A Christmas Birthday

Christmas is a particularly special time for me. My birthday is on Christmas Day. As my faith developed I came to the realization that even though my birthday lands on Christmas, that there’s something much more significant. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) That is the realism we assist at in every Mass. The fact the Christ took on a human form, and we see His physical presence at every Mass under the veil of the Eucharist.

Christmas is not merely a jovial holiday, it is a holy day. The Nativity of our Lord is one of the holiest days we celebrate in the liturgical calendar.

The God of the universe took on human form and became one of us, yet He has two natures, fully human and fully divine. Christ took on human flesh to be the once and for all perfect sacrifice on our behalf, to save us from our sins, and to lay the foundation for the earthly Kingdom, the Church, as the cornerstone.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324) Without the Nativity of our Lord there is no Eucharistic sacrifice. No foretaste of Heaven to prepare us for the banquet that awaits those who are in friendship with God (e.g. in the state of grace). The Eucharist is so important to Catholics that our intellects cannot fathom what life would be like without it. We as Catholics thrive on the graces received from the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist.

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” –C.S. Lewis

At Christmas we receive Eucharistic overtones. Christ, the Living Bread from Heaven, was born in a town called Bethlehem, in Hebrew means “House of Bread,” and He was born in a manger, which is a feeding trough that animals eat from. These are foreshadows or antitypes of what would take place at the Last Supper with the institution of the Eucharist. Through Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, He prepares us for the realism of what we’ll receive in Heaven, and we have a foretaste of that when we consume the Eucharist at Mass.

There are two times of the year where we should intensely focus our senses on the Eucharist: Christmas and Easter. Christmas because that is when the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. At Easter, specifically the Triduum, the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper.

Prior to receiving Holy Communion at Mass we say, Domine non sum dignus, or Lord I am not worthy. We are not worthy, but God in His self-sacrificial love (Greek: agape) invites us to participate in the Eucharistic feast. The Eucharist being the perfect thanksgiving sacrifice worthy of God the Father. It would not be at all possible unless the Word had become Flesh, born on Christmas Day. There are some that may argue that Christ was not literally born on December 25, but the Church has celebrated the Nativity of our Lord on this day since the early ages of Christianity. It is one of the earliest feasts along with the Epiphany.

How splendid it is to lift up our hearts at a momentous time of the year. Christ offers us a super-substantial (Greek: epiousios) treasure in the Eucharist at Mass. A supernatural gift it is indeed. It’s important to remember the real meaning of Christmas. All the presents in the world cannot stack up to what we receive in the Liturgy. Christ’s Mass, or Christmas, is the beginning to an epic journey that reveals the truth of how much God loves us and wants us to be part of His family. Not only at Christmas, but every day of the year. The true meaning of Christmas is centered around Christ in the Eucharist.

“Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” –Luke 2:14

by John Connor

Mary, Did You Know?

During Christmastide, you may encounter at least one rendition of the popular song, “Mary, Did You Know?” The song was written by a duo of Protestant Evangelicals. Evangelical Christians generally do not believe in the Marian Catholic doctrines, hence the title of the song. As Catholics, we can provide a one word answer to the question, “Mary, did you know?” The pithy response is, “yes!” A one word answer may not suffice, so let’s dive deeper on what exactly Mary knew about the coming of the Savior into the world.

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” – John 1:14

The Blessed Virgin Mary was chosen from the beginning of time to be the mother of the second person of the Trinity, Our Lord Jesus Christ. She would provide Christ’s humanity, His flesh, that would ultimately untwist the knot of original sin, save us from our personal sins, and redeem all of mankind on Calvary.

The archangel, Gabriel, was sent by God to visit the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was most likely a teenager at the time, approximately 13 to 16 years of age. In Luke’s gospel account of the Annunciation, Gabriel greeted her in an unusual way, “Hail, full of grace.” There’s two very distinct allusions made by Gabriel. One, Gabriel used the salutation “hail.” This is generally reserved for greeting royalty. Jesus is the King of kings, which makes Mary the Queen Mother–royalty. Second, Gabriel does not call her by name, Mary, instead he calls her “full of grace.” If a glass is full to the brim, nothing else that can enter the vessel. The same attests to Mary. If she is full of grace, then there is no room for sin of any kind.

God chose to preserve Mary from sin–the stain of original sin as well as personal sin–at the moment of her conception. Hence she is full of grace. God can save us from sin any way He chooses. Most commonly He saves us after we have committed a person sin, but He can if He chooses to save us before we sin.

