Mass on New Year’s

El Greco Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus
El Greco, “Adoration of the Holy Name”

To start the new year of by going to Mass! To start the new year off by going to Mass in honor of our Lady! To start the new year off by going to Mass in honor of our Lady on the day when Jesus received His Holy Name! To start the new year off by going to Mass in honor of our Lady on the day when Jesus received His Holy Name, and celebrating the Octave as an act of rebellion against the idea that Christmas is over!

This is what Catholics do.

Rebelled against the dreary idea that Christmas ends when Walmart says it ends. I visited a Walmart bright and early this past Saturday morning, the 26th, to buy my nephews some light sabers. Walmart already had Valentine’s candy out in the seasonal aisles.

That’s ok. They had moved on from Christmas. So I got a life-size talking Yoda at half price!

My point is: We rebel. We say Christmas doesn’t end until Holy Mother Church says so. Which means we still have another eight days of loving baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph. WalMart thinks it’s time for Valentine’s Day, and the wise men haven’t even arrived yet from the East. Please!

…“God saves.” How do you say that in Hebrew? Come on people. This is a really easy one. How do you say “God saves” in Hebrew? The Lord shed the first drop of His Precious Blood on Jan. 1, beneath the knife of circumcision, as He received His name. God saves.

…We can’t love and honor the son without loving and honoring the mother.

Can we make a deal for 2016? That we Catholics will stop apologizing to Protestants for honoring our Lady. Ever since Vatican II, we have fallen all over ourselves… “We don’t worship Mary! We’re not Mariolaters! We’re just like you!”

How about saying—in a friendly way, of course—“Can’t understand why anyone who loves the Lord Jesus wouldn’t love His Mother also, and honor her, and carry her rosary and pray it daily.”

And we start the new year off with Mass. Someday, Mass will never end. Not that it will become oppressively boring ad infinitum. But we will, please God, have entered the heavenly liturgy. We will gaze with rapture upon the infinite glory. Until then, while we continue to make our pilgrim way, it’s a good thing to start each new year off right.

Conditions for Belief

The gospel tells us that Zechariah lived a holy, upright life. The angel came to visit him while he faithfully fulfilled his priestly duties. Gabriel found Elizabeth’s husband in the Temple, the most splendidly divine place imaginable. The humble priest busied himself burning incense, praying, surrounded by crowds of pious people praying in the Temple court outside.

In other words, the archangel came to the place most frequented by the holy heroes of Advent, the place where they came to await the fulfillment of the Lord’s ancient promises. Where Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, everyone knew Elijah was to come again, to direct the hearts of children to their fathers and to prepare a people fit for the Lord.

jerusalem_solomon_templeThe angel came to this most believable of settings, and proceeded to tell Zechariah something which hardly even defied the laws of nature. You and your wife will have a son!

Wonderful news, yes. Another instance of God’s fruitfulness, to which the Old Testament had borne so much witness through the centuries. But the rules of the birds and the bees would remain intact. Zechariah was not asked to believe anything too outlandish. Just that he and his wife would have an unexpected son.

Meanwhile, the archangel visited the Blessed Virgin in a much less holy city, in a part of the country as pagan as it was Jewish. Nazareth has a great name now. But at the time, as we know from reading the gospels, the Jews thought of the town as an unmentionable backwater, in a region over-run by distasteful foreigners who cared only about commerce.

And what Gabriel proposed to Mary demanded a much greater leap of faith. He told her that something would happen which had never happened before. She asked the angel an honest question, got an enormously mysterious answer, and humbly submitted.

Continue reading “Conditions for Belief”

Saying Mary’s Name

Today we keep a feast in honor of the Blessed Mother’s name. We call upon her by name constantly. We say “Mary” 106 times whenever we recite her rosary.

St. Joseph used Mary’s name every day, gently, thoughtfully. When He was young, the Lord Jesus heard this, heard His foster father use His mother’s name. And He heard others say “Mary,” respectfully and affectionately, countless times. Certainly it warmed the Lord’s heart whenever He heard anyone use the name of Mary with love. Can we doubt that it warms His heart now, up in heaven, when He hears us respectfully and lovingly call her by name?

When we call our Lady by name, how exactly do we invoke her? Of course, we do not invoke her as our god or goddess. She called herself a lowly handmaid. She knows better than anyone that she was made by the One Who became man in her womb. He formed her out of nothing, so that He could form His own sacred Body from her flesh.

So we call out to Mary as to a sister of our race. When God came to save us, He made Himself man by having a mother of our own kind.

But, by the same token, we have to ask ourselves: Why do we call out to Mary at all? The entire Catholic world calls out to her, as to a queen. Why?

We do it because we know how weak and prone to evil we are. Our Lady is not God, but, compared to us, she has god-like holiness.

She has what it takes to bear us up through thick and thin. We fall into doubt, but she believes. We puff ourselves up with ridiculous pride, but she humbles herself even in her heavenly throne. We indulge ourselves with concupiscent self-love; she pours out everything in her heart for others. “Mary,” the name, the person—the word practically means “love for others.” She is not God, but no creature is more like God than Mary is.

