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Pope Francis in Paraguay: Homily in Caacupé – Cathedral of Caacupé

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Following the conclusion of Pope Francis’ morning visit to the pediatric hostipal ‘Niños de Acosta Ñu’ in Asunción, the Holy Father departed to the Marian Shrine of Caacupé to ??celebrate the Mass. Before entering the Basilica, where he was to venerate the “Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion de los Milagros”, he received the keys of the city by the Mayor. At 10:30 am the Pope presided at the Mass in the square of the Marian Shrine. Below you will find the complete text of the Popes homily:

Being here with you makes me feel at home, at the feet of our Mother, the Virgin of Miracles of Caacupé. In every shrine we, her children, encounter our Mother and are reminded that we are brothers and sisters. Shrines are places of festival, of encounter, of family. We come to present our needs. We come to give thanks, to ask forgiveness and to begin again. How many baptisms, priestly and religious vocations, engagements and marriages, have been born at the feet of our Mother! How many tearful farewells! We come bringing our lives, because here we are at home and it is wonderful to know there is someone waiting for us.

As so often in the past, we now come because we want to renew our desire to live the joy of the Gospel.

How can we forget that this shrine is a vital part of the Paraguayan people, of yourselves? You feel it, it shapes your prayers, and you sing: “Here, in your Eden of Caacupé, are your people, Virgin most pure, who offer you their love and their faith”. Today we gather as the People of God, at the feet of our Mother, to offer her our love and our faith. In the Gospel, we have just heard the greeting of the angel to Mary: Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Rejoice, Mary, rejoice. Upon hearing this greeting, Mary was confused and asked herself what it could mean. She did not fully understand what was happening. But she knew that the angel came from God and so she said yes. Mary is the Mother of Yes. Yes to God’s dream, yes to God’s care, yes to God’s will. It was a yes that, as we know, was not easy to live. A yes that bestowed no privileges or distinctions. Simeon told her in his prophecy: “a sword will pierce your heart” (Lk 2:35), and indeed it did. That is why we love her so much. We find in her a true Mother, one who helps us to keep faith and hope alive in the midst of complicated situations. Pondering Simeon’s prophecy, we would do well to reflect briefly on three difficult moments in Mary’s life.

1. The first moment: the birth of Jesus. There was no room for them. They had no house, no dwelling to receive her Son. There was no place where she could give birth. They had no family close by; they were alone. The only place available was a stall of animals. Surely she remembered the words of the angel: “Rejoice, Mary, the Lord is with you”. She might well have asked herself: “Where is he now?”.

2. The second moment: the flight to Egypt. They had to leave, to go into exile. Not only was there no room for them, no family nearby, but their lives were also in danger. They had to depart to a foreign land. They were persecuted migrants, on account of the envy and greed of the King. There too she might well have asked: “What happened to all those things promised by the angel?”.

3. The third moment: Jesus’ death on the cross. There can be no more difficult experience for a mother than to witness the death of her child. It is heartrending. We see Mary there, at the foot of the cross, like every mother, strong, faithful, staying with her child even to his death, death on the cross. There too she might well have asked: “What happened to all those things promised to me by the angel?”. Then we see her encouraging and supporting the disciples.

We contemplate her life, and we feel understood, we feel heard. We can sit down to pray with her and use a common language in the face of the countless situations we encounter each day. We can identify with many situations in her own life. We can tell her what is happening in our lives, because she understands.

Mary is the woman of faith; she is the Mother of the Church; she believed. Her life testifies that God does not deceive us, that God does not abandon his people, even in moments or situations when it might seem that he is not there. Mary was the first of her Son’s disciples and in moments of difficulty she kept alive the hope of the apostles. With probably more than one key, they were locked in the upper room, due to fear. A woman attentive to the needs of others, she could say – when it seemed like the feast and joy were at an end – “see, they have no wine” (Jn 2:3). She was the woman who went to stay with her cousin “about three months” (Lk 1:56), so that Elizabeth would not be alone as she prepared to give birth. That is out mother, so good and so kind, she who accompanies us in our lives.

