According to 20th century Scottish author William Barclay, “There are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.” Everyone had a birthday. Birthdays are universal. Celebrations of life. Reminders of impending death. Or a view somewhere in between. Why do you celebrate your birthday?
Each new year of our life allows us to learn from our past shortcomings and hope future successes. Celebrating our birthday helps us to live in the present moment. On September 8th, the Catholic Church observes the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The topic of the Mother of God is a point of contention for Protestants. There are a lot of misconceptions that Catholics worship Mary. I even had a conversation with a co-worker last week who asked me, “Why is it that some Catholics worship Mary?” My reply was concise and the same as the official stance of the Catholic Church, “Catholics don’t worship Mary. She is not God. We never, ever worship her. Instead, we honor her.”
Some of you might still be skeptical. You might be thinking, “Well, if you don’t worship Mary why does the Church has a specific feast to celebrate her birthday [along with the countless other feasts!] It all seems too much.” That certainly is a valid concern. I can understand how non-Catholics perceive Catholics’ devotion to Mary as being excessive or over the top. This article will discuss three reasons why Catholic do celebrate the birthday of Mary— and how authentic honor should always end in the worship of Jesus Christ!
An Anchor to the Incarnation
Birthdays celebrate a real and historical event. Your parents received a birth certificate a few weeks after you were born. In the modern era, people use their date of birth on loan applications, online activity, account openings, as passwords, and other situations where you have to prove your identity.
When the Catholic Church celebrates the birthday of Mary, her existence as a real figure, in history, is recognized. Why it is important that Mary was actually born, a real person like you or I? Her existence is absolutely necessary for the doctrine of the Incarnation—the teachings that Jesus is fully God AND fully human. During the Nicene Creed, the priest and the laity bow at the following line: “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
Before I studied theology it always seemed peculiar that we would bow during those words. For my master’s course on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I had to write a paper discussing the internal consistency and unity of the doctrines. The doctrine I choose to study was the Incarnation. I discovered that Mariology [the theological study of Mary] was closely related to the Incarnation.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. formally rejected the heresy of Nestorianism— a belief that rejected Mary was the Mother of God and thus also rejecting the humanity of Jesus. Mary as the Mother of God secures the reality that Jesus was fully human along with being fully God.
Obeying the 4th Commandment
Another reason Catholics celebrate the birthday of Mary is out of honor. According to the Second Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, ” [Mary] she is our mother in the order of grace” (no. 61). This truth is in keeping with Scripture when Jesus gives her mother to the Apostle John (see John 19:26-27) and Sacred Tradition.
The vast number of Marian feast days throughout the year point to her holiness and complete obedience to God. Just like our earthly mother, we should honor our spiritual mother as well!
True Devotion of the Mother Ends with Worship of the Son
Each year it seems like retail stores put out Christmas displays and products earlier and earlier. Already I have heard people at work lament that the radio is not yet playing Christmas music. The birth of Christ is definitely something to get excited about. Catholics celebrate the birthday of Mary as a type of early preparation for Christmas!
The Catholic Church is quite clear that Jesus is the sole Mediator. According to St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human,d who gave himself as ransom for all.” We only honor Mary as a means to get closer to Her Son. St. Louis de Montfort said it best, “We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son” (True Devotion to Mary ).
While we are members of the Body of Christ, Mary is the “neck of the Body of Christ” connecting us to the Head—Jesus. Celebrate the birth of Mary because it was through her decision to fully obey God that the Savior of the World was born. Happy Birthday Mary and happy early birthday Jesus!
Originally published in 1976, Christoph Schönborn makes some qualifying remarks in his book God’s Human Face: The Christ Icon. Firstly, this monograph was not an exclusively treatment on icons. The cardinal theologian explicitly states in his preface to the 1984 edition, “Yet the basic idea on which iconographic art primarily is built has seldom been studied: the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of God” (p. xiii). From this vantage point Schönborn launches his academic outline of key patristic sources in the theological formulation of iconography. He also provides twelve illustrations in hopes to add further lucidity to the text. Schönborn’s aim was to produce both a “book as academic as necessary, and as readable as possible” (p. xiv).
