Ecce ancilla Domini!

Today’s Gospel takes us back nine months to the Annunciation, to Gabriel, the messenger sent from God to a virgin in Nazareth, whose name was Mary.

Mary is humble, docile, and filled with faith in God as she recieves and accepts His message through the angel, Gabriel. Through her acceptance the accomplishment of God’s greatest work – the Incarnation of the Word – is to take place, which will end in His glory. Glory is the end of all of God’s works.

God called us into existence out of nothing giving us a natural life, but He also gave us a supernatural life. He elevated man to divine sonship so that we might share in the intimate life of the Godhead – the Trinity, and enter into that beatitude that is eternal. This was the Divine plan from the beginning. However, even though the first sin of Adam and Eve destroyed this plan and changed everything, God’s love did not change. God through His immense charity towards man willed to redeem him. So through an even greter act of love, God became man and appeared into the world taking on human flesh as a son, as a small child in the womb of Mary. 

To save us He descended from heaven and became incarnate. With what love God has loved us! Divine Love moved God to become one of us.

The Word comes down from heaven to be with us. This is the greatest manifistation of God’s merciful love. From the Incaranation of the Word comes our salvation, sanctification and our beatitude. Without this supreme act of Charity we would be trapped in a purely human life and would be stripped of a supernatural life now and for eternity.

Fiat!

Our Blessed Mother models for us the effects that graces and divine favors should generate in us – an increase in humility and a consciousness of our nothingness.

The higher God elevated her, the lowlier she became because of her humility. “The Angel called her “full of grace” and Mary “was troubled” ”(Lk 1: 28-29) Because of Mary’s humility, she disliked praise. Her desire was that only God should be praised. “The more she understood the grandeur of the mystery, the immensity of the divine gift, the more she humbled herself, submerging herself in her nothingness. Her attitude was the same when Elizabeth greeted her, “Blessed are thou among women”. (Lk 1:42) (cf. Divine Intimacy #176 by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen)

Inspired by this narrative of St. Luke, let us enter into the dispositions of Mary. She is recollected in solitude when the angel approaches and says to her the words repeated in every Hail Mary. Mary’s reaction to this angelic visitor is one of humility. She is ‘troubled’, that is, astonished at such an unusual greeting addressed to her.

fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum

Then Mary gives her ‘fiat’: “Let it be done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). This is the only proper response to God’s will.

Two virtues are displayed in Mary. First of all, humility reveals her peaceful interior and is reflected in the exterior body of her soul. She is astonished but not disturbed. If we really ponder in great honesty all that disturbs us and trace this disturbance to its root, we will find that our pride in some way has been wounded. Some contradiction, some change to our plans, some insecurity in our comforts; all these disturb our constant grasping for “my will to be done”. The second virtue we see in Mary is her simplicity. Simplicity is looking only at God. Mary is pure and has a desire for only one thing. Our passions and attachments keep us from this disposition. Once a soul is purified of every passion and attachment it is then reduced to perfect simplicity. To reach this goal the soul must look to God for help, leaning on God at every moment seeking Him as sole support and strength. The simple soul does not waste time reasoning about the conduct of others. These souls see the hand of God in everything that happens and in every circumstance.

These two virtues, humility and simplicity, so perfectly modeled in the Blessed Virgin Mary, are necessary for a soul to rest peacefully in any given situation knowing and trusting in God.

Mary’s humble dependence on God and His will is reflected beautifully in her reply, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” (Lk 1: 38) This interior attitude of Mary’s is equal to that of Jesus: “Behold, I come to do your will.” (Heb 10:9) This deep interior disposition was constant throughout the Blessed Virgin’s life. Her life was one of docility which is expressed in this attitude of “handmaiden”. We too can make this our attitude of being easily led by God when we accept all that He permits in our lives. God wills the inconveniences, poverty (spiritual and material), privations, separations, persecutions, insults, and hardships as grace. Let us, like Mary, humbly depend on God for everything.

Silence in the Darkness of Advent

What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.  –St John of the Cross, OCD

Advent is a time of waiting…waiting in the darkness where it is still and quiet. This season is also a time to establish the conditions I need to have in order to bring Christ into my life.

Night, these long winter nights, can be a time for prayer, waiting prayer. In this night of waiting prayer, I can remain before the Lord in silence and love. St. John of the Cross teaches that silence is the language God hears best.

