Mary always wins.

“The rosary is a long chain that links heaven and earth.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

Mary is with us. The rosary is a powerful, powerful weapon against the attacks of the evil one.

I love Our Lady and I love my rosary, because my grandpa made it for me when I received my First Communion. I carry it with me everywhere–it sits out wherever I’m with my youth ministry teens, I hold it when I’m giving a talk or leading worship, I have it by my laptop when I have a grad assignment to do, and it sits by my pillow every single night. It’s a constant reminder of Mary’s protection and just how much I need her Son.

Though I will admit I’m not the best at praying it as often as I should, just having my rosary there is like having Mom with me. Holding the rosary is like holding the hand of Mary, and she always leads us to Jesus.

I feel like sometimes the devil tries to distort the rosary to seem monotonous or boring because he’s afraid of just how powerful a weapon it is. In difficult moments, or moments where I feel lost, I notice myself instinctively grabbing my rosary to pray, and there is always peace. When we find ourselves too weak to call out to Jesus, Mary does it for us, with so much love in her heart.

Mary is our fierce warrior Queen, fighting for us because she wants more than anything for us to know the love of her Son and to be with Him in Heaven forever. We put her Son on the Cross, and she chooses us anyway because He chooses us.

Over the summer, I heard a story of a priest who is an exorcist. While he was praying to cast out a demon, he noticed that the demon got agitated every time he called for the intercession of Mary. When the priest asked the demon why this was, it responded, “Because Mary always wins.”

Amen, friends. Mary always wins. And as St. Maximilian Kolbe said, we don’t have to be afraid of loving her too much, because we will never be able to love her more than Jesus.

Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, friends! Let’s ask for Mary’s intercession today to help us find Jesus in whatever we need.

For a beautiful reflection on Mary’s motherhood, check out this song.

He’s Jealous for You

“Thus says the LORD of hosts:
I am intensely jealous for Zion,
stirred to jealous wrath for her.” -Zechariah 8:2

God wants your heart with such an intense ferocity.

He always has. He always will. On the cross, when He said “I thirst,” He was thirsting for you.

Today’s first reading and some popular worship songs describe God’s love as jealous or reckless. Some people argue against that and say, “No, that can’t be possible. That doesn’t sound like God’s love.” But the truth is that it is indeed the reality of this wild love of the Lord for us that is so far beyond our comprehension. To us, it seems reckless, but to Him, it’s exactly how things are supposed to be. God is love and mercy itself, poured out fully and freely without ever counting the cost.

Jesus just gives, and gives, and gives some more. He loves, and loves, and loves…forever. In every moment.

Jesus’ love is jealous and reckless because He took on human flesh to show us the Father’s love. He made Himself an outcast so we could be set free. Through His death and resurrection, He ripped open Heaven because He wants to be with us forever. He puts His whole self in the bread of the Eucharist so we can receive Him and adore Him.

Jesus knows we sin. He knows we mess up over and over again. He knows some people turn away and never come back. He knows some people hate Him. Yet He gives, and gives, and gives. And He loves, and loves, and loves.

Can we open our hearts to receive the extent of Jesus’ jealous, longing cry to love us? Can we declare our love and longing for Him in response?

He loves you so. He wants you all for Himself.

Amen and amen!

Our Identity In Christ

Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.” – Luke 9:20

In today’s Gospel Peter confesses his faith by saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one by God. This is the first time in the Gospel which a human on his own has the insight to KNOW that Jesus is Christ. In first-century Palestine, this declaration was a very big deal. For years and years and years, Israel has been waiting for the Messiah, the one anointed by God to come and save them. Earlier in his ministry (look at yesterday’s reflection) people were confused by Jesus’ identity, thinking he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet. But Peter, in an intimate moment, clearly and definitively states that Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Christ. The new David that Israel has so earnestly been waiting for.

We declare our own confession of faith when we recite in the creed, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Frassati retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Called by Name.” A name is important. We fill out forms with our names. We wear name tags with our names. We write cards and letters and sign them with our names. Our names are special. Just as the name Jesus is special. There is power in a name. Just as the name of Jesus is powerful.

