Monday, March 18, 2013

St. Joseph, the Pope, and the Year of Faith

In this critical year of faith we should pay more attention to St. Joseph, because through him God will provide a way to overcome the famine of faith. The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis can remind us of similarities to St. Joseph: their dreams, their chastity, their wise stewardship. The Joseph of Genesis wisely managed the resources of Egypt, so that when famine struck the country, it was well provided for: “All the world came to Joseph to obtain rations of grain, for famine had gripped the whole world” (Gen 41:57).

In re-reading this story recently, I was reminded of another type of famine, not of bread but of the word of God: “Yes, days are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send famine upon the land: not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the Lord of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).

Certainly we’re living in a time when faith seems to be losing the battle against a tide of secularism, atheism, and unbelief. While many people retain a vibrant faith, the decline in Mass attendance, marriage rates, and participation in church life is evident. We’re in a famine of faith. Pope Benedict XVI called us to a Year of Faith in order to meet that challenge and forge ahead with the New Evangelization. So what role does St. Joseph play in this?

Genesis recounts that “Pharaoh directed all the Egyptians to go to Joseph and do whatever he told them” (Gen 41:55). That phrase evokes Cana, when Mary referred the stewards to Jesus and said, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Joseph provided the people with grain, and Jesus turned water into wine: bread and wine, the elements of the Eucharist. Reading the story of Joseph in Genesis together with Cana can help us understand why St. Joseph is patron of the universal Church. The saint of divine providence, the one we invoke for material help in terms of jobs, resources, selling a house, etc., is even more eager to provide us with the blessings of faith.

In the book of Revelation, the third horseman represents famine: “I looked, and there was a black horse, and its rider held a scale in his hand. I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures. It said, ‘A ration of wheat costs a day’s pay, and three rations of barley cost a day’s pay. But do not damage the olive oil or the wine” (Rev 6:5-6). While this book is difficult to interpret, these verses make me think of the famine of faith. Could it be that the reference to sparing the oil and the wine is a veiled reference to the fact that even in times when faith dies down, the Church will keep on providing the sacraments? The flock may grow smaller, and the demand for sacraments may be less, but the Church will always be there to offer the sacraments and nourish our faith. St. Joseph, the Church’s patron, has a role in making sure they are provided.

So it is no accident that Pope Francis is officially beginning his mandate on the feast of St. Joseph, in the Year of Faith. This Pope is remarkable for being a humble, hidden man, much like Joseph. Because of this saint’s hiddenness, we may easily forget him. But let’s ask his intercession even more now, so that in this Year of Faith the Church will truly begin to witness to the Gospel in a more effective way. St. Joseph, pray for us!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pope Francis on Pope Benedict

During his meeting with the cardinals, Pope Francis gave a beautiful testimony to Benedict:

My thoughts turn with great affection and profound gratitude to my venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI, who enriched and invigorated the Church during the years of his Pontificate by his teaching, his goodness, his leadership, his faith, his humility and his meekness. All this remains as a spiritual patrimony for us all. The Petrine ministry, lived with total dedication, found in him a wise and humble exponent, his gaze always firmly on Christ, the risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist. We will always accompany him with fervent prayers, with constant remembrance, with undying and affectionate gratitude. We feel that Benedict XVI has kindled a flame deep within our hearts: a flame that will continue to burn because it will be fed by his prayers, which continue to sustain the Church on her spiritual and missionary path.

Benedict's teaching, his homilies and documents, are a treasure house of wisdom we can continue to draw from.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mary spoke Juan Diego’s language

Mary spoke to Juan Diego in his own dialect. In fact, this also occurred at other Marian apparitions. When she appeared to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, for example, Mary did not speak in French but in the local dialect. At Guadalupe, Mary not only spoke the native language but her appearance reflected the native features, as did the way she was dressed. Mary comes to us in a way that we can understand. So when we approach Mary in prayer, we can come to her just as we are. We don’t need to put on any pretenses. If we’re down and out, we can tell her that. If we feel weighed down by sin, we can tell her that too. Whatever our condition, we can simply go to Mary and she will help us.
Once at a conference I heard an amazing testimony from a man who had converted from an extremely sinful lifestyle and had lived far from God. As a fallen-away Catholic, he had been very promiscuous, even to the point of acting in pornographic films. When the films began to involve blasphemy and sacrilege, such as desecrating the crucifix and other sacred objects, he went along with it. But he started to feel revulsion at this and wanted to change. One day, not knowing where to turn, he came across a rosary. He still remembered how to pray it, so he started to do so, one Hail Mary at a time. That was the beginning of an amazing conversion. It took time and had its ups and downs, but that one Hail Mary was the first step on his road back to God. He said that Mary cleaned him up. So no matter what state you find yourself in, don’t be afraid to turn to Mary for help. She will not let you down! Our journey back to God can begin even with one Hail Mary.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Benedict on the Prodigal Son

In 2010 Pope Benedict gave his Angelus meditation on today's Gospel, that of the prodigal son. He speaks very beautifully of how we develop our relationship with God our Father, and the stages it goes through. He mentions the delicate transition point from a childhood faith to an adult faith, which carries with it the peril of atheism. God's love always pursues us no matter what we do.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Mary's Motherly Tenderness

The beautiful story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a vivid, touching reminder of how much Mary cares about us and wants to help us in our needs. While it offers much to reflect on, here are a few points that we can apply to our own lives.