Theology of Icons
The first section of the book provides the theological foundations for which a theology of icons can be built. With reference to the Trinitarian foundations, Schönborn’s prime goal is to show the “divine image as the archetype of all representation in image” (p. 4). After a deft delineation of Arius’ soteriology, the Austrian archbishop follows this with discussion on Athanasius’ solution to this diabolical theology. The great “Father of Orthodoxy” clarified the heretic’s misconception by saying that the Word was a consubstantial image of the Father (pp. 8-9). Safeguarded in this orthodox Trinitarian theology, the concept of images is not subordinated.
The second half of this chapter focused on the development in understanding of personhood as given by Gregory of Nyssa. An urgent task after Nicaea was a need for clarification of terminology. Vagueness in ousia and hypostasis led to more debates in the 4th century (p. 18). The Cappodociean father helped shift the understanding toward the individual being a higher reality than the essence of humanity (p. 21-22). After mapping out the various patristic definitions and a treatment of the theological approach to personhood (pp. 22-33), Schönborn gives a brief soteriology. Rejecting any notion of Christ as a passive instrument, he states, “To reduce the Son to a mere instrumental power would amount to denying him the freedom that distinguishes even man. It is not possible to speak of obedience without including freedom” (p. 42).
Early Schools of Christological Thought
Chapter two landscapes the Christological foundations for an authentic iconography. Spanning over ninety pages, the cardinal theologian limits himself to a detailed survey of four prominent patristic Christologies: Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Alexandria, and Maximus Confessor. With the former two there is an iconoclastic tendency, while the latter were championed by the iconophiles. According to Schönborn, Origen denigrates the flesh to the realm of shadows (p. 48). He laconically sums up Origen’s position as heavy-laden by a spiritualism that tends to stress the “imageless” (p. 53). Eusebius’ Christology is even more explicitly anti-icon for he takes the term “image” as a subordination of the Logos to the Father (p. 60). Schönborn shows that the bishop of Caesarea went as far as jettisoning the body out of the definition of man, whereby true creation consisted of only formation of the soul (p.76).
Following in the footsteps of Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria held fast to the notion of the eternal Logos being the perfect and consubstantial image of the Father. The Austrian theologian writes that Cyril opposed Eusebius’ belief that the body was a mere fleshly façade. For Cyril the flesh is intrinsic to the Word (p. 82). Though he presented an orthodox view of the Incarnation, Schönborn critiques the Alexandrian bishop’s theology as not being refined and containing Monoenergist jargon (p. 92-94). With Maximus the Confessor in the 7th century, this represented, says Schönborn, “the most wonderful christological synthesis of the ancient Church” (p. 102).
Both Maximus’ theology and argot presented a balanced approach to the Incarnation. He maintained the hypostatic union and asserted two wills and two actions in the One Person of Christ (p. 116). According to Schönborn, the novelty of his thought was purporting the Incarnation as entirely flowing from the Trinitarian will (p. 121).
History of Iconoclasm and Christology
The second half of the book shows how the iconoclastic controversies were inextricably tied to the early stages of Christological developments. In seeing the icon as a condensed creed, the red-capped theologian demonstrates the significance for studying iconography (p. 138). Chapter one outlines the Byzantine iconoclastic controversy. Here Schönborn delineates the main arguments and figures opposed to icons. Centering on Exodus 20:4, the iconoclasts took the prohibition on fashioning idols literally to mean a wholesale rejection of images (pp. 148-149). A leader in the charge against icons was Emperor Constantine V. His propaganda led to falsely calling the icon cult a Christological heresy (p. 168). While the emperor and iconoclast bishops differed on definition of personal countenance, their sinister ardor crystallized in the Council of 754 A.D. which tried to force iconophiles into a false dichotomy between Monophysitism and Nestorianism (p. 174).
Regarding the defenders of images, Schönborn breaks this section into three eras. He focuses on three important figures for the initial period: Germanus I, George of Cyprus, and John Damascene. Among the salient points include John’s detailed categories of images (pp.192-199). Schönborn then goes on to outline the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D. Here the orthodox bishops maintain an argument of tradition to support icons (p. 202). Finally, he writes about the Golden Age of icons with examples of Nicephorus and Theodore the Studite as among the most lucid and erudite authors on this topic during the ancient Church.
From the outset of his book, Christoph Schönborn stated that though the topic of icons is pervasive throughout his prose, relatively little specific attention is given to that subject. Indeed, recognizing the various historical treatments dealing with the aesthetic aspect of icons, the red-hatted theologian wanted to provide the theological cement upon which the edifice of icons could be built. It is in the author’s opinion that Schönborn in both a wonderful scholarly and readable way accomplished his task.
All Doctrine Originates from the Trinity
Doctrinally speaking the cardinal theologian rightly began his theological foundations with the Trinity− the premise of all doctrines. In charting out the Nicene problem and ensuing Trinitarian developments, Schönborn does a masterful job of delineating the main characters (Arius, Athanasius, Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, etc) without succumbing to a lofty prose or bogging the reader down with a ton of periphery names. Another insightful item about this book was the topical headings and subdivisions within each chapter as well. For instance, regarding the Trinitarian Foundations, Schönborn divided the section into three parts: foundations on the eternal image, novelty of the Christian notion of personhood, and various patristic soteriologies. Glancing at the table of contents allowed me to better understand Schönborn’s definitions and logic.
In chapter two, the Archbishop presents both Christologies of the iconophiles and iconoclasts. He details Origen’s spiritual readings of biblical texts, viewing Jesus’ body as an instrument for his divinity. Some scholars purport his tendency to highlight the image-less places him in the iconoclast camp. However, Schönborn acknowledges that Origen’s teachings were preserved in mere fragments (p. 47). The cardinal speaks objectively when he warns of a false reductionism of Origen. He is also wary of viewing Origen as a spiritual Father for iconoclasm. Schönborn declares, “Origen is much too universal too biblical, too ecclesiastical, too “Catholic”, to allow the reduction of his work to only one of its dimensions” (p. 53-54).
Moreover, the Archbishop provides an in-depth sketch of the champion of the iconoclast Christology− Eusebius of Caesarea. Schönborn asserts that the crux of the anti-icon position pivoted around the “image of God” being a subordination of the Logos. Utilizing samples of Eusebius’ writings, Schönborn demonstrated the logic to such a view. From the pro-icon side, he did an adroit job showing the development of orthodox thought. He showed the gradual clarification in the term “hypostatic union” from the “unrefined” Cyril to the “more-polished” Maximus.
In the second half of the book, Schönborn clearly asks: May and should Christ be represented in an image? Yet, he makes sure to qualify the chronology of the icon controversy as not being exhaustive due to space restraints.
The treatment of the theological outline of the Byzantine iconoclastic controversy illuminated the reader because it showed the milieu by which this position germinated. In keeping with his contemporaries that the emperor (Leo III and later his son Constantine V) was the main impetus for the iconoclasts, Schönborn admits that what motivated the “purple” pronouncement remains unknown. What he does purport is that outside forces such as Monophysitism, Islam, and even Judaism may have contributed to iconoclasm. Lastly, Schönborn successfully simplified the pro-icon position by only focusing on the novelty and specific influence in advancing iconophile theology of the main players. Thus, he eliminated any unnecessary verbiage.
Broadly sketching out the theological scaffolding and also delineating individual patristic thoughts is important for an adequate understanding of a theology of the icon. Schönborn presented his prose in a lucid fashion while still writing with skilled acumen. His contribution to Christology was a return to seeing the icon as “a creed in miniature”. The twelve illustrations also allowed for a profound mediation on his prose. In sum, the author of this review suggests this book to any fan of Catholic Christology!
The weeks preceding Christmas—Advent—usually have the perception of being a magical, jovial, and anticipatory of the birth of the Christ-child. While certainly, my Advent began with an anticipation, it lacked marvel and apparent joy. Instead of initially thinking about preparing my heart and mind for the Lord, I juggled the infectious side effects of projectile vomit and diaper explosions. Both of my sons came down with the stomach flu over the weekend.
Nothing tests a parent’s patience, will-power or love of their children quite like a continual cleaning of bodily fluids. On top of the symptoms of the stomach flu, my youngest son is also recovering from an adenoidectomy (see below diagram if you never heard of that organ before–as I never did prior to this surgery!) Because the flesh is healing behind his nasal cavity, my two year old’s breath has smelled like death since the surgery and apparently it may take up to three weeks for his rotting-breath odor to be gone! What a start to the New Liturgical year!
Too often society places pressure for the perfect “holiday” season: all the gifts must be precisely wrapped and laden under the Christmas tree in a tidy order, the Christmas meal has to be cooked to the exact temperature and paired with the appropriate side dishes depending on the main dish, and family members need to behave–especially your “estranged/weird” uncle [or aunt or other unique relative you may have]. Honestly, I fall into this fallacy almost every year myself. This year was no different. I hoped to be able to take my entire family to Mass to celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. I wanted to show my kids the beautiful Advent wreath and talk about the particular reasons the priest wears purple, or “FATHER IS DRESSED IN PURPLE” as my daughter would shout with glee. Sadly, none of that happened. Because of my priority as a parent, I had to miss this Mass to care for my ailing family.
After taking some time to reflect on the apparent failures of the weekends, I realized maybe God was preparing me for something greater—Advent really is all about preparation for the coming of Christ. Revisiting the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, showed me that the arrival of Jesus did not occur in the ideal standards, at least according to the world’s standards. Luke 2:7 details how Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem “too late” and the innkeeper denied them a room at the inn. Instead, of giving birth in the amenities of indoor comfort, Mary had to give birth to Jesus in a humble way—in a simple stable. American novelist Flannery O’Connor wrote the following about the Incarnation,
Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.
By becoming a human Jesus was able to encounter the entirely of the human condition save for sin. In my children’s pain, suffering, tiredness, and thirstiness this past weekend, Christ was with them in a unique way as he already suffering all those things during his 33 years on Earth.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 463, “Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” The season of Advent is not about preparing for the “perfect” Christmas where Mary and Joseph get a room at the inn. Rather, Advent is about preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth took place in the messiness of the stable, his Passion and Death took place on the messiness of the Cross. While not everything in my life will be neatly fit in my control, after this incarnational and infectious start to Advent, I had the privilege to be graced with the gift of perspective and opportunity to serve my children as Christ served the world!
Catholics around the world [and throughout time] celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th. Along with the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Motherhood of Mary this feast day is a holy day of obligation for Mass attendance. The reason for this is due to the veneration—NOT WORSHIP—Catholics hold for the Mother of God. Marian doctrines closely relate and point us to the even greater truth of the Incarnation—God becoming Man. While specifically, the feasts of Mary, Mother of God and Immaculate Conception point to the teaching of the Incarnation, the feast of the Assumption orients us to look toward the Resurrection of Jesus.
1. Assumption—Logically Flows from Being Immaculately Conceived: When I taught high school theology one of my favorite lessons involved the subject of the teachings on Mary. I enjoyed showing the interconnectedness between the various Marian dogmas. Because she was preserved free from the stain of original sin, Mary would not suffer the same type of bodily decay and separation of body and soul the rest of mankind—born into original sin—suffered/would suffer. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 966, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”
Along with the clear connection made in the catechism, Divine Providence inspired the office of the papacy to proclaim the infallible teaching pertaining to Mary to be viewed in unity with one another. Pope Pius IX in 1854 infallibly defined Mary as being immaculately conceived and nearly a century later his successor bearing the same appellation—Pius XII—formerly declared the infallible dogma of Mary being taken into Heaven Body and Soul.
2. Assumption Hinting at the Resurrection and Destination of Heaven: Again, I will defer to the Catechism for the best explanation of the Assumption of Mary pointing to the Resurrection, “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:
In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. [Emphasis added mine] (CCC966).
According to Saint Pope John Paul II, “In her, assumed into heaven, we are shown the eternal destiny that awaits us beyond the mystery of death: a destiny of total happiness in divine glory. This supernatural vision sustains our daily pilgrimage. Mary teaches about life. By looking at her, we understand better the relative value of earthly greatness and the full sense of our Christian vocation.” Saint Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus articulated the fact that Mary orients us to Heaven even more clearly, “it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.” Because the entirely of Mary’s earthly life centered on obedience and love of God, she is the perfect guide to the Son and union with God in Heavenly bliss. Marian titles such as Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] and Morning Star point to the reality as well.
Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, gives Christians hope that the promise of the Resurrection and eternal life is a gift that may be attained through the merciful gift of grace poured out through the Sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross and via our cooperation with this divine grace by obeying God’s Word. I am grateful for the gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Advocate in times of darkness. Please pray for us in our time of need!
“Mary shines on earth “until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God” (Lumen gentium, n. 68).
According to Marvel Comics lore, Thor’s weapon Mjolnir is a hammer that is only able to be wielded by the worthiest of superheroes. In fact, throughout the origin story of Thor he initially is not able to brandish this weapon due to his arrogance. It took the courage to put others before himself and subordinate his selfish desires before Thor was able to pick up Mjolnir and adequately defend his planet.
While the story of Thor is ultimately fiction, it contains kernels of truth. People with strong character and resolve in the face of adversity may be able to wield immense power with grace. “With great power comes great responsibility!” Ben Parker told his nephew Peter Parker—the Amazing Spiderman. Along with my passion for comic books and superheroes, my Catholic faith is shaping influence on my life. Saints act as exemplary witnesses to truth, honor, and self-sacrificing love.
According to Pope Francis, The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence (GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE #1). We do not have to rely on a mythological hammer to receive strength. Instead let us be reminded by the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 6:10-11, “Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. 11Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.”
Saint Pope John Paul II once declared, “I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” This statement encapsulates those who pursue heroic virtue! True heroes never go up–no matter the odds stacked against them! Among the greatest heroes of the Christian faith is St. Athanasius. As bishop of Alexandria, he led the Catholic Church against the sinister and alluring heresy of Arianism in the 4th century A.D. Known as the “Father of Orthodoxy” for his unifying efforts during frequent death threats and five times being exiled, St. Athanasius is a saint that provides me hope amid stormy seasons of my life. The power of the Holy Spirit is demonstrated through this sainted bishop’s timeless and ever relevant writings, especially his On the Incarnation of the Word.
Below I compiled a short list of my favorite Athanasian aphorisms from the “Hammer of Orthodoxy” as I like to refer to this intrepid saint. May his wisdom embolden you to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the fullest!
“The Son of God became man so that we might become God.”
“One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life.”
“For the Lord touched all parts of creation, and freed and undeceived them all from every deceit.”
“Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered”
“There were thus two things which the Savior did for us by becoming Man. He banished death from us and made us anew; and, invisible and imperceptible as in Himself He is, He became visible through His works and revealed Himself as the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation.”
“Surely it would have been better never to have been created at all than, having been created, to be neglected and perish; and, besides that, such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all. It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.”
“Let them know that the Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who were suffering. For the way for one aiming at display would be, just to appear, and to dazzle the beholders; but for one seeking to heal and teach the way is, not simply to sojourn here, but to give himself to the aid of those in want…”
“For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?”
G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage, I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!
Eucharist: The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!
Holy Trinity: God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!
Incarnation: The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.
Confession: I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.
Divine Mercy: While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!
Mary: My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.
Saints: Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.
Hope: I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”
Sacred Tradition: I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God. The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97, “What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.” I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.
Beauty: The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.
Lord, we thank you for the goodness of our people and for the spirit of justice that fills this nation. We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the land and the challenge of the cities.
We thank you for our work and our rest, for one another, and for our homes. We thank you, Lord: accept our thanksgiving on this day. We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.
According to the American author Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” The end of October was a period of consolation in my spiritual journey. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same is true for the 11th month of the year.
November is a tough month for me personally. Three years ago, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage and all the horrifying feelings resurface during this time of the year. Along with the memory of our loss, the dimming of daylight [especially when we turned the clocks back an hour on November 5th!] provides the perfect recipe for despair and desolation. When it comes to spiritual attach by the Evil One there are generally two general methods to combat him: actively fight through prayer, good works, and reception of the sacraments or secondly retreat from the vices that tempts us.
Today I am going to reflect on the latter strategy. I feel like am called to retreat to my spiritual cave to try to eliminate opportunities for future temptation as to help me avoid further sliding into despair.
Throughout the Bible God calls individuals to experience a conversion in solitude and reflection before granting them power and authority to lead others to Him. For the purpose of eliciting imagery [as I am a visual learner and tend to like symbols] I will refer to such an experience as my “spiritual cave dwelling”!
Exodus: Throughout the Book of Exodus God calls individuals and His people as a whole to conversation during a trip in the wilderness. Exodus 2-3 details Moses flight from Egypt to the rural land of Midian and his eventually encounter with the Divine presence under the form of the burning bush. God also utilizes a period of spiritual “dryness” to help transform the idol worship of the newly freed Israelites to trust in His Divine Providence. Over a period of forty years, the Israelites had to wander the wildness as reparation for violating the first commandment.
Perhaps, November is my own personal “time in the wilderness” to help me grow in virtue and eliminate bad habits.
Jesus’ Fasting in the Wilderness: The Gospels placed Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert at the start of his public ministry. Along with calling to mind Moses’ and the Israelites period of conversion, Jesus fasts not because he needs it [because he is without sin!], but rather to be a model of the Christian spiritual life. Sometimes we need to practice self-denial to grow in holiness. While I usually associate fasting relating to physical items such as food or drink, I recently had a thought. What if God allows for consolation to be rescinded from us in order to permit authentic spiritual growth and trust in Him? In my youth I experienced growing pains. Why should be not be different when I grow in my spiritual life? St. Ignatius of Loyala addresses the same point in the Seventh Rule for Discernment of Spirits. He says,
Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it [my emphasis]: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.
November 2017 could be a spiritual schooling from the Holy Spirit allowing me to wean off the need and desire for God’s spiritual candy of consolation that I too quickly “gobbled up” [along with physical candy 🙂 ] in October!
Athanasius the Bold: During the 4th century A.D., the Catholic Church faced arguably its worst and most pervasive heresy in history—Arianism. Stemming from the false beliefs of the priest Arius, proponents of this belief denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. According to Arius, “There was a time when He [Jesus Christ] was not.” Confusion was so rampant that the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea was convened at 325 A.D. which pronounced Arianism as official heresy. While officially the matter was theologically solved, Arian agents still remained throughout the magisterial network for the remainder of the century.
To combat this heinous heresy, God sent St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, to champion authentic truth of the Holy Trinity. However, testifying to the truth came with a price—a bounty on Athanasius’ life not once but five times! As a result he went into hiding each time. He led his diocese clandestinely through the protections of monks. St. Athanasius stands as an exemplary model of obedience to God. He could have despaired and lamented his situation, but instead he remained steadfast to the truth!
The easier path this month would be for me to languish in my despair. Job promotion denials, stress at work, and daily anxiety abound. How did Athanasius prevail with his life on the line? Reading his work On the Incarnation provided me clarity. Athanasius states, “Anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”
Periods of desolation are unavoidable on this side of eternity. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an actual cave to escape the entrapments laid out before me by the Devil. While going away on a sudden sabbatical would be irresponsible to my family duties as husband and father. Warding off vice through removing myself from opportunities to sin is not the same as skirting my vocational calling. Fasting and prayer will be powerful weapons for me the remainder of the month as I strive in my pursuit towards holiness.