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This phrase makes me think of the animated movie Atlantis. In order to convince Milo, the scrawny bookworm to take the plunge and go on an expedition to discover the lost city, the financial backer Preston Whitmore says to him, “Atlantis is waiting.” This phrase always gets me, the excitement and anticipation. I wish someone would come around to each of us before a big decision and whisper with that same enthusiasm, “_____ is waiting.”
Friends, Advent is waiting. It’s only a few days away. Are you ready? Am I ready? It’s too bad we don’t have a Preston Whitmore who organizes our whole life ahead of our decisions so that the answer is obvious. What we can do, however, is take these opportunities the Church regularly builds into the liturgical year. Advent is the perfect time to step back, slow down and build momentum in our spiritual life.
This year’s Advent Journals are officially here! There are two different journals, both in pdf format. One narrows your focus to the 4 Sundays of Advent. Each day of the week you read one of the readings, and at the end of the week there are a few reflections. On Fridays, I’ve offered a few key themes and images found in the readings and expanded on their importance. On Saturday, inspired by the overall themes of the Sunday, there is a reflection on one of the aspects of Jesus. The Homily Notes space from last year is still there and can be used for additional note taking. Also, and this is so exciting, I figured out the booklet printing issue from last year so there are 2 versions of this journal, one in Booklet Format and one that is A5 size. If you print the A5 size at home you will need to cut the pages down after printing. If you choose the booklet be sure you select “booklet” or “book fold” in your printer’s settings.
Keep in mind that this journal is preparing for the upcoming Sunday of Advent, so it starts this coming Monday Nov. 25!
The second journal is a repeat from last year. I love using Lectio Divina for Advent. I’ve updated the dates and Scripture verses but the rest of the journal is much the same from last year. The last page is still blank if you would rather select your own Scripture verses. I did not do a booklet format for this journal because of all the writing space so there is only one version of the Lectio journal.
Remember, these journals are totally FREE for you to print, so you can grab both and see which works best for you. Or maybe you will find both inspirational. I’d love to hear which you chose and why. Feel free to share this post with anyone and everyone. It is my Advent gift to all of you.
A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of opinions and definitions of the miraculous journey that we call “Motherhood.” For some, motherhood is very specifically tied to the birth event of a child. For others, motherhood begins when that first kick is felt. Still others consider a broader perspective to include adoptive mothers, mother-like figures or even spiritual mothers.
With such definitions, it would appear at first glance that motherhood is yet another area of relativistic individualism – what’s true for me may or may not be true for you and that’s ok. When we go to the dictionary, things are even less helpful. “The state of being a mother” isn’t the most illustrated definition. When looking up simply “Mother” things do get a bit more definite: “a female parent,” “a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother,” or “something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.”
While there is still room for interpretation in these selected definitions, we can begin to see the blurry outlines of who and what a mother is. A mother is typically a female person, though the final definition opens even this observation up to all people. A mother is a person who has some level of authority over others, especially a protective care or measure of control grounded in a relationship. The last definition is most interesting – origin or source. Let’s take a special look at this perspective and how it relates to the Church’s understanding of motherhood.
St. Julian of Norwich
St. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic who lived in the late 1300s. An anchoress was a woman who “anchored” herself to a specific church, living a life of cloister and prayer. She received a series of sixteen visions of Christ which she wrote about in her work, Revelations of Divine Love, and can still be read today. She developed a new understanding of Jesus’ identity – Jesus as Mother.
Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.
Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.
Here we find the maternity of Christ to fit perfectly with our modern definitions of a mother. Through Jesus we find our origin and in Jesus we are enveloped in protection and love.
Chiara Lubich is the founder of the Focolare Movement, a movement of laity and clergy which began during WWII. Focolare means “Work of Mary” and it is through Mary’s guidance Chiara explores what total union with God and one another looks like. Chiara’s theology of Mary is deeply intimate, resonating with both St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the greatest Marian theologians. Part of Chiara’s understandings revolve around Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, and by spiritual extension our mother. We are Mary’s children and as such are called to emulate her example. What is her example? To bear Christ to the world.
