First Believer

This day we celebrate that God is born man. That our salvation is offered to us through the babe. The angels rejoiced at this amazing gift for us, we are loved. But today, Mary witnesses the fruit of her belief. It was Mary who believed in God and by doing so brought salvation into the world. She is the first of believers and her belief in God guides us as her children in our faith. We believe because she believed before us. May our Blessed Mother always be in our hearts and my we always look to her for belief in her Son.

Four ‘Yesses’; Four Faces

(Divine Mercy Sunday – 2016)

This year, because of the liturgical calendar, we have a special alignment that speaks even more fully of God’s gift of mercy.  This year our celebration of Divine Mercy is wedged between two great acts of God’s Mercy, indeed it is situated between the beginning and the culmination of His gift of Mercy, albeit in chronologically reversed order – but still between them. The celebration of Divine Mercy, this year, rests between Easter Sunday and the Solemnity of the Annunciation (which we celebrate tomorrow). Normally, when Easter Sunday isn’t so early in the year, the Solemnity of the Annunciation falls within Lent.

Why is the Solemnity of the Annunciation tied so closely to Divine Mercy?  After all many would say, and rightly, that all celebrations are tied to Divine Mercy. But the Solemnity of the Annunciation is especially integral to this gift; Easter couldn’t have happened without the Annunciation.

Of course it is easy to understand why Easter is so connected to today’s celebration of Divine Mercy. The great Pascal Mystery; when through no merit of our own, due only to the love of the Lord mercy was shown to us, mercy opened the gates of hell; mercy healed the universe.  Easter is when the light of mercy explodes to those who seek it.  It is the culmination of this great gift from the Father. It is the reason for our joy.

But, again, why is the Annunciation closely connected to Divine Mercy?

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is usually almost forgotten among the celebration of Lent. If we look closely, this ‘hiddenness’ seems almost appropriate. Pope Benedict XVI commented on this at his March 25th 2007 general audience: ‘The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel, is a humble, hidden event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it – but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity.[1]  What is almost always overlooked is that at this small ‘backwater’ encounter there were two fiats, not one. Two acts of mercy happened at that meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, and both were needed to bring Divine Mercy among us. Mary’s yes to the will of God the Father; and first, the Son’s yes to His Father in doing Their merciful work by entering into the world. It was at the Annunciation that Mercy took a face.[2]

But there is another ‘yes’, another face.

Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, takes our Blessed Mother’s yes and adds hers to it.  The Church stands in front of the face of God and the faces of all the angels, and the heavenly hosts and proclaims her fiat. Her yes, to continuing to bring the face to mercy to mankind. Two millennia have seen this ever different yet never changing face of Divine Mercy. It is the face of each and every faithful who has and is doing Christ’s work. Holy Mother Church continues to give physicality to God’s mercy – through her we can see and hear and touch Divine Mercy.

And, there is a fourth ‘yes’ – ours.

As have those who preceded us in the mystical body, we need to allow our own face to project Christ’s face and shine as the face of mercy.  Our ‘yes’ needs to be added to the Church’s nearly 2,000 years of ‘yesses’.  It is our ‘yes’, our face of mercy that ‘completes what is lacking[3]. Our suffering for those around us, the action of mercy, that brings them to Christ through His bride.

My brothers and sisters, do we take up this mission and move forward? Do we add our individual fiat to that of the Church, and of Mary, and of Christ? Are we adding our face to Christ’s and radiating mercy to the world?

This week we have seen the passing of a great witness to the mercy of God. Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation went home to the Father after 92 years of pilgrimage and over 70 years of continual public fiat in doing His will.  By her faith in our merciful God she built the largest Catholic, indeed Christian, media network and spread God’s face throughout the world.  It was her EWTN television station that daily prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy so the world could become aware and appreciate its power and participate in it.  She has been called home – let’s take this milestone to recommit to our Merciful God and say yes to the mandate of Divine Mercy. Let’s embrace His mercy with our own fiat and in doing so let those who haven’t felt His mercy see His face in ours and by doing so instill in them the wisdom of the prodigal son when he finally realized who he truly was and where he should be.

Finally, friends, this Fiat of ours isn’t an annual celebration – it is a commitment to action, continual action. So as we add our ‘yes’ to the millennia of faithful let’s ask our Father to give us the strength to offer the mercy we received from Him to all we encounter.

