Juan Diego's Devotion: Advent Week 2, Day 3

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I didn’t grow up knowing St. Juan Diego the way a lot of other Cradle Catholics did. In fact, I actually learned about St. Juan Diego from a show called “Wishbone.” The episode was called Viva Wishbone and centered on the main character, David, learning the story of Juan Diego from his Mexican nanny. David wanted to get a good present for his mother for Mother’s Day, especially when he feels like his mother likes one of his friends more than him. However, through the story of Juan Diego, David learned what it means to be devoted to one’s mother.

Juan Diego was a simple man and showed his devotion to Our Lady in spite of the local bishop’s skepticism. The only time he strayed from his mission to please Mary was when his uncle was sick. However, Mary assured him that everything would be okay. Acting on faith, Juan Diego went up to the hill where a mass of flowers bloomed in spite of the winter cold. After gathering the flowers in his tilma, he took them to the bishop. As he unrolled his tilma, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared. Juan Diego spent the rest of his life taking care of the shrine.

What I love most about this story is Juan Diego’s simple devotion. His determination to make sure that Mary had a shrine in her honor reminds me of a passage from today’s first reading:

They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.- Isaiah 40:30-31

If you’re curious, check out the episode of Wishbone on YouTube. I’ll tell more about how amazing Our Lady of Guadalupe is later this week.

 

The Immaculate Conception and the Year of Mercy: Advent Week 2, Day 2

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One of the greatest lectures I ever heard was from Fr. Michael Gaitley about how Mary played an important role in bringing Divine Mercy to the world through St. John Paul II. Through doing Marian Consecration, Fr. Michael Gaitley gained a devotion to Divine Mercy. It is only appropriate that Pope Francis would choose this wonderful Marian feast to officially begin the Year of Mercy.

So what exactly what does The Year of Mercy entail? Check out this short video from Fr. Roderick:

 

Also, check out this wonderful video from Redeemed Online’s #ShareJesus series:

 

I love how Sister Therese Marie Iglesias connected Mary to the concept of mercy. That Mary was given mercy before she even existed and that she carried mercy with her. My mom sees Mary as a woman of simplicity, which is true. Mary was a simple, humble woman who had great responsibility thrust upon her. It’s one of the reasons the song “Mary Did You Know” is one of my least favorite holiday songs.

And yet, I understand why that song exists. The idea of being the mother of the savior is mind-boggling. This version from Peter Hollens takes an honest approach to the questions asked in the song:

It helps that it comes off like a person actually contemplating Mary. Granted, I don’t know Peter Hollens’s religious affiliation, but this is actually a version of “Mary Did You Know” that I actually like because of how honest it sounded.

But the best part is that the answer to that song is actually out there. Mary is the answer to all the questions in that song. In her Immaculate Conception, she knew that the Lord delivered her before she was even born. In her Magnificat, she knew of all the great things that the Lord would go on to do. When shepherds and wise men came to visit, she contemplated their stories and knew that her son was the King of Kings. Although she was still in awe of her son when she and Joseph found him at the temple, she understood that there was a wisdom in her son beyond her own and acknowledged her humility in that moment.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful rendition of Mary’s Magnificat by Catholic singer/speaker/blogger Jackie Francois Angel:

The Journey Begins: Advent Week 2, Day 1

 

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The second candle on the Advent Wreath is called “The Bethlehem Candle” and symbolizes faith. Today, I want to contemplate the faith of Mary and Joseph as they journeyed to Bethlehem.

If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey,” there’s a point in the story where the heroes are asked to answer “the call to adventure.” Think of when Bilbo was asked by Gandalf to journey with the dwarves in The Hobbit or when Luke Skywalker was asked to undergo Jedi training with Obi-Wan Kenobi. For Mary and Joseph, the call to adventure began with Caesar calling for a census. This census required everyone to go to the land of their ancestors. Since Joseph was descended from the House of David, it meant taking the 69 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It’s not an easy journey to take even now. A quick Google Maps search says that the time to reach Bethlehem to Nazareth now would take at least 9 hours on a bus or train. But since Mary and Joseph were travelling on foot (with Mary riding on a donkey), which meant that their journey would be a lot longer.

I can’t help but admire the faith Mary and Joseph must’ve had as they took this journey. They didn’t know when the baby was coming. They weren’t sure if they were going to find a place to stay when they got to Bethlehem. On top of that, they were given the task of being the parents of the Messiah. In spite of all the weight of this responsibility and uncertainty, they took this journey.

Do you feel like God is calling you to take on a journey of your own? What’s stopping you from answering the call?

Nothing in this life is certain, but as I’ve said before, nothing safe is worth the drive. When you feel like God is calling you to make a change, ask him to light your path and to guide you along the way. He will always be with you.

 

The Necessity Of Prayer: Advent Week 1, Day 5

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Photo courtesy of Rachel Penate from the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship.

There are days that I just want to hide away inside a cloister and pretend that the outside world doesn’t exist. I usually believe in the best in people, but when tragedies such as the ones in San Bernardino and Colorado happen and with threats of ISIS and other acts of terrorism and all the hatred in the world loom all over the news like the perpetually gray December skies, I can completely understand why Thomas Merton chose to go into monastic life.

What makes me even sadder is when the world condemns those who say that they will pray. Has this world become so cynical that the mere idea of prayer has become offensive? I mean when a verse as lovely as Corinthians 13 sets off a “trigger warning,” what good is left in the world?

It calls to mind this scene from an episode of Buffy called “Lie to Me” in which Buffy deals with the fact that an old friend of hers chose to become a vampire in the hopes of escaping the fact that he has brain cancer.

Buffy: Does it ever get easy?

Giles: You mean life?

Buffy: Yeah, does it get easy?

Giles: What do you want me to say?

Buffy: Lie to me.

Giles: Yes. It’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and… everybody lives happily ever after.

Buffy: Liar.

 

Life isn’t easy. It’s messy and complicated and at first glance, prayers may seem like empty promises or a way for politicians to pay lip service to the voters.

But here’s the thing. There is power in prayer. I know this because I’ve experienced it. Prayers aren’t like wishes that magically undo the damages or instantly change the heart of a sinner. Saint Monica can testify that it took a long time for her prayers to finally change Augustine. It took Alessandro Serenelli a long time before he finally repented and admitted that murdering St. Maria Goretti was wrong. Prayers don’t work overnight. The point, however, is that they do work.

It’s easy to believe that the universe is indifferent. It’s easier to try and create our own meaning so that life can be whatever we see it. In the end, though, that kind of existentialist belief is no better than the prisoners in Plato’s cave, who create reality from mere shadows.

I know there are some cynics out there who will say that Christians are really the ones in the cave, creating realities from shadows. Yet look at the lives of people like Mother Teresa, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Pope John Paul II. The saints all had to endure hardships, living in a world that didn’t make any sense. In spite of that, Mother Teresa was able to make life better for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. St. Maximilian Kolbe saved the life of an entire family. Pope John Paul II changed an entire generation of people and continues to do so now.

Prayer changes lives, but never in the way that we expect. It is through prayer that we accept that the world is broken. It is through prayer that we can try and find a way to take what is broken and make things whole again. It is through prayer that we can be a light to the world and maybe change the hearts of others along the way.

God is the one who breaks the prisoners free and leads them out of the caves of their illusions. In this first week of Advent, let us keep hope alive through fervent prayer, especially for those who need God’s mercy the most. Pray for the souls of the people who died in San Bernardino. Pray for the conversion of the shooter as well as for the person who attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. Pray for peace in this world. It may not seem like much, but it’s enough to help restore hope.

I’ll leave you with this poem that I wrote back in April:

Of Monsters and Men

Life is terribly complicated
Sometimes the best of friends
turn out to be people who stab you in the back
The bad guys are not easy to see
because many of these monsters
come in the forms of handsome men
There are battles you can never win
because you can’t stand on your own
There are good days and bad days
and some of them can never be saved.
And sometimes happily ever after
is the farthest thing from your reach.

But somehow, things always turn around
You heal the scars that run down your back
You find some monsters that turn out to be friends
Who help you fight the battles you can’t handle on your own
You look out at the sun as it dawns
and realized that every day starts out fresh and new
even if yesterday couldn’t be saved
And even if you don’t have a happily ever after
You start with what you have now
and find happiness there

Untangling Our Issues: Advent Reflections Week 1, Day 4

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Do you remember the things that you dream? Dreams are often absurd, but at the same time they are the subconscious’s way of processing things. I don’t remember my dreams often, but when I do, they usually mean something to me. I dreamt of dating whenever I was put into a situation where I met some cute guys. I used to have nightmares of running away from the things that scared me.

My latest dream, though, was a weird one. I dreamt that I was an assassin or some kind of mercenary with two other people. We were inside of a public bathroom when suddenly one of my teammates ends up shooting the both of us. I particularly remember being shot in the back and lying down on the floor with my fellow assassin/mercenary lying down next to me.

Then, all of a sudden, I hear someone yelling “CUT!” I get up as if nothing has happened, although there is a hole in my side. When the other assassin/mercenary gets up after and the three of us walk out of the bathroom, I realize that it was all just a movie. I chat things up with my fellow actors as if nothing is wrong and compliment them on how well they did on the scene.

I don’t really know if this dream means anything, but I think we can all relate to the idea of how our subconscious can end up troubling us in our waking life. I’ve mentioned in a previous post how sin can make us avoid change out of guilt or pride. One wonderful thing about the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that it helps us untangle the messy parts of ourselves.

I wasn’t able to really clear my head about my dream until I finally wrote it down and accepted that I won’t understand it completely. In a similar way, our consciences can never really be clear until we acknowledge that we are sinful. Through Confession, we confront our problems and find a way to understand and deal with them.

One reason Catholics confess their sins to a priest is because God acts through the priest. When the priest absolves us of our sins, we trust that God has completely forgiven us and will always love us.

The year of Mercy will officially start at the feast of the Immaculate Conception, but some parishes in my area have already started on the Year of Mercy by holding reconciliation services. Reconciliation services are days where priests go to a church to hear Confessions outside of the regularly scheduled time. Check if there’s one going on in your parish this month.

Hopes of The Holy Family: Advent Reflections Week 1, Day 3

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One thing I’ve noticed is how much I feel called to imitate Mary. In this Advent season, Mary plays a particularly prominent role. I’m currently praying the Immaculate Conception novena in anticipation of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the official start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. But I can’t talk about Mary without also talking about her most chaste spouse, Joseph. As part of Advent, some of my friends and I are doing meditations on Joseph and Mary. St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother were there for me during a retreat I staffed last spring and I love imagining the relationship that they had with each other.

My friend Cari shared this particular meditation with me from Catholic Tradition:

Our Lady, in giving him her hand, gave him also her whole heart. Never did a wife love her husband so tenderly, so ardently, nor revere him more profoundly. Mary and Joseph, says St. Bernardin of Siena, were but one heart and soul; they were two in one same mind, one same affection, and each of them was the other’s second self, because Our Lady and he were, so to speak, only one person. The heart of Mary with that of Joseph, and the heart of Joseph with that of Mary, who ever could imagine a union so intimate, a grace so great!

Can you imagine what they were thinking as they were journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem? Mary is heavy with child and in spite what a certain song asks, she did know her part in the narrative, but it’s still overwhelming to her. Joseph is equally overwhelmed because he will have to raise a child that isn’t actually his own and sharing his life with a woman who’s never sinned. It takes a man of great humility to accept this great responsibility.

For today, I want you to reflect on Mary’s Magnificat and this wonderful song from MercyMe. Contemplate what Mary and Joseph may be thinking as they journey with us this Advent.

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.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

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.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

 

Interior Redecorating: Advent Reflections Week 1, Day 2

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One of my favorite books growing up was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. I read that book so often in middle school and high school that I made notes in the margins and the pages are stained from the book getting mixed up with a jello I packed for lunch. In the introduction, Sean lists the first three habits as being a “private victory,” illustrated as the roots of a tall, strong tree. The next three habits were categorized as a”public victory,” illustrated as the trunk and branches of the tree. Finally, the last habit emphasized renewal, shown by a sun and a rain cloud nourishing the tree. In another chapter, Covey quotes the following poem inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey:

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world.

As I grew older and wiser I discovered the world would not change –
So I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country, but it too seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.

And now I realize as I lie on my deathbed, if I had only changed myself first, then by example I might have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement I would then have been able to better my country,

And who knows, I might have even changed the world.

Change starts from the inside and eventually manifests into exterior changes. This applies to Advent as well. While we prepare our houses for Christmas by rearranging the furniture and putting up decorations, let us also redecorate the temples of our souls.

A great way to start is with the daily readings. Audrey Assad gives a testimony to the impact of the daily readings from Mass in this video from Redeemed Online:

If you want to find meditations that go along with the daily Mass readings, check out Blessed is She or subscribe to Magnificat. My mom was lucky enough to find a series of devotionals called Conversations with Jesus at our local used bookstore.