Let us go to Bethlehem

“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

(Luke 2:8)

Suddenly the shepherds hear the voice of an angel. Struck with awe they listen to the angel say, “Behold, I proclaim to you good news”. 

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and 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: 11-12)

The shepherds turn to each other and said, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)

The shepherds make their way to the little town of Bethlehem. Days before their journey, Mary and St. Joseph travel to this place to take part in the census, even though the timing was not convenient for the expectant mother. The time for her to have her child was drawing near. 

The Virgin consented to the impossible. An angel had visited her too. She gave her “fiat” to be the “handmaid of the Lord” and so the savior of the world was conceived. “The most sublime work of God’s mercy was accomplished: one Person of the Blessed Trinity, the second, came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Behold the Word, God’s only-begotten Son, “who for us men and for our salvation, descended from heaven and became incarnate” (Credo).” (Divine Intimacy #26, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdelen)

The shepherds hurry along prodding the sheep with them. What will they see? 

Joseph and Mary arrive in the village, swarming with other pilgrims. It is night, cold and the time for the child’s birth is fast approaching. Joseph’s poverty as the head of the family is palpable. He must trust in God. St. Joseph trusts with “creative courage”. He arrived “in Bethlehem and finding no lodging where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable at hand, as best he could, turned it into a welcoming home for the Son of God come into the world.” (Patris Corde, Pope Francis)

With tender care and attention, Mary wrapped the infant Jesus tightly in cloth as any loving mother would do. Swaddling Him in strips of cloth so that He would be warm, snug and safely protected from the outside world now that He has left the womb. Swaddling infants is still something mothers do today. In past years, narrow stripes of cloth wrapped around a newborn helped to restrain a baby’s movement and quieten him to sleep more contently and prevent him from accidentally scratching his soft, fine skin.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger, and was poor, vulnerable, dependent, and cold. The swaddling cloths foreshadowed the burial cloths. However, at His next coming, Jesus will be glorious – wrapped in light! 

“For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.”

(Ps36:10)

The Lord’s binding as an infant was one of love. He submitted to Mary’s love and attention to his tender, fragile needs as an infant. As a matter of fact, all of His bindings were bonds of love. He was bound and taken by his enemies as His hands were tied and He was led away from the Garden of Gethsemane out of love for us. He was wrapped in bands of cloth for His funeral, but at the resurrection – glorified, He removed the cloths that bound Him.

Now the shepherds have their personal encounter with Jesus, led to this encounter by the Star to a poor manger with a little baby. A baby who will “bring peace on earth”. They behold the infant, a poor infant lying in the poverty of a manger, sleeping, resting. Together with the shepherds, we move from this sight of Jesus with faith to follow Him along His way of sorrows with the Cross. 

This Christmas may we welcome the Savior. May Jesus find our hearts empty and poor with the poverty of the manger where He can come and find his rest. Seeing that only a poor heart can truly receive God, let us make room for Grace. 

Living on Love

Lent is such a good time of God’s grace. St. Therese of Lisieux expresses this well in this stanza:

Living on Love is keeping within oneself

A great treasure in an earthen vase.

My Beloved, my weakness is extreme.

Ah, I’m far from being an angel from heaven!…

But if I fall with each passing hour,

You come to my aid, lifting me up.

At each moment you give me your grace:

I live on Love.

(Poem 17, p. 91 The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, trans. Fr. Donald Kinney, OCD, ICS Publications)

Isn’t this just what we are all doing?!?! Keep on living on love faithful readers!

Our Lady of Grace

St. Teresa’s mother died when she was about twelve years old. Since her older sister married, it didn’t seem prudent for Teresa to stay at home without a mother; therefore, St. Teresa’s father placed her in a convent boarding school as a young teenager of about sixteen.

Her first week or so at the convent school were not happy ones, but soon she become content there and even more so than she was at her father’s house. (The Book of Her Life, 2:8)

The convent school was run by Augustinian nuns and the name of the school was Our Lady of Grace. St. Teresa was greatly influenced by the nuns there. She began “to return to the good habits of early childhood”. (The Book of Her Life, 2:8)

The title of Our Lady of Grace is originally of French origin. Images of Our Lady under this title usually show the mother and child in a tender embrace with their faces touching like in the icon below.

Mother and child in a tender embrace – how appropriate for St. Teresa at this time to be placed in the care of Our Lady under this title when she no longer had an earthly mother of her own, but was in desperate need of a mother! No longer receiving the tender physical embraces of her earthly mother, she now will receive the tender spiritual embraces of Our Lady of Grace. 

The motherhood of Mary is important to all the faithful. She helps to restore supernatural life into our souls, just like she did with St. Teresa. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the Blessed Mother’s role in our lives in paragraphs 968 -969:

“Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. “In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.”  “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”

And in paragraph 970 her function is further clarified:

“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.” “No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.”

Since Our Lady was able to help St. Teresa in her conversion, leading her back to her “good habits of early childhood”, then she will be able to help me in my ongoing conversion and growth in holiness!

Our Lady of Grace, pray for us!

Moments of Grace

~the toothless grin of a blonde-haired seven year old who loves his grandma

~the cat tickling my face with her whiskers in the middle of the night

~seeds sprouting

~listening to someone emotionally under duress

~the clear view of a half moon in the early morning sky

~green grass

~the virtue of hope as I cast my nets on the other side