Sunday, March 30, 2008

On the Annunciation

"... Hail, Mary." This portrait by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art) is my favorite image of the Annunciation because it shows the young woman turning calmly toward the light.

Is God beckoning to you right now with a light of a different kind, calling you to step out and trust?

Mother Mary, pray for us as we follow the light of Christ, that we will trust Him no matter where He leads us.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Does Jesus love Mary more than us?

Today I received a link from Jen at "Et Tu?" with her review of Behold Your Mother. She commented on how some of the readings led her to consider the sounds as well as the sights and other sensory impressions of the Passion. I was so grateful for that observation.

In the discussion that followed her post, one woman wrote to assert that because He is God, Jesus couldn't possible love Mary more (or differently) than He loves us. She writes:

Mary, although she was a virgin, was not perfect. Extraordinary and courageous, yes. Does Jesus, who is GOD, love Mary more than me or you. I don't think it is possible...that is just our human way of approaching it.

I quote her here not to embarrass her, but to point out the difficulty in her reasoning because so many Christians have arrived at similar conclusions. Part of her difficulty, of course, lies in what appears to be a faulty understanding of the person and nature of Christ. Yes, Jesus is God. He is also man -- that is, He has both human AND divine natures, now as then, in His one divine person. Therefore, He honors both His Father and mother, as the commandments demand. ("Honor thy father and mother".)

One of the most important reasons the Church has always honored Mary, even before she was declared "Theotokos: the Mother of God" at the Council of Ephesus in the early 5th century, stems from the development of the Christological and Trinitarian dogmas of that time period. It is for this reason that we speak of the Trinity, even though it is not contained in any Scripture.

Yet the Church did in fact declare her "Mother of God." This does not mean that she is by nature divine -- she is as human as the rest of us, though kept pure by the power of God so that she would be fit to bear the sinless Son of God. Like most mothers', her task was largely a hidden one -- then as now. She does not take any glory for herself, but draws us close to her in order to lead us closer to Jesus. From the beginning she was understood to be the firstfruit of her Son's redemptive work, the model of all Christians, and the spiritual mother of the Church.

Christ predicted that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. He did not leave behind a book, but a group of men to guide the Church. Scripture does not say, "I will build my Church to guide you until such time that you can read the Bible for yourselves."

But why should we ask the saints in heaven to pray for us? Isn't that like attempting to communicate with the dead -- something that was clearly condemned in the Old Testament? In John 15, Jesus describes the nature of the communion of saints, a connection that is not broken in death.

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you."

Nowhere does it say, "if you remain in me as long as you are on earth," or "you shall bear fruit as long as you are on earth." So long as we remain in Christ, we remain connected to all our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters in faith.

P.S. When Jesus came to us in the Incarnation, He used the sensible world to draw us into relationship with Himself. Through the sacraments, He does this for us today just as He did two thousand years ago. Today at Catholic Exchange, my article "Tender Mercies" touches upon this incarnational aspect of grace. If you are struggling with a burden you don't know how to release, please read it and be reminded of the infinite Mercy that is available to all those who ask for it.

God bless you ... and Happy Easter!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Mourn...

The past few days I've taken a break from blogging to enjoy the Georgia sunshine. Then yesterday when I heard of the sudden death of a friend back home, Easter took on a different shade ... this time, gray.

I contemplated the situation ... a woman, my age, burying a husband, Craig's age, whom she found yesterday morning on the floor. She never had a chance to say good-bye. He never had a chance to reconcile with his son.

Not wanting to contemplate the similarities to our situation too closely -- the family stresses and job pressures that brought on that sudden, fateful heart attack -- I turned my mind to other thoughts. In particular, I thought of Mary.

The end came swiftly -- though one can only imagine the actual minutes dragged by with horrifying slowness. Somehow she managed to stay close to her Son to the bitter end, enduring the blood and gore, the agony of watching one you love in pain. She stayed as her Son was placed in that cold stone tomb, stayed as it was sealed and the guard posted. Reluctantly led away by her newly adopted son, likely John, doubtless she went through the motions in a dreamlike state.

And doubtless, her thoughts turned to her beloved husband, who was with her beloved Son even at that moment. Oh, Joseph, why could you not be with ME?

They had been together when the story began, shared His first words, first steps, first messes as He began to explore His world. But now, at the end, she was alone in the most terrible sense.

She had heard His cry, "My God, my God ... why have you forsaken me?" And her prayers had echoed His. Where were His fathers -- His divine Father, and his adopted human one -- when she needed them most?

As I write this, Craig is in Florida with his parents -- we had planned to meet up there and spend a few days as a family. But right now he is gone, making the loss of our friend that much more poignant. There are times, dear friends, when we cry alone.

At times like these, we can turn to our Mother, who endured just as we must.

Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us all, now and at the hour of our death.

Eternal rest grant to Ken, O Lord,
And may your perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul, and the soul of all the departed
Rest in peace.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mother of the Lamb: A Selection from "Behold Your Mother"

When the hour came … he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup … saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
Luke 22:14, 19-20

Call it mother’s intuition. I had to be with him.
Is it such a terrible thing, a mother
making sure that her Son is eating well?
So, they showed me the room,
and I shooed them out of my kitchen.
So much to do! Peeling and roasting and boiling.
My Son would have a feast.

After dinner I made coffee, and pondered
Jesus’ words: “This is my body… my blood.”
I was just about to clear the dishes when I heard,
“Who is greater? The one seated at the table
or the one who serves?”
I glanced at my dishpan hands, and wondered
What could it mean?

Mother of the Lamb: A few days later, your Boy became God’s Lamb. A few days more, and you who served as the disciples argued, became their Queen. Pray for us, that we might serve the Kingdom of Heaven with joyful, willing hands. Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lift Up Your Palms... and pray

This morning Christy at posted this hymn, traditionally sung while progressing through the Stations of the Cross. It is a most fitting tribute for the beginning of Holy Week, when we commemorate both Christ's Passion and Death as well as the Blessed Mother's anguished vigil.

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had pass'd.

Oh, how sad and sore distress'd
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm'd in miseries so deep
Christ's dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother's pain untold?

Bruis'd, derided, curs'd, defil'd,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.

For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified.

Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn'd for me,
All the days that I may live.

By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins best,
Listen to my fond request
Let me share thy grief divine.

Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon'd
In His very blood away.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awful Judgment day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defense,
Be Thy cross my victory.

While my body here decays,
May my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee. Amen.

Father John Corapi has asked that we pray the Memorare this week for his health. He has been very sick for about six months, and the cause as yet is unknown. Thanks to Mark Shea, who posted this need as well as this article from "Singing in the Reign" about the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. Enjoy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Praise and prayer request

I'd like to publicly thank my publisher, Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books, for her hard work in helping me to get out the word about Behold Your Mother. This week, while she had many other crises in her family to keep her busy, she still managed to get two articles published about this little book, and is also in the process of getting it translated into Spanish. Wow!

Here is Cheryl's article on the Bezalel Blog in "Parish"

Here is another article in Thanks again, Cheryl!

Please keep Cheryl and her extended family in your prayers, that God would send them light enough for the next step. Holy Mary, pray for them now... Amen.

Rest in Peace, Chiara Lubich

Please say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Chiara Lubich, founder and president of the Focolare Movement, who died on March 14 at the age of 88.
You may view a clip about her funeral here.

Officially known as "Mary's Work," Focolare (meaning "fireplace," which is where the first group began during WWII) has more than 2 million members in 86 countries. The group sought to bring Gospel-inspired unity and community to the world, and establish bridges of love among the various faith communities -- as well as those without any religious affiliation.

For a clip about Dr. Lubich, click here.

Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord,
and may your perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul, and the souls

of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

Mommy Mary

Today at Embracing Motherhood, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle features this clip about a toddler who takes a daily "Mary break" -- a moment when she stops her play long enough to amble over to the statue in her mother's garden and prattle to her in her own secret "baby language."

I recently came across an article in which another little child -- this time a boy --refused to cooperate with toilet training until the mother suggested that it would please "Mommy Mary." And so the boy did it ... for her.

Sarah was only about nine months old when she began to request (by imitating the first few notes, as she was too young to speak) two songs as part of her bedtime routine, always in the same order: "I Love You (A Bushel and a Peck)" and "Ave Maria." She would drift off to slumberland with the most enchanting smile on her face as I sang to her.

"A little child will lead them," the Gospels tell us. This is as true about devotion to Mary as it is devotion to her Son. If we introduce them to their heavenly Mother from the earliest moments, they soon respond to her of their own free will with unmitigated love and trust.

As we prepare to enter Holy Week, consider whether this might be a good time to introduce your little one to her spiritual mother. Place her image beside or over the crib or a little music box beside it.
Aquinas and More has a lovely collection of music boxes for under $40 that plays the "Ave Maria." These are two of my favorites (above and at left) that make a wonderful place to keep sacramentals such as rosaries or vials of holy water as well as baptism mementos or other keepsakes such as the first lock of hair. If your budget is a bit tight for that, here is a simple Madonna night light from Amazon at only $8.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Have you ordered your copy yet?

Have you ordered your copy of "Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert"?

You have only 3 more days to receive free shipping on every book you order (in the continental U.S.). To place your order, click here.

Magnificat: Images of Mary (Music by John Michael Talbot)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Mother's Pain: "Broken and Blessed" by Catherine Adamkiewicz

As we wind our way toward Lent, I wanted to share with you a story that made me think of the first time I watched The Passion of the Christ and saw the intimate connection between Mary and her Son. As she followed Him as He took His final steps along the Via Dolorosa. Tensing, then melting as she sensed His presence, chained in the hell hole beneath her feet. Watching with eyes full of soundless anguish as she stood helpless, watching her baby boy's back flayed open by the Roman guard.

It is unthinkable. Unimaginable. Horrific. In some ways, the pain must have been even more unbearable for her than it was for Him, for nothing is worse than watching someone you love die a slow, torturous death. She bore it bravely, even silently (at least in the movie). Somehow she lived through that endless night, and opened her eyes again early that Sunday morning.

Though just how she did it, we'll never know.

I just finished reading Broken and Blessed, Cathy's tribute to her infant daughter Celeste, who at four months of age died of complications from a specific heart defect, and had the same reaction: Just how she did it, I have no idea.Cathy writes about her daughter:

The place where Celeste's suffering is acknowledged is a place I cannot visit too frequently; the pain it evokes is too raw. But to deny the existence of it, to not realize its value and even its beauty would be wrong.

She suffered. From the moment of her birth, she was denied the comfort of her mother's arms, and the joy of nursing. ... Some sufferings were more intense. She endured more IV procedures than I can remember, some involving the OR method known as a "cut-down." Her head was even partially shaved for some of these, while others were inserted into her hands, feet, and even her jugular vein.... There is nothing like seeing your baby's blood (81-82).

Even so, she managed to find the blessing in it. That is the miracle. That is the hope. "Our lives are precious gifts meant to be tended with care," Cathy writes. "The world I had once viewed in black and white began to take on brilliant shades of gray. I sought to see the gifts others had to bring, and I desired to know my own. .... There were no black armbands in the Adamkiewicz household. Instead, we mourned in Technicolor, figuratively and quite literally. ... The pendulum had swung to the farthest reaches of sadness, and now I was hastening it back to a place of joy and beauty" (p.169).

Cathy's message of hope in the midst of great suffering is an especially appropriate one for us to consider this time of year. As we contemplate the Passion and Death of Our Lord, we are reminded of the great joy that is heightened by this season of tremendous suffering. Without Good Friday there can be no Easter. Without the cross, no resurrection.

If you would like more information about Cathy's book, or would like to order a copy, click here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Question: Did Mary endure labor and delivery?

Today in "Friends of Catholic Exchange," Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle posted an interview with me about Behold Your Mother. It's also here at her blog "Embracing Motherhood."

One question that she asked deserves special mention here, because it is one that I sometimes get from other people. Did Mary endure normal labor and delivery when she gave birth to Jesus?

Donna: Was there any point in writing the book when you had to be especially careful that the creative process did not cause you to contradict Marian dogma?

Heidi: I can think of one time, when someone questioned whether it is proper to suggest that Mary had a natural labor and delivery. While we must absolutely assent to those aspects of Marian dogma that have been declared by the Church, including her Immaculate Conception and Perpetual Virginity, there remain some issues connected with the Holy Family that have been debated by the Church Fathers, but have not been declared dogmatically.

One example would be whether Joseph was a widow or a virgin; while many apologists today explain the Scriptural references to Jesus' brothers and sisters by asserting that Joseph had children from a previous marriage, St. Jerome believed that Joseph, too, was a virgin all his life.

He wrote: "...I claim still more, that Joseph himself on account of Mary was a virgin, so that from a virgin wedlock a virgin son was born. For if as a holy man he does not come under the imputation of fornication, and it is nowhere written that he had another wife, but was the guardian of Mary whom he was supposed to have to wife rather than her husband, the conclusion is that he who was thought worthy to be called father of the Lord, remained a virgin" (Jerome, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary Against Helvedius, 21 (A.D. 383).

I believe the question of how Jesus was brought into the world without violating Mary's perpetual virginity falls in the same category. That she remained a virgin cannot be questioned; how God accomplished this is a mystery. Some of the early Church Fathers believed she could not have experienced these things because she was without original sin, and so they concluded that she would not have fallen under Eve's curse ("In pain will you bring forth children..."). However, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was like us in every way except sin. God, who planted the Word in Mary’s womb miraculously, could have delivered the Infant Christ into the world just as miraculously, without damaging His mother’s hymen.

Mary could have endured the natural bodily processes of labor and still remained virginal for the simple reason that God willed it so. To me, Mary’s virginity and her suffering are really flip sides of the same “coin” of obedience. She was not spared other pain in connection with her motherhood – including having to watch her own son die a criminal’s death. A few hours of labor seem like a trifling thing by comparison … and a natural delivery would have been one more way that the Incarnate Christ was truly “one of us.”

If you have not already done so, check out Donna's new blog on the saints, which corresponds with her new book from OSV, The Catholic Saints Prayerbook.

Thanks, Donna, for doing this!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pavarotti - Ave Maria - Schubert

The Visitation: Fertile Grace

One common reason a couple turns to adoption is their own infertility (or the inability to carry a child to term). For some, the anguish is almost unbearable, and the burden can damage a marriage almost beyond repair. (Indeed, in some cases the damage completely obliterates any chance of future happiness, and the marriage dissolves altogether.)

In the story of the Visitation, most people focus on Mary and what must be the most joyeous canticle (holy love song) of all time: the Magnficat (Luke 1:46-55).
What few people stop to consider is the context. The older woman, Elizabeth, has been the subject of whisperings and conjectures of the busybodies at the village well for years. She, the wife of the local priest, had been barren throughout their marriage! What must she have done, to have been punished so?

When at last she became pregnant, she must have been torn between shouting it from the rooftops and keeping it quiet, so as not to stir up more unwanted attention should something go wrong. These fears evaporated, however, when her cousin Mary turned up at her door. The moment she laid eyes on the teenage girl, and guessed her secret, she felt the baby leap in her womb and could not longer contain her joy.

"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"

It is doubtful that, at that precise moment, Mary had been feeling particularly blessed. Apprehensive, yes. Queezy, quite possibly. She, betrothed but not yet married, carried a child beneath her heart. How could she tell her family ... her beloved Joseph?

But when Elizabeth greeted her with those prophetic words, Mary's joy rivaled her cousins':

"...he who is might has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation."

How often in life do we find ourselves poised on the edge of something new ... a new opportunity, a new chance to trust ... and find ourselves apprehensive about whether we really heard God right. Is this really God's will for our lives?

Time and again, he brings to us seeds of grace -- often through another person -- to encourage and motivate us forward. God knows that we love him, that we want to serve him wholeheartedly. Sometimes we just need a little light for the road.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Our Lady of the Carpool

In this post, Ruth Tucker shares how the Blessed Mother cared for her children by doing what must be the most mundane of motherly duties ... chauffering! Enjoy!