A Rose from Our Lady

To listen to the song while reflecting on these words inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe, please click here.

Dry your eyes; calm your fears.
Look up and see; yes, I am here.
You’ve come so far, and you’re not alone.
Just take that step—one shaking step—
And know that I’m leading you home,
Because:

I am your mother, do not be afraid.
I am your mother, are you not my own?
You are my loved one, I’ll lead you to my Son.
You are my loved one—safe in the storms,
I’ll keep you warm in the folds of my mantle,
The crossing of my arms.
What else do you need?

Just wait for Him, just wait for Him, just wait for Him now.
Seven more days, in the house of healing: take courage, my dear one.
Be satisfied—oh, be satisfied! He’s the destination of your whole life.
Let Him love you—oh, let Him love you! Fall in love, stay in love.
Let Me love you—oh, let Me love you, and heal your precious heart.
So know that:

I am your Father, do not be afraid.
I am your Father, are you not my own?
You are my loved one, I’ve given you my Son.
Rest in my Spirit—saved from the storms,
You’re in my arms, in the folds of my Mercy,
The Cross shows I have won.
What else do you need?
What else do you need?
What else do you need?

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Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. St. Joseph, pray for us. Amen.

Music & lyrics © 2017

Our Lady, Our Mother

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
Vita, Dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.

—Excerpt of Salve Regina (Latin text)

What a blessed Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God! And it’s the 8th day of Christmastide! And of course, I hope you all have a wonderful and happy new year! On this holy day of obligation, we take a moment as we start our new year to honor our Blessed Mother, who in her “yes!” to God brought the Savior into the world to redeem us. 

What, however, is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God? Pope Saint Paul VI says, in his apostolic letter, Marialis Cultus, that, “This celebration, placed on January 1… is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the ‘holy Mother…through whom we were found worthy to receive the Author of life’” (§5). 

Isn’t that so beautiful? Speaking from personal experience, asking for intercession from Our Lady, and praying the Rosary, contributed in bringing me back to Our Lord. Whenever one of my non-religious friends would remark that women didn’t have much of a part to play in salvation history, I always point to Our Lady and remark, “The greatest saint in history was, and still is, a woman who trusted Our Lord and bore the very Incarnation of Hope itself. There’s a reason why the Devil fears Our Lady and the Rosary so much.” Before I get back to Our Lady, you’ll have to allow me one digression about fatherhood. I promise I’ll get to my larger point. 

Some of you know this, but I’m not particularly close to my earthly father; my mother and father separated when I was very young and he wasn’t very involved in my upbringing. My father doesn’t live in America anymore, and hasn’t for 15 years, and getting a hold of him is a both a difficult, and awkward affair. I grew up without a father and it left a very large hole in my heart for many years. In my adolescence, my mother was often told she was doing “two jobs” by being a mother and a father; Rightly so, my mother remarked that’s simply not true. (Complementarity exists for a reason!) 

Suffice to say, for a very long time, I discovered that this absence of my father had, in fact, created a very large God-shaped hole in my heart. My not being being able to rely on my earthly dad subconsciously translated into difficulty in trusting in God. This dad-shaped hole, in fact, contributed to my lack of trust in The Father in my prayer life for many years. (I came to this realization many years later. Addressing your wounds through prayer, Eucharistic adoration, the mass, good Christ-centered fellowship, and via a good therapist or Catholic therapist is extraordinarily important.) Indeed, as St. Augustine once remarked in his Confessions that, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” It was no accident that one of the themes for one of our Frassati retreats several years ago, during the spring of 2016, was called “Rest for the Restless.”

I became a re-revert to the Church in late 2014. I give myself this term because I came back to the Church in 2009, fell away in 2011, and came back again in late 2014 with the help of the Frassati Fellowship. One of the things I had to teach myself upon becoming a practicing Catholic again was re-learning how to pray and how to trust. I didn’t go to Catholic school; I simply received the sacraments vis-à-vis an after school program for children. On the home front, in my youth, my mother didn’t take her faith very seriously so much of what I was being taught wasn’t really staying in my head. I had little to no Catholic friends growing up. When I came back to the Church five years ago, it felt like I had been transported to a video game produced in the 1980’s. You may know those older ones, like the ones on NES. Some of them had punishingly hard difficulty.  If you lost all of your lives, you wouldn’t continue at the beginning of a level, you’d have to start all over from the very beginning of the game. That’s how I felt, a sort of, “Now what? Everyone knows so much about their faith. I know so little. I feel alone.” Of course, I wasn’t actually alone: Christ was there. But so was Our Lady.

I mentioned that I had difficulty appealing to God in prayer in my younger years because of my own dad-shaped hole. Then I thought about Our Lady and the Rosary. Our Lady doesn’t often speak in the bible, but it’s noteworthy that the very last time she does speak in the gospels, it’s at the Wedding at Cana. The last recorded utterance of Our Lady in the gospels is when she tells the wedding servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). I then thought, “Well, I’m having difficulty going to Our Lord, so I’ll appeal to Our Lady in the hopes I’ll grow closer to Him.” And that’s exactly what happened. As Our Lady led the servants to Our Lord then and appealed to them to listen to Him, Our Lady subsequently did the same with me. Our Lady isn’t just the mother of Christ, but she’s our mom too. And what a wonderful mother she is!  Suffice to say, Our Lady holds a special place in my heart. After so many years away from Our Lord, Our Lady played a part in my own story of coming back to Christ. Now as a Lay Dominican, years later, the significance is all the more palpable: Church history says that Our Lady gave St. Dominic the Rosary! 

Today’s feast is a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus.  The title “Mother of God” comes from the Greek Theotokos, which means “God-bearer.”  On this day, we are reminded of the role that Our Lady played in the plan of our salvation. I know that she certainly played a role in mine. Our Lady does in yours, too. Christ’s birth was made possible by Mary’s fiat, or sanctioning of God’s plan with her words, “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).  Calling Mary “Mother of God” is the highest honor any of us can give to her. Just as Christmas honors Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God honors Mary as the “Queen of Peace.” As we begin another year, we draw inspiration from the selfless love of the Theotokos, who never hesitated to do the will of God. And we trust in her prayers to God for us, that we might, as the years pass, become more like her. And that we may listen to Our Lord and go to Him. O Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Optional Side note: Some of you may heard of something called Marian Consecration. (It’s really a consecration to Jesus through Mary.) It’s too long to discuss this at length here, but I consecrated myself to Our Lady several years later, in 2017 for the first time. Suffice to say, I was missing out! I myself am doing it again, and I started it again on Christmas. By doing so, you will be placing yourself under the mantle of Mary’s protective care as the Immaculate Conception, Mother of the Church, and Mediatrix of All Graces. I humbly implore you to look into that if you haven’t. It will give you so many graces.

References:

Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 1974.

Marian Consecration Links:

Starting out: 

If you’re looking for something more:

 

Her Immaculate Heart Beats for Us

“My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and your safe path to God.” –Our Lady of Fatima

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! Today we rejoice in the grace Mary was given to be conceived without sin, so that she could give herself fully to being the Mother of the Son of God, and in turn, our Mother (CCC 494). In the moment she came to life in St. Anne’s womb, she was “full of grace,” becoming the beautiful vessel through which God’s grace could flow for you and for me (Luke 1:28).

Mary’s Immaculate Conception doesn’t make her unrelatable or distant; no, she is very near! She is our loving Mother—always there, always guiding us to her Son. When we are in need, we can run to our Mom and find security in the comforting folds of her mantle. Like a good Mother, she holds us in her arms, snuggled against her Immaculate Heart. If we listen closely, we will hear the heartbeat of her Son Jesus in each beat of her Immaculate Heart.

Thanks to Mary’s Immaculate Conception, she was able to make her courageous fiat to being the Mother of our Savior—and in this, we gain a Mother, too. Mary’s gentle, pure, courageous, trusting, fierce heart beats for you, with the ache of wanting you to know her Son’s love and mercy.

Mary’s heart was wounded (Luke 2:35), and she knows your pain. Though she was without sin, her life was one of trials, unknowns, grief, and heartache. But she rose up and said another fiat in each moment. She surrendered her whole self to the Lord, even when it didn’t make sense and she couldn’t see the way. Mary, being full of grace, never lost hope and never lost her great joy in the Lord. May she help us to do the same.

You are safe and held in her Immaculate Heart. Mary will never fail to bring you to Jesus, carrying you in her motherly arms into the arms of our Savior.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!

Here is a beautiful song honoring our beautiful Mother!

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.

 

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.

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

Dressing for a Wedding

Inevitably, among the daily news about politics and sports and celebrity break-ups and make-ups, there is at least one big post about fashion. In particular, whenever there is a star-studded event, be it the Oscars or Met Gala or somebody’s sixth wedding, we are treated to a slideshow of who wore what, who wore it better, fashion faux-pas and beautiful bodies wearing anything or almost nothing.

There must be quite a fan base for fashion news. I would not, however, expect God to be among those keeping track of wedding guest attire. And yet, in today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the wedding garment. A man shows up at a wedding improperly attired. His punishment is not merely goggling or gossip, but being cast out—“into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

If there is one thing decidedly not in fashion it is Hell. And that God would send someone there for a failure to keep a dress code is more shocking than what the starlets aren’t wearing. What is going on?

When I was young I hated today’s Gospel. If todays’ feast, the Queenship of Mary, highlights the beauty of the faith, the story of the poor slob kicked out in the darkness of Hell seems to be representative of its ugliness. It seems unfair that being underdressed, even for a wedding, could warrant damnation. What kind of a God do we worship?

It was only later that I learned about first-century customs underlying today’s story. Guests who arrived a royal wedding were given the garments necessary for that wedding. The king knew that his subjects could never afford fitting attire, could not produce the appropriate festive garments on their own. And so the king himself provided them.

The man in the story was guilty of refusing a gift. He preferred to cover himself. Why? Was he like the Pharisee, who tried to justify himself with good works? Like Adam and Eve, who tried to hide nakedness with fig leaves? Or just like a regular old sinner who doesn’t think that he is that dirty?

The garment symbolizes sanctifying grace. “Nothing unclean can enter heaven.” In order to be happy in heaven with God, we need to be purified, to be in His grace.

Grace by definition is not something that we can achieve on our own; it is pure gift. We receive this gift at baptism, often as babies, when even the choice is made for us. If we forfeit it through mortal sin, God offers us restoration in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He continues to provide us with the grace to resist sin, and to repent when we fail. It is however up to us to choose to accept this gift, to put on the garment that He offers us.

The feast of the Queenship of Mary highlights this gift, and the goodness of God. It is His delight to share His glory with us! This is pure gift. Mary was not filled with grace on her own. She was saved, as we all are, through her Son. She could not have conceived Jesus by sheer willpower. (Couples who struggle with infertility can attest that even a purely human pregnancy cannot be achieved by willpower alone).

Yet here is a little Jewish girl chosen out of all women to be the Mother of God, and now enthroned as Queen of the entire universe. What did God ask of her? Her assent. She says yes to letting God clothe her, lead her, choose her destiny. The destiny that seemed so humble while she lived on earth became something beyond the wildest of human imaginings and aspirations.

Today God asks of us a yes. To put off the shabby rags of our sinfulness, to take on His robes of righteousness. These robes won’t merit a spread in the fashion pages. We are dressing not for today’s news but for a wedding in eternity.

Vincent_Malo_-_Wedding Guest Resized

Featured Image: Vincent Malo [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons