Archive for the ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’ Category

Sound Interpretations

February 17, 2019

Last year, the internet hotly debated whether a particular sound clip was saying Yanny” or “Laurel.” While most people can only hear one name or the other, some people can make out each. In fact, both of the names are sounding in the clip together but at higher and lower pitches. In another online curiosity, a short video shows a small figurine glowing and emitting a sound, either “Brainstorm” or “Green Needle.” The amazing thing is that if you listen to this clip with either phrase in mind then that is the phrase you’ll hear. You can even alternate back and forth between the two. In each of these examples, the messages are indeed there to be heard if one has the ears to hear them.

These phenomena suggest how people in the Bible may have been present to the same auditory events but heard things quite differently. On one occasion recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus prayed aloud, “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from Heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” John notes, “The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.‘” Later, at Pentecost in The Acts of the Apostles, the disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” At the sound of it others in Jerusalem from many nations gathered in a large crowd “but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. … They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others said, scoffing, ‘They have had too much new wine.’” Sometimes people can hear more than one thing in the same divine message, or dismiss it all as nonsense.

Does each passage of the Bible have only one true interpretation? Some reject that Isaiah 7:14 (“The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”) could foretell the virgin birth of Jesus, arguing “the author was referring only to the political situation of his day, not to an event centuries later he couldn’t possibly have known.” But this view forgets or denies that human beings are not the sole authors of Scripture. They are co-authors inspired by the Holy Spirit. God is all-knowing and alive outside of time. He can inspire prophesies with both near and distant fulfillments. And God can invest passages with multiple true and divinely-intended meanings. For example, in the Book of Revelation, John beholds in the sky, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” She gives birth to a son, the Christ, and then she is protected by God from a red dragon, the Devil. Does this represent God’s people of the Old and the New Covenants, or does it symbolize Mary the Mother of God? Yes. The answer is both.

Sacred Scripture, like other things of God, may be compared to a magic pool. It is a pool in which a small toddler may safely play and a great whale may deeply swim. Let us not remain shallow in our understandings, but explore the true depths of God’s Word.

Advertisements

Mary in History: A Surprising Lady

February 11, 2019

February 11, 1858 – Lourdes, France

On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (which is called “Fat” or “Shrove” Tuesday,) Bernadette Soubirous, her sister, and a friend were gathering firewood in the cold outside their small French town. They were near a river and a grotto (a shallow cave) where the locals would dump their garbage. Then fourteen-year-old Bernadette heard the sound of a sudden swish of wind. As Bernadette would later recall:

“I had just begun to take off my first stocking [intending to cross the shallow river barefooted as my companions had done] when suddenly I heard a great noise like the sound of a storm. I looked to the right, to the left, under the trees of the river, but nothing moved; I thought I was mistaken. I went on taking off my shoes and stockings, when I heard a fresh noise like the first. Then I was frightened and stood straight up. I lost all power of speech and thought, when, turning my head toward the grotto, I saw at one of the openings of the rock a [rose] bush, one only, moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden colored cloud, and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening above the bush. She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed me to advance, as if she had been my mother. All fear had left me, but I seemed to know no longer where I was. I rubbed my eyes, I shut them, I opened them; but the Lady was still there continuing to smile at me and making me understand that I was not mistaken. Without thinking of what I was doing, I took my Rosary in my hands and fell on my knees. The Lady made a sign of approval with her head and took into her hands a rosary which hung on her right arm. When I attempted to begin the Rosary and tried to lift my hand to my forehead, my arm remained paralyzed, and it was only after the Lady had signed herself that I could do the same. The Lady left me to pray all alone; she passed the beads of her Rosary between her fingers but she said nothing; only at the end of each decade did she say the ‘Glory Be’ with me.”

St. Bernadette Soubirous then returned to her family’s poor home, but this would be just the first of eighteen apparitions to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, over the five months to follow.

Mary in History: The Conversion of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne

January 20, 2019

January 20, 1842 – Italy

Alphonse, a French, upper-class, secular Jew, was no fan of religion. He particularly opposed Catholicism after his brother converted and became a priest. Yet providential circumstances brought Alphonse to Rome where Baron Theodore de Bussières, a family friend and fervent Catholic, challenged the 27-year-old skeptic to wear the Miraculous Medal and say the Memorare prayer each day. Alphonse obliged and, on the morning of January 20th, he felt drawn to walk into a church.

I was scarcely in the church when a total confusion came over me,” he later wrote. “When I looked up, it seemed to me that the entire church had been swallowed up in shadow, except one chapel. It was as though all the light was concentrated in that single place. I looked over towards this chapel whence so much light shone, and above the altar was a living figure, tall, majestic, beautiful and full of mercy. It was the most holy Virgin Mary, resembling her figure on the Miraculous Medal. At this sight I fell on my knees right where I stood. Unable to look up because of the blinding light, I fixed my glance on her hands, and in them I could read the expression of mercy and pardon. In the presence of the Most Blessed Virgin, even though she did not speak a word to me, I understood the frightful situation I was in, my sins and the beauty of the Catholic Faith.

That day, he went to meet a Catholic priest. Eleven days after, Alphonse was baptized, confirmed, received Holy Communion, and added “Marie” (that is, “Mary”) to his name. That same year a formal Vatican investigation into his instant conversion judged it a divine miracle operated through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Marie-Alphonse was ordained a priest five years later and alongside his priest-brother labored twenty-nine years establishing religious houses and evangelizing Jews in Palestine, or present-day Israel. At the first Pentecost, 3,000 people in Jerusalem were converted to Christ through the Apostles. The Lord Jesus would have us also use our personal testimonies, invitations, and prayers to win souls for him today.

Mary in History: Help of Christians

January 12, 2019

January 12-13, 1866 – Czech Republic

For more than a decade, Magdalena Kade suffered from very poor health. At age 30, her condition took a turn for the worse such that her two physicians thought she would soon die and her priest gave her the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick with Last Rites. One Friday night, while Magdalena lay in bed attended to by Veronika Kindermannová, her friend from next door, “All of a sudden the room became luminous, full of more light than daytime.” As Magdalena would later testify in the bishop’s investigation, “I was frightened. I elbowed Veronika, saying to her: ‘Veronika, wake up, do you not see this glow?’ Veronika said: ‘But I do not see anything.’ In front of my bed was a figure that emanated a very white light, with a golden crown on its head. I quickly thought it was the Mother of God. I united my hands in prayer and began to pray: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit exults in God, my Savior.‘ [Mary spoke these words at the Visitation.] Having said this, I heard a voice – but an unusual voice, different from that of people: ‘My child, from this moment on you will be healed.’ And in that moment the person disappeared and I no longer felt any pain.

That night, Magdalena rose from her bed to the great joy of her family and on Saturday morning she walked to the local bakery to buy bread. When the townspeople of Filipov saw her and asked how she was well, she replied, “Last night I saw the Virgin Mary and she told me I would be healed. And I am healed. Nothing more and nothing less happened.” Magdalena would go on to retell her story many times to inquirers and the room where she was healed became a place of pilgrimage. After her bishop’s investigation affirmed the supernatural character of Magdalena’s cure, a church was built on the site. In 1885, Pope Leo XIII elevated it to a minor basilica and officially consecrated and dedicated it to “Mary, Help of Christians.” Like Mary before her, Magdalena could rejoice that “the Almighty has done great things for me” and, by plainly sharing her firsthand experience, she led others to deeper faith in Christ. Let us likewise share the stories our own miraculous, God-touched moments with family, friends, and neighbors as well.

Mary in History: Our Lady of Prompt Succor

January 8, 2019

January 8, 1815 – Louisiana

Mary as Our Lady of Prompt Succor (which means, “rapid aid”) has been celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana on this date for more than 200 years since a famous military victory. The Ursuline Sisters in New Orleans had honored a statue of Mary by this title for several years in their chapel, but when the British army threatened to capture their city during the War of 1812 these nuns and many townsfolk spent the night beseeching her help. The convent’s prioress made a vow to have a Mass of Thanksgiving sung annually should the American forces prevail. During Mass the next morning, as Holy Communion was being distributed, a messenger rushed into the chapel with the news that the British had been defeated.

