At Midnight, in Bethlehem, in Piercing Cold

It’s that time of year again! I’m recycling this post from a few years back to remind you all that the St. Andrew Christmas Novena starts today:

Today begins the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, also called the Christmas Anticipation Prayer. I first heard about this tradition a few years ago, and it’s a really beautiful prayer:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

Traditionally, this prayer is recited fifteen times a day, beginning on November 30, the Feast of St. Andrew, and finishing on Christmas Eve. It is a meditative prayer, helping us to place ourselves in Bethlehem and focus on the coming of the Christ child as we prepare for Christmas. Praying with this novena has given me a richer awareness of God throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. It helps me to connect my own present experiences and petitions with the miracle of the incarnation.

Last year, I created a lock screen for my phone with the novena prayer written on it, so that throughout the day, whenever I checked my phone, I would see the novena and be reminded to pray it. I’ll share it with you here, in case any of you need the same reminder!

Wishing you all a blessed Advent!

Only Say The Word

When Jesus entered Capernaum,
a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying,
“Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”
He said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him,
“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Mt 8:5-11

Hello friends,

It’s been a while. It’s officially the season of Advent!  Now is the season where we, as the body of Christ, prepare for the birth of Our Lord. Today’s gospel reading particularly resonates with me because it reminds me so well of how much I need the Lord in my life. 

Let’s break down today’s gospel reading a bit. The Centurion’s words should resonate with all when he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” These are the very same words we say at Mass before we receive communion.  Yes, while it represents the Centurion’s admission that the Lord is in his house, this is the plea we recite at mass daily and the one one that represents our brokenness due to original sin. The brokenness we inherited from Adam and Eve. The one that the coming of Our Lord on Christmas day will solve. The one we are preparing for in this season of Advent.

As stated in the book of Genesis, where the fall originally takes place,  God tells Adam that, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Because of Adam and Eve’s fall, we are imperfect. We will always long for true holiness and happiness, and long for the God-shaped hole. As Saint Augustine says, “.. Our hearts are restless until they rest in [God].”  It is of no surprise to me that the theme for one of Frassati’s retreats many years ago was, “Rest for the Restless.” Evil exists in the world, and we are all broken. As Catholics, we inherently realize the need for repentance, but also the need to be as close to Jesus.  If we rest in the Lord, however, The Lord will provide, even in unexpected ways. It is of no surprise that over the centuries, Christ has been called by the “New Adam.” (Even by St. Paul himself.)

But let’s go back to the centurion. What is the centurion saying? In comparing himself to his own servant as “a man under authority,” the centurion is suggesting two things. One, he realizes that in Jesus’ presence he is really no more than a servant himself. Secondly, his words also suggest that he recognizes in Jesus far more than just an ordinary man; rather, he indicates an awareness that Jesus is one to whom true authority belongs. The Roman centurion—a man of power and authority—subjects himself to Christ and has faith in Him. Earthly rewards and accomplishments are little compared to our faith in the Lord and what He can provide. The centurion recognizes his own brokenness, saying that he is not worthy of the Lord. But how does Jesus respond? He does not say that the centurion is broken or that he is not worthy; rather, Jesus commends him, even to the point of saying. …“in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” 

However, even though we are imperfect, that is not to say there is no hope! Because even though we say these words in mass daily, what else happens in the reading? Upon hearing the Centurion’s words, the Lord says, “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.” Not unlike many other moments in the gospel, an individual’s faith saves him (or the life of another) and Our Lord rewards them for their faith. It should also be that our faith in Our Lord strengthens us  in a turbulent time in which the pandemic still exists. 

It is of no surprise to some of you here that I had a very difficult year and a half. I had a lot going on. I needed my own time of healing. I was unemployed for more than a year and a half, and I battled my own trials and tribulations. And while it is in fact true that my life has had a blessed turn these past few months, I still submit myself to Christ’s authority. I won’t be ungrateful. And I never forget that without Christ, I would have never made it this far. When I made my final professions as a Lay Dominican back in August, the words said by the Centurion were of even stronger relevance to me. I too am “subject… to authority.” I am an instrument to bring people to the Lord. But we should always do it with joy! I am constantly reminded that when people are truly filled with the Lord, they are constantly joyful. Simply admitting you are unworthy of the Lord does not and should not make you a dour and dejected individual.  I’m going to be a godfather to a newborn soon (and thus also be responsible for the faith formation of this child for the rest of his life) and I too wonder if I will be able to have the faith that the Centurion had. Because being a godfather is a massive responsibility.