As St. John of the Cross reminds me, I need to remain in silence with my desires and tongue silenced. Thoughts and words are limiting. They limit my time with the Lord; therefore, I need to be present before Him with these faculties silent and remain there in a state of interior quiet. It is in this silent waiting of my prayer through faith and love that will bring me to the God I am seeking.

In the darkness of Advent, I can then see and adjust my responses after this time in silence. My response can then be to bring Christ into the lives of others, but first I need to begin by bringing Him into my own interior life.

Today is the Feast of St. John of the Cross who was and still is a good guide through the darkness that is faith. With him and his writings, he will draw me to seek God in faith and love.

Joy Not Sadness

This third week of Advent comes as a rest in the penitential spirit of this season and is known as Gaudete Sunday. We take this time to express our joy in the nearness of the Lord’s coming. There is one more Sunday before we will celebrate Christmas. The pink candle on the wreath is lit and represents our joy in that Christ has come into our world! 

This Sunday gets its name from the second reading taken from First Thessalonians, “Rejoice always.” We as Christians should always be filled with joy, even in our sufferings, because of Christ. He is the source and the cause of our joy. As St. Paul tells us we should rejoice in the Lord always, pray without ceasing and give thanks to God for everything, counting all to be pure joy. St. Teresa of Jesus teaches that we should have “a calmness and glory within” and she even went so far to say that we should “rejoice in the fact that all are rejoicing”. (Way, 30, 5)

Joy is the fruit of God’s grace. The Gospel is a source of joy since its message is that God loves us, He cares for us and He is with us!  This joy fills the heart and moves us to serve others. St. Teresa of Jesus invites her nuns, and by extension to all of us, to “be happy to serve” (Way, 18, 5); we are to put ourselves at the service of others and to do this with selfless love.

It is difficult for people to be joyful. Life isn’t easy. We are often weighed down with problems. Yet we were made for joy! Today I am hoping to raise awareness to this fact: that God is the God of joy and wants His children to be happy.

We have a soul and this is what is in us that tunes us to the inner life of the joyfulness of God. It is our soul that enables us to enjoy God in prayer. Did anyone ever teach you that you were to enjoy God in prayer? Enjoying God in prayer- seems like the concept should be self evident, but for some reason it isn’t. The little known secret of discovering enjoyment in prayer is that God is present to us and He is the God of love and joy. If we truly believe and understand this then prayer will be a joy!

“From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” (Attributed to St. Teresa of Jesus)

Do you think of prayer as drudgery or perhaps as something altogether boring? True joyfulness, that joyfulness that is seen in the saints, comes from being rooted in and nourished by a deep prayer life. Prayer is the grace-filled secret to joyfulness.

The greatest enemy of joy is sadness. It is so easy to serve God fervently, to spread goodness and practice virtue when we are aware of God’s presence in our lives. However, when we experience feelings of sadness and despondency, we act in the opposite manner. We have no inner peace; we are troubled and down-hearted. We go about weak and all our good resolutions have diminished. We may even avoid praying. Yet prayer is what we really should do.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (James 5:13)

When we are suffering from sadness we should turn to prayer so that our hearts can be strengthened. Prayer puts us into God’s presence and this will lift our spirit and fill our souls with confidence. Our joyful awareness of God’s presence will bring peace, the peace for which our hearts long. 

In this Sunday’s Gospel from St. John we see that John the Baptist had to point out Jesus to the men the Jews had sent to him in the desert. He had to tell them that “there is one among you whom you do not recognize”.  Jesus is really in our midst. He is present in our Tabernacles and by grace in our souls. We can help others recognize Jesus’ presence today in the joy we express in our own lives because we have Him. God is our infinite joy. Let us always live joyfully so that all can see this joy and want it too! 

Let us recall as we continue our Advent journey that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22) Remember that the Lord is with us and He will help us to see Christ in all things and will move us in love to bring the joy of His presence to all men.  And isn’t this what our world needs of us now more than ever?

