Tag Archives: Mary

Mary and Joseph: the model married couple

July 20, 2018

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Holy CoupleIf Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the Holy Family, then Mary and Joseph are the Holy Couple, and if the Holy Family serves as the model for Christian families, then Mary and Joseph serve as the model for Christian couples that are living the Sacrament of Marriage.

Before they lived together (Mt 1:18). Mary and Joseph were betrothed, a Jewish ritual ceremony in which the bride and groom dedicate themselves to each. The period of betrothal lasts approximately one year, a time when the bride and groom live apart, usually in their parent’s homes, and abstain from sexual relations. Mary and Joseph did not cohabitate before marriage, and the moral standard that they followed still applies to couples that intend to be married today. Decisions about living arrangements before marriage are not to be governed by apartment leases, home purchases, insurance coverage, work or school schedules, or concerns about compatibility, but rather by the conscious decision to reserve one’s self totally for one’s spouse, and to share the intimacy of marriage only after their commitment to love each other for life has been sealed by God in the Sacrament of Marriage and witnessed and ratified by the Christian community gathered at worship in church.

Joseph, “a righteous man”(Mt 1:19), and Mary, “favored one” (i.e., “full of grace”) (Lk 1:28). Even before they were married, Joseph already was a righteous man and Mary already was full of grace. They knew God’s laws and obeyed them, had an established pattern of upright living, practiced the virtues, prayed regularly, and had a strong desire to please God. It was their firm intention prior to marriage to set their union on the solid rock of their faith in God and their spiritual values. Every prospective bride and groom while a child, adolescent, or young adult, before dating or while dating, should spend their days making spiritual headway as devout believers and dedicated disciples, growing in wisdom, favor, and grace (see Lk 2:40), learning and obeying the Gospel, receiving the sacraments, and becoming good and holy people, so when they exchange their vows, their marriage will be anchored upon the foundation of their faith that is deep and solid and constructed over many years.

Obedient to angels. Joseph and Mary received appearances from angels. An angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:20), to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13), and once harm had passed, to take Jesus and Mary and return to Israel (Mt 2:20), and in each instance, Joseph obeyed immediately without resistance or delay. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the Son of God (Lk 1:31,35), and she replied, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). The angels were messengers of God and conveyed God’s will, and both Joseph and Mary trusted God and obeyed. Likewise a Christian couple, both before they are married and after, pay attention to God’s will, however it is conveyed, and without resistance or delay, obey promptly and completely.

[Joseph] took his wife into his home (Mt 1:24). Joseph and Mary began to live together at the angel’s bidding, and for them to establish a home, it also presumed that their betrothal had ended and that they were married within the Jewish faith. Wherever they were living, probably in Nazareth, they would have gone to the synagogue and exchanged their marriage vows before a rabbi according to the prescribed ritual in the presence of fellow Jews that were members of the local synagogue. Similarly a Catholic, when the engagement ends and before they live together, brings the marriage to a Catholic church, the couple exchanges their consent before a priest or deacon according to the Catholic form, and does so in the presence of their family, relatives, and friends who represent the local parish and the universal Church.

At home together. Mary and Joseph shared a beautiful mutual love. They were not married singles, individuals that happened to be living under the same roof, selfishly pursuing their own interests, with personal gain and fulfillment as their main objectives. Rather, Mary gave her life as a total gift to Joseph, and Joseph, in turn, gave his life as a total gift to Mary. Their love was selfless. Their approach was not, “What is in this for me?” and “What would make me happy?” but rather, “What would make my spouse happy?” They were not focused on compromise, “I get my way some of the time and you get your way some of the time,” but rather, “It is my aim to please you and promote your wellbeing all of the time.” They shared their lives completely. They communicated with each, shared their dreams and disappointments, joys and worries, ate meals together, willingly performed household tasks together, prayed together, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.

A home filled with love. Love is a virtue (1 Cor 13:13), it was the bond between Mary and Joseph, and it permeated their home. They were consistently kind and patient with each other. They were humble and modest; polite and respectful; supportive, positive, and encouraging; appreciative and complimentary; calm, composed, and self-controlled; able to see things from their spouse’s point of view; willing to give the benefit of the doubt; compassionate, forgiving, and reconciling; open, truthful, and honest; gentle and tender; generous and grateful; joyful, peaceful, and faithful. By practicing the virtues together, Mary and Joseph made God the center of their marriage. They had the wisdom to know that one spouse goes through the other to God. The more a spouse loves the other, the more the person loves God, and conversely, the less a person loves the other, the less the person loves God.

