An Incarnational—and Infectious—Start to Advent

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 4, 2018.


The season of Advent usually begins with a perception of being a magical, jovial, and anticipatory time of the birth of Jesus. My Advent began with an anticipation. Yet it lacked marvel and apparent joy.  God encountered me in an incarnational way this Advent season. 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.

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Parenting Sucks (Sometimes)

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 smelled like death since the surgery. The doctors estimate three weeks before his rotting-breath odor stops!  What a start to the New Liturgical year!

Adenoid

Prepare for Christ not the Perfect Season

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. Sadly, this didn’t happen. Because of my priority as a parent, I had to miss this Mass to care for my ailing family.

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Advent— A Time to Prepare for Jesus

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 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. 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.

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Advent is Incarnational

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.  Advent prepares us for the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth took place in the messiness of the stable. And his Passion and Death took place on the messiness of the Cross.

Advent

Not everything in my life will be neatly fit in my control.  But after this incarnational and infectious start to Advent,  God grace me  with the gift of perspective and opportunity in serving my children as Christ served the world.

Related Links

An Advent Reflection on Finding Gratitude in the Stressful Season

Advent: Catholic Answers

Advent Reminds Us What We Are Waiting For

Do You Know The History Of The Advent Wreath?

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One Simple Way to Instill the Catholic Faith in Your Home (Domestic Church)

Family faith formation
Faith is fostered in the family.

Catholicism is an incarnational faith. It means we understand the body-soul relationship is supposed to be harmonious not disjointed.

One simple way this is shown on a daily basis is through holy art.

I have a Master’s degree in theology but I think some of the best witness of my faith to my kids is simply having holy art in the house and answering questions when they ask.

Below is my youngest daughter, Avila, holding a statue of Mary she took off our dresser.

Statues are signposts to the reality (saints and Jesus).

P.S. I know I have the cutest kid in the universe. 😊

P.S.S. How do you incorporate holy art into your domestic church?

Thank you for sharing!

The Blessed Virgin Mary is Always with Jesus

Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus

Where Mary is so too is Jesus.

The simplicity of this theology (of the Incarnation and Mary as Theotokos) is displayed when young kids notice Mother and Son in holy icons.

My youngest daughter pointed at an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus and said, “Gee-sus! Mary!”

What is your favorite icon of Jesus and Mary?

P. S. I particularly love the various artistic depictions of Mary cloaked in red (a common theme in the first 1000 years of Catholicism).

Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus
Photo credit: Icon of (Virgin Mary Directress) used by permission of Monastery Icons. Find more icons at https://www.monasteryicons.com/
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10 Reasons Why Catholics Should Always be Thankful

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 26, 2017.


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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

R: Amen.

Related Links

Catholics, Be Thankful Always and Everywhere

Why I’m Thankful To Be Catholic

Announcing 10 Catholic Role Models to be Thankful for!

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Facts about Mary’s Assumption You Should Assume


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 16,  2018.


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.

Catholics honor Mary

Marian doctrines closely relate and point us to the even greater truth of the Incarnation—God becoming Man. The feasts of Mary, Mother of God and Immaculate Conception relate to the Incarnation. And the feast of the Assumption points toward the Resurrection of Jesus.

Assumption—Logically Flows from the Immaculate Conception

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. God preserved Mary from the stain of original sin. Due to this reality, Mary would not suffer the same type of bodily decay and separation of body and soul like the rest of humanity.

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.

Divine Providence inspired the office of the papacy to proclaim the infallible teaching Marian dogmas to be viewed in unity with one another. Pope Pius IX in 1854 infallibly defined Mary as being immaculately conceived. Nearly a century later, his successor Pius XII formally declared the infallible dogma of the Assumption.

Assumption Hinting at the Resurrection and Destination of Heaven

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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 (CCC966).

Saint Pope Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus, articulated the fact Mary orients us to Heaven.  He wrote, “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.”

Mary’s Complete Love for God is a Model for Us

Mary’s whole earthly life centered on obedience and love of God. Because of this, she is the perfect guide to her Son. Marian titles such as Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] and Morning Star point to this reality as well.

Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, gives Christians hope. Hope in the resurrection of the body at the end of time. 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 gentiumn. 68).

Related Links

Defining the Dogma of the Assumption- Pius XII

The Assumption of Mary

3 Reasons the Assumption of Mary is a Big Deal

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Irenaeus, Apostolic Succession, and the One True Faith

Saint Irenaeus

By: William Hemsworth

In the second century Gnosticism threatened to tear the young Christian Church apart.  It was a heresy that taught that all matter was evil, Jesus was spirit, and that true salvific doctrine was passed down through a secret oral tradition.  To combat this growing problem the early Church father St. Irenaeus wrote a lengthy treatise titled Against Heresies

Foundations Of The Creed

One of the methods used by the great Church Father was the rule of faith.  In describing the rule of faith Irenaeus writes, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation.”

This rule of faith would lay the groundwork for what would become the Apostles’ Creed.  St. Irenaeus argues that the faith was given by Christ to the Apostles, and then to the bishops to whom the disciples appointed.  Which is exactly what the Catholic church teaches today.

The Historic Faith

The rule of faith also shows that Christ was truly incarnate, and that matter was created by an eternal God and not evil.  The rule of faith was a vital part in combating Gnostic teaching because it showed that they had no historical, scriptural, or apostolic support for the claims that they were making.

