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Posted by on Jan 1, 2022

A Day for Celebration – January 1, 2022

A Day for Celebration – January 1, 2022

January 1 is a day for celebration and hope. Of course, we celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year that we share world-wide. We hope for health, friendship, peace, prosperity, good fortune, love, and so on. We know that challenges will arise and losses will occur. But we look forward with hope.

After two years of global pandemic, with a new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 spreading quickly, we face another year of uncertainty and challenges. Still, we are cautiously optimistic. Vaccines have been developed. They seem to be working. Human immune systems, in those vaccinated, are going beyond just forming anti-bodies against the virus and are now awakening the T-cells that provide longer lasting protection. We know much about the virus, including preventive measures and treatments that help. We’ve come a long way.

On the religious front, we also have many things to celebrate. It’s the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is what we celebrate in our liturgies for January 1. Mary, a simple young Jewish woman, became the mother of the child who grew up to be the long-awaited Messiah, the one who gave himself totally to the will of God and in so doing restored the family ties between God and humans. Jesus, the Word of God, was fully human and fully divine. Mary was his mother, the woman who taught him and nurtured his relationship with their God. She and Joseph, her husband, did not understand all that was happening through them. They were ordinary people called to do something truly extraordinary. We hear in the gospel (Lk 2:16-21) that after the visit of the shepherds, Mary reflected on all the things she had seen and heard there in Bethlehem where her son was born.

At the end of the reading from St. Luke’s gospel, we hear that on the eighth day after his birth, Jesus was circumcised and given his name, “the one given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The circumcision of the Lord is another thing traditionally celebrated on this day. Jesus became one of God’s chosen people, a member of the Jewish community on this day. He received his name, Yeshua (in Hebrew and Aramaic), which means God saves.

As a child, Jesus grew up as a member of the Hebrew people, with all the traditions of his people. He lived under the law given to Moses and was blessed with the same words of blessing that God gave to the people through Aaron and the priests who followed him down through the centuries. “The Lord bless you and keep you!” (Num 6:22-27)

When he was grown, he was called at his baptism in the Jordan River from his career as a tradesman in Nazareth to preach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. As St. Paul explains (Gal 4:4-7), he was born under the law, yet he was the one who would move beyond the restrictions of the law that kept humans and God separated. He was the one whose coming set free those born under the law, ransomed them to become children of God and heirs of the kingdom. This kingdom expanded to include all peoples, because God created and loves all peoples.

The final thing we celebrate today is World Day of Peace, a day to celebrate and work towards a culture of care and tolerance for each other. As children of one heavenly Father, we are called to reach out to each other, both in our own communities and around the world. We are to see each other as members of the same family. We can have our differences of opinion and do things differently, but we are still all God’s children. We must love each other and care for each other.

Pope Francis shares his vision for the 55th annual celebration of World Day of Peace in his message: Dialogue Between Generations, Education and Work: Tools for Building Lasting Peace.

On this day of many celebrations, may we continue to receive the blessing offered by Aaron for the people of God. May the Lord’s face shine upon us. May he be gracious to us and grant us peace!

Happy New Year!

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Posted by on Aug 30, 2016

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

The Holy Year of Mercy can seem a little abstract. Here is a wonderful video with a beautiful adaptation of the Ave Maria. What struck me was the emphasis on recovering lost dreams and hopes not so much for ourselves but those on the street, those seeking justice, the suffering. This is contrasted with the faith of the pilgrims and the churches and sites of Rome.

This is a moving presentation of the core belief of Christianity that we cannot say that we love God whom we do not see when we ignore our neighbors whom we can see. It is consolation and a challenge that persists in the proclamation of the Gospel from generation to generation. Today it comes in a beautiful  voice, a beautiful song, and the faith of beautiful people.


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Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation - Henry Ossaw TannerGabriel’s visit to a very young woman in the small town of Nazareth was a momentous event, though mostly unnoticed at the time. Gabriel is the archangel tasked to serve as special messenger of God. On this visit, the message was actually a request: will you consent to become my mother? It wasn’t exactly phrased this way, according to the narrative we have from St. Luke, but in essence that was the question. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High and would sit on the throne of his father David (as in King David), rule over the house of Jacob forever and have an unending kingdom. (Lk 1:26-38)

Now this would be challenging even to a married woman, but this young woman was not married. In her culture, having a child out of wedlock could result in death by stoning. At best, she would be shunned and excluded from polite society. Yet Mary had the courage to ask for more details about how such a thing could happen and to listen with deep faith to the response. Then she answered “yes,” Jesus was conceived, and God’s plan for salvation could go forward.