Throughout the retreat I was attentive to hear God call me by name, Mariela. And in hearing him say my name I was reminded of my identity. I am a child of God. Sometimes the world may confuse our identity, as the crowds had earlier been confused by Jesus’ true identity. The world may perceive us in such a way that they may neglect our feelings, deny our dignity, or make us feel less than welcomed. They do not know us. Our true identity is being a child of God.

After Peter speaks Jesus’ true identity, Jesus tells the disciples that he has to suffer, be rejected, be killed and then he will rise on the third day. This is the first time that Jesus mentions his death, telling of the extreme and necessary means by which he would fulfill God’s will. Explaining how he is a different type of Messiah.

In the creed, we confess truth to his Passion when we say, “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection is part of his mission. The mission of the Messiah was much more than to be a military figure that would bring Israel out of Roman authority; Jesus’ mission is to save souls. The Catholic Church, the Church Jesus built—its mission is to save souls. You and I are a part of that mission.

Believing in Jesus’ name, in his identity, in his mission, is at the same time believing and trusting in God’s plan. If we were to ask God the same question Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”—and let’s be real, we have asked that question every time we have lost our way, every time we wanted to feel loved and desired, every time we wanted to feel like we mattered—God would easily answer us by saying, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). God the Father would not leave his children out of his plan!

When we know with confidence who Jesus is, as Peter knew that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we must also be confident in who we are. Our names are delicately engraved in the palms of God’s hands, and upon hearing him say our names, we should be reminded and reaffirmed of our own identity in Christ.

Suggested listening: Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship

Image Credit: Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter [Public Domain]

In the Folds of His Mercy

O inconceivable and unfathomable Mercy of God,
Who can worthily adore you and sing your praises?
O greatest attribute of God Almighty,
You are the sweet hope of sinners.
—The Diary of St. Faustina

One of the largest thorns in the crown of Jesus is the distrust of souls, a lack of trust first sown when Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt God’s steadfast love for them. Unable to see or understand the plans of their father, they grasped at a way to protect themselves, hardening their hearts. This original lack of faith was passed on through salvation history, as we see in today’s readings. In the first reading, the Israelites panic when they cannot see any water in the desert and seem to forget how God had just led them out of slavery. Even Moses comes to a breaking point as their leader. In the Gospel, Peter recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, the living water, but even he resists God’s plan when he cannot understand why Jesus will have to suffer.

Still, this “truly necessary sin of Adam” sparked the greatest story ever told: the story of redemption and merciful love. God did not give up on the grumbling Israelites, who were stuck in their own circle of misery, or on Peter, who later abandoned Christ during the passion and was left in bitter tears. As Robert Stackpole, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, writes, “Saint Thomas Aquinas defined mercy in general as ‘the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him’ (ST II-II.30.1). Divine Mercy, therefore, is the form that God’s eternal love takes when He reaches out to us in the midst of our need and our brokenness. Whatever the nature of our need or our misery might be—sin, guilt, suffering, or death—He is always ready to pour out His merciful, compassionate love for us, to help in time of need.”

St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, and whose feast we celebrate today, poured out his life to show people the truth of the love of God as our merciful father. He had a great love for souls, for the suffering Christ, for the doctrines of the Church, for Mary, and especially for the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, and relied on Divine Providence, even when he could not see or understand what God’s plans were. He was known to be moved to tears of contrition and love in the presence of the Eucharist, overwhelmed by this ultimate sign of God’s mercy. He was filled with sorrow for his own sin and an intense longing for others to come home to the love of God, which came through in his joyful, indefatigable preaching and in the love and kindness with which he cared for all he encountered. Instead of hardening his heart, he allowed it to be broken and shared it willingly.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P., puts it best: “Whilst he thus laboured to make his own soul pleasing to God, the fire of divine love was daily more and more enkindled in his breast, and he was consumed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of infidels and sinners. To move the divine mercy to regard them with pity, he spent often whole nights in the church at prayer, watering the steps of the altar with abundance of tears, in which he was heard to sigh and groan before the Father of mercy, in the earnestness and deep affliction of his heart; never ceasing to beg with the greatest ardor, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ.”

