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Jan. 3, 2018: THe Most Holy Name of Jesus

Jan. 3, 2018: The Most Holy Name of Jesus

WHAT DOES THE NAME OF JESUS MEAN?

The Holy Name of Jesus is, first of all, an all-powerful prayer.  Our Lord Himself solemnly promises that whatever we ask the Father in His Name we shall receive.  God never fails to keep His word.

When, therefore, we say, "Jesus," let us ask God for all we need with absolute confidence of being heard.

For this reason, the Church ends her prayer with the words "through Jesus Christ," which gives the prayer a new and divine efficacy.

But the Holy Name is something still greater.

Each time we say, "Jesus," we give God infinite joy and glory, for we offer Him all the infinite merits of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us that Jesus merited the Name Jesus by His Passion and Death.

Each time we say, "Jesus," let us clearly wish to offer God all the Masses being said all over the world for all our intentions.  We thus share in these thousands of Masses.

Each time we say, "Jesus," we gain 300 days indulgence,1 which we may apply to the souls in Purgatory, thus relieving and liberating very many of these holy souls from their awful pains.  They thus become our best friends and pray for us with incredible fervor.

Each time we say, "Jesus," it is an act of perfect love, for we offer to God the infinite love of Jesus.

The Holy Name of Jesus saves us from innumerable evils and delivers us especially from the power of the devil, who is constantly seeking to do us harm.

The Name of Jesus gradually fills our souls with a peace and a joy we never had before.

The Name of Jesus gives us such strength that our sufferings become light and easy to bear.

WHAT MUST WE DO?

St Paul tells us that we must do all we do, whether in word or work, in the Name of Jesus.  "All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ..."  (Col 3:17).

In this way, every act becomes an act of love and of merit, and moreover, we receive grace and help to do all our actions perfectly and well.

We must therefore do our best to form the habit of saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," very often every day.  We can do so when dressing, when working – no matter what we are doing – when walking, in moments of sadness, at home and in the street, everywhere.

Nothing is easier if only we do it methodically.  We can say it countless times every day.

Bear in mind that each time we say, "Jesus," devoutly:

we give God great glory,
we receive great graces for ourselves,
and we help the souls in Purgatory.

by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P. (E.D.M.)
THE WONDERS OF THE HOLY NAME: Reveals the simplest secret ever of holiness and happiness


Jan 1, 2019: Mary Mother of God

Jan. 1, 2019: Mary Mother of God

Have you treasured any advice you received from someone? One particular advice I treasure came to me through a book I read about a holy woman. She said: “Pray especially to Our Blessed Mother Mary, placing all your intentions into her hands. For she loves you as she loves her Son. She will guide you in all your relationships so that peace may fill your life.” The book was about Mother Teresa who had a profound relationship with Blessed Mother. When we get to know Blessed Mother then we grow closer to Jesus, recognizing his voice, serving him, and following to him. A priest very close to Mother Teresa wrote, “When I was with Mother Teresa, I had the sense of being before a living mirror of the one whom Mother Teresa simply called ‘Our Lady’...Here was a living icon, genuine and deep, who gave freely of God’s love no matter how high the cost, who radiated his presence even when she could no longer feel it.” This is our goal too, to be the living icon of Blessed Mother and Our Lord, being the servant to all.

On this beginning of a new year on the great feast day of Blessed Mother under the title of “Mother of God,” we take time to understand the often repeated phrase in the scripture, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” This phrase described the attitude in which Blessed Mother took in all that she had experienced throughout her life, from the moment of the Annunciation to her sorrowful gaze upon the lifeless body of her son after he was taken down from the Cross. In the Gospels, she appears as a woman of few words. We learn that she often treasured or pondered in her heart the imprint of God’s grace hidden in the various situations that unfolded before her. Even when she did not understand the situations she faced, she prayed in order to know and understand the Father’s will. Through prayer she had complete trust in the Heavenly Father.

Blessed Mother invites us to listen for the voice of God. To say that we are busy is an understatement, even for those of you who are ‘retired.’ Most of us become anxious throughout the day as the long list of to-do’s, demands for results, and expectation of efficiency weigh us down with stress. When we are stressed, we need to pause and ponder as did Blessed Mother so that we can understand and accept God’s will for us. Mother Teresa said, “If you ever feel distressed during your day — call upon our Lady — just say this simple prayer: 'Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now.'" When we approach Blessed Mother as a little child, meaning dependent, open, and expectant, we appreciate the grace that is hidden in the circumstance of the moment.

We are called to imitate Blessed Mother’s loving surrender to our Heavenly Father. Each day we pray the powerful prayer the Lord’s Prayer. The petitions, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” is a prayer of surrender because we are cooperating to allow His grace to transform this earth through us. Heavenly Father gave Blessed Mother every grace necessary to fulfill Her role as Mother of God, and we must realize that each of us have been chosen by the Father to continue the work of His Son. Hence He has also given each of us every gift we need to accomplish His will. Blessed Mother, many angels, and saints are ready to assist us, but we have to call upon them and trust. Mother Teresa reminded us, “Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.”

What’s on your New Year’s resolution list? Going to the gym, being punctual, losing weight, and eating right? Perhaps part of our list should include growing closer to Our Lord. A few suggestions: read and ponder daily mass readings, praying Blessed Mother’s Rosary regularly, assist social responsibility outreach. We should place our spiritual fitness as priority over our physical fitness. In this way, when God calls us, we can hear Him and respond, “FIAT” or  “Thy will be done.”

Dec. 30, 2018: Holy Family C

Dec. 30, 2018: Holy Family C

Have you been on a pilgrimage as a whole family, perhaps to a shrine in New Orleans or somewhere further away? The first time my family took a pilgrimage was after my parents sold their restaurant. A terrible tragedy occurred one night at the restaurant when an armed robbery resulted in a person being shot. At that time, I was on a leave of absence from college for a year to help run my parents’ restaurant. The armed robbery took a huge toll on our family, and my parents believed that getting away for a month on vacation in Europe as a family would help us renew. Originally it began as a vacation, but because we ended up spending so much time in many Catholic Churches during the trip, it ended up being a pilgrimage. Both myself and my father at that time were atheists, so we only appreciated the architecture of the holy places. During the trip, we as a family struggled to be kind to each other. Old tensions and wounds that existed prior to the trip resurfaced. We ended up blaming each other for how badly the whole restaurant endeavor turned out. We were on the verge of tearing apart as a family at the end of the trip. That was the year 1994.

Do we believe that Jesus has a plan for our family, that he came to redeem our family? Do we believe that even when our family goes through trials and tribulations, God is faithful to us even when we are ready to give up? When the Son of God became man, he became flesh as a newborn infant within a family of St. Joseph and Blessed Mother. From the beginning Joseph and Mary faced many struggles and hardships. The miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit in Blessed Mother’s womb was threatened by the possibility of divorce and even death. Jesus’ birth occurred, in human perspective, at the most inopportune place and time --- at night, away from family support, and in a place only fit for barn animals. Immediately, the child’s life was threatened by a power-thirsty King Herod who wanted to murder him. Some years later during the annual family pilgrimage to Jerusalem Temple, the unthinkable happens to Mary and Joseph when the child Jesus was lost for three days. All through these ups and downs of family life, St. Joseph and Blessed Mother sacrificed much to protect their child Jesus. Their fortitude to survive the trials and tribulations came from God alone. The hearts and minds of Joseph and Mary had been prepared through a life of prayer to listen and hear the voice of God. Joseph and Mary taught their son Jesus to treasure prayer, scriptures, and service for others.

Perhaps we can’t readily identify or understand the Holy Family because we don’t have family prayer life or because our family is beset by tensions and divisions. Perhaps our families are pulled away from meditating on scriptures and prayer by distractions--sports, entertainment, jobs, or items we can’t afford. If we take time to reflect, what do we hold as the center of our family? Is it love for God or something else?

The Holy Family models for us the kind of earthly family for which we should strive. To be a holy family is what a mother does to protect her family and serve her husband and her children; it is what a father does to protect his family and serve his wife and children. It is what the children do to honor and obey his parents. At the center of a holy family is a prayer life--family Rosary, reading of the scriptures, and the Holy Mass. We need to ponder on this Feast Day what we can do to change our routine in our family to feed our family with daily spiritual nourishment.

As for my family, this past June, we as the whole family joined together in pilgrimage for the first time since 24 years at the shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland. We celebrated Holy Mass together as a family, to give thanks to God for saving our family and keeping us together. Through a miraculous grace, I became a priest, my dad attends Sunday masses regularly, and my sister named all her children after the names of Saints - Therese, Pio and Seelos. Our family is by no means a perfect family. Our family members still have old habits that annoy and hurt each other. Yet, Christ came into our family and placed His love at the heart of ours. He had mercy on our family, and performed numerous miracles over the years.

We are living at a time of grace for the family. We are called to renew our family prayer in order to make Jesus the heart of our family. How far will we go to protect our family? In order to protect our family, we need to listen, trust, and obey the direction of God. And this will not be possible without prayer being the center of our own families. May our own families become a witness of love in this world.

Dec. 27, 2018: St. John the Apostle and Evangelist

Dec. 27, 2018: St. John the Apostle and Evangelist

John, the youngest of Christ's apostles, would certainly qualify as one of the most fascinating characters in Scripture. He anonymously penned the Gospel that most people consider their favorite. He identified himself only as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” He took the other Gospel accounts of Jesus the Messiah and wrote as if to say, “You've heard what Jesus did, now let me show you who He really was.” Thus John shows us the cosmic Christ who created the world, died to redeem it, and lives to reclaim it. 

The apostle John's life includes unbelievable moments of courage and greatness. Of the twelve, only John stayed near for the crucifixion, and he became the recipient of the capstone of Scripture: the Revelation. He walked in the inner circle with Jesus to places like the Mount of Transfiguration and the resurrection chamber of Jairus' daughter (Luke 8: 51), yet between those mountaintops John experienced many long years when others stood in the limelight. From this disciple we gain an intimate and personal perspective of both Jesus and of a beloved follower.

[As you read the writings of St. John] I hope you'll make the discovery that he did so long ago—the discovery that affection counts for more than ambition. That loving and being loved by Jesus matters more than all that the world can obtain or contain. 

John was free to love because he was so utterly convinced that he was loved himself. “We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him” (1 John 4: 16). Leave it to John to pen these words. How differently would each follower live if we characterized ourselves above all else as the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ? Our water would be turned to wine and our joy made complete. Oh, how we would long for the day when we see our Bridegroom face-to-face—the living, breathing Son of God! 

John lived to be a very old man. We have no idea how many years he lived beyond his exile. The earliest historians indicate, however, that the vitality of his spirit far exceeded the strength of his frame. His passionate heart continued to beat wildly for the Savior he loved so long. John took personally the words God poured through him. They did not simply run through the human quill and spill on the page. John's entire inner man was indelibly stained by rhema ink. 

In closing, read some of the words obviously inscribed on his heart from that last earthly night with Jesus: This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn't know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. This is what I command you: love one another. (John 15: 12-17)

John lived the essence of these verses. He ended his life a true “friend” of Christ, for he took on God's interests as surely as Elisha took on the cloak of Elijah. Early church fathers reported that long after John lacked the strength to walk, younger believers carried the beloved disciple in a chair through crowds gathered for worship. His final sermons were short and sweet: “My little children, love one another!” He poured his life into love. Christ's love. The focus of his final days captures the two concepts I've learned above all others in this journey: 

-Christ calls His beloved disciples to forsake ambition for affection. John moved from his “pillar” position in the Jerusalem church to relative obscurity. Better to pour out our lives in places unknown than to become dry bones in the places we've always been. 

- Only disciples who are convinced they are beloved will in turn love beyond themselves. Actively embracing the lavish love of God is our only means of extending divine love to injured hearts. We simply cannot give what we do not have.

By Beth Moore

John: 90 Days with The Beloved Disciple

Dec. 26, 2018 Martyrdom of St. Stephen

Dec. 26, 2018 Martyrdom of St. Stephen

"DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?"

"They ground their teeth in anger at him." Acts 7:54

On this second day of the Church's Christmas season, the Hallelujahs and Glorias of Christmas Day have already faded away in the secular world. The stores and malls are taking down their decorations. The secular radio stations have returned to playing their normal music. Santa suits are stored in closets, to be pulled out around Halloween 2019. Most particularly, those who persecute Christians have returned to "anger" and fury against those who live for Jesus alone (see Acts 7:54).

Persecution is a consequence of prostrating ourselves at the foot of the manger in worship. All who bow down in homage to the Baby Jesus are also acknowledging Him as Messiah, Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. In so doing, we also acknowledge that this Baby is our "only Ruler...and Lord" (1 Tm 6:15), and that the rulers of this world are as nothing before Him. This places us in direct conflict with the kingdom of the prince of darkness, Satan, and all those led by the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 Jn 2:16) for bowing before the wood of the manger leads to lying prostrate and exposed before the wood of the cross.

St. Stephen knew this well. When Stephen was persecuted, he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus (Acts 7:55; Heb 3:1; 12:2). Isaiah prophesied that a Child shall lead us (Is 11:6). With St. Stephen, will you follow this Child wherever He leads?

