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Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Manger and the Cross: Calvary Begins in Bethlehem

This beautiful Advent reflection was written by a beloved priest from Austria.  It will bless you greatly and give you rich thoughts to ponder as we approach the Nativity of the Lord.

The Manger and the Cross:  Calvary Begins in Bethlehem

By Fr. Bernhard Speringer ORC

LIFE AND DEATH

During the Advent season we are called to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Redeemer Jesus Christ by prayer, penitence and joyful expectation as well as by meditating on the Christmas Mystery. When we contemplate the ultimate consequence of His Incarnation in poverty and need, interesting aspects arise which make us grow in faith, deepen our love and especially lead us to a great gratitude towards God.

On the day after Christmas the Church celebrates the first martyr, the holy deacon Stephen. He was the first in Church history to lay down his life for the sake of his faith, for Christ. Three days after the Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord and Redeemer we celebrate the feast of the “Holy Innocents”, the victims of the infanticide in Bethlehem. St. Augustine and numerous Fathers of the Church praised and venerated the infant martyrs. They were “granted”, as St. Augustine said, “not only to die as witnesses (martyrs) for Jesus, but in His place.” Maybe they were not the first who consciously and out of their own free will gave their lives for Christ as St. Stephen did. Yet they died for the sake of Christ. They died in His place, as the very goal of the infanticide of Bethlehem was Jesus Himself.

Already this temporal sequence makes us aware how closely life and death, Christmas and Easter, Bethlehem and Golgotha, the Manger and the Cross are bound together.

INCARNATION AND REDEMPTION

The “Passio Domini”, the passion of our Lord is not limited to the three paschal days, from the passion of our Lord from the Mount of Olives until the death on the Cross. In the widest sense the Passion of the Lord really begins with the Incarnation.

Do we not contemplate in Advent season the “Coming of the LORD in His lowliness”?
Do we not contemplate the infinite condescension and humiliation of the LORD, the Creator’s SON, GOD’s SON, who did not shrink back from becoming man?
Is not the search for shelter a way of the Cross for the LORD, who is suffering as He comes into what is his own  but his own people did not receive Him?
Is Bethlehem not a Mount of Olives as well, where the LORD and in a special way Mary and Joseph as well suffered an agony, as they were not able to find a lodging for the SON of GOD who was entrusted to them?
Is the stable of Bethlehem not a Golgotha as well, where the LORD begins his life in a manger in order to yield it 33 years later on another wood, the wood of the Cross?

The Passion of the LORD began with the Incarnation and continues by way of the re-fusal of the Messiah in Bethlehem and his birth in a cold, dirty stable, by way of the prophesy of Simeon and the flight before Herod to Egypt until to the last chapter of this Passion: the death on the Cross.

The birth and death of the Redeemer, one could say: “Manger and Cross”, are most closely connected! Born in the wood of the Manger, normally already constructed in the form of a cross – the LORD died on another wood, the wood of the Cross – and all this because of the sin which was committed at the wood of the tree of knowledge in the Paradise.

There is not only a science of the Cross (cf. Edith Stein), but also a science of the Manger.

“Lord,
by Your birth you delivered Yourself also to death,
in Your manger You felt and experienced the wood of the Cross for the first time,
and your first sobbing as a child rose up before the Face of the Father.
Thus Your redemptive passion began.”

MANGER AND CROSS

On a stone drawing by Wilhelm Geyer of the stable of Bethlehem only a part of the tim-berwork remains. It stands above the Child and his Mother raised up like a threatening Cross. The longer one looks at this picture, the more the Child and his Mother withdraw into the background. Surely the two persons constitute the center of the picture. But ever stronger the gallows-like beams protrude and determine the meaning of the image of the birth of CHRIST that the artist wants to give.


And from the artist Beate Heinen a picture originates with the title “Manger and Cross”. In the foreground one sees a rock cave with the newborn Child Jesus – not in a kind of manger, but in a kind of trough looking like a coffin. From the manger a way starts through a blooming garden. Along the way the trees become more and more bare, the colors more gloomy.

At the rear edge of the image a hill with three crosses can be perceived. The way is winding upwards, it is steep. Nothing is growing there any more. There is no green, only grey. It is not a place of life, but of death. We know the name of the hill: Golgotha.

The way is leading from the Manger to the Cross.

Jesus had to go this way. It was the way of his life. The painter showed it with her picture quite clearly: the Cross and the Manger belong together. It is not possible to accept only a part of the life of Jesus – for everything is connected, everything is woven together.

Perhaps we think: It’s Christmastime; our hearts should be focused on the joy of His birth. Certainly! But perhaps something is missing then?

Not only modern artists emphasize the connection between the Manger and the Cross. In a cloister of a convent of South Tyrol is a well-known picture: God the Father is sending his Son to the earth in order to become man in Mary; Jesus, however, shown as a little child, already carries the Cross. The artists indeed call our attention to something unusual in the story of Christmas. They call our attention to the ultimate consequence which is connected with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: his death on the Cross of Golgotha.

THE ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE OF THE INCARNATION OF GOD

The saints as well realized this connection.

Thus we read in the retreat booklet by St. Ignatius:

We should in and by the Christmas narration “look and ponder what Mary and Jo-seph are doing: they go on a journey; they are laboring, that the Lord can be born in the greatest poverty, in order finally, after so much effort, hunger and thirst, heat and cold, insults and offences, to die on the Cross – and all this for me.”

The Gospels as well indicate that the Cross above the Manger is more than a mere decoration. Herod seeks to take the life of the newborn Child Jesus. Death is indeed present as a menacing possibility. We are used to seeing only splendor and glory around the newborn Jesus. But the artists, the saints, and even more the Evangelists, know better:

The birth and death of Jesus Christ, the Manger and the Cross, belong together indissolubly. God became man in order to die for us as man. God was born in Bethlehem in order to be able to lay down his life on Golgotha out of love for men!

Thus the Manger and the Cross form a union. Both the Manger and the Cross are for us the revelation of God’s love. God loved us so much that he did not shrink back from becoming man in a manger. God loved men so much that he did not shrink back from dying on the Cross.

In a way of the cross of Advent season it says in the 1st station:

“Get down on your knees, O soul, close your eyes and look within: Jesus is condemned to death: There lies the newborn Infant, subject to all the laws of nature: …coldness, hunger, nakedness and poverty await Him. Jesus’ first hour in the stable of Bethlehem is already a redemptive act – expiation, salvation, and satisfaction.
We adore You, O Jesus, and we praise You, for by Your holy Cross, already from that first hour of Your life, and by Your Passion and Death, You have redeemed the whole world.”

The founder of St. John’s Community, Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, once said:

“The Advent season is totally orientated towards Christmas, and Christmas is orien-tated towards the Cross. Jesus came to this world in order to save us. Mary became Mother that we should be able to live from the salvation which Jesus wants to give us.”
In a fictive text the dying Lord turns to the side and says to man:

“Behold, my child, the Manger and the Cross are one, only transformed.
In the Manger I received the Cross as a talent. At the Cross I gave the talent back as a victor.
In the Manger MARY placed ME from eternal life into temporal life, from the arms of the FATHER into the arms of the world.
At the Cross MARY placed Me from temporal life into eternal life, from the arms of the world (the beams of the Cross) back into the arms of My FATHER.
There under the Cross MARY received Me for all of you. For all of you I was born in the Manger as a man.
For you I shed my Blood on the Cross , for you MARY had her heart be pierced.

The ultimate consequence of the Incarnation of Christ is his passion and death on the Cross. The ultimate consequence of Bethlehem is Golgotha. The ultimate consequence of the love of God is our redemption!

