Topic: Mary

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Do Not Delay

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Christmas is right around the corner, and I’m not ready. I still have a number of papers to write, cards to address and mail, cookies to bake, and music to prepare for Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While Advent is supposed to be a season of anticipation and expectation, what I’m feeling right now is overwhelmed. There’s just so much to do in order to get ready for the celebration of our Savior’s birth. It seems like every time I cross one task off my list, two more pop up in its place. 

So I can respond in one of two ways: I can procrastinate and put everything off until the last minute, or I can heed the advice of one of my brothers, who once told me, “Do work, son.” While tempted by the first option, I am sure that the second is best. I need to get organized, develop a plan of action, and get to work, now. That’s the only way that I’m going to get everything done. Besides, if I wait until the last minute, I’ll probably end up making myself sick.

The same principle holds when it comes to the spiritual life. So often we sit back and wait, wanting to be told what to do. Sometimes it’s because we’re afraid to make a mistake. At other times, we are simply unwilling to make a commitment. So we avoid doing what it is God wants us to do. Instead of practicing virtue, we become slothful. We put off going to confession, and end up staying away for months, or years at a time. But this is not what God desires.

God wants us to be happy. He wants us to experience everlasting joy as we gaze upon his face. If that is to happen, then we must follow the example of our Blessed Mother. In the Gospel of Luke, we read that after the Annunciation, Mary “went into the hill country with haste” (Luke 1:39). Inspired by the angel’s news that her cousin was pregnant, Mary didn’t wait around. She packed her bags and quickly made her way to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Once there, Mary’s greeting caused John the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth to cry out, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42).

Despite what some theologians have said, the story of the Visitation is not about acting impulsively. Mary was responding to God’s revelation, and we are called to do the same, in the same manner. We should not delay when it comes to the movements of the Holy Spirit. If a young man feels called to the priesthood or religious life, then he should call his diocesan vocation director and ask for more information. If a young woman feels God is calling her to do missionary work, then she should contact one of the many organizations that can help make it happen. 

And if it has been awhile since your last confession, now is the time to come back. So many parishes offer communal penance services during this holy season, so that we can get our hearts, and not just our homes, ready for Christmas. Make haste, do not delay, and enjoy the mercy God is ready to bless you with during this sacred time.  

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

To know Mary is to know Jesus

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            I once read an interesting story about Non-Catholics attempting to live out their anti-Marian biases. The story illustrates the misunderstandings of Marian devotion.

            There was a group of Protestant Christians in England, where GK Chesterton lived, who took over and occupied an abandoned building once owned by a community of Catholic monks. The building, being a pre-nineteenth century ecclesial structure, had an architectural style that was overtly religious. There was no doubt at all that the building once belonged to Christians practicing the Catholic religion. The structure was replete with vertical lines shooting to the heavens, archways for every door and window. Every nook-and-cranny of the building had some figure or religious image or statue of a saint.

            Given that this was a Protestant group that took over the property, they were somewhat trepidatious about the images and icons; idolatry as they called it. Nevertheless, they gladly moved in to the building with the hopes that they could remove from the structure all the imagery and iconography that was distinctly Catholic. They, being Christians, did not necessarily mind the fact that there were images of Jesus and Angels.  After all, many main-stream Protestants still believe in these, but the icons of the Catholic saints and, most especially, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had to go.

            So they went on and began the work of covering up or removing the uniquely Catholic imagery. In the paintings they covered over the saints and left most of the walls white-washed. They left the images of Jesus untouched; after all, they were devoted to Jesus and wanted to keep the images of Him as a constant reminder of their faith. When it came to the statues, since most of the statues were of Catholic Saints, they were thrown out all together. There were some statues that contained imagery that were favorable to them. Wanting to do the least damage to the structure, they did not throw these statues out all-together, but brought in sculptors and stone workers to chip away only those elements they did not like, only what reminded them of Catholicism. St. Joseph was chipped away and the child Jesus was left standing; St. Catherine was chipped away and they left a solitary image of Jesus handing a crown of thorns to any hypothetical believer. The Sacred Heart was chipped away and a very shallow bust of a man who looked like Jesus was left.

            The most prominent statue of the entire complex was the one that stood at the entrance. It was a statue of the blessed Virgin Mary holding her infant Child Jesus. The stone workers had orders to keep the images of Jesus but take away all that was added on around Jesus that smacked of Catholic devotion. But they couldn’t do it. There was no way that they could chip away Mary and not chip away Jesus. If they chipped away all that reminded the viewer of the Mother of Jesus, they would chip away so much of her child that there would be virtually nothing left to refashion into anything edifying or inspiring to religious devotion at all. There would be nothing left that looked like Jesus

            What did they do? They did what they had to… they simply threw out both Mother and Child.

            This story provides an illustration for the Christian life. Many Christians have a sincere desire to hold on to Jesus, and Jesus alone, to the exclusion of any other character that the Catholic Church might slide in. But there is a deep misunderstanding behind this.