Mary conceived (Lk 1:31,35). God blessed Mary and Joseph with a miraculous conception. Even though the circumstances at the beginning of their marriage were awkward, and the child in the womb might have been considered a hardship or an inconvenience, Mary and Joseph embraced the new life, safeguarded it, remained unwavering in their love for each other, brought the child to full term, and were overjoyed at his birth. A Christian couple eagerly anticipates the prospect of having children, and if God blesses them with a miraculous pregnancy, even if not under ideal circumstances, the couple welcomes the new life, protects it from all harm, and does everything possible to insure the child’s birth.

[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son (Lk 2:7). When Jesus was born Mary instantly shifted into service mode when she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Married love is generous. Mary and Joseph’s marriage did not revolve around themselves, their pursuits, careers, hobbies, and standard of living. They knew that a child would require time, attention, and sacrifice, and they gladly dedicated themselves to the care of the child that God had entrusted to them. A Christian married couple is not only loving and generous with each other, but eager to share their ever-increasing love with their children.

Traveling partners. Mary and Joseph made one journey after another together. During their early years they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Israel to Egypt, Egypt to Judea, and Judea back to Nazareth. After they settled in Nazareth they made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. In addition to the long journeys, they made many short trips, to the synagogue, the markets, and friends’ homes. The journey may have been to obey a government order, fulfill a spiritual duty, or for safety and security. Some were made at an easy pace, others made hastily and under great duress. No matter the situation, Mary and Joseph were inseparable, step by step, helping each other along the way, sharing each other’s burdens. Their marriage journey continued for many years and they were ever-faithful. A Christian wife and husband are traveling companions for life, helping each other wherever they may go, particularly when travel conditions are most difficult.

Synagogue and Temple. It was Mary and Joseph’s custom to go to the synagogue on the sabbath day (implied in Lk 4:16), and each year they went to the Temple in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Lk 2:41). They were a church-going couple and worship was the centerpiece of their week. They attended sabbath after sabbath and faithfully obeyed God’s commandment (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15). In the same way, a Christian marriage is in a spiritual partnership, and in addition to a wife and husband’s daily prayers together at home, they go to church every weekend, and their week revolves around the celebration of the Mass. It is their shared opportunity to give God praise and thanks for their blessings, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, and to give and receive support from the other members of the community.

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New Hill-Murray stadium named for prayer

September 15, 2016

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Mary, Queen of Victory Stadium has its grand opening on Friday at Hill-Murray. (Photo courtesy of Hill-Murray School)

Mary, Queen of Victory Stadium has its grand opening on Friday at Hill-Murray. (Photo courtesy of Hill-Murray School)

Hill-Murray’s football team will kick-off its new stadium on Friday in a familiar way.

Pioneers football players ask for the intercession of Mary with the title, “Mary, Queen of Victory” before each game, which the new stadium is named after. That prayer tradition goes back to the 1971 according to Hill-Murray president Jim Hanson, who also graduated from the Maplewood school in 1973.

“Coach Terry Skrypek, who went on to coach at the University of St Thomas for over 20 years, used to say a Hail Mary before every game that he coached,” Hanson said.

Skrypek coached hockey, baseball and football for the Pioneers and joined the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame after a 40-year coaching career. He led the Pioneers to the 1982-1983 state hockey title and amassed a 325-44-3 record.

“His brother, Father Greg Skrypek initiated a specific saying to follow when he was our chaplain, ‘Mother, Mary of Victory’ and the team would chant ‘pray for us,’” Hanson added. “This has become now a long held tradition for all of our teams and a cheer you will hear in the new stadium on Friday night.”

Mary’s title of ‘Queen of Victory’ didn’t come out of nowhere at Hill-Murray one day in the 1970s. Queen of Victory originally came about after Don John’s navies defeated the Turks at Lepanto in 1571. Pope St. Pius V asked all the faithful to pray the rosary because of the Turks’ threat to Italy. The Holy Father declared Oct. 7 the feast of Our Lady of Victory, which later became Our Lady of the Rosary.