Let your face shine through us Oh Lord, so that Your Mercy may bring light to our darkened world.

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[1] Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[2] Inspired by: Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[3] Col 1:24 (RSV)

Our Gift Back To God (and Mary)

So we come to the core period of Advent, the nervousness from what we have reflected on at the beginning of this season (the eschaton and the second coming) should now be waning as we see with the coming celebration of the Nativity how much God desires us to succeed. He came among us to help us get home. We now focus intensely on the gift of Christ – as we should.

But this weekend Holy Mother Church asks to look at the other side of this gift from God – our gift back to Him. Today’s Gospel scene is one which Pope Francis has talked about a lot – it is a foundational reading in his spirituality and he desires it to be ours as well. Why? Because so does God.

Frequently Pope Francis has talked about the first thing that Mary did after submitting to the will of God; she goes in haste to help others. It is a call to Christians for Christian action, especially Catholics, who might have the tendency to celebrate feasts of the church and not put them to action.

Christ teaches that the greatest commandments are Love God and Love your neighbor[1] – this calls for action – this calls us to go in haste to others. So, I ask myself, and you; how are we doing with our gift back to God? I for one need to be better – my gift back to God is very, very, anemic.

Of course this gift of action to God and others is full of uncertainty and doubt. It is fraught with various forms of persecution from being ignored and marginalized, to being derided or rejected, all the way to being attacked and yes, even possibly martyred.

But so it was with Mary; she knew that her journey and her action would be difficult – right from the beginning. Going in haste to anywhere in Judea was not like driving a long distance today – it was dangerous and life threatening – but she did it. Advent reminds us that she wasn’t alone, Christ was with her; and as He was in her – she was brave in Him.

So, how are we doing with our gift back to God?

Once again, this past year we have seen many attacks on the personal liberty of religion – and some have shown us great acts of Christian action; worthy gifts back to our Lady and Lord. Here is one that epitomizes heroism with and for God; an example of gifting back to God worthy of His (and Mary’s) gift to us:

At Brandon High School, in Mississippi, the marching band was ordered off the field by their school board because they performed ‘How Great Thou Art’ at halftime in violation of a federal court order. Todd Starnes from foxnews.com writes what happened next:

Something must be done to right this wrong, people said. A message had to be sent to the likes of Judge Reeves. Locals gathered in coffee shops and garages to devise their plan.

And what they did — would become known as the musical shot heard around the world. During halftime of Friday night’s game – a lone voice began to sing the forbidden song. “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,” the singer sang.

Brittany Mann was there and she witnessed the entire moment of defiance.  “We were just sitting there and then one by one people started to stand,” she told me. “At first, it started out as a hum but the sound got louder and louder.” She said it was a “truly incredible” moment to watch hundreds of people singing together in the stadium.[2]

This isn’t a faraway issue; ask the football team at Naperville Central – since they too are under legal attack for quietly praying as a group. So, how are we doing with our gift back to God?

Friends, what is our story?

  • Are we intimidated by the social environment?
  • Do we sit back in the shadows and wish it were otherwise?
  • Do we allow the children of our towns who proclaim Christ publically to do it alone?

Or

  • Do we trust in the Lord and travel with Him?
  • Do we, like Mary, go in haste to bring her son to others?
  • Do we hold our heads high in the Lord to those in our communities who look at us with derision and threatening distaste?
  • Do we support those in our communities, especially our children, who proclaim Christ publically? Do we stand with them and proclaim our faith?

Brothers and sisters, we celebrate the birth of our Lord in five days. We rejoice in the great gift of God made man. We rejoice that our redeemer was born to walk among us and offer Himself for us.

But we also, celebrate another gift, that greatest of human action – ‘fiat’! Mary’s yes that allowed us to rejoice. How will we thank her? By the gifts of empty words, shallow prayers and wistful wishes; or will we follow up her example, make her actions our own and also go in haste to those who need Christ in their lives. Will we celebrate by being happy and inspired for a day, only to have the effects fade; or will we follow her and constantly hold our heads high in Christ in public and endure what she endured with her Son? Let’s give her and Him thanks for their gifts by bearing the cross of discipleship all the way to Calvary and beyond.

Let’s make our gift to Christ, and His mother, as meaningful as theirs is to us.

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[1] Matt 22:36-40
 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (RSV)
[2] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/08/21/school-band-told-to-stop-performing-how-great-thou-art.html