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The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Season of Advent

For several Christian people throughout the world, especially Mexican and Mexican-American Christians, December 12, of course, is the celebration of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. The feast commemorates her December 9–12, 1531 appearances to St. Juan Diego, the Náhuatl-Aztec who had recently converted to Christianity, whose own tilma or cloak bore—and continues to bear—the miraculous imprint of her image from when “the desert rejoiced and blossomed” (Is 35:1) at Mt. Tepeyac with Castillian roses blooming in December: the image of the Brown Virgin (La Morenita), the indigenous mestiza clothed with the sun and wearing the cinta, the band of pregnancy, standing on the moon, head bowed and hands folded in prayer, and born aloft by an angel of the Lord. I would like to suggest that the Virgin of Guadalupe belongs in a particular way to our Advent preparations because, like Mary herself in her great New Testament hymn of God’s praise, the Magnificat, she proclaims to us the Gospel, the Good News of our salvation in Christ, the Good News of God who scatters the proud, exalts the lowly, …

To Stay on Target: The Immaculate Conception

On Thursday, March 25, 1858, standing in the Grotto of Massabielle, Lourdes, Our Lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. This self-revelation, four years after the proclamation of the dogma of this mystery of our faith, belongs to the core of her message to St. Bernadette and is unique compared to other apparitions. As the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary resembles and proclaims God’s authentic, i.e. immaculate, concept of the human person created in his image and likeness. To say it differently: in Mary’s person radiates forth the authentic blueprint that God designed for each of his children. It follows that she is the ideal exception and we are the unfortunate rule of God’s wish for us! The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrated on December 8 honors Our Lady as the personification of the re-created order in Christ. Having been pre-redeemed and fully redeemed, Mary’s spiritual wealth constitutes that dimension of her being which is veiled to the outside and transcends time and matter. In its depth it is fully known only to God. …

Prayer of the Heart: Solitude and Community

The late philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said that religion is what one does with one’s solitude. There is a certain truth in that observation in that one encounters God by a personal reaching out if the encounter is a genuine one. At the same time, however, the solitary experience of faith hardly sums up the totality of the life of faith. It is true, as the New Testament teaches us, that Jesus frequently sought out quiet places, often before dawn, to pray alone. However, that solitary prayer must be seen against Jesus’ pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem, his visits to synagogues, his participation in prayer with his disciples, and the other observances incumbent upon a faithful Jew. The well-worn cliché “I am spiritual but not religious” can be understood as a preference for my spirituality as opposed to membership in a religion. The cliché is a testament to the American tendency to prize the power of individuality. That dichotomy, however, from the Christian perspective, is an insufficient one overly dependent on notions of …

How to Pray the Rosary with Middle Schoolers

Our parish uses the Edge program for our middle school religious education. Before our first class began, our coordinator asked me to lead prayer at the end of each monthly gathering. When I asked her if there was a specific type of prayer she was hoping I would lead, she thought that perhaps it would be nice to introduce the Rosary to the middle school students. Now, before you think that we prayed the whole Rosary before each class, I will tell you that we decided that a single decade of the Rosary would be stretching the limits of middle school students’ abilities to be quiet, still, and prayerful. Why pray the Rosary with middle school students? First of all, many of our students do not have much experience with traditional prayers of the Church; sadly, that includes experiences of the Mass. We wanted to end our classes in a spirit of prayer that would send students home refreshed, renewed, and filled with hope in the Lord. Since Mary is the Mother of our Lord, …

Receiving Christ and Becoming Like Him

Benedict XVI concludes the first part of his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (2010) by recommending the saints as expert witnesses to Scripture’s abiding truth: “The interpretation of Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening to those who truly lived the Word of God: namely, the saints” (§48). The saints unfold the contents of Scripture by dedicating their lives to performing its message. Their ability to bring the Word of God to life begins when they open the pages of Scripture in order to encounter Christ and to nurture their baptismal relationship with him. Once they learn of Christ’s undying love for them, expressed supremely in his suffering and death, they resolve never to be parted from him. For they are assured by the Holy Spirit that he wishes to remain with them always (Mt 28:20). They rejoice in the knowledge that there will never be a greater love than the Lord’s, this love that reconciles the world to God and that is given to them completely in the Eucharist. This joy of …