We know all this from the Gospel, but we also know that in this land she is the Mother who has stood beside us in so many difficult situations. This shrine preserves and treasures the memory of a people who know that Mary is their Mother, and that she has always been at the side of her children.

Mary has always been in our hospitals, our schools and our homes. She has always sat at table in every home. She has always been part of the history of this country, making it a nation. Hers has been a discreet and silent presence, making itself felt through a statue, a holy card or a medal. Under the sign of the rosary, we know that we are never alone, that she always accompanies us.

Why? Because Mary simply wanted to be in the midst of her people, with her children, with her family. She followed Jesus always, from within the crowd. As a good Mother, she did not want to abandon her children, rather, she would always show up wherever one of her children was in need. For the simple reason that she is our Mother.

A Mother who learned, amid so many hardships, the meaning of the words: “Do not be afraid, the Lord is with you” (cf. Lk 1:30). A Mother who keeps saying to us: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). This is what she constantly says to us: “Do whatever he tells you”. She doesn’t have a plan of her own; she doesn’t come to tell us something new. Rather, she prefers to remain silent, and simply accompanies our faith with her own.

You know this from experience. All of you, all Paraguayans, share in the living memory of a people who have made incarnate these words of the Gospel. Here I would like especially to mention you, the women, wives and mothers of Paraguay, who at great cost and sacrifice were able to lift up a country defeated, devastated and laid low by an abominable war. You are keepers of the memory, the lifeblood of those who rebuilt the life, faith and dignity of your people, together with Mary. You lived through many difficult situations which, in the eyes of the world, would seem to discredit all faith. Yet, inspired and sustained by the Blessed Virgin, you continued to believe, even “hoping against all hope” (Rom 4:18). And when all seemed to be falling apart, with Mary you said: “Let us not be afraid, the Lord is with us; he is with our people, with our families; let us do what he tells us”. Then and now, you found the strength not to let this land lose its bearings. God bless your perseverance, God bless and encourage your faith, God bless the women of Paraguay, the most glorious women of America.

As a people, we have come home, to this house of all Paraguayans, to hear once more those words which are so comforting: “Rejoice, the Lord is with you”. They are a summons to cherish your memory, your roots, and the many signs which you have received as a people of believers tested by trials and struggles. Yours is a faith which has become life, a life which has become hope, and a hope which leads to eminent charity. Yes, like Jesus, may you be outstanding in love. May you be bearers of this faith, this life and this hope. May you, Paraguayans, continue to build these up this country’s present and future.

Gazing once more on Mary’s image, I invite you to join me in saying: “Here, in your Eden of Caacupé, are your people, Virgin most pure, who offer you their love and their faith”. All together: “Here, in your Eden of Caacupé, are your people, Virgin most pure, who offer you their love and their faith”. Pray for us, Holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises and graces of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 —

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Did You Know THIS about the Catholic Church?

TCCMeme

Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week. Enjoy!

Anyone who watches TV or reads a newspaper will notice that the Catholic Church and Pope Francis seem to be in the news a lot these days. Have you ever wondered how well you actually know the Catholic Church? Well here are some interesting facts you may not actually know about the Church.

Consecrated-Life

As you probably know, the Church is putting a special focus on Consecrated life this year. Hence: The Year of Consecrated Life. If you are thinking about a vocation (or maybe changing your current one) or know someone who may be discerning a religious vocation, you should have a look at this video. Who knows? God may be using them to speak specifically to you! Also, check out this one on “What it’s really liked to be married to Jesus.” Can’t ask for a better relationship than that!

Ok, so we we’ve all heard of ice hotels like the one in Quebec but an ice Church? Well, looks like they built a really cool one (excuse the pun) high up in the mountains of Romania and it is drawing all kinds of Christians together in prayer and worship. Read about it here. I guess this brings a new meaning to “breaking the ice” for Ecumenism.