Though the British army had outnumbered the American troops (about 8,000 to 5,700) the invaders were repulsed and swiftly defeated in just over a half hour of fighting. The commanding general of the American side, the future president Andrew Jackson, went to nuns’ convent afterwards to thank them for their prayers: “By the blessing of heaven, directing the valor of the troops under my command, one of the most brilliant victories in the annals of war was obtained.” For each American soldier lost or wounded in that battle, the British had experienced roughly thirty casualties. This victory was commemorated by Johnny Horton’s 1959 #1 hit song “The Battle of New Orleans.” Since 1928, Our Lady of Prompt Succor has been honored as the principal patroness of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana.

Mary in History: Our Lady of the Flowers

December 29, 2018

December 29, 1336 – Italy

Egidia Mathis, a pregnant, young wife, was walking alone at the edge of nightfall near Bra, Italy. Near a pillar bearing a coarsely painted image of the Virgin Mary with Child, she crossed paths with two foreign soldiers-for-hire (that is, mercenaries) whom she sensed wished to do her harm. Incapable of defense or escape, Egidia flung herself towards the pillar, begging Mary’s help. A great light came forth from the image. Mary scared off the wicked men with a commanding gesture and smiled at Egidia with maternal empathy. The stress of the moment caused Egidia to go into labor and she delivered her baby there. As she held her newborn closely in the winter cold, the blackthorn thicket surrounding the pillar was now in full bloom with thousands of white flowers. Upon reaching home, she told her husband of the whole episode and he with their relatives and neighbors all beheld the miraculous, out-of season flowering.

Some might dismiss this tale as merely pious legend. But every winter since 1336, this blackthorn thicket, contrary to its species and scientific explanation, has flowered between December 25th and January 15th. Furthermore, on three occasions, this winter flowering has extended for months, corresponding each time with rare public expositions of the Shroud of Turin (the possible burial cloth of Christ) housed twenty-seven miles away.

Christ, the Peace Light, is Born

December 27, 2018

In the city of Israel that is called Bethlehem, the ancient Church of the Nativity marks the site of the first Christmas. There one can actually stoop and bend down beneath the central altar & touch the celebrated spot where Jesus Christ was born. It is fitting that the pilgrims bend low to do this, because the miracle of God becoming a human being — to live and die and rise for us — surely deserves humble reverence with everything that we are.

Earlier this year, as has happened for a number of years now, an Austrian child and their family was selected to travel to Bethlehem. Candles and lamps are always burning within the Church of the Nativity, and there this chosen child transferred their fire into two blast-proof lanterns. Then they all flew back to Austria, where this flame (called “The Peace Light”) has spread from lamp to lamp, light to light, candle to candle, into more than thirty European countries and to places around the world. On December 1st of this year, the Peace Light arrived at J.F.K. Airport in New York City and it has traveled from there across our country. This week, it providentially came to our parish.

Last Friday, a Hudson couple traveling with the Peace Light approached me after morning Mass at St. Paul’s. I had never heard of the Peace Light before, but I happily received it and kept it for this Christmas celebration. All the flames you see burning our sanctuary this Christmas were originally lit from Bethlehem’s flame. Now I carefully carried, protected, and preserved this light; especially when I only had one vigil candle. I realized that one error, one jostling of the liquid wax, could extinguish the fire; and then what would become of this, my Christmas homily? I’d be lost. But, thanks be to God, these candles are lit here today.

So why do we have candles at Mass? Since the early days of Christianity, when Catholic Mass was celebrated in hiding, underground in the catacombs, lamps have provided useful illumination. But these lights are not merely practical. In the late 300’s A.D., a heretic named Vigilantius criticized Christians in the East about many of their practices, including their lighting of great piles of candles while the sun was still shining in the sky. St. Jerome declared in answer to him that candles are lighted where the Gospel is proclaimed not merely to put darkness to flight, but as a sign of joy. As an added symbol, these candles on the altar (and the Easter Candle) are, by tradition, mostly made of beeswax. Because beeswax, which is the product of the virginal female bee, is like the flesh of Our Lord supplied by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Of course, the celebrated Peace Light is not merely a symbol of some abstract notion or idea of peace; it’s a symbol of the very real person of Jesus Christ. The “Light of the World” entered our world from his mother’s womb in Bethlehem. And his light has spread across the world and throughout time to this place and our day. Today, our candles burn and shine for him.