While Hill-Murray athletes invoking Mary, Queen of Victory doesn’t guarantee a Pioneers victory, it does witness taking a moment for prayer in public. Likewise, the stadium’s name will call to mind the Mother of God for all competitors and visitors.

“The family who purchased the naming rights of the stadium are long time members of the community with a history of participation in extracurricular activities, and they asked that the name reflect the prayer that they all said and remember fondly rather than name the stadium after them or their business,” Hanson said.

Mary Queen of Victory’s field will remained Higgns Field however. Father Higgins served as a priest and teacher many years at the school.

The family who Hanson mentioned had asked for the field name to remain. Father Higgins, who now resides in Michigan, received an invitation for the grand opening but can’t make it because of health reasons.

Hill-Murray’s new stadium will also have the blessing of Archbishop Bernard Hebda when he comes on Friday in the early portion of a day-long grand opening celebration. Festivities conclude with the Pioneers football team (0-2) taking on Hastings (1-1) at 7 p.m. in a key East Metro District Red Division match up. The Pioneers will look to bounce back from two lopsided road losses at Tartan and Henry Sibley.

Mary Queen of Victory’s first varsity football game will make two stadium grand-opening contests for first-year Pioneers coach Peter Bercich. A former linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, Bercich provides color commentary for KFAN’s coverage of Vikings games. The Vikings kick off its first regular season home game at the new US Bank Stadium on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

Bercich, who played college football at Notre Dame, has much familiarity with Catholic schools. He also attended Providence Catholic in New Lenox, Illinois where he emerged as a prep football star.

In May, Bercich took over a Hill-Murray football program that didn’t win a regular season game in 2015. Nonetheless, he and the team have a state-of-the art facility to work with, which can’t hurt in the program’s rebuilding process.

Mary Queen of Victory has an artificial turf field and a new track surrounding it. Both came as needed changes from the previous stadium.

“We had a six-lane dirt track, basically an agriline road like at your cabin,” Hill-Murray athletic director Bill Lechner said. “We weren’t able to host a track meet or have practice for our kids at all. When it rained, it was pure mud.”

The old grass field didn’t fare much better. Late-season Pioneers football games looked like mud bowls.

“We’re on a high water table, so the grass field was great if it was 70 sunny, but it got muddy tore up so quickly like some fields do,” Lechner said.

Supporters of Hill-Murray raised the $3.5 million needed for Mary, Queen of Victory Stadium. Teams of all levels at the school, the physical education classes and the band each make use of the new stadium.

 

 

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The Newborn Jesus: The Firstborn Son

December 18, 2015

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NativityFLFirstborn Son.  In Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas, he explained that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son” (Lk 2:7).  In the original Greek text, Luke used the Greek word protokos, and the New American Bible translates it “firstborn son.”

The Firstborn Controversy.  The word “firstborn” has been the cause for much debate.  There are some who claim that Jesus is the first son born to Mary, that she remained a virgin until the conception of Jesus, but that after the birth of Jesus, Mary had relations with Joseph and she had four additional sons:  James, Joses, Judas, and Simon (see Mk 6:3).  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches that the Blessed Mother is the “ever-virgin Mary,” a virgin before the conception of Jesus, and that she remained a virgin for the rest of her life, and that Jesus was her only son (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), No. 499).  Moreover, the Church holds that “James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus,’ are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary’ (Mt 13:55; 28:1; cf Mt 27:56)” (CCC, No. 500).

Firstborn, A Christological Term.  In this context, “firstborn” does not refer to Jesus’ birth order.  Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere, a Catholic biblical scholar, believes that protokos would be better translated “firstborn of God” rather than “firstborn son [of Mary],” and that “firstborn” is a way to describe the supreme importance of his birth.  Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15); “the first born into the world” (Heb 1:6); “the firstborn of the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), the one who has primacy over all.  “Firstborn” means that Jesus is “the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.  God from God, Light from Light, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” (Creed, Council of Nicea, 325 AD).