A New Song for the New Evangelization: In the Beginning

Few things impact the celebration of the liturgy more concretely than music. Ask any Mass-goer exiting the church to recap the Gospel and he or she may begin to resemble the proverbial deer in the headlights. However, ask that same person to name any hymn sung during the liturgy and you’re not only more likely to receive an actual answer (or even a serenade), but you’re also likely to receive an opinion on the quality of the liturgical music itself. Music quite literally resonates within the hearts of worshipers in a unique way. Whether vocal or instrumental, music has a power to evoke an intellectual or emotional response that cannot be underestimated; therefore, its role in the overall impact of a liturgical celebration also cannot be underestimated. Music clothes our communal prayer in beauty, allowing us truly to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord in a way that simultaneously expresses our unique humanity and our universal desire for communion with God and one another. Given this reality, the question for parish music directors in …

An Interview with William C. Mattison III

William C. Mattison III, author of Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues (Brazos Press, 2008), provided Church Life with the following written interview on virtue in the Church and the world today. Why is the formation of virtue essential to a robust practice of discipleship?   Where to begin? Formation in virtue is absolutely crucial. One way to get at it is this. Our faith is thoroughly Incarnational. God becomes man that we might participate in the divine nature. Thus fullness of life—salvation—is not simply something that happens to us, although it is of course God’s initiative and only possible through God’s grace. It is also, however, something in which we participate. We are transformed, sanctified, by God’s grace to live life in Christ. Now virtues are those stable dispositions to do certain sorts of activities well. They qualify our capacities, and make us who we are as a sort of “second nature.” Thus formation in virtue—and particularly graced or “infused” virtue—is our participation in the divine nature, truly begun in this life …

Moral Virtue, The Grace of God, and Discipleship

Moral theology has traditionally explored how people act in the world (“moral”) in the context of their faith in God (“theology”). This volume purposely examines morality in the context of Christian belief. What difference does faith make in how a person lives his or her life? Surely a person of faith engages in certain distinctive activities, such as going to church, praying, and reading the Bible. But what about the myriad of activities that all people partake in every day, such as eating, facing difficulties, exchanging goods, and making decisions? Does the person of faith engage in these activities with the same “morality” as everyone else? As is already clear, a life of discipleship is not simply about performing certain types of actions. It is a vocation, a transformation of one’s very self. Such a transformation of course impacts how we act. The primary question for this chapter is, how does discipleship, a life of following Jesus, transform not only who we are but also how we act in this world? The ancient notion of …

Mary, Icon of Evangelization: Queen of Heaven and Earth, Hope of the Downtrodden

When I was a young boy praying the Rosary, the title of the fifth glorious mystery (La Coronación de la Virgen Maria como Reina del Cielo—the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven) led me to visualize a beautiful woman, dressed in royal clothing and wearing a lovely crown of glowing jewels. This was not surprising, since I was formed to imagine the Virgin Mary as an angelic woman, totally beyond our human condition. Even our catechism seemed to affirm this limited view of Mary—she was conceived without original sin and therefore would not have suffered the consequences of such sin, including temptation, disappointment, and suffering. She would not have been human like us. There was no doubt that she was our loving and compassionate mother, always ready to listen to our lamentations, to console us at any moment. The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe revealed this truth exquisitely. Her compassionate voice, “You have nothing to fear; am I not here who am your mother?” rang deeply within our hearts, giving us an unquestioned …

Holiness and Prayer

God is holy by definition. When the prophet Isaiah describes the seraphs as singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the Jerusalem temple (Is 6:3), a praise of God taken over in the Christian liturgy, the triple affirmation precisely describes God. The word “holy” (Hebrew: kdsh) means something like “separate” or “different.” The word designates God’s separateness: God is not the cosmos, not a creature, not we humans infinitely magnified. God alone can say without qualification “I AM” (cf. Ex 3). Everything else called “holy”—whether it be places, times, instruments, clothing, images, persons, or whatever—is holy only in relation to God who alone is holy. Not to put too fine a point on it: to be holy is somehow connected to God who alone is, in fact, holy. One primary link to the holiness of God is by prayer. When we turn to God in prayer, either as a community or as an individual, we are doing something that is holy, which is to say, we are making some conscious connection to the source of holiness, God. …