Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Talk About Mary and the Saints Given at Bible Study

How many of you have a devotion to Mary or one of the Saints?  

I had a difficult time forming a relationship with Mary and the Saints.  I believed all of the doctrine and dogmas about Mary, and I understood that we have an amazing community of Saints that we can draw on for support and inspiration. I just couldn't seem to connect.

Unfortunately, there are many Christians who are separated from these relationships, especially with Mary, but it wasn't always this way.  In fact, here are a few quotes about Mary. Guess their source:

- It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin....

- The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.

- Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb...This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. 

You might be thinking St. Louis de Montfort, author of True Devotion to Mary, or St. John Paul II, who dedicated his papacy to Mary. Right?

These observations were from Martin Luther, some of it after the split from the Church.  From the beginning, the Church recognized Mary and her role as our Savior's mother.  People prayed for her intercession. An ancient prayer to her is:

We turn to you for protection,
holy Mother of God.

Listen to our prayers
and help us in our needs.

Save us from every danger,
glorious and blessed Virgin.

I went through a prayer exercise where I needed to envision both Mary and Jesus being in prayer with me, and I could envision Jesus, but Mary was always hovering around the background.  But then again, isn't that where she has always chosen to be? Supporting the apostles in the early Church, yet not the one who gets talked about in Scripture?  Who thinks Mary just said, "Good luck, Son!" when Jesus started His mission and then went about her business until the Crucifixion?

But we don't hear about her. Isn't that strange? Or is it just like a mother? How many mothers have supported their children without getting or asking for credit?  Just like a mother. There were reports while Mary was still alive of her bilocating--being in two places at the same time--which, from what I understand, is an ability of most mothers.  We take advantage of her when we think of it, we ignore her when we don't need anything, and we try to manipulate her when we want something, just like a mother.   

And then I fly to the opposite end of the spectrum and find, through my own deficiencies,  that she is unapproachable. As if she's that intimidating aunt who was always trying to kiss you at family gatherings. 

Forming a relationship with the saints can be just as intimidating. I love Padre Pio, but I sometimes feel that if I approached him, he would say, "Who are you? You've sinned 4 times since we started this conversation. I'm going to go talk to Blessed Mother Teresa."

But if you aren't ready to approach the saints, the good news is that they will approach you.  When I first returned to the Church, Padre Pio was stalking me.  His name came up in conversation, but I had no idea who he was. Then someone handed me a novena with his face on the front of it, and I naively thought, "What a coincidence!"  Then I went to a meeting, and there was Padre Pio staring down at me from a picture on the wall.  So I got a book on him and read about his suffering from the stigmata, his persecution from jealous people, and his amazing connection with his guardian angel, Mary and Jesus.

I've had other instances where saint have made themselves known to me.  God will use any medium to reach you.  I was flipping channels and stopped on a program on EWTN on Venerable Pierre Toussaint. He was a slave who was educated and trained in hairdressing. He was basically a free man with the title of slave, who went to Mass every morning and earned his own money.  When his master died, he remained a slave so he could support the household, because the mistress wouldn't have taken money from him if he had been a free man. He financially helped wealthy people who had fallen on hard times, and he did it anonymously so they wouldn't feel ashamed, because he knew that doing Christ's will was more important than his own ego. I watched this show, and I had tears running down my face. My first thought was, "Rats. Here comes menopause." But he was showing me something I needed to learn.

Another time I caught a movie on Saint Josephine Bakhita, also a slave, who radiated joy in every circumstance. After I discovered her, I was praying, and I felt that I was under attack with negative thoughts. Suddenly, the image of St. Bakhita appeared in my mind, and I was filled with joy. It's as if she swooped in to save me.

I did wonder about the slave theme that was appearing in the saints who were coming to me, and then I realized that I am a slave to many things--anxiety, worry, sin. Maybe sin was letting in the anxiety and the rest. That may be why Reconciliation was so important to the saints. Kind of an armor against sin. Many of the saints who were priests were dedicated and gifted in hearing Confessions. Some could tell you your sins, and the big ones aren't necessarily murder.  Did you know that the only sin Padre Pio wouldn't absolve was gossip unless the person promised not to do it again?

Mary also repeatedly points us toward Confession, because the Sacrament of Reconciliation repairs our relationship with Jesus. In one of her apparitions, she said that a return to monthly Confessions would save the West. That's it? What are we waiting for!  It sounds simple, but pride does a pretty good job of keeping us away.

I remember I had one sin I didn't want to confess. It wasn't murder. Isn't it funny how murder is always the standard? I didn't kill anyone, so I don't really need to go. Well, this wasn't murder, but I bet all of us have that one sin that embarrasses us. It could be I made a strong man blush by my swearing, or I got depressed and ate an entire cake. That's gluttony, which is a sin. To sin, you need knowledge that it's a sin and you need to do it of your own free will. I knew eating the entire cake would be a sin, and I ate it anyway. But doesn't gluttony sound terrible? Worse than murder?