So I must admit that I’m a sucker for epic biblical films. I have watched a ton of films made about Jesus in the past and I have to agree with this article from Religious News service that most of the time, Jesus’ character is usually portrayed as either too divine or too human. Apparently in this new film “Last Days in the Desert” actor Ewan McGregor pulls off a very convincing Jesus, one who is divine but subjected to the limitations and frailties of being human. I have high hopes on this one!

And speaking of Jesus in film check out this list and critique of actors who have played Jesus on the silver screen. Read it here on Relevant Magazine. I never realized that here have been so many however, my favourite is still Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ. Ewan McGregor has big shoes to fill.

If you are following this blog weekly, (as you should be…), you’ll remember that I posted a quiz for “How well do you know Mary” and many of you enjoyed it. Well this week I found another great quiz: How well do you know Francis? See how you do!

Well, that’s it for me this week folks. Please feel free to share. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

Till next week.

– Noel

Photos: CNS

Pope Francis Angelus Address – January 1, 2015

Angelus

In his Angelus address on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God – which is also observed as World Day of Peace – Pope Francis called on us “to fix our gaze of faith and of love on the Mother of Jesus.” Below, please find the complete text of Pope Francis’ address at the Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters,

On this first day of the year, in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, the Church invites us to fix our gaze of faith and of love on the Mother of Jesus. In her, the humble woman of Nazareth, “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). Because of this it is impossible to separate contemplation of Jesus, the Word of life Who is made visible and tangible (cf. 1 Jn 1:1), from contemplation of Mary, who has given Him her love and her human flesh.

Today we hear the words of the Apostle Paul: “God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). That “born of a woman” speaks in an essential manner, and for this reason even more strongly, expresses the true humanity of the Son of God. As a Father of the Church, St Athanasius, affirms, “Our Saviour was truly man, and from that comes the salvation of all humanity” (Letter to Epictetus: PG 26).

But St Paul also adds “born under the law” (Gal 4:4). With this expression he emphasizes that Christ has taken up the human condition, freeing it from the closed, legalistic mentality. In fact, the law deprived of grace becomes an insupportable yoke, and instead of being good for us it is bad for us. This, then, is the end for which God sent His Son to earth to become man: a finality of liberation; indeed, of regeneration. Of liberation, “to ransom those under the law” (v. 5); and the ransom occurred with the death of Christ on the Cross. But especially of regeneration: “so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v. 5). Incorporated in Him, men and women really become children of God. This amazing transition takes place in us with Baptism, which grafts us into Christ as living members, and inserts us into the Church.

At the beginning of a new year, it is good to remember the day of our Baptism: we rediscover the gift received in that Sacrament which has regenerated us to new life – the divine life. And this through Mother Church, which has as a model Mother Mary. Thanks to Baptism we were introduced into communion with God and we are no longer at the mercy of evil and sin, but [rather] we receive the love, the tenderness, the mercy of the heavenly Father.

This closeness of God to our existence gives us true peace, the divine gift that we want especially to implore today, the World Day of Peace. “No longer slaves, but brothers”: this is the Message of this Day. It is a message that involves all of us. We are all called to combat every form of slavery and to build fraternity — all of us, each one according to his or her own responsibility.

To Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, we present our good intentions. We ask you to extend the mantle of your maternal protection over each and every one of us in the new year: “O Holy Mother of God despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin” (Sub tuum praesidium).

After the Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters,

I extend to all of you my heartfelt greetings, wishing you a happy and peaceful new year. I greet in particular the pilgrims from the Scandinavian countries and from Slovakia; the faithful of Asola, Catiglione delle Stiviere, Sccolongo, Sotto il Monte, Bonate Sotto, and Benevento; the young people from Andria and Castenuovo del Garda. A heartfelt greeting to the Sternsinger [“Star boys”] who have come from the diocese of Fulda in Germany. I thank all the Sternsinger in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland for their commitment to go from house to house to proclaim the birth of the Lord and to collect offerings for needy children. Frohe Weihnachten und ein gutes neues Jahr [German: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year].