From www.presentationministries.com

Dec. 25, 2018 Nativity of Our Lord C

Dec. 25, 2018 Nativity of Our Lord C

A few days ago during the Christmas play put on by the third graders of Ascension Catholic School, a touching scene unfolded before our eyes. As the angels and shepherds made their way near Joseph, Mary, and infant Jesus, a lone lamb played by a pre-k girl captured our attention. She crawled over to the live baby Jesus and began to stroke his head and his cheeks. It was a moving gesture by a pure, innocent child. Perhaps it moved all of us because, deep down, we desire to shower our affection and gratitude on the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Creator of the entire Universe who humbled himself to be born as a human child.

Today, we come to this house of God on one of the holiest days of our church year to pay homage to our God as did the shepherds and the Wise Men over 2,000 years ago. Then, and even now, only in the silence of the heart do we truly recognize who He is for us. It’s so easy to miss His presence in our busy surroundings and lose the sense of why Christ came among us. The other day I was near the Mall of Louisiana parking lot, and I could sense that people were stressed and frustrated. Perhaps, they were trying to get last minute shopping done, so their patience was running thin. I heard lots of honking, saw glum faces devoid of smiles, and saw people in a hurry to get somewhere. I wonder in the midst of all this busyness of the season what we are really seeking in our lives. We are restlessly moving about, and yet if we pause for a moment to reflect, we will know what we are truly seeking is peace. This peace only comes from Christ. The Christ Child comes to us and says, “I am your peace.”

In our daily lives, Jesus comes to us to offer peace. Just as he came to an unkempt stable 2,000 years ago, Jesus comes to our messy homes where tensions exist between spouses and family members. Just as the Christ child was surrounded by noisy animals, Our Lord comes to be with us in the midst of blended families, separated spouses, unforgiveness between siblings, in times of joy and times of sorrow to offer us His peace.

Jesus took the first step in coming toward us even though we are unworthy to have Him with us. Regardless of our sinfulness, He comes to embrace every part of our lives to redeem and to make a new beginning. On our part we must decide everyday to receive and embrace His Peace. That means living His commandments--to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbor. Just as that little girl dressed in a lamb’s costume reached over to the Christ Child and showered her affection on him, we must decide whether we will embrace the Christ Child today with our prayers, sacrifice, love, and forgiveness of our neighbors. Only when we search for Christ daily, will we hear what the shepherds heard that very holy night -- a multitude of angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."  May we come to know the peace of Christ tonight and throughout our lives.

Dec. 16, 2018: 3rd Sunday Advent C

Dec. 16, 2018: 3rd Sunday Advent C
Here is a simple wisdom that a person shared with me some number of years ago; ‘don’t ask questions if you don’t want to hear the answers.’ When I was about to graduate college, I attended a vocations retreat at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, the very seminary that our Bishop Michael Duca was the rector a number of years ago. On the last day of the retreat, praying in the chapel, I wrote down on a piece of a paper, “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life? I will do what you want me to do.” Later that day I went to my parents in Plano and informed them that I was thinking about entering seminary. My parents vehemently opposed the very idea; they counter-proposed; work three years, and if you still want to enter seminary, we won’t stop you. I didn’t like the answer at the time, but eventually as I continued to date a girl I had met at the university in Austin, I forgot about the question I had written down at the retreat at Holy Trinity Seminary. Three years later, on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, the very question on that piece of paper came back to my mind, “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life? Marriage or priesthood?” Was I willing and prepared to carry out the answer I received? By that time, I was willing, with the help of Blessed Mother.

What should we do with our life? Are we prepared to do what God is asking us to do? What if we don’t like the answer from God? If God asks us to change the direction of our life, eliminate sinful habits, or change vocation, are we willing and prepared to change? John the Baptist is asked by the crowd gathered around him, “What should we do?” His answer is stark: repent; put aside theft, extortion, and greed so that the Messiah will not count you as the chaff that will be burned with unquenchable fire. John is calling us to return to holiness so that we may recognize Christ when He comes. I’m always impressed by the love and generosity in our community. However, if we think that we have done all that we can do to prepare our hearts where Christ longs to dwell, I assure you that we can and must do more.  “What is it that we still need to do?” Look within our families, around the community, at your classmates, and the workplace. Is there tension because of my resentment, envy or jealousy? Am I patient with the elderly neighbor? Do I go to the aid of a classmate who is bullied? Do I hoard my wealth or share with the poor?