Christians have celebrated the Annunciation for centuries. Typically, the feast is scheduled for March 25, exactly nine months before the celebration of Christmas. However, in the West, when March 25 falls within Holy Week or the first week of Easter, the feast is moved to Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday).

As adults we celebrate many events such as the Annunciation with prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, the Angelus, etc. However, for children, these ways of celebrating are not always experienced as much fun. So, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative way to celebrate: Make Angel cookies!

To make Angel cookies, take any recipe for a cookie that allows rolling out the dough and cutting out a cookie. (Even brownies could be used for making Angel Cookies if time is short.) Use an angel shaped cookie cutter to shape the cookies before baking. Be sure to decorate them with frosting/icing or with some  kind of “sprinkles” of colored sugar to make them festive. Then share them as part of a festive meal. Light a candle, have a special drink, use nicer dishes than normal, have a food that is a treat for your family — any or all of these things will make the day special for the children and family who share them.

As you share this day, keep your ears open for the voice of angels in your life. God’s messenger still comes, though perhaps not as momentously as in the visit to Mary. What is God saying to you and me today?


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Posted by on Mar 26, 2016

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

A Few Minutes to Pray

Winter Sun on the Central Coast 2.1.16Holy Saturday can become one of the busiest days of the year, especially for those preparing for church services or hosting Easter dinner. Finding a moment to stop and pray is not easy. There are rehearsals for those playing a part at Easter Vigil or other Easter services. There are last minute Easter basket details to handle. The floors need sweeping. The furniture is dusty. The windows have splotches that testify to recent rains. Shirts to iron, shoes to shine, etc., etc., etc.

Yet Holy Saturday is really a time that is supposed to be holy: a time to stop, reflect on what we have just experienced with Christ and his early family and friends, and wonder how it all applies to our lives here and now. A time to step out of time and space and enter into (or remain within) the realm of the Sacred, the Holy, the Other.

We Christians are not always conscious of the reality that God and God’s presence/activity exist outside the confines of time and space. We mistakenly think that what we celebrate took place two thousand years ago and we simply remember in historical, or maybe collective, terms the events and the people to whom these things happened. In reality, for God everything is NOW. There is no past, present, or future. When we enter into the mysteries of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Pascal Mystery, those mysteries are not history. They are happening in our lives as well. Our Jewish sisters and brothers will say, “Our ancesters walked through the Red Sea and our feet are wet.” They understand that the events they remember in story and ritual are truly real today as well. This reality is equally true for us.

Today we remember that day when all seemed lost for Jesus’ mother Mary, for his friends Peter, James, John and the other disciples, for Mary of Magdala and the other women who traveled with Jesus. Jesus had been publicly tortured to death as a traitor to the Empire, a political enemy of the state. His death was that reserved for the worst of criminals, those seen as fomenting revolution. It was meant as a warning to any who would attempt to change the status quo, the way things are/were. His family and friends recognized the warning and were crushed with sadness and fear, on top of the emptiness we all feel when someone we love has died. It was the Sabbath. They couldn’t even go to the tomb to care for his body properly. They simply had to wait and pray, try to make some sense of the past three years of their lives with him, and console each other as best they could.

We know the rest of the story — the events of the next morning changed history. God intervened, raising Jesus up on the third day, the day on which God came to the rescue of the faithful one. As a result, it’s easy for us to forget what this day, the day in-between, is about, easy to get busy rushing around to prepare to celebrate. They didn’t have a clue what was coming.

But we have entered into the mystery. We have celebratedPalm Sunday with cries of Hosanna and waving of palm branches. We rejoiced on Holy Thursday, celebrating the institution of the Eucharist. We have heard the passion narrative, prayed for all the peoples of the world, and venerated the cross on Good Friday. We are still in the midst of the mystery. It is not over yet. This is a time of quiet hope and awe in the face of loss and the unknown. It’s a time to experience our solidarity with those who suffer today because they are disciples of this Jesus, the crucified one. Time for quiet and prayer.

It’s a beautiful day here on California’s Central Coast. I’m going to leave the floors unswept, the furniture undusted, the weeds growing happily in all the flower beds, and go for a walk with my Lord alongside the ocean.

Holy Saturday blessings to all.