Is it any wonder that St. Dominic had a special, ardent love for Mary, considering that her trust in God’s love is meant to counter the distrust of Eve, and that she also longs to lead us to Jesus, her Son, the new Adam? As the Nashville Dominicans note, “His life, his work, his Order were placed under her protection, and he invoked her in every difficulty and danger… The Blessed Mother filled him with heavenly favors, watched over him with motherly care, and gave him the habit of his Order. A tradition cherished in his Order… ascribes to him the first teaching of devotion to the recitation of the Rosary. His disciples were called ‘Friars of Mary,’ and have carried her Rosary and scapular to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

St. Dominic wasn’t just known for his tears, for his lifetime of studying, and for his preaching: he was also known for his joy. Just as Mary burst into song with her Magnificat, St. Dominic sang, even in the midst of darkness. Since he knew God as his merciful, loving father, how could his heart not overflow? Let us then follow their example, as the psalmist says today, and “sing joyfully to the Lord.” Light of the Church, teacher of Truth, rose of patience, ivory of chastity. You freely poured forth the waters of wisdom. Preacher of grace, unite us with the blessed. St. Dominic, pray for us! Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Fr. Guy Bedouelle, O.P., In the Image of St. Dominic
Kentucky Thomism podcast, The Tears of Dominic
St. Dominic novena
St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia
Robert Stackpole, What Does Divine Mercy Actually Mean?

Honest to God

Years ago, I was struggling in my faith, longing for the experience of God that others seemed to have but that was lacking in my life despite years of Catholic practice.  I knew by faith that God was there the way one knows that the sun is there, even on a cloudy day when it is completely hidden–I knew that He had to be there, but I couldn’t feel any warmth or light or personal sign of His Presence. As my desire to encounter Him grew (I did not then know that this was a good sign of His already working in my life!) I became more and more frustrated and depressed, and so sought out spiritual direction.

“You need to talk with God about why you are angry with him.”

“What!?!” I spluttered indignantly. “I am not angry with God! What are you talking about?” I was trying hard to be a good Catholic girl. How could he accuse me of harboring anger towards God?

Only I was.

It was not a conscious anger, but rather a series of defensive walls I had built up to lock away those parts of my life that were troublesome or unholy—unhealed wounds, moral failings, pain and emptiness and frustration that I “knew” were not godly.

In practice I limited prayer to polite praise and petition, like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady who was constrained to converse only about “the weather and your health.” It didn’t go well for either of us! My prayer life was so limited that it barely continued.

Later as I sat there alone, I felt my frustrations welling up within me, years of waiting and feeling abandoned came rushing out in tears.

Then I began to talk to God not as I thought I ought to, borrowing prayers above my pay grade to express pious ambitions I never actually felt, but telling Him what I really thought.

There are not adequate words to express certain things that we default to in clichés as “life-changing,” but from that moment things began to change. Later on, l learned that we must “pray as we can, not as we can’t” and that honesty with God is the first step. If we want to know that God is real, we must start by being “real” with Him.

Saint Martha, whose feast we celebrate today, is a beautiful icon of what it means to pray “for real.”

When we first meet Martha, she is “burdened by much serving” and “anxious about many things.” But rather than stewing in secret resentment, she brings her concerns to Jesus, asking directly, “Lord, do you not care…?”

The Lord, rather than being bothered by her protest, calls to her by name, twice: “Martha, Martha…!” Yet He calls her to the higher life, “One thing is required…” He does not take away her burden by demanding her sister help. Rather, He invites Martha to surrender the anxiety of her work by placing it in the context of prayer, of relationship with Him. This will include also making time to sit with Him, be with Him.

The second Gospel story involving Martha includes one of the most fascinating lines in Scripture: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days…”

Because he loved Martha, he waited. Meanwhile, Lazarus dies. The heart of Martha, whom Jesus loves, is broken. Why does Jesus do this? Mysteriously, this is for her sake.

“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died!” Martha confronts the One who loves her.

Jesus wants her to bring Him her pain, her anger, her fears. For Jesus knows, that when we bring these things into dialog with Him, when we allow Him into the dark spaces, the graves within our hearts, He will bring new life.

Martha also needs resurrection, healing.

I have come to believe that you are the Christ.” Martha has changed since we last saw her. She has received His rebuke, His invitation to the better part, and has grown. Now as she brings her grief and anger to Jesus, He invites her to hope in His power to bring good, even in a situation that looks hopeless. “I AM the resurrection and the life.” It is not merely what He will do; it is what He is.