Don’t let this Advent  be just another shopping season or filled with parties.  Let us use this time to pray and prepare our hearts that we may become like  John the Baptist who made his life a living testimony of Christ. May we rejoice that God has chosen us to be joyful messengers of Christ.

Dec. 14, 2018: St. John of the Cross

Dec. 14, 2018: St. John of the Cross

Aging and the Dark Night of Faith 
By Susan Muto and Fr. Adrian van Kamp

The dark night that seems endless often comes when a person is middle-aged and already experiencing stress in life. What will help me to remain faithful when I feel like giving up? 

As we move into winter, it’s obvious that nature has changed her scene. Autumn has stripped the trees, and their colorful foliage is a thing of the past. The change of seasons is an integral part of nature’s year. Although we often wish to hasten the dismal winter days toward spring, we realize that one season has to pass to bring about the other. So we wait patiently. 

Human nature affords us the same possibility of changing the seasons that seem to be interwoven in our life cycle. In the “summers” of life, we experience exhilaration, openness, and the freedom to meet new challenges. In the “autumns” we suffer a loss or a stripping of vitality. In the “springs” we know the wholeness and growth of peace and joy. Before this time of newness and growth, there was the “winter” —a period of death and dying, or a time of struggle and suffering. 

To most of us, winter seems bleak and all but dead. In actuality growth continues in hiddenness, below the soil. During the winter months, plant life withdraws to recoup its forces and to prepare for the new thrust of spring. 

With adequate reflection, we can see the same cycle of nature exemplified in our own lives. There are stages throughout life when we must withdraw into our inner center and let the darkness come upon us. During middle age, life seems to lose its meaning, and obligations become oppressive. At this time weariness often overtakes us. 

Just as we don’t see what’s happening below the surface during nature’s winter months, so in faith we must believe that although he’s presently unseen, God is effecting an interior growth in us. Being at home with this mystery can help us to wait patiently and live through the dark night that seems endless. 

If we believe that this darkness is from God, we might find that he’s calling us to a deeper commitment: to shed the bleakness of what we feel for the blessedness of who we are. 

In our solitude we might discover that we’re extinguishing the light ourselves by our overly active life, by our doing in preference to our being, by interior noise rather than silence. 

If we honestly evaluate ourselves in this season of our life, we might see that the darkness is in reality a light to see what must be changed. Then, in God’s time, he may once again bring forth within us a new spring and a realization that “. . . lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land” (Song of Sol. 2: 11-12). 

As we seek to open ourselves to deeper experiences of God’s presence, we might have to endure prolonged periods when we feel abandoned by the one who promised to be with us always. In the past we might have felt joy and a sense of peace when we prayed. 

This experience of God’s presence seemed to permeate our whole life. We knew that God was always with us, that he truly was our rock of refuge, our loving Father. We felt as secure and content as a child who slips his hand into his parent’s grasp. Consolations come because God knows that our faith isn’t yet strong enough to do without them. 

The time arrives when we find few, if any, “good feelings” in prayer. It feels as if God has withdrawn to a place far away from us. This is when we need “pure faith” and deep trust to believe in God’s constant loving presence when there are no consolations, no sensible signs of his nearness. 

In the midst of this crisis of transcendence, we might find it difficult to pray. We might feel little or no consolation from spiritual exercises such as scripture reading and meditation. The truth that God is faithful to us is the only consolation to which we can cling (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 13). 

Spiritual masters such as St. John of the Cross assure us that through such a “dark night of the soul” God is preparing us to experience deeper, more contemplative forms of prayer. In fact, the dark night seems to be a necessary period of purification, preceding our entrance into the adulthood of the spiritual life. In a comparable manner, physical separation from our mother prepares us for a more mature relationship with her and with our whole family. 

Our loving Father asks us to trust him despite this dearth of consolation. He invites us to identify with his Son on the Cross, who in his dark night of suffering prayed, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27: 46). If we can echo these words of faith, we can be sure that Jesus will help us to surrender as he did while praying, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23: 46). 

The bedrock of our belief is that the Father, whose Son conquered death, will raise us from our death-like dark nights and bring us to the dawn of Easter morning. In this radiant light we’re illumined and transformed in God, as St. John of the Cross explains in this poetic affirmation: 
O night that has united 
The Lover with his beloved, 
Transforming the beloved in her Lover. 

Our inability to understand what’s happening to us is a contributing factor to every dark-night experience. We don’t choose it. It falls upon us with its seemingly endless bouts of aridity. We don’t see anymore; we don’t know anymore. We’re no longer in charge of our destiny, but we do have a choice: either to let God be God or to become more frustrated by our lack of understanding. 