I turn my thoughts to all those, in dioceses around the world, who have promotted moments of payer for peace. I recall in particular the national march that took place yesterday in Vicenca, and the “Pace in tutte le terre” [“Peace throughout the world”] demonstration promoted in Rome and in numerous cities around the world.

In this moment we are joined with Rovereto, in Trentino, where you will find the great bell known as “Maria Dolens,” which was made in honour of the fallen in all the wars, and was blessed by Blessed Paul VI in 1965. In a little while we will hear the tolling of that bell, that expresses the hope that there will never again be wars, but always a desire for and a commitment to peace and brotherhood among peoples.

[The tolling of the bells is heard on speakers in the Square, courtesy of CTV.]

Happy New Year to everyone! May it be a year of peace in the tender embrace of the Lord and with the maternal protection of Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother.

Please, do not forget to pray for me! Buon pranzo, and arrivederci!

Emmanuel: God With Us, a reflection by Bishop William McGrattan

Emmanuel

In the Jubilee Year of 2000, John Paul II made a very insightful statement.  He said: “Our Christian witness would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated the face of the Lord.”  The same might be said of our fully entering into the Christmas season. Christmas is a time in which we are invited to fix our gaze on Christ in a new and fresh way. It is a time of jubilee, of celebration and the challenge to renew our Christian witness in the mystery of the Incarnation.  The Eternal Word, the Son of the Father took on flesh and came to dwell among us in time.

Have you noticed how natural it is for us to fix our gaze on the face of a newborn child? When they are awake or asleep there is a natural desire to look upon their face and to contemplate the very gift of humanity that is before our very eyes. There is also the opposite reaction when we witness the struggle and suffering of humanity on the faces of children and are moved with compassion.

I have also realized that in the many years of priestly ministry I have never failed to try and extend my hand and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of a young child. It is a sign of blessing from God who has made us in his image, secondly it is a reminder of the introductory ritual of baptism when the cross is traced on the forehead of the child by the priest, the parents, and the godparents as a sign that this child is being dedicated to Christ.  It is also a sign of Christ’s love which has fully embraced our humanity through the sign of our redemption: the cross.

The celebration of the feast of Christmas recalls through faith the moment in history when the “The Word became flesh”.  The Word who is the Son of God took on our humanity. This statement of faith we find in the opening Prologue of John’s Gospel on Christmas day.

The birth of Christ 2000 years ago invited the gaze of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. However it was the angels who announced the true significance of this mystery:

I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)

From this moment in history, until the end of the ages this good news of great joy, is the fact that God is now present to us in a unique way, through his Incarnate Son, “God with us,” Emmanuel. God is no longer distant, revealing himself only through the signs and wonders of the Old Testament, or his Word being proclaimed by the prophets. With the Incarnation of Christ, he has taken on our humanity and entered the world. The mystery of the Trinity has come close to us so that we may contemplate His face through the mystery of the Incarnation.

The circumstances of the Incarnation, Christ’s birth in Bethlehem are significant. He was not born into a world of joy but one of suffering. Nor was he born into riches or security but into an experience of poverty and homelessness. In fact the circumstances in which we reflect on His Incarnation are no different even today from the squalor and poverty of Bethlehem. As one spiritual writer stated “there is Incarnation always, everywhere.”  For Christians his Incarnation now in us finds its expression in a spirituality of communion and solidarity.

At the dawn of the millennium John Paul II invited the Church to be a home and school of communion. A spirituality of communion indicates above all the hearts contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us. A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the “Mystical Body” (the Church) and therefore as “those who are a part of me.”  This makes us able to be in solidarity with them to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a “gift for me.” Finally, a spirituality of communion means to know how to “make room” for our brother and sisters, bearing “each other’s burdens” and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.

There is the burden of human need always and everywhere in our society. Yet during the season of Christmas it seems that we allow ourselves to become more aware of them and to be moved by them. The one challenge is to see the face of Christ always and everywhere in those we meet regardless of their life’s situation and to develop this spirituality of communion and solidarity.

