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

person holding opened book
Advent, Bible, Gospel, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

Is the Bible Still Relevant? Gospel Reflection Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Friday 11 December

Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus said to the crowds: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”


Some people say that the Bible is no longer relevant. Well, hello! This passage is timeless. It’s like Jesus knew he would be dealing with us thousands of years into the future.

We still admonish one another like this today.  In these COVID-19 days, if someone is extremely cautious, we accuse them of being too risk averse.  If someone is a risk taker, we accuse them of being reckless. This sort of rhetoric sounds like old school Bible stuff. We’re making the same mistakes as the children in today’s parable.  We’re not listening to one another or seeking to understand.  

It was easier for people to dismiss John the Baptist, as an eccentric Essene who ate locusts, than it was to listen to his prophetic message.  It was easier for some to persecute Jesus’ message of love, and indeed, his very identity, than it was to accept that the Messiah had come.

I don’t think many of us are at our best nearly nine months into the Corona Virus. Many of us have lost loved ones. Some of us have consumed a few more adult beverages than typically imbibed. Some of us are nursing our feelings with Double Stuff Oreos. “Meme-ing” has become both a verb and national pastime because making light of this surreal years is easier than actually dealing with it.  

But we know that, “wisdom is vindicated by her works” (Mt 11:19). In Luke’s Gospel, this parable is preserved as “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Lk 7:35). This is a somewhat confusing phrase, but it means that John and Jesus are the children of Widsom. The works of John and Jesus are those of divine Wisdom.

But what of our actions? I’d like to think that as the pandemic has gone on, Wisdom is being vindicated in our works, too. People have begun taking care to prepare healthier snacks and beverages.  We’re righting the ship, so-to-speak. People are placing more value on family and friends, and the time we can spend together. Prayer has become more commonplace among those who may have strayed from faith, and on-line church services boomed. We have begun to look out for our neighbors, which may be one of the most healing balms of all, and this all harkens back to Jesus’ command to love one another.

Muffy Patterson

To Ponder

What Bible passage speaks to you in 2020 as if it were just written or spoken today for the very first time?

hands people friends communication
Advent, Family Life, Gospel, Self Care, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

Come to me, all you who labor. Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

Wednesday 9 December

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”


Can I tell you something? I was horribly late getting this piece turned in. The burdens of my life were getting in the way. Some of the burdens were big, but most were everyday burdens – what to cook for dinner, the kids arguing with each other, a lack of sleep because of a little one who still wakes up each night in need of extra snuggles. But the burdens felt heavy and instead of setting them down, I was gathering the burdens more tightly to myself and dragging them along.

Dragging heavy burdens gets exhausting, but so often this is the way we choose to go through our lives. Which is so counterintuitive, isn’t it? If something is too heavy, we ought to set it down. Or ask for help!

This inclination to carry on alone starts early.

When my five-year-old helps carry in the groceries she grunts and groans but refuses to quit because she wants to demonstrate how strong she is. But this only works until her little muscles wear out and we end up with a spilled bag of broken groceries on the ground. Are we like her, trying to show ourselves and others how strong we are?

Jesus offers us a better way: “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”

What he offers goes beyond just a quick break before we pile all our burdens back on our backs and trudge along. He goes on to tell us, “Take up my yoke, and learn of me.” A yoke was a harness for not one, but two oxen, allowing them to share the weight of the plow. Jesus is literally offering to carry part of the burden for us, to walk alongside us as we move through the hard stuff in our lives, a constant companion.

And He is offering to teach us, too, as we walk alongside Him. He will teach us a better way, a way that is meek and humble of heart, so that we can find rest in our souls. He is offering the five-year-old in each of us help to carry whatever is in our grocery sacks and to teach us how to accept that help, so that we don’t end up broken and spilled out, unable to go on.

That help comes to us in unexpected ways – the husband who picks up take-out so you don’t have to cook, the friend who calls out of the blue and asks if your kids can come for a playdate, the child who sleeps through the night (just once!) so you can get a good night’s rest. We must train ourselves to be meek and humble of heart so that we can recognize and accept the help that is being offered and to see Jesus in those moments when our burden is lightened.

And when we do, Jesus assures us, we will see that His yoke is truly sweet and his burden is truly light.

Kim Miller

To Ponder

Can you think of a time you were dragging along a grocery sack full of stuff? Are you dragging something now? Look around for people offering to help share your burden.

Download Advent Devotional
adventure cold conifers evening
Advent, Dignity, Gospel, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

Saturday of the First Week of Advent

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” 

Then he summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus, “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”


Surveying the neglected, unsettled crowd cut Jesus to the core. Do you react with similar compassion when you encounter God’s people, those who struggle, flock to the latest spiritual trend or guru, and have more questions than answers? Do you actively engage with these individuals, or is the prospect too exhausting for you?

Jesus didn’t “check in” with the Apostles and ask if they’d be up to the challenge before he commanded them to act. He identified an urgent need for ministry to people who were unmoored and spiritually wounded. Today, people are disoriented by politics, unsettled by demonstrations, and paralyzed with fear during this pandemic. They are depressed, angry, disgusted, and bewildered. They are searching for truth.

Are we leading people to the consolation we find in the person of Jesus Christ? Do we remind them of the words he spoke in Matthew 11, inviting us to lay down our burdens at his feet and find true rest in submitting to him? The agitated, the worried, the confused are all around us—do we offer words that are a soothing balm and supportive bolster?

Jesus commissions us to be missionary disciples and assures us that he will empower us to work miracles if we commit to do this essential work. Today, offer an exhausted stranger a smile and a kind word. Call a friend and ask, “How are you really doing?” Spend time with a lonely elderly relative. Actively listen to your children when you ask about school. Implore the Holy Spirit to strengthen you for these tasks, enabling you to see individuals as Jesus sees them and moving you to act with the compassion of Christ. 

Meditation: How did it feel to reach out to someone intentionally today? How does a missionary disciple love?

Nancy Belmont

You may download the complete Advent devotional Good Tidings HERE as a PDF

red lighted candle
Advent, Bible, Gospel, Women's Ministry

Advent Devotional Wednesday, 2 December

Wednesday 2 December 

Matthew 15:29-37 

At that time: Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the  mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having  with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many  others.  They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds  were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.  Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for  fear they may collapse on the way.” The disciples said to him, “Where  could we ever get enough bread in this deserted ace to satisfy such  a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”  “Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.” He ordered the crowd to sit  down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,  gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in  turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.  They  picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full. 


I hate crowds. I don’t hate the people in them, but I really don’t like to be in the midst of a  lot of people. Today’s Gospel account includes a really large group of people who have come  out to see Jesus. And these crowds bring to Jesus a lot of people in need of healing, and Jesus  cures them. The results of these miracles cause the crowds to be amazed, and who can blame  them? 

It also causes them to glorify God, as well they should. 

But things are about to get even more astounding as Jesus, moved with compassion, asks  his disciples to feed them, for he knows everyone is hungry. Whatever provisions they may  have thought to bring along are dwindling if not gone completely. The disciples see this as an  impossible request! Of course, Jesus is able to provide more than enough food for the people  assembled. Meager offerings feed everyone, with remains of this “satisfying” meal filling seven  baskets. 4,000 men were fed. And who knows how many women and children? Matthew  doesn’t say, but I’d be willing to bet those people were amazed again, and who can blame them?  They glorified God, again, as well they should. 

The story illustrates that Jesus is able to do amazing things. We’re reminded to rely on Jesus,  even when it doesn’t seem like we have enough: enough strength; time; energy; imagination;  love; faith; or hope. Go to Jesus and ask him to bless your finite offering of yourself, and he will  make that offering sufficient for the task at hand. You will be amazed. You will glorify God when  you realize that he provides not only an adequate amount of what you lacked, but there’s some left  over, too. That’s what the grace of God can do.  

Lynda MacFarland

woman in white long sleeve shirt holding white flower
Catholic Family, Family Life, Homeschool, Motherhood, Self Care, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

This Fall May be a Season of Pruning and That’s Okay

Late August in my family is usually filled with last-minute beach trips, back to school shopping and sports try-outs.  It’s fun for the kids but hectic for me as I balance leisure time, with the kids’ needs, and my own work.  By September, I relate well to that internet meme where the kids are all lined up at the bus stop with frowny faces, and the mom is jumping for joy at the realization that she gets the house to herself for a few hours.

But that’s not happening this year, is it?  Nope!  Most of our back to school plans have been up-ended as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. My older children began classes digitally, and we have opted to homeschool our rambunctious second grader for the first time. Instead of a quiet September, we’re bumping up the chaos.

My aspirations of autumn “me time” in a quiet café with a pumpkin spice latte are cooling off faster than my re-microwaved home brew.

So how am I finding and balance amid the noise of competing demands and an ever-changing pandemic environment?  Honestly – it’s tough, and sometimes, I feel overwhelmed.  But when I do manage find balance, here’s how: 

The name of the game is recalibrating.

friend recently had to abruptly change a plan that we had made together.  In her email, she wrote that we needed to “recalibrate.”  Her word stuck with me because that’s how I’m managing in this pandemic.  I’m constantly recalibrating.   

I’ve seen and read a fair bit of unhappy stuff on social media lately, and I am concerned that a lot of us are facing the fall with other re words. Re-ticence, Re-sentment. Re-servation. Re-calcitrance. Re-sistance.      

As I face this school year, I’m focusing on recalibrating.  Why?  Because back to school days should be a time of re-newal. You see, recalibrating is adjusting to a true and accurate value.  Like orienting a compass toward north, when we recalibrate to the correct value, we get renewal.  This fall, I’m recalibrating life to my Christian vocation. 

Recalibrating to your vocation.

What do I mean by recalibrating to my vocation?  Well, let’s back up.  The word vocation gets tossed around frequently in Christian circles, but what does it mean?  Very broadly, our vocation is how we express our love of God and share the Gospel.  We live our vocation through married life, religious life or holy orders, or singleness, and it’s possible to have more than one vocation. St. Teresa of Calcutta, for example, spoke of her vocation to the religious life and her vocation to start a new religious community to serve the poor as a “vocation within a vocation” or a “call within a call.”

If my life is properly calibrated, each part of my life feels like a “vocation within a vocation” and life makes sense.  Married life dovetails with motherhood, and my job fits within our family dynamic.  When I’m working within my vocation, instead of feeling pulled toward competing priorities and anxious, I feel clarity. 

This doesn’t mean that working within your vocation won’t ever be hard.  Take one look at a crucifix and you’ll be reminded that living our vocation can be extremely challenging.      

But when I feel pulled in all different directions at once and everything in life becomes a chore, that’s when I know it’s time to recalibrate to my vocation because my vocation matters.  The other stuff frankly doesn’t.  I take time to remind myself of what my vocation is, and as importantly, what it is not.  I scrutinize whether the things that demand my time help or hinder my vocation. 

This is a prayerful process through which I’m reminded that that God created me as a finite being with finite capabilities and finite hours in my day.  I’m am not called to do everything.

Holy Pruning.

During this pandemic, God is certainly calling me to focus on my family, keep my children safe, educate them, and catechize them.  This is requiring me to prune things out of my life and make more space for these priorities.  It’s a holy pruning.  Some of the pruning is obvious:  I need to limit the time I spend on Instagram and Netflix, for example.  But I’ve also made some harder decisions to prune away fun social functions and volunteer work that I enjoy, so that I can give more attention and energy to my vocation. 

Navigating this fall’s evolving school schedules and family dynamics will require continued recalibration and pruning, but I find it consoling to remember Jesus’ words that God prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it can bear even more fruit for the kingdom (see Jn 15:2). How are you recalibrating?