Archive for December, 2008


As it is unlikely that I will be posting again before Christmas, Merry Christmas! May the Baby Jesus bless you with the spiritual gift you are most in need of, may you welcome Him fully into your life, and may His Mother be your mother, too!

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Perhaps I’m dense (or, more flatteringly, an astute Catholic 🙂 ), but I’ve never really understood why people of faith struggle with the whole “why am I here/what is the meaning of life?!” question.

It used to be (long before my CCD/Catholic school religion classes in the ’80s) that even children were taught — through the Baltimore Catechism — the answer to that question:

“to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with him in the next.”

Though I don’t recall ever hearing that as a girl, I do know that by the time I was in high school, I could articulate, in student-like terms, that we are on Earth to learn to love God, and that He takes us home to Heaven when we’ve mastered the skill adequately. My little ones, the eldest of whom is not yet four, are already learning an age-appropriate version of the answer in the Baltimore Catechism. Children are never too young to hear that message — and neither are searching adults. After all, to do this takes a lifetime of work!

That brings us to the beautiful Office of Readings for December 21, this time an excerpt from St. Ambrose’s commentary on the Blessed Mother’s Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel (also mentioned here):

A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works.

Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith. Every soul receives the Word of God if only it keeps chaste, remaining pure and free from sin, its modesty undefiled. The soul that succeeds in this proclaims the greatness of the Lord, just as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. In another place we read: “Magnify the Lord with me.” The Lord is magnified, not because the human voice can add anything to God, but because he is magnified within us. Christ is the image of God, and if the soul does what is right and holy, it magnifies that image of God, in whose likeness it was created and, in magnifying the image of God, the soul has a share in its greatness and is exalted.

By the “Word of God,” St. Ambrose is of course using a reference to Jesus from the beginning of St. John’s Gospel. (Is it any wonder that St. Ambrose was so influential in the life of another great saint, Augustine?!)

The meaning of life, then, is to “conceive and bring forth” Jesus — in a spiritual sense, to be another Mary! In order to do this, though, we must be as pure in the soul as Our Lady was in soul and body. To use her own words, we are to “magnify” the Lord; just as a dirty lens cannot properly convey to the eye what is being seen, if our souls are impure with sin, others cannot see Jesus properly through them!

We can also note the theme of godly joy which permeates this Advent season and these quotes (“be happy with [God]” and “rejoiced in God her Savior”). Though melancholics (such as I) struggle with this, we know that a sour person does not attract anyone and that, like everyone else, we must overcome the pitfalls of our natural temperament. The saints who were most effective in helping others find Our Lord were gentle, like St. Francis de Sales, and were cheerful, like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Neither was known for earthly attractiveness (nor, for that matter, was Jesus, Whom the Bible tells us was not physically notable), yet both drew even the most hardened of sinners and cynics. Why? Because it was impossible to escape the image of God they had within and were magnifying!

Dear Jesus, we beg You to help us conceive and bear You to the world, to magnify You as Your Blessed Mother did, with purity and joy! Blessed Mother, pray for us. St. Ambrose and all you saints of God, pray for us!

During yesterday’s ultrasound, though we had heard of the technology that has saved so many preborn children from abortion, Peter and I were able to actually enjoya 3-D image of one of our children for the first time. The sonographer was gracious enough to print us a color still shot: This is Little Blessing Number Four!

For those unused to viewing ultrasounds, what you’re seeing is the baby holding his/her right hand and arm over his/her right eye. (The baby refused to budge from this position for much of the ultrasound, perhaps indicating our first camera-shy child!) Yet, the baby’s nose, left eye and partially-open mouth are clearly visible! (The baby’s mouth was opening and closing for much of the ultrasound, too.)

We are thrilled to have seen this picture and thank God for the blessing of preborn life evident here! Little One, we can’t wait to meet you in March!

Many days, it is a struggle to find the time to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, especially the Office of Readings, but inevitably when I do, I find at least one very special point for meditation. Periodically, I’ll try to post a little Meditation on something particularly striking.

Here’s the first of these posts.

This past Sunday’s Office of Readings (for the Third Sunday of Advent) contained Isaiah 29:13-24 and a related sermon by our great St. Augustine. They lead us into an Advent meditation on humility. Of note:

Since this people draws near with words only …
And their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men,
Therefore I will again deal with this people in surprising and wondrous fashion:
The wisdom of its wise men shall perish and the understanding of its prudent men be hid.

When we turn deaf to Him to attend to our own priorities, Our Lord will do what He must to get our attention, even render us foolish!

Woe to those who would hide their plans too deep for the Lord!
Who work in the dark, saying “Who sees us, or who knows us?

All who are alert to do evil will be cut off, those whose mere word condemns a man,
Who ensnare his defender at the gate, and leave the just man with an empty claim.

Our sins are never hidden from God, Who knows and understands them all. Those who use their cunning to harm others will be parted from God definitively.

Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of, nor shall his face grow pale.
When his children see the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy; they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob, and be in awe of the God of Israel.
Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding and those who find fault shall receive instruction.

God desires for us to worship and adore Him (which Catholics do especially in Mass and Eucharistic Adoration). When we worship and adore — when we heed Him — though we sin, He will correct us and teach us. To worship and adore — especially the Baby Jesus at Christmas — and to acknowledge our need for His correction and teaching, all take humility, such as that found in a key saint of Advent, St. John the Baptist.

St. Augustine then explains that St. John the Baptist was the “voice,” but Jesus is “the Word.”

John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning, Christ is the Word who lives forever.
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound.

When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine. In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away.

When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: “The word ought to grow, and I should diminish?” The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: “My joy is complete.”

[T]he voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offense to the word…And the question came: “Who are you then?” He replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.'”

To prepare the way means to pray well; it means thinking humbly of oneself. We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares that he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory…He humbled himself.

The “voice” (St. John the Baptist) does what God made him to do and then quickly fades out so that “the Word” (Jesus) may remain with us. The saint’s humble life and teaching — the “wondrous fashion” of God — prepares us for Christ’s Presence, unlike Isaiah’s sinner’s cunning, which only steals from us!

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In Advent, it is especially fitting to consider the Magnificat, Our Lady‘s humble response to St. Elizabeth, despite the fact that Our Blessed Mother was preserved by God from all sin (Luke 1:46-55, RSV-CE):

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”

We might also consider the lessons of the humilty of the shepherds who immediately came to worship the Baby Jesus, and the Magi who traveled far over much time to present valuable gifts to Our Lord. Finally, we might further explore the implications of a few contrasts: the humble faith of St. John the Baptist with the early assured doubt of John’s father, Zechariah, literally struck dumb by God for a time; or Blessed Mother, who humbly accepted God’s will to change her life, with Herod, who killed thousands of innocents to oppose God’s will and assure himself of dominance; or even the humility and honest seeking of the Magi and shepherds with the self-satisfied entertainment-seeking of the latter Herod, who assented to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine!
St. John the Baptist, pray for us, that we may be humble.
Blessed Mother, pray for us, that we may be humble.
Holy shepherds and Magi, pray for us, that we may be humble.
Dear saints and angels of God, pray for us, that we may be humble.

… to prepare our hearts to welcome Our Lord this Christmas — and again at the end of time! (Sometimes, despite our best intentions, our Advent preparations lag and we begin to feel frustrated.)

Here’s a simple Christmas novena to the Infant of Prague to start today. I once heard that a good Advent exercise is to ask Our Lord for a spiritual “Christmas gift” and wait with expectant hope for Him to come. Perhaps, then, we can ask the Infant Jesus for whatever particular grace we most need at this time.

(H/T to Elizabeth Foss)

And, thanks be to God, it’s not too late to examine our conscience regarding grudges and make a good Confession before Christmas!

A frequent misconception of the Catholic Church by Protestants is that we “worship” saints, especially the Blessed Mother, that we engage in idolatry. Most good Catholic apologetics sites include an effective rebuttal of that misconception, but I came across a truly classic rebuttal in today’s Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. The rebuttal is by none other than St. Augustine, replying to Faustus. Here are some pertinent excerpts from the reading (with my emphases and brief [comments]):

We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity [such as Masses offered in honor of saints on their feast days] because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers…[w]hat is offered is always offered to God, who crowned the martyrs [The graces come from God, and thus the glory goes to Him.]…So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us…We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already acheived the victor’s crown and live in heaven. But the veneration strictly called “worship,” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone…[w]e neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error [The Church has always held saint-worship to be an error!], he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned [The one in error must amend his ways or be excommunicated until he does so.]…Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. [Despite ample Catholic rebuttal of this misconception of saint-worship, many Protestant preachers and evangelists continue to spread misinformation about veneration of the saints and try to use it to keep others from the Church. This is an abuse!]

Incidentally, this reading was apparently chosen because the saint we honor today, Pope Damasus I, preached the truth of the Faith to those who opposed the Church in the 300s– and “promoted the cult of martyrs whose burial places he adorned with sacred verse.” What a hero for our time: a pope who loved the Scriptures and those who died for Christ, and carried this love to those far away from the Church! Pope St. Damasus, pray for us, that we may follow your example!

3 Profundities (Two)

1. Advent, as we prepare our hearts for Our Lord’s coming, is a fitting time to ask ourselves if our hearts are soiled by any grudges or unforgiveness. For most of us, forgiveness is a challenge.

In addition to examining our consciences for any resentments, I would like to recommend the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which comes from the spirituality and diary of St. Faustina Kowalska. By praying this short and beautiful chaplet (ideally daily), we ask Jesus’ Mercy on our sins and those of our world — Mercy we are all in great need of!

Also, for some practical explanations and advice regarding resentments and forgiveness, I recommend a little inexpensive book I recently finished: From Resentment to Forgiveness.

2. Like many who attended college, I had to take an introductory philosophy course as part of my general education requirement. I took mine the first semester of my freshman year and soured on it from day one, when I bought the texts for the class. The photocopy packet the instructor had prepared included an article in which a philosopher granted, for the sake of argument, that the unborn child was a human person, but then went-on to justify legal abortion for any reason anyway. The rest of the course seemed to be an exercise in mental gymnastics to justify evil by obfuscation and odd language.

This experience left me with a disdain for philosophy, at least as it is practiced today. Over the years, though, I’ve begun to wonder if I dismissed a valuable area of study, given that one of the Church’s greatest saints, St. Thomas Aquinas, was a first-rate philosopher; also, one of my favorite Catholic authors/thinkers, Peter Kreeft, is a philosopher of Boston College (yes, an orthodox thinker at a Jesuit school!).

So, I’ve prepared an Amazon order with three introductory philosophy tomes to help me come to a classic understanding of the subject and learn how to better think: Kreeft’s Philosophy 101, an inexpensive anthology of Plato’s Dialogues put-out by Barnes & Noble, and Kreeft’s treatment of Pascal’s Pensees. We’ll see how it goes — or when I’m able to get to it!

3. As any parent knows, little children are great at holding mirrors up to adults’ faces. My eldest (now 3) was helping me start a load of laundry the other day. As we finished putting the clothes in, she remarked “This is where we put the clothes and then they stay here for a really long time!” Though she was pointing to the washer as she said this, I laughed at the realization that my toddler had learned from Mommy’s less-than-stellar laundry skills that clothes remain in the dryer and are not folded or put away for days sometimes! Mea culpa!

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