            As Christians, we  cannot take Jesus alone because Jesus did not come alone. God, when he became man to walk among us, live among us, and die for us, did not come down in a vacuum. He came down as a human baby with a Mother. He was born in history, born in time once for all time. Sacred Scripture never tires of outlining for us his genealogy, showing us quite clearly that he was truly one of us, truly a human being born in the line of history shared by every of other human being. And, just as in the natural order, where children to not drop out of heaven by themselves, but come from mothers and fathers, so in the spiritual order our savior comes to us in a family.

            The recognition that our Lord is a sharer of our common human nature (Emmanuel, God with us) is lived out in the Catholic religion in many forms of devotion. Most especially, this is played out in the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary without whom there would be no Jesus. We cannot chip away the mother without chipping away the child. For a Christian, cultivating a devotion to the Mother of God is not optional, it is not something tacked on from the outside. No… it is an obligation of all who call themselves followers of Her Son. If we as Christians begin to chip out of our lives a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we will soon find that remains may barely resemble authentic Christianity at all. 

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Obedience, Social Justice, and the Mother of God

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What’s wrong with the world?  When this question was sent out by a British newspaper in the early 20th century to noted authors of the time, intending to elicit essay responses, G.K. Chesterton famously gave the most concise response: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely Yours, GKC.”  The remark hits upon a profound truth. <--break-> Take your pick from among the laundry-list of social ills that plague our world: abortion, crime, war, poverty, sexual scandal, political corruption, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse.  Every social ill ultimately has its root in the individual human heart, and without seeking a remedy to this first of all, we are like sailors on a sinking ship continually heaving water off the boat while ignoring the leak.

This is not to say, of course, we should ignore social problems, or neglect putting our energies into shaping a social order that respects justice, human dignity, and the common good.  It is, however, to point out what Chesterton realized, and indeed what recent Popes have pointed out in their social encyclicals: a just social order  necessarily depends on a fundamental conversion of the human heart, both to initiate worthwhile change, and to maintain and preserve it.

 It is most interesting, in this light, that Aquinas reckons the virtue of obedience as part of the cardinal virtue of Justice (ST II.II.104.2).  In our contemporary American culture, we are perhaps not used to thinking of “obedience” as a virtue.  We more naturally, I think, imagine it a necessary but annoying part of certain very limited segments of life: a worker obeying his manager’s wishes on the job; a soldier bound to obey his higher officer; even a pet properly trained to follow the dictates of its owner (it is telling that two out of the four automatically generated Google suggestions for “obedience” pertain to doggy-training!).  Yet Aquinas, articulating a longstanding Christian (and biblical) tradition, sees obedience not only as a virtue necessary to the just maintenance of human society, but pervading all aspects of human interaction.  Why?

 The first part of the answer is fairly straightforward.  Insofar as obedience indicates a certain way of yielding our immediate desires and inclinations to the common good, the obedience we give to civil law ensures that society can function on a day-to-day basis.  Society demands order, and if I thwart that order by stealing something not rightfully mine, the state can justly punish me and demand I recompense the aggrieved party.  So too the “obedience” I give to my employer is a choice I make in full knowledge that if I neglect my duties, the employer can relieve me of my employed status.  Aquinas, though, will say that something more than external conformity to the law is needed to make obedience meritorious.  Charity must inform the practice of obedience, such that we obey “not through fear of punishment, but through love of justice” (ST II.II.104.3).  Justice, moreover, extends beyond the legal and civil order with which we generally associate it.  It extends to obeying religious superiors (“observance”), to obeying parents (“piety”) and above all to obeying God (“religion”).

 As a religious, I can testify (with virtually every other religious I’ve met) that among the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the last is the most difficult.  Poverty can offer challenges, such as not being able to travel as readily or obtain the worldly comforts many people today enjoy.  But in our consumerist world this sort of life is somewhat refreshing and attractive.  Chastity has its demands as well, though my experience is that fidelity to one’s prayer life and closeness to the sacraments protects and sustains the heart and mind in this regard.  Obedience, though, cuts to the heart of what it means to be a human being, or more specifically what it means to be a son of Adam.

 Each of us clings desperately to our own will, and not without reason.  Our free will, among all the goods we possess, is perhaps the most cherished and intimate part of ourselves.  It is the center of our moral action and all our behavior.  It is the faculty we have, as a gift from God, to carry out day-to-day tasks, from the minutest to the greatest.  It is where thought, memory, experience and desire all unite into concrete decisions about how we are to live.  As we know, though, the more valuable and sacred a thing is, the more drastic and destructive can be its effects when misused.  Scripture and history eloquently and relentlessly narrate the abuses that arise from a disordered human heart that is bent on “having its way.”  So, too, in our own personal lives each of us experiences the weakness of our human will with its faults and inclinations to sin, even in spite of our best intentions.