As we contemplate the face of Christ, it is also essential and indispensable to affirm that the Word truly “became flesh” and took on every aspect of humanity except sin. Yet from another perspective the Incarnation of Christ is truly a kenosis – a “self-emptying” of the glory and divinity he possessed as the Son of God from all eternity. As John Paul II states, this truth may be more problematic for our own modern culture of rationalism as it has the tendency to deny the faith in the divinity of Christ.

The Incarnation of Christ, his becoming human, lays the foundation in our society for a vision of the human person which moves beyond the limitations and contradictions of this world and places us in relationship with God. This is another gift of the Incarnation. The gift of the human person created in the image of God and redeemed through Christ is the eternal message and gift of Christmas.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI writes:

Most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and thus are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities to discover the way that leads to him. God comes to us as man so that we might become truly human.

I was reminded of this very truth in the context of a visit to grade one class in the days leading up to Christmas. When things got busy and hectic in the parish I had the habit of simply going over to the grade school to visit the kindergarten and grade one classes.  This one day when I dropped into the grade one class the teacher had gathered the children to talk about Christmas and the gifts that each of them hoped to receive. She told the children that on her lap in a small chest there was a gift from Jesus for each of them. They could come up one by one and look inside but they could not tell the next classmate or speak about it until all of them had peered inside the chest to see the gift. So I watched this drama unfold, one by one the children came up to look inside and as they turned around with this look of excitement on their faces and heir hands over their mouth. I saw this repeated until the teacher motioned for me to come forward and look into the chest. To my amazement there was a mirror in the chest and I gazed on a reflection of my face. As I turned around there was giggling and excitement with the children. Then the teacher began to explain to them that the gift of Jesus for each of us at Christmas was that the Son of God became human like us that we might learn what it means to be human.

A simple way of teaching this profound mystery of the Incarnation, however, it is also a reminder of what the true gift of Christmas is and how we can live this mystery by accepting our humanity and living this gift in a spirit of communion and solidarity with others.

Most Rev. William McGrattan
ArchBishop of Peterborough

How Do We Solve a Problem Like Maria?

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Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B – December 21, 2014

“The Sound of Music” stage play and I are the same age — both from that vintage year of 1959 — and the film version was the first “motion picture” I saw as child in the mid 1960’s with my family. God alone knows how many times I have seen it since on stage, at the theater and on television!

The famed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music” has been delighting audiences around the world for decades, making theatres across the globe “alive” with the sound of music. This magnificent production first opened in England under the direction of Andrew Lloyd Weber, and arguably contains the best-loved songs of all time.

Solving the problem of Maria von Trapp

One of the memorable songs of the play is “Maria,” sometimes known as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” It is sung brilliantly by Sister Berthe, Sister Sophia, Sister Margaretta and the Mother Abbess at the Benedictine Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, Austria. The nuns are exasperated with Maria for being too frivolous, flighty and frolicsome for the decorous and austere life at the abbey. It is said that when Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics for this song, he was taken by the detail of her wearing curlers in her hair under her wimple!

When older Austrians in Salzburg speak of Maria, it is the “Gottesmutter,” the Mother of the Lord! When the foreigners, especially North Americans, arrive in Salzburg and speak about Maria, it is usually the other one: Maria Augusta Kutschera, later Maria Augusta von Trapp, who was a teacher in the abbey school after World War I and whose life was the basis for the film “The Sound of Music.”

Because of this Maria, the abbey acquired international fame, to the consternation of some of the sisters! Having visited Nonnberg Abbey on several occasions while I was studying German in nearby Bavaria, I spoke with a few of the elderly sisters about the impact of “The Sound of Music” on their life. The prioress told me that they have no plaques up about Maria von Trapp and her escapades at the abbey nor in Salzburg! One elderly sister said to me, with a smile, “Das ist nur Hollywood!” (That is only Hollywood!)

Solving the problem of Maria von Nazareth

The Gospel story of the Annunciation presents another Maria, the great heroine of the Christmas stories — Mary of Nazareth — the willing link between humanity and God. She is the disciple par excellence who introduces us to the goodness and humanity of God. She received and welcomed God’s word in the fullest sense, not knowing how the story would finally end. She did not always understand that word throughout Jesus’ life but she trusted and constantly recaptured the initial response she had given the angel and literally “kept it alive,” “tossed it around,” “pondered it” in her heart (Luke 2:19). At Calvary she experienced the full responsibility of her “yes.” We have discovered in the few Scripture passages relating to her that she was a woman of deep faith, compassion, and she was very attentive to the needs of others.

Maria von Trapp followed the captain and his little musical family through the Alpine mountain passes of Austria, fleeing a neo-pagan, evil regime that tried to deny the existence of God and God’s chosen people. Some would say that they lived happily ever after in Vermont in the United States, and that their musical reputation lives on through the stage production enchanting Toronto audiences at present. The hills are still alive with their music!

The “problem” of Maria of Nazareth began when she entertained a strange, heavenly visitor named Gabriel. The young woman of Nazareth was greatly troubled as she discovered that she would bear a son who would be Savior and Son of the Most High.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” The angel left her and then the music began: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.” It would become a refrain filling the world with the sound of its powerful music down through the ages.

The message Mary received catapulted her on a trajectory far beyond tiny, sleepy Nazareth and that little strip of land called Israel and Palestine in the Middle East. Mary’s “yes” would impact the entire world, and change human history.

Problem solved

Mary of Nazareth accepted her “problem” and resolved it through her obedience, fidelity, trust, hope and quiet joy. At that first moment in Nazareth, she could not foresee the brutal ending of the story of this child within her. Only on a hillside in Calvary, years later, would she experience the full responsibility of her “yes” that forever changed the history of humanity.

If there are no plaques commemorating Maria von Trapp’s encounter with destiny at Nonnberg Abbey, there is one small plaque commemorating Mary of Nazareth’s life-changing meeting in her hometown. Standing in the middle of the present day city of Nazareth in Galilee is the mammoth basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the cave and dwelling of Mary. A small inscription is found on the altar in this grotto-like room that commemorates the place where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would “conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The Latin inscription reads “Verbum caro hic factum est” (Here the word became flesh).

I can still remember the sensation I had when I knelt before that altar for the first time in 1988. That inscription in the grotto of the Annunciation is profound, otherworldly, earth shaking, life changing, dizzying and awesome. The words “Verbum caro hic factum est” are not found on an ex-voto plaque in the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, nor engraved on the outer walls of the Temple ruins or on governmental tourist offices in Jerusalem. They are affixed to an altar deep within the imposing structure of Nazareth’s centerpiece of the Annunciation. “This is where the word became flesh.” This is where history was changed because Mary said “yes.”

Could such words be applied to our own lives, to our families, communities, and churches — “Here the word becomes flesh”? Do we know how to listen to God’s Word, meditate upon it and live it each day? Do we put that word into action in our daily lives? Are we faithful, hopeful, loving, and inviting in our discourse and living? What powerful words to be said about Christians — that their words become flesh!

However beautiful and catchy are the tunes of Maria of Salzburg, the music of the other Maria, the one from Nazareth, surpasses anything I have ever heard.

[The readings for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38]

Cardinal Reveals Newly Discovered Funds at the Vatican – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Cardinal George Pell reveals that hundreds of millions of euros have been found at the Vatican and CNS looks at an art exhibit on Mary in Washington, DC.

