The Rock

Last Christmas a very generous friend gifted me a Know-It-All watch. It knows when I am sleeping, and how well. It knows when I am sitting—and buzzes “Move!” when I do so for too long. It knows my heart rate and will buzz frantically “Abnormal…!”—often during particularly still moments such as the Consecration—assuring that said heart rate will quickly climb even higher.

I keep this omniscient tyrant for two reasons: one is that it alerts me to calls, which is helpful because I frequently forget where I’ve left my phone. The other is that it tracks my steps, motivating me at least in theory to take more of them.

One morning this past spring I was traveling with some friends from college, and we were planning to enjoy a leisurely brunch before heading our separate ways. I decided to take advantage of the hotel treadmill and get my steps in early. I was pleased that by the time we sat down to brunch, I was just 50 steps short of 10,000.

It was worth it. The food was delicious and it was a delight to just relax and enjoy extended conversation. But suddenly, mid-sentence, I felt the familiar bossy buzz and looked down at my watch to see the fireworks going off, signaling that my steps goal had been reached. I was amused and bewildered. How could this be, since I had been sitting for the entire time?

“It’s because you’re Italian,” my friends laughed. “You talk with your hands….”

Today’s Gospel is about speaking with more than words. It is in fact our actions that speak to God most clearly. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, ‘will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven,” Jesus tells His disciples.

Faith is something that we profess not with our mouths but with our lives. By our actions, we build our house on either rock or sand.

At the same time, faith is knowing that it is not by my own strength or power that I do good. Rather, God has made me good and empowers me to choose the good. We are free to say no to what would hinder His will, knowing that it would also hinder our happiness.

Recently I read an article with the rather bizarre assertion that Mary and Jesus could have been just as happy and holy had they told God, “No.”

The author was trying to make a case for the primacy of consent. That at the Annunciation, Our Lady had the freedom to say Yes or No to God’s proposal. This is true: Our Lady was not forced to bear the Son of God. She was invited to be the spouse of the Spirit, the Mother of the Son, but she could have said No. All heaven awaited her answer.

Any man who proposes knows the intensity of such a moment, of held breath, awaiting a reply. No lover worthy of the name would make it a matter of force. She must always have the power to choose.

And yet, with the power to choose comes the power to choose tragically. Mary could have said No. But it would indeed have been a tragedy. Nothing else she could have chosen would ever approximate what God had in store for her. Her empty autonomy could not have been on par with being the mother of the Savior of the world.

Mary, full of the love of God, trusted the goodness of God. She knew He could not and would not propose something that was not good. She knew that whatever He does through us, He also does for us. She was free to respond fully and joyfully, and she did.

We also build our actions on the rock of Christ when we trust His promises, when we choose to say Yes to something (Someone) greater than ourselves. If instead we choose to trust in human ideas, in human strength, in human plans, then we find we have built on sand.

 

The Very Wine of Blessedness

“Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.”
—Psalm 100:1–2

Almost nine months ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates when Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Having journeyed through many liturgical seasons since then, we are now quickly approaching her nativity on September 8. What a day of great joy that must have been for her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, for “a woman’s greatest joy is when she brings a child into the world” (Sheen). What a day of great joy it should still be for us, the beloved children of Mary, though we live in a very different world.

From the start, “the melody of [Mary’s] life [was] played just as it was written,” Fulton Sheen writes. Blessed among women and prepared from conception to receive the Lord, she heard the song of Christ, the very Word of God, and observed it, singing back with all her heart. Her fiat began with the Annunciation, continued in the Visitation, and lasted her whole life, even when her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. As St. Louis de Montfort says, “Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ.” Her own immaculate heart—taken, blessed, broken, and shared with us, much like her son’s—remains perfectly in the sacred heart of her son, the true bridegroom and the new Adam.

Mary is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, chosen by God to be the vessel through which Christ comes into the world. She is “the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy,” Pope Francis writes, as we hear in today’s Gospel. “Her ‘contagious fullness’ helps us overcome the temptation of fear, the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim and even overflowing, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy.” Her joy is already complete in her son, but it overflows to the children given to her at the foot of the cross. She always leads us to her son and longs for us to remain in his love, to bring us home to heaven, so that our joy may be complete in him for all eternity.

The days have come when the bridegroom has been taken away from us. Jesus has ascended into Heaven, Mary has been assumed after him, and we remain here, “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” We fast, we pray, and we long to see the source of our love face to face, even as we adore him in the Blessed Sacrament. For now, our joy, as Lewis describes it, “is never a possession… [it is] always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” But, when we remain with him in silence, pondering these things as Mary did, he sings to us and makes us into new wineskins, ready to receive him and those he sends us. Over time, “[our] hearts, wounded with sweet words, [overflow], and [our] joy [becomes] like swords, and [we pass] in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness” (Tolkien). Our hearts become new creations in Christ, ready at last to pass from death to life.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

 

Reading Suggestions
De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Sheen, The World’s First Love
Tolkien, The Return of the King

Strength in Our Mother

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I recently came across this image of a statue of our Blessed Mother in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, and ever since I stumbled upon it in my Instagram feed, I can’t stop thinking about the beauty of Our Lady here: holding our Lord steady in one arm, her other arm raised in prayerful intercession, worship, and her continual “fiat” to whatever the Lord asks of her.

Today is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. How beautiful that this feast is the day after Pentecost each year. Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Mother of Jesus, is our Mother, too.

We so desperately we need her as the Mother of our Church right now. In times of scandal and darkness, when the war against the culture of death feels like a losing battle, when persecution is happening every day, we need Mom. She knows all the graces we need to get through this life. And she shows us the way.

Mary teaches us about her “fiats,” and invites us to make our own with radical trust in the will of the Lord. She calls us to have a deeper surrender to her Son.

At the Annunciation, Mary’s “fiat” made her the Mother of God. At the foot of the cross, Mary’s “fiat” to allowing her Son to suffer and die made way for the salvation of mankind and also made her the Mother of our Church. The Church would not exist without Mary’s yes.

There’s something to Mary’s “fiat” that cuts to the heart–her yes didn’t make life easy or perfect; her yes brought the cross. But she trusted in God’s goodness enough to know that her yes would also make way for the resurrection. When things didn’t make sense, she trusted. When she was in immense pain at witnessing the suffering of her Son, she trusted. When things don’t make sense in our lives, either, we can trust and say a “fiat” of surrender to the Lord, who shatters all darkness with His light and brings resurrection out of every season of pain, who makes ways through circumstances that seem impossible.

Mary’s “fiat” was one of great strength. She was full of the grace of the Holy Spirit, with radical trust in the Lord, to say yes. Let’s strive to be like her–holding onto Jesus with everything we have, hands raised in surrender to whatever the Lord has for us, knowing that He is good.

When we can’t see the way, when we don’t understand: FIAT. Be it done unto me according to Thy word, because You are good, Lord, and always faithful. Mary, Mother of the Church, we need you. We need your intercession and protection. Pray for our Church, that the Body of Christ may be renewed and strengthened in love for your Son. Amen.

Open Jar

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, friends! Today we remember how Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, identifying herself by saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Mary being conceived without sin allowed her to be totally open, completely receptive to what God wanted to do in and through her. She said “yes” to the Lord at every moment—including His timing. Mary was never rushed; she was totally trusting in when and how God wanted to reveal Himself to her, even in watching her son, the Son of God, be crucified. Mary is like the water jars we hear about in today’s Gospel of the miracle at Cana—she was entirely open to the Spirit, providing the capacity for God to speak. Mary did this in every way—literally in giving of her body to give birth to the Word Incarnate, and spiritually in her receptivity and her fiat, her total surrender to God. And through her surrender, God worked wonders and brought about our salvation. Just like the water was turned into rich wine, God pours out an abundance of grace through her—all she had to do was say yes and provide the open jar of her body and soul for Him to do so.

God calls us to be like those open jars, too. Mary points the way to do this with her model of docility to the will of the Lord, speaking those words to us, as well: “Do whatever He tells you.” What are we willing to allow God to do through us? Where do we sometimes shrink back in fear? Do we stifle or doubt our gifts? God wants to do great things through you—all He needs is your own “fiat” to letting the Holy Spirit work through you.

Lourdes is a beautiful place of countless miraculous healings from the spring of water that welled up when Our Lady first appeared to St. Bernadette. The graces we receive from God flow through her Immaculate Heart, healing us, restoring us, redeeming us, and transforming us to be more like Jesus.

Probably the most beautiful monstrance I have ever seen in Adoration was one with Mary holding up the Eucharist. Mary always leads us to Jesus, holding nothing of herself back from Him, being open and vulnerable. With her as our Mediatrix and Queen, she will not lead us astray. We have such a good Mom. Let her love you, and let her bring you into deeper communion with our Lord’s tender gaze.