Advent, Blessed Mother, Gospel, Mass Reflection

The Visitation Gospel Reflection for Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Monday 21 December

Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”


As we draw nearer to the birth of our Lord and prepare for his arrival, today’s Gospel perfectly illustrates how we should prepare to receive him.  The forthright love, humility, and pure joy between Mary and Elizabeth proves that when our trust in God is at the center of our lives, perfect love is born.

Before the reunion witnessed in today’s Gospel, our Blessed Mother proclaimed her fiat, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  In doing so, Mary was fully accepting God’s plan for her – to become the mother of our Savior.  She did this without fully knowing what it would entail, giving us the true definition of trust. Additionally, she was told her cousin Elizabeth was with child, so Mary went with haste to see Elizabeth, knowing how she longed for a child her entire life. Elizabeth accepted God’s will. She did not lose faith or hope when her own desires had not become reality in her youth.

Mary and Elizabeth reunite with immense joy, “Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out . . . and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (LK1:41-43). 

The image of these two women, embracing with such warmth, love, and joy, is how we should interact with one another. In receiving your neighbor, you are receiving Christ himself.  As women, let us strive to mirror Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship with the women in our lives.  Let us embrace each other with joy-filled hearts, humble ourselves so we can see Christ in each other, and allow Christ’s perfect love to radiate through our interactions.

Amanda Costello

Meditation

How are you a good friend to the women in your life?

Advent, Blessed Mother, Gospel, Mary, Theology, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

The Immaculate Conception – Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sunday 20 December

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


If you’ve been keeping up with the readings this Advent, you’ll notice that today’s Gospel is the same Scripture that we read on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her reflection for that day, Amanda Alley wrote about how God gives us sufficient grace for each thing he asks of us. 

Today, I want to talk about Mary and her Immaculate Conception. Some people struggle to understand how we can claim that Mary was conceived without original sin.

Where is this in the Bible? 

Today’s reading tells us that the Angel approached Mary and said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” (Lk 1:28). As articulated by Pope Piux IX, our Church understands “full of grace” to mean that “the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus). 

If you read this passage next to Gabriel telling Zechariah about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, you’ll notice that the stories are very similar, but how Gabriel addresses each person is quite different.  The angel appears to Zechariah and simply calls him by his name, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” (Lk 1:13). In contrast, the angel greets Mary, “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28) and later uses Mary’s name only later. This initial greeting — “Hail, full of grace” — is unique.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, spoke at the MidAtlantic Congress in 2019 and noted that the Roman Catholic Church has a carefully articulated theology about the Eucharist, in part, because the Church had to defend her beliefs from attack. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodoxy has a well-developed theology of praying with icons because iconography was attacked as idolatry. (View minutes 17-20 of this recording for the specific remarks).

Sometimes external pressure moves us to declare or reaffirm truths that we already know. Like the Eucharist and iconography, the Catholic Church articulated the Immaculate Conception as “dogma” in 1854, not because Mary’s Conception without original sin was a new concept, but because the belief was under attack. 

If Mary’s Immaculate Conception makes sense to you, that is a grace. If this teaching is hard for you to understand, I recommend the book A Biblical Walk with Mary by Dr. Edward Sri as a good starting point.

If you’re struggling with a teaching of the Church, find a friend to help you learn. We’re all students. Ask for God’s grace to understand.

Elizabeth Tomlin

Meditation

Have you ever struggled to understand a teaching of the Faith? What helped you to get through it?


Photo by Antônia Felipe on Unsplash
Advent, Blessed Mother, Discernment, Gospel, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

Signs and Wonders of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

Saturday 12 December

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Luke 1:26-37

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


Mary said “yes,” and her yes was huge! How did she get there? It wasn’t a blind yes that lacked thought.  Initially, she was troubled at the angel Gabriel’s greeting to her as “favored.” She listened to the angel’s words that she would bear a child who would be the son of God.  She considered Gabriel’s words very carefully, and she pondered. 

She was unsure about the mechanics; she asked for clarification about how this could come to be as she was a virgin.  As the angel explained how all this would unfold, Mary must have been terrified, but she moved forward in her discernment beyond her feelings.

The angel also gave her a sign she could hold onto for strength and comfort. Signs are special favors from God. We don’t ask for signs in order to believe, but through the eyes of faith, sign are a helpful nod from God that give us a little boost of confidence.

For Mary, Elizabeth’s seemingly implausible pregnancy was a sign. The angel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, well past her childbearing years, was also pregnant. This was a sign that nothing is impossible for God.  When Mary expresses her obedience and accepts the angel’s words, she says “yes” and had all she needed to move forward in faith. Mary had faith, she discerned, was obedient, and received a special sign that gave reassurance.

Discernment is prayerful consideration. It is a Christian approach to decision making.  Discernment varies depending on both the decision to be made and who is making the decision, but some things don’t change. First, it is prayerful. Mary first listened.  When we discern, we listen to what God is revealing in our hearts through prayer.  If you have the luxury of time, you can also listen to those close in your life whom you respect, such as a spouse, a friend, or a priest. 

In discernment, from listening comes questioning.  This is where you form your inquiries, and do an examination.  You may go back and forth between listening and questioning, but eventually every Christian comes to prayer in discernment. In the Gospel, Mary pondered, and questioned, and the angel then gave her the sign.  We receive signs in prayerful discernment.

There is confirmation during a prayerful discernment, but discernment doesn’t end when the decision has been made. This is key, because if you stop the discernment prematurely, you will miss the sign.  As simple human beings we need signs as a bit of reassurance. We experience God with our sense, and signs help us to do that. Signs are little graces of discernment. Signs are usually visual to satisfy our need to see to believe. 

St. Therese of Lisieux relished in signs.  She saw them everywhere. She saw the snow on the day she professed her vows as a special sign from God. Carmelites are powerhouses of prayer, discernment, and seeing signs.  In fact, Therese wanted to work tirelessly after death, in part, to deliver signs to the prayerful: “to send down a shower of roses from the heavens…” She wanted to be an active participant in the delivery of God’s graces. 

Marian apparitions, like the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego, are themselves a huge sign!  On this Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe, ponder her signs that brought millions to the church. 

Imagine the discernment of San Juan Diego and the clergy, and how through Our Lady of Guadalupe, the indigenous people of Mexico saw the signs they needed to see from the clothes she wore, to the stars on her mantle, the reflection in her eyes, to the literal shower of roses that Juan Diego and the Bishop Zumarraga experienced when Juan Diego displayed his tilma, revealing the miraculous image.

Prayerfully consider your next decision, look for a sign, and walk boldly forward in that decision in peace.

Meditation

Lord, Help me to discern like Mary did as I face important decisions in my life.  Allow me to remember that as a beloved daughter of Christ, prayer is always an integral part of decision making.  After my decision is made, help me to see the sign you send me to give me hope as I continue to walk forward on the path to holiness. Amen.”

Dollia Lemus