Incarnation of Jesus

It helped expose their schismatic and anti-scriptural view of Christianity.  Irenaeus also appealed to Ephesians 1:9-10 in his refutation of Gnosticism.  That passage of scripture states, “he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (NRSV).”  The great saint used this to show that, contrary to the Gnostic view, not all matter is bad.

One Faith Given By Christ

The Church was to be a unified body of believers with Jesus Christ as its head.  However the Gnostic heresy was causing division.  It is linked with the rule of faith in that there was only one faith handed down from Christ.  There was not one faith for one group, and a special secret faith for a select few.  The faith in Christ is available to all people and in that we should be unified.

The rule of faith previously cited is a great tool in confronting false doctrines in our own times  There is no shortage of false doctrine and some of these groups out there are great at evangelization.  This is impressive given how low their numbers are compared to Catholics.  The rule of faith is a great tool because it shows that the catholic faith is not a new invention, but was passed down by Christ himself.

It shows that Christ is God incarnate, and firmly teaching that the Trinity is one being with three distinct persons.  Many of these groups deny the Trinity and claim scriptural support.  Many of these passages were used in the days of Irenaeus and he corrected false usage.

Go preach the gospel

Whether it be in person, phone, or email, a dialogue about the truth can mean a lot to someone caught in false doctrine.  It gives them someone to ask questions to and the Holy Spirit can plant a seed.  Many great saints came to faith in just that way.


About our guest blogger:

William is a convert to the Catholic faith.  Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary.  William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults.  Check out his website/blog at williamhemsworth.com for more great and informative Catholic content!


 

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How the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God actually teaches about Jesus

While science shows our creativity thrives when we are taking a shower, read  Science Explains Why Our Best Ideas Come in the Shower for more information, the Catholic Mass inspires the best thoughts as well.

During the recessional hymn for the Mass for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, I had a profound insight. “This song is teaching us much more than about Mary!” I thought. I could not believe I missed the theology in the song. Here are the lyrics to the hymn Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly:

Sing of Mary, pure and lowly,
Virgin mother undefiled,
Sing of God’s own Son most holy,
Who became her little child.
Fairest child of fairest mother,
God the Lord who came to earth,
Word made flesh, our very brother,
Takes our nature by his birth.

Sing of Jesus, son of Mary,
In the home at Nazareth.
Toil and labor cannot weary
Love enduring unto death.
Constant was the love he gave her,
Though he went forth from her side,
Forth to preach, and heal, and suffer,
Till on Calvary he died.

Glory be to God the Father;
Glory be to God the Son;
Glory be to God the Spirit;
Glory to the Three in One.
From the heart of blessed Mary,
From all saints the song ascends,
And the Church the strain reechoes
Unto earth’s remotest ends.

Mary as Theotokos

In the fourth century, there arose a heresy, or false teaching, that denied that Mary was the mother of Jesus. Named after the bishop Nestorius who promoted this belief, the heresy formally became known as Nestorianism.

The Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 declared that Mary is theotokos (the God-bearer). Led by Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the council fathers spoke of Mary as:

“Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.” (DS 251).

Mary Mother of God

Catholics honor Mary as mother, and celebrate her motherhood on January 1st because:

  •  Jesus entrusted us into the care of Mary as our spiritual mother (see John 19:26-27).
  • Honoring the motherhood of Mary reminds us of the humanity of Jesus

“And by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”

Catholics are to make a profound bow at this line of the Nicene Creed. Why? Does not this give credence to the Protestant claim we worship Mary?

According to St. Louis de Montfort, “We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him even more perfectly. We go to her only to lead to the goal we seek—Jesus, her Son.” Mary is not the end. God is the ultimate aim of our focus. We honor Mary because of her closeness to Jesus.

The last line of the first stanza in Sing of Mary is “Word made flesh, our very brother,
Takes our nature by his birth.” This is referring to the teaching of the Incarnation. Start with Mary. End with Christ.

Incarnation— Jesus is fully human and fully divine

Incarnation icon

Mary is discussed in the first stanza of the song. The second stanza centers around Jesus. On his life, death, and resurrection. True honor and devotion to Mary will always lead to the belief in the Incarnation.

Jesus had to be fully human and fully God in order to be the perfect bridge between God and humanity. A mere human Jesus cannot save. But a solely divine Jesus would prevent us from understanding the fullness of Truth. God stooped to our level to teach us about the truth that God is love.

God is Love—a Community of Persons

Mary leads to Jesus (God made incarnate). Jesus teaches us about the Holy Trinity. Recall Sing of Mary’s lyrics. The first stanza talks of Mary. Secondly, we sing about the Incarnation. Lastly, we sing about the teaching of the Holy Trinity:

Glory be to God the Father;
Glory be to God the Son;
Glory be to God the Spirit;
Glory to the Three in One.
From the heart of blessed Mary,
From all saints the song ascends,
And the Church the strain reechoes
Unto earth’s remotest ends.

Mary received into her heart the love of the Holy Spirit. She followed the will of the Father and gave birth to the Second Person of the Trinity. Jesus passed on authority to his Apostles to administer the sacraments to all and to preach the Good News worldwide!

God works in mysterious ways, the Virgin giving birth is the greatest of mysteries, but be on the lookout for other important insights. The processional song at Mass served that purpose for me today. I pray you are open to the working of the Holy Spirit to enlighten you during your next Sunday Mass!

Related Links

Why the Immaculate Conception is Important

Reconciling Mary as Mediator with 1 Timothy 2:5

3 Reasons the Assumption of Mary is a Big Deal

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