Biblical Foundations of Marian Piety and Devotion

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Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

A very significant turning point in Marian piety and devotion occurred with the Second Vatican Council’s renewal and reform of the liturgy. A decade later, Pope Paul VI issued a remarkable encyclical letter on Marian devotions ‘Marialis cultus’ in 1974. In this landmark document, Pope Paul VI provided guidelines that are as relevant today as they were when first proposed more than 40 years ago. Among the important points in that papal document, we find the following:

  1. Every element of the church’s prayer life, including Marian devotions, should have a biblical imprint. The texts of prayers and songs should draw their inspiration from the Bible and be ‘imbued with the great themes of the Christian message.’ This means that they should be free of pious sentimentality and of the temptation to view Mary as more compassionate than even her Son, who is our one and only Redeemer.
  2. Marian devotions should always harmonize with the liturgy. Novenas and similar devotional practices, including again the rosary, are not to be inserted, hybrid-style, into the very celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic celebration is not simply a backdrop for private prayer.
  3. Marian devotions should always be ecumenically sensitive. ‘Every care should be taken to avoid any exaggeration which could mislead other Christian brethren about the true doctrine of the Catholic Church.’ There should never be a doubt in anyone’s mind that Jesus Christ is our sole Mediator with God.
  4. ‘Devotion to the Blessed Virgin must also pay close attention to certain findings of the human sciences.’ This means that the picture of the Blessed Virgin that is presented in devotional literature and other expressions of piety must be consistent with today’s understanding of the role of women in the church and in society.

We must see Mary once again for who she is: not only the Mother of God, her most exalted role in the mystery of Redemption, but also as her Son’s disciple par excellence. When she heard the Word of God, she acted upon it. As the encyclical noted, she was ‘far from being a timidly submissive woman.’ On the contrary, ‘she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions.

Only when Marian piety is liberated from what Pope Paul VI called a ‘sterile and ephemeral sentimentality’ can there be any real hope for a renewal of authentic Marian piety in our time. For many people who do not have the luxury, privilege, money, time or perhaps desire to delve into serious Scripture studies, their only encounter with the Word of God might be through the liturgy or popular piety and devotion.

Let’s consider three important moments of Mary’s life not easily understood and try to discover new meaning and relevance for us. While Marian devotion remains strong in the church, the Immaculate Conception is a complex concept that has interested theologians more than the ordinary faithful. Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ. In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favour, was without sin from the moment she was conceived. The main stumbling block for many Catholics is original sin. Today we are simply less and less aware of original sin. And without that awareness, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense. Through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he referred explicitly to the biblical story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel. The angel Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail, full of grace,” is understood as recognizing that Mary must always have been free from sin. No other human being collaborated in the work of redemption as Mary did. The Early Church wanted to explain in a plausible manner how God’s Son could be ‘completely human, yet without sin.’ Their answer was that the mother of God must have been without sin.

What happens to Mary happens to Christians. We are called, gifted and chosen to be with Jesus. When we honour the Mother of God under the title ‘Immaculate Conception,’ we recognize in her a model of purity, innocence, trust, childlike curiosity, reverence, and respect, living peacefully alongside a mature awareness that life isn’t simple. It’s rare to find both reverence and sophistication, idealism and realism, purity, innocence and passion, inside the same person as we find in Mary.

The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, humility, openness, welcome, as well as a respect and dignity for all life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.

The angel didn’t ask Mary about her willingness. He announced, ‘Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’ God didn’t ask Mary for permission. He acted ‘gently but decisively’ to save his people from their sins.

The virgin birth shows that humanity needs redeeming that it can’t bring about for itself. The fact that the human race couldn’t produce its own redeemer implies that its sin and guilt are profound and that its saviour must come from outside.

The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1954. As with her beginnings, so too, with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honour in the Godhead.

Mary’s life can be summed up with four words that are found in the Gospels: ‘Fiat,’ in her response to the angel Gabriel; ‘Magnificat,’ as her response to God’s grace at work in her life; ‘Conservabat,’ as she cherished all these memories and events in her heart; and ‘Stabat,’ as she stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, watched her Son die for humanity, and awaited the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus‚ mission.

God calls each one of us through scripture in complete love and grace, and the response of the obedient mind is ‘fiat: let it be to me according to your word.’ We, too, celebrate, with our strength, the relevance of the word to new personal and especially political situations: ‘magnificat.’

