Our Lady of the Rosary

Today’s readings

The Battle of Lepanto was a naval engagement that took place on this date in 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, of which the Venetian Empire and the Spanish Empire were the main powers, inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras, where the Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto met the fleet of the Holy League sailing east from Messina, Sicily.  The Holy League was victorious this day, which was attributed to the praying of the Holy Rosary, as requested by Pope Saint Pius V.  To commemorate the victory, Pius instituted this feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and it was extended to the entire Church in 1716.

We all experience varying degrees of tragedy or worry or need or concern in our lives.  It is important, I think, to have prayer as a tool to keep the faith in those circumstances.  Pope Saint Pius V encouraged the Rosary as a powerful tool for a real time of concern.  Praying the Rosary is effective in those times because it is simple. The constant repetition of words helps create an atmosphere in which to contemplate the mysteries of God. For me, the Rosary gives me the opportunity to see God at work in the mysteries of my own life, even as it draws me into the mysteries of salvation.

There are a lot of ways to pray.  Many are as complex as they are beautiful.  But it helps, I think, to have a simple prayer like the Rosary at your disposal for those times when prayer is urgent, and the words don’t come as readily as we would like.

Pope Saint John Paul II said, “To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and His mother.”  The powerful combination of Jesus and Mary in the praying of the Rosary was a force for the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto.  We should, then, have no pause in bringing the Rosary to bear in the battles of our own lives.

The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

Today’s readings

Fear keeps us from doing all sorts of things the Lord wants for us.  If we would truly let go of our fear and cling to our God, just imagine what he could do in us and through us.  Ahaz was King of Israel, a mighty commander, but yet was so afraid of God and what God might do that he refused to ask for a sign.  Perhaps he knew how far he had strayed from God’s commands, and he was afraid to engage God on any level.  He would prefer to cut himself off from God rather than give himself over to the amazing power of God’s presence in his life and his rule.  Because of that perhaps, he never lived to see the greatness of God’s glory.

But his weakness did not disrupt the promise.  In the fullness of time, God’s messenger came to a young woman named Mary and proposed to accomplish in her life the sign for which Ahaz was too afraid to ask.  She too was initially afraid, pondering what sort of greeting this was.  She was also confused, not knowing how what the angel proclaimed could possibly take place in her life.  Our reaction to God’s mysterious will for us is quite often the same, isn’t it?

The difference, though, was that Mary heeded the initial words of the angel that have resounded through Salvation history ever since: “Do not be afraid.”  And, thanks be to God, Mary abandoned her fear and instead sang her fiat, her great “yes” to God’s plan for her, and for all of us.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  These words are reminiscent of what the Psalmist sings today: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

And we know what happened from there.  Mary certainly knew that none of that could be accomplished through her own efforts, but she absolutely knew that God could do whatever he undertook.  Nothing would be impossible for God, and she trusted in that, and because of that, we have the great hope of our salvation.  We owe everything to Mary’s cooperation with God’s plan for our salvation.

And so the promise comes to us.  We have the great sign of which Ahaz was afraid, but in which Mary rejoiced.  We too are told that God can accomplish much in our own lives, if we would abandon our fears and cling to the hope of God’s presence and action in our lives.  Can we too be the handmaids of the Lord?  Are we bold enough to say, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will?”  All we have to do is to remember the first thing the angel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid.”

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Today’s readings

And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke notes all throughout Jesus’ young life that Mary kept the events of Jesus’ life and reflected on them in her heart.  At the visit of the shepherds, and again after finding Jesus in the temple, Mary kept those memories for later reflection.  Maybe she understood them, or perhaps had to work them out later, but keeping them in her heart, she was able to ponder the Word.  It’s kind of like she was keeping a scrapbook of memories in her heart, and I found myself wishing during these Christmas days, that I could take a look at that scrapbook.  She had a first-hand view of how Jesus grew in wisdom and grace, and as Luke tells the story, her perspective of God’s work in the life of her family had to be incredible.