 

~~~~~~~~

Fr. Bernhard Speringer ORC is a priest of the “Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross” (www.cruzios.org) in Austria. He was ordained 2001 in Innsbruck. His main task is leading spiritual exercises in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Italy, especially for members of the “Opus Sanctorum Angelorum” (www.opusangelorum.org). He is Editor-in-Chief of “St. Josephsblatt” and known for his contributions and publications in various Catholic media, including conferences on Radio Maria.

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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Cheering for Incest?!? Some Healthy Shame Would Do Us Good

at Catholic Online

Just when I start to think I can’t be shocked anymore, I find myself stunned to a whole new level. You may think what I’m about to say is unduly harsh or uncharitable, and damaging to poor weary souls who are trying to find their way, but I truly hope not. I hope you are outraged. That would be encouraging. But if you think I’m being harsh, I really don’t care.

You see, our culture is on fire, and it ain’t the holy kind. Our culture has gone three kinds of backwards and sideways and alarm bells need to be sounded loudly.

We can reach a lot of people with a tender touch, and mercy should always rule. But I’d like to make a case that once in a while, some folks just need to have their heads smacked. Okay, a lot of folks.

Like the parents and school administrators of Rosemount High School in Minneapolis, who recently had a group demonstration of incest at a school pep rally and thought it was really funny. Yep, these people blindfolded the captains of their sports teams, had them brought into the gymnasium in front of the whole school where they were greeted by a surprise kiss from a special someone — who turned out to be their own opposite-sex parent. (They were supposed to try to figure out who was kissing them.) Fathers were french-kissing their daughters. Mothers were making out with their sons. In front of a cheering crowd. And the school thought this was great fun. (There’s even a video of the whole disgusting spectacle, if you can stomach it. I couldn’t.)

There’s no polite or kind way to confront this kind of staggering turpitude. There’s only one way to ask the question and it’s like this: What the hell is wrong with these people?!

I just can’t process what goes on in the mind of a principal who plans this whole humiliating and perverse exercise and thinks it’s okay. I definitely can’t begin to comprehend what kind of parent would agree to do this to their son or daughter. How embarrassing, disgusting, and abusive!

Yet this is what our culture is churning out these days. You can’t pray at graduation anymore, but you can play tonsil-hockey with your parents at a pep rally and it’s all good. You can’t say Merry Christmas or sing “Silent Night”, but your mother can make out with you on the gym floor in front of hundreds of screaming teenagers and teachers and everyone just laughs.

You can’t oppose same-sex “marriage”, and now it looks like you can’t even object to incest. YUCK! Where is the natural, instinctual sense of revulsion at this kind of garbage? Do people truly not have any innate sense of right and wrong anymore? Why is nothing unthinkable anymore?

You know what I think we need a big, healthy dose of? Shame! Yes — bring back shame! Bring back a healthy, appropriate, moral sense of shame.

Those parents should be ashamed of themselves for what they did to their teenagers. If Daddy had done that at home with his 16 year-old daughter he’d be in jail, and rightly so. That principal should be ashamed of himself. Moreover, he should be immediately fired and criminally charged. The other students, parents and teachers present at that pep rally should be ashamed of themselves if they were cheering and applauding the violation of their friends’ dignity.

We need to start being ashamed of our bad behavior again. We need to stop coddling ourselves and our kids in a bubble of fragile self-esteem and feel mortified when we screw up royally or behave like uncivilized animals.

We’ve had so many years of Jerry Springer and voyeuristic reality television that glorifies people behaving as crass and odious as possible that the instinct to shun such people and condemn their terrible actions has been stifled to the point of extinction in us.

Appropriate shame serves a healthy purpose. It corrects our course when we’ve gone off the moral path. It sends a clear signal to our hearts that we have done something beneath our own dignity or the dignity of others. It speaks to the deepest part of our souls that we have offended the All-Good God who created us.

This is where real repentance begins. The Christian concept of shame is good because it knows that an appropriate and useful shame is the beginning of a new beginning.

Hear me clearly now: I said an appropriate shame. And I know full well that shame is one of Satan’s favorite tools with which to bludgeon us into despair and a sense of worthlessness. But that is not appropriate shame.

To start with shame over our bad behavior is one thing; to stay there forever is quite another. Those who believe the Church is a strict, disapproving mother wagging her finger in rebuke and condemnation have failed to see the manger or the Cross. They are stuck in useless shame, which only comes from the enemy of our souls.

The point is not that we’ve done nothing to be ashamed of, but that Christ has borne our humiliation and our sin so that we can step out of shame into mercy, freedom, and new life.

A healthy shame is meant to be a springboard into redemption. When our hearts are heavy with regret for what we’ve done, it is a sure indicator that we have made that much more room for holiness and love. It is proof that our undignified actions have not got us trapped. We have recognized what we did wrong, which means we can still discern what is right.

However, Lucifer is a first-rate liar and twister of the truth, so he can crush us with useless, hopeless shame with one hand, and deaden our minds and hearts to any sense of appropriate shame with the other hand. He wants us to either be paralyzed in a false worthlessness or rotting in a false immunity.

Jesus never once said that our sin wasn’t shameful. He never made excuses for us or poo-pooed our incivility. He certainly never applauded or celebrated our iniquity. He simply came and dealt with it once and for all. And then He said, “I love you. I forgive you. Now stop it, and follow Me.”

The astonishing part is that He keeps saying that over and over, day in and day out, with endless patience and love. “I love you. I forgive you. Now stop it, and follow Me.”

We spit on His mercy if we start thinking we don’t need to be ashamed of our sin anymore. It should break our hearts with sorrow to admit the terrible things we’ve done. Broken hearts do not easily become hardened with pride. A heart still aching from wrongs committed will take greater care not to sin again.

We also spit on His mercy if we wallow in useless shame. Our sin is not greater than His mercy. Our dung is not more potent than His blood. I repeat: healthy shame is the beginning of a new beginning.

That is how shame serves us well. That is how we keep shame in its place, and live freely in His mercy and abiding love for us.