“When one loves, everything is joy. The cross doesn’t weigh down. Martyrdom isn’t felt. One lives more in heaven than on earth.” (St. Teresa of the Andes)

Preparing the Way for Jesus

In this week’s Gospel, we encounter John the Baptist, the messenger calling the people to “prepare the way of the Lord”.  St. John completes the work of all the prophets beginning with Elijah. He proclaims to the people that the consolation they have been longing for is fast approaching. In the reading this week from the Prophet Isaiah, we are told that “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord”. The prophets were always calling the people back from their wayward way of living.  Jesus’ first coming is near and John the Baptist is in the desert calling the people to “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. The people came to John in the desert and “acknowledged their sins”. Today it seems as though there is so much sin, and yet very little acknowledgment of our own personal sin. It is much easier to be like the Pharisees and point out the plank in the other person’s eye. It is time to repent!

Remember St. Peter? He denied Our Lord three times at his trial and fled before His crucifixion. But that was not the end of his relationship with Christ. After the resurrection, Jesus meets up with Peter and the other apostles for breakfast on the beach. It is morning, a new day has begun and the apostles are eating breakfast with Jesus. It is a new day and a new beginning for St. Peter.

This scene tells us of something so foundational about our faith in Jesus. It tells us that Jesus has a merciful heart. His mercy is antithetical to the scornful attitude of the Pharisees. The mercy of Jesus is like that of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He goes out in search of the sinful in order to find them, rescue them, and bring them back into the sheepfold.

This Divine Mercy extents to great sinners who have repented of serious sin and have turned to Him. His mercy also reaches to those who humbly turn from venial sin only to rise again after each failure committed due to weakness or lack of reflection. Here is where I have sympathy for St. Peter. He was weak, like me. He did not reflect, but acted wrongly even though he loved the Lord. How much I am like St. Peter. I make many resolutions and want to overcome some fault, and still, I fail – again and again. But Jesus is merciful each time I repent and turn back to Him. 

Advent is a time for us to reflect on how we may have offended Him and to turn to Him to receive mercy. Since we are poor sinners let us remember St. Peter and trust in God’s infinite mercy as we examine our conscience and seek out the Sacrament of Penance as a way to prepare the way for the Lord this Christmas.

The Sacrament of Penance is there to help us prepare for our celebration of Christmas. We should also try to make this sacrament a habit in order to be prepared for His Second Coming. The second reading for this Sunday, taken from the Second Letter of Saint Peter, so aptly reminds us about how our conduct ought to be and what kind of persons we should be, conducting ourselves “in holiness and devotion waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”.  All the while remembering that the day of “the Lord will come like a thief” and when we least expect it. So let us have Him find us always ready!

Or we can just go on with our lives in peace instead. However, there are different kinds of peace.

There is the false peace that the world gives. First among this type of peace is riches. People with wealth and who try to lead holy lives avoiding any serious sin, think that they are secure. Nevertheless they often fail to reflect on the fact that they are stewards and that their money is not theirs, but has been entrusted to them by God. They do give sometimes, but they need to be sure to not delay in helping those who are poor and suffering with the surplus. For those who are not rich, St. Teresa counsels to “be content with little.“ Otherwise they will find themselves embittered with envy. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 10)

The second false peace the world can give is through honors. If we heed St. Teresa’s advice on being content with little, then this next one should not be too difficult, since “the poor are never honored very much”. Praise can cause much harm if one is not careful. Words of praise can cause harm by making you “believe that the truth was spoken or make you think that now everything is accomplished and that you have done your part.” St. Teresa’s advice is that whenever you are praised to move quickly in waging war interiorly by humbling yourself “and if in some matters people speak truth in praising you, note that the virtue is not yours and that you are obliged to serve more.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 11-13)

Then there is the false peace that comes from our bodies, which are very fond of comfort. St. Teresa wants us to understand that there is a false peace that comes from seeking “one’s peace in comforts” and living comfortably, since the Lord suffered so much and underwent many trials. Additionally, “the body grows fat and the soul weakens” when we give the body so much pampering. Craving comforts can harm the soul without one even being aware. She gives examples of how one day the body can endure a hardship and then a week later it is unable to bear with something like a rough tunic. Or that “some days eating fish may hurt you, but once your stomach gets used to it, it will not harm you.” Her point here is that “we must not find our rest in being lax.” Since the body can be so untrustworthy, we need to understand this about it and to use discretion. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 15)

Aware of the kinds of false peace will enable us to love God more and help us reach true peace and friendship with Him. May all our efforts cooperate with the grace God gives in each moment to prepare a heart, pure and receptive, to receive so great a gift as we prepare for His coming. 

