Beneath the Starry Mantle

“Do whatever he tells you.”
—John 2:5

On a cold February evening many years ago, a Dominican friar at my university’s parish handed me a copy of True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. As a spiritual father who made our Catholic community feel like a home away from home, he had taken it upon himself to lead us, a ragtag group of college students and community members, through the total consecration to Jesus through Mary. This 33-day period of prayer would culminate on March 25, the Annunciation—the day Christ entrusted himself to Our Lady in her womb.

Our friar explained that this consecration involved formally entrusting ourselves to Our Lady, who would always lead us to her Son. “As in the order of nature a child must have a father and a mother, so likewise in the order of grace, a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his Mother” (The Secret of Mary, 11). Because her heart is so conformed to the heart of Christ, as seen in her fiat, she would be the “safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus,” for “the more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus” (True Devotion, 55, 121). As a tender mother, mama bear, and tiger mom whose own heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow, she would take responsibility for us as her spiritual children and lovingly intercede for us to be formed into little Christs, into the men and women we were called to be.

Over the course of 33 days, we spent time in prayer and penitence, preparing for the season of Lent. Then, we spent time reflecting on ourselves, on Mary, and finally on Jesus. Our friar told us not to get discouraged if we didn’t understand the writing style, to keep going if we missed a day, not to be afraid of loving Mary too much, since we could never love her more than Jesus did (St. Maximilian Kolbe), and to watch out—for if we let her into our lives in this way, she would act! Also, we shouldn’t be too surprised if this path led to the cross—for all hearts longing for Christ are called in some way to the path of thorns and briars to become a little more like his heart, to be able to love with a love a little more like his love. Perhaps we would even wish that we had suffered more as we accepted our crosses, carried them to the heights, and let our own hearts be pierced and poured out for others in a sacrifice of praise. 

The consecration described in this one little volume is beloved by many saints and popes. St. Pope John Paul II says, “The reading of this book was a decisive turning-point in my life. I say ‘turning-point,’ but in fact it was a long inner journey. . . This ‘perfect devotion’ is indispensable to anyone who means to give himself without reserve to Christ and to the work of redemption. . . It is from Montfort [whose own motto was ‘God Alone’] that I have taken my motto: ‘Totus Tuus’ (‘I am all thine’).” It was a turning point in my own life as well, changing the arc of my story both through immediate graces and through deeply-rooted ones I am only just beginning to discover. I am so grateful to that friar for sharing his profound love for Our Lady—and through her, Christ, particularly in the Eucharist—with us.

Today is the day we begin this year’s 33-day period of prayer to entrust ourselves yet again to the spiritual motherhood of Our Lady on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. If you don’t have a copy of the book just yet, you can use these online resources. And if you miss a day, don’t give up! Just take courage, keep going, and keep your eyes on Christ—even if your feet are led to the foot of the cross or if your heart is pierced by a shining sword of sorrow. If you’re unsure or don’t completely understand everything right now, just take a chance, do the consecration anyway, and try not to be afraid to let Our Lady love you and intercede for you. And watch out: for if you let her into your life in this way, she will act!

Perhaps St. Bernard of Clairvaux says it best:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.

So, come—let us run “further up and further in” to Love, to Jesus through Mary, and take the adventure that comes to us under her starry mantle!

Totus Tuus.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to MaryThe Secret of Mary
Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, 33 Days to Morning Glory
Matt Fradd and Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., Marian Consecration with Aquinas
Jackie and Bobby Angel, Consecration to Jesus Through Mary
Total Consecration Text

Spiritual Understanding

It is so easy to look to the apostles for wisdom and understanding. Catholic children are often brought up with those well-known Bible stories where the apostles truly shine and present great examples of faith and trust in the Lord. Not many people choose to focus on the stories of when the apostles truly fell short of those grand expectations we all seem to have placed on them, just because they were the chosen apostles of Jesus Christ. This is the beauty of the Lord’s plan. He chose the lowest of the low from the society of His days on our earth. Why would He do this? For us! If Jesus had chosen highly esteemed people for His followers, we would be doomed to always fall short of God’s expectations. We would be faced with the fate of constantly striving to be the best because God only chose the best. God did not do this; He wanted to give us this hope and faith that every time we fall short, He would still love us for who we are, imperfections and all.

Jesus is calling us to strive and seek to be better, however. He taught His apostles so that through their imperfections, they could rise above their worldly selves and gain spiritual understanding. This Gospel reading is a perfect example of the Lord teaching His apostles and pushing them to achieve wisdom that surpasses the so-called wisdom of this world.

Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
—Mark 8:14–22

Jesus was calling His apostles to step outside the basic way of thinking (we might call it “thinking outside the box”). Whenever Jesus gave them a warning, they only interpreted it based on society’s expectations regarding actual bread. At that point, the apostles really did not understand what Jesus was saying, but they would come to understand. This is how Jesus works with us; He uses everything in our lives to teach us and is always asking us to dive deeper and to pose harder questions. Everything that happens is for a purpose, and if we pay attention, it will lead us to a spiritual understanding that is as great as, if not greater than, the understanding the apostles achieved after Christ’s death on the cross.

Ephphatha!

A baby in the womb, at 18 weeks, can begin to hear noises. At 24 weeks, a baby can detect noise outside the womb and can turn their eyes and head towards the direction of the sound. Can you imagine a tiny human baby in utero searching for your voice as you talk to them from outside the womb? Then after they are born, often between parents there is a fun and friendly competition about whether the baby will say “mama” or “dadda” first. We talk to babies in ranges of voices. We make goofy faces and funny noises. They see us. They listen. And they try to imitate us. They try to speak back to us and eventually they do.

In today’s reading, Jesus heals a deaf man who had a speech impediment. The Gospel of Mark tells us that before Jesus healed this man, he took him away from the crowds of people to be alone. Jesus then “put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue.” Looking up to heaven Jesus groaned and said to the man, “Ephphatha!” and instantly the man was healed.

You will notice that someone who is deaf often times has a speech impediment. This is because they cannot hear their own voice, which affects their ability to speak. Being deaf, they cannot hear other people speak and distinguish speech and dialect. It makes sense that the deaf man in the Gospel had a speech impediment—it’s not that he couldn’t speak but that he couldn’t speak clearly. Jesus was known and sought after for his ability to heal the physical body. Every time he heals the physical body, he also heals the spiritual body.

At one point or another in our lives we were deaf and unable to speak. We couldn’t hear God’s voice nor his commanding Word. We couldn’t hear the Father because something was blocking our ears. As a result we could not speak about the Father, about his love, about his Son, Jesus Christ. What was it that you were doing at that point in your life? What worldly pleasure were you enjoying that made you turn away from God, that closed your ears to his voice? Jesus took the deaf man away from the crowds to heal him—away from the bad influences, away from worldly treasures, away from temptation, away from the indecent culture. Jesus took the man away to a place where is was just the two of them—to a place where the man, with newly opened ears, could freely listen and talk to God.

Let Jesus take you away to a quiet place, free of distractions, where you can listen to him. Let him into your life and allow him to heal you.

Ephphatha! Be opened to God’s love. Be opened to God’s mercy. Be opened to follow God’s Word. Be opened to accept him. And then you can clearly speak God’s truth to others.

Image Credit: [Public Domain] Christ healing a deaf and dumb man by Domenico Maggiotto

Stepping Out of the Boat and… wait, did you say walk on the water?

Sometimes we are called to step out of the boat.

As my husband and I were approaching our wedding day, we would say, “We’re stepping out of the boat together!” In prayer, my husband had had an image of us stepping out of the boat, like St. Peter, walking toward Jesus. We had spent time dating and discerning marriage with each other and had experienced a lot of confirmation that God was calling us to live out the vocation of marriage together. Even in the confidence that this was God’s plan, there was a reality that we didn’t know what our journey as husband and wife would look like. We were stepping out into the ocean of unknown, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, praying that we’d always have the grace to keep our focus on Jesus.

We’ve been married under a year and a half, and this stepping out of the boat theme has continued! Most significantly, we relied on this image as we became parents. Every day as a parent can bring surprises and unknowns and encourages us to be open to the waves or the calm while relying on Jesus’ guidance. It’s an exciting and truly joy-filled adventure.

Currently, my husband and I are in the midst of another “stepping out of the boat” situation, facing some big decisions for our family. And even though there is fear as we look at each other and say, “well…we are stepping out of the boat again,” we have confidence in the Lord, as He has never failed us before. He has proven the power of His guiding hand to each of us, first as single individuals, and now as a couple, over and over again. He calls us out onto the water, where the uncomfortability and risk are apparent, but where we have the choice to stay close to Him… through prayer, through trust in His promises and provision, through His grace and knowing His love for us.

Because we are currently in the midst of a stepping out (or more like jumping out) of the boat season again, there is an uncomfortability as we are asked to step into the unknown and to cling more truly to Christ. Christ calls us. He asks us to follow Him. It may often be uncomfortable and feel risky. It may look very risky from a worldly perspective. But the risk is where God can show up most clearly. He reveals Himself and His power. There is a theme and a refrain through the chapters of Exodus. God is revealing His Divine power to the Egyptians and Israelites. He is revealing who He IS. “…that they may know that I am the Lord” (cf. Exodus 7:5, 14:8, 29:46, emphasis added). We worship the same God. And His actions in our lives reveal who He is. He reveals Himself and His power not only to us, but to those we know. Our lives can point others to God as He calls us and we follow, putting our trust in Him. And so in the middle of the uncomfortable, risky times, preparing to step out into the waters ahead, we must trust His promises and stay focused on Christ. He never fails us.

As we look back, we will see His unmistakable fingerprints in our lives. He always leads us into goodness that we couldn’t have imagined or planned ourselves. This is who our God is. And this is the adventure of life with Christ. Our stability is truly in Him alone. And it’s a stability beyond anything earthly. His promises are true. “Do not be afraid, my child. I am with you wherever you go.” How is He calling you to step out of the boat and place your trust in Him? Whether it is not clear to you right now, or very clear, you can trust that He is with you and guiding you. Let us open our hearts to His Love, listen for His guidance, and follow where He asks us to come. Even if it means stepping out of the boat into the unknown.

The Shepherd

The Lord has a beautiful way of taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Observing this continuous pattern throughout the Bible should bring us great peace and comfort. He always uses the least of us in glorious ways. Consider David in today’s first reading–he was the least of his brothers, not seen or thought of as worthy to be king, even by Samuel, the priest who came to Jesse of Bethlehem to find a king. Samuel looked at each of David’s brothers first, before seeking David.

“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.” —Samuel 16:1–13

David was the humblest of his brothers, and the Lord recognized this. In this world, we all strive to be seen and given recognition. We are upset when passed over for a promotion or a job. We are often left degraded after a break-up, especially if someone else has broken up with us. Siblings often quarrel with each other, trying to get their parents’ attention and when one sibling gets a better deal, the other siblings feel less worthy.

If we allow our lives to be judged based on earthly matters, we will always fall short. It is in the Lord that we receive our true worth for He sees us for everything we are and loves us just that way. The Lord will never judge us as the world does. What the world considers important is not really important at all. David was a shepherd and became king. Jesus was born in a stable and was the Messiah.

It is easy to become lost in the “important” things of the world. The Pharisees in the gospel reading were so focused on the laws the disciples of Jesus were breaking that they could not see who was standing right in front of them. Placing our desires on worldly goods and/or expectations takes us further away from the Lord. Just as the Lord sees us for who we truly are, we must also strive to see the Lord for who He really is.

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath. —Mark 2:28

Look to the Lord in everything you do. He will reveal to you “the way, the truth and the life.”

Praying in the Name of Jesus

There are probably a lot of souls that have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers.

This was the thought that was said almost two years ago during a Frassati Bible study. We were studying the Gospel of John; somehow the conversation went from the topic of healing to the works of St. Augustine, which led to talking about St. Monica because it was her prayers that helped her son’s conversion, then we were talking about the intersession of our heavenly mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the end of that discussion someone said that there were probably a lot of souls which have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers. The entire discussion was led by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the paralytic man who gets up, picks up his mat, and miraculously walks to his home. It’s an incredible and powerful passage in Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ ministry was growing; people had come to know about his preaching and healing. While he was at Peter’s house many went over to see Jesus. So many people went to see him that the house was full—there was no room for anyone else to enter. But there was this group of friends determined to see Jesus. You see, their friend was paralyzed and unable to move, but they fully believed Jesus could heal him. As there was no room for them to enter the house through the front door, they cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered their friend into the room where Jesus was. Can you see the magnitude of their faith? Who knows the distance that they had already traveled while carrying their friend to get to the house? Then they get there, and instead of things being easy, it gets complicated. They are blocked from getting to Jesus, who, they know, can heal. I imagine them talking amongst each other at this point encouraging one another not to lose faith and to keep doing anything possible to get to Jesus. What other way is there to get in? People will not move out of the way, it’s too crowded. We must get him inside to Jesus. He will be able to heal him. You’ve heard of all the wonders and signs he’s done. Let’s get our friend in through the roof. Yes, let’s cut open the roof to get him inside. Yes, let’s do it for our friend, to get him to Jesus!

The paralytic man was healed because of the faith his friends had; he was healed because his friends prayed, believed, and carried him to Jesus Christ. Those are the types of friends we all need. Those are the types of friends we should all be. If your friend is spiritually paralyzed due to the sins in their life, sin that is stopping them from walking on their own towards Jesus—help them. You can be that light that guides them. You can set a good example of how to live a virtuous Christian life. You can pray for them. A prayer is a conversation that your soul has with God.

Prayer, in itself, and the importance of praying for others have taken a very important part in my life. We cannot be like the people in the first reading who thought God wasn’t with them to fight in battle at their side. God is always with us helping us to fight our battles. Wether those battles be spiritual brokenness or physical illness, God is always by our side. When his children cry out, He listens. And I believe He takes delight in listening to the prayers of His children, especially those prayers (that act of love!) where we put our own needs aside and pray for the needs of others; when we pray for someone else to be healed and for them to encounter God’s love. Praying in the name of Jesus is powerful! He commanded the twelve apostles (and in turn commanded us) to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8). God has freely given us these gifts to heal through prayer in His name and, we should freely give these gifts to others—so they may come to know Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, after the paralytic’s friends bring him to Jesus, Jesus heals his soul and his body. The forgiveness of sins heals both the spiritual and the physical. After this miraculous healing the paralytic gets up and walks home—not just to any home, but he takes his first steps of healing amongst those who followed and believed in Jesus, he takes his first steps to walk home into the Church.

Let us give thanks to our devoted grandmothers (or anyone else!) whose prayers brought us to the Church and kept our faith alive. In turn, let us pray for our friends and relatives so they may be healed, in the name of Jesus, and so they may get up and walk home into the Church.

Image Credit: James Tissot (French, 1836–1902) The Palsied Man Let Down Through The Roof, 1886–1896 [Brooklynmuseum.org]

Awakened by the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood

“So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.”

1 John 5:7-8

At church this past Sunday, we stood in line to receive a personal dousing of Holy Water from the priest in renewal of our Baptisms. My baby girl had finally fallen asleep in my arms, but you better believe she awoke when she felt that Holy Water spray her! Luckily, and no doubt in God’s freshly bestowed grace, she fell right back asleep. Earlier during the liturgy, drops of the Precious Blood of Jesus in the Eucharistic form of wine woke her from her slumber as the priest placed them upon her teeny lips. Twice on Sunday she was awoken by sacramental encounters with Jesus. 

If you have never heard of a baby receiving the Eucharist or a communion line-style Baptismal renewal, don’t worry. These traditions were foreign to me a few years ago. They are traditions of the Byzantine Catholic Church. When I met my husband he introduced me to the Byzantine Rite, an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church in full union with the Pope and the Roman, or Latin, Rite of Catholicism. While the Roman Catholic Church will celebrate Jesus’ Baptism this coming Sunday, we celebrated it last week in the Byzantine Church. In both rites of the Church, especially through the Sacraments, we encounter the Spirit, the water, and the Blood John speaks of in today’s first reading

Some of us may be familiar with this standard definition of a Sacrament: “an outward sign of an inward grace” instituted by Christ Himself. Indeed, the sacraments are physical realities in which we encounter the living Christ and His Holy Spirit. In the three Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist, we encounter the water, the Spirit, and the Blood of 1 John 5. (NOTE: In the Eastern Tradition, babies and children entering the church receive the three sacraments of initiation at the same time. Yes, even the youngest, the baby Byzantines, receive a drop of the Precious Blood of Jesus on their lips. This explains why my baby had been awoken by the Eucharist on her lips in church this past Sunday.)

The waters of our Baptism, through God’s grace, signify that we have become His precious son or daughter. The Holy Chrism, or oil, of our Confirmation or Chrismation, is the sign that communicates the seal of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit which were made ours through our Baptism. The Precious Body and Blood of Jesus present in the Eucharist unite us more fully to Him and allow us to enter into the Mystery of the Cross. We are members of a Church that makes the spiritual realities of the faith tangible. We actively participate in these Sacraments to signify our spiritual relationship with the Living Son of God. John’s words in the first reading are a call to action, a call to live out our faith in Christ. The Sacraments of Initiation provide our initial encounters with this Spirit, this water, and this Blood of Jesus. 

The Gospel shows us how this call moves outside the sanctuary of the Church to the world beyond Her walls. Jesus’ healing of a leper reminds us of the cleansing He has imparted on our own souls — and how we can now be His hands and feet to impart this on others. See, we have been healed by Christ not only for our own sake, but also for the building up of the Kingdom. We have been sacramentally initiated, welcomed into the family of the Church by our good Father through His Son Jesus and His Holy Spirit. This is why celebrating His Baptism every year, renewing our baptismal promises, and being doused anew with the waters of the Spirit is so important for our spiritual life. Each week we are nourished by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. God provides us with the grace we need to share our own healing with others, so that they may know that they are loved by God in this same way, and may be invited into His healing love. Most of us are in a continual process of healing of whatever forms of “leprosy” we are sick with — the Divine Healer continues to heal, cleanse, and purify us. Though even as we are in the process of deeper healing, He wants to use us to bring the people we encounter into His healing Love.

May we all be awoken by the drops of Holy Water that land on our faces and by the drops of Jesus’ Precious Blood that touch our lips. His Spirit is alive and well and among us. In fact, it dwells within us. Let us ask Him how He wants us to share the Spirit, the water, and the Blood that we’ve been so blessed to encounter.