The images above show several different artistic interpretations of the moment of the Annunciation, when 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, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:26-28
We've talked about so many of our gifts this month, it's only right that Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, should number among them. Those who have a relationship with Mary appreciate just what an intercessor and mother she is. But to those who don't know her very well, our Catholic attachment to Mary is difficult to understand. The Scripture passage above gives the easiest, most obvious reason for our love of Mary: the Lord is with her. Wherever Mary goes, Jesus is there. They were together from the very first moments of Jesus' earthly life, in her womb, and they remained together to the bitter end on Calvary. Mary was present after the crucifixion as well, at the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. She was there through it all.
Mary was united to Jesus in his hidden years, in the house at Nazareth, when not much is recorded about him. Like any mother, she must have known her son very, very well, and seen him laugh, cry, be hungry, be helpful, be serious. She must have had many conversations with him as he grew. Imagine the Scripture studies that must have gone on in their home! As faithful Jews, studying the word of God would have been very important. They would have been involved in the worship life of their community, and we know they took part in the pilgrimages to the temple. Mary, who herself was very well formed in her faith by her own parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, would have only grown in knowledge and wisdom during the years Jesus lived with her.
And yet, Mary remains so humble, so fully the disciple of her son. All of her apparitions have been about Jesus, about more prayer and repentance, giving more glory to God. She is also truly a mother because she is never angry or judgmental. She is serious, as in the apparition at Fatima, but it is not her place or her role to judge, so she never does. That job is reserved for God alone.
If Mary deeply loved her son, Jesus, doesn't it make sense that Jesus also deeply loved his mother, and wanted her to be loved by those he loves as well? This all seems pretty much in keeping with healthy human relationships, which the Holy Family certainly portrayed.
And or course, we know that Jesus gave the world his mother, when he was dying on the cross. As the one who knew him best, who could teach others about him. Mary has done this for centuries. But maybe the best reason to Give Thanks for Mary is that she really acts like a mother to those who ask for her help. She truly shares her loving nature with us in our lives, just as she did for Jesus. It's as though Jesus said to her "Mom, I need you to go and love and care for all my sisters and brothers, just as you love me." And Mary said "Yes."
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.
Our pastor likes to say that "Our God is the God Of Second Chances," (or third, or fourth or even 78th!)
We saw that firsthand yesterday, when we were helping the 3rd graders go to confession. One little sweetie asked "Is Father going to judge me?"
"No," her catechist answered, "He is speaking for Jesus, who is very happy that you are coming to talk to him. You just have to say anything that you feel sorry for."
The little girl nodded, then sighed. "I'm glad I'm doing this." she said. "I have a deep sorrow to talk about."
Putting aside wondering what "deep sorrow" such a young person could possibly have to confess, it was nevertheless inspiring to see such a small person reflect on her actions. She realized she had done something that she wished she had not done, and here was her opportunity to go and make it right.
The idea of second chances is not new. In fact, the Old Testament is filled with stories of God giving second chances. That's why there are so many covenants. But one thing that we do often overlook is that in order to be reconciled - to God, to our neighbors and within ourselves - there has to be repentance. Repentance is the key that opens the door of mercy. Only those who realize they have done something wrong, can then also decide to repent of it. It seems rather obvious, but it's surprising how often this step is missed. Then, of course, true repentance is also followed by a change in behavior. Sometimes this change is the real barrier to repentance. We are sorry, sort of, just not enough to change.
As the liturgical year draws to its final few days, and the Mass readings continually focus on the end times and the 2nd coming of Christ, it's good for us to remind ourselves that we don't have to get everything right, all the time and every time. Our God is the God of Second Chances, and as long as we are willing to trust the mercy of Christ, we can always start over.
Along with the ability TO read, have we ever thought about being grateful for what we CAN read? It's a no-brainer, but just imagine if there were no Bible; if it had never been given to us. No 10 Commandments. No revelation of God's self-sacrificing and sanctifying love. No Bible stories. No promise of a future life, an eternity with God. No resurrection and ascension.
Let's just sit with that for a few moments.....and then Give Thanks that we do have it, that we can read it, and let's pray for the wisdom to understand and apply the Word of God to our lives.
Lord God, we thank you for your gift of revelation of yourself. We thank you for your willingness to invite us into a relationship with you. Inspire us to seek your Word frequently, and guide us to implement your ways in our lives. Amen.
“I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from The Savior of the world is communicated to us through this Book.”
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”
- Soren Kierkegaard
The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.
It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.
Do you remember the days when you were learning to read? Probably not. Reading is such an automatic exercise that we really don't even notice we are doing it. But just imagine if you had never been taught. That is truly a scary image.
Obviously "extras" like the internet and socail media would be out - how could you even set up a new account? But imagine not even being able to read the road signs, or figure out how to navigate the bus or train system. What's the name of your stop? How do you say where you are going? How could you ask for directions?
Even paying for items would be a challenge. Sure, maybe numbers could be figured out, but what if there's a sale or a clearance, or anything that uses words?
The website www.ourworldindata.org/literacy gives an interesting insight into literacy. "Literacy levels for the world population have risen drastically in the last couple of centuries. While only 12% of the people in the world could read and write in 1820, today the share has reversed: only 17% of the world population remains illiterate. Over the last 65 years the global literacy rate increased by 4% every 5 years – from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015." It goes on to say that poorer countries have lower literacy rates. Only 36.5% of those aged under 24 in Niger, for example, can read.
The website also makes the claim that literacy is connected to reducing inequalities. It can be a fast-track out of poverty and a way to reduce racism. That seems to make sense. How much more difficult would it be to hold a job without being able to read? Or learn a new job?
So, if you can read this, Give Thanks! Someone passed on to you a great gift, and gave you yet another reason to be Thankful.
Lord, we thank you for the gift of being able to read. May we truly treasure and appreciate it, and use it to our benefit. Amen.
Today is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. He is, of course, the greatest gift we have been given and his friendship is one of the best things we can hope to receive. An attitude of thanksgiving should accompany us all day today.
The Collect Prayer at Mass today sums it up well:
Almighty ever-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe, grant, we pray, that the whole creation, set free from slavery, may render your majesty service and ceaselessly proclaim your praise. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Just imagine what the world would look like if the whole of creation were set free from slavery. That bears thinking about. The great reminder of this day is that this very experience of freedom will take place when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness. We can look forward to the kingship of Christ as the time when the lion will lie down with the lamb. The kingdom of peace, harmony and freedom, all lived out in the fullness of time and the fullness of Truth. This is the kingdom that we are invited into, through friendship with Jesus Christ. Now, tha's really something for which to Give Thanks!
Lord Jesus, we give thanks to you for inviting us to share in your kingdom. We pray that your kingdom may be on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.
Here's something else we so often take for granted - instant hot water! Just imagine a life with no hot tea or coffee! And during these colder days, just think about not having a hot water heater. Ice shower, anyone?
Think about washing clothes or even dishes. Do you remember grandmother's kitchen, and watching her fill up the sink with hot water from the kettle, so that she could wash the dishes? It's amazing just how much easier our lives have become from previous generations. We don't have to build a fire to warm the water, or even keep the fire going all day in the wood stove. We just turn on a tap and wait a few moments. Or if we're in the kitchen, we can just zap the water in the microwave for 30 seconds. It's really something. Just another small thing, that makes a huge difference, for which to Give Thanks.
Ahh, yes, leftovers. After a big feast day like Thanksgivng, just about everyone will have plenty of leftovers. Have you ever thought to be thankful for them?
How many times have you answered the age-old "What's for dinner?" question with "leftovers" and been met with "Really? Leftovers?" as though you've just offered old socks with a side of dish rag to eat. Really, how spoiled are we? Leftovers are such a big sign of being blessed.
If we take even a 30 second tour around the world, we'll realize just how few people get to enjoy leftovers, and how many people would love to. Remember the stories about Venezula right now - how people are standing in line for hours to get a loaf of bread. There is just very little food available in the country. Here in Texas, statistics tell us that 1 in 5 children face food insecurity. Only those who have plenty to eat can have leftovers.
And if you still have company in town the day after Thanksgiving, leftovers give the added blessing of extra time. We don't have to cook up a new meal. Instead, we just have to reheat, and maybe add some new sauce or olive oil to freshen things up a bit. Voila - meals served in about 20 minutes, giving us additional hours to spend with family and friends.
Being appreciative of having leftovers falls squarely into the category of good stewardship. It's taking care of the goods we have been given, and appreciating that we have been given "our daily bread" once again.
Lord, thank you for your great abundance, multiplying our food for many days. Amen.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. As we think ahead about traveling to our family homes or reuniting with friends who are like family, let's Give Thanks for the roots - the lives of those who have gone before us and influenced us - that have given us stability and depth. These roots have grounded us and allowed us to grow. We could not have become the leaves or even branches of these trees without the support of the roots that nurished and nurtured us. Ultimately, these roots are from God.
Br. Jonah Teller, O.P., a young Dominican friar, expresses this thought eloquently in his post on the Domincanajournal.org website. (https://www.dominicanajournal.org/roots/) This website is a place where the young friars can practice their preaching skills, while they continue in their studies. Each day, the friars send out a thoughtful new entry. We encourage you to sign up for this free service!
Br. Jonah's entry is posted below:
"A tree’s fruit should reveal the quality of its root. What a man says and does should reveal the quality of his heart. The root of a righteous act is a heart converted to God. Rooted like this, one’s heart knows God, loves him, acts with him in mind…the fruits follow the roots. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, for example, proclaim a clean heart given to love of God and love of neighbor. They say, “My roots are firm and deep in the Lord. I am planted beside living water.”
Displaying what looks to be the fruit of good roots without those roots…that’s what hypocrisy is. To present the world with a fruit that does not correspond to my roots is to lie to them about my relationship with God.
God doesn’t look first at fruits. He looks at the roots. He can see what is hidden. The life we are to live, then, is hidden with God. The life in our inner room, with the door closed, is a life that cannot be faked. There is no one else to see it but me and the Lord.
Much of the life of a tree is quiet, hidden, in secret. This is the part that is important, that is vital, stabilizing and nourishing the rest of the tree, enabling it to bear fruit. This happens underground, unseen by man but seen by God.
Jesus, Lord of our life, send our roots rain."
Maybe these boots aren't exactly what you think of at the words "good shoes," but when the weather turns cold the problem of keeping your toes warm suddenly gets a lot more attention. We've probably all had the experience of freezing, wet feet, and the accompanying thought of wondering just how quickly one can get frostbite. A pair of good, warm, waterproof shoes goes to the top of the List of Important Things I Really Need very soon after you discover that you don't have any!
For most of us, good, warm shoes are a given. But the next time you pull yours on, take a moment and Give Thanks for them.
Lord, thank you for the shoes we have that keep our feet warm, so that we can continue our daily work. Amen.
This blog is written by the Baskets & Blessings team, to inspire, encourage and elevate!