“Since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him and at peace” 2 Pt 3:14

Awake My Heart!

Jesus came into the darkness, the darkness of sin and death, but the darkness did not receive His light. Oh! If this Advent our darkness would desire and comprehend His light! Even if we don’t, the day will come when His justice will burst upon us in all its brilliance, and He will disperse all the spiritual darkness in man’s heart.

During Advent we can reflect on the state of our world before Christ’s coming. It was a world filled with darkness and sin. Then let us fill our hearts with gratitude towards Jesus who came down from heaven so that He might know our miserable state experiencing all of it, except for sin, and saving us from death.

The prophet Isaiah is read during the Advent liturgies. This Sunday we receive a glimpse of the state of the world before the Incarnation. The Chosen people had ‘wandered’ from the Lord’s ways; their hearts were ‘hardened’. Nevertheless, they were expecting Him to come and the prophet exclaims, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” However, they are admittedly sinful and ‘unclean people’.

Then let us ponder on His mysterious coming that He desires to accomplish in hearts. Let us open our hearts to receive Him more fully than ever before. He desires to enter there, to dwell there and transform us. Let us consent to receive this Divine guest. He knocks and asks to be let in. He delights to be born in our hearts. Do not refuse Him. Receive Him and let Him in.

This Advent let Him in and preserve Him within you as a great treasure. Let Him rest there where He can shape your thoughts and guide your actions to be like His. Welcome Him with love and care more than before.

In the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus exhorts his followers to be watchful and alert because they “do not know when the time will come”. We do not know when Christ will come the second time, but He will come and we do not want Him to find us “sleeping”.  

Advent is a time where we await Jesus’ coming. He has already come in the flesh, and this is the reason for this liturgical season – to celebrate anew His coming as Savior and Redeemer. This is also a time to think about His second coming when He will come in Glory. In between these two comings He manifests Himself to us, and it is to these manifestations that we need to be Awake!

This Advent let us invite Him to join us in the interior of our heart: in deep, recollection, in silence, and in solitude. Invite Him in through a deep interior recollection combined with silence that is both interior and exterior and in solitude so that we can hear His voice and prepare for His coming however He may manifest His presence.

This is a season of quiet. A time to set aside useless chatter, self-love, sensitiveness, the prattle of fantasy and imaginings, and the thoughts that flit from here to there. In addition it is a time to get rid of any preoccupation with useless things, so that we can listen and hear the Lord speak. In this way we can be awake and attentive and will not miss “the time of His visitation”. (Luke 19:44)

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…May he not come suddenly and find us sleepy.” (Mark 13)

Spiritual Preparation for Advent

Advent comes from the Latin “adventus” ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come’ and means “coming”. During this season we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s coming into our world to redeem us. There is no singularly important event than the Incarnation when God became man in the person Jesus Christ. We also use this time of Advent to prepare for Christ’s Second Coming which we await in longing and great expectation. The liturgical season of Advent recalls the salvation history of the past, reminds us of our present redemption that is being accomplished, and guides us as we look to the future coming of Christ.

There are many ways to spend the Advent season in preparation for the celebration of Christmas. The best way is to do some spiritual exercises that will aid and deepen the understanding of this beautiful season.

One good exercise would be to study, pray for, and practice the virtues like humility and simplicity. These were exemplified in the Blessed Mother and this season is certainly a season that includes her.

Another practice, that would put the soul in the spirit of Advent while staying attuned to Holy Mother Church, would be to pray the Collects for the Sunday Masses during Advent while lighting the Advent wreath candles:

I. First Sunday of Advent. Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

II. Second Sunday of Advent. Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

III. Third Sunday of Advent. O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation, and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

IV. Fourth Sunday of Advent. Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

(taken from the USCCB website)

One more beautiful practice during Advent would be to meditate on the richness of the words found in the Preface that opens the Eucharistic Prayer during the Mass. Read each slowly, reflecting on the words and their meaning. Let these enrich your spiritual life.

The Preface that follows is said in the Mass from the first Sunday of Advent to December 16th:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.

And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord ….