In a dark-night experience there’s no way out; there’s only a way through, and that’s the way of letting our intellect be purified by faith, our memory by hope, our will by love. 

We find it difficult to be this detached, to feel so defenseless and alone before God in the nakedness of our small and limited being. If we respond in trust to these experiences, sobering as they are, we might be able to sing with St. John:
O guiding night! 
O night more lovely than the dawn! 

To grow in wisdom, age, and grace before God and others is to face the truth of who we are. When we lose our illusions of unlimited strength, we grow in humility. Self-knowledge of this intensity is always painful. 

As in a mid-life crisis, we have to face the reality of all that we will never be, of all that we haven’t done. Our choice is to dwell either on what we’ve lost (our ego-self) or on what we’ve gained (our Christ-self) and the gifts of trust and patient endurance that accompany this call to discipleship.


-“Am I Living a Spiritual Life? Questions and Answers for Those Who Pray” by Susan Muto and Fr. Adrian van Kaam

Dec. 13, 2018: St. Lucy

Dec. 13, 2018: St. Lucy

Tradition of Santa Lucia in Sweden

The Swedish Yule begins on December 13 with Luciadagen, Saint Lucy's Day. The traditional ceremony enacted in Swedish households on this occasion suggests a unique and effective pattern for American hostesses to follow during Christmas holiday entertaining. For afternoon bridge, for your club, a holiday shower, or an evening dessert, the Lucia Day custom of having the oldest daughter ceremoniously serve the guests with coffee, buns, and cakes from a daintily appointed tray may be easily adapted.

Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily, in the fourth century. Tradition says she cut out her eyes because their beauty attracted a heathen nobleman. She was denounced as a Christian and condemned to death during the reign of Diocletian.

Scandinavian observance of Lucia's festival has come down through the centuries. In some parts of Sweden old people used to say that the Lucia Bride, clothed in white and crowned with light, could be seen between three and four o'clock in the morning on December 13, moving across icy lakes and snow-covered hills with food and drink for parish folk.

The Lucia legend is beloved by Sweden's hospitable people. On December 13, Yuletide is opened officially in cities and villages by a young girl re-enacting the role of the Lucia Bride, who visits each household at dawn with a tray of coffee and cakes. In Stockholm, Lucia is chosen by popular vote in much the same way as beauty queens are elected in the United States. In the homes, however, Lucia usually is represented by the oldest daughter in the family.

Of the many folk customs that exist in connection with Luciadagen, one of the most interesting is that the year's threshing, spinning, and weaving must be finished and everything put in order for the Christmas holidays. Before this day boys and girls finish making Christmas presents. The housewife completes her weeks of holiday baking and makes the tallow dips for table and Christmas tree; the lutfisk, traditional Christmas fish, is already buried in beech ashes, so it will be sweet for the holiday feast.

Swedish Lucia song, to the tune of "Santa Lucia":

Night goes with silent steps Round house and cottage. Over the earth that the sun forgot Dark shadows linger. Then on our threshold stands Whiteclad, with candles in her hair, Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia. (English version by Holger Lundbergh)

Dec. 12, 2018: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Dec. 12, 2018: Our Lady of Guadalupe

A Light in Advent: Our Lady of Guadalupe
by Erin Cain

In December 1531, two men in a small village in Mexico each felt the presence of an overwhelming darkness. One, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, was a Spanish missionary who had reached the point of despair in trying to evangelize the native people. He sought to preach the truth of Christ in the face of a native religion that promoted human sacrifice, but his fellow Spaniards had treated the natives so poorly, committing terrible abuses against them, that few Aztecs were willing to listen to the message of Christianity. Zumárraga feared an uprising would be imminent, that barring some kind of miracle, a bloody conflict would result and the people of this land would be lost. He prayed to Our Lady to intervene and braced himself for turmoil.

Meanwhile, an Aztec man in Bishop Zumárraga’s parish, named Juan Diego, faced his own personal difficulty. He and his wife had converted to Christianity together, facing the scorn of their peers; now, Juan Diego’s wife had passed away, and he lived with his uncle Juan Bernardino, also a Christian convert. Juan Diego embraced the Christian religion and faithfully attended Mass despite the tense relations between Spaniards and natives; he lived out his days in quiet sacrifice amid the brewing storm around him.