We should not equate unworthiness with being unloved in the eyes of God. Unworthiness is simply recognizing that we are not perfect, and that we sin. And that we need our Lord! With Him all things truly are possible! And it is in this that I should give a fair warning. Because even though we are unworthy, everything is grace. Jesus fulfills God’s promise that He would send a redeemer to save us. Jesus is the Redeemer who makes us worthy and allows us to be saved. The least we can do is recognize God’s saving power. Jesus is the one who delivers us from our sins, our unworthiness, and bestows grace upon us. This season of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of the Lord, let us remember that God became a man, “The New Adam,” to save us. The only question is, will we join Our Lord and continue to live a life of Holiness so that we too may feast on the banquet in Heaven one day? 

Renewed Words

“I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Romans 8:18

Isn’t this what the world today is crying out? The true miracle of God’s words is that they continue to rejuvenate those who read and proclaim them. Just as they energized the people who heard them 2,000 years ago, they inspire us as if they had been written at this very moment. The word of God is powerful and life changing. Right now, we need His voice and the presence of Jesus more than anything our world offers.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God and gives us wisdom, but He is also our Savior. We need His saving grace in order to see past the suffering of our current situation and remember that the glory of Heaven awaits us. Suffering in the world is nothing new, based on the words in Romans we realize that. While slavery and corruption confront us on this earth, if we stay true and trust solely in Jesus, we will receive glory and comfort in our renewed lives to come.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, one that is planted, nurtured and allowed to grow. We are being nurtured and we should grow. Living in this world at the present moment strengthens us. These are hard times, but like that mustard seed of the kingdom, if we are cared for, we will grow stronger and have an incredible future ahead of us, united with our Creator. This is the main reason He gave us life–so we could live in harmony with Him, our Lord and Savior.

Have We Lit Our Lamps

During His time on this earth, Jesus kindly bestowed several words of hope on us, but He also gave us warnings. These warnings were not intended just for the people alive at that time, but for us alive in the world today. The words in today’s Gospel seem to ring particularly true now. We are constantly consumed by fear, which has led many people to forget what we are preparing for in our lives.

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.” Luke 12:37

If the Master were to arrive tomorrow, who would be counted on as vigilant? Sin entered this world through one man, and now many are bound by it. Jesus offers grace, and one can choose to follow His word and be saved. However, this grace is becoming more difficult to obtain because it is easier to fall prey to the desire for all the “necessities” to survive in this world. Unfortunately, when we choose these worldly treasures, we forget to light our very basic lamps and refuse to take the road less traveled.

Our lives on this earth are not meant to be easy. As followers of Jesus, we are asked to live the way He did, which was without any modern conveniences that make life easy. We are called to “stay awake” while others sleep because when the Master comes, we will want to be ready.

The New Pharisees

Jesus always spoke out against the ways of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His time, and consequently they wanted Him dead. When reading stories in the Gospel, it is easy to see the behavior of the Pharisees was wrong, yet they were blind to their evil actions. As history continued, the term “Pharisees” is no longer used, but the practices and beliefs upheld by the Pharisees remain. We are still sinners and are bound to fall into similar traps just as the Pharisees did.

“Although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Romans 1:21-23

The Pharisees were bound by the traditions and rituals of their religion. As humans, we can accept the lie that if we follow the laws, we are guaranteed entrance into the kingdom of Heaven. The Pharisees exemplified the rules regarding eating only clean food and other practical teachings like that, but today we follow different rules. These rules are meant to keep us wholly devoted to our Lord; however, it is possible to put merely the practice of these before the true worship of God Himself.

How often do we lose sight of Christ when focusing on getting to confession once a month, or remembering the pattern of a rosary instead of actually paying attention to the words? The truth is that what Jesus desires is our love and devotion. The sacraments and prayers are gifts to help us, but they are not meant to replace Jesus Christ and His presence in our lives.

“The one who is righteous by faith will live.” Romans 1:17

Worried and Anxious

We live at a time where being a true Catholic is difficult. The Word of God calls us everyday to take stances and make declarations completely contrary to the status quo. COVID 19 and the political tension in the world can cause many to lose sight of what God asks of them. When people live in an environment filled with fear, the negative voices promoting this fear can easily drown out the voice of God.

How would the story of Martha and Mary be told today? Would Martha be concerned about Mary wearing a face mask when addressing Jesus? Would there be questions about whether Jesus was vaccinated or not? Who would be considered clean and unclean? All these questions would seem justifiable and Martha would likely have been as worried as those around her. We would have the same worries. These concerns create a great deal of separation between family and friends due to the attempt at protocols to keep everyone safe. Nevertheless, it is important to ask yourself, if Jesus were to knock on your door, would you respond as a Martha or a Mary?

I have always advocated for being a bit of both Martha and Mary. However, in the circumstances created by our world today, I feel it is crucial to try to imitate Mary. With all the current separation and social distance, Mary is an example of unity. Jesus is speaking to us and calling us to HIm, but we are distracted by the new ways of keeping people “safe” which often involve distance. Jesus does not want distance. We will be stronger if we are together, united under God. In these troubled times, it is important to be Marys because she has “chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:4

United in Faith

How often do we fall into the trap of believing we are not worthy to stand up and be counted as one of God’s followers? We are so eager to approach Jesus with our great accomplishments, so He will see us as great and worthy of His company. It is easy to forget that we are nothing without Christ. It is the reason Jesus constantly draws close to the sick.

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9: 12-13

When you are sick, you literally have nothing, you are too weak to do anything. It is at these times that you are closest to Jesus because you have no choice but to depend on Him for everything.

We are united in faith as each one of us approaches our Lord in our own unique brokenness. We are all different because God made us that way, but we are united by the same faith: the faith that Jesus has called us each by name and longs for us all to give our lives to Him.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation was not just a yes to the be the mother of Jesus but also a yes to the Cross. Today we recall the suffering she willingly accepted, to watch her beloved Son be brutally tortured and killed. She chose to swallow this unimaginably bitter pill because she trusted in her Son’s mission, the salvation of the world and the victory of the Kingdom of God.

We, too, will have to suffer in this world. We don’t often expect to encounter suffering in our lives, which is pretty shortsighted, seeing as Jesus specifically told us that we would. We might look back and remember some bumps along the way, but as we look forward, we imagine smooth sailing, and we’re rattled when things don’t go as we anticipate. But just as Jesus and Mary had to accept the cup of suffering in order to fulfill God’s greater plan, so too will we have to pick up our crosses.

Some of the hardships and injustices we will experience will seem senseless and bleak, and we will struggle to understand how these things could possibly fit into God’s plan. But a God Who could transform the Cross from a sign of brutality and death to a sign of life and resurrection can take the ugliness in our lives and use it to work for good. He can bring meaning to the darkest, most desolate moments of our existence. And He does not leave us alone in them. He is there right beside us, along with His Mother. She gave her fiat as an act of hope, that the suffering that awaited her would not be the end. We, too, are called to give a fiat amidst all the sufferings of this life and trust that none of it will be wasted.


Image: Ella Boshoven, Mother of Sorrow / PD-US

God So Loved The World

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the Gospel cites one of the most popular and widely known Bible verses.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16

This verse is so familiar that even nonbelievers have heard it. Why is it so popular and why does it ring so true, its message imbedded into the mind of everyone who reads it? The words may have become slightly mundane and people may have forgotten why it is so powerful. I myself have read it too many times to grasp the meaning entirely.

The Gospel connects to the first reading for the feast. It is part of the story of Moses in the desert, when God took pity on his people and saved them from deadly seraph serpents by giving them a bronze serpent to look upon and be healed.

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:15

In a sense, as Christians today, we are wandering in the desert and still complaining like the Israelites did. We need a Savior. Fortunately, God loved us so much that He sent His Son that we can believe in and we can be saved from death itself.

Sought and Seek

We were chosen to belong to our heavenly Father long before we were born to earthly parents. However, when we were brought into this world, sin entered into us, causing separation from Him. Jesus had to seek us out once more in order to save us. Living in this fallen world makes this more difficult because we need to choose Jesus too.

If we do choose Him though, He gives us a great promise. Once we actively seek him out, we are guaranteed to bear great fruit, just like the first disciples. He sought each one out and called them each by name. Imagine being called by your name by Jesus! He has called you for a specific purpose and has a special plan just for you. Jesus healed the sick and drove out demons. He is asking us to do that now.

“Brothers and sisters: As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Col 2:6

We are truly made in the spirit, breathed into us by the Lord of creation, and therefore our lives and actions should be conducted based on the Spirit’s will for us. That we are united as brothers and sisters in Christ should hold deep significance and bring us closer together since we are all being sought after by Him, not only to be closer to Him but to each other.