Mary, Mother of God

Mary, Mother of God

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.  I am not well versed enough to talk with any authority on the Church’s teachings on the assumption. Maybe that is something I can tackle over the course of the next year.  I do feel like I can talk about a Catholic’s understanding of Mary, and maybe clear up some of the misconceptions. 

Misconception #1 – Catholics worship Mary.  

Catholics do not worship Mary, per se.  They view her as the new Eve, and as the best of all of us.  One has only to review the spectacular construction requirements for the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant to understand how holy the New Testament Ark of the Covenant must be.  Why would one compare Mary to the Ark?  The Ark contained the word of God (10 Commandments), Aaron’s priestly staff, and manna.  Jesus is the word of God, the high priest, and the bread of angels.   In other words, Catholics respect Mary as the ideal person we are all called to be, and will fully become in the next life. We place her on a pedestal, but still acknowledge her as human. She deserves our deep admiration, and not our worship.  May she forever be the example that leads us all to be handmaids of the Lord!

Misconception #2 – Catholics pray to Mary.  

This is true, but it can be taken out of context.  As a Christian, we believe that Christians who die are now in Heaven.  They are still a part of the Body of Christ, and are thus available to perform intercessory prayer. So, as one might ask their friend to pray for them, one might also ask those who are in Heaven to pray for them.  In fact, the Hail Mary Prayer is part scriptural and part intercessory. 

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. (Luke 1:28. Note: “favor,” the usual Biblical translation, is tied to the Greek word for grace).  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. (Luke 1:42) Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Unfortunately, there is not a word for talking to people on the other side, except through the use of the word pray.  

Another point to remember is that in Luke 1:48, Mary prophesied that all generations would call her blessed. So, in some respects, Catholics view their admiration of Mary as carrying out this prophesy.  

This morning, I pray that Mary take each of us by hand, and lead us to a deeper understanding of her son, for who knows a person better than that person’s mother.

In Him,

dw

Love of Self

While the Bible does not specifically address this (to my recollection), it seems implicit that if we are to love God with all our might, and our neighbor as ourselves, then we must love ourselves. Otherwise, we have set a low bar for loving neighbor.  

Do I love myself? Do you love you?  I think the question is yes and no.  Yes in regards to the things we like about ourselves, and no as to the things we do not like about ourselves.  We are all sinners, and we do not like this about ourselves. We do not like it when we fall into sin.  Sometimes, we are not even willing to admit that we are sinners, and we suppress the quiet voice of God who is asking us to work with him to address these sins.  

The truth is – ours is a God who knew every sin that we would ever commit before the world was made.  He loved us enough to bring us into existence despite this knowledge of our sinful ways.  He loved us enough to send his son into the world to die for our sins.  Yes, we are still sinners, but we have been forgiven.  

Because of God’s love for us, we can stand in truth without collapsing under the weight of our sins. We can see ourselves for who we really are without an overwhelming sense of shame, but only if we balance this truth with an awareness of his unconditional love for us.  

Let us spend some time today pondering God’s love and mercy. Let us invite him into our dark places where our true self resides.  Let us pray to him to shed light, and to lead us to a place where we are not so tied to sin.  

In Him, 

dw

Faith vs. Works

This has always been an intriguing dispute to me.  I’ll admit there was a time in history where doctrine seemed to be interpreted as one having to earn salvation through works; however, the truth is that the two are inseparable.  

The Christian life is about becoming new in Christ.  Christ performs works, and through my submission to him as the ruler of my life, he works through me for the good of humankind.  So, if I am not working, then how can I have faith? How can I be new in Christ?  

Works are the fruit of faith.  The problem:  it is easier to proclaim faith than to surrender to the God who loves us; to the God who wants to work within us and through us.    

The thing that I would caution against is the fact that there is a bit of a line between doing works for our own glory, and really letting God work through us.  God’s work comes from a place of humility, even though there is always pride attached to our efforts.  We have to be aware of when we seek our own glory, and when we are humbly following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That being said, we should always work, but when pride is out of proportion to our humility, then we have to recognize it, hand it to God, and ask him to help us be more humble next time. We have to ask him to use our prideful works for his glory, despite the sin tainted efforts.   

God love us, and wants to use us to bring love to people in need today. May we be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that we might be Christ for others today.  May his perfect love for us fill our hearts, and overflow into the lives of others.   