Mary’s is Jesus’ mother. Her willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit brought Jesus, the Son of God, into human existence. We too are called to bring Christ into the world. The motherhood of Mary in union with the Holy Spirit, which brings forth Christ, is relived in the Church and in each of us. According to Lumen Gentium #65, whenever Christ is born in the hearts of the faithful, they are participating in the mystery of the Incarnation where Christ is “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin.” All Christians, no matter their gender, profession, or age are called to live this birthing every day.
When does motherhood begin?
After all this, we still may not be closer to answering the question, “When does motherhood begin?” However, I think we do have some clues about something broader, and perhaps more important. Like love, motherhood isn’t a feeling. Nor is it necessarily something outside your control. Motherhood, like love, is a choice. When does someone start to act as a mother, to be a mother? Based on the secular definitions and the reflections of Julian of Norwich and Chiara Lubich, it is when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves.
Consider it this way. A couple wishes to have a child. The couple has been struggling to conceive and they are seeking advice, tracking her cycles, practicing NFP, paying attention to risk factors and doing a series of tests to screen out any other potential inhibitors. They make lifestyle changes as recommended. The wife is taking prenatal vitamins, being mindful of any alcohol and taking extra care in her tracking. The husband is supportive, moderating his own alcohol intake in solidarity with his wife, he encourages her tracking and any dietary changes which may help their hopes for a child. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about the family who hopes to adopt? They pray every day, children and parents alike, for their hoped for child. They work together to make any necessary changes to their home for the preliminary inspections and requirements. They fill out paperwork, answer questions, take time off work for meetings and other important interactions in order to be accepted as a potential family. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about a person who volunteers their time with their parish’s youth group? They dedicated time each week to encouraging and mentoring the teenagers. They open their home to the group for a summer barbeque, travel to a religious site or pilgrimage with them, and even help coach a summer intramural volleyball team. Is this person practicing motherhood yet?
What about the child who sees another sad or hurt at the playground. Instead of walking past, they sit down and ask to play together. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
If motherhood, as I said earlier, is “when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves,” then the clear answer to the previous scenarios is “Yes!” All these examples, even the child, are moments of motherhood.
Chiara sums it up beautifully in a letter written in 1983:
“…Mothers only know how to love. It is typical of a mother to love her children as herself, because there’s something of herself in them. … We too can find something of ourselves in others. For we must see Jesus in ourselves and in every neighbor. What shall we do? With each neighbor, at home, at work, or on the street, with the people we talk; with those we speak to over the phone, or for whom we carry out our daily work – with every person we meet these days, we must think: “I must act as if I were his or her mother,” and act accordingly. Mothers are always serving, Mothers always find excuses for their children. Mothers are always full of hope.”
The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother – St. Therese of Lisieux
Happy Mother’s Day!
I’m so pleased to share with you all these Advent Journals. As you may have noticed, Advent is quickly approaching and there are so many wonderful resources available to help deepen and enrich your Advent experience.
For the past few years, I’ve noticed a need for Advent journals that cover a few bases. 1. They are Scripturally based 2. They are simple 3. They are not time consuming but still powerful 4. They are free. I have 2 different journals this year so be sure to read to the bottom to hear about both. One is based on lectio divina, the other is a deeper look at the 4 Sundays of Advent.
Lectio Divina Journal
In the journal I’ve highlighted one or two verses from the daily readings for reflection. There is space to prepare yourself for lectio and think about what’s going on in your life that day. What’s joyful, stressful, exciting or bothering you? Your lectio experience is colored by what’s happening in your life and it is good to take a moment to acknowledge what you are bringing to the table. There is also a place for your Word or phrase that has been highlighted during your reading as well as your prayerful response to God’s movements in your heart. Finally, there is room to think creatively about what God is calling you to do or change as inspired by the day’s prayer.
The journal includes an overview of what lectio divina is, how to pray it and why it’s such a rich experience of prayer. As I said, I have chosen one or two verses for your reflection. However, maybe you already have a habit of reading the daily readings. Maybe a different verse stood out to you. At the very end of the journal is a blank page. It has all the formatting and different writing spaces, but the Scripture portion is blank. You can use this page to write your own verses in.
Remember, this is completely free and is a pdf. So you can print the whole thing if you are going to use the verses I chose. Or you can print that last page 30 times and fill in your own verse every day. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed and already have a daily Advent devotional but want to give lectio divina a try – just print a week and see how it goes. Maybe every Sunday would work better. This is completely customizable to you.
4 Sundays of Advent Journal
This is the brand new journal and I’m so excited about. I was inspired by a few things. First by my long-term writing project on the Philippians 2 Christ hymn. In that project, I am doing a deep study of the hymn, looking at the historical, theological, ecclesial, and liturgical significance and why it is a piece of Scripture that we all should know inside and out. I was also inspired by Every Sacred Sunday and how their Mass journals encourage Catholics to spend quality time preparing for Mass. If you are looking for something long term to help you dig deeper into the Sunday readings all year long, I cannot recommend their journals enough.
My new Advent Journal works like this. The first and super important thing you need to know is that it starts on Nov. 26. Yes, that’s before Advent actually begins. But, if you are going to be preparing for the 4 Sundays of Advent, you’ve got to start before the first Sunday, right?
Ok, got that cleared up. Mondays we spend time with the First Reading. Tuesdays the Psalm. Wednesdays the Second Reading. Thursdays the Gospel. Each page has the reading as well as space for any notes, questions or insights you might have while reading. There is also space for a brief prayer or reflection on what you’ve read. Think of this as lectio divina lite.
Friday’s I offer a theological reflection on the readings. These include any historical information that is relevant, how the readings fit together, and what they can say to us today. It concludes with a quote from a saint that illuminates the overall theme of the Sunday.
Saturday encompasses how we can take what we’ve learned and grow in the week to come. I include another brief reflection, followed by questions or ideas meant to inspire you to apply the readings to your daily life and enhance your Advent experience.
Sunday is a simple page for homily notes or other reflections you have on these readings. Perhaps you have another Advent devotional you are doing side by side and want to write down a special quote or work through a new idea. Here is space to do it, especially in light of the Sunday readings.
I’m so excited for your Advent journey. It would be great to hear from you which journal you chose and why. I love feedback and want to keep developing these into quality, useful tools for you to deepen your relationship with God. Do please share with anyone you think would benefit from these journals.
We read chapter books aloud as a family before bed. This has been part of our bedtime routine for a few years now. We’ve read things like Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Father’s Dragon, and now, much to my delight, we’ve commenced on the epic adventure of Harry Potter. We just introduced Severus Snape (so of course I had to show them the video Puppet Pals and now my house is filled with people chanting, “Ron, Ron, Ron Weeeeeasley!”). Snape’s opening lecture is so good. His language is so vivid. I almost pulled out the YouTube clip of Alan Rickman’s performance to show them, it’s spot on.
“I can teach you to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory and even put a stopper on death.”Severus Snape, Sorcerer’s Stone
While we don’t live in the world of Harry Potter, our senses can be bewitched and ensnared even without potions or potions masters. This happened to me at the start of quarantine.
I had gone out to our workshop where we have an old spare refrigerator. I keep extra milk out there, thaw meat, etc. I went to get the last gallon of milk, promising myself that as soon as I got back inside I would hit submit on the grocery order. On the way inside I noticed the date on the milk.
Sell by: 2 days ago.
Ugh!! No!! I couldn’t believe it. How could I have let that happen? Now we had no milk and in our town, the grocery pick ups at that time were days of waiting before your scheduled time.
Maybe it isn’t too bad, I told myself. Let’s see if it passes the sniff test. Maybe we can squeak a day or two out of this before it has to go. Once inside, I opened it up and hesitantly smelled. Bad.
One last hope. The taste test. I was highly doubtful, but it was a whole gallon of milk. I couldn’t dump it without exhausting all my options. So I poured the smallest glass and with a grimace, took a sip.
Shocked face, it was FINE! I couldn’t believe it. My eyes said it was past due, which informed my nose it was clearly done for. I’m so happy I tried one more sense before giving up.
This made me think of the Eucharist. Here we have simple bread and wine. Our eyes tell us it’s normal bread, our nose smells the aroma of wine. Even here our taste confirms what our eyes, nose and touch tell us. But wait, there’s one more sense. What do we hear? We hear Jesus’ words:
This is my Body, which will be given for you, do this in memory of me.
This cup is the new covenant in my Blood, which will be shed for you.Luke 22:19-20
Our eyes are deceived. Our taste, touch and smell leave us wanting. Our ears hear the truth and our soul responds. The incredible gift of the Jesus in this Sacrament of Sacraments is beyond our physical senses.
As things slowly begin to open back up we will be privileged to once again receive this miracle. I hope and pray we enter even more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist. It is both the source and summit of our Catholic faith. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a prayer about the mystery of the Eucharist which we still sing today. Below are the words to his famous Adoro te devote which speak so much more eloquently than I ever could about Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist.
1. Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
2. Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
3. On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.
4. I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.
5. O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.
6. Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.
7. Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.
A few years ago I started a book writing project. I have about 3/4 of it written, but haven’t touched it for some time. I began it around the time when I started making the Advent and Lenten Lectio Divina Journals. I was feeling passionate about helping people encounter Scripture in easy and meaningful ways. I was also incorporating some simple Bible verse memorization in our homeschool day.
I decided to try to write something about a foundational piece of Scripture and attempt to incorporate all these ideas. It has Lectio Divina, some Scripture exegesis (the fancy word for exploration, analysis, and interpretation of Scripture), activities to help memorize the passage, space for reflection and follow-up discussion questions. The passage I chose was the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2:5-11.
While I don’t know if I’ll ever have this manuscript in a publishable state, I have been thinking about it lately and am dusting it off a little bit. Today is Good Friday, the day of days. Jesus, true God and true Man, offers Himself as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice so that we, His beloved creation, could once again be one with God. This passage beautifully sums up the mystery of Christ. I thought I’d offer my thoughts and research on the first verse, Philippians 2:8 here with you all (* indicate the citations listed at the bottom). I’d love to hear what you think, if you find it insightful or would be interested in hearing more.
We are living in a unique time in history. I hope that during this Great Lent (as some have been calling it) you have learned more about yourself and your relationship with God. As we look forward to Sunday, let’s remember that no matter what chaos rains down around us, we are an Easter people. Darkness and death, though deep and dark indeed, cannot shut out the light of Christ.
and he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a crossPhilippians 2:8
We will start, with a brief study of words. Paul opens this verse by focusing us on the word, “humbled” which he interestingly uses as a verb. This is the same Greek word, tapeinoó, Paul uses in the verses prior to the hymn (Phil 2:3-4). Here is the key which unlocks the first 4 verses of this hymn. Briefly, let’s recall what it means for Paul to be humble:
- Do nothing out of selfishness or a desire to further your own status
- Regard others as more important than yourself
- Do not look out for your own interests first
- Put the needs of others before your own
Paul explained to the Philippi community what humility is in theory, but here he illustrates in no uncertain terms exactly what humility is in flesh and blood. Humility is Jesus, who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, even though He was well within His right to demand it (1). Jesus emptied Himself (2), taking the form of a servant, the lowliest of the low (3). He became obedient (4) even to the point of death. Here we have on full display what it means to be humble. It is to be like Christ.*
Pope Benedict XVI compares Jesus to Adam when he states,
Through the Cross of Christ man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is reversed. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, claimed to be like God through his own effort, to put himself in God’s place and in this way lost the original dignity that had been given to him. Jesus, instead, was “in the form of God” but humbled himself, immersed himself in the human condition, in total faithfulness to the Father, in order to redeem the Adam who is in us and restore to man the dignity he had lost. The [Church] Fathers emphasize that he made himself obedient, restoring to human nature, through his own humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam’s disobedience.Pope Benedict XVI. General Audience: Wednesday 27. https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20120627.html
Origin, one of the Church Fathers, reflects on this verse in one of his Commentary on the Gospel of John: Pt 379. He states that Jesus’ obedience, even to death, was part of God’s gathering the whole world and all its inherent brokenness due to sin back under His authority.** Paul is expressing the mysterious reality that God descended into His creation. This hymn can be broken into two distinct sections: the descent (Phil 2:6-8) and the ascent(Phil 2:7-11). Here we reach the depths of the descent. St. Augustine pondered these crucial words in this way: “He ’emptied Himself,’ He ‘humbled himself.’ Though He was God, He appeared as man. He was despised as He walked on earth, He who made the heaven. He was despised as though a mere man, as though of no power. Yea, not despised only, but slain moreover.”***
The downward movement of Christ is reflected deeply upon by Henri Nouwen in his book The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. He challenges us to see the downward way the way of Christ. Humanity, in all our brokenness, needed a savior. How beautiful, how mysterious, that our God chose to enter into that brokenness, to descend down into its very core death itself, in order that we might be redeemed. Nouwen tells us, “The great mystery upon which our faith rests is that the One who is in no way like us, who cannot be compared with us, nor enter into competition with us, has come among us and taken on our mortal flesh.”**** Note the echoes of Paul’s definition of humility. Jesus doesn’t come to compete with us but serve us. He is God, powerful and mighty, yet he enters into creation as a tiny, helpless baby.
And then to top it all off, Jesus dies. There can be no greater descent than this. Jesus, our Savior, is obedient to the Father, and offers Himself as ransom for us all.
The spotless lamb, the blameless victim. The one true God who kneels at our feet, wishing to wash them clean allows Himself to be raised up on a cross for our salvation. Pope John Paul II quotes St. Ambrose at length, with words of such power and beauty I couldn’t hope to do them justice by paraphrasing.
“Christ, hung on the tree of the Cross… was pierced by the lance, whereby blood and water flowed out, sweeter than any ointment, from the victim acceptable to God, spreading throughout the world the perfume of sanctification…. Thus, Jesus, pierced, spread the perfume of the forgiveness of sins and of redemption. Indeed, in becoming man from the Word which he was, he was very limited and became poor, though he was rich, so as to make us rich through his poverty (cf. II Cor 8: 9). He was powerful, yet he showed himself as deprived, so much so that Herod scorned and derided him; he could have shaken the earth, yet he remained attached to that tree; he closed the heavens in a grip of darkness, setting the world on the cross, but he had been put on the Cross; he bowed his head, yet the Word sprung forth; he was annihilated, nevertheless he filled everything. God descended, man ascended; the Word became flesh so that flesh could revindicate for itself the throne of the Word at God’s right hand; he was completely wounded, and yet from him the ointment flowed. He seemed unknown, yet God recognized him”St. Ambrose. III, 8, Saemo IX, Milan-Rome 1987, pp. 131, 133 as quoted by Pope John Paul II. General Audience: Wednesday 19 November 2003. Vatican. https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/2003/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_20031119.html
* Brant Pitre. Philippians 2. YouTube.
** Origin. Commentary on the Gospel of John: Pt 379. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). http://kenosis.info/ANF-10A.html.
*** St. Augustine. Sermons on Selected Lessons, Sermon 42: Pt 2. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). http://kenosis.info/NPN1-06E.htm
**** Henri Nouwen. The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. (Maryknoll, Orbis Books. 2007). 38.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus concretely defines who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is whoever needs our help, regardless of situation, status, skin color, or belief. Even more broadly, our neighbor is the Other, anyone who is outside of ourselves. Jesus’ ultimate example, which we are preparing to immerse ourselves in during this Lenten season, is His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Jesus’ sacrifice for us illuminates the essence of true love: willing the good of the other.
In these times of both intense closeness and intense separation due to COVID-19, I believe it would be helpful to pause and marvel at what we are achieving as a society.
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