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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

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Posted by on May 31, 2013

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Feast of the Visitation – Celebrating Blessings Hidden Within

The Visitation - Mary and Elizabeth meet - Luke 1:39-45

The Feast of the Visitation is a celebration of the meeting of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth when both women are expecting their firstborn children. Mary, a very young woman, has given her consent to become the mother of Jesus in response to God’s request. Elizabeth, a much older woman who has never been able to have a child, has conceived a son miraculously in her old age following the visit of an angel to her husband while he was serving in the temple. Word of Elizabeth’s pregnancy has been offered to Mary as a sign that “nothing is impossible with God.” Knowing how difficult the last months of pregnancy can be, especially for an older mother, Mary hurried to help her cousin.  The joy of their meeting and the song of praise Mary offers to God for the wonders they are experiencing have resonated through history. In fact, Mary’s prayer, known as the Magnificat from its first word in Latin, is part of the daily prayer of the Church, included as part of Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Celebrating the Feast

This feast is remembered among the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary. Readings and prayers for the Mass celebrated on this feast are all focused on the great joy of the gift of these two improbable pregnancies and of the women themselves, as well as our joy with and for them. The prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours also remind us of the event.

The Magnificat has been set to music by many gifted men and women through the ages. David Haas, John Michael Talbot, and Rory Cooney have composed some of my favorite versions.

One way to celebrate this feast is to make cream puffs and share them with family and friends. Praise God for coming to share life with us through the Incarnation of his son. Give thanks for all the women who have courageously born and raised children, treasuring the wonder of sweetness and life hidden within their wombs.


 JESUS MAFA. The Visitation – Mary and Elizabeth meet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 31, 2013].


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Posted by on Dec 8, 2012

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Does Immaculate Conception Mean Virgin Birth?


The Immaculate Conception – Murillo

Does Immaculate Conception mean Virgin Birth?

No. These two concepts, Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth, are frequently confused. Many assume they are one and the same, leading to the notion that Mary’s conception was the result of the same type of divine intervention as that of her son. In fact, the Church has never believed that Mary was conceived without marital relations occurring between her parents. Normal physical relations between a husband and wife are not seen as sinful. They are, in fact, seen as a source of divine grace, a sharing in God’s life of love, a sacramental experience.

What is the Immaculate Conception?

If Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the notion that our sexual expression is evil, however necessary for the continuation of the species, nor is it some kind of impediment to holiness, then what does the concept mean? To understand the notion, we must start with an ancient story, one of two creation myths found in the Bible: the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This second story of creation begins in the second chapter of the book of Genesis, halfway through the fourth verse. It tells of the creation of a human and then of a garden in Eden in which he would live. The garden was located in the land bordered by four rivers: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. In this garden, there was a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which the man was forbidden to eat the fruit. Knowing the man would be lonesome alone in the garden, God created many animals and birds to accompany him. However, animals and birds were not suitable companions for a human on any long-term scale. So God created another human to be his partner; a human created from the man’s rib to signify equality with him. The man was named Adam (man), a play on words in Hebrew between “man” and “ground.” The new person was called woman because she was formed out of “her man.”

As the story continues, conflict enters. The woman, walking alone in the garden, encounters a serpent who cunningly entices her to taste the forbidden fruit. She gives some to her husband as well, and suddenly they recognize they are naked. They become afraid to see God and hide in the garden from their creator. A separation between God’s overflowing love in creation and the humans created to be part of that creation has occurred. According to the story, the man and woman must leave the garden and now make their way in the great world outside it. The woman was called Eve by her husband “because she became the mother of all the living.”

Enter Original Sin

From this story, told to explain the entry of sin into human experience, the notion of original sin eventually developed. According to this notion, not found in Judaism or Islam, all humans inherit a “fallen nature,” a nature that is not strong enough always to resist sinning (separating from God). We don’t inherit the guilt of Adam and Eve. God’s image is undiminished within us, always calling and helping us to choose life over death. Yet we all fail in the quest to live without sinning through our decisions to act or to fail to act in loving union with God.

How then could God’s Son be born of a human woman without inheriting that fallen nature? It was from this dilemma that the notion of the Immaculate Conception developed. Through the centuries, theologians wrestled with it, especially as the idea of original sin became more and more strongly developed. Originally Mary was seen as like all other humans, a normal woman who played an extraordinary role in salvation history through her total openness to God. By the Middle Ages, however, as we began to focus more on human sinfulness and less on the presence of God within each person, an idea developed that Mary was saved from original sin at the time of her conception to prepare a perfect “new Eve” from whom the long-promised savior would be born. This savior would be the first-born of God’s new creation, of God’s new people.