In Him,

dw

Love the Lord Your God With All Your Heart

I have really struggled with this concept since I zoned in on the idea that following God is not just about the good things in life.  Living in faith includes carrying crosses, and I bet I’m not the only one who really likes a comfortable world that is designed to keep one cozy.  

The problem with riches is that it allows us to take care of ourselves.  I am convinced that the rich man in the Bible walked away because he liked his comfort and ability to determine his own direction in life, too.  So, it isn’t that one has riches, but the attachment to it that causes us to put comfort before love of God. 

In addition, having possessions allows us to save ourselves; to be our own savior.  Who needs God when one can go to the pantry and have food? Who needs God when there is a roof over one’s head? Who needs God when they, by their own will power, act morally.  No, the God in Jesus is a God who wants to care for us, to take care of our needs, and to lead us into and through experiences that shape us more into his image and likeness; that shapes us into who he created us to be.  This means surrendering stuff in order to love him more, and to more fully experience his love for us. 

If this is true, then love of God needs to be lived through surrender, through a willingness to allow him to shape us, to work through us for the shaping of others, and to surrender to him, no matter what the cost. 

Luckily, God accepts us where we are. He allows us to take great or small steps into this place of trust.  It is like ripping off a band-aid.  Do you do it a little at a time or all at once? It is like getting into a cold swimming pool. Do you jump in or do you wade in a little at a time.  I want to be the one that goes for it all at one time.  I am so willing in some things, but not in all things.  

Spend some time today being honest with yourselves about how much you love God, and how much you are willing to give to more fully love him.  It is ok to be closer to the mark in some things than in others.  It is ok to be right where you are; however, it is not ok to stay where we are.  A Christian life is about transformation, it is about transcendence.  Thus, we need to be growing ever more towards God and in God.  As you reflect on where you are in this journey, thank God for allowing you to see in truth. Thank him for his patience and mercy, and ask him to show you the way of surrendering more to his love, and to give up the worldly things that prevent you from more fully loving him in return. 

In Him,

dw

Sacred vs. Secular

Do you ever feel like your world is two-dimensional? Do you feel like something is missing?  As I studied theology this year, it became more clear to me that I do live in a two-dimensional world, and I need to live in a three-dimensional world.  

Just stop and think about it for a moment.  There is an entire invisible world all around us.  There is a world full of angels and a Triune God; a world where those who have gone before us reside.  This place does not exist on Mars or Saturn. It is all around us.  

There is a world where earthly things exist, and a world where heavenly things reside.  This is why when you cross the threshold into a sacred spot, a church for example, that you feel a change.  All of the architecture and art within are created with the idea of bringing the invisible into our line of sight.  This is why prayer experts tell us to set aside a place in our house for prayer because this place is a sacred place, it is a place where we can more easily connect with the sacred.  

This is one of the reasons why Christians wear religious jewelry. It is why some light candles, which are reminders of a different kind of light; a light that surrounds us and guides us on our way.  It is why church steeples point up, even though God is around us, there is still something in us that wants to think he is up there somewhere.  They still remind us to think of Him. 

As you walk in the visible world today, I encourage you to take a few steps towards recognizing that the sacred world is with you, in you, and around you.  Take a few minutes to train yourself to live in a 3D world by acknowledging it; admiring it, and looking for it as you go today. Say hello to your guardian angel. Imagine his or her wings fluttering near you.  Picture your deceased relative smiling at you.  Take a deep breath, and inhale the fragrances of the world for which we long. 

In Him,

dw

Peace Be With You

As Christians who lives in the ever present, but not fully realized kingdom of God, we are promised peace.  This seems contradictory to our modern culture, especially in light of the two shootings this past weekend.  Still, Jesus preached truth, so it must be so.  

While pondering this apparent contradiction, I realized that peace does not come from a peaceful world, it comes from trust in God; it comes from surrendering to his will for us.  I think Job said it best: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” Job 1:21.  

This reminds me of a friend of mine.  She told a story about a time in her life when a bad thing happened to her family, and she told us about the fruit that came from walking past all of the damage, and at every spot saying, “blessed be God!”  

We long for a God who loves us the way we want him to love, but he sees all. He knows what is best for our eternity.  He knows what is going to lead us into places of growth and spiritual blessings.  If we can only learn to trust in him, and to walk through this valley of death from this place of trust, then we will know true peace. We will learn to curb anxiety, and to bring true joy into the world. 