I'm not saying that was the sin, but it was embarrassing for me. I actually got online and was searching the internet for other parish's Confession schedules, because I thought if I confessed my sin to Father Albert, I'd never be able to look him in the eye again. Or rather, he wouldn't, because every time he saw me he'd be thinking, "It's the cake lady."

That's pride at work, and the enemy is really good at using it to keep us away from this sacrament! Once I realized that one of the gifts of Confession is practice in humility, I bit the bullet and went, and Father Albert has yet to run away screaming when he sees me.

I think it helps if we realize that Mary and the Saints were human beings, just like us, but they worked at their humility and at living as Christ wanted them to.  Out of the billions of people born, it's as if God gave us certain people to point out to us how to live as Christians, including how to overcome our difficulties.  I relate to St. Jerome. He was mouthy, rude, critical, and didn't play well with others, but that didn't stop him from becoming a saint. That gives me hope.

St. Peregrine was cured of cancer, and last minute at that, so he gives us hope when we're in despair from critical illnesses.  St. Augustine - a womanizer and a drinker and, at one time, a pagan. He gives me hope when I have momentary doubts, or when I eat that chocolate that I was giving up for Lent because I "needed" a lift, or...well, I can't say I've been a womanizer. 

But what if your son or daughter is living in sin? Has a baby out of wedlock?  St. Augustine is right there as an example that God can reach them wherever they are, and you need to pray for them and have hope, though hopefully you won't have to pray for forty years like St. Augustine's mother, St. Monica.

Padre Pio taught us how to endure suffering with dignity.  Blessed Mother Teresa taught us to treat each individual with dignity, even if they were outcasts of society, even if they smelled of rotting flesh. She would carry a dying person from the streets and place them in a bed and stroke their face and call them Jesus, because she saw Jesus in every human being.  They are our examples, and we should get to know them so we can see how to live as Christians but also to see how human they were. That it's okay not to be perfect.

But we should still strive to be perfect, and that's where Mary comes in. She was the perfect disciple and therefore our perfect example.  I think of the Joyful Mysteries as her Mysteries.  The Annunciation, showing us how to say yes to God no matter how impossible the odds. The Visitation, showing us how to put other's needs before our own and just trust in God that He'll take care of our needs as well. To visit Elizabeth, Mary traveled miles on a donkey (or maybe on foot!) While pregnant! And you might think, well, she wasn't showing that much when she left, but she did have to make the journey back, and women's stomachs don't get smaller in the second trimester. The Nativity, showing us the fruit of saying yes.  The Presentation, showing us that no matter what we give to God, He can't be outdone in generosity.  I give you two turtledoves, you give me the Son of God. What a deal! Give everything to Him. Imagine what you'll get back!  Finding Jesus in the Temple, showing us that when we look for Jesus, we will find Him.  Can you imagine how many people were strolling around Jerusalem? EVERYBODY showed up for Passover.  And yet they found one 12-year-old boy.

We sometimes imagine Mary with a pious long face, but love is joy, and Mary loved God. They said Mary danced in the Temple as a girl.  Think about when you fell in love, or of the people you currently love. Does it make you sad?   

Everything Mary experienced was a result of Jesus. Jesus was crowned with thorns, Mary was crowned in Heaven. Jesus was pierced with a lance, and because of that Mary's heart was pierced with a sword. Jesus was mocked by the soldiers. Does anyone think Mary was probably mocked because of her pregnancy before living with her husband?  And yet she remained faithful to God and is now Queen of Heaven.

She gives us so many tools to get to Jesus. The Rosary, so we can meditate on the mysteries of His life. The Fatima prayer.  Consecration to her Immaculate Heart so that everything we offer to Jesus is purified by her first. 

Her message is always the same. Love my son. He loves you.  Love one another; it's what He wants. Pray, fast and repent.

It will take practice.  I still have difficulties. I pray my rosary while walking the dog and lose my place when I stop to take care of business.  And does anyone pray novenas? Nine day prayers for special intentions? I've never made it through nine days straight without losing a day.   

But ours is a road to perfection. Mary was full of grace. We are not.  That's why she and the saints are available to us--to help us on that journey so we can all be with God.  Be open to them. They are willing and able to help us get to Heaven. Just pick a saint and decide to learn something about them and see how it applies to your life.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Our Lady of Medjugorje Points us to Jesus

Ever since I first heard about Medjugorje, I looked on the apparition with deep suspicion.  The Blessed Mother appearing since 1981? At a specific time? Highly unlikely. Though I believe in apparitions (not all of them), I wondered if this wasn't coming from the enemy.  It almost sounded as if Mary, Mother of God, was appearing at the beck and call of alleged visionaries, something that seemed contrary to her position and her dignity. I thought good people were being fooled.

