.

“The best thing about the future
is that it comes one day at a time.”

-Abraham Lincoln

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Come, Follow Me

“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.
At once they left their nets and followed him.”

-Matthew 4:18-20

Today, the Gospel reading comes from Matthew. Jesus calls His first Apostles. As we listen to these words, we can’t merely Fishers of menjust think, “Oh. Cool. He called those dudes who became the first bishops. Noted.” No. We need to realize that that call goes out to EVERYONE. Matthew chooses to stress the fact that Simon and Andrew were fishermen. Fishermen weren’t exactly set apart from everyone else. Fishermen were just ordinary people. That’s whom Jesus called, that’s whom He calls: ordinary people. We, as ordinary people, must heed Christ’s call. Accepting God’s love and grace, we must bring Christ to all. We must be able to bring all to know the love and mercy of God. God sent us as messengers for him, not for ourselves. We must bring all people to come to know Christ. If they don’t know us, that is fine. That may even be best. They should not be recognizing us as we come to them; they should be recognizing Christ and the love He brings.

Today we hear a message of hope. In today’s first reading, Isaiah proclaims:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.” (Isaiah 9:1-2)

God’s prophet reveals this message of hope to all. God leads man out of darkness and into the light. Only by His grace can man truly escape the dark of sin and death, and enter into the light of love and life. We are called to participate in this in two main ways. Firstly, as said above, we are all called to be fishers of men. By the love and grace of God, we are called to seek to bring the nations to Christ and bring Christ to the nations. Our Faith does not call us to ‘Be good.’ We aren’t just supposed to seek to be ‘nice.’ Our Faith is so much bigger than that. We must seek to share the Truth and Love that is God Himself. God is the Light of the world. When we bring the Light TO the world, God banishes the darkness. People will rejoice in the love of God, being released from the darkness. We are all called to live that wish of Christ, evangelizing Christ’s message of love to all the nations, by word and by deed.

Also, we are called to bring the light of Christ to our hearts, minds, and souls. None of us our perfect. We all sin. We all do crap that hurts God, hurts our neighbors, and hurts ourselves. We can’t truly rid ourselves of that darkness without the light and grace of God. So we must continually seek God’s help in prayer (and in the Sacraments, for Catholics). He can bring the light of His love into our hearts to help us see our failures. God will forgive us, IF we ask for it. If we’re not sorry and willing to seek His forgiveness, we won’t get it. We get the forgiveness for which we truly ask and the forgiveness we give. When we seek God’s healing hand, He will heal us. His light will guide us in the darkest of times; we just have to follow it. When we go astray, we can run back to Him. We just need to always remember to accept His grace. In the Gospel today, Christ proclaims to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). That is what we must continually do: repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand and among us. We need to trust in the Lord and recognize that.

“Have you no wish for others to be saved?
Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!” 

-Charles H. Spurgeon

Who Am I? How Am I?

“What you are is God’s gift to you,
what you become is your gift to God.”

-Hans Urs von Balthasar

Sometimes we can be bombarded by different thoughts of what we should do with our lives and with what identity should mean. But how are we supposed to know what identity actually means? Who am I? Ryan. But does that really answer the question? If somebody asks me who I am, how does telling them my name help them in discovering of my identity? “Ryan” means “little king.” I can tell you that I’m not a little king. [I do share in Christ’s mission to be priest, prophet, and king, but that is a different story.] I’m just a layperson, studying in the hopes to grow in knowledge. My name really tells me nothing of who I am, of my identity. It gives someone a name by which to call me, but the name tells nothing of identity. I go to school with several Ryans. If someone asks each of us who we are, there is no way to give a distinction in identity by giving our first name. Does that mean we’re the same person? Of course not. If we give our last name, that just tells the family from which we stem. But it really says nothing of who I am.

I keep throwing out “who I am” and identity. But still, what does that mean? Like Adam Sandler in the scene above, we are constantly given different ideas of what identity is. To some, identity stems from our name. Some people tell us it’s all about what we do, what our job/occupation is. Other people say that our identity lies within our hobbies and what we like to do for fun. Some people expect us to describe our personality when asked about our identity. At times, we let others tell us who we are. We are attacked from every side with whom others think we are and what they want us to be. We become convinced by others that we are whom they want us to be. We let others define us, define our identity. We become confused and lost, not knowing who we really are, thinking that we are who we are actually not.