Let us pray that God teach us how to trust him in our darker moments, and to live in the peace of the ever present kingdom.  May we all cry out, “my Jesus, I trust in you!”

In Him,

dw

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Have you ever noticed that the Our Father says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”?  I remember the first time I really thought about those words.  I will be judged as I judge others.  It was extremely unnerving to let that truth sink in.  

At the same time, it gets to the heart of the Gospel; the Good News.  Jesus preached love.  The Ten Commandments were summed up as love of God and love of neighbor, all neighbors.  He even expanded on the definition of neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  In effect, everyone is our neighbor.  

Forgiveness can be difficult.  Some people have hurt us worse than others.  In these situations, it is only in allowing Jesus into the wound that we can find the grace to forgive.  It is only through Christ that we can look down from our own crosses, and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  

Sometimes, all we can say is, “God, it is my desire to forgive, but I feel unable. Please give me the grace to forgive.”  In these circumstances, I think it is important to regularly revisit these points of pain, and to continue working to release these feelings. If we do so, we will eventually forgive.  God is content with our desire, and our efforts to let him in so that he can heal these wounds.   

May we all prayerfully reflect on our lives and identify people against whom we hold a grudge.  Let us take these circumstances to prayer, go deeper in our walk with Christ, and let him teach us how to heal, how to forgive, and how to walk more fully in his kingdom; in his kingdom where peace, love and joy prevail.  

In Him, 

dw

Your Will Be Done

You are God. I praise you. You are the Lord, I worship you.  I long to stand in awe of you, but my humanness wants to bring you down to my level; to explain away the great deeds you have done.  My pride does not want to fully accept your power and might. My need to control keeps me from being open to the full wonder of what you have created; what you have created from nothing.  Open my eyes, Lord, to your glory.  Open my heart that I might fully experience the emotions of awe and wonder!  Humble me that I might see you for who you really are. 

We live in a world where we tamp down our emotions. We perceive emotions as something weak; something that makes us less. The truth is that our emotions help us to live life to the fullest, and Jesus came into the world that we might live life abundantly.  He is with us in our sufferings, in our joys, in our every day life. He wants to more fully share in these experiences with us. He wants to show us how to experience them more fully.  

We perceive pain as evil, as bad.  It is. However, all things work to the good, and this applies even to the less enjoyable moments in our lives. If you are suffering today, physically or emotionally, I encourage you to spend sometime with the God who loves you. Ask him to show you how to more fully embrace the experience; how to let it be a transformative experience for you and for others.  Ask him for joy, despite your circumstances.  Ask him to heal you, but only if it be his will.  Ask him for grace to accept his will joyfully. 

May God teach us how to embrace life more fully, and to live joyfully through the ups and downs; grateful for what he has given, and blessing him for what he has not given. He is our Lord, our all-knowing God.  Let us trust him more fully each and every day of our lives. 

In Him,

dw

My Jesus, I Trust in You

What does it mean to trust in God?  It means believing that he is the greatest of all Fathers, and he will take care of you as all good fathers care for their children.  It means that when bad things happen, he is there, caring for you, and leading you to safe pastures.  

I don’t know about you, but I have this voice in my head that says God will protect me from evil.  This concept is written throughout the Bible, and became ingrained in me at an early age.  I even remember wondering why people didn’t follow a God who protected people. 

Because of this, when bad things happen, there is this conflict within me.  On the one hand, I intellectually know that evil exists in the world, and that bad things happen.  The Bible, in addition to all of the wonderful words of protection, also illustrates that bad things happen.  In fact, Jesus says, pick up your cross and follow me.  This is not a promise of a rose garden.  

The truth is, when we trust in God, he protects our immortality; he leads us to transformation and divine union with him.  In the examples of some Saints, this divine union can happen sporadically through one’s life, but for most of us who do not persist in contemplative prayer, our experience of divine union will come in the next life.  In other words, those who are on a more deliberate path of transformation through prayer and trust in God, will have glimpses of what waits for us in Heaven. For those of us who are a little more sporadic, we have the assurance that transformation is possible because of the examples set by some, and we persist in faith that the Beatific vision will be ours one day. 

To trust in God means surrendering to him. Everything that happens in our lives is for our greater good.  This is hard to accept, and we want to run from the pain and confusion caused by the not so good in our lives.  When we stop running from these things, and pray things like – “Jesus, I surrender. I trust that this is for my long term good, and just ask that you be here with me through this” – it is then that we start to see his powerful works in and around us. We begin to see how much he loves us, and how much his all-knowingness has our best interest at heart. 

I don’t know what burdens you are carrying today or what mental hangups might be causing your own internal confusion.  I just know that you can trust him to lead you through it.  You can find joy in the midst of the storm.  Just spend a few minutes surrendering or praying for the grace to surrender.  You may have to do this several times before you more fully loosen you’re control of the situation.  Regardless of how well you actually surrender, he is still there, still comforting, still leading you to a better place both in your life and in your path to participating in the divine life of a God who loves you and blesses you. 

In Him,

dw

(Examples of saints who have experienced some unity with God in this life – St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Catherine of Siena). 

The Signs of the Times

In a letter to Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, coined the phrase “read the signs of the times.” If I were to weigh in on my view of the signs of the times, I would say everything is out of balance.  Everything is spot on or close to it – as for the overall teachings of the church, but from my Catholic view of the world:

•It is out of balance in the focus of Jesus in the Eucharist, and needs to be balanced with awareness and cultivation of the Holy Spirit within us.  

•It is out of balance in caring for the souls of the dead and the unborn, and needs to be in balance with unity; living a part of the Body of Christ. 

•It is out of balance with the idea of liturgy, and needs to be counter-balanced with mission; apostolic works, and evangelizing the living.

•It is out of balance with clericalism and the idea that priests are “all that.”  They are, but while the hierarchy trusts a bunch of men who have been ordained, they do not trust the laity.  A small percentage of them have broken the trust with sexual misconduct.  A larger, but still small percentage preach their version of the truth.  Diocesan priests are overwhelmed with responsibility and requirements for pastoral ministries.  So, we trust these ordained men, the majority of whom are trustworthy, but we do not trust the equally educated, equally sinful laity to chip in on a deeper level.  I can see where having the ordained in charge lessens the amount of people over whom the Church must oversee. Then, I’m not sure how much oversight is given to priests.  

We live in a world where men are not feeling called to the priesthood (or are not responding to the call).  The faithful are hungry for truth, and all they get is a 10-20 minute homily at mass.  Yes, we have radio shows, books, lectures and the like, but we need more people involved in grass roots efforts, too. We need the laity to understand their call to receive communion, and to be dismissed to go out into the world to share what they have received; to share Jesus in word and deed.  

To do this effectively, we need people who understand their place in the Body of Christ; to understand that we are no longer individuals, but a part of us resides in all of those who live in shelters, and in those who sit on our borders longing for a better life. A part of us lives not only in those who are incarcerated, but in a co-worker, grumpy boss, and in a person who just cut one off in traffic.   

To do this effectively, we need the ordained to trust the laity, and if not us, then to trust the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  Even mistakes work towards the good of those who love Christ.  I do not believe that we can make things any worse than they are now.  Then again, I do have my fears that more people means more damage, but as I pray, I feel compelled to trust the Holy Spirit.  I feel compelled to have faith.  I mean, the Bible is pretty clear that evangelization and diaconate work in its original Greek meaning of service are the role of the entire Church.  

We live in an era where co-dependency and lack of boundaries impact our relationships with others. Things can get sticky, and sometimes dicey. We live in an era where people seem to believe all efforts must result in victory, or why bother?  Why visit someone in prison when there is such a high recidivism rate?  Why give cash to someone on the streets when they are likely to buy drugs or alcohol?  Why?  I think Mother Theresa summed it up best when she talked about being faithful, instead of worrying about being successful.  If we are successful, we are drawn to pride. If we are little and just trust, then we are drawn to humility.  

We live in a time when significant prayers are needed.  We live in a time when our internal relationship with God needs to be set on fire.  We live in a time where Jesus is the answer to depression and addiction.  We live in a time where people are verbally persecuted for living and speaking the Gospel. This should not surprise us.  Jesus predicted that this would happen.  So, we need to support each other in our endeavors. We need to be open to constructive feedback when God might be speaking through others in order to perfect our efforts.  We need to know more fully how much God loves us, and out of a response to that love, set the world on fire with our endeavors of letting Jesus work in and through us. 

In Him,

Dw