We love our Protestant brothers and sisters, of course. But we make no apologies for crying out to our Blessed Mother and speaking her name with the most profound reverence. Don’t like our statues of Mary? Listen, brother: There ain’t no statue high enough for us. Every token of devotion we offer to our Lady is less than she deserves. Indeed, she is not God. But she is a far piece more beautiful, more powerful, and more wonderful than you, or me, or any of us down here. The last thing in the world any Christian needs to worry about is loving Christ’s mother too much.

The Great Project of God’s Grandparents

The great project of life: to avoid attachments to things other than God, so that we keep our eyes open for Him.

The Lord promised Abraham a great inheritance. The Lord espoused the nation of Israel to Himself. As we read, most of God’s people fell away from Him, became preoccupied with things other than Him, got attached to non-divine stuff, faithlessly chasing fleeting distractions.

Fresco of Joachim and Ann by Giotto
But some held on. Some clung to faith. Among the descendants of Abraham, a few always continued the great project of life, which Abraham himself had followed to the end. They believed the promises, and they looked forward to their fulfillment. The faithful remnant of Israel quietly kept the history of the chosen nation moving forward. They married and raised children in little sanctuaries of faith.

Among these nondescript, quiet, prayerful Israelites, the Lord chose two to be His own grandparents. Their flesh and blood would be His flesh and blood. Through their marital embrace, the Lord formed a new Eve to be His Mother. She herself would give birth to God, Anne and Joachim’s grandchild. This immaculate daughter of Israel conceived her child not through natural copulation, but by her nation’s most magnificent and all-encompassing act of faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”

…“Blessed are your ears, because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to hear what you hear,” the Lord Jesus says to us.

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. How? Because God is good. And because Sts. Joachim and Anne pursued the great project of life to the end, and taught their beautiful daughter to do the same.

God first. Faith first. And the promises come true.

Quinceañera Visitation

Today I celebrate Mass for the fourth time this month with the Visitation gospel reading from St. Luke.

This is the gospel reading assigned for a Quinceañera Mass, when a young Mexican woman renews her baptismal promises and consecrates herself anew to the service of God.

Recalling the Visitation suits the occasion of a Quinceañera Mass perfectly.

The Blessed Mother showed the kind spirit of a Christian woman in thinking of her cousin and going to help her. The moment when Mary and Elizabeth met gave the world a beautiful, quiet sign of the coming of the Messiah, when St. John recognized Christ–womb-to-womb, so to speak. And the Blessed virgin expressed the heart of a prayerful quinceañera when she sang her Magnificat, glorifying God for His immeasurable goodness and generosity.

We give thanks that we have life. We give thanks that Christ has given us every reason to hope for eternal consolation. We give thanks that He chose us and made us His own. The Almighty has done great things for us. Holy is His name.

Christmas Gift for Homo Religiosus

God made us in a particular way. He endowed us with some agonizingly exquisite qualities, the qualities that make us who we are. We human persons make the rest of the animal kingdom, the rest of the material universe, look…kind of, well, limited.

Four things about us human beings:

1. We long to know the unknowable infinite power behind everything we see.

2. We eagerly desire uprightness and justice; we desperately want things to be right.

3. We feel impelled to live in a worthy, beautiful way, difficult as it may be to do so.

4. We want the friendship, not just of each other, but of God Himself.

For more than two centuries now, ideologues of a certain stripe have been sounding the death knell of the “primitive superstition” known as religion. But we human beings incorrigibly persist. It appears that we cannot be reformed. We will seek God one way or another. We will not abandon our ancient four-pronged religious quest: to know, to please, to imitate, and to befriend the great Other.

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Rambo Virgin Mary (non-superficial Christmas)

We began Advent with two goals. 1) Try to get these new Mass responses right. 2) Prepare to celebrate a non-superficial Christmas.

A superficial Christmas practically ends before it begins. A superficial Christmas feels like work, not a holiday. A superficial Christmas costs too much money. A superficial Christmas leaves a person angry at one relative or another, out of sorts, and five pounds heavier.

How can we have a non-superficial Christmas?

Well, one “person” knows how to do it. Namely, the Church. But our Mother the Church does not take credit for inventing the proper way to celebrate Christmas. The Church learned how to do it from the true master of the non-superficial Christmas. Namely, the Virgin Mary.

“Hail, Mary!” The archangel Gabriel saluted the unique woman, indeed a new Eve. Hail, Mary. Hail, favored one.

This woman lived and breathed nothing but the will of God. No one has ever been more perfectly aware of the fundamental fact of life: I am the work of the Creator’s hands. The Blessed Mother studied this fact with every gaze of her eyes, with every sound she heard, everything she tasted, felt.

At the moment the angel arrived to greet her, Mary’s soul rested in perfect stillness. She liked to read. She didn’t watch t.v.

