Mary at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington DC

Describe Mary

There are many words that are used to describe Mary: blessed, virgin, holy, queen, immaculate, mother, etc. Those that come to mind often seem to put her far away from us and make our relationship more formal than intimate. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that she is, after all,  human.

“Mother” seems to be used most often and can be more of a title than just a description. She is: Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Church and our mother, just to name a few. She was a also a spouse and caregiver to her family. Do we ever think of her bandaging the hand of St. Joseph when a hammer went awry? While we don’t know how St. Joseph died, any nursing activities would have been handled by Mary. She also wiped the nose of Jesus and kissed a few bruised knees and elbows as He was growing up. She cooked, cleaned and probably made their clothes. She cared for the needs of both Joseph and Jesus.

Mary did minister to human needs while she was on earth. Now that she is in heaven, her care is spiritual. Her goal is for all God’s children to be with Him in heaven. She has given us the Rosary as a tool for us to ponder Jesus’ life on earth and to help us cultivate a relationship with Him. She does such a good job, sometimes it’s easier to think of Jesus being human than Mary! Even in the prayer that we think of as hers, the Hail Mary, it’s really a vehicle to praise God for filling her with grace, blessing her among all women, and blessing her as the mother of Jesus.

Mary is also a woman of action. She does not sit by and wish that her children would do God’s will. She visits us with messages of correction and direction. Guadalupe, Knock, Lourdes, Fatima, Loreto, and Medjugorje are just some of the few places that Mary has made an appearance. She wants what is best for us and what could be better than an eternity with God? She cares for us spiritually as she did for Joseph and Jesus while she was on earth. She seeks out those who are like herself to spread her message: simple, humble, and loving.

Mary is never far away from us and will gladly lead us to a deeper relationship with God. She is human and can truly understand our needs. Let us put ourselves in her caring hands and walk with her in our spiritual journey to be closer to God.   

Catholic Girl Journey

The first Eucharist

Oh the smell of freshly baked bread; it makes one feel at home. In ancient times, one did not go to the store to buy bread, it would have been made at home. I wonder who made the bread for the first Eucharist?

I love receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and I equally enjoy spending time with Him in adoration, but the perfect round host is vastly different from what was used at the Last Supper. It was an unleavened bread, but was it round or oval/rectangular? Did it have any flavoring to it, like some olive oil or honey? Was it large, like pie-sized, or small, like a dessert plate? While the details may not matter in terms of belief, thinking about them can draw us closer to Jesus, especially to His human nature.

The month of May seems to be popular for children receiving their first Holy Communion and is synonymous with Mary, as she is often crowned during May processions. These two ideas collided in my head and made me wonder if Mary made the bread for the first Eucharist? We know she was in Jerusalem, since she was at the foot of the cross. And being Jesus’s mom, I’m sure she helped His earthly ministry in whatever ways she could. It almost seems like a logical progression: she gave birth to Jesus, and thus provided Him with His human body, so who else would be the one to make the bread that would become the first Eucharist, the transubstantiated presentation of Jesus Himself? And did she continue making the bread that was used for the Eucharistic celebrations after Jesus ascended into heaven?

Picture the scene at that Last Supper when Jesus picked up the bread made by Mary with a mother’s love, and blessed it, performing the first consecration, and then shared it with the people He loved the most, the men he called to follow Him. Now wrap that all up into the host the next time you receive Communion or are in adoration. It’s food for thought and prayer.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Invoice from Jesus

If Jesus sent you an invoice, what would be on it? The number of hairs on your head? The number of beats your heart has taken? The number of breaths you have breathed? The amount of food provided by the earth that you consumed? How can we possibly pay Him back for all He has done for us?

Unlike our human tendency to make things even and fair, God knows that we can never make restitution for all He provides. Our relationship with Him is not one of a contract, an equal exchange of goods or services, rather it is a covenant relationship, an exchange of persons. God gives Himself to us, especially in the Eucharist. We give ourselves to Him when we imitate the love He shows us with everyone we encounter.

It’s quite overwhelming to ponder. God has given us all that we have, all that we are, and will continue to do so for our whole life. If we think about it, our human nature says we need to give up all that we have and live an austere life to try to make things equal, so that we’re not relying on God so much. But we rely on Him for every breath and heartbeat; one can’t exactly use less of those necessities. However, God wants us to rely on Him, totally and completely. It gives Him joy to bless those who surrender their lives to Him, not by living less, but living in communion with Him. The term “God’s will” makes it seem like it is something that we don’t want to do. But God made us and knows us better than we know ourselves. His will for us is to be the person He created us to be. Our true happiness and fulfillment will only come when we follow God and do His will.

Let’s put away the tally sheets and scorecards and reach out to God, deepen our relationship with Him, and free ourselves to do His will. Then, that invoice from Jesus will be marked prepaid in full, with His blood from the cross.

Catholic Girl Journey

Called to minister

Do you have a ministry? While some are called to spend their whole lives in service in holy orders, all Christians are called to minister.

According to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions of minister is ‘to give aid or service.’ Aid seems to be a very appropriate part of the definition, as it implies that a person receiving it is in need of help or assistance. The Beatitudes and the named works of mercy call us to be open to opportunities to help others in their need. Sometimes we are called look deeper and provide help in ways we may not have expected.

An Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion is a lay person who has been granted the privilege to distribute Holy Communion during Mass and/or immediately following to those who are unable to attend due to sickness or circumstance. On the surface, it seems quite simple in the Mass setting. As an individual approaches, the minister says, “The Body of Christ” when offering the host, or “The Blood of Christ” for the chalice. The recipient says, “Amen” and the sacrament is given. But in that moment, the recipient is coming to the Lord for His sustenance. One can look at an extraordinary minister as just a vehicle used to dispense the sacrament or an active participant in the exchange.

Being an extraordinary minister, I can’t say I’m totally comfortable giving out Communion and I hope I never will be, for when it becomes comfortable will be when I feel I don’t have appropriate respect for the Eucharist. I approach it with a mixture of awe, knowing I’m unworthy, and a bit of fear of messing up (like spilling the ciborium).

Recently I was asked to substitute at a Mass I normally attend. There were many faces I recognized and various attitudes of those receiving. However as one woman received, she seemed troubled. I did not recall her from the past and I can’t say it was one thing in particular, but rather the whole act of receiving that formed the “troubled” thought in my mind. Immediately another thought followed that I should pray for her. I don’t know who she was or what help she needed, but if through my prayers she could receive the aid she needed, then I felt obliged to pray for her. Perhaps other extraordinary ministers routinely pray for those who receive from their hands. For me though, it was a defining moment that the ministry can go deeper than what is expected if I am open to God’s will. 

We are all called to serve God in many ways, but even the simplest and most obvious can be deeper if we remain open to God’s call. Our yes to God is never a once-and-done response, but a continual call. How are you called to serve or go deeper?

Catholic Girl Journey

Saints on earth

A person who is declared a saint in heaven is perfect. They have reached perfection and now enjoy being in the presence of God. But it wasn’t always this way. The saints were once…human.

While working out recently, the gym had the Golf channel on, and while I was not actively watching it, I couldn’t help but listen to it with my subconscious. While I have no idea who the announcers were referring to, a comment was made to the effect that one of the pro golfers was seen practicing and having trouble with a particular shot. It surprised them since this particular player made that shot look so easy and second nature when playing in tournaments. When I heard the comment, I silently laughed at it and asked myself, “How do they think she got that way? She practiced and keeps at it!”

When saints are on this earth, they are much like that pro golfer. They may make it seem easy to put their faith into action, but it’s only after many years of practice and hardship, and of trial and error. Some days are good and some are filled with doubt. We hear about saints who were called by God at a young age, or have had apparitions of Jesus or Mary and think ”Well, I that hasn’t happened to me, so I’ll just go on living my life.” However, whether we receive an engraved invitation from God or not, we are all called to become saints and we are all called to be holy. Often the ones who have had a special call from God have a larger task from Him and need extra support.

Just like a pro golfer continues to practice as a professional, a saint is not a saint until they reach heaven. That means their whole life is spent in practice. It starts with a solid prayer life that seeks out a relationship with God. Just like the various strokes of the golfer, sometimes the prayer connection is strong and other times it’s a fight to pay attention. Some tournaments are won by the golfer and some have a lower ranking. For a saint-in-training, sometimes we succeed in the tasks God gives us and sometimes we fall short. Whether we are doing well or not, prayer for a saint-to-be is like practice to the pro golfer.

God calls all of us to become saints. It’s up to us if we are willing to spend a life in practice and hard work, responding to His call.

Catholic Girl Journey

Faith is more than a feeling

The Easter season gives us plenty of time to ponder the mysteries of our faith and reaffirm what we believe.

From a human perspective, we can attempt to understand the passion and death of Jesus. But His resurrection and ascension into heaven, as well as the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, are a bit beyond human reasoning. We say we believe all of these things because we have faith, but what does that really mean? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and give himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life (CCC 26).

After 2000 years, time does not make the resurrection and ascension any easier to understand. Even the apostles, the men that spent the most time with Jesus, had a hard time understanding what happened. Of course the most extreme example is Thomas, who refused to believe the other apostles when they told him of seeing Jesus after the crucifixion, until the Lord appeared and invited him to touch the nail holes and spear mark. Most of us will not experience the physical presence of Jesus, and so faith is not based on the tangible.

Faith is also not just a good feeling. Performing good deeds, spending time with Jesus in prayer, and adoration may make us feel good, but that is not faith. Our feelings can change from day to day and even minute to minute. To base what we believe and act upon solely on how we feel can be dangerous and Satan can use our feelings to explain away sin. In the lives some of the saints, their faith was tested by withholding the good feeling; Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one example.

Faith is a gift from God. If we choose to accept it, then it will grow based on how much effort we put forth into having a relationship with Him. It cannot be measured by the physical sciences and it cannot be diluted into a warm, fuzzy sense of being. It is as diverse as the population of the earth, since it reflects the uniqueness of a personal relationship with the Divine. Even the the most faith-filled person can have doubts from time to time. It is in these times of questioning that we can dive more deeper into a relationship with our Almighty Creator and our Savior.

Catholic Girl Journey

Resurrection of the dead

“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead…” It’s one of the beliefs of Catholicism that we acknowledge every Sunday in the Nicene creed as well as in the Apostles Creed. But do we say it because it’s part of the prayer or do we really mean it?  

What does it mean to rise from the dead? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that question is raised and answered in # 997, “ In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body.” As Jesus was the first one to rise from the dead, we can look to Him as an example of what to expect.

Unrecognizable may be one characteristic used to describe Jesus’ risen form. Mary Magdalene, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not realize who Jesus was and the eleven thought He was a ghost when He first appeared to them. Was it His glory that confused them? Or was He able to hide his identity by changing His appearance? Or was it because they did not think He was alive that they could not recognize Him because they were not expecting to encounter Jesus? It was only with the intimacy of words: being called by name and in the blessing and in the breaking of bread, which were actions they were familiar with Jesus doing, that they were able to see that it was Him.

What was not hidden or healed were the wounds of the crucifixion. He showed the eleven His hands and feet and bid Thomas to put his hand into His side. By these wounds Jesus healed the relationship between God and humanity and as a result, they are glorified too. They no longer remain a source of pain but become a reminder that through suffering there is the promise of life eternal. In this glorified state Jesus is able to appear and disappear, even in rooms that are locked. And to prove He is not just spirit alone, He eats and drinks with His disciples.

It can feel a bit like science fiction to try to imagine the resurrection of the dead, but God did give us minds to think, ponder, imagine and dream. Those who are not pleased with their looks in this life hope that they can change their appearance in the next, but that is human vanity speaking. If Jesus’ wounds were glorified, would not our imperfections also be glorified? Perhaps those who feel the effects of an aging body hope the resurrected body is from their youth or prime. But do we limit God’s ability to transform our weak, human form in His glory?

I don’t know what I will look like in the resurrection of the dead, but I am looking forward to being amazed at God’s glory. Just looking around at the symphony of nature, which is fleeting daily, I know He will make a masterpiece of me. I can’t ask for anything more.