Firstborn, Jesus, the New Israel.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Chosen People Israel is God’s firstborn son.  God said, “Israel is my son, my firstborn” (Ex 4:22).  Jesus is the New Israel.  Salvation came through the Chosen People Israel, and now salvation comes through the newborn Jesus, the firstborn of Israel.

Firstborn Male, A Special Jewish Designation.  Every Jewish firstborn male had the birthright (see Gen 27:7b,27-29), the right of inheritance from his father.   The first-born was entitled to a double share of the inheritance (Dt 21:17).  Jesus inherited everything from his Father, his co-equal as a Person of the Trinity.  “The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him” (Jn 3:35).  It was Jewish tradition that every firstborn male was consecrated to God (Ex 13:2,12,15).  God said, “Every firstborn is mine” (Num 3:13a).  “I consecrated to me every firstborn of Israel … they belong to me” (Num 3:13c). Subsequently, after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought their newborn son Jesus to the Temple, and according to the law of Moses, which stipulated that “every male that opens that womb shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Lk 2:23; see Ex 13:2,12), Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to Simeon to consecrate their newborn and firstborn son to almighty God (Lk 2:22-38).  Thus consecrated as “firstborn,” Jesus stands not only as the firstborn of Mary and Joseph, but as the firstborn of the human race, the Messiah, the Son of God.

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Madonnas and memory

April 8, 2015

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Raphael's The Conestabile Madonna

Raphael’s The Conestabile Madonna

Lessons in history and humanity plus drama, unconditional love and insight into one of the most difficult to understand of all diseases — Alzheimer’s — make Debra Dean’s “The Madonnas of Leningrad” a superb, satisfying read.

There’s a sampling of an art appreciation class, too, and brief, maybe too brief snatches of modern family dynamics. But those glimpses into contemporary life form the perfect background to better contrast with the values of the Russians who survived — and even those who didn’t survive — the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II.

Da Vinci’s The Litta Madonna

With the war there is starvation and death and ruin, to be sure, but tremendous self sacrifice, too, and life, life so valued, life so amazing, captured so well in one scene, where women who have survived the siege learn that the story’s protagonist, Marina, is expecting and, after a winter of death, line up to touch her stomach and to feel the baby kick in her womb.

A tremendous sense of irony pours from the pages. In the godless Soviet Union the invaluable art collection of the Hermitage Museum, including precious images of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child, is crated and trucked away to be saved from ruin or confiscation by the approaching German army.

At the suggestion of another Hermitage tour guide, young Marina, who later in life cannot remember the names of her own family members, commits to memory of all these wonderful madonnas — the Rubens, the da Vinci, the van Dyck, the Rembrandt and more — storing in her “memory palace” not only the details of the works and the stories they tell but even where they hung on the walls of the czar’s former Winter Palace.

It’s an act of mutual benefit. Not only does Marina save the memory of the art to share with those who may never have the chance to see them, but doing so gives her a reason to live, to survive at a time when bombs, cold, starvation and illness take the lives of thousands during the siege.

van Dyck

van Dyck’s The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

And, while this isn’t an outwardly religious novel, as the situation worsens for those freezing, starving, cowering from the bombs and removing the corpses of those who die each day, even a strict non-believer decides a little prayer couldn’t hurt.

“The Madonnas of Leningrad” is not a new book. Published in 2006, it garnered a number of honors. But as timely as the topic of Alzheimer’s is, you would think someone would make a movie of this terrific story.

If you choose to read the book — and even if you don’t — you’ll find images of some of the famous works of art named within at this website, along with excerpts of how they were described in the book. Start googling the paintings and you could lose several hours of your day!

Dean also mentions the Jordan Staircase in her novel. Here’s why:

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

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The journey to Bethlehem from the carpenter’s perspective

December 24, 2012

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KABUL, Afghanistan - International Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilians celebrated Christmas Eve with a non-denominational candlelight service, Christmas carols. Photo/isafmedia.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

International Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilians celebrated Christmas Eve in Kabul, Afghanistan, with a non-denominational candlelight service and Christmas carols. Photo/isafmedia. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Joseph’s wooden staff left a trail of small, evenly spaced circles in the dusty road. So many miles they’d traveled on the road to Bethlehem. Though he was a strong man accustomed to hard work, Joseph could feel the long days of travel in his back and feet. He glanced at his wife riding on the plodding donkey and saw that she was near exhaustion.