One day as Juan Diego was walking to Mass, he saw a brilliant light atop Tepeyac hill. He heard angelic music and a voice asking him to ascend. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw a beautiful woman, glowing with light, dressed in traditional Aztec garments. The details of her appearance carried great meaning in Aztec culture: she wore the color of Aztec royalty, her hair was arranged in the style reserved for virgins, and the ribbon around her waist indicated that she was with child. The sight of her filled Juan Diego with joy, and she spoke to him in his native tongue:

She told him she was the perfect and eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, and made known to him her desire that a shrine be built there where she could demonstrate her love, her compassion and her protection. “For I am your merciful Mother,” she said, “to you and to all mankind who love me and trust in me and invoke my help. Therefore, go to the dwelling of the bishop in Mexico City and say that the Virgin Mary sent you to make known to him her great desire.”

Juan Diego went to speak with the bishop, but Bishop Zumárraga was hesitant to trust Juan Diego and asked for proof. So Juan Diego, undeterred, returned to Tepeyac hill and met Our Lady once again, asking for a sign that he could show the bishop. She told him to come back the following day, that she would grant his petition the next morning. He was confident that she would deliver an answer to his prayers and told her he would return.

But Juan Diego returned home that night to find that his uncle, Juan Bernardino, was deathly ill. Instead of going out the next day to meet the Virgin, Juan Diego stayed home to tend to his dying uncle. When he finally left the house two days later, on December 12, it was not to meet the Virgin but to find a priest to perform the Anointing of the Sick. He took a different path to the church so as to avoid meeting Our Lady along the way:

As he approached Tepeyac hill, Juan Diego remembered his promised appointment with the Virgin. However, aware of his uncle’s condition, he did not want to delay his journey, and so he avoided his usual path in the hope of evading the Virgin. Yet as he rounded the hill he saw the Virgin descend from the top of the hill to greet him. Concerned, she inquired: “My youngest son, what’s going on? Where are you going? Where are you headed?”

Juan Diego, at once surprised, confused, fearful, and embarrassed, told the Virgin of his uncle’s illness and of his new errand, and expressed something of the hopelessness he was then experiencing, saying, “Because in reality for this [death] we were born, we who came to await the task of our death.”
[…]
The Virgin listened to Juan Diego’s plea, and when he had finished she spoke to him:

Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest son, that what frightened you, what afflicted you, is nothing; do not let it disturb your face, your heart; do not fear this sickness nor any other sickness, nor any sharp and hurtful thing. Am I not here, I who have the honor to be your Mother? Are you not in my shadow and under my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more?

The Virgin revealed to Juan Diego a garden filled with Castilian roses, growing amid an arid, dusty environment, and in the winter, no less. She instructed him to gather the flowers in his tilma (a traditional Aztec cloak) and show them to the bishop as the promised sign. He obeyed, and when he met Bishop Zumárraga and let the roses spill out of his tilma, the bishop fell to his knees in awe—not at the flowers, but at the image that had been revealed behind them. On Juan Diego’s tilma was an image of the Virgin as she had appeared to him, dressed in Aztec garments and filled with radiant beauty.

THE CONVERSION OF A NATION

When Juan Diego returned home to greet his uncle and relay the story of Our Lady’s miraculous visit, he was surprised to find his uncle restored to full health and with a story of his own to tell—Mary had visited him, too, and healed him. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was placed on display, and all the native Aztecs in the community came to revere it. To them, it was not only a beautiful image; it contained intricately detailed symbolism that had great significance within their culture. They could read the elements of the image to understand what it was really telling them—that this was the Mother of God and their Mother, who loved them and wanted their protection; that she was coming as one of them, redeeming their culture and calling them toward a new dawn. The image blended elements of the New World and the Old, bridging between two peoples that had experienced bitter division. Our Lady appeared with the medium-toned skin of a mestiza, a mixture of Aztec and Spanish blood.

Within seven years, eight million natives were converted to Christianity, and the practice of human sacrifice came to an end. Eight million—and in a land that had previously been so resistant to Christianity, after experiencing great suffering at the hands of Spanish conquerors. Only Our Lady could mend such bitter wounds, and she came personally to comfort her people, to give them a new hope. She showed that she understood the beauty of their culture, and she showed that her Son was the fulfillment of their deepest longings—that because of the Cross, His sacrifice was the only human sacrifice necessary, one perfect sacrifice that was enough to cover all our sins.

Mary bends to meet us right where we are. She pulls our good intentions out from the mess we’ve created—our longings for goodness, truth, and beauty, for justice and righteousness—and leads us to their true fulfillment in her Son. She heals the distortions of our hearts and claims us as her children. She comes as one of us, telling us not to be afraid.

