At the foot of the cross

The third set of the last seven words of Jesus is addressed to His mother, Mary, and Saint John the Beloved Apostle. These words take a little family and transcend their relationship throughout all generations. 

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

John 19:26-27

Mary and John stood  at the foot of the cross. They could  do nothing but watch and pray. Yet, they are there for Jesus, to support Him as a family does when one member is suffering. They are the witnesses of His final hours, and  while it is painful to watch, this is the reason Jesus came to earth — to suffer, die, and rise for the redemption of our sins. They have the courage to stand amongst those who believe this is the end of the disturbance that Jesus has brought about with His teaching. I would have thought they would be fearful for their lives as well. But perhaps their love for Jesus was stronger than any fears they may have had for their own lives. Maybe it’s because John was the single Apostle to stand at the foot of the cross, that he was spared a martyr’s death that all the other Apostles eventually faced. I can only imagine the trauma and emotional strain of watching a beloved friend be executed in such a brutal manner that  the price of this witness may have cost him more than a martyrdom would have.

The exchange that Jesus directs from the cross has long been taught by the Church: it’s at this moment that Mary becomes Mother to the Church and Mother of All. John is the sole representative of all the Christians that shall live in the ages that follow. John receives Mary and cares for her needs for the duration of her lifetime. However, Mary’s needs have not stopped there, but rather they have been transformed to care for all God’s children, and directs us to do God’s will in the charity we share with our neighbor. Likewise, we continue John’s work by seeking her intercession and guidance to draw closer to God.

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. She carried Jesus within her womb and raised Him, protecting His young life and supported Him during His ministry. Once again she is called to accept God’s will as she watches her precious Son slowly die in agony. Her pain is as sharp as a sword, just like Simeon predicted all those years ago when Jesus was first presented in the Temple. One could even ponder as to whether or not she knew what would happen and how things would end. Yet even if she did know about Jesus’ inevitable crucifixion, His resurrection needed to follow His death. Each moment Jesus hung on the cross must have felt like a lifetime. But Mary had declared herself the handmaid of the Lord and she trusted in Him, no matter the cost. 

Let us ponder what it means to stand in support of Jesus on the cross. Is our love for Him stronger than our fears? Do we seek to do what God calls us to do? Do we trust God even when it seems that the worst possible thing is happening? Calling out to Blessed Mother Mary and St. John, let us ask for their intercession as we progress through this Lent and pick up our daily crosses.

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

Reflections on a Queen

Mass on a Thursday evening? I was so excited, that I pushed the questioning thoughts out of my head. I was going to go to a weekday Mass!

When I lived in Pennsylvania, the daily Mass schedule was one that fit into my workday. Since moving to Virginia that has not been the case and I’ve missed being able to spend time with God, hearing His word and receiving Him more than just once a week. When I saw the announcement in the Flocknote of a  Thursday evening Mass for the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was thrilled! I knew the attendance would be small, but I didn’t realize that a particular population of the parish was responsible for organizing the Mass. I must admit I felt a little out of place and a bit unprepared. Most attending were Indian or Asian and as families came into the church, they placed bunches of flowers on a table. I thought it was an odd place to put them and wished I had known about the tradition. While the Mass proceeded as usual, after the homily, the attention turned back to the flowers, which had been released from their wrappings in order to pick them up individually. Row by row, we processed down, took a flower and then processed over to the statue of the Virgin Mary where large vases were placed to receive the flower tribute. Even though there were plenty of flowers for everyone, I did have some reservations about participating since I didn’t bring any flowers. I hope they do this next year, so I can fully participate!

The feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is rather unique in the church. For most saints, we celebrate what would be their death day, as that is the day they pass from this life into eternity. So why is it important to celebrate Mary’s birthday? It’s really quite simple: it is through Mary that Jesus took on flesh and became human; through Mary’s humanity Jesus enters into our world. Since Mary conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, the only DNA that Jesus had was from her. It is most appropriate that we celebrate Mary’s birth so that in the fullness of time, Jesus was born into the world. 

Although the feast is more about Mary’s humanity, her role as the Mother of God is ever present, even in the Gospel reading for that Mass. Mary’s selflessness in allowing God’s will to be done through her makes her a model for us to strive towards. Her motherly concern extends through all time and to all children of God. Mary does have many titles, including Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her queenship is based on her powerful intercession on our behalf to Jesus. She always wants God’s will for us and will help us to seek a deeper relationship with God. I must admit I found it rather ironic when I heard the sad news that the passing of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom happened that same day. Perhaps the Queen of Heaven welcomed Queen Elizabeth to eternity? While her majesty was a pale comparison to the Blessed Virgin Mary, she did emulate some similar qualities, including making oneself a gift to others. She made a vow to serve the people of her country, and she did so until the very end. How much better would the world be if we all practiced a bit more of giving ourselves to others, rather than demanding what we want because we think it is our right to do so.

Celebrating Mary’s birthday is yet another reminder that she, too, is one of us — human. She understands the craziness of life, the joys and the sorrows. Let us thank God for her and ask her to help us be a bit more like her in being open to God’s will for us.

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

Mystery of Mary

In the month of May, we celebrate all mothers, including Mary, the Mother of God. As I was praying the rosary recently, I began to ponder just on how much mystery surrounds her.

As Catholics, we believe Mary is truly 100% human, and only human. Mary does not have a divine nature like her Son. However, she has been blessed with the special gift of being immaculately conceived, which means the stain of original sin was not upon her from the moment of her conception. And while Mary always had free will like the rest of humanity, she didn’t suffer from concupiscence, the inclination to sin. We can all relate to what it’s like to fall and how easy that is! However, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if we did not have even the inclination to sin. How hard is it to resist temptations when you are in a state of pure grace? Mary’s humanity makes her one of us, yet her sinlessness is a mystery to us. Perhaps being blessed with such grace allowed her to lean on God when she was tempted, rather than her own judgment, so that she always sought His will and was able to resist any temptations. 

Mary’s ability to walk with Jesus through His Passion and Death leaves me in awe of her and her strength of character. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her to see her Son so brutally treated. While the Gospels remain silent on any reaction she may have exhibited, it could only be her deep faith and relationship with God that allowed her to participate in the events as a witness. I’m sure there were copious tears, but did she wail in anguish? Did she want to take Jesus’ place on the cross, or did she know it had to be Him? Even if Jesus had to be condemned and die on the cross, did she wonder if He had to be scourged or crowned with thorns? 

From a logical perspective, it makes sense that if God preserved Mary from original sin from the time of her conception, then He would also save her body from corruption after her time on earth was completed. If original sin brings death to us until the end of time, then Mary, free from all sin, would be the first — and immediately so — to benefit from Jesus’ opening heaven by being assumed into heaven both body and soul together. More of a mystery for me is her crowning as Queen of Heaven and Earth. It’s quite amazing that a mere human being can bestow such a tremendous title. How can the human brain understand all of Earth at any one particular time, let alone Heaven and Earth through all eternity? Yet Mary continues to be our Mother, appearing countless times all over the globe and throughout the generations. Perhaps by the special grace of her immaculate conception and her continual reliance on God throughout her earthly life, she is able to be more human than what we think of when we use those words. Perhaps she is realizing now what we hope to realize at the end of time when our bodies are reunited with our souls and we live in the presence of God for all eternity. Maybe it’s our mortality and/or our persistent sinfulness that blocks our ability to plumb the true depths of the mystery of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

As May unfolds like a flower, let us offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God for granting as our spiritual mother, His most perfect creation. Let us pray to Mary, too, seeking her intercession to emulate her reliance on God no matter how difficult the circumstances she found herself in. And let us pray her psalter, the rosary, diving into the mysteries she shares with her Son, for the intentions of all those who have shown us motherly love. Happy Mother’s Day!

Beautiful Rosary

While the Rosary is a beautiful prayer and a powerful weapon against sin, it can also be quite intimidating to those who haven’t experienced it.

If you were asked to say the Apostles Creed, while it is lengthy, it is doable. How about adding six Glory Be prayers? They are so quick, you could offer to say a dozen! If six Our Father prayers were added to the seven prayers, that still doesn’t seem like that many prayers to say. Now add 53 Hail Mary prayers plus the Hail, Holy Queen prayer and beads of anxious sweat may start forming on your brow. Just like someone who wants to start running or exercising needs to build up endurance, to pray a Rosary you need to learn how to meditate and keep a focused concentration. 

One way to start saying the Rosary slowly is to start off with the beginning prayers: the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, a Hail Mary for each of the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and finish with a Glory Be. Once you get that pattern down, then add one decade which consists of an Our Father, ten Hail Mary prayers, and a Glory Be. One of the benefits of saying the Rosary is learning to meditate. This is the time to start practicing meditation by selecting one of the mysteries to be mindful of as you are praying the decade. The Rosary has four sets of five mysteries to contemplate. The Joyful mysteries reflect on the incarnation and childhood of Jesus. The Luminous mysteries are a journey through Jesus’ ministry. The Sorrowful mysteries  focus on the Passion and death of Jesus; while the Glorious cover lives of Jesus and Mary starting with His resurrection. By practicing just one mystery at first, you can better train yourself to notice when your mind wanders away from the mystery you are praying.

While each day of the week does have a mystery assigned to it, you are not required to limit yourself to only praying those mysteries, regardless of whether you’re praying just a decade or the whole Rosary. There are some people that say all four sets of mysteries every day; that’s over 200 Hail Mary prayers plus four times all the other prayers! Perhaps that’s a challenge you would like to work up to committing yourself to praying. Or you may find it totally overwhelming to faithfully pray even a decade in a day. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, you can benefit from the prayer. 

The Rosary is Mary’s gift to us to walk with her in getting to know her Son, Jesus. This is the way Mary leads us to Him, by slowly teaching us to focus on all He has done for us. Perhaps you used to say the Rosary daily but it has been replaced with Scripture reading, and that’s okay. The Rosary can be a journey leading us in and through Scripture. If we can only commit our time to one thing, it’s okay to pick something other than the Rosary, provided that you are deepening your relationship with Jesus. The beads of the Rosary can also be used for praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well.

The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, so if you haven’t tried praying this way, I encourage you to begin, no matter how small, while meditating on one of the mysteries. There are plenty of references online and apps available for your smartphone or tablet to help get you going. And if it’s been awhile since you have regularly prayed the Rosary, perhaps make a special effort this month to reconnect with this powerful tool of prayer.  

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

Mary our mentor

Recently I received an email from Ascension with a short video about the vocational callings of Fr. Mike Schmitz and Fr. Josh Johnson. While their ‘yes’ to God was not quite as straight-forward as the Blessed Mother Mary’s fiat, reflecting on their stories brought a new appreciation for Mary as well as for those who profess religious vows.

The comment that struck me the most was when Fr. Mike indicated that as a youngster, he thought priests were perfect. From the laity’s perspective, I can see how those in religious life appear to have a connection with the divine that ordinary people don’t. I think we hold them to a higher standard, expecting them to be beyond reproach.  That’s also why it can be devastating to us when their failings are revealed. Rather than putting them on this pedestal of perfection, we need to remember they made a choice, a commitment to say ‘Yes’ to God for their whole lives and in every part of their lives, including family and career choices. When we are struggling or having doubts about what God is calling us to do, we only need to reach out to our local parish priest for guidance. Priests and religious that minister within communities are wonderful resources for prayer and guidance. They are like us, part of our community, and they understand our struggles to follow the call of God.

Community is what God IS: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is also what God wants for us: to be in communion with Him, by being His Body for others and ministering to one another. Participation is what a community does, how it acts. God wanted us to participate in salvation history. He asked Mary to be the vessel in which His Son took flesh to walk among us. While Abraham may have been  first to say ‘Yes’ to God, Mary was the first to experience the full communion saying ‘Yes’ brings. 

Praying the rosary or just a simple Hail Mary, we invoke the spiritual assistance of a Mother who constantly pleads on our behalf to Her Divine Son. We rejoice in her agreement to participate in God’s will, not just for herself, but for all creation. She is a mentor for all of us, but most especially for priests and religious, who vow their lives in service to God in imitation of her. And for those times when we need to interact on a human level, we can look to those dedicated spiritual sons and daughters of Mary to provide guidance and support in our challenges and struggles. 

In thanksgiving to all priests and religious, let us say a Hail Mary or two, lifting them and their struggles up to the Mother who showers grace on all of us as her response. 

Resurrection witness

Happy Easter! We made it through a very different Easter Mass experience, live streaming into our homes. The message, however, remains just as vibrant as ever: He is RISEN!

The Gospels continue to remind us of those first witnesses. Over the next few weeks we will delve into the various appearances of the risen Jesus in numerous scenarios. In our unique circumstances, we have the opportunity to contemplate this core tenet of our faith. To aid us in this mental and spiritual activity, we only have to reach out to our Blessed Mother Mary. After all, not only was she close to Jesus, but she also pondered these things in her heart.

Mary was there for Jesus’ death on the cross. Of course, she wept for her Son being executed in such a humiliating way. But did she wonder why this was happening? Did she know there was more to come and that the world had not seen the last of Jesus? Perhaps. Scripture only tells us that Jesus commanded His apostle John to care for His mother and that she was present with the Apostles when they were praying after Jesus’ ascension when they were waiting for the Holy Spirit. But it is hard to imagine that Jesus would not have appeared to her. We have to be careful to remember that while the Gospels do provide historic details, they are not a record of every event.

I wonder what Mary’s reaction was when the Apostles told her of their encounter with the risen Jesus? Or when she heard about Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Did she recognize the implications of all these amazing events?

Two thousand years later, many of us have heard of Jesus’ resurrection from the time we were children. It can be very difficult to imagine what our reactions would’ve been back then at something  so shocking and novel. Over the past months, we have been facing our own novel event, taking us out of our ordinary way of life. Let us take the time and ask Mary to help us see the resurrected Jesus as if it were the first time. Let us listen to the witness testimonies and practice being a witness with those in our circle of communication.

Jesus is truly risen! We may not be eyewitnesses, but we are His witnesses into today’s world. Like the Apostles, we join in prayer with Mary to help support us as we spread the Good News of His resurrection.

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

Just say yes

Welcome to the third decade of the second millennium! We begin this year and decade as we do all of them, by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Church holds Mary up as a role model for us, even obliging us to attend Mass.

While there are many feasts and solemnities throughout the liturgical calendar, there are only a handful that require Catholics to attend Mass. As we begin the new year, it makes sense for us to start by invoking God’s blessing on us, and what better way than the Mass? Yet the Church does not ask us to celebrate the new year, but to celebrate the Mother of God. Eight days ago we celebrated the birth of Mary’ son, Jesus, so why wait to celebrate her motherhood? Christmas is celebrated for a full eight days in the Church calendar, known as the octave of Christmas, while the days beyond that through the feast of Jesus’ baptism is known as the Christmas season. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, seems to bring the intensive Christmas focus to a full-circle conclusion.  After all, we wouldn’t have Christmas without Mary’s “Yes” to God.

Mary may have been aware of some of the hardships her fiat would bring her, like Joseph’s reaction, not to mention those in her small town and their possible treatment of her. Yet she trusted in God to see her through. Perhaps it was the reflection of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth that gave her strength to stand at the foot of the cross 33 years later. Her relationship with God was total trust, total commitment, and total love. God rewarded her trust, not by making everything easy for her, but by giving her what she needed to complete her mission as Mother of God, starting with the protection by Joseph.

As we begin this decade, let us ask Mary, as our spiritual mother, to help us say yes to God’s will for us and to notice and give thanks for the help He sends our way.

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

Magnify the Lord

Mary’s magnificat is the prayer of praises that Mary proclaims when she meets with Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel (Lk 1:46-55). Traditionally it is prayed during daily evening prayer. For about ten years I have been using a daily prayer book, called the Magnificat, for morning prayer, Mass readings and evening prayers. Yet it was only recently that I started to ponder if I could pray Mary’s prayer as my own.

Mary is God’s perfect creation. She was gifted with immaculate conception and she never sinned during her life. She first and only thought of herself as His handmaid. So how could such a sinner like me pray one of her perfect prayers? In a way, it’s all about the attitude.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” God has given me everything, how can I not rejoice in the Lord? My life may not be perfect but even if I thank Him for the basic gift of life, this statement should be mine to make with the same joy and gratefulness.

“From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.” I always thought this referred only to Mary, but for anyone who is pursuing a relationship with God and hopes to one day be with Him in heaven, i.e. a saint – even an unknown one, that person is blest and the Church does pray for all the saints in heaven. However, we cannot achieve this on our own; it is God who makes it possible. It is the Almighty who invites us into heaven and calls us to be holy, like Him.

“He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” This is like a mini examination of conscience. For example, as we praise the Lord for rewarding with fairness, we may find that we are being sent away empty, not because God does not love us, but because we are already filled and we need to share what we received and empty ourselves so that God can fill us up again. By reviewing our daily activities each evening, we can identify what we need to work on the next day.

“He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” Lastly, we are reminded that we are part of a family, not just a biological one that we are born into, or the one we grow up in, but the family of God. He has made a covenant with His people, starting in the Old Testament and it continues to this day through the Church.

Despite our imperfections, Mary’s magnificat can be our own prayer to God, thanking Him for all the gifts He has given to us, acknowledging His work within our lives and His help in what we need to focus on to be better and thanking Him for being part of His family.

Catholic Girl Journey

Honoring Mom

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I was thinking about how God has blessed me with an earthly mother and a spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. While they are very different people, they do share some similarities.

From Mary’s encounter with Gabriel at the annunciation, to the encounter with Simeon at presentation in the Temple; through the crucifixion on Calvary to the descent of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem, Mary lived through times she did not understand. Instead of turning away, she patiently listened and pondered these things in her heart (Luke 2:19).

My mom does not understand my work. While I do my best to explain it, it’s still beyond her understanding. But mom patiently listens to me when I need to talk about my struggles and celebrates with me in my successes.

At the marriage feast in Cana, Mary volunteered Jesus to resolve the lack of wine issue (John 2:5). Maybe it’s a “mom thing,” as my mom likes to volunteer me for various odd jobs that need to get done. It’s in those moments that I need to look to Jesus as a role model, not just doing the job, but doing it to the best of my ability and without complaint.

God was the center of all of Mary’s life. From the cradle to the grave, she participated in Jesus’ life, sharing the joys and sorrows. One of the best gifts my mom has given me is the example of participating in the Mass. Every Sunday her focus was on the altar and every response was said clearly and every song was sung. It was never rushed, but would match the congregation, whether it was fast or slow. As a child, I learned to worship God as part of a community, by following my mother’s example.

May God’s blessing flow on all the moms who set good examples to lead their children to Him. Happy Mother’s Day!