To demonstrate this, imagine you came upon a hole in the ground. If you were to fall into the hole (sin) and someone (God) came along and pulled you out, that would be an act of salvation. But, if God prevented you from falling into the hole in the first place, that too is a salvific act. The latter is how Mary was saved from sin. God spared her from the very moment of her conception. God is outside of time. He can save someone any way He chooses. God found it fitting to spare Mary from all sin in order to bring Christ into the world. Jesus who was sinless took on flesh which came from Mary, who was sinless. It’s simply fitting that God chose it that way.

God must have given special graces to Mary in order for her to understand her role in salvation history. It’s not every day that a teenage girl is approached by an angel, asking her to be the Mother of God.

Mary delivers her famous Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) making crystal clear that she knew who Jesus was; what this meant for the children of Israel and to the whole world.

The answer to “Mary, Did You Know?” can be summed up in the first chapter of Luke. Even at such a young age, Mary knew her role. Mary needed a Savior just like you and I. God is outside of time and space. He applied the sacrifice on Calvary to Mary at her conception, similar to how God applies Calvary to us almost 2,000 years later, and to people, such as Abraham and Moses, that came before Christ’s life on earth. God can save anyone at anytime He chooses. We should be ever so thankful for Mary saying yes to be the Mother of God. Thank you Mary for knowing your role and for your fiat.

by John Connor

Battling Sin

Temptation can manifest from the “three enemies of the soul,” the world, the devil, and the flesh. There is an on-going spiritual war happening. Our soul’s eternal destination is at stake. We all have a choice to make. The Beatific Vision and eternal joy in Heaven, or eternal separation from God (i.e. Hell). God does not send us to Hell. Because we have free will, we can ultimately determine our fate by whether or not we cooperate with God’s Love.

From the residue of original sin, human beings have a tendency to sin by even the most subtle temptations. In order to battle these temptations, we have to be more aware of what tempts us, causing us to sin. We can win this spiritual battle.

It is time to put on the full armor of God.

“Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord, and in the might of his power. Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints.” –Ephesians 6:10-18

Reminding ourselves of personal sinful struggles is not easy. In fact, it’s easier to hide from them or pretend they don’t exist. Satan will try to convince you that you are a “good person.” Why? Because “good people” believe they’ve “run up a very favorable credit-balance in God’s ledger,” but they risk committing the sin of pride. There is always a need for God’s love and mercy. The devout life is obtainable to anyone who seeks it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of pride, there is despair. Despair occurs when you think you’re sins are too numerous for God to forgive. Hogwash! There is no sin too great or great in number that God cannot forgive you. The only sins that cannot be forgiven are those that you do not confess to Christ in the confessional. Ask for forgiveness with a contrite heart and your sins will be forgiven when the priest, through Christ, absolves you.

The closer you become to living a saintly life on earth, which is possible by the way, the more aware you become of those particular temptations and sins. It is like shining a light on your “blemishes.”

The saints are great examples of how to live a devout life. They were not born saints. And some were downright scoundrels before they found their conversion. Take St. Augustine of Hippo for instance, before his conversion he lived a very worldly life, even by today’s standards. It was through the prayers of his mother and saint, Monica, that he was transformed anew. Augustine made a choice, and that choice was to live his life for God. He is now a saint and doctor of the Church.

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” –St. Augustine of Hippo

You take a big step forward by admitting you are a sinner in need of God’s love and mercy. God, along with the angels and saints, are on your side in this spiritual war. Christ did not die on the Cross and then leave it up to you to figure out how to conquer sin. Hardly. Christ, whether spiritually present, or physically present in the Eucharist, is leading the charge.

First and foremost, be authentic. Men, do not shy away from your masculinity. We live in an emasculated secular world. Look to Christ as an example of how to be authentic, masculine, Catholic men. Your role is to protect the women around you, both physically and spiritually. Ladies, your femininity is a gift from God. Do not hide from it either. Allow the Blessed Virgin Mary to be your role model of authentic Catholic femininity.

Avoid the near occasion of sin as best you can. Your eyes are the “gateway to the soul.” Custody of the eyes helps to avoid lust in particular. Socialize with other traditional Catholics. Socialize in places that will not lead you to sin, nor be tempted. Sometimes it’s helpful to keep yourself occupied. An idle mind can be dangerous. There are moments where you could feel spiritual dryness as if God has deserted you, or you may fall into depression. Do not let this deter you from living your life for God.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

The Church has given us great weapons to battle sin and lead us to victory. Start with daily prayer. The Rosary is one of the greatest weapons against evil. Another very powerful prayer is the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. If I’m going into a spiritual battle I want St. Michael at my side. Pray it daily. Praying the Divine Office (Divinum Officium, 1960 Rubrics) is also very spiritually beneficial. Prayer is our communication with God, whether we’re talking or listening to Him. This assures us that God is part of our lives. There’s also mortification. Sometimes denying yourself of something you want can strengthen your soul. You may start with turning down dessert after dinner, or praying the Rosary in place of your favorite television program.