But that is what we have lost as a culture. We now revel in our vulgarity and cheer for those who debase themselves. We reward people for their abhorrent behavior. We laugh when parents violate the dignity of their own children. Most people today are even afraid to use the kind of “harsh” language I’ve just used here: abhorrent, vulgar, crass, disgusting, and yes, shameful. (gasp – how judgmental!) It’s no surprise we’ve lost our sense of shame when we can’t even bring ourselves to call things what they are.

Something is very, very wrong with us. It’s time to get alarmed. Before we can avail ourselves of the unfathomable, inexhaustible mercy of God, we first need to have our heads smacked.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The Constitution, States’ Rights, and the Right to Life: Iowa, Please Get it Right!

At Catholic Online

I wish I was an Iowa caucus voter right about now.

Iowa’s going to get this ball rolling for real in just a few short weeks. Many polls suggest that a large percentage of caucus voters still haven’t decided who they’re going to vote for, and the battle for support is intense. It concerns me when I see indications that Ron Paul may very well have a huge surge in Iowa because he’s got a small army of dedicated supporters on the ground.

I mean no disrespect to Ron Paul, but the more I’ve read of him lately (in his own words), the more convinced I am that he has fallen under the spell of Constitutional idolatry. He worships the Constitution. It is his idol.

Now hold on; before you skewer me, I’m a big fan of our Constitution, and I want to see our nation return to its principles and rules and clearly-stated guidelines. Our Constitution is a brilliant document — of that there’s no doubt.

Yet adherence to the Constitution is not an excuse or a justification for allowing moral wrongs or to permit injustice against the innocent.

It’s hard for me to make heads or tails of Ron Paul’s statements on abortion and the sanctity of human life. I read through a section of his book, Liberty Defined, where he talked at length about his beliefs and his policy positions, and it was a rather crazy roller-coaster ride that ultimately left me feeling nauseous.

One paragraph I was soundly agreeing with him, and then all of a sudden, I was saying, “What in the world?” He writes profound and powerfully straightforward statements like this one: “I’ve never understood how an act of violence, killing a human being, albeit a small one in a special place, is portrayed as a precious right.”

Amen! I don’t understand it, either! And this one: “If anything, the federal government has a responsibility to protect life — not grant permission to destroy it.”

Amen again! He goes on: “I believe that the moral consequence of cavalierly accepting abortion diminishes the value of all life.” “In the age of abortion, with nearly a million being performed each year in the United States, society sends a signal that we place a lower value on the small and the weak.”

Another amen! I couldn’t agree more. But then comes a wacky curve with this statement: “So if we are ever to have fewer abortions, society must change again. The law will not accomplish that. However, that does not mean that states shouldn’t be allowed to write laws dealing with abortion. Very early pregnancies and victims of rape can be treated with the day after pill, which is nothing more than using birth control pills in a special manner. These very early pregnancies could never be policed, regardless. Such circumstances would be dealt with by each individual making his or her own moral choice.”

How the heck is that last sentence any different than what the pro-choicers have been saying all along? “My body, my choice.” I thought abortion diminished the value of all life, and now he’s saying each individual must make his or her own “moral” choice? I thought he said it was an act of violence against the small and the weak? How can that be moral?

“Very early pregnancies”?  You mean, very young and very small babies? “Can be treated with the day after pill…”  Treated? You mean, can be killed with chemicals? His statements here sound exactly like standard pro-abortion spin. He himself has just given the okay to chemically abort babies conceived very recently or through rape, calling it “treatment.”

Paul is correct in saying that only a moral society can do away with the evil of abortion. But I believe he is very wrong to insist that the law has no role in accomplishing that.

In another crazy turn-around, he writes: “A society that readily condones abortion invites attacks on personal liberty. If all life is not precious, how can all liberty be held up as important? I’ve become convinced that resolving the abortion issue is required for a healthy defense of a free society.”

No argument there, Congressman. But how does that square with your assertion that it’s okay to “treat” very early pregnancies with the morning after pill? How does that square with your idea that each individual must make his or her own moral choice?

He then gets to the heart of his position: “I also believe in the Constitution, and therefore, I consider it a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being.”

“The pro-life opponents to my approach are less respectful of the rule of law and the Constitution. Instead of admitting that my position allows the states to minimize or ban abortions, they claim that my position supports the legalization of abortion by the states.”

Because it does, Congressman! The point is not that only a national solution will suffice, or that only a national law will solve the problem, but that no individual state has any Constitutional right to do what is morally wrong!

This is where I believe Congressman Paul falls into Constitutional idolatry. He is so blindly focused on States’ rights that even the right to Life is sacrificed. The sanctity of all human life and our obligation to protect the child in the womb from being killed is trumped by States-rights, according to Paul.

We cannot claim to be pro-life if we are content to allow individual states to decide for themselves whether the child in the womb has the right to live and be born. The babies in Iowa might be safe, but too bad for those babies in California and New York, eh? Oh well. We mustn’t violate States’ rights, after all. Nothing is more important than States’ rights and the Constitution.

Actually, the moral law is far more important. The moral law is not superseded by any government document or any state’s rights. Either we will defend the child in the womb in every state of the United States or we won’t. Either we will say, without qualification, that the child in the womb is an American citizen and a human being from the moment of conception who has the right to live and be born or we won’t.

The issue is not mythical “reproductive rights” or States’ rights but the humanity of the child in the womb. If our children are our children and not subhuman pieces of tissue, then we are obligated to protect them from being killed in the womb; not just in some states but in every state of our nation.

The final straw for me was this statement by Paul: “Let the lawyers and the politicians and mercenary, unethical doctors deal with implementing laws regulating death.”

No, we can’t just leave it to them. It’s our duty to implement laws defending LIFE!

I don’t disagree that our federal government has grown far too large and intrusive and needs to be shrunken and reigned in. I don’t argue that our personal liberties are being threatened at every turn by that power-hungry federal government. I agree that many things should be returned to the individual states to deal with according to their needs and their residents’ votes.

But protecting the child in the womb is not an “issue” that can be left up to each state to decide. There’s no spectrum of decisions with varying degrees of rightness. Abortion is wrong, period. Killing our babies in the womb is wrong, period. Targeting our tiniest children for extermination through chemicals like some kind of insect is wrong, period.

We are not absolved of the guilt of murdering our children merely because we insist we’re abiding by our Constitution.

I’m no political pundit or operative, but I hope there are a lot of folks in Iowa reading this and giving serious consideration to how they’re going to vote in January. Please don’t place a higher value on States’ rights than on the God-given human rights of the child in the womb. No state has the right to do what is morally wrong.

When it comes to the foundational truths of Life and true marriage, we cannot allow our country to dissolve into a nonsensical collection of differing laws and varying degrees of protection depending on where you live. United we stand; divided we destroy ourselves.

On Wednesday night I watched C-SPAN’s coverage of the candidate forum on abortion in Des Moines, organized by Gov. Mike Huckabee and pro-life leaders from Iowa. A new documentary called, “The Gift of Life” was being shown at the conclusion of the forum. Unfortunately, C-SPAN’s coverage ended before the film began so I wasn’t able to see it.

The Republican Presidential candidates were invited to speak about their pro-life convictions and Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum all embraced the opportunity to address the most important topic of our time — the sanctity of human life. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney were not in attendance.

Paul’s and Romney’s absence was troubling to me. Perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt and not read too much into it. Nevertheless, it bothers me that they did not attend a forum devoted exclusively to abortion. Particularly where Romney is concerned, it reinforces my uneasiness regarding his commitment to Life. I still clearly recall his television interview just a few years ago when he was staunchly committed to defending “a woman’s right to choose” and swore he always would.

Personally, I’m praying like crazy that the good people of Iowa will rally behind Rick Santorum and make him the surprise winner of their all-important caucus. After hearing him speak so many times and knowing how he has fought to protect the moral enterprise that is the United States of America, I feel I already know his heart and his convictions so well. Yet once again I was impressed when I saw him speak at this forum in Des Moines. He is genuine, unflinching and unapologetic in his defense of Life, true marriage and the family.

I’ve also had the distinct privilege of interviewing his wife, Karen, and I cannot say too much about the caliber of these two people. Their character is rock-solid and rooted in faithfulness, love and sacrifice. They are fire-tested and proven. We actually have the chance to elect a good man of true character to the Presidency in 2012, and Iowa, you need to light the fire!

It can’t be said too often that this is the most important election of our lifetime thus far. We simply cannot afford to get this one wrong. I believe Rick Santorum is the right man, and I’m hoping that the people of Iowa agree with me.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary

The 1st Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!” “You shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

The fruit of the mystery is humility.

Mary’s answer to Gabriel is simply incredible, but it became much more precious for me when I stopped to ponder the middle of this story. We may miss the best part is we fail to recognize the humanness in Mary. Not sinfulness, but humanness. That’s the quality that makes this event so marvelous.

“But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”

She was greatly troubled! Scared, even? Can you see her expression; hear the thoughts racing through her mind?

What in the world is going on?!? He’s telling me not to be afraid… what is this all about? A son? Now I’m confused. How can this be? I do not know man. God Himself will do this? The child will be holy? The Son of God?

Now comes the glorious ending: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

She went from being troubled and confused one moment to being perfectly willing and trusting the next because of true humility. Her reply is remarkable not only because of what she said but because of all she didn’t say. She didn’t say, “Me? Why me?” Or, “But, but, wait…” She didn’t say, “I can’t…” Gabriel gave her precious few details about how this would all unfold, yet she didn’t hesitate to agree. She understood it wasn’t really about her; it was about Him.

Mary didn’t say “yes” with a proud spirit or a self-congratulatory attitude, nor did she refuse out of a feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness. She knew she was a mere mortal, most unworthy. She also knew God was wise and loving and able. Her “yes” had nothing to do with her and everything to do with Him.

Yes to His plan, His will, His power, His authority. She took Gabriel at his word and believed that God knew what He was doing, and her part was to simply say, “I am at your disposal.” It was up to God to do everything else. It’s also noteworthy that she didn’t offer any assistance. She didn’t presume that she could add something to the mix that would make it better. She said yes, and then carried on as usual. Not knowing what would happen next or how it would happen, she left everything after that moment up to God.

That’s real humility. To say to God, “As You wish. You will do it. Do with me whatever You please. All glory is Yours.” It seems plain enough, but so often real humility gets all mixed up with false humility (which is actually pride). It seems more humble to refuse when asked to do something, especially something important, and we say self-deprecating things like, “Oh, I’m not that good,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or “I’ve never done that before,” or “There are lots of people who are better at this than me,” and on and on and on.

Don’t you shudder to think what might have happened if Mary had responded that way? She may have felt there were smarter, more capable, more experienced women in the community. She could have tried to defer and list all the reasons why she was right to defer. But thank God she was humble enough to say yes.

It’s not a mark of humility to say to God that His plan can’t be done because you’re not the one, you’re inadequate, you’re not smart enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not ________________ (fill in the blank).

Of course you’re not good enough. So what? God is good enough. God has everything, God is everything and humility is just saying “yes” and not thinking too much or too little of you, but only of how great God is.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49

Mary, most mild, pray for me that I will humbly say “yes” to God in whatever He asks of me.

~~~~~

The 2nd Joyful Mystery: The Visitation of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth… Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.” Luke 1:39-40, 56

The fruit of the mystery is love of our neighbor.

Gabriel had just left her, and the first thing she does is prepare to leave and visit Elizabeth, her cousin. Gabriel had told her Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, a testament to the power of God.

It wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable for Mary to have stayed home to rest and take care of herself, now that she herself was expecting. And after all, the angel had said this child would be the holy Son of God! That certainly deserves some pampering and special treatment!

But I suspect Mary was overjoyed at the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and couldn’t wait to get there and share the wonder of it all with her. Now the two of them could delight in each other’s miracles and bask in the glory of God and all He had done by His power alone. I can easily imagine them hugging and laughing and fussing over each other.

It’s really a simple lesson this mystery teaches – take care of each other. Even when you have good reason for worrying only about yourself, try to find a way to care for someone else also. I’m your neighbor and you’re mine. There will be plenty of opportunities for us to care for each other and meet the other’s needs. But will we?

And what about the neighbor we don’t particularly like? What about the neighbor we can’t stand? There’s where it gets sticky! Even then, we are asked to find ways to show love. Love that is hard to give, love that requires a real sacrifice, love that is on-purpose-even-though-I-really-don’t-want-to is the truest of all.

A good place to start is our own families. Love-on-purpose that family member you don’t like being around. Love-on-purpose the one who irritates you to no end. Love-on-purpose the relative you have nothing in common with. Love the one who just plain drives you crazy. Do it as unto Jesus, and watch how your heart changes.

