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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The Light of Eärendil

Frodo-Galadriel

 “’And you, Ringbearer’ she said, turning to Frodo. ‘I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts. For you I have prepared this.’ She held up a small crystal phial: it glittered as she moved it and rays of white light sprang from her hand. ‘In this phial,’ she said,’ is caught the light of Earendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, as the Fellowship prepares to leave Lothlórien, Galadriel grants each member a gift that she knows will benefit them along their journey. And to Frodo, she provides a vial (or ‘phial,’ (those weird British spellings…)) of the light of Eärendil, a star from Elvish lore. She tells Frodo that this light will provide light for him whenever he finds himself lost in the darkness of the world around him. The light of Eärendil lights up his surroundings when he cannot seem to find his way. The light of this star was said to shine brighter than any other star. While Galadriel was a co-ruler of Lothlórien (the Elvish haven away from the evil emanating from the darkness of Mordor) and the ‘Lady of Light,’ Frodo still remained a mere hobbit, seen as one of the lowest of creatures because they were rarely looked upon, from the Shire, a small rural town out of the way of anything that happened in the world. For Galadriel to give Frodo the light of Eärendil would seem almost like an insult to the sacredness of the star. But the last thing that someone would do is undermine the authority and wisdom of the ‘Lady of the Golden Wood.’ The Lady Galadriel was known throughout all of Middle Earth for her wisdom, purity, and incomparable beauty. While very few people were graced with the opportunity to behold her beauty, all knew of her divine elegance and of the blessed gift it was for the Fellowship to gaze upon her countenance.

The Virgin Mary, Mother of God, has been known as “Blessed” as far back as when the Lord Jesus was conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit. Throughout all of Tradition, she has been known for her purity, for her true intimacy with God, and for her beauty. Nothing could compare to the beauty of the Blessed Virgin, because she was free from all sin. There was neither stain on her soul from Original Sin, nor from her own doing. She had the Supernatural Life within her, that life that God desires for each and every one of us. While God desires perfection for us, Mary had achieved and sustained that perfection throughout all of her life.

Mary-GraceWhen the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he greeted her by saying, “Hail, full of grace!” For those of you that do not know what grace is, grace is God’s very life given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Grace is a gift. There is nothing that we can do throughout all of our lives that would deserve the gift of grace. Grace is the Supernatural Life of God within us. And by proclaiming that Mary was full of grace, Gabriel was proclaiming that truth that Mary had within her all grace. There was no part of her not touched by the grace of God. She was so filled with the grace of God, the Supernatural Life of God, that there is no way that she could have had any more. By giving all of His grace to Mary, God is granting Mary the ability to give the grace to whomever she sees fit. And Mary, free of sin, remains one of our models for perfection – the other obviously being Christ. And so God grants Mary the blessing of all of His grace, that she may grant that grace to whomever she believes and knows to be worthy of God’s life within them.

Now, faith is not something of human origin. We could not arrive at faith on our own. While we may arrive at certainty in God’s belief through reason alone, we cannot even believe with that faith if it were not given to us from above. Faith is a gift from God. Faith results from God desiring for our assent to him. We only have faith because God wants us to have faith. Throughout our lives, we always encounter different kinds of darkness. Whether it is times of sadness from loss, or times of confusion from things that the world is telling us, life can often be filled with darkness. As my dear friend Westley says, “Life is pain… Anyone who says differently is selling something” (The Princess Bride). Everyone knows that there is darkness in this world. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is trying to sell you something, whether that be products, or ideas, or values. While everyone will inevitably experience darkness during this life, we have a foolproof method to bring light into the darkness: faith. Faith helps us to see the clichéd ‘silver lining.’ Faith helps us to understand that God has a bigger and better plan for us. Faith helps us to sift through the lies of this world in order to discover the truth that is found in God, Creator of the Universe. Faith is man’s acceptance of God’s gift to allow us to see the truth, HIS truth upon which the world is based. Faith is when man puts his trust in the Lord so that he may abide in the truth.

Because faith is a gift from God, because faith is a grace, Mary is given the duty to grant us the grace and the faith that we need. Just as Galadriel gives Frodo the light of Eärendil that he needs, Mary gives each of us the faith that we need. Frodo, a hobbit, is seen as just a lowly creature of very little importance. He really did nothing to deserve the gift of the light of Eärendil. But Galadriel still gives him that gift nonetheless, because she knows that he needs it and believes that he will use it. Each and every one of us can see ourselves in Frodo’s place. We are just lowly creatures, of very little importance, and who screw up A LOT. And I mean, A LOT. Sometimes I wonder: Can we do anything right? But I digress. We are just lowly servants of God; we are nothing really special. And yet Mary sees something in us. She knows that we live in a dark, dark world, a world where the light seems to be nonexistent at times. Mary grants us the light of faith to survive in that darkness. We are not perfect. We often put ourselves in difficult and dangerous situations, just as Frodo does. But if we can learn to use that light of faith well, we can light up the caves we wander through and fight off our own personal Shelobs. We all have them. We just need to learn how to use our light of Eärendil. God gives us that light; why not use it?

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