Then I was reading a book on Our Lady of Kibeho. Mary appeared in Rwanda Medjugorje: The Message by Wayne Weible--a Lutheran.
(and predicted the massacre 10 years ahead of schedule) describing the rivers of blood. She appeared at set times--set by her. She also set the times of her appearances at Lourdes and Fatima. If SHE called the shots, that was a different story, so at the urging of a friend, I looked into
Rwanda genocide

In his book, he quoted excerpts from The Apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorgi, by Svetozar Kraljevic, O.F.M.  In that book, Father Vlasic interviews some of the visionaries, and their messages seemed sound, because as always, His Mother pointed at Jesus.  The enemy wouldn't do that.

Her principle message is "Peace, conversion, fasting, penance, prayer. The most important is peace."

Not that prayer isn't important. If fact, she repeatedly says, "Pray, pray, pray." 

She stressed a point that Catholics are aware of, though we are often misunderstood because we ask for His Mother's intercession.  "Pray to Jesus. I am His mother and I intercede for you with Him. But all prayer goes to Jesus." 

She again stressed that there is only one intercessor between us and the Father, and that is Jesus. When we ask for Mary's intercession, we are asking her to be the intercessor between us and Jesus, not the Father. And we ask this as an act of humility. She is the Queen Mother, and as in the times of the Old Testament, we peasants bring our requests to her and she sets them before the King. Everything Mary gets she gives to Jesus.

One visionary pointed out that the Madonna doesn't act separately from God. She does God's will.  When they asked her for a sign, she went to Jesus for the sign, and once He said yes, then she was able to offer the sign.  This is what Mary has always done. God's will. 

A few other notable messages (so far in my reading) are:

- The greatest danger to the world is through godlessness. This explains the rise in Atheism, a relatively new phenomenon.

- People who are in Hell raged against God in life and continue to rage against Him after death. They refuse to pray to God and, in effect, become one with Hell. This explains the rage behind many who are pro-abortion and anti-marriage. 

- The devil is most active through people of weak character who are divided within themselves. But he also enters the lives of strong believers, as he would rather "convert"real believers than non-believers.  This explains the Catholic priest scandal--both the actions of the priests themselves and the response by those in the Church who were more interested in the institution than the people.

Her messages can be a bit frightening, but they also offer hope. We always have a way out from under the enemy, and that is to hold onto Jesus Christ as tightly as we can. That's why they call it the Good News!

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Heart Breaks for You

She sat in front of me as I proclaimed the readings at Mass. I tried not to catch her eye, because ten minutes before, I had been informed that her son had suddenly and unexpectedly died the night before.

As I clasped her hand in the Sign of Peace and made eye contact,  the stunned grief I saw in her eyes gave me a physical jolt, and I tried not to think about it until after the Concluding Rite. Afterwards, I gave her a hug and said, "My heart breaks for you," and she thanked me, struggling to hold in the tears.

In some cultures, it's okay to throw back your head and wail. Today, I wished that we could be so open in the West. To express our pain fully and without reserve. But I know that as she remained for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus heard her cry.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Luminous Mysteries Show Us How to Live Our Charisms

I just completed a workshop called "Called and Gifted".  Each of us is called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and if you are called, you are gifted.

Charisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us solely for the benefit of others. Think Healing or Intercessory Prayer. We don't earn them. We don't choose them. They can't be used for evil or selfish purposes. With the workshop fresh on my mind while I was saying my Rosary, I noticed how the Luminous Mysteries show us how to live out those charisms.

Baptism of Jesus - We received our gifts when we entered God's family through Baptism. Jesus' Baptism, combined with prayer and fasting, clarified His earthly mission. We should follow His example and speak to him regularly through prayer to discern what is our individual mission for Him. And if you want to upgrade to Prayer 5.0, then you should add fasting.

Wedding at Cana - We must test our gifts to make sure they are really charisms and not just natural talents. Jesus performed His first recorded miracle at Cana. He received His mission through prayer, and now He was testing his gifts. Feedback from others helps to confirm if our gift is real. The feedback from the Wedding at Cana is that it's still being talked about over 2,000 years later. :)

Preaching of the Gospel - "Repent and believe in the Gospel (good news)!"  Those are Jesus' first recorded words (translated, of course.)   We must keep ourselves in communion with Him through regular confession, which repairs our relationship when we break it through sin, and we must have Faith in the Gospel.  We don't make our charisms "work", but if you don't turn from sin and believe, how often do you think you will exercise them?

Transfiguration - We use our charisms to help people get to know Jesus Christ.  He is revealed to them, transfigured from a "nice guy and teacher" to the Lord of all. That is what our charisms are for.

Institution of the Eucharist - Jesus gave us His Body and Blood to help nourish us so that we can do our part for Him to carry out His mission. He's not sending us out unarmed.

It was an exciting workshop because it also helped define those charisms we do NOT have. So, if you're doing volunteer work that is frustrating you, you may not have the charism for it. It also helped to see how people with different charisms may react to situations in ways I don't understand, so I shouldn't judge them or get frustrated with them (which happens all too frequently!)

It's just another way that praying the Rosary helps bring me closer to Jesus.