Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!

While exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a friend of mine pointed out a beautiful painting of Our Lady, The Intercession of Christ and the Virgin. In this image, Christ kneels and looks towards God the Father in Heaven, while the Virgin Mary kneels across from Him. Looking at Christ, Mary guides a small group of kneeling worshippers closer to her Son. This beautiful, thought-provoking (and prayer-provoking) painting perfectly depicts how Our Lady has interceded for humanity in the past and up to this present moment.

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Our Lady has never failed to intercede for us. During the Wedding at Cana, Mary is the first to notice that there is no wine, and she intercedes for the couple. Thanks to her intercession, Jesus performed His first miracle. Mary noticed what the couple needed before anyone else and interceded for them, and we can continue to count on her powerful intercession today. She knows what we need before we even realize it. Like this painting illustrates, Mary is constantly interceding for us, pushing us closer and closer to Jesus.

In today’s readings of the Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Jesus teaches us that “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (MT 12: 50). We learn that doing the will of Our Father unites us to His family. Our Lady is the perfect example of following God’s will. Let us strive to imitate her and ask for her intercession.

Today, let us pray the Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel:

Oh, most beautiful flower of Mt. Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of Heaven, Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in my necessity. O Star of the Sea, help me and show me you are my Mother. Oh, Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart to succor me in this necessity (make request). There are none that can withstand your power. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Sweet Mother, I place this cause in your hands. Amen.


Image: Attributed to Lorenzo Monaco (Piero da Giovanni), The Intercession of Christ and the Virgin / PD-US

Had Not the Lord Been Here

“Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Had not the LORD been with us–
let Israel say, had not the LORD been with us–
When men rose up against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive,
When their fury was inflamed against us.” -Psalm 124

“Had not the Lord been with us…” How often do we say the opposite? “God, where are You? Why aren’t You here?”

Today’s Psalm gives us some perspective. Even when things are terrible, God is right there with us in the mess. We can take a breath and say, “This is hard, and it doesn’t make sense, but I know You are here. I know You will not let me be overcome.”

Last week I had a crisis situation with one of my youth ministry teens and her family. It was one of those horrifying situations you pray never happens to you. I was so humbled that they even wanted me there with them. I was at such a loss for what to do and say, and I remember looking into my teen’s heartbroken, fearful, tear-stained eyes and saying, “God is here. I know this is terrifying and it hurts and it absolutely sucks, and God is here in it with you. I promise.”

God’s presence permeated that whole long night, even amidst the shock, the pain, the terror. I just knew He was there, holding it all together. His steadfastness was with us, as if He was saying, “I know this is excruciating. And I’m right here with you in it. I know your pain. This hurts Me too.”

Had not He been with us? Despair and total darkness would’ve taken over. But having Him there? He gave the family strength, bravery, the grace to endure the pain, and abounding love through it all. Sometimes in those moments, all you can do is call upon the Name of Jesus, and He’s there, rushing in to save us.

Thank You Jesus, for always being here.

Crossing a Bridge

In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.
—Proverbs 16:9

In today’s first reading, we draw near the end of the story of Joseph the dreamer, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers. What followed—a life spent in exile, filled with heartache, loneliness, and imprisonment—could not have been further from the dreams his parents had for their beloved son. Still, Joseph surrendered to the will of God, took the adventures that befell him, and eventually guided the entire country through a seven-year famine. As he tearfully told his brothers upon their reunion, “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). After years of suffering, the family was healed, countless lives were preserved, and God’s saving power was revealed. What a story!

Much like Joseph, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, whose feast we celebrate today, totally abandoned themselves to divine providence and freely undertook the adventures God presented to them. Both had deeply desired to enter religious life in their youth, but those desires remained unfulfilled. Louis had been refused entry to the Great Saint Bernard Monastery in the Swiss Alps, and Zélie had been turned away from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Faced with living in the world, each then trained to enter an artistic profession. He became a jeweler and watchmaker, and she became a lacemaker. Yet, they were still filled with grief and an aching desire for holiness—Zélie especially, for her older sister did have a vocation and entered the Visitation Monastery in Le Mans. For a young woman already filled with anguish and who truly viewed life as an exile, the additional separation from her sister was particularly painful.