We ponder in the heart what we have seen and heard: ‘conservabat.’ But Scripture tells us that Mary, too, had to learn hard things: she wanted to control her son, but could not. Her soul is pierced with the sword, as she stands ‘stabat’ at the foot of the cross. We too must wait patiently, letting the written Word tell us things that may be unexpected or even unwelcome, but which are yet salvific. We read humbly, trusting God and waiting to see his purpose unfold.

(CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Recap of Pope Francis’ Visit to European Parliament

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The man who designed the European Union flag, Arsène Heitz, was inspired by scripture and the image of Mary on the Miraculous Medal. While he never hid the fact that the flag he designed is “Our Lady’s flag”, the European Union itself has offered different explanations for the evocative design. The flag, and the EU explanation of it, highlights modern Europe’s relationship with its Christian roots. During his day long visit to the European Parliament and Council of Europe, Pope Francis focused heavily on the Christian values upon which the European community found common ground and founded a union meant to ensure peace on the continent.

Join us Wednesday, November 26 at 1:30 pm ET in English and 5:00 pm ET in French for a recap of Pope Francis’ visit to Strasbourg and his address to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Watch online.

The Presentation of Our Lady: An Example to Parents

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Trisha Villarante

Trisha Villarante

A Doubly Beautiful Feast

On this feast we, as Catholics, commemorate when our Lady dedicated herself to God entirely. One of the best quotes that illustrate the beauty of the presentation of Mary can be found on americancatholic.org. It says,

  “Even though the feast has no basis in history, it stresses an important truth about Mary, that from the beginning of her life, she was dedicated to God. She herself became a greater temple than any made by hands.”

Mary was literally the first tabernacle. Having been chosen by God to carry Jesus in her womb she had to be formed for such a vocation. On this feast we can contemplate the first step our Lady embarked towards becoming the mother of our Saviour. However, she couldn’t have made this step on her own.

I like to think of this feast as doubly beautiful because on one hand, it’s a feast of our Lady and all her feasts are precious, but on the other hand, we can’t forget that Mary was raised by parents, just like us. Her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne played a crucial role in Mary’s life. You could say they were the ones who introduced her to God, especially on the day of her presentation, that’s why this feast is an excellent example to Parents too.

Parents as the First Educators

We know that Mary was born without original sin, but she still needed an environment conducive to her nature. She needed an upbringing that would nurture her and form her. She needed her parents.

Mary’s first educators were Saints Joachim and Anne. God entrusted them with Mary that Mary might fulfill her purpose. Similarly, parents are responsible for forming their children and each of them have a purpose to fulfill.

During Mary’s time, according to the law of Moses, presenting a child in the temple was a means of purification. Today we have baptism. In baptizing our children we are making the first step in introducing them to God, freeing them from sin and rebirthing them as sons and daughters of Christ. Yet this is only the first step in a life long commitment to forming true Christians.

This simple fact that parents are the first educators of their families is not a new concept in the church. In fact, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 2223, you can find this gem of a quote:

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them.”

The consequences of raising children in Christian households go far beyond the walls of our homes. It is a duty to society, and more importantly it is a duty as a Christian. After all, the family is the cell of society and each parent has been entrusted by God with the children they have.

Ask Mary for Help
Mary was prepared in order to raise Jesus, and Mary prepared Jesus in order to fulfill God’s will that we be sons and daughters of His. Each one of the little souls under our care need formation with love and attention. But we can’t give them anything we don’t have ourselves. So, we should learn from the example of our Lady and her parents during this feast of the presentation and ask for help to fulfill our responsibility to the souls God has entrusted to us.

Prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows

A Prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows on her feast day, September 15:

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O most holy Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ: by the overwhelming grief you experienced when you witnessed the martyrdom, the crucifixion, and death of your divine Son, look upon me with eyes of compassion, and awaken in my heart a tender commiseration for those sufferings, as well as a sincere detestation of my sins, in order that being disengaged from all undue affection for the passing joys of this earth, I may sigh after the eternal Jerusalem, and that henceforward all my thoughts and all my actions may be directed towards this one most desirable object. Honor, glory, and love to our divine Lord Jesus, and to the holy and immaculate Mother of God. Amen.