He doesn’t merely stand outside her grief and anger but joins her in it. Outside the tomb, Jesus weeps.

There is a tragic lie that sometimes circulates in Christian circles, that our emotions are not holy, that anger (the emotion) is not good. But we see Jesus himself becoming angry. We see him “deeply troubled.” He is not okay with death. We must not rush too quickly past our pain, as if it doesn’t matter, as if, like Lazarus, it is to be buried.

When we bring our emotions to Jesus, He will recognize them and then purify them.

 

Josef_ml._Bergler_1753-1829_-_Pecliva_Marta_-_Usluzna_Marta

Image Credit: Joseph Bergler the Younger [Public domain]

The Words of Everlasting Life

Today’s readings provide a great opportunity for us to reflect on God’s Word. We read one of Scripture’s most well-known teachings, the Ten Commandments. Perhaps because this ancient Law of God is so familiar, it can be easy to gloss over the reading and not give it much thought. The psalm and Gospel, however, gently guide us back to this very familiar passage of commandments and remind us the danger of taking these fundamental words of the Lord for granted. 

‘Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.’ (John 6:68) 

In God’s gift of this law to the ancient Israelites, the ten commandments, he gave the gift of everlasting life. His Law outlined a way of life radically different from that of the world. He gave them guidelines that would help them live lives that looked different from the rest of the ancient world, lives centered around the one true God and informed by His love, peace, and mercy. These very same commandments of God have the same effect on our Christian lives today. Let’s quickly think about a couple of them… Though worshipping idols today may look different than it did for the ancient Israelites, we are tempted daily to worship false idols – money, social media, career or academic success, etc. Even inherently good things can easily become idols when we begin to place their value above the Lord’s. Another of God’s commandments, our commitment to keeping the Sabbath, to spending quality time each week at rest, can be easily threatened by our busy schedules and many commitments. How often do we truly have time to rest and soak in the goodness of the Lord? Even by beginning to explore these two commandments, we can see how God meant these not as rules to restrict us, but as guidelines to help us flourish and find peace and joy. God teaches us how to center our lives around Him which ultimately brings freedom, peace and joy.

I am grateful for today’s psalm and Gospel because those readings encouraged me to go back to the first reading and really try to open my heart to God’s Ten Commandments anew. I began to realize that my heart was not quite the rich soil that Jesus asks us to be in His parable of the sower. We need His grace and Holy Spirit to enrich the soil of our hearts, that His Word, no matter how familiar we think we are with it, may be planted more firmly and flower more richly than it has in the past. God’s Word is alive and it will flower more and more beautifully as we allow God to till that soil in our hearts. I encourage you to prayerfully think through the Ten Commandments to understand them on a truer and deeper level than you did when you first learned them. (This is the joy and beauty of a living faith! We can always grow deeper in our understanding of our Lord and our faith.) Lord, give us the grace to be open to receiving your words of everlasting life.

Today we celebrate Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of our Blessed Mother Mary. I imagine this saintly married couple must have had hearts of rich soil, ready to receive the life-giving words of the Lord and live their lives according to His words. Generationally, they passed down a love of Scripture to their daughter Mary, who not only bore the words of Scripture on her heart, she literally bore the Word of God himself, Jesus. And in this reality of Mary’s extraordinary human experience, we can come to grasp a beautiful truth. Scripture is not just meant to be read or heard, but to be lived. Joachim, Anne, and Mary (in a unique way) knew the words of Scripture and allowed those words to live and dwell in their hearts, and thus be made manifest through their lives. This is what it looks like to be a man or woman of faith, to live differently than the rest of the world.

The ten commandments of God are the foundation of His Word. Our Lord Jesus Christ came not to abolish this foundational law but to fulfill it, and exemplified how to live it. In their humble and ordinary vocation of marriage and parenthood, Saints Joachim and Anne each lived an extraordinary existence. They lived out their faith, open to God’s mission for their lives. Through their cultivation of God’s word in their hearts and lives, God brought forth the Word made flesh through their daughter Mary. God wants to bring forth the living Word, Jesus Christ, through each of our lives.