Within you there is also candle, but it is a very vulnerable light. Through error or neglect its light can go out. And without this light we are in darkness without true joy. So Jesus commands us to regularly gather all our candles together here, to be re-lit from the Source, the Light of Christ. In conclusion, in case my symbolism has been too subtle: Have a very joyful Christmas, and know that Jesus Christ (who loves you) wishes you to return here again for his Holy Mass next Sunday.

Mary in History: Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 11, 2018

December 12, 1531 – Mexico

The Blessed Virgin had previously appeared to St. Juan Diego, a Native American, Catholic convert, twice sending him to the local bishop to ask that a church be built near Tepeyac Hill in what is today Mexico City, Mexico. The bishop was not persuaded by the native’s story but asked him for some kind of sign from Mary. On this date, Mary directed Juan to pick some non-native roses miraculously in bloom out of season on that hill and to bring them to the bishop. Juan gathered these in the front of his poncho-like garment (called a tilma) and set off.

When Juan opened the front of his tilma before the bishop to reveal the roses, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image was found on the humble fabric of his garment. Her appearance was that of an Aztec princess, clothed in the Sun with the Moon under her feet, bearing a Divine Child in her womb. The image’s rich symbolism spoke compellingly to the native people and Mexico was converted to Christ.

That tilma, made of rough cactus fibers, should have deteriorated centuries ago, but this garment and its brushstroke-less image remain on display in Mexico’s greatest shrine to this day. Like many things, it’s a miracle existing in plain sight. Our diocese also has a beautiful shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, located just south of La Crosse. If you’ve never visited, it’s worth the pilgrimage.

Mary in History: The Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2018

December 8, 1854

On this date, to the delight of the Church in Heaven and earth, Pope Pius IX employed the gift of papal infallibility to dogmatically affirm our ancient belief in the sinlessness of the Mother of God: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

In her apparitions at Lourdes, France three years after, Mary affirmed, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Church celebrates Mary’s Immaculate Conception on December 8th and her birthday nine months later, on September 8th. Every one of us, from the greatest to the least, begins very, very small. But God loves to make great things of the small.

Mary in History: The Miraculous Medal

November 29, 2018

November 27, 1830 – France

Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, a 24-year-old novice (training to become a vowed religious sister,) in the Daughters of Charity’s convent chapel in Paris, France. In this, Mary’s second of three appearances to her, Catherine saw something like two living paintings, one fading into the other, in which the Blessed Virgin stood in a white silk dress upon a half-globe, her feet crushing a serpent. Mary held a small golden globe topped with a cross which she lifted up towards Heaven. Catherine heard a voice say, “This globe represents the entire world, including France, and every person.”

In the second image, beautiful rays of light streamed from Mary’s open hands, her fingers covered with jeweled rings. Catherine heard, “These rays are a symbol of the graces that I pour out on those who ask them of me. The gems from which rays do not fall are the graces for which souls forget to ask.” Then an oval formed around the apparition and Catherine saw in a semi-circle these words in gold letters: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”

Then a voice commanded Catherine, “Have a medal made according to this model. For those who wear it with confidence, there will be abundant graces.” The image turned and Catherine saw the reverse side of the medal: an “M” topped with a little cross and two hearts, one crowned with thorns and the other pierced by a sword. With approval by the Archbishop of Paris, the medal was minted and shared, leading to such gifts of grace that it came to be called “The Miraculous Medal.”

Mary, the Mother of All Christians

April 26, 2018

Earlier this year, the Vatican announced that the Monday after Pentecost Sunday shall henceforth be celebrated as a new feast day: the Memorial of the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” Its worldwide inaugural celebration will be on May 21st this year. The Holy Catholic Church has defined four dogmas about Mary: that she is ever-virginal and the Mother of God, that she was immaculately conceived and assumed body and soul into Heaven. What Pope Francis has decreed is not on the level of defining a fifth Marian dogma, but he is highlighting a precious truth about Our Lady for us to treasure and valuable for us to share with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

Mary is both poetically and actively the Mother of the Church. St. Augustine says of her, “She is clearly the Mother of His members; that is, of ourselves, because she cooperated by her charity, so that faithful Christians, members of the Head, might be born in the Church.” And as Blessed Pope Paul VI professes in his Credo of the People of God: “we believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in Heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.” How many Christians are unaware that they have a spiritual Mother who loves them?