1. Mary called Juan Diego by name

Not only did Mary call him by name, but she used an affectionate term, almost a nickname, “Juanito . . . Juan Dieguito.” This shows us how tender and loving Mary is, that she not only knows each of our names but our nicknames too. This tells us that we can approach her with great confidence and love. 

In the Bible, knowing someone’s name means to really know that person. The Book of Revelation says, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev 2:17).

Isn’t it beautiful to think that God has given each of us a special name, one that no one else knows except God and ourselves? And while this passage doesn’t specifically mention Mary, it is reasonable to think that Mary knows our special name too. This name expresses who we really are, and what we are called to do. In calling us by our special name of grace, Mary will lead us to her Son Jesus, who will fill us with graces and blessings.

More to follow...

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

"Am I Not Your Mother?" Our Lady of Guadalupe

I'm going to be blogging about some Marian topics and thought I'd start with some reflections on Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here is the story; reflections will follow.

Juan Diego was making his long trip to Mass on the cold morning of December 9, 1531. At that time in his area it was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Suddenly he heard some strains of beautiful music. Looking up to see where it came from, Juan found himself at the top of Tepayec Hill, near Mexico City. He was startled to see a beautiful young woman there. She looked like a morena, that is, one of his own people. In his own language, Nahuatl, she called him by name, using a nickname that showed great affection: “Juanito,” she said, “Juan Dieguito, where are you going?”

Hardly knowing what to make of it all, Juan’s words tumbled out, “I am on my way to Mass.” As if to answer his unspoken question, the lady continued, “Know and understand, dearest of my children, that I am the ever-holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life, Mother of the Creator of heaven and earth.”

Mary, the Mother of God? Juan thought. How is it possible that she should come to me? Who am I? I am no one of importance! Despite his own estimation of himself, the Virgin Mary entrusted him with a great task. She told Juan that she wanted a church to be built there on that spot. Why? Mary herself told him that she wanted to “show forth all my love, compassion, assistance, and defense because I am your loving Mother: yours, and all who are with you, and of all who live in this land, and of all who love me, call to me, and trust in me. I will hear their cries and will give remedy to their sorrows and sufferings.”

Then the beautiful Lady told Juan to bring her message to the bishop. Juan did as she asked. But the bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, was skeptical that the Blessed Virgin Mary had really appeared to the humble man before him. Though he spoke kindly to Juan Diego, he was not convinced.
Downhearted, Juan Diego left the bishop’s residence. He again saw the Lady when he passed by Tepayac and was dismayed to report he had not succeeded.
But the Lady, not to be daunted, repeated her commission. Juan Diego had to go back to the bishop. So he did. After being made to wait a long time, he was finally allowed to see the bishop again, who asked Juan to bring him back some sign so that he could know for certain that the Blessed Virgin Mary had really appeared to him. So Juan went back home, wondering where this would all lead.
In the meantime, however, his uncle had fallen sick. Juan was in a hurry to go and get a priest to bring him the sacraments, so he tried to avoid seeing the Lady. He took a detour. But the Lady appeared to him anyway. Calling him “my little son,” she asked him where he was going. When he told her, the Lady reassured him that his uncle would recover. With a look of great love, Mary smiled at him and gently chided him for his doubts, “"Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness, or accident, or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else?"
After those comforting words, Mary told Juan to gather the flowers he would find at the top of the hill and bring them to her. Flowers in December? he wondered, but he obediently did as she asked. When he arrived at the top of the hill, he couldn’t believe what he saw: beautiful Castilian roses at the peak of their bloom! He gathered as many as he could hold and brought them to the Lady, who lovingly arranged them in his tilma. She then told him to bring them to the bishop.
When he returned to the bishop’s residence, he again had to wait but finally was able to meet the bishop. When Juan opened his cloak and the beautiful roses spilled out, the bishop and others in the room were astounded at what they saw: an image of the Lady imprinted on Juan’s tilma. This image, of course, is the amazing icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of Mexico and loving Mother of all people.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Benedict e-book from Vatican; free download

 The Vatican is offering a free e-book on their website. There are pictures and quotes, with links to the full talks. The excerpt below is from Pope Benedict's homily last year on his 85th birthday. [I didn't know that Easter Vigil used to be celebrated on Holy Saturday morning. He was born and baptized the same day.]

"The day I was baptized, as I said, was Holy Saturday. Then it was still customary to anticipate the Easter Vigil in the morning, which would still be followed by the darkness of Holy Saturday, without the Alleluia. It seems to me that this singular paradox, this singular anticipation of light in a day of darkness, could almost be an image of the history of our times. On the one hand, there is still the silence of God and his absence, but in the Resurrection of Christ there is already the anticipation of the “yes” of God, and on the basis of this anticipation we live and, through the silence of God, we hear him speak, and through the darkness of his absence we glimpse his light. The anticipation of the Resurrection in the middle of an evolving history is the power that points out the way to us and helps us to go forward. . .

I am now facing the last chapter of my life and I do not know what awaits me. I know, however, that the light of God exists, that he is Risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness, that the goodness of God is stronger than any evil in this world. And this helps me to go forward with certainty. May this help us to go forward, and at this moment I wholeheartedly thank all those who have continually helped me to perceive the “yes” of God through their faith."