Be happy for the blessings in your family member’s lives and celebrate with them. Rejoice in their good fortune without envy, and bear their sorrow with them whenever you can. Pray for them. Bring Christ to your family, as Mary brought Christ to Elizabeth’s.

These are simple, ordinary bits of guidance, and most of the time we’ll do these things without earthly applause. We just do it because it’s the right thing to do. We may fail miserably and often in loving our neighbor, but the good news is we’ll never run out of chances to live this mystery, and practice makes perfect!

~~~~~

The 3rd Joyful Mystery: The Birth of Jesus

“She gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

The fruit of the mystery is poverty.

When I think about poverty, my immediate reaction is to be repulsed. Poverty is not something I find enchanting. My instinct for self-preservation vehemently rejects the idea of poverty. It inspires fear and dread in me.

Poverty means to be vulnerable, shunned, and perhaps worst of all, invisible. Poverty is empty and deprived.

What a stunning paradox then that God would offer Himself to us in poverty. Omnipotent, All-possessing King lies helpless and needy in humiliating surroundings. He who commands the sun to shine and our hearts to beat within our chests comes powerless into our world to be greeted by cows and sheep.

It’s disarmingly brilliant. We cannot refute the love of a God who sheds His riches and might and gives Himself to us in poverty. He did not come with frightening awe and intimidating splendor so we would cower before Him in fear. He came to us small, weak, dependent and poor. He sought to inspire our affection and devotion rather than command our submission.

As much as I may dread the possibility of material poverty, I must learn to embrace the mystery of being poor in spirit. Who are the poor in spirit? Only those brave souls who willingly admit their wretchedness before a holy God, who know exactly how undeserving they are yet humbly bow before Him, grateful for His mercy. Those souls who never presume to be good enough on their own to stand before Him, but know how truly pitiful is their human state.

More than just a superficial knowing, the poor in spirit live the knowledge of their sinfulness truthfully, without making light of their sin. What courage and honesty it requires to see myself as I truly am, without shining up my sin and spritzing perfume on my foul offenses.

If gold could have relieved our troubles and lifted us out of our darkness, then Jesus could have simply come in His Royalty and tossed us bags of coins. If physical power and strength was all we needed to defeat our enemy, then the Invincible One could have come with His armies and settled the whole matter in minutes. He came to us in poverty so we would see that all we will ever need is who He is.

We need Him, the person of Jesus. Only He can save us, because we don’t need wealth or power – we need mercy. We need forgiveness to cleanse us. Only His blood can do that. The illusion of our goodness keeps us full of ourselves, but the poor in spirit have Christ as their inheritance, for they know how empty they truly are and so they are filled with Him. “Blessed are they who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Isn’t it just like our God to turn poverty into unfathomable riches?

~~~~~

The 4th Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple

“When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, (as is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord.”) and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24

The fruit of the mystery is obedience.

It’s rather humorous to read that paragraph. Mary and Joseph took the Lord to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord! The Lord presented Himself to Himself!

The Father demanded no special treatment for His Son. No exceptions, no favoritism. The Law of Moses was the Law and the Law was to be obeyed. He came to fulfill the Law, not toss the Law out the window. He came to live our human experience is every single way that we do, including obeying the law.

But notice, please, which law we’re talking about here. God’s law – the law that is always just and right and good. We needn’t ever worry when obeying God’s law. It will always be for our benefit and His greater glory. Obeying God’s law will never steer us wrong or lead us down a destructive path. God’s blessing is always in His law.

We live in a time when there are many unjust and just plain immoral laws, and one day we just might have to choose between following God’s law and following the law of the land because the two may be in irreconcilable contradiction. In fact, that day is fast approaching. For today, there will most assuredly be occasions, however small, where I have to choose to obey God. I may be sorely tempted to ignore or “forget” His commands and then try to justify my rebellion. No surprise – that never works out well!