That Mary is the Mother of all Christians is evident from Scripture. At the Cross, “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” This scene was not included in John’s Gospel to satisfy some idle curiosity about Mary’s living arrangements in her later years. Understanding this scene according to its spiritual significance, every Christian is ‘the disciple who Jesus loved.’ Every Christian is entrusted to Mary as her child and she is given to each one of them as their mother.

Further proof of this is found in the Book of Revelation. There we see a huge dragon (explicitly called “the Devil and Satan”) attempt to destroy “a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod,” along with his mother who wears “a crown of twelve stars.” This is Jesus the Messianic King and his Queen Mother, Mary. Note what happens after the “ancient serpent” fails to conquer this man and woman: “Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” Who are Mary’s children? They are Christians — “those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

Christ’s Church is meant to be gathered around Mother Mary. Before his Ascension, Jesus told the first Christians to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And so, “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together” beside Mary his Mother and the reconstituted Twelve Apostles in the room where the First Eucharist was celebrated. It was through Mary that the Holy Spirit had first begun to bring mankind into communion with Jesus Christ. So likewise (the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes) “she was present with the Twelve, who with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, at the dawn of the end time which the Spirit was to inaugurate on the morning of Pentecost with the manifestation of the Church.”

This is why the Monday after Pentecost is a very fitting day for us to celebrate Mary as Mother of the Church and why all Christians should come together as her spiritual children. Let Catholics be rejoice and Christians be reunited as one!

Mary, Mother of all Christians, pray for us!

Our Lady of Zeitoun

April 3, 2018

A Fascinating Marian Apparition from Egypt

Fifty years ago this week, on the evening of April 2, 1968, a group of Muslim mechanics and drivers working across the street from Virgin Mary’s Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, saw a woman atop a dome of the church. Two other men also noticed the white figure on the top of the church and the matter was reported to the police. A crowd gathered on the site and interpreted the sighting as an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After a few minutes, the event ended. According to tradition, Zeitoun is on the route that the Holy Family took when fleeing King Herod’s efforts to murder the infant Jesus.

Our Lady of Zeitoun

One week later, on April 9, 1968, the phenomenon reoccurred, again lasting for only a few minutes. After that time apparitions became more frequent, sometimes two or three times a week, for several years, ending in 1971. The woman spoke no words, but moved about the church’s mysteriously illuminated domes. She would also face the people in the streets below and gesture warmly with her head or hands. Sometimes she was accompanied by luminous, dove-shaped bodies which moved about at high speeds. Muslims hold Mary in very high regard even though they deem Jesus to be merely a prophet of Islam. She was seen to kneel down before a cross on the church roof; significant, since Muslims deny Jesus’ crucifixion.

Pope (or Patriarch) Kyrillos VI, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, appointed a committee of high-ranking priests and bishops to investigate. On May 4, 1968, Kyrillos VI issued an official statement confirming and approving the apparition. These apparitions were witnessed by perhaps a million people, including President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and were documented by newspaper photographers and Egyptian television. Egyptian government officials concluded in 1968: “Official investigations have been carried out with the result that it has been considered an undeniable fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing on Zeitoun Church in a clear and bright luminous body seen by all present in front of the church, whether Christians or Muslims.”

The Most Interesting Woman in the World

March 1, 2018

With a single word, she crushed a deadly serpent.

Pregnant just once, she has billions of children.

She ended the Soviet Union with her heart.

She is… The Most Interesting Woman in the World

For more than a decade, she held the title for
“The Best Thing to come from Nazareth.”

Her preexisting condition?
Sinlessness — The Lord ensured it.

She lost track of her 12-year-old for three days…
is still considered the world’s greatest mother.

She once redesigned a used garment
and it converted Mexico.

Her favorite nation?
Her coronation.
(But she loves your homeland, too.)

At over 2,000 years old,
she could still get carded buying wine,
though she never needs to.

I don’t always drink wine, but when I do, I prefer my Son’s.

Stay holy, my children.

 

 

The Holy Family and Yours

January 1, 2018

Every year, Holy Mother Church presents the Holy Family for our contemplation and imitation. Some imagine life in the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the soft, pastel colors of a Christmas card; so holy, so flawless, so unobtainable. We wonder, “Can the Holy Family and my family really relate to one another?” At least two out of the three members of the Holy Family never sinned in their entire lives together. We, meanwhile, could jokingly refer to the Feast of the Holy Family as “Elbow-Nudge Sunday.” Throughout the world this day, wives and husbands, parents and children, take turns gently nudging one another as they listen to God’s words about marriage and family life. The Holy Family was holy, but that doesn’t mean their lives were easy or smooth.

I’ve previously written about the stresses and difficulties of the holy couple leading up to the first Christmas: about Mary’s crisis pregnancy, about Joseph grappling with his wife telling him the child within her is the Son of God and Joseph contemplating a divorce, about their giving birth to that holy child in an animal stable. And their trials together continued after Jesus’ birth.

Imagine being Mary and hearing Simeon prophesy, “Behold, this child is destined … to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce…” How would that make you feel about the future for you and your child? Picture being Mary as her husband awakes and says “our boy is being hunted, we need to leave tonight.” Consider Joseph, the servant-leader of his family, having to pack-up quickly and leave so much behind to take his family into hiding in Egypt. Later, an angel tells Joseph to bring his family back into Israel. So Joseph returns with Jesus and Mary, but he’s afraid to resettle in the south because the son of Herod the Great now rules Judea. With the help of another dream, Joseph decides to resettle in the north, in Nazareth of Galilee.

I mention all this because St. Joseph, the just and holy man, feared an earthly king even as he trusted God. St. Mary at the Annunciation did not know all the details of her future, but she trusted in God by saying, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Our Lord Jesus, sweating blood from stress the night before he died, trusted God to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Their holy lives were often difficult, but God always rewarded their trust, bringing about good for them in the end.

In Genesis, Abram (whose name later got changed to Abraham) was promised a son by the Lord. But the childless Abraham looks at the old age of his wife and himself and asks, ‘Will my steward, Eliezer, be my heir?‘ God answers, ‘No, not him; your own flesh and blood son shall be your heir.’ Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” And Abraham put his faith in the Lord.

When I first heard this story (and maybe when you heard it too) I assumed this event happened at night. But the message is even more powerful if God told him to “look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can,” during the daytime. Where do the stars go during the day? We know they’re still there, even though the Sun’s brightness the sky’s blueness prevent us from seeing them. Abraham trusted in the Lord’s unwavering goodwill towards him and beheld God’s word fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. Through that son, Abraham received glory and the whole world was blessed.

One of the things Jesus says in the Gospels more than anything else is, “Be not afraid.” Sacrifice your fears. Imagine taking those obsessive worrying thoughts from your mind, placing them upon the altar, and lighting them afire like a sacrifice of old to God. “Let the peace of Christ control your heart…” Trust that “God works all things for the good of those who love him” and then “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

God not only wants peace within us, but peace among us as well. In our homes there is always room for improvement. The household of the Holy Family may have been a sinless one, but mistakes and miscommunications surely happened. Joseph probably broke or misplaced tools. Mary probably burnt an occasional loaf of bread. From the Gospels we know they both thought they knew where their 12-year-old boy was as they left Jerusalem for home; several hours passed before they realized he was missing. Even when we deeply love one another, we must learn and practice how to love and serve each other better.