 The vow of obedience in religious life, therefore, is partially meant as a kind of school of discipline to remedy this natural inclination to selfishness and pride.  All Christians in virtue of our baptism are called to self-renunciation for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 16:24).  But in making the vow of obedience in religious life, one is in essence saying, “My life is not my own. I put it entirely at the service of God and His Church as God reveals His will to me through my superiors.”  The rub comes when we are called to do things for God and His Church at the command of his sometimes very weak and fallible human instruments.  Thus charity enters in.  Unless a superior demands something that is contrary to God’s law and thus violates conscience (in which case one is actually bound to disobey), the practice of obedience hones us in charity.  I happened to have been blessed with very good superiors thus far in my Dominican life, but whether one enjoys this situation or not, in either case obedience impels the religious to put aside his own will, put himself at the disposal of another, and (above all) trust that “in everything God works for good”(Rom 8:28).  In doing so, we imitate in some small way the One who became “obedient, even unto death, death on a Cross”(Philip 2:4).

 There is even a freeing aspect to such a vow.  The central Dominican mission is to preach for the salvation of souls.  We cultivate a life of prayer, study, and contemplation precisely for this end.  Taking a vow of obedience in a sense frees one of the burden of always thinking and wondering and planning where he is going to be in the next year, the next month, even the next week.  If the Order calls, we go.  If there are souls in a particular place, then, well, the gospel needs to be preached there, whether I in my own cleverness had thought of the possibility or not.  One must be ready, of course, for bearing a certain burden, and for facing up to and enduring perhaps very demanding ministries and missions.  But in all things, God’s is the glory and we put ourselves entirely at the service of His desires as they come to us through the Order to which we are vowed.

 With the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, upon us at the outset of this new calendar year, we may look to Mary as an icon of that perfect obedience to the Father’s will which we are all called to imitate.  Unhesitating, total, undaunted, willing even to endure misunderstanding and suffering, Mary’s obedience to the Father’s will is the model for all religious.  Mary could have had no idea what she was getting into when she uttered her Fiat, but she trusted that her Father would provide, whatever circumstances arose.  It is this kind of loving obedience to the Father that is the cure for our fallen nature’s more destructive tendencies, tendencies that will last as long as we dwell within this mortal coil.  We do well to continue heaving as much water out of the ship of human affairs as we can, though each of us must be especially attentive to that primordial leak which only grace informing our will by charity can plug.  Mary, Mother of God, Ora pro nobis!

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Reflecting on the Virgin Mary during Advent

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This season we celebrated the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when we as Christians remember and extoll the great mercy of our Lord who, in creating His own mother in the womb of St. Anne, bestowed upon her the singular gift of being preserved from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. As we approach the Solemnity of the Nativity, the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary becomes a prominent highlight of our devotional lives. Although many Catholics have been familiar with these devotions from childhood, I, having come to the Church in adulthood, have not always found it inspiring or even agreeable. When I was a new Catholic and devotion to the Virgin Mary was first introduced to me, I was told that she is celebrated as the “model Christian”, the perfect example of a holy and obedient life. How could a virginal young woman living two thousand years ago serve as a model? This seemed like nothing more than mere sentimentality. Over the last few weeks I have been, once again, through the Church’s liturgical cycles, pushed to reflect on why the Blessed Virgin Mary is now so important to my spirituality. 

At the Annunciation, through the angel Gabriel as His messenger, the God of Israel came to the Virgin Mary and proposed that she be the mother of the Messiah. At her “yes”, her “fiat”, the second person of God, God the Son, became incarnate in her womb. From that moment on the Virgin Mary was a temple of God, a walking tabernacle within which the God of Israel dwelt with His people. The Eternal word of God who was with God from the beginning, God from God and light from light, took flesh in her womb and became one of us. Through the “yes” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Eternal God would now take up a human nature and, from that moment on, be united with mankind in a union beyond the imagination of even the prophets. The Son of God would work with a human nature, act with a human nature, speak with a human nature, and ultimately redeem humanity through that same human nature. It was the “yes” of the Virgin Mary that opened the door and became the gate through which God Himself would enter the world. She submitted her entire being to the will of God to such a degree that, through her very body, God would now be one with His people.

The Virgin Mary was so docile to the Holy Spirit that she became, as the tradition of the Christian East claims, the “God Bearer”, or “Theotokos”. It is in this way that she becomes the ideal model of every Christian. What else could be meant by being a Christian than this, to be so open and united to the will of God that that very will is expressed in everything we do; to be so united with Jesus that we also become like walking tabernacles of Him, carrying His love to all that we meet? Like the Virgin Mary, through our “yes” to God, we ought to become so docile before His will that our own human natures become new vehicles by which He carries out His saving plan on earth. Like a pencil in the hand of a master poet that becomes the instrument by which he writes, our Master Poet ought to be God the Father, and our very lives be His instruments by which He continues to write the great epic of Salvation History.

It was St. Dominic’s great hope that the Order of Preachers be always under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. By entering into the true spirituality of his season of Advent, I am becoming increasingly more aware our need to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary in her complete “yes” to God the Father. My prayer is that all of my Brother Dominicans and I will become more and more a symbol and reflection of that imitation to the World. By being imitators of Mary we will be imitators of Christ.

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