Mary’s reflection on the life of Jesus is really a model for us.  Keeping those events close to her and reflecting on them later is her way of reflecting on the Word of God.  Whether she understood them at the time or not,  she didn’t just live through the moment and move on.  She went back to those events later in her life – even after the death and resurrection of Jesus – and came to a new understanding guided by the Holy Spirit.  And thank God she did that.  It’s probably her later reflection on those events that made the early Church Evangelist able to record them and pass them on to us.

We too, must reflect on the Word of God.  We have to put ourselves in the presence of the Story, and ponder it in our hearts.  If we’re confused by Scripture, we have Mary as our patron to help us reflect on that Word and come to understand it, guided as we are by the Holy Spirit.  But we also have her encouragement to keep those Scriptures in the scrapbook of our hearts, to keep coming back to them.  That’s the only way the Spirit can work on us and help us to come to new and more beautiful understandings of the Word of God, and in doing that, to come to a renewed and vibrant relationship with our Lord.

If we would make a resolution for this new year, maybe it could be to follow Mary’s example.  Maybe we could set aside some time on a regular basis – even if just once a week – to put ourselves in the presence of the Word of God.  And not just here at Mass, although that’s a good start.  But maybe in private prayer or even in an organized Bible Study – we have a few of them going on in our parish on a regular basis.  If we regularly open ourselves up to the Word of God, maybe we too could come to new and more beautiful understandings of the Scriptures; and a closer and more beautiful relationship with Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God.

Mary, mother of God the Word, help us to understand the Word as you did.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God:
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today’s readings

Appropriately enough, I think, we celebrate a second of Mary’s feasts in the space of just four days.  During Advent, we naturally turn our hearts in gratitude to Mary for her fiat that made possible our world’s salvation.  Last week we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary; today we celebrate a quite different feast, Our Lady of Guadalupe.  We celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe in part because she is the patroness of all the Americas, and so once again, a special patron for us.

A Native American author of the sixteenth century describes the story of our Lady of Guadalupe in today’s Office of Readings.  He tells us of another Native American named Juan Diego, who was on his way from his home to worship on the hill of Tepeyac.  There he heard someone calling to him from the top of the hill.  When he got to the top of the hill, he saw a woman whose clothing shone like the sun.  She told him that it was her desire that a church be erected on the hill so that all could worship her son Jesus.  She sent him to the local bishop to plead that cause.

The bishop didn’t believe Juan Diego’s story and sent him away.  He returned to the hilltop to find the radiant Lady once again, and she told him to tell the bishop that she, the ever virgin holy Mary, Mother of God, sent him.  Again the bishop did not believe, telling him that unless he had a miraculous sign, he would not believe the story.

At that point Juan Diego’s uncle became quite ill.  Juan then set out for the local church to have a priest come to anoint his uncle.  He purposely took a route around the hill at Tepeyac to avoid seeing the Lady and being detained, since the need for a priest was urgent.  But of course, she met him at the side of the hill and spoke to him again.  She assured him that his uncle had already been cured and sent him up the hilltop to find flowers of various kinds.  He got to the top of the hill to find many Castilian roses growing there, which was odd for that time of the winter.  He cut them and carried them down the hill in his tilma, a kind of mantle that he wore for warmth.  She sent him to the bishop bearing the miraculous flowers as proof.

He went confidently to the bishop and informed him that the Lady had fulfilled his request for a sign.  He opened up his tilma, the flowers fell to the ground, but the great miracle was that the inside of the tilma revealed the image of the ever virgin Mary, mother of God, in the same manner as Juan had seen her on the hill.   The bishop built the church, and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, as she had referred to herself, has grown ever since.  You can still see the tilma, still bearing the image of Mary, at the shrine in Guadalupe today.

During Advent we are blessed to have the saints point the way to Jesus.  None of them does this more faithfully than his very own mother, and so we are blessed to celebrate her feast today.  May Mary our mother and the mother of God, lead us one day to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary 

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Today’s readings

Blessed Pope Pius IX instituted the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8, 1854, when he proclaimed as truth the dogma that our Lady was conceived free from the stain of original sin. This had been a traditional belief since about the eighth century, and had been celebrated as a feast first in the East, and later in the West.

This feast celebrates the belief that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to be our Savior, and gave to him a human mother who was chosen before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight. This feast is a sign for us of the nearness of our salvation; that the plan God had for us before the world ever took shape was finally coming to fruition. How appropriate it is, then, that we celebrate the Immaculate Conception during Advent, when we recount the unfolding of salvation through the Incarnation of Christ.

The readings chosen for this day paint the picture. In the reading from Genesis, we have the story of the fall. The man and the woman had eaten of the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat. Because of this, they were ashamed and covered over their nakedness. God noticed that, and asked about it. He found they had discovered the forbidden tree because otherwise they would not have the idea that their natural state was shameful.

Thus begins the pattern of sin and deliverance that cycles all through the scriptures. God extends a way to salvation to his people, the people reject it and go their own way. God forgives, and extends a new way to salvation. Thank God he never gets tired of pursuing humankind and offering salvation, or we would be in dire straits. It all comes to perfection in the event we celebrate today. Salvation was always God’s plan for us and he won’t rest until that plan comes to perfection. That is why St. Paul tells the Ephesians, and us, today: “He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…”

And so, in these Advent days, we await the unfolding of the plan for salvation that began at the very dawn of the world in all its wonder. God always intended to provide an incredible way for his people to return to him, and that was by taking flesh and walking among us as a man. He began this by preparing for his birth through the Immaculate Virgin Mary – never stained by sin, because the one who conquered sin and death had already delivered her from sin. He was then ready to be born into our midst and to take on our form. With Mary’s fiat in today’s Gospel, God enters our world in the most intimate way possible, by becoming vulnerable, taking our flesh as one like us. Mary’s lived faith – possible because of her Immaculate Conception – makes possible our own lives of faith and our journeys to God.

Our celebration today has special meaning for us. Because Mary was conceived without sin, we can see that sin was never intended to rule us. Because God selected Mary from the beginning, we can see that we were chosen before we were ever in our mother’s womb. Because Mary received salvific grace from the moment of her conception, we can catch a glimpse of what is to come for all of us one day. Mary’s deliverance from sin and death was made possible by the death and resurrection of her Son Jesus, who deeply desires that we all be delivered in that way too.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary 

School Mass
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Today’s readings

I think we’re so blessed that we get to come to church and celebrate so many of Mary’s feasts. Today is a very special feast because Mary, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of the United States of America, and so she is very special to us.

I think today’s readings can be a little confusing. The Gospel makes it sound like this day is about the conception of Jesus, but it isn’t. We celebrate the conception of Jesus nine months before he was born, so that would be March 25th. We call that day the Annunciation, because that was the day the Angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would have a baby, but we’ll talk more about that in a minute. Today we celebrate the conception of Mary, nine months before her birthday, so if you do the math on that one, her birthday is September 8th, just a few months ago. This day celebrates that Mary was free from sin from the very beginning, the only person other than Jesus to be born without sin.
The other confusing reading is the first one. Why do we go all the way to the beginning of creation when we’re talking about Mary today? Well, I think the reason is that Mary solved a problem that began all the way at the beginning. And that problem was sin. From the very beginning, we human beings have been tempted to sin. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, and people have been committing sin ever since. Again and again, God broke in to history, leading people back to him, giving them prophets to show them the way, and again and again, people turned away from God. And we continue that today. Again and again, we are tempted and we sin and we turn away from God. Eve represented our fall into sin.
But God didn’t want that to be the way things ended up for us. So he sent his Son to become one of us. God knew that in order for Jesus to be born among us, his mother was going to have to be pretty special. So before Mary was ever in her mother’s womb, God chose her to be his Son’s mother. He made her free from sin so that no stain of sin would ever touch his Son.
Because Mary was so special, she loved God very much. So when the angel came and told her she would have a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit, she said yes to God’s plan. I don’t know if she really understood what was going to happen, I don’t know if she really knew how this wonderful event would take place, and she probably didn’t fully understood what would happen to Jesus in his life, but she said yes anyway. We call that her fiat, her “yes” to God’s plan for her. She took a big leap of faith that day, and we have been blessed ever since.
This is all very good news. But there is even more good news: because Mary was so special to God, she shows us how special we are to God. As we celebrate God’s love for Mary today, we also celebrate his love for us. Mary got to hold her Savior – the One God promised us – in her own arms. When those of us who are old enough come to Communion today, we will be able to hold our Savior – the One God promised us – in the palm of our hand. Mary’s life was brightened when Jesus was born. Our lives will be brightened too, this coming Christmas, and every time we make room in our hearts for Jesus.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s Readings

Matthew’s account of the genealogy of the Lord is unusual for many reasons, but most notable among those reasons, and the reason it was chosen for Mass today is because it contained the name of five women. This might not seem all that amazing to us today, but back in Matthew’s day, genealogies almost never contained the names of women. So Matthew is clearly telling us something important by including their names.

The women mentioned include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Four of them were women of the Old Testament and the last, of course, cooperated in bringing about the New Testament. Tamar was a childless widow whose brother-in-law, to whom she had been given in marriage after her husband’s death, refused to provide her with offspring. So she had to pretend to be a harlot and seduce Judah in order to have a child. Rahab actually was a harlot in Jericho. She hid and protected the spies of Joshua, so the Israelites protected her when they ambushed Jericho. Ruth was a daughter-in-law who cared so much for her mother-in-law that she accompanied her on a dangerous journey to Israel after her family died. Ruth is known for her devotion. Bathsheba was seduced by King David, who covered up the affair by arranging to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle. She became the mother of Solomon.

All of these women represent the struggle and the blessing the Israelites had with God and his salvation. Tamar represented the struggle to follow the law and to protect the widows, orphans and aliens as God intended. Rahab represented the giving of the land to the people Israel. Ruth represented the devotion and faithful love of the Lord. Bathsheba represented the struggle with faithfulness, and the blessing of repentance. 

And from all of these, we finally come to our Patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the woman whose faith and willingness to cooperate with God’s plan made possible the salvation of all the world. Today we celebrate her Nativity, the traditional date of her birth, exactly nine months having passed since her Immaculate Conception on December 8th. 

Every single birth is a sign of hope in our world, and therefore a cause for great celebration. Our world may be in a bad place, plagued by war terror, and dark from sin – both societal sin and our own personal sin. But birth brings joy because it is a sign of God’s wanting the world to continue to bring salvation to all people. Mary’s birth in particular stands out prominently among us because of the grace she received from God who chose her to be mother of His Son. 

This feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is our parish’s patronal feast day. Out Church of Notre Dame, our Lady, reveres Mary in a special way: Mary who is the Mother of God, the Mother of our Salvation, the Mother of the Church, the Mother of Priests, the Mother of all the faithful. We celebrate today her faithfulness to God’s Word, and pray that she would intercede that we too might be faithful to God’s call. We celebrate today the intercession that has built our Church and this parish, and pray that her intercession would continue to guide us all in the future, that one day we might join her as she reigns in glory with her Most Holy Son. 

The Byzantine Church Daily Worship proclaims well the joy that we have on this feast of Mary’s birth: “Today the barren Anna claps her hands for joy, the earth radiates with light, kings sing their happiness, priests enjoy every blessing, the entire universe rejoices, for she who is Queen and the Father’s Immaculate Bride buds forth from the stem of Jesse.” 

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.