MOTHER OF THE NEW WORLD

Bishop Zumárraga had prayed for a miracle to come, but when it did, it was from a place he didn’t expect, and he didn’t recognize it at first. His prayer for the conversion of the people was answered in a powerful way, but it did not follow the pattern of how other nations had converted to Christianity. In Europe, what had always happened before was that the king would convert and his people would follow. But here in the New World, something even more radical took place: the conversion began at the ground level, with an ordinary man, a humble layperson. Because this conversion happened from the ground up, the faith of the Mexican people became a firm and unshakeable foundation—even through persecutions to come, when the government would oppose Catholicism due to the strong influence it had on the people.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has endured through nearly five centuries and incredible circumstances. On November 14, 1924, a bomb was placed within flowers at the base of the image; when it detonated, the altar fell apart, the bronze crucifix atop it was bent and twisted, and windows of neighboring homes were shattered. But the image, at the center of the wreckage, remained perfectly intact. In the eighteenth century, during a cleaning of the frame, nitric acid was accidentally spilled onto the image. This should have destroyed it instantly—nitric acid is highly corrosive—but the only effect was a black spot that can now be seen in the upper right corner of the image. Just the conditions of the arid Mexican climate alone should have been enough to cause the tilma to fray and disintegrate over time. Scientific experiments were performed to see how replicas of the image would hold up in the same conditions, and they all disintegrated within ten years, while the original image is still vibrant as ever. The strength of Our Lady’s image is formidable, and both her image and her message have not faded through the centuries. Through every trial, she has not abandoned her children.

A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

Virgin_of_Guadalupe_-_Google_Art_ProjectJuan Diego was likely filled with confusion and sadness as he set out on the morning of December 12. Days earlier, he had met the beautiful Virgin and felt such happiness, but now everything was turned upside down. He was losing the only family member he had left; he felt alone and abandoned. How could he talk to Mary again, in this moment? He couldn’t possibly summon the joyful obedience he’d shown her days before. So he took a different path, intending to avoid her—he wasn’t ready to see her yet.

Juan Diego expected that when he met Mary again, he would be prepared, ready to focus fully on her message without distraction or confusion. Dealing with his uncle’s sickness, he didn’t think he could face Our Lady on a day when he was so overwhelmed with a growing melancholy and other pressing duties. But he didn’t realize that Mary was coming to meet him in his weakest moment, in his greatest despair—to heal him and bring him the comfort that only a mother can give, to carry her Son to him and instill true hope.

We think that we’re not ready to meet God, that we ought to wait until we really have our act together to reach out to Him, so that we can properly greet Him—but it is precisely in those moments that we need Him most. He is the only one who can draw us out of the pit of suffering and sin. Juan Diego went out of his way to avoid Mary, thinking he could not face the Mother of God when he barely understood what the point of living was, when we are all destined to die. He couldn’t bring himself to meet her, so she came to meet him where he was.

We want God to come on our own terms, but instead He comes on His terms: in the womb of a woman, in the midst of a world that is broken and suffering. He is the light amid the darkness, leading us toward a new day in the Kingdom of God if we stay with Him through the dawn. He met Juan Diego on Tepeyac, hidden in the womb of His Mother. Even though Juan Diego couldn’t see Him in the midst of his suffering, He was there. He is carried within each of us when we receive the Eucharist, and He grows quietly in our hearts as we await the birth of His presence into the world.

Life is Advent. Jesus does not arrive in the world by force; He knocks on the doors of our hearts and asks to be let in, asks for us to nurture a light that will eventually overcome the darkness. We spend our lives in wait for that moment, the coming of the day. Its real fulfillment will come after the dark night of death, as we are not made for this world. But we can see a glow if we tend to the flame within us. We see it shining from the hearts of others, too. Zumárraga prayed for a light in the darkness, but when it came, he didn’t see it at first because he was looking in the wrong direction. His prayers were answered, but not in a way he expected; God took him by surprise. Juan Diego, unable to see God in the world, felt a deep hopelessness—but God was present, hidden, and He reached out to meet him, to help him see the promise of the new dawn on its way.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, be our comfort in the midst of the dark night. Help us to welcome your Son into our lives, in whatever surprising way He comes to us. When we stray from the path, come out to meet us where we are; when we can’t see through the darkness, turn our faces to see the light dawning.

http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2015/12/12/a-light-in-advent-our-lady-of-guadalupe/