Be aware of your temptations. The spiritual attacks are often subtle. A venial sin can grow into a mortal sin before you know it. You have what it takes to battle the temptations and sins of the world, the flesh, and the evil one, Satan. If you commit a sin, go to Confession. Not only will you be forgiven, but you’ll receive graces to overcome the temptations next time. Then you’ll be prepared to get back into the fray. You can win this spiritual battle.

by John Connor

Getting to Know the Mother of Jesus

 

I encountered Christ in the sacraments for the first time when I became Catholic, and I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our relationship with Jesus is sacramental. It is a covenant, family bond. Mary does not get in the way of you and I having a familial relationship with Christ, hardly, Mary works as in instrument, pointing the way as if to say “I want to introduce you to my Son.” Mary encourages us to get to know Jesus. Momma knows best.

“When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother.” (John 19:26-27) Through baptism we become part of God’s family as adopted sons and daughters (Galatians 3:26-29). God our Father, Jesus our Brother, and Mary our Mother.

If we are to grow closer to Christ in the Eucharist through His Mother, how do we make that happen? It starts by praying the Rosary.

“The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.” – Saint Francis de Sales

When we pray the Rosary not only do we receive blessings and graces from it, we grow closer to Mary which then leads us closer to Christ. Praying the Rosary is also sacred because we’re giving glory to God in this prayer.

It is a beautiful gift to God to desire to pray the Rosary, but it’s not about how perfect you pray this prayer, rather, how much you want to please God through prayer.

The Rosary should not be part of a to-do list. If we have the intent to pray and we’re sincere, then God accepts that and we’ll receive graces.

Nobody wants us to fail more than satan. He will put into your mind that it’s too hard to pray the Rosary or how much time out of your day it’ll take to pray the Rosary. Satan will use any diabolical scheme, often times subtle, to discourage you, because he knows how much of an impact spending time with Mary in the Rosary can have on our lives.

Sometimes we get distracted when we pray the Rosary. We think about work, what’s for dinner, sports. Our minds have a tendency to wonder.

“Never walk away from the Rosary feeling discouraged.” – Dr. Edward Sri

God looks at your heart and He sees that you are trying. Even though we may get distracted after a long day, as a loving Father, God sees that we’re giving our best to Him.

What about “vein repetition”?

Repetition is pleasing to God. Revelation 4:8 says “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Another example of repetition that is pleasing to God is Psalm 135, “for his mercy endureth for ever” is repeated in every verse. (Douay-Rheims)

“If you say the Rosary faithfully unto death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins, ‘you will receive a never-fading crown of glory’ (1 St. Peter 5:4).” – Saint Louis de Montfort

The Rosary is centered around the Hail Mary. The Hail Mary prayer is all about Jesus. Even though the prayer is addressed to Mary it’s still about Jesus. The Hail Mary is also Biblical. “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28); “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). The first half of the Hail Mary is about praising God.

In the second half of the Hail Mary, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death,” we ask Mary to pray for us and to bring us closer to Christ.

In the middle of the Hail Mary prayer we say the Holy name of Jesus (i.e. “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”). St. Pope John Paul II called this the “center of gravity of the Rosary” or the “hinge of the Rosary.” Sometimes we can pray the Rosary so fast that we lose sight of the Holy name of Jesus in the middle of the Hail Mary prayer. Instead it should be the focal point. Praying the Rosary with devotion helps us grow closer to Christ.

St. Pope John Paul II also said we should “view the repetition of the Rosary in the context of a relationship of love.” It’s as if you’re repeating “I love you, Jesus” over and over.

As we pray the Rosary we meditate and contemplate the life of Jesus. We enter a deeper and closer relationship with Jesus as we pray these prayers, especially the Hail Mary. We’re getting to know Jesus on a more personal level by doing this.

Spending time with Mary in the Rosary can and will help you develop a more personal relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist, and in your daily life too. This can lead to daily Scripture reading, Eucharistic Adoration, daily Mass, and a deeper prayer life. It will strengthen you as a Catholic, help you avoid the near occasion of sin, and give you the graces you need. It starts by getting to know our Blessed Mother.

“The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin…If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.” – Pope Pius XI

by John Connor