This second Preface is said from December 17 to December 24:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

For all the oracles of the prophets foretold him, the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling, John the Baptist sang of his coming and proclaimed his presence when he came.

It is by his gift that already we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity, so that he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,  with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory,  as without end we acclaim:

Holy, Holy, Holy…

(Taken from the Roman Missal)

Night Prayer, also known as Compline, is said as the last prayer of the day. It is at this time that a brief examen of the day is also to take place. At the end of this prayer, there is a hymn to the Blessed Mother. The breviary lists several popular Marian hymns to choose from. During the Advent season is a good time for focusing on the Alma Redemptoris Mater which beautifully connects to the Incarnation theme and our need for a savior. This hymn can be recited until February 2nd (Candlemas).

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. 

The Unwelcome Savior

'The Adoration of the Shepherds' Guido Reni

‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’  Guido Reni

God enters the world as a small infant. There is no room for him. . . no crib.

We are ungrateful children and haven’t known the value of Jesus’ visit. Light came to disperse the darkness; His message has gone unheeded. For on that cold winter night the angels did sing, but in vain. Our indifference has stifled their glad tidings. We were astonished, but only for a moment.

Jesus came into the darkness, the darkness of sin and death, but the darkness did not receive His light. Oh! if this Advent our darkness would desire and comprehend His light! Even if we don’t, the day will come when His justice will burst upon us in all its brilliance, and He will disperse all the spiritual darkness in man’s heart.

During Advent reflect on the state of our world before Christ’s coming. It was a world filled with darkness and sin. Then let us fill our hearts with gratitude towards Jesus who came down from heaven so that He might know our miserable state experiencing all of it, except for sin, and saving us from death.

Then let us reflect on His mysterious coming that He desires to accomplish in hearts. Let us open our hearts to receive Him more fully than ever before. He desires to enter there, to dwell there and transform us. Let us consent to receive this Divine guest. He knocks and asks to be let in. He delights to be born in our hearts. Do not refuse Him. Receive Him and let Him in.

This Advent let Him in and preserve Him within you as a great treasure. Let Him rest there where He can shape your thoughts and guide your actions to be like His. Welcome Him with love and care more than before.

The Virgin, weighed
with the Word of God
comes down the road:
if only you’ll shelter her.

~St. John of the Cross

In the Darkness of Advent

St. John of the Cross pic

What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.  –St John of the Cross, OCD

Advent is a time of waiting…waiting in the darkness where it is still and quiet. This season is also a time to establish the conditions I need to have in order to bring Christ into my life.

Night, these long winter nights, can be a time for prayer, waiting prayer. In this night of waiting prayer, I can remain before the Lord in silence and love. St. John of the Cross teaches that silence is the language God hears best.

As St. John of the Cross reminds me, I need to remain in silence with my desires and tongue silenced. Thoughts and words are limiting. They limit my time with the Lord; therefore, I need to be present before Him with these faculties silent and remain there in a state of interior quiet. It is in this silent waiting of my prayer through faith and love that will bring me to the God I am seeking.

In the darkness of Advent, I can then see and adjust my responses after this time in silence. My response can then be to bring Christ into the lives of others, but first I need to begin by bringing Him into my own interior life.

Today is the Feast of St. John of the Cross who was and still is a good guide through the darkness that is faith. With him and his writings, he will draw me to seek God in faith and love.

Awaken my Heart

Advent is a time where we await Jesus’ coming. He has already come in the flesh, and this is the reason for this liturgical season – to celebrate anew His coming as Savior and Redeemer. This is also a time to think about His second coming when He will come in Glory. In between these two comings He manifests Himself to us, and it is to these manifestations that we need to be Awake!

This Advent let us invite Him to join us in the interior of our heart: in deep recollection, in silence and in solitude. Invite Him in through a deep interior recollection combined with silence that is both interior and exterior and in solitude so that we can hear His voice and prepare for His coming however He may manifest His presence.

This is a season of quiet. A time to set aside useless chatter, self-love, sensitiveness, the prattle of fantasy and imaginings, and the thoughts that flit from here to there. In addition it is a time to get rid of any preoccupation with useless things, so that we can listen and hear the Lord speak. In this way we can be awake and attentive and will not miss “the time of His visitation”. (Luke 19:44)

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…May he not come suddenly and find us sleepy.” (Mark 13)

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