Time to refresh my memory about why it’s so good for me to follow God’s law:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Psalm 19:7-8


“I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” Psalm 119:104


“The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.” Psalm 119:110-112


“Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

Strength, wisdom, joy, light and clarity, understanding, courage, and sure footsteps… all the benefits of obedience. God is good!

~~~~~

The 5th Joyful Mystery: Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple

“While his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends…After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers…His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Luke 2:43-48


The fruit of the mystery is joy in finding Jesus.

To be honest, it really seems to me like Jesus got a pass here! He really didn’t think that by staying behind he’d scare the living daylights out of his parents? He didn’t think they’d mind him just disappearing? Worrying them that way was not a very thoughtful thing to do!

There’s Mary, worried out of her mind after searching for three days, and this is his response: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Well, no, Son, actually, we didn’t know that! How would we know that?!? You could have just said so before we left, instead of making us look for you for three days!!

Anybody else thinking they would have wanted to dish out some serious punishment if their teenager had done this to them? (Who knows, maybe Mary and Joseph did!)

His boyhood thoughtlessness aside, there’s an important message in this mystery for the whole world: our worrying ceases when we find Jesus. Our hearts are anxiously searching for Him, and we are troubled and frightened until we find Him. There is joy in finding Jesus; there is worry and fear without Him. This is true for every soul that has ever lived whether they realize it or not. “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in You.” St. Augustine

In every event of our day, in every encounter, every task, every challenge, every burden, every struggle, there will be joy once we find Jesus in it. We will be overcome with worry til we do. He is there with us in everything and He wants to be found. It only remains to be seen whether we will look for Him.

There are a hundred opportunities every day for me to look for Jesus in what’s happening in my life and in the people I encounter. If I don’t see, it’s probably because I don’t look. I’m too wrapped up in my own head, too caught up in a hectic schedule. And so I find stress and anxiety instead of joy. I find worry and fear instead of Jesus. Silly me.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14

Blessed Mary, ever patient Mother, teach me how to find Jesus… always… in everything.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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My Essential Christmas Movie and Music List

There are certain songs and movies I simply must have during Christmas.  First, the movies.  It just ain’t Christmas unless I see all of these.

In random order:

A Christmas Carol:  I rather like the George C. Scott version.  Don’t tell my mother.

 

White Christmas:  This one is an absolute must.  Every year.  And yes, I have the “Sisters” song memorized.  But I can also belt out “We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go/ Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe…”   I wait all year to watch this movie. It just makes me happy and sappy.

 

The Polar Express:  Yeah, this one makes me happy, too.  Makes me happy like a little kid, with that kind of wide-eyed wonder and excitement.  “Here we only got one rule/Never, ever let it cool!/Keep it cooking in the pot/ Then you got, hot chocolate!”  And that bell from Santa’s sleigh, oh, the marketing folks behind that movie were complete idiots for not selling that bell. Just the bell, all by itself, or maybe in a package with the golden ticket.  I would have bought it in a heartbeat.

 

The Christmas Box:  Another absolute must for me.  I cry every single time I see it.  “I understand now, Mary.  The first gift of Christmas… it was a Child.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”  This is another movie I wait all year for, and I can’t believe it’s not available on DVD.  I want to own this movie!  (The prequel, Timepiece, is also wonderful.)

 

Fallen Angel:  I like Gary Sinise.  He’s a good guy, a good actor, and he supports our troops.  That makes him first-rate in my book.  And this is great story of redemption, second chances, and the healing power of love.

 

Christmas Child:  Based on Max Lucado’s story, The Christmas Cross.  I have the book and the movie.  Again, a great story of redemption, second and third chances, and the healing power of love.  A must-see.

 

 

 

Now the tunes.  The tunes are very important to me.  They set the mood, and feed my spirit.

Last year I discovered Selah’s Rose of Bethlehem, and it immediately became one of my most favorite songs.  I mean, WOW… so moving, so beautiful, so profound.  I absolutely love this song.

I love Audrey Assad’s Winter Snow.  Thoughtful, creative, and beautiful.

Michael W. Smith’s album, It’s a Wonderful Christmas, is practically my soundtrack for Christmas.  I love this album.

 

I love the lyrics of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, though I don’t always like the way it’s sung.  Seems to have different melodies and variations.  Some I like, some I don’t.  I have a recording of a children’s choir singing it mingled with Dona Nobis Pacem, and it’s beautiful.

I love “O Holy Night” when it’s done well by a great choir and soloist, without any of the vocal gymnastics that is so common among singers today.  Just give it to me straight and strong, please.  With reverence.  It’s a HOLY night.

The Little Drummer Boy is another favorite of mine.  Talk about theology in a children’s song… it makes me cry every time.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is a favorite now.  Didn’t used to be when I was a kid.  But now I get it — I appreciate the depth of the lyrics and the hope they cry for.  Phillips, Craig and Dean does a nice job on their Christmas album, Repeat the Sounding Joy.  

I love Amy Grant’s Welcome to Our World.  Love, love, love it.  Her cover of Agnus Dei is pretty awesome, too.

 

So what are your Christmas “musts”?

 

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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