“Not far now,” he said softly. Mary smiled and gently caressed her abdomen.

“Oh Lord, lead us the place where this baby is to be born,” Joseph prayed silently.

The sun would soon set, and the trees and rocks cast shadows across the deserted road. Finally, they could see the outskirts of Bethlehem. When they reached the first small houses, Joseph stopped a woman carrying a jar of water and asked for a drink for Mary. The woman smiled kindly.

“Have you come for the census?”  she inquired.

“Yes,” Joseph replied. “Do you know of an inn nearby where my wife could rest?”

“It’s nearly your time, isn’t it dear?” the woman asked kindly.

Mary nodded.

“I fear most of the inns around here are full,” she said. But you might try Jacob’s. He’s got a nice big place. Follow this road until you reach a small grove of cedars. Go to the right and you will find it.”

Joseph thanked the woman and led the donkey down the road.

As daylight faded, they reached the place the woman had told them about. Warm light and the smell of dinner beckoned from the windows. Before Joseph could knock, a neat, rather portly man opened the broad wooden door.

“Yes?” the innkeeper asked.

“Sir, I wondered if you might have a room for the night,” Joseph asked with fatigue in his voice.

Cradling his chin in his left hand, the innkeeper studied the tired travelers. Joseph’s cloak was worn, and the donkey thin and bedraggled. Mary looked as if she were ready to give birth at any moment.

“I could take them in out of charity,” he thought, “because they certainly can’t pay enough. But I don’t want to deal with childbirth tonight.”

“Yes, well, I would like to offer you a room,” the innkeeper said to Joseph. “I have one left and the price is two denarii.”

Joseph’s face fell. “Sir, we can’t afford that. Please, my wife must rest.”

The innkeeper hesitated, and then crossed his arms. “I’m sorry, I have expenses.”

“Thank you,” Joseph said patiently as he turned to leave. After a bit, Mary said to him: “Don’t worry, Joseph. That wasn’t the place for us. When I close my eyes, I can sense a simple and peaceful spot where He will be born.”

As they continued into the city they came to another inn, more modest than the last.  A group of travelers waited at the door.

“Are there any rooms here?” Joseph asked one of them.

In an agitated voice the man replied, “The innkeeper has one room left and he wants to get his price. I’ve got my wife and two girls, and I don’t know where we’ll go if we don’t get it.”

Before Joseph could get the innkeeper’s attention,  another couple put a bag of coins in the man’s hand.

“Please sir—” he started.

The innkeeper eyed Joseph with irritation. “You people come for the census and expect to be treated like royalty. You may be of royal David’s line, but you’re no better than anyone else. I have no more rooms, so you’ll have to keep looking.”

“Sir, I just want to know if you could recommend another inn. My wife is—“

“Continue on this road to the edge of the city,” the innkeeper snapped, “and you will find another place. Good luck and good riddance.” He turned and entered the inn, slamming the door behind him.

Joseph sighed and wondered how much longer Mary could travel before they would have to stop … somewhere. Dejected, he told her the bad news. Mary touched his arm and said, “God will provide, Joseph, and He will not be one minute late.”

He marveled at her faith as he coaxed the donkey onto the road. Mary was so young, barely reaching his shoulder, yet there was a grace and maturity about her. And she was to give birth to the Holy One of Israel—with his help.  Joseph didn’t fully understand how this could be happening to him.

They passed through the darkening city and into the surrounding hills. At last they came to the place the other innkeeper had mentioned. Located at the base of a large hill, this inn was small and poor. Mary shifted her weight on the donkey, in obvious discomfort. “Our King will arrive soon, Joseph. Won’t it be wonderful to see Him?”

“Yes, yes it will,” Joseph said, the worry lines on his face giving way to a gentle smile. Joseph knocked on the door and a tall, thin man answered. He looked at Joseph and Mary on the donkey and said in a tired voice, “I’m sorry but we don’t have room for you tonight.”

Then the man’s wife came to the door and said, “David, look, she’s going to have a baby. Couldn’t we find a place for them?”