But, not long after her sister entered religious life, Zélie found a kindred spirit in Louis—a gentle yet energetic man living a quasi-monastic life in the world—while crossing the St. Leonard Bridge in Alençon. They were married three months later at midnight on July 13, 1858, each vowing to be “an angel in each other’s life, radiating the face of Christ to each other and committed to bringing each other closer to God” (Renda, xxiii). When the two visited her sister on their wedding day, Zélie writes, “I cried all my tears, more than I’d ever cried in my life, and more than I would ever cry again. My poor sister didn’t know how to console me… [Louis] understood me and consoled me as best he could because his inclinations were similar to mine. I even think our mutual affection grew through it. Our feelings were always in accord, and he was always a comfort and support to me” (Renda, 288).

Marriage was not a consolation prize for Sts. Louis and Zélie, as they soon learned. It was a true calling, and one meant to be lived out fully. During a time where consecrating your life to God, performing miracles, or dying as a martyr were considered the best ways to achieve holiness, this couple was instead led to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way, a little way. Their fiat was embedded into every aspect of their marriage—they put God first and loved him more than they loved each other or their children, and they loved each other and their children very much indeed. One only needs to look at how they signed their letters when away from each other: “Your wife who loves you more than her own life” and “Your husband and true friend, who loves you for life” (Renda). Their daughter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, called them “a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

Sts. Louis and Zélie lived lives seeped in prayer, the sacraments, and charitable works and raised their children to love God. Their spirituality was characterized by humility, trust, living in the present moment, love, and gratitude. Zélie was a Third Order Franciscan, and Louis had a particular affinity for Eucharistic adoration. They were devoted to Our Lady, received Communion as often as was acceptable at the time, and continuously gave of themselves to each other, their children, their extended family, and their whole community. Zélie was both a brilliant businesswoman and a dynamic mom; Louis was both eager to run to someone’s rescue and dedicate himself to study in his monastic-style cell in the family attic. They adored their children, accepted all the joys and sorrows of family life, and leaned on Christ in all circumstances, knowing they were not perfect people or parents.

Their story of crossing a bridge may seem like nothing but a charming tale, just as their daughter may seem like nothing more than a little flower. But there is much more to their marriage. St. Catherine of Siena describes Christ as a bridge reaching from Heaven to Earth in her Dialogues. For the rest of Louis and Zélie’s marriage, crossing a bridge meant uniting their sufferings to Christ, carrying their crosses, and “enduring to the end.” They had nine children, but four died at a young age, including the sons Zélie hoped to see celebrate Mass as priests. They faced many sicknesses in their family. Zélie valiantly endured an excruciatingly painful death in Louis’s arms at the age of 45 from breast cancer. Louis lost his wife too soon, gave his daughters to Christ one by one as they entered religious life, and quietly suffered from severe physical and mental illnesses before dying at an old age.

Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin are not saints because their daughter Thérèse is a saint and Doctor of the Church. They aren’t even saints because all their children entered religious life, or because they suffered greatly. Sts. Louis and Zélie are saints because they did the will of God, and they did it with all their hearts. They lived lives of astounding holiness and simplicity, offering their sufferings to God with courage, living in the grace of the present moment, and trusting in his love unconditionally. As the first spouses to be canonized as a couple, let us pray for their intercession for the healing of families around the world and for us to let God love us and lead us—even if we are led, one shaking step at a time, to somewhere different than we originally dreamed, like Sts. Louis and Zélie, like Joseph the dreamer, both sent ahead of us to help point the way to Christ, the bridge “walled and roofed with Mercy.” May God’s saving power be revealed through our lives, and may he make us saints and bring us home. Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Original composition: A Rose From Our Lady
Mongin, The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Renda (ed.), A Call to a Deeper Love
Martin, The Father of the Little Flower
Martin, The Mother of the Little Flower

