Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, for the birth of the Messiah, the Immanuel—God with us—the Incarnate Word of God. This week we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is how God prepared Mary to receive the child Jesus on the first Christmas.
The Immaculate Conception is the dogma that says that Mary was conceived without sin. The concepts “without” and “sin” are negative concepts. Sin is the lack of a right relationship with God. This means the statement, “Mary was conceived without sin,” doesn’t say anything positive about her. Yet Scripture puts this double negative into the positive: that Mary was conceived with a good healthy relationship with God, that she was conceived as His “highly favored” daughter. In other words, that she was conceived “full of grace” (Luke 1:28,30).
Some people object to praising Mary in this way, saying that she should not be treated as an exception: she is just like the rest of us sinful creatures in need of a Messiah. But is Mary the anomaly or are we?
God also conceived Adam and Eve immaculate: when God created them, he saw what he had created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31); they even walked with God in the Garden of Eden as they had a good, healthy relationship with God. God granted them this grace so that they could fulfill their mission of parents of the human race. He would have granted this grace to all of us, had Adam and Eve not sinned. So sin created an anomaly in God’s original plan.
Yet Mary is more blessed than any woman: “blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42). God blessed Mary more than he did Eve, whom he conceived without sin. Therefore it doesn’t surprise us that God prepared Mary for her more lofty mission—to be mother of the Messiah—conceiving her without sin and preserving her of all sin: “even as he chose [Mary] in him before the foundation of the world, that [she] should be holy and immaculate before him” (Ephesians 1:4).
God wants the same for each one of us. He wants us to be able to receive the Child Jesus on Christmas “holy and immaculate.” So, a good way to prepare for Christmas this Advent is to rid ourselves of sin by making a good examination of conscience and then a good confession.
Perhaps it could also be good to identify those areas in our lives where we can improve: triggers that provoke our anger or selfishness. For example, when something is not in the place where we expected it to be, do we get angry and start blaming other people? Perhaps we need to be more detached from our things and realize that they are there to help us serve others and make their lives happier.
Another example is when I am tired and want to rest—perhaps in that moment someone wants help or needs some attention from me. Do I get irritated and annoyed, and then show it in my response to them? Perhaps I need to warn the others when I’m tired: “Hey, folks, I’m tired and you know how any little thing will set me off when I’m this way… I just want to warn you.” It is amazing that such a “warning,” an act of humility, can strengthen us not to get annoyed and upset when things don’t go our way. Also, if we do lose it, we will be quicker to apologize: “Hey, I’m sorry. It’s not you but me.” Then everyone can move on and serve each other without resentments!
Let us ask Our Lady, then, to purify us of sin this Advent through a good confession and by taking steps to distance ourselves from every little thing that leads to sin.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Love is key to building community so as to Renew My [Christ’s] Church. Love is what attracts people to Christ, because Christ incarnates God’s love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God is ontological love and—as made in God image and likeness—love is part of our ontological makeup—love goes to the deepest root of our being, as Pope St. John Paul II reminds us:
“Only a person can love and only a person can be loved. This statement is primarily ontological in nature, and it gives rise to an ethical affirmation. Love is an ontological and ethical requirement of the person. The person must be loved, since love alone corresponds to what the person is. This explains the commandment of love… placed by Christ at the very center of the Gospel ‘ethos,’” (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women—Mulieris Dignitatem 29).
Key to love is learning to listen. When we truly listen to another we are saying to that he/she is important to us. When people get the impression that we are not listening to them—that we are not receptive… that we don’t love them just as they are—then they will turn away to someone or something that will. If children get the impression that mom and dad aren’t listening to them, then they turn to TV, Internet, music, and peers… They look for affirmation outside the family by people who often hold values contrary to their family.
Jesus was always listening. He listened to his apostles, even when they said foolish things or argued about who was the greatest (for example, John 14:1-14 and Matthew 18:1-4). Jesus listened to the Samaritan woman at the well, even when she had no time for him (see John 4:4-44). He listened to the Syrophoenician woman who had no right to speak to him (Mark 7:24-30) and in his listening openness insisted on letting little children come to him (Mark 10:13-16).
We need to listen and value the voice of millennials and all persons we wish to invite to the Church. One-on-one conversations are the most effective, but perhaps we can foster this by creating surveys and forums to invite their feedback and participation. Midtown and Metro have invited many millennials to their advisory board, giving them opportunities to make a real difference.
When we love, listen with love, and invite those outside to share in the mission of the Church we build community. This grows the Church. But our love needs to be unconditional, which means we need to listen even when the message seems negative. Although this is not easy—to hear messages that seem to say we have failed—if we love and listen then we can invite the other person to join us in finding a solution, as Jesus did with the rich lad (see Mark 10:17-21). This becomes a win-win proposition: our loving listening can draw out an invested response, or the person just goes away sad with no more complaints (Mark 10:22).
If we listen to their complaint and we ask them to help, then if they don’t they are responsible for the problem by their lack of generosity. Most millennials will appreciate the challenge, not pandering to them as kids. Not letting them take responsibility depreciates our love for and value of them.
So, let us develop a listening love, one the welcomes all into this community of love we seek to build.
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we have been considering ways to evangelize millennials and to respond to Renew My Church, instead of focusing on blame—blaming the culture—we have focused on the need to fall in love with Jesus Christ—to become one of his disciples—and then to build up a community of love. This will counteract their loneliness and draw them into the loving community of Christ’s disciples. In this women have a special role to play.
Women play a special role in building community due to their role in the primacy of love. Love is what attracted people to Christ. Christ called his disciples to “Love one another even as I have loved you… by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Although all are called to witness to this, women have a special charism to do so, as Pope St. John Paul II says:
[There is] “a special kind of ‘prophetism’ that belongs to women in their femininity… [While] every human being—man and woman—is loved by God in Christ… it is precisely the woman—the bride—who manifests this truth to everyone. This ‘prophetic’ character of women in their femininity finds its highest expression in the Virgin Mother of God. She emphasizes… the intimate linking of the order of love” (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women—Mulieris Dignitatem 29).
The Church would be dead without love and it is women who have the mission to reveal the truth of love and to transmit it to every human being. Pope Francis puts it this way: “Without women, there is no harmony in the world… It is she who brings that harmony that teaches us to caress, to love with tenderness; and who makes the world a beautiful place… A woman is harmony, is poetry, is beauty. Without her the world would not be so beautiful, it would not be harmonious” (Homily at Mass in Santa Marta, February 9, 2017).
Everyone is called to sow love, harmony, and beauty in the world, but women are called to do so in a special way and with a special vocation. The world in which we live is too masculine, too harsh, too objectivizing—objectivizing women and children like it does things—ruling with the power of force and money. Instead, our world needs to rediscover the gentle strength of love, of harmony, of beauty. As St. Josemaría wrote: “The fraternity of the children of God… is the great solution for the world’s problems, to draw people out of their shell of selfishness” (Letter, March 11, 1940, 16).
It is not the power of force and money that will win over the disenchanted young and not so young adults, but the gentle strength of love, harmony, and beauty, and it is women in the Church who enable us to do so. It is not by women being “submissive” that will draw people to Christ—but nor is it by women being objects of masculine desires, nor by amassing masculine power, force, and wealth… No, it will be with their gentle strength of love, harmony, and beauty that will powerfully motivate true conversion of heart and discipleship to follow Christ wherever he goes.
So let’s prayerfully encourage women to exercise their charism, as John Paul II put it: “the dignity of women is measured by the order of love, which is essentially the order of justice and charity,” because “the woman is the one who receives love in order to love in return… within all the interpersonal relationships which, in the most varied ways, shape society and structure the interaction between all persons” (Mulieris Dignitatem 29).
Fr. John R. Waiss
Every year we celebrate the feast day of the Guardian Angels on October 2nd, which is a wonderful opportunity to thank those spiritual beings who God assigns to protect and guide us. There are myriads of guardian angels, just as there are myriads of angels portrayed in the Bible and throughout our church—have you ever tried counting them?
God sent an angel to go before Moses and his people Israel, saving them from Pharaoh’s armies and leading them into the Promised Land (see Exodus 14:19ss; 23:20-24, and 32:34-33:2). Our guardian angel does the same for us: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:8); “For [God] will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-12). The Old Testament even portrays the angels praising God on our behalf (see Psalm 103:20 and 148:1-2), which is why our Lord says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
In the New Testament the angels become even more prominent. As Pope St. John Paul II reminded us:
“Angels are discreetly present at all the most important moments of Jesus’ life in addition to the Resurrection. They announce his birth (cf. Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:26; 2:9); they guide his flight into Egypt and his return to his native land (cf. Matthew 2:13,19); they are a comfort to him at the end of the temptations in the desert (cf. Matthew 4:11) and at the hour of the passion (cf. Luke 22:43); at the end of time, they will stand at his side when he judges history and the world (cf. Matthew 13:41)” (Regina Caeli, March 31, 1997).
In the Old Testament people feared the angels: if they saw one they thought would die for example, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” (Judges 6:22). In contrast, Christians see angels as their friends, collaborators in the common mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. For example, St. Peter’s guardian angel help him escape prison twice: once when the high priests and the Sadducees became jealous at his preaching and miracles, throwing him and St. John in prison, only to have their guardian angels release them so they could continue their preaching (Acts 5:17-20), and then again when Herod had thrown him into prison, his angel released him so he could continue his mission (Acts 12:1-19). God the Father even gives Jesus an angel to strengthen his humanity when it was rebelling during his agony in the Garden (Luke 22:39-46).
Opus Dei was founded on the feast of the Guardian Angels, on October 2, 1928, precisely at the moment the church of Our Lady of the Angels in Madrid rang out its bells. St. Josemaría always saw the guardian angels as collaborators of ordinary Christians, helping us fulfill our mission to sanctify the ordinary events of our lives and to lead others to Christ. As he wrote:
“Have confidence in your guardian angel. Treat him as a very dear friend that’s what he is—and he will do a thousand services for you in the ordinary affairs of each day” (The Way 562).
“You seem amazed because your guardian angel has done so many obvious favors for you. But you shouldn’t be: that’s why our Lord has placed him at your side” (The Way 565).
Let us befriend our guardian angel more frequently, asking him for favors that help us. It may be as simple as finding us a parking space, or as serious as protecting us in dangerous moments of ordinary travel or perilous social events. He will help you… that’s his job!
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we saw in previous Weekly Notes, the title “St. Mary of the Angels” goes back to Mary’s Assumption and to the empty tomb of the Virgin Mary. Angels were waiting at Mary’s tomb to take her body to heaven, where she was received by her Son and reunited with her soul. The Hermits of Josaphat remained to safeguard the tomb. In 364 some of these Hermits came to Rome with relicts from Mary’s tomb and presented them to Pope Liberius, who built a little church for them in Assisi and called the church St. Mary of the Angels. Because the little church was on a little plot of land, it was popularly called the Porziuncola—little plot.
In the year 1045—200 years before St. Francis—there is a record that the villagers heard angels singing in and around the little church, renewing its association with the angels. This seems to mirror what happened at Mary’s tomb about a thousand years earlier.
In 1216, Pope Honorius established August 2 as the day for the Porziuncola Indulgence, when people could receive full pardon for their sins. This was reinforced by Our Lady in several apparitions and miraculous statues.
For example, on August 2 in 1635 in Cartago, Costa Rica, a poor woman went out in the morning to gather firewood when she found a small, black stone statue of the Virgin Mary on a boulder next to a stream. She took the statue home and placed it in a box. She went out again at noon and she found the identical statue on the boulder again. Awestruck, she took the statue and rushed home. The box where she had put the statue was now empty. So, she placed the statue in the box again and locked it. When she returned to gather more wood, she again found the statue on the same boulder. Taking it home again she found her box still locked but with no statue inside. So she brought the statue to her parish priest and told him the story.
Incredulous, the priest locked the statue up in the rectory, telling the woman that he would look into the matter later when he had more time. Relieved, the woman resumed her task of gathering wood and found the statue again on the boulder. This time the woman left the statue at the boulder. She told neighbors as she went to find the priest. The small crowd followed the woman to the boulder. The priest took the statue and all processed back to the parish church where the priest locked up the statue in the tabernacle. But, as you can guess, the statue found its way back to the boulder. The people then built a little chapel there where Our Lady could stay! She is now recognized by Costa Ricans as their national patron: La Negrita—La Virgen de los Angeles.
In 1660—again on August 2nd—people around Lurs, France, saw and heard a choir of angels announcing the presence of Notre Dame of the Angels, as she appeared on a site where they built a little church. Miraculous cures took place then and still take place in the little church built on the site. It is located along one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago del Compostela.
Franciscans would spread devotion to St. Mary of the Angels wherever they went, as they did when they went to California to evangelize the native Americans there. One of their missions, established by St. Junipero Serra, was named Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, which is now the city of Los Angeles.
So, Our Blessed Mother wants to be honored as St. Mary of the Angels, especially on her feast day, August 2. We plan to do precisely that, with our parish celebration.
Fr. John R. Waiss