We love each other in many ways, and the best modes by which we experience love can vary from person to person. The book “The Five Love Languages” lays out five major ways that we give and receive love, namely:

Gift Giving
Acts of Service
Affectionate Touch
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time

What are your top-two love languages? Can you guess the preferred languages of your spouse and children? Sometimes we try to love others as ourselves by loving them exactly as ourselves and we unfortunately miss our mark. For example, imagine a spouse complaining, “Why don’t you let me know that you love me,” when they really mean “why don’t you get me surprises anymore” (gift giving) or “why don’t you tell me that I delight you and you’re pleased with me” (words of affirmation.) At this, their spouse might reply, “What do you mean? I’m loving you all the time,” when they’re really saying “I take care of the kids and do housework” (acts of service) and “We eat and sit in the living room together every evening” (quality time.) These two loving spouses are loving past each other.

Learn the preferred love languages of your family members, and don’t expect others read your mind, sabotaging our own happiness. Tell them how to delight you. They love you and they want to make you happy. Don’t attack and criticize (“You always this” or “You never that”) but invite them to bless you. And pray together, as a couple and a family. The Holy Family surely did and its one of the most valuable things I can recommend. Some married couples, who have shared a bed for years, have never revealed their personal prayer requests to each other. Pray together, and then even whenever frictions arise, you will remember that you are on the same team, together on the same side with God.

Your home will never be perfect – not even the Holy Family’s was perfect. Life’s circumstances will go awry, and there will be sins we have to apologize for and forgive one another. But with trust in God and a daily commitment to loving and serving each other better, you too can live in the peace and joy of the Holy Family.

What if Jerusalem were in Western Wisconsin?

December 29, 2017

(Not all will personally resonate with the reference city
chosen for this reflection, but I share this article because
its device and style may be fruitfully employed by others.)

One thing I brought back with me from my first trip to Israel was a better grasp of its geography. A visit to the Holy Land yields a previously unknown sense of scale offering new insights to the Gospel. In lieu of flying everyone abroad, perhaps I can bring its holy places closer to home. Let’s allow Bloomer, Wisconsin to represent the location of ancient Jerusalem and examine where other sites in the region would be situated relative to it.

The town of Bethlehem is about five and a half miles (in a straight line, as the crow flies) south-southwest (SSW) from Jerusalem. So, allowing Bloomer to be Jerusalem, Jesus was born not far from St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church in Cooks Valley, Wisconsin. If the Holy Family, retracing the steps of their Hebrew ancestors during their flight into Egypt, passed by the Great Pyramids of Giza (273 miles WSW from Jerusalem) they fled almost as far as Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After King Herod the Great’s death, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to their hometown of Nazareth, 64 miles north of Jerusalem. Each year, Jesus’ parents would pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem, as from Hayward, Wisconsin to Bloomer and back, for the Jewish festival of Passover.

One of the things that struck me about seeing the Old City of Jerusalem in person is how very small it is. There is just 0.35 square miles – only twice the area of Vatican City – within its high stone walls. The locales of Jesus’ Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension are all reasonably short walks from each other.  If we take St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Bloomer as the location of the Jewish Temple, the Cenacle (or “Upper Room” where the Last Supper was celebrated) is located to the southwest at the intersection of Riggs Street & 19th Avenue. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) is almost due west of the church, in the middle of Bloomer’s Lake Como behind the A.J. Manufacturing building. And the traditional site of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven from the Mount of Olives would be almost due east from the church, in the first field south of the Bloomer Public Elementary School.

As the young Church spread, a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus obtained authority from the Jewish High Priest to arrest any Christians he might find in Damascus, 134 miles NNE from Jerusalem in Syria. However, the Lord Jesus enlightened him on his journey as to (quite fittingly) the Apostle Islands off of Wisconsin’s northern shore. This Saul, who became St. Paul, would go on to preach and win converts as in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba & Saskatchewan (i.e., Turkey & Greece.) Just like St. Peter, St. Paul was martyred for Christ far from home, 1,432 miles from Jerusalem in Rome, a distance like that of Seattle, Washington from Bloomer.

Following the Apostles, Jesus’ Church continued to grow through the centuries and around the world, winning new souls in new lands, including our own. Our Christian Faith has come to us today from ancient Jerusalem to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, wondrously spanning a distance equaling that of Bloomer, Wisconsin to Kyoto, Japan.


The two gray domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher appear behind the Islamic Dome of the Rock shrine atop the Temple Mount
in this photo I took in November 2016 from the western slope
of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.