The innkeeper thought for a moment and said, “You could stay in our stable. It would be warm and dry, and I just filled it with fresh hay. It’s humble, but it would be peaceful.”

Joseph thought indignantly, “So it’s come to this. What kind of provider brings his wife and child to stay in a stable? What must she think of me…?” He glanced tentatively at Mary.

She calmly asked the innkeepers: “Are there many animals in your stable?

“Ma’am, an ox, a donkey, a ewe and her lamb, along with the dog and cat. But don’t worry. They’re all as gentle as can be.”

Mary turned to Joseph and said, “This is the place, I am quite sure. Our King has chosen a humble birth.”

The innkeeper led them to a cave where they could feel the animals’ warm breath. The innkeeper helped Joseph make a fire and a bed for Mary. He promised to bring water, clean cloths and food.

After the innkeeper left, Joseph looked around at how God had provided for them. Then kneeling on the hard ground, he said a silent prayer of thanks.

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Turning to our Mother in Times of Tragedy

December 17, 2012

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Madonna and Child

In the wake of the school shooting on Friday, I went to find solace in daily Mass on Saturday.
As I entered the church, the first thing I noticed was the Our Lady of Guadalupe picture in the sanctuary. The picture was left there as a remnant of the Wednesday night celebration. It was then that it occurred to me that the tragic killing of the 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut is not something unique to our culture today. At the time of the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego in 1531, child sacrifice was common place. After her appearance, eight million natives were converted to the Church in the next 7 years – virtually eliminating the Aztec practice of sacrifice. Is our wonton cultural lack of seeing life as precious any different? Is this tragedy any different than the atrocities of child sacrifice?
In the wake of this recent tragedy we are left asking why, but maybe more importantly we should be asking what should we do? Stricter laws concerning guns –yes, more help for the mentally disturbed – of course, but maybe we should be turning to Mary in this year of faith to help bring about the conversion that was seen in Mexico 500 years ago.
In this Year of Faith I have made a personal commitment to get to know our Blessed Mother better. I have always been one of those people who just didn’t “get” Mary. I never had an aversion to praying for Mary’s intersession like some of my Protestant friends, but I just didn’t quite understand why I needed an intercessor – why not go directly to the ‘Big Guy?”
To get to know Mary better, I have started with memorizing some of the Marian prayers that I have never gotten around to knowing by heart.
I have been working on memorizing the “Hail Holy Queen.”
In the wake of this tragedy  it was the first prayer I turned to. Maybe it is something about telling your heart ache to your mother and if anyone knows the heart ache of the loss of a child, it is our Blessed Mother. The words are especially haunting; calling us all the “poor banished children of Eve” and the description of  “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears” is what drew me to first look to Mary in this time of tragedy.
If you read this blog post, maybe you will join with me in asking Mary’s intersession.

 

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O merciful, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.

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

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Who is known as the Immaculate Conception and why?

December 6, 2011

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The Virgin in Prayer, Joos van Cleve.

The Virgin in Prayer, Joos van Cleve. Photo/*clairity*. Licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s  logical to conclude that the Immaculate Conception refers to Christ because the Gospel at the Dec. 8 Solemnity Mass is about our Lord’s conception.

But the title and the feast day belong to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her conception isn’t explicitly mentioned in the bible, so it’s also logical to ask on what basis the Church teaches that her conception was immaculate.

Probably the strongest argument for Mary’s Immaculate Conception is that not just anybody could become the mother of God without a lot of grace.

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium teaches that the Blessed Virgin:

“gave the world the Life that renews all things, and who was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role. It is no wonder then that it was customary for the Fathers to refer to the Mother of God as all holy and free from every stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.” (LG 56)

In 1854, the long-held Church belief in the Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception became Church dogma with foundation in scripture and tradition. Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

The Serpent’s Enemy

The first bible passage mentioning the promise of redemption also mentions the Mother of the Redeemer.  After the Fall, God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

Jesus is the conqueror who comes from the woman’s seed and who crushes the serpent’s head while Mary is the woman who is the enemy of the serpent. Mary’s continual union with grace explains the enmity between her and Satan.

Given from her conception “the splendor of an entirely unique holiness,” the Blessed Virgin is hailed by the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28 as “full of grace” (LG 56) The angel’s term (kechairitomene in Greek) is not applied to any other person in scripture. According to Pope Pius, that “showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Through the millenia, Church fathers and theologians have studied the issue of Our Lady’s conception. All insist on her absolute purity and her position as the second Eve. (I Cor. 15:22)

In the fourth century, St Ephraem asserted that Mary was as innocent as Eve before the Falll, a virgin without any stain of sin, holier than the seraphim, the sealed fountain of the Holy Spirit, and the pure seed of God. In mind and body she always was intact and immaculate. During the following century, Maximus of Turin called the Blessed Mother a dwelling fit for Christ, not because of her habit of body, but because of original grace.

In her own words

Another reason to believe Mary is the Immaculate Conception is that she herself has said so more than once in the last couple hundred years.

In 1830 the Blessed Virgin appeared to a French nun named Catherine Laboure and told her to place this prayer on what would become the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Then in 1858, only a few years after Pope Pius IX’s proclamation, she appeared to a young girl named  Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, and told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Apparitions don’t  fit well into a logical argument,  but the idea that God provides what we need for the tasks He gives us makes sense. Giving birth to the Savior and raising Him were not small assignments.

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Which Marian apparitions are approved and is devotion required?

September 16, 2011

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Statue of Mary

CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

I recently visited the site of the first Marian apparitions to receive episcopal approval in the United States: Our Lady of Good Help near Green Bay, Wis. In 1859, the Blessed Mother appeared three times to a young Belgian immigrant woman and told her to catechize the children in the area. There are some amazing stories associated with Our Lady’s appearance to Adele Brise, especially related to the devastating Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

Even though this story is interesting and the bishop of Green Bay approved these apparitions last December, does that mean they’re formally approved by the Church? Are Catholics required to believe in them?  How many other apparition sites have received formal approval?

If the local bishop permits devotion inspired by the apparition, based on an initial assessment, that permission isn’t the same as formal approval, which recognizes the apparition as being supernatural in origin. Formal approval may not happen for years or even centuries.

Do we have to believe?

All apparitions are considered private revelation because public revelation ended with the Apostles’ deaths (when the New Testament was completed). According to the Catechism,  private revelation doesn’t improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but it helps us live more fully by it in a certain period of history. (CCC 67)   The Church will confirm an apparition as worthy of belief as a private revelation but Catholics aren’t required to believe it.

Marian experts have estimated that as many as 21,000 Marian apparitions have been reported since the year 1000.  The Holy See has formally approved the apparitions at 12 sites out of 295 it has studied, according to Father Salvatore Perrella, O.S.M., an expert in dogma and Mariology from the Marianum Pontifical Institute in Rome.

Some Vatican-approved apparition sites:

  • Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico
  • Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (Rue du Bac, Paris, France)
  • Our Lady of La Salette, France
  • Our Lady of Lourdes, France
  • Our Lady of Pontmain, France
  • Our Lady of Fatima, Portugal
  • Our Lady of Akita, Japan

A site that’s drawn millions of pilgrims but is not on the “approved” list is Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Investigation of this site is ongoing.

So why should we pay attention to apparitions when there are so many and it’s not always clear if the Church has approved them?

Maybe because they can point us toward heaven. Father Perrella said the Church-approved apparitions manifest Mary’s evangelical mission throughout the history of the Church, which has been to show the way to the Father’s house through faith in Christ.

I didn’t go to the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help because I’m especially intrigued by supernatural phenomena. I just thought that anywhere Our Lady had appeared would be a good place to seek the Lord, bring petitions and pray. What I found at the shrine was peace and a real sense of God’s presence.

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Marian apparitions in primetime. Did you miss it?

July 25, 2011

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I completely missed it. I blogged about the schedule change, set my DVR and somehow missed it. If you missed it as well ABC has it available for viewing online HERE.

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Marian apparitions in primetime

July 6, 2011

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ABC network’s new Primetime Nightline Beyond Belief was scheduled to air special on Marian apparitions tonight. Like everything else in the news world it has been bumped for Casey Anthony over-coverage. The special, “Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief — Miraculous Mysteries” reportedly covering apparitions from Fatima to a NJ tree stump is now scheduled to air on July 13, 9:00 CT.

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