A Formal Dogma

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the Immaculate Conception became a formal dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. This feast is celebrated nine months before we celebrate the Nativity of Mary (September 8). The readings for the liturgy celebrating the Immaculate Conception include the story of the encounter between God, the serpent, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:9-15), Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describing God’s choice to adopt all of us through Jesus (Eph 1:3-6, 11-12), and the story of the visit of the Angel Gabriel  to Mary in which Mary gives her consent to become Jesus’ mother (Lk 1:26-38). Perhaps the confusion between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth stems from this traditional selection of readings. They are connected only to the extent that God’s grace is needed by all humans to help them make loving choices and help bring the new creation to birth right here, right now!

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Posted by on Aug 15, 2012

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Feast of the Assumption – God’s Gift through a Special Woman

Assumption of the Virgin

The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15. This feast has ancient roots and is celebrated throughout the Christian community. Some speak of the Assumption of Mary, others of the Dormition (going to sleep), the Commemoration, or the Passing of Mary.

In the Roman Church, today’s readings begin with the vision from the Book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab) of the woman clothed in the sun with the moon beneath her feet and a crown of stars on her head who appears in the sky. She is in labor and threatened by a great dragon. The woman gives birth to a boy who is caught up to Heaven to rule the nations, while the woman finds refuge in a safe place in the desert.

The second reading is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Paul (15:20-27) speaks of Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” and notes that the last enemy of God to be conquered by Christ is death itself.

Finally, Luke’s (1:39-56) account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth treats us to Mary’s hymn to the great love of God, the Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…”

Through Mary, God came “to the help of his servant Israel,” remembering his promise of mercy, “the promise he made to … Abraham and his children forever.” Today we honor her for her faithful response to God’s call and pray that we too (descendants in faith of Abraham) may be faithful in our response. Please join me in praying:

Like the woman in the reading from the Book of Revelation, women around the world today and their children face many dangers. May we, like the angels who protected her and her child from the dragon, act to protect women and children from the dragons that threaten them today, including violence, hunger, lack of education, and poor access to health care.

Through the “yes” of a young woman, Jesus came into our world, becoming the one through whom death would be overcome. May we too answer “yes” when God asks us to participate in the works of the Kingdom.

Like Mary, may we receive the courage to believe that God is really in charge when it seems that the desires of the powerful will once again outweigh the needs of the poor and vulnerable — and act accordingly.

As we evaluate the many possible paths into the future that we as a nation may choose, may we listen carefully to the voice of God within our hearts, rejecting fear-based choices and instead choosing to work for the good of all.

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, currently in the Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp) – Public Domain




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Posted by on Feb 2, 2012

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Recognizing the Light through our Daily Lives

Three Candles

Stepping carefully as she crossed the intersection, the older woman, wearing a warm coat and knitted hat despite the unseasonably warm weather and carrying a shopping bag of groceries, stopped suddenly, a look of delight on her face. She stepped back and slightly to the side, shifted her purse and bag, and bent to pick up a coin from the street. From my vantage point in the car waiting for the light to change, it appeared to be a quarter — just  twenty-five cents. Yet the delight I saw in her face could not have been greater if it had been a thousand times more valuable. She had found something of value, just laying there on the ground in plain sight, waiting for someone to notice it. She picked it up carefully and placed it into her purse. Then she continued to make her way across the intersection on her way home to her apartment down the street.

As she walked on her way and I went on mine, I reflected on what I had seen. A very ordinary item, found in the course of a very ordinary activity, brought great delight to a seemingly very ordinary person. Yet she was a person who was alert and aware of her surroundings. She noticed what was going on, despite the ordinariness of the day and its activities. She saw more than many saw who crossed that intersection on that afternoon, and when she saw, she acted on what she had seen.

Perhaps this anonymous woman has something to teach us as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a feast also known as Candlemas and/or as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as Anna and Simeon recognized Jesus when his parents brought him to the Temple to offer the traditional sacrifice required for a first born son, so we are called to be alert and aware so we will recognize Jesus when he comes into our lives. No one was expecting the Christ to come as the infant son of a normal, non-wealthy, non-royal family from Nazareth. Just a carpenter’s son!  The Christ was to be a military hero who would drive out the Roman conquerors and establish a new kingdom like that of David. Yet, Anna and Simeon recognized him and blessed God for the gift of seeing him before their deaths. Indeed, Anna went around happily telling everyone she met that the Messiah had been born and had been presented at the Temple … and she herself had seen him!