“What does this mean, that a glorious angel would visit me, go down on one knee before me, make such a proposal to me? Let me inquire, let me seek the truth…”

Continue reading “Rambo Virgin Mary (non-superficial Christmas)”

Advent, Parts I and II

Everybody know that the season of Advent has two parts? Today we complete the first part.

We have prayed and read Scripture passages about the coming of Christ considered as a whole.

In other words: He came as the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies of old. He came to reveal the eternal plan of God for our salvation, inaugurating the New and eternal Covenant for the forgiveness of sins. He came in mystery in order to prepare us for the final consummation, when His glory will fill the earth.

The pre-eminent message of Advent, Part I? Repent! And the pre-eminent messenger? The star of Advent, Part I, so to speak? John the Baptist.

The first part of Advent can last anywhere from 15 to 20 days. This year we have as long an Advent season as we can have, since Christmas falls on a Sunday. The second part of Advent always lasts eight days.

Anyway: During the second part of Advent, we pray and read about the events preceding the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem. In other words, we make our immediate preparations for celebrating His birthday.

Advent, Part II, has numerous stars, including St. Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah…But who is the pre-eminent Lady of the days before Christmas? The Blessed Virgin Mary, of course.

We have tried to keep our lives quiet and prayerful ever since the sun set on November 26th. Now is the time for us to kick that into a higher gear.

Let’s try to live the next eight days as if they were the eight days before the first Christmas. The Blessed Virgin has invited us to accompany her through those eight days, living them with her, reading the words of the prophets as if we were listening to her read them aloud to us, praying psalms as if she were praying them, hearing the narratives of the gospels as if we were there.

May she lead us to a merry Christmas day.

American as Apple Pie

“Hail, full of grace!” Luke 1:28

The Archangel Gabriel paid homage to the Blessed Virgin’s holiness when he came to announce God’s plan to her. From the moment of her conception, Mary was made to be God’s mother.

This obviously occurred many centuries before America was settled by Christian people.

The first Christians to arrive here from Europe sailed a ship called the Santa Maria. Hernan Cortes prayed to the Purisima to deliver the people of the continent from disease. King Philip IV declared that America stood under the heavenly care of the Blessed Virgin.

The Blessed Mother herself came to our continent, appearing to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac hill.

In 1792, when Bishop John Carroll assumed the pastoral leadership of the entire church in the United States, he wrote to all the faithful people:

I earnestly request that, to the exercise of the sublimest virtues of faith, hope, and charity, you shall join a fervent and well-regulated devotion to the Holy Mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… Your duty is to continue zealously to imitate her virtues and rely on her motherly superintendence.

All this occurred in America before a single President ever resided in Washington, D.C. Before a single game of baseball was ever played. Before Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem.

…Sometimes we find ourselves surrounded by Protestants, and we get a little nervous. Sometimes we might think to ourselves, ‘Maybe I had better keep my rosary beads in my pocket until I retire to the privacy of my own Catholic home.’

But my point is this: Not only is it ungrateful and impious for any Christian not to venerate the holy Mother of God, it is also downright un-American.

Don’t we live in a state ultimately named for the Virgin? Isn’t our next-door neighbor Mary-land? What’s the oldest city in English-speaking North America? St. Mary’s City. In English-speaking Canada? St. Marie among the Hurons. What’s the largest completed church in the western hemisphere? Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Our land belongs to the Blessed Mother. We proudly salute our patroness.

And if anyone makes an anti-Catholic crack about worshiping the Virgin…Well, we will remain calm. We will not report it to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

No, we will just patiently reply, ‘Friend, listen. Let’s start right here with your King James Bible, and let’s read about the ‘favoured Virgin’ who became the ‘handmaiden of the Lord.’

St. Ambrose on Our Lady

1,637 years ago tomorrow, St. Ambrose was ordained a priest and bishop and consecrated the Patriarch of Milan.

St. Ambrose’s preaching and holiness moved St. Augustine to seek baptism.

These two are the pre-eminent Latin-speaking Fathers of the Church. In the Vatican Basilica, the Bernini statue which holds the relic of St. Peter’s chair depicts St. Ambrose as one of the four saints who hold the throne aloft.

St. Ambrose was ordained the day before the anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s conception. Probably not a co-incidence.

Here is how St. Ambrose explained to his people why it is so important to honor the Mother of God.

What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? …She was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse.

She wanted to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to honor her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue.

…When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy? There was nothing gloomy in her eyes, nothing forward in her words, nothing unseemly in her acts, there was not a silly movement, nor unrestrained step, nor was her voice petulant.

The very appearance of her outward being was the image of her soul. For a well-ordered house ought to be recognized on the threshold, and should show at the very first entrance that no darkness is hidden within, as our soul hindered by no restraints of the body may shine abroad like a lamp placed within.

The first duty we have in our service to Christ is to honor His immaculate mother.

When Sts. Joachim and Anne embraced each other on December 8 and conceived their daughter, the Creator–always full of surprises–brought the Garden of Eden back to the earth.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary enfolds us like an undying garden of innocence, purity, and truth. May we live in this garden always.