Saints Joachim and Anne, we remember your lives of faith in a special way today. Pray for us, that we may have hearts open to God’s Word, so that Jesus himself may be manifest to others through our lives. Pray for those of us who are called to the vocation of marriage, as well as those called to parenthood, for the grace to live out these calls faithfully. And pray for each of us, that we may be open to God’s Word anew… that our hearts may become like rich soil, ready to receive the Word, understand it and live it, so that our lives may bear beautiful fruit for your glory! Amen.

Living the Ellipses

“Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can.” God invites Abram to faith in today’s First Reading. We’ve all marveled at the night sky, contemplating its vastness and the twinkling of bodies light-years away. But some scholars suggest that it may have been daytime when God directs this upward gaze. Did Abram looking up see the stars with his eyes, or only with memory and faith? In any case, he is asked to envision a promise of progeny too numerous to be counted.

Only Abram has no son. Not even one. So he must wait on a promise.

He waits and waits, and he must have wearied of waiting. For Genesis recounts how Sarah, infertile, offers him her maid Hagar for childbearing purposes. Abraham “listens to the voice” of Sarah, notes Father Anthony Giambrone, a clue that this is not the voice of God, to be listened to with faith1. But Abraham becomes a father to Ishmael. When Abraham asks that Ishmael be the promised son, God reiterates that Abraham will have a son through Sarah, a child of their marriage. Isaac is named laughter because that is Sarah’s reaction.

But let us stop for a moment, to revisit the waiting years. What takes only paragraphs to recount, is a story of waiting more than twenty-five years, fifteen before Ishmael, ten more before Isaac.

What?

For twenty-five years Abraham is schooled in faith. In trust. In waiting on God.

In filmmaking this is known as ellipsis—the merciful passing over the monotonous by skipping from one scene to another much later. Years of sameness, of routine, of waiting, are skipped with a simple slugline: “Twenty-five years later…” We needn’t slog through the tedium of in-between.

But real life, real holiness, is lived in the ellipses.

Hillsong’s recent release Highlands (Song of Ascent), speaks of finding God not only on the mountain but in the valleys and the shadows. “I will praise you on the mountains…I will praise you when the mountain’s in my way.” While we would scale any mountain to find God, He is closer than we think, as the song reminds us, “in the highlands and the heartache all the same.”

We are reminded to find God in the peaks and the valleys, to “sing in the shadows our song of ascent.” For many of us, however, the hardest part is not so much the mountains or valleys, but rather the plain. Plain as in flat, going nowhere, and plain as in boring. Nothing interesting or exciting. No obvious meaning or mission.

Abraham became our father in faith not just in a heroic moment with Isaac on Mount Moriah. He became our father in faith in the years of ellipses when nothing notable happened. When it seemed God was asking nothing, doing nothing.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá, whose feast we celebrate today, preached about sanctifying the everyday. Like Saint Therese, he realized that the making of saints was not in the mountains but in the mundane. Offering little things to God. Offering the littleness that is us.

Josemaría challenges us to offer the material of daily life: the office grind, the homemaker’s chores, everything from our conversations to our recreation to our family or community life. Something as simple as filing papers, done well and with love, becomes an offering to God.

We often think of saints as those who did great things for God, and certainly we can find many heroes among them. But so many were ordinary people in whom God was allowed to do great things, sanctifying simple work and waiting in the ellipses.

Even Our Lady, now Queen of the Universe, was not asked to do anything of itself out of the ordinary. She was asked to bear and raise a Child. Joseph, her husband, was told by an angel to take her into his home. She was not asked to go out, to preach, to sacrifice her own life as a martyr, or to start a new blog or brand. Her tasks were those of an ordinary woman of her time. What is extraordinary is that she did them with a total yes.

Jesus, too, lived the ellipses. For thirty years, He lived a quiet life of obedience, a life so outwardly unremarkable that when He began His public ministry, even His own relatives thought He was mentally ill. Offended onlookers from His hometown said, “Isn’t that the son of Joseph, the carpenter?”

It is this Jesus who today walks with us, in the tedium and trials of the plains, inviting us to join Our Lady in a Song of Assent.

Milky Way for Ellipses


Notes:

1Giambrone O.P., Anthony. “Forbidden Fruit and the Fruit of Faith.” Magnificat. June 2019: pp.403-404. Print.

Featured Image: Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash