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

His Own Mother

We were walking home from church when four-year-old Lucy suddenly stopped in her tracks, incredulous. “Wait…you mean God made His own Mother?!?”

The mystery of Mary is not just something to startle four-year-olds. Reflecting on Mary highlights the truth of the Incarnation, and the glorious plan of God.

The Maker of the Universe entered that Universe in the smallest way possible, as a single cell, hidden in the womb of a young girl in a small town itself almost unknown.

God could have come to earth in any way He pleased. He chose to enter the womb of the Virgin Mary. He did not choose her merely as a vessel, but as a Mother. He chose to be carried in a human body, to be nursed at human breasts, to be changed and swaddled and rocked in human arms. We are told that He was obedient to her and to Joseph, allowing His own creatures to teach Him to walk, to eat, to read and write, to pray.

In today’s Gospel we hear the story of the Visitation. Mary is carrying the newly conceived Jesus beneath her heart as she hastens to the hill country to her cousin Elizabeth.  The mothers meet and so do the children within, as Baby John the Baptist leaps for joy at Mary’s voice and the presence of his Cousin.

“Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” wonders Elizabeth aloud. There is an echo of royalty in her words—this title was used for the mother of the king. But we must not rush past the very simple reality that a human mother was the Mother of God. The work of God was to be mediated through human bodies.

The Council of Ephesus had to confront the heresy of Nestorianism, which basically separated the humanity and divinity of Jesus and considered Mary the mother only of His humanity. The truth is that Jesus is One Person, who is both God and Man, and His Mother is Mother of that complete Person. She was affirmed in Ephesus as Theotokos, the God-bearer, and, incidentally, when the crowds heard this they rioted for joy!

Mary carried the child, God, first within her womb, and then in her heart as He walked the roads of Galilee, Jerusalem, and ultimately up the hill to Calvary. There at the Cross Jesus expanded Her motherhood to include the Beloved Disciple, and thereby all of us: “Woman, behold your son.”

Just as her motherhood of Jesus was not merely spiritual, but bodily, so also her concern for each of us and all of our needs. Her first prayer of intercession was only four words, “They have no wine.” A lack of wine would embarrass the wedding hosts. But Mary was also aware and awaiting the wine of a greater feast that Her Son would one day initiate.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption. At the close of her earthly life, Mary was brought body and soul into heaven. She is a sign of our hope, as it is God’s desire that we too shall join Him in heaven, body and soul. She is also confirmation that the plan of God is to glorify what is human, including the human body.

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?

Eat and Be Satisfied

In today’s readings, we see two different stories of God providing for His people. In the book of Numbers, the Israelites are given manna in the desert, sustenance for their journey to the promised land. But they grouse and complain about the blandness of this heavenly food. They remember the fish that they ate “without cost” in Egypt, forgetting that it came with a very dear cost indeed—the cost of their freedom. They are so quick to forget what God has done for them, the miracles He wrought to deliver them from slavery in Egypt.

In contrast, the Gospel reading presents the story of Jesus’s multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Here, Jesus provides for His followers with simple yet nourishing food, and they accept it gratefully. Where the Israelites in the desert turned their nose up at the food God offered them, these crowds “ate and were satisfied.”

The juxtaposition of these two stories reminds us how important it is to be receptive to God’s providence in our lives. He is always seeking to nourish our souls and provide for our every need, but we often miss out on it because it comes in a way we don’t expect. If we hold too tightly to our own ideas of what we ought to have, we might overlook the gifts that are right before us. Truly, God showers us with gifts each and every day of our lives, even if they might come amidst a difficult journey. What a shame it would be to allow our pride to hold us back from living in gratitude and wonder.

People can always find reason to complain. We serve others not to receive their praise and thanks but because it is the right thing to do. Just as God continued to feed His people with manna even despite their ingratitude, so are we called to imitate His kindness and generosity.

Today is the feast of the dedication of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four major basilicas of Rome, which houses the relic of Christ’s manger. (Several years ago, I got the chance to attend midnight Mass there at Christmas, which was especially beautiful!) Mary, as the Theotokos, or “God-bearer,” was in a sense the original manger, the first home for Jesus. But a manger is not a typical cradle; it is a feeding trough for animals. When Mary laid her divine Child in the manger, it prefigured His role as food for the world. He offers His very Self to nourish us, and she lays down her own life to become the means through which we can receive Him. God’s providence for us truly knows no bounds. As He continues to feed His people, may we receive Him gratefully, eat, and be satisfied.

A Sacrifice of Praise

“Lord, I am your servant,
your servant, the child of your maidservant;
you have loosed my bonds.
I will offer a sacrifice of praise
and call on the name of the LORD.”
– Psalm 116:16–1

Many years ago, a Dominican friar told us—a group of fairly naïve college students—that we would wish we had suffered more once we came to the end of our lives. Back then, sitting in that dimly lit church, anxiously awaiting the day of our total consecration to Jesus through Mary, how could we have understood his words? For, as St. Paul writes in today’s first reading, we are suffering; we are afflicted. The whole world “is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:22), whether these pains are from illness, poverty, loneliness, loss, betrayal, our own struggles and sins, or even death itself. We are perplexed—we don’t understand how our loving Father could allow such sorrow, and we may never know the whole story behind the problem of pain on this side of Heaven.

What do we know? Let’s start at the beginning. This valley of tears was not God’s original plan for us, not before the fall. Yet, even when we chose to hide our faces from him, his love was so great that he devised a plan more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. He chose to suffer with us, dying in the most horrific way possible, to loosen our bonds, to open the gates of Heaven, and to lead us home. And, as St. Pope John Paul II says, Christ’s passion gave our pain a supernatural value. “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris). Think about it. This world may very well be that valley of tears. But, every tear now has meaning and power when united to his sufferings. Our prayers and sacrifices, whether they are St. Therese of Lisieux–sized or St. Teresa of Calcutta–sized, will help bring our brothers and sisters home to Love itself.

Even if this is all a mystery, and the pain is too great—we do not have to bear it alone. From his cross, at the height of his passion, Christ gave us Mary, his mother, to be our mother. And, he gave us to Mary to be her children—just as he tells his Father “they are your gift to me” (John 17:24), we are a gift to Mary! St. Louis de Montfort writes, “As in the natural life a child must have a father and a mother, so in the supernatural life of grace a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his mother” (True Devotion to Mary). We are the spiritual children of the handmaiden of the Lord, whose own heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. We can run to her in complete trust, asking for her intercession, weeping with her each step of the way, “closely united to Him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of the Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of the Cross” (Salvifici Doloris).

If that wasn’t enough, Christ found a way to physically stay with us “always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). How? Precisely through what is described in today’s psalm: a sacrifice of praise—the Eucharist, Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we read in the catechism, “The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church” (CCC 1407). We even hear this as the priest says Eucharistic prayer 4: “We offer You His Body and Blood, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. Lord, look upon this sacrifice which You have given to Your Church; and gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.”

Death may be at work in us, as St. Paul writes, but life is also present, and this life grows every time we receive the Eucharist, a living sacrifice of praise. Our hearts are changed when we receive him in the Blessed Sacrament and cooperate with grace, so that his life “may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). Our hearts become more like his heart as they too are taken, blessed, and broken, meant to be shared through the tears—and meant to be filled with his joy, another mystery. As C.S. Lewis writes, “Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it” (A Grief Observed). Our grief can, miraculously enough, become joy when united to his, just as Christ told his apostles at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist.

This life is full of suffering, yes, but there is also joy, even if that joy is tinged with the greatest sorrow. Call on his name and try to remember that the tears have power, even if your heart is breaking. Receive his own heart, blessed and broken in the Eucharist. Trust in the love of your mother, who always leads you to her Son, who is himself the answer to all our questions. As Lewis says, “What other answer would suffice?” What other answer could? Maybe we will someday be able to echo the words of St. Paul when he says, “I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24). And maybe, just maybe, we will someday be able to wish we had suffered more, as our hearts cry out of love for our brothers and sisters, with a love a little bit more like his.

Totus Tuus.

 

Reading Suggestions
St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of PainA Grief Observed, Till We Have Faces
Fr. Paul A. Duffner, O.P., Redemptive Suffering
St. Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris