2016: A Year in Review

2016 was one of those years that kind of slid by really fast, and from December to December here I am thinking to myself, Wait, what happened this year?  The more I think about it, though, I’m realizing that maybe it’s because since November I’ve been over here like Okay 2016…roll on out of here and let’s try this again! 

I’ve been hearing similar sentiments all over the place, and even saw that someone put together a horror movie trailer based on 2016.  Pretty creepy  but also pretty funny. But hey! 2016 wasn’t all terrible!  I compiled a little list for you of all the good/fun/awesome things 2016 brought us:

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Just a few things to remind us that 2016 was not so bad!

And really, all-in-all for my family it was a great year!

Here’s a little review for you:

  • At the end of January we had a really wonderful trip to California.  We went to visit Joe’s brother and his wife, and the four of us made our way for the second year in a row to Catalina Island to celebrate my birthday.  Not a bad way to start off the year!14600849_714873676631_7620449564457324180_n
  • One of the most significant events of 2016 for me was graduating from the University of Dallas with my Master of Arts in Theology.  My whole family and I traveled to Dallas, TX for the ceremony, and I’ve got to say, donning that black cap and gown was one of the best moments of my life.  I’ve never felt such a sense of accomplishment, and gratitude for being afforded the opportunity to study what I love and what I am passionate about.   I am so thankful to my parents and my grandfather for supporting me in my studies, and so blessed to have received an awesome education from the University of Dallas.  I look forward to great things to come!
  • Not long after my graduation, our little family joined Joe’s whole family on a vacation in Tulum, Mexico.  We all stayed together in a big beach side house with a pool, so needless to say this was a big highlight of the year.  My favorite memory was getting a free moment away with Joe to kayak across the beach for a little date at a oceanside cantina. 13731034_110711552702118_9138560475956338004_o
  • Right after graduating I got the itch to keep studying, so I began my courses with Catholic Distance University to get certified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I made my way through 3 courses, and am really loving it.  I’ve got two more courses and I’ll be done!
  • Joe laughs at me for posting this one, but hey!  I was in a commercial!  I know it is only for like a millisecond (see .18 to find me) but still pretty cool to represent our team, Sporting KC!!!
  • We made the big decision this year to send Eli to “school” (i.e. Mother’s Day Out). I am so glad we did because he is always so excited to go, and he has done so incredibly well.  He just goes one day a week, but he is already developing friendships and having so much fun.  I absolutely love picking him up and hearing about his little friends and about his day.  1473167642857
  • We potty-trained Eli this year! Yay to only 1 kid in diapers!!
  • Joe had an amazing opportunity pop up that took him all the way to Tokyo for work! It was really neat being able to face chat with him as he toured the temples in Japan. joe-in-tokyo
  • We painted our house blue.  house-beforehouse-after           It looks especially pretty in the Fall with all the reds and yellows surrounding it. 
  • The kids and I took a trip to Iowa to meet up with my best friends from Benedictine College.  Our boys were all born within a month of each other and I think they are just as close as we are! We had a great time chatting over mules and going to the Iowa State Fair. (I’m still dreaming of those fried pickles…)
  • We took our very first solo family trip to Colorado this Fall.  We traveled 8 hours by car, and the road trip itself was so much fun.  There’s just something about being alone and secluded with my family, moving somewhere together without any real distraction or noise.  That was the whole Colorado trip.  Just me and my family, in the quiet of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, and it was wonderful.

     

  • This happened:                                                                       1477806070677And this:

     

  • This year we had quite the scare with my father getting sick and having to be in the hospital for a while.  I’ve never prayed so hard in my life, and I know he had so many of our friends and family praying for him as well.  I can only contribute his healing to God–it’s really amazing the work he’s done with my dad’s health. We love our dad so much!969499_560105244042195_169366718_n
  • Lucy took her first steps some time back in early September, but it wasn’t until about mid-November that she finally began walking.  She is so dainty about it still, walking around with her hands in the air, ready to block any incoming traffic (i.e. big brother Eli, and the dog Lyla).
  • Joe’s Grandma Marcella turned 100 this year!  I have never been to a 100th birthday party in my life–it was pretty special! img_2266                                                                   Look at all those candles!!
  • Lastly, and probably most significantly, this happened.  We think about Francis everyday, and are comforted knowing a piece of our family is already with the Lord.

Here are some of the most popular posts from the year:

More on Advent and the Domestic Church 

Should I Take My Kids to Mass 

The Immaculate Conception 

Inspired by Greatness 

He Lights the Ways We Do Not Know 

I look forward to what 2017 will bring.  I can’t wait to continue blogging more–I have big plans!

I hope you all have a very happy New Year and that 2017 is a blessing to you and yours!

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7 Quick Takes: Christmas in NM, Road Trip Home, and New Year Resolutions

We’re back home in KS, after our wonderful trip to New Mexico to visit family!  I promise I will get back to my usual content soon, but with the craziness of this season, it’s just easiest to offer a few updates here and there.  Here I am joining Kelly once again with 7 Quick Takes!

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For three out of the four years that we have been married, we’ve been blessed to be able to head home to NM for Christmas.  I love it this way, because it is the only time of year I get to see almost all of my extended family.  On the 23rd we gathered with my mom’s whole side of the family to eat and play games together.  It was really fun.

On the 24th we all went to Christmas Vigil Mass, which of course was really special.  It’s kind of funny too, because in all honesty the music was not all that great, I couldn’t understand a word the priest was saying, and Lucy was just a pill…but for the first time ever I really felt the joy of Christmas.

After Mass we headed to my dad’s house to open presents and eat the absolute best Mexican food there is (i.e. mom and dad’s).  I will be dreaming of tamales, red chile meat, menudo and posole until next Christmas.

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I received two really awesome gifts this Christmas: one from my husband, and one from my “secret santa” (my sister Sofie).

My husband got me the most beautiful band to go with my wedding ring and I just love it! I’ve been wanting a wedding band, so he really nailed it this Christmas.

And my little sister gave me this:

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She carved the wood herself!  I literally cried it was so touching.  And beautiful!!! She’s known in our family for her artistic abilities—but she really got me with this one!

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Speaking of John Paul, my father was reading me excepts from Peggy Noonan’s “John Paul the Great,” and when I asked him if I could borrow it when he was done, he just handed it to me and said, “It’s yours.”

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I’ve been reading it since, and I am so glad he gave it to me.  I guess I am a sucker for pretty much anything JPII, because in just the first chapter I was already crying.

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We left for home on Tuesday around 6 pm in the evening, and though we had a little hiccup on the ride to NM from KS with Lucy getting sick in the car, we had high hopes everything would be easy breezy heading back home because she was feeling much better.

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

We had a repeat of sickness in the car, only this time 4 times.  It was awful, but all I could think the whole way home as I cleaned up mess after mess was this is love.  I know it sounds crazy but it is true.  Had it been another time in my life I would have gotten sick myself or ran out of the car in horror, but my husband and I just handled it–because, duh, we had to.  But sometimes parenthood surprises you with things you didn’t even know you could deal with, and what’s more, you do it in a way that is beyond your expectation of yourself.  You just shrug your shoulders,  take a breath and remind yourself that everything will be alright, and press on.

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Needless to say, we were all wildly hungover from our car ride home.  I took a 3 hour nap with the kids, and went to bed way earlier than normal.  And two days later I still feel tired, but now that I am not sleeping with the kids anymore I am sleeping like a bear and it is absolutely blissful. We’re home, and home feels good.

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I am so very excited because my best friend from NM is coming to visit me today!  It is her super special golden birthday today—turning 30 on the 30th—and we are going on a long overdue friend date tonight to celebrate!  I can’t wait!

I am really wanting to go see La La Land with her.  I can’t get enough of musicals, and the fact that this one has both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in it?! Well, it’s a must-see.  Plus, Karrie and I were big choir nerds in high school so it is very fitting.

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I’ve never really been one for making New Year resolutions, mostly because I’ve always felt like I would break them anyways.  But I am seeing now that I just used that as a pathetic excuse to avoid really examining my life and seeing where I want to grow and change.  I am learning that big ideas wont mean anything if you don’t put them in to action, and you can’t put them in to action if you don’t clearly define your goals.  So in an effort to hold myself accountable, I am sharing some of my 2017 goals with you!

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I hope at the closing of 2017 to look back on this post and reflect on all the things I have accomplished in the year and how I have grown.

What are some of your goals for the New Year?

-Lauren

7 Quick Takes: Road Trip to NM, Tumbleweeds, and Family Movie Nights

Back joining Kelly this week for another 7 Quick Takes, this time, all the way from New Mexico!

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Joe, I and the kids all took the 16 hour venture to New Mexico last week.  I hear you there thinking, What!? A 16 hour car ride with 2 kids under 3.  Are you crazy!?  Well, I guess if that defines crazy, then I suppose so.  But really! It was our best trip yet (despite the one kid puking in the car…but I will spare you of those details.)

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Somehow, by the grace of God, we left earlier than we planned and arrived earlier than expected! Everything went completely smooth, only having to stop a few times for gas!  (How did we do it, you ask?  Well…that’s a post for another day.  I’ll share our secrets with you next week.)  We left just in time, too, completely missing an awful and chilly winter storm in KC and having clear roads most of the way.  You know, I was mostly concerned about hitting icy roads and snow, but the worst of the trip was bumping into really gusty winds in NM along with GINORMOUS tumbleweeds!!  I’m from NM and didn’t even see that coming!

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The trip home has been wonderful so far, but like I mentioned before, we did all get hit with a mean stomach bug.  The worst part was that little Lucia got the worst of it.  It broke my heart to see her that sick! There wasn’t a whole lot we could do either, except keep her as hydrated as possible. But she is doing well now happy and back to housing whole bananas for breakfast.

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She’s up to her usual antics again, like force-feeding me goldfish.

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This is kind of pathetic, but the saddest part about leaving home was that I was going to miss Madam Secretary!  Ha.  I don’t normally get that way about TV these days, but I mean, that cliffhanger last week!  I wasn’t happy about it.  Joe has asked me before if “we like Russell”, and I have always answered, “Yes, absolutely.  He is our frenemy.”  Well, lucky for me my sister has On Demand and I am all caught up!  I won’t give any spoilers here except to say it was a really good episode.  If you haven’t tuned in to this show yet, give it a try! (It’s not based on Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State at all.) It is probably my favorite show ever.  I have to be honest though and admit that maybe possibly I might I tune in more for Henry, than for Elizabeth–though I love both of them, and especially love them together.  But Henry is the best!  I mean, how often is a character’s ethics built around Catholic moral theology!?  A Catholic professor on TV? Ah, swoon. 

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One thing I really miss about not being in New Mexico is basketball.  I know Kansas is pretty much the home of basketball (go Jayhawks!), but…it’s just not the same.  I am and will always be an Aggie!  We grew up watching them and cheering them on, so it was really nice to get back to a game this week.  It was such a good game!  We went into overtime and crushed them in the end!

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Being home in NM with most of us sick afforded us a lot of time to catch up on our favorite movies.  Inspired by watching Creed (like 3 times–seriously an incredible movie), we decided to throw on a Rocky marathon after hours, and we are working our way through the series.  I have seen bits and pieces of all of them, but never all the way through.  It is safe to say IT IS THE BEST SERIES EVER CREATED.  Okay, okay, that is a stretch.  But, I do love me some Rocky Balboa.

We also went and saw Rogue One last night, which ended up being really, really good.  I have to be honest and say I was really worried about it being kitschy.  I just thought if they are pumping these movies out every year, one of them eventually is going to be terrible.  And this one has Forest Whitaker in it! Not that I have anything against him, but I just figured if anything is a tell-tale sign of an over-rated movie, it is seeing them throw a well-known and liked actor into it.  But I really enjoyed it.  It was a story about sacrifice and hope in a time of conflict and terror!

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Eli is having an absolute blast with his cousins.  He has been hanging out with them so much, he has been calling me “Aunty Lori”.  My whole family and friends who have known me since I was little still refer to me as “Lori”, so I don’t think Eli really understood that no…”Aunty Lori” is his mama.  We tried explaining it to him, but he just looked at us like we were crazy. (He really loves his “Aunty Lori!”)

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Too much lightsaber-action fun!

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Finally, from our little family to yours, we wish you a very merry Christmas!  I hope that Christ fills your heart with his love and your home with his presence!

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God bless,

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Last Week of Advent: Encountering Obstacles to Joy

Raise your hand if you or any of your family members have been sick this week!  It seems as though everyone I know has been hit by this vicious stomach bug, so if you are there nodding your head in exhaustion just thinking about it, I raise my hot toddy to you my friend.

Okay, to be fair, I haven’t personally been hit that hard by the bug (so far), but my sonny, my baby girl, my older sister’s whole family, and my littlest sister (who even at one point looked at me blankly and said, “Oh I won’t get it, I never get sick”) have all been hit by it.  It’s been kind of a wild ride with many sleepless nights, accompanied with lots and lots of laundry loads.

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Along with the pain of seeing my little girl so miserable.

With that said, I think it is safe to assume that all the peace that I’ve been saying I’ve had this Advent has been terribly challenged.  It’s like I’ve been given one last week to be tested in order to really prep my heart for Christmas.  My prayer time has been compromised and I’ve been fighting against my inner grumpiness that wants to act out in impatience, rudeness, and exhaustion.

In all this, I had a thought about Martha and Mary once again.  I hear all the time from women (and have even said it myself) that they feel like they are more of a Martha than a Mary.  The more I reflected on this though, I’ve realized that–wait–aren’t we all Martha by condition?   I mean, as moms, we don’t exactly have all the free time in the world.  There is laundry to be done, kids to tend to, dinners to be made, floors to be vacuumed, groceries to be bought, and I can’t even imagine what you working moms have to go through having to accomplish all that while having an extra job to do (how do you do it!?).  Our vocation as moms is just naturally busy, chaotic, messy, and (mostly) exhausting.

I think maybe that is why most of us feel that we are more of a Martha and not a Mary.  We feel busy, overloaded, and just plain tired, and we long for those moments that we can just sit and relax at the Lord’s feet, listening to his every word in peace and quiet.   I thought the reason Jesus chastised Martha was merely for her work, but in further reading I’ve realized it is much deeper than that.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, and in an effort to be perfect for him, she forgot to really open her heart to him.  The work that Martha was overloaded with wasn’t necessarily Martha’s problem; it was her inability to recognize that Jesus was in her midst, her quickness to cast blame on others for their “lack of help”, to see her calling in that moment to serve as an encumbrance, and to be moved to accomplish her vocational task more out of anxiety than out of love.

I have always related to Martha because of her tendency to work more than to rest, but I am seeing now how God is calling me to look deeper at my relation to Martha.  I am learning that I relate more to Martha because I have been there.  All of us have to work, and most of us are living lives that are chaotic and cumbersome, but I’m beginning to see that I relate more to Martha because I know what work without charity is, and I know what impatience, edginess, and jealousy feels like.  I walk around all the time wishing that my life was more like Mary’s and that I had the time to sit in adoration of the Lord and pour out my love for him in peace, instead of picking cheerios off the floor four hundred times a day and having to do parental calisthenics all day in response to the request upon request that come from my children.   Life does not to afford me to sit in idle peace all the time.

I have to work…but the way I go about it could definitely be improved.

After Martha grumbles to the Lord about her burdens, he admonishes her, saying: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I don’t think that the Lord was calling Martha to merely sit at his feet, so much as listen to his Word and have an intimate relationship with him.  This kind of relationship may manifest itself in different ways—and we see this with Mary and Martha: Mary, having the ability to sit and listen; and Martha having the calling to serve the Lord.  In both situations, both women are able to choose the better part, because the better part is simply recognizing that the Lord is with them, and allowing worry and anxiety to wash away.  The manifestation of being in the Lord’s company looked different for both women, but both were given the divine opportunity of being in the presence of the Lord.

I wonder what this would look like if it played out differently on Martha’s end; if instead of overloading her plate with unnecessary burdens, she accomplished those tasks that needed to be done with full charity, serving the Lord and her sister as need be, and resting when she had the chance (instead of overloading her plate in an effort to be perfect).  Maybe this way the Lord may have said to her, Thank you for having me in your home Martha—you too, have chosen the good portion.

I’m realizing that if we merely wait for these opportunities for peace and quiet in order to open our hearts to him, we may end up missing the good portion altogether.  If we merely long to be in the situation of Mary rather than working to take her heart on for own, then we will never find the peace and joy that Jesus calls us to.

I think this time of disruption in my Advent peace has been actually a good thing for me, because it’s called me to put to mind and heart everything that I have been actively working on this season.  Father Mike Schmitz says that joy is an inner state of well-being—it is a choice.  It is the sense that comes from the fruit of a life lived in God, which manifests itself in the simple and honest prayer of “Father, Thy will be done”.  So, in my work (especially when it gets messy and difficult) and the crazy haze of living out my vocation as mom and wife, I hope that I can continue to work to have a heart like Mary, recognizing that Jesus is with me.  Then, instead of grumbling in complaint, I might serve with charity, love without reserve, and find joy in my heart that thrives both in peace and under pressure.

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Seven Quick Takes: More on Advent, The Domestic Church, and Family Activities before Christmas

Linking up with Kelly for the first time in a really long time for 7 Quick Takes Friday!

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Advent so far has been wonderful.  I think the concerted effort to be more aware of what this season is all about is paying off, because I find myself a bit more at peace during this hectic time of the year than I normally am.

The week of the 5th kick-started the craziness of the season for me and my family.  We hosted two parties in one week at our house, and have since celebrated three feast days (Saint Nicholas, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe).

I have always wanted to be more mindful of the Feast Days in the Church, and seeing the beautiful and thoughtful things that other Catholic moms put together for their families has always left me feeling a bit #inadequate.  Sometimes the pressure to be the “perfect” mom is ridiculous–especially the perfect “Catholic” mom– and I love what Simcha had to say about her family’s celebration of the Immaculate Conception. (“Pant, pant”…just get their butts to Mass.)

The biggest thing I took from her article was that we don’t have to put together these elaborate things for our family for them to get the most out of these special days.  We just need to put our focus on what really matters, and we need to continue striving to share the faith with our kids in the best ways we know how.

So we’ve begun doing that and it has been awesome, and really alleviated the silly guilt that comes from being so very un-pinterest worthy most of the time.

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This new outlook on building our domestic church came just in time, because in the craziness of hosting people at our house on the 5th, I completely forgot to weave together the narrative of Saint Nick’s legendary stories to Eli and stick carrots and other such things in his stinky little shoes before Saint Nicholas’ Feast Day the next day .  I did buy coins and carrots and had a whole thing planned out, but completely forgot in the rush of all things. #Momfail

But I rolled with it. Who really cares?  I mean, I may not be Martha-friggin-Stewart, but that’s okay.  And let’s be honest, Eli (and certainly Lucia) didn’t even notice.

I decided to nix the whole plan and just work with what we normally do every night, which is sit together as a family and eat dinner.  I parked our ol’ Santa Claus “Saint Nick” down with us for dinner,

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gave Eli a few details about his life (Lucy nodded along, too), said a quick prayer in honor of him, ate dinner, and afterwards celebrated by eating chocolate coins and drinking eggnog by our tree. It was wonderful and simple and I think Eli got the general jist of what is really so special about the jolly old man, Santa Claus.  It’s not so much about getting the presents and toys he brings as it is about the character of the real man (a saint) who existed; a man who lived for the Lord, and loved and gave without reserve.

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We also celebrated with our friends this Advent season, on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The group gathered together and came up with this great idea to make tilmas (an idea one of the girls got from Catholic Icing), eat cookies, watch a movie about Juan Diego’s vision of Mary, and carry red roses up to Mary in honor of this day.   It was so fun and I am so glad that my kids are making friends in the Church.

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One of the parties I hosted was for Joey’s 30th Birthday!  It is becoming kind of a tradition to have a Christmas party at our house for him every year, and I think this 3rd year was our best.

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We changed the entertainment up this year (from our usual white elephant game) by playing the seran wrap game, and it was such a hit!  Highly suggest it for your family parties—except instead of candy we purchased a bunch of small gifts (chotchkies and stuff) for people to win.  Funny enough though, most of the grown men were vying for the big league chew packets of gum.

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A friend gifted me the Blessed is She Advent journal this year and I am absolutely loving it!  It is probably a bit late to buy the journal for this Advent, but you can also buy it and download a digital copy of it if you are interested!

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This year I wanted to make something that I could gift to people, and I settled on these caramel candies.  I was super nervous about making these because my history with baking is not the greatest, so I only assumed candy-making would be worse.  With only a minor hiccup (a big caramel spill, because my pan wasn’t big enough) I came out unscathed and they came out delicious!  Be happy I don’t have pictures of the process, though, because it wasn’t very pretty.  The recipe I followed was super easy, albeit a tad time consuming (took me an hour and a half to make).  Try making them for Christmas! They don’t disappoint!

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Eli had his very first Christmas program yesterday.  It was priceless.  I especially love how he pretty much “watermelon-coconuted” the whole thing, and clapped for himself at the end.  At-a-boy, you little cutie. At-a-boy.

That’s it for me this week! Hope you have a wonderful week, and if you are traveling for Christmas–safe travels!!!

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My Experiences Fasting During Advent

Today is the Feast Day of Saint John of the Cross.  In researching more about him, I came across the quote above and felt it to be very applicable and timely to where I am spiritually in this Advent season.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of fasting during Advent, and this is the first time in my life that I have actually tried putting this into practice specifically in preparation for Christmas.  I had never thought about fasting during Advent before, and I really wanted to try and make it a priority this time around—to ready my heart so that I may more aptly appreciate the blessings of Christmas.  I think Saint John of the Cross’ quote about purifying yourself of attachments speaks so perfectly to what I have been learning this Advent season.

One lesson I learn every time I fast, and which I am learning once again, is how very weak I am.  Actively choosing to abstain from certain goods during Advent has shown me just how attached I am to these goods.  There have been many times since I made the commitment to my fast that I have made excuses, been unable to refrain from partaking of the good, and even gone so far as to think to myself, God will understand.  And in a way, he does!  God understands that these goods are good (because he created them!) and that we have a desire for them (because that’s how he created us!).  God created us to gravitate towards the good and share in the blessings that he gives to us and to the world.  But God also calls us to prioritize Him above all good things, and fasting from minor indulgences this Advent has called to my attention my attachment to these goods, and shown me how the very littlest of my attachments can end up standing between me and God.  My simple little promises I offer to God are broken simply because my appetite for them in that moment is greater than the promise I made to God.  Now, God doesn’t look at me, weak and hungry, and abandon me because I have abandoned my fast.  Fasting isn’t so much about winning merits for myself, but rather about mortifying my passions. The fact that I cannot stay firm to my commitment to say no to certain goods as an offering to God, shows me how I am in need of both his mercy and that I need to evaluate how my appetite for certain goods can at times control me.  When we fast from things that are good, or refrain from partaking of things we know are particularly harmful to us, we do so in an effort to realign our priorities.  Through continued practice of fasting, I am learning that my flesh and self-control are wild, and need to be ordered properly.  Fasting is a reminder that though all of the sweets, treats, and indulgences may be good, they are merely a small fraction of the Good of God and the fulfillment that we ultimately receive in him alone.  Ordering my passions properly allows me to be more open and free spiritually, and prepares me for the times that I am tempted in bigger and more sinful ways.  

Something new that I am also learning by fasting this Advent is the connection between fasting and longing.  (I see now why the Church calls us to fast during Advent.)  While I long for Christmas to come so that I can partake in the goods that I gave up, this fast is teaching me what the Advent season is really all about: having longing in our hearts for the Lord.  During these five or so weeks until Christmas, fasting is moving me to develop within my heart a sense of longing that can only be truly fulfilled by the Summum Bonum (or, “Ultimate Good”), God himself.  Much like the longing I remember as a kid, so very excited to open presents on Christmas morning, I am beginning to realize what true longing during the Christmas season is all about.  Yes, I long for those goods that I have actively chosen to give up this Advent, but in giving up these goods I am reminded first and foremost of the Good of Christ’s love—the good that came with his entering into the world, humbly and free of all worldly attachments, in the manger in Bethlehem. Fasting is teaching me what it means to see the goods of the world “spiritually” and to “understand what is certain in them.”  Abusing them, and consistently indulging in them to the point of enslavement is not why God created them or us.  He created the goods for us to share in them, but more importantly to point us to his own sweetness–to him who is the Supreme Good itself.  

How is your fast going this Advent?  Comment below!  

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The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is a very special Feast Day in the Church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!  Not only is today a Feast Day, it is a Holy Day and all the faithful are called to go to Mass to celebrate the most holy conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To honor our Blessed Mother, here are a few facts about her Immaculate Conception:

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Though conceived without sin, Mary’s conception was a human one.   Unlike her Son Jesus (who was conceived by the Holy Spirit), Mary was conceived by two human parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim.

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Mary was conceived in a special way, without the stain of original sin, making her Immaculate.  Original Sin is the state all of humanity is born into, a result of the great Fall of Adam and Eve.  It is a deprivation of sanctifying grace (a habitual gift given to us by God,  that perfects our souls and enables us to live with God and act by his love), and as such leaves the human nature corrupt.(This is why Baptism is so essential—especially for infants—because through it we receive sanctifying grace).  Mary, however, received God’s sanctifying grace the moment she was conceived in the womb, and was preserved from the defects of original sin by the grace of Christ.

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Scripture gives us a window into the very special disposition of Mary’s soul.  In Luke 1:28, the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with a particularly special greeting, “Hail, full of grace (or, “favored one”), The Lord is with you!”  This greeting was a unique one, which hardly translates well in our English language.  However, the Greek expression for “Hail, full of grace” more aptly expresses the quality of Mary’s state of being.  In Greek the greeting is “chaire kecharitomene,” (a passive participle expressing an action completed in the past with an application in the present) which reads in English as “Hail, you who have been perfected in grace!”  This indicates that Mary was graced by God in the past, but continues to live in a state of sanctifying grace in the present.  Thus, Mary’s Immaculate state was not a result of the angel’s visit, but she was endowed with sanctifying grace from the moment she was conceived.

 

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As a human, Mary was still in need of Redemption, but she was saved in a special and unique way.  Mary, too, was a descendant of Adam and thus subject to the necessity of contracting original sin.  However, God intervened, preserving her from the stain and corruption of Original Sin from the moment she was brought into existence.  She was thus redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—through anticipation (or in other words, preemptively).

 

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The following analogy might help you understand this a little more:

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Aren’t we all sinners? A quick thought if Romans 3:23 is popping into your head right now: Children before the age of reason are incapable of sinning (because sin requires the ability to reason and intend sin), and both the angels and souls in heaven are without sin.  Mary’s blessedness doesn’t take away from the glory of God, but rather, it demonstrates his great glory by showing us the work he has done in sanctifying creation.   Sinning doesn’t qualify us to be human—it is just what we are working with when we are brought into the world in our fallen condition.  It is in fact when man is without sin that he is living most fully the life that God created him to be.  Mary, chosen as the one to carry the Christ child, was preserved from sin and created exactly the way that God wanted her to be.

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Why was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception defined so late? The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, which is a long time after the birth of Mary.  Why did the Church wait so long to publicly declare her Immaculate Conception?  Though this delay signifies that the doctrine was merely invented, we must remember that the Church never issues definitive proclamations on teachings of the faith until a.) they either have to (to confront and avoid false teaching on the matter), or b.) to expand and clarify the teaching so that the faithful may better understand it.  The reason this particular doctrine wasn’t issued until 1854 is because the faithful at that time were desiring that this doctrine (taught, maintained, and believed to be true since the beginning) be officially proclaimed.  They did this in hopes that it would inspire a deeper devotion to Jesus through her, and help the faithful have a better understanding of her.

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Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.  When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he announced to her that the birth of her Son will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) This “overshadowing” of the power of God is a reference to the Shekinah of the Old Testament—the Hebrew term for God’s presence among his people. This presence overcame the company of the people in the form of a great cloud, and overtime ended up overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was the way in which God’s presence was always visible to the people, so that they could know with certainty that God was indeed with them.  The Ark contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (on which were written the Word of God), the manna God gave the people for sustenance, and the budding staff of Aaron, who was the high priest of the people.   The Ark which held all of these three things foreshadowed the New Ark, Mary, who (overshadowed by the Shekinah of God) carried within her womb the Child of the Promise: the very Law and Word of God itself, the true Bread of Life, and the great High Priest sent to redeem all of humanity.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that the New Ark be preserved from sin and sanctified from the beginning of her creation.

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All of these facts point not just to the awesomeness of Mary, but more importantly to the awesomeness of God who created her, so blessed and full of grace.

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*The featured image at the top of the post can be found and bought by the artist on her etsy account here.