To Be Close

The first reading is one of my favorites from the Old Testament, the story of Jacob, who wrestled with the Lord until the Lord blessed him.  The significance this story holds for us today is the physical proof of just how close the Lord can come to us. People commonly believe that since God is all knowing, we, as sinful human beings, have no possibility of changing or altering the will of God, but in this Old Testament story, Jacob actually does, and is blessed for it:  he becomes the father of the Israelites.
“You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel,
because you have contended with divine and human beings
and have prevailed.”  Genesis 32:28
God wants nothing more than to maintain a close and intimate relationship with each and every one of us.  Thanks to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who lived among us, we have the gift of entering and exploring a close relationship with our Creator every day. All we need to do is pray. Prayer allows us to transcend this world and enter the realm of the divine. When we pray, anything is possible as we talk with our Creator and Father, bringing our brokenness to Him, asking for mercy. The Gospel reading continues to reveal the compassion of the Lord and His willingness to be close to us.
“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.” Mt 9:36
As believers, we are also given a mission; we know how to find closeness with the Lord, but so many of the Lord’s people have not experienced His love.
“The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”  Mt 9:38
Jesus Christ calls us to show others the depth of the Father’s love. We have the chance to spread the word of God to as many of our fellow human beings as we can, and this way the power of the Lord’s love can grow. Imagine what the world would be like if the Lord’s love was known to all! Although this may sound over-ambitious, it is precisely what we are called to do. If we actively seek an intimate relationship with God ourselves, we will receive the power from Him to accomplish this mission.

Not for a Minute was I Forsaken

Today’s readings are filled with God’s faithfulness—Jacob’s dream of the ladder to heaven and God’s promise to never leave him, the healing of the woman who suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and the raising of the synagogue official’s daughter.

God, in His infinite goodness and faithfulness, will not leave us in our mess, in a place of hurt, or in a sea of confused unknowns forever. God desires to deliver us. God desires to show us the way. All He asks for is our hearts, for our continual trust and surrender along the way.

It can be tempting to give into despair in the waiting, in the seasons of in-between. We can feel like God is holding out on us. We can feel like He’ll never come through. But the truth is that God is always on the move; He is always at work for our good. The woman with the hemorrhages waited for twelve years, trying every doctor to no avail while remaining an outcast of society for being considered unclean. However, despite all of that, she remained hopeful in the Lord, knowing that if she could just touch His cloak, she would be healed. Jesus came through in the best possible way for her—it wasn’t a doctor that healed her, it was God Himself who came to meet her on the road to heal her directly. She got to be healed through touching the clothes of the Son of the Living God, through letting His loving gaze pierce through her shame, her feelings of being forgotten, invisible, and hated. And I’m sure she would tell us now that the twelve years of waiting were more than worth it for her face-to-face encounter with our Savior.

In today’s first reading, when Jacob wakes up from his dream, he exclaims, “Truly, the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16). The Lord is in your spot, too, whether you realize it or not. He has never abandoned you nor forsaken you. He is in your place, your season, working and active—whether you or waiting or rejoicing, overwhelmed or stuck.

We can place our hope in Him. He has never forgotten you or the wondrous plans He has for your life. He is in this place, and He wants to meet you in it.

“Not for a minute was I forsaken // The Lord is in this place // The Lord is in this place // I’m not enough, unless You come // Will You meet me here again?” –“Here Again” by Elevation Worship

Called to the Light

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“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 9:9–13

There is a well-known painting of the calling of St. Matthew in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, painted by the great Caravaggio. I often used to stop through to see it while I was studying abroad, since it was just around the corner from my school. It sits in a shadowy corner of the church, but when a tourist drops coins into a slot, a light shines upon it for a few minutes. Once it is illuminated, you can see that the painting itself is a stark contrast of light and shadow—a masterpiece of chiaroscuro.

The_Calling_of_Saint_Matthew-Caravaggo_(1599-1600)

Matthew is sitting at a table with his fellow tax collectors, counting money. Jesus, standing at the opposite end of the table, is pointing at Matthew, while Matthew and his companions seem to be caught in utter surprise. One man also points at Matthew in his bewilderment, as if to say, “Who, him? Really?” They are sitting in the shadows, but their faces are illuminated with a clear, brilliant light, coming from Jesus’s direction. And Matthew hangs his head as if caught red-handed, exposed in his sin.

Caravaggio sought to capture this singular, crucial moment, the turning point of Matthew’s whole life. We see Jesus’s mercy, bringing Matthew out of the darkness and into the light, but we also see the stark vulnerability and fear which that light reveals. In this pivotal moment, Matthew had a choice. He could have recoiled and crawled back into the shadows, but he didn’t. Terrifying as it was to leave everything behind and follow this mysterious stranger, he knew that he was not created to lurk in the shadows of a life of corruption and greed. The light of Jesus’s presence made him aware of a yearning within himself for goodness and truth, a long-neglected thirst for transcendent love. He knew that the life he was leading could not quench that thirst but would only deepen it. And so he stood, left everything behind, followed Jesus into the light, and never looked back.

St. Matthew, when we are tempted to seek fulfillment in things other than God and to veil our actions in secrecy, shine a light into our hearts, that we may see clearly the truth of our condition and understand who we were created to be. Give us the courage to loosen our grip on everything that distracts us from our ultimate purpose as children of God, and give us trust in His great mercy, that we may confidently believe that He seeks to heal and restore us, not to condemn us. And, like you, may we follow Him without looking back, telling the story of His merciful love for us all our days.


Image: Caravaggio, The Calling of Saint Matthew / PD-US

Valuing Sacrifice, Not Success

By Father Pier Giorgio Dengler, O.P.
on the Feast of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, July 4, 2019.

What does it take to be great? What is it that the angel of God approved in Abraham’s offering of Isaac? What is the secret of charitable works or the source of blessedness in the Beatitudes? The answer is not in the outcome, but in the offering.

In offering something to God, we consider it as a gift we have received from God and we seek to discover from Him how to best place it at the service of His plan of salvation. This is good news, because anything can be offered—riches or poverty, success or failures, wonders or wounds.

Bl. Pier Giorgio offered much—not just the corporal and spiritual works of mercy among the poor. More than even these, he offered what was most dear to him: his relationships—treasured or tragic. Instead of using his family influence and good name to blow off studies, he knew when to subordinate fun with friends to his student obligations. He even turned down traveling with his friends for hikes if it meant that he would have to miss Sunday Mass. He had to surrender his beloved sister as she left the family and the country to get married, and he held back on pursuing the love of his life when the circumstances of beginning a romantic relationship would spell doom for his own parents’ marriage. He lived the words of St. Paul: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).

PierGiorgioFrassati-PrésentationBl. Pier Giorgio is not famous because he was good-looking or rich, nor because he skied, climbed mountains, or hiked with friends. He wasn’t known for any of his achievements. Rather, we know him because he offered all of those goods to God, along with all of the failures, sorrows, struggles, and sacrifices which came his way (of which he has so many). Bl. Pier Giorgio united all of the elements of his life and times in a consistent litany of personal piety and prayer. Above all, he incorporated everything he had into the universal prayer life of the Church—the liturgy and its source and summit, the Eucharist.

How can we achieve such unity of purpose? A simple prayer provides the outline that Bl. Pier Giorgio personified in his brief but memorable life:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, the reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.

Morning Offering composed by Fr. Francois Xavier Gaulrelet

This prayer truly offers God everything in our day, good and bad. It puts into action the importance of praying for others, seeks the help of our Blessed Mother, and it allies our offerings with our bishops and our Holy Father and thus the most pressing needs of those overseeing the Church itself.

Unity of life means integrating everything that comes our way and everything we aim at to God, lifting it all up in our hearts in the celebration of the Sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist. It means offering everything as a sacrifice, not seeking after showy success. And it means that everything we have to offer—not only our triumphs, but also the pains we suffer, sorrows we endure, and raw deals we receive—has eternal significance and yields a bountiful harvest of grace.