The Ancient Greek Philosopher Heraclitus believed that there was nothing but change. Identity was an illusion. He stated that [Took Ping Pong break.] [10 Minutes Later] Heraclitus believed that someone could never swim in the same river twice. No one could say they have an identity. Everyone changes constantly. There is no way to address the actual being. Another Ancient Greek Philosopher, Parmenides, believed that there is no such thing as change. All that exists is a constant identity, a constant being. There is no way to address the actuality of change. Neither of them truly understood the idea of the human person. They could both grasp part of it, but there was something that both of them were missing. Heraclitus was properly answering the question of “How am I?” And Parmenides knew how to answer the question “Who am I?”

 If I want to know who I am, all I have to do is look at Scripture. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Christ is baptized, a voice from Heaven proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). When Christians are baptized, they become adopted sons and daughters of God. We who are baptized can answer the question, “Who am I?” by saying that they are a Beloved Son/Daughter of God. Our identity lies in that. That can never change; that will never change. God fully and truly loves us. No matter how someone treats you or how you view yourself, you will always have an identity as God’s Beloved Child. Identity is a static, unchanging thing. There is something about everyone that must remain constant. In order for change to occur, it must be relative to some constant. Our being finds its identity in that we are Beloved Children of God. No one can tell you otherwise. [For those people who are not baptized, they do not lack an identity. They can still proclaim that they are a part of God’s beautiful creation. The human person was the peak of creation. That creation is truly a beautiful thing. God looked at creation and saw how good it was.]

However, no man is perfect.  If someone claims to be perfect, they are a liar and, therefore, imperfect. [If someone is reading this and thinking, “Christ is a man; he’s perfect. Mary’s a human person; she’s perfect,” be quiet. You know that’s not what I mean. They are the only two human persons in all of history to have been perfect.] [I will begin referring to specifically Christians. If someone is not a Christian and would like to discuss where they come into this, let me know.] No one, by mere words or deeds, can divorce themselves from being God’s Beloved Children. At Baptism, God adopts us into His family. That is forever. We can never lose our identity in God, in Christ. None of the saints that are in Heaven led perfect lives. The band Ludo has a song called “Topeka” that has lyrics that express it perfectly.

“Every saint has a past;
Every sinner has a future.”

It wasn’t necessary to put the whole song, but it’s such a great song. What makes someone a saint or a sinner has nothing to do with identity. Who I am does not depend on what I do on the weekends. My identity is now and will forever be “a Beloved Son of God,” and I’m dang proud to say that.

But there’s part of each and every one of us that doesn’t stay constant; we are changing constantly. Well, those changing parts of us answer the question “How am I?” When someone asks you,”How are you?” people often assume they are asking of their mood (How are you doing?). In actuality, the question of “How are you?” can be answered in a multitude of ways. The word “how” is defined as what manner, extent, degree, state, condition, etc. If someone asks of a person’s state or condition, that could mean very many things. Someone could be asking about any of the things with which Adam Sandler tried to answer Jack Nicholson in the clip above. How I am is constantly changing, or at least certain aspects of how I am. Far too often, people define themselves as how they are. They use their occupation, or their hobbies, or their personality to DEFINE who they are. But they are in fault by doing so. When we identify, give identity to, ourselves by aspects of how we are, we limit ourselves; we strip ourselves of the dignity we are given by our true identity: being a Beloved Son/Daughter of God.

“How are you?”
-I’m a sinner, a Fisher of Men, a fan of music, a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic, and much more.

“Who are you?”
-A Beloved Son of God.

The quote at the beginning of the post can be greatly understood in the light of this understanding of who and how I am. God grants us who we are; He grants us our identity. That is His gift to us. There is no way for us to earn it. He freely gives our identity to us out of love. How we are is what we become. We are constantly in a state of becoming. In Metaphysics, this is referred to as ‘Metaphysical Time”: the difference between what I do and who I am. Who we are has a certain dignity and certain attributes. While we are always Beloved Children of God, how we are does not always perfectly align with that identity. Actually, it rarely ever does, I’d say. We are constantly working to return God’s gift to us back to Him. Part of our mission as human persons is to close the gap between who we are and how we are. If I want to be who I am, I have to rearrange HOW I am, to become WHO I am. It’s a continuous process that I don’t expect to fully complete while on Earth, but I hope to be as close to who I am as possible.

Now when someone asks you, “How are you?” if you begin to tell them about your personality, or your occupation, or other aspects of HOW you are, they will probably look at you strangely. By answering that you are doing well, you are, indeed, answering the question, just not fully. One could make the argument that you can never fully communicate that reality. And when someone asks you who you are, they might look at you with an inquisitive glare if you respond by saying that you are a Beloved Son (or Daughter) of God. Something we can never forget, however: our identity lies in that we are Beloved Sons/Daughters of God. I cannot claim to find identity in the name Ryan or the fact that I’m a student at Franciscan University. To claim that, to believe that would be to admit that I’m lost, I’m confused, and I don’t understand myself.

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