The challenge each of us faces, I believe, is to see the Christ in the people with whom we share our lives, as well as in the people who formally represent the Christian community, and to celebrate that coming  into our lives. The fellow who sits begging on the street downtown, the woman who stops joyfully to pick up a coin in the middle of the crosswalk, the guy who laughingly dances down the street, flirting with all the ladies as he goes to round up some buddies and head off to dinner before the cold night catches up with them, the frightened teen who finds she’s pregnant and is certain her parents will beat her and throw her out on the street if they find out, the doctor who cares for a child without charge when the parents don’t have insurance and can’t pay for the care, the little boy who delightedly strips off all his clothes because he’s learned how to do it and revels in the freedom of being alive and unfettered. Each of these is Christ coming to someone. How do we respond?

Image by Alice Birkin – Public domain


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Posted by on Sep 9, 2011

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Feast of the Nativity of the Mary – September 8


The Birth of the Virgin by Giotto, ca 1305

Since the fifth century AD, beginning in Jerusalem, the feast of the Nativity of Mary has been celebrated in Christian Churches. It is celebrated exactly nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast and others like it are a reminder that those remembered as holy ones in our community got their start the same way all humans do. They were born of a woman, into a family and a larger community of fallible, imperfect humans, who nevertheless managed to help them grow to adulthood and eventually to sainthood.  This should be a source of great hope to all of us.

Mary was no exception. Her parents, Joachim and Anna, had long awaited the birth of a child. Her coming to them was a great gift from God. According to tradition, she lived with them only three years before they took her to the temple to be dedicated to service there. They visited her regularly at the temple as she was growing up until they passed away when she was about 10 years old.

Most of us will never have children following prophecies or angelic announcements of their coming. Most will not take our children to be raised in the temple or our local church. Most of us will live to see our children as grown adults with families of their own. But we will share in the task of parents such as Joachim and Anna, or Zacharia and Elizabeth, or Joseph and Mary: we will do our best to raise the children who have been entrusted to us, to help other parents to raise their own children, and to love and care for children of those we don’t know in other communities around the world. The love, acceptance, patience, gentleness, and consistency we show them in our day to day contact and care will be the qualities that help shape and mold their view of the world and of God.

On this Feast of the Nativity of Mary, may we be open to see the wonder of God’s love shining through the world’s children today and celebrate the continuation of the great chain of birth and love that unites us all in the Lord, leading us to holiness through the adventure of life as it is here and now.

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Posted by on Mar 25, 2011

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation – Celebrating Incarnation and a Young Woman’s “Yes” to God

The Annunciation - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1850

March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the visit by the angel Gabriel to a young woman in Nazareth to ask a great favor of her. The Lord of Hosts, Creator of all that is, was and ever will be, requested her consent to becoming the Mother of God (Theotokos or God-bearer), Mother of the Incarnate Word of God, Mother of His Son. The story of this visit is recounted in Christian scriptures (Lk 1:26-38, Mt 1:18-21)  and also in the Qu’ran (Sura 3: 45-51).

With Mary’s courageous decision to consent to the Lord’s request, a new era in the history of human relations with the Lord opened. In a time and place where women were little valued or respected and had fewer rights than men, the consent of a woman who was little beyond childhood and was still unmarried was solicited and respected by the greatest power of all – her creator and ours.

This feast has been celebrated since the earliest days of the Christian community, probably even predating the celebration of Christmas. Celebration of the Annunciation (and therefore of the Incarnation) coincides with the general time frame of the celebration of the Passover and Exodus, events that formed the Jewish community into a nation, beginning their history as a people. With the Annunciation and the Incarnation, the life of a new community began and the history of salvation took a new turn that eventually led to inclusion of all peoples on Earth.

Selection of the date for the celebration was not random. It coincided with the timing of the birth of John the Baptist, conceived following the time of his father’s service within the Holy of Holies on the Feast of Atonement in the fall. The Annunciation took place six months later, putting it in early spring. Based on those dates, John the Baptist’s birth was celebrated in June and Jesus’ birth date came to be set as December 25.

Setting the date of the Annunciation in spring also followed the Jewish tradition of celebrating beginnings and endings on or around the same date. It was known that Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred at Passover time. Setting the beginning of his life, his conception, at the same general time made sense to the early community. The big innovation was that for Christians, his conception marked the beginning of life, rather than his actual physical birth. (The “womb to tomb” tradition thus has ancient roots as well.)

Moving forward a few hundred years, in 525 when the new calendar was introduced by Dionysius Exiguus, the Anno Domini calendar, March 25 was set as the first day of the year. The Christian community considered it to be the beginning of a new era of grace.

May we, as we continue to live out our lives as sharers in the mystery of incarnation, rejoice with the angels and saints, and with Our Lord as well, the great blessing of a young woman’s willingness to trust that her Lord would never ask too much of her.

Let us join with our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Christian churches in rejoicing on this day.

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
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Posted by on Dec 12, 2010

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Lived Religion – Relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Lived religion is a sociological term for the way people behave on a day to day basis. Santa Clara University sociologist Maria del Socorro Castaneda Liles has written Our Lady of Everyday Life an ethnography of Mexican American women and their relation to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Joe Rodriguez, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News has summarized this research in the title of his article with the words Mother, Friend, Lawyer. Pesonally, I would not have used the term “lawyer” because it has a more legal, technical connotation than the word advocate. The Spanish term “abogado” is used for both.

These interviews documented something familiar to most of us who share a Mexican heritage. There is more of a casual, friendly, and intimate conversation between devotees and the Virgin, as opposed to a more ritual relationship embodied in formalized prayers or devotional manuals. The interviews also show that women and their sense of themselves is changing.

Younger women felt that Our Lady could relate to their economic struggles as single mothers and to their decisions to control the number of children they have. In Guadalupe, they find the Mother of God as strong, resourceful, and capable.

This theme of empowerment might seem new and contemporary but it is at the heart, literally the heart, of the Guadalupe experience for the conquered indigenous people of Mexico and the “Gran Mestizaje,” the resulting nation of people created by the blending of European, African, and indigenous American groups.

The appearance of Mary, pregnant and dark complected as the advocate and protectress of the lowly, the powerless, is also an act of heavenly recognition of human dignity and worth.

From a purely secular standpoint this is a startling phenomenon. The general pattern in times of such social upheaval and distress is the development of revitalization movements which attempt to go back to earlier better times, to plead with the gods who have abandoned a civilization, or in some cases to engage in “ghost dances” to render themselves invisible.

In many respects, the name Guadalupe is an attempt by the Spanish to claim the apparition as that of one of the black Madonnas from their homeland who was also a patron of Christopher Columbus. Yet, people who know her real name call her “Tepeyac” from the hill on which she appeared.

While it might be tempting to equate her with Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of the dawn, the woman who appeared to Juan Diego and her subsequent cult had none of the darkness and blood that characterized the Aztec and Meso-American pantheon.

The slide show from the online version of the same article conveys the intimacy of a people and their “Patrona”.

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Posted by on Dec 2, 2009

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

“Ready or Not, Here I Come!”


Advent Wreath

Advent Wreath

This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent – our New Year’s Day in the Church. I was visiting the parish in which I was raised, St. Patrick’s Parish in Spokane, WA. The homilist, Fr. Kenneth St. Hilaire, spoke of his experience on Thanksgiving Day with his family. His nieces organized a game of Hide and Go Seek. It’s a game we played many times in my family as children, and so had he.

In this game, one person is chosen to be “It” and everyone else runs and hides. The person who is “It” counts to 30, shouts, “Ready or not, here I come” and then tries to find the other ones who are hiding. When a person is found, he or she becomes the next “It” and the game continues. Sometimes the game goes on until all are found. Other times those found become “prisoners” of the one doing the seeking. In some versions, if a person who has not yet been found gets back to the base of the one who is “It”, all get to hide again and that original person continues to be “It”.

Fr. Kenny suggested that the spiritual life can be like this childhood game. Sometimes we even try to hide from the Lord – to pretend that maybe we won’t be found. But whatever we do, at some point in our lives, the Lord is going to say to us, “Ready or not, here I come.” Advent is a time to remember that and begin again to prepare our hearts and minds to meet the Lord – because He is coming, and when the time comes, we can’t say, “Just a minute, I’m not ready yet!”

So, whether the coming is our individual meeting with the Lord at the moment of our death, or the one at the end of time, Advent is a time to remember that the Kingdom is coming, the Lord is returning and the world as we know it will pass away.

Advent is a good time to make time for prayer, whether 2 minutes stolen from a busy day at work or 15 minutes of “walking prayer” or a Rosary offered at home or in church. Time spent remembering our Lord and King, speaking from our hearts to Him, then listening to His response will bring us closer to the Kingdom.

Another good thing to do in Advent is to look closely at our lives and see what is excess. What can be cut out to make room for something better? What can be shared with someone who is in need? It needn’t be something huge. But it’s pretty likely that most of us have something we can share or something that we don’t really need to be doing. Making space in our lives for the Lord’s coming brings a richness that material things cannot ever fill.

Finally, Fr. Kenny suggested that we look to Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a model and a helper in this great journey of Advent. She waited for his birth for 9 months. She prepared for the coming of her child. She raised him, loved him, cared for him and then stood by him as he entered into his adult ministry. At the cross, she stood and waited as he died. According to tradition, she was part of the community that welcomed him after the Resurrection and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As our “big sister” in faith, she can help us to get ready for the Lord’s coming.

So, this Advent season, I invite you to join me in this “game” of preparing for the Lord’s coming. When we hear, “Ready or not, here I come”, may we all be ready to be found by our great Lord and King.

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Posted by on Oct 7, 2009

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Our Lady of the Rosary – Feast of the Day – October 7


 Rosaries made by my Brother-in-law, Larry Perkins

October 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This feast was established in 1573 to celebrate the naval victory at Lepanto over invading Turkish forces. Pope Pius V attributed the success of the smaller Europen forces in defeating larger numbers of invaders to the prayers of people throughout Europe who were praying the rosary and asking God for help. The feast became part of the calendar for the universal Church in 1716.

The rosary is a string of beads used to help keep track of a series of prayers which are repeated in a specific order. On each bead in the rosary a prayer is said. These include the Our Father, Hail Mary, Apostle’s Creed and Doxology (the Glory Be). The Hail Holy Queen is traditionally the last prayer of the rosary before the final Sign of the Cross. 

When I was a girl, a retreat house was opened in our diocese. As part of the campaign needed for its successful completion, we were asked to pray the rosary. In place of the Hail Holy Queen, we all prayed the Memorare. So for me, that became the concluding prayer of the rosary.

The rosary includes 20 mysteries related to the life of Christ and of Mary. The Joyful Mysteries are: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Jesus, the Presentation and the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. The Luminous Mysteries include: The Baptism of Jesus, Jesus Reveals Himself in the Miracle at Cana, Jesus Preaches the Good News of Conversion, Repentance and Forgiveness, The Transfiguration of Jesus, and The Institution of the Eucharist. The Sorrowful Mysteries include: the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion. The Glorious Mysteries are: the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, the Assumption of Mary and the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

The rosary has been an aid to Christian prayer since the time of St. Dominic in the 1200s. (Buddhists and Moslems also use strings of beads to help them in their prayers.) In praying with the rosary, we can have a focus for our thoughts while being open to God’s presence. The repetition of prayers gives us a base to hold while our thoughts are turned to God. The rosary is a good prayer to use in the evening or in the morning or even in the middle of the night if a person wakes up then. It is not necessary to complete the entire rosary at one time. Falling asleep during the rosary is OK. God is always happy to have us fall asleep relaxed comfortably in the arms of prayer, just like a parent rocking a small child to sleep.

On this day, a feast originally established to commemorate a naval victory, may our prayers be for peace, understanding, and cooperation among people of good will, regardless of religious  and other differences that divide us.

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Posted by on Sep 8, 2009

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Birthday of Mary – September 8

Russian Icon of the Birth of Mary

Russian Icon of the Birth of Mary

The birthday of the mother of Jesus, Mary, daughter of Joachim and Ann, is celebrated on September 8. It is an ancient feast, dating from the fifth century dedication of a church in Jerusalem. The church is known today as the basilica of St. Ann, mother of Mary. The feast is celebrated both in the Eastern and Western churches. 

In honor of her birthday, I offer what is perhaps her second most famous prayer, a prayer banned even in our times by despots and dictators who feared its power to inspire hope, courage and trust in God’s goodness and love of the poor and oppressed. May this be our prayer too.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

                my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

                behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

                and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

                to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

                dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

                but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

                the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

                remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

                to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

(Lk 1:46-55)

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