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Advent Liturgical Year Splendid Sundays

Splendid Sundays: The Arks of the Covenants

4th Sunday of Advent

Lectionary 1

First Reading ~ 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Responsorial Psalm ~ Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Second Reading ~ Romans 16:25-27
Gospel Reading ~ Luke 1:26-38

Open Readings in another window.

Reflection:

Theologians through out Church history have held fast to the tradition of the Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, and today’s passages overlay nicely to show us the divinely designed parallels, such exciting Scriptures!

The Ark of the Covenant is found in the Old Testament Scriptures.  It contained manna, (bread God rained down from Heaven to feed the Isrealites in the desert for 40 years), the Word of God on stone tablets, and the rod of Aaron (proof of the true priesthood).  Upon Moses’s completion of the Ark “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40) .  When King David was to accept the Ark in his custody he learned that the previous person to touch it died.  Thoughtfully, King David asked, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?”  Later, as we learn in today’s reading, while the Ark is still under his protection, King David learns that the Savior is to come through his bloodline, and the prophet says, “The Lord is with you.

The Virgin Mary, as the Ark of the New Covenant, has a similar story!  As we learn in today’s passage in the Gospel of Luke, the angel greeted the Virgin with “The Lord is with you” before she is told that she will miraculously bear a son.  Where the cloud overshadowed the Ark of the Old Covenant, Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit with the dawn of the New Covenant.  It was then her womb contained Jesus who later described himself as “the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41).  John also described Jesus as “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14), and we can find in the book of Hebrews Jesus described as the  “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb 4:14).  The Virgin Mary became the Ark of the New Covenant when she held Jesus in her womb.  Later, when Mary visited her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, she is greeted by words echoing King David’s, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43)

Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  It is in the theology of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant that we find amazing support for this doctrine.  God commanded the construction of the Ark in meticulous detail.  It was created with the finest materials, only the purest gold was to be used.  Perhaps a plain gold box could have sufficed, but instead God directed the construction of a masterpiece complete with meaningful artistic work; it was extraordinarily beautiful.   The Ark of the Old Covenant held symbols of the God’s divinity and power.  Meanwhile, the Virgin Mary held God Himself in the second person of the Trinity in her womb.  God knitted His son in her flesh.  The dwelling place of the Word made Incarnate, God’s only Son,  could only be held in an Ark of similar, if not even exceeding standards to that of the Old Covenant.  Furthermore, thinking back to the man who died when touching the Ark of the Old Covenant, and also to God’s warning to Moses, “But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Ex 33)  it seems that sinful man perishes when in too close a proximity to God.  Meanwhile, we know that in Heaven we reside intimately with God, yet since nothing impure can reach heaven (Rev 21), we will have been washed of our sins and made perfect in order to be able to reside with Him.   This makes one wonder, could Mary,  as a sinful human, have even survived God Incarnate dwelling her womb?

As I have argued before (Mary’s Sinlessness and our Salvation), God’s plan for our salvation was and is perfect through and through.  I feel like today’s responsorial psalm “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord“, because He so loved me as to give His only begotten Son, that I might have eternal life with Him.  I am thoroughly grateful that the Lord found my salvation important enough as to have created for Himself, and for us, his perfect Mother, Immaculate Mary!

For further reading on Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, check out this fantastic article.


St. Ambrose (339-397)
“The prophet David danced before the Ark.  Now what else should we say the Ark was but holy Mary?  The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament, but Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself.  The former contained in it the Law, the latter the Gospel.  The one had the voice of God, the other His Word.  The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold, but holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity.  The one was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly” Source

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Adrienne Faith Formation Feast Days Ink Slingers Mary Saints

Our Lady of Guadalupe: More than an oversized truck decal

Disclaimer: The reference to the truck decal is not an admonishment of the use of the truck decal.  It is by my own personal experience that I knew of the image for many, many years because how prevalently displayed she is, like specifically on vehicles in my area.  However, I never knew the story behind the decal, so when I learned about it a couple of years ago I was simply astounded.  The title reflects my own experience in learning the great significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

In Texas, a good portion of our culture is directly influenced by the vibrant culture to our South, that of Mexico*.  We gorge on their food, love a good margarita, and find no child’s birthday party complete without a Sponge Bob pinata.  Among all those things we find iconic of the Mexican culture, we also find that funny image of Mary in the blue blanket with yellow squiggly lines behind her.  Why are there statues of Her in random front yards, and why is the image riding around on pickup trucks?

Our Lady appears to us on our highways! Photo By Debra de la Cruz.

To a large portion of Christians today, the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s was the most defining time of Christianity since the Crucifixion.  In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.  In the 1530’s, Luther was drafting the first doctrinal statement of the Lutheran church, Ulrich Zwingli was killed and John Calvin was shepherding Christians in his church in Geneva.  Interestingly, many students of the Reformation may not be aware that the 1500’s were equally monumental in Christian history for the people of Central America.  In 1531, God sent the Blessed Virgin to a little village outside of Mexico City to introduce Himself to the Aztec people and to show them the path to Himself and His Son.  “In only eight years, nine million people converted to the Catholic Church!  That’s an average of three thousand baptisms a day.  It stands as one of history’s most radical, monumental and rapid social transformations ever.” (Ron Tesoriero, Reason to Believe, pg 156).

Please check out Reason to Believe by Ron Tesoriero for more about the Virgin!

Allow me to give a very brief summary of God’s Guadalupe miracle.  Missionaries had been in the area for a while trying to convert the Aztec peoples to the ways of Christianity, yet, saw little success.  The Aztec beliefs were particularly troubling because they practiced human sacrifice (estimates are of thousands to hundreds of thousands per year).  However, God worked with what He’d accomplished through the missionaries, choosing (in His usual fashion) to call upon a very humble man already faithful to the Lord, Juan Diego.

In early December 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to Catechism class when he heard a woman call out to him from a little barren hill named Tepeyac.  Upon investigation, Diego found a beautiful lady who appeared as an Aztec woman and spoke to him in his native tongue.  Despite her ethnicity, Diego recognized the woman as Mary, the Mother of God.  She confirmed Her identity and instructed Diego to make an appeal to the local Bishop to build a church on Tepeyac.  Juan Diego had absolutely no stature to make such a request, but did what he could.  Surprisingly, the Bishop was somewhat receptive, but asked for proof of Diego’s encounter with the Blessed Virgin.

Diego did his best to avoid running into the Lady again as he did not feel fit for the job, but she appeared to him a few days later, on December 12th.  It was then She instructed him to go to the top of Tepeyac, gather the flowers growing there and bring them back.  No flowers would be growing in December, much less on Tepeyac, which was known to be barren.  Nevertheless,  there Diego found countless Castillian roses growing.  He bundled them up in his tilma (a sort of cloak made of cactus fiber) and he hurried to the church.  Once in an audience with the bishop, Diego opened his tilma for the beautiful flowers to cascade down, and was puzzled when the Bishop was more captivated by the tilma than the amazing flowers.  On the tilma, was painted the image of Our Lady cloaked in a blue starry mantle with sun rays bursting behind her.  To a people who communicated pictographically, a clear message of salvation was spelled out in the masterpiece’s details.

In the days to come, plans to build the church were made and many, many miracles happened at the site of Tepeyac.   When a few weeks later, on December 25th, a dead man brought before the tilma regained life, news and conversions spread like wildfire.

 

The tilma hangs in Mexico at La Basilica de la Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Photography by Bill Bell.

Now-a-days, this incredible story can be easily dismissed as fanciful folklore.  Stories like these only happen in the Bible, or in fairytale books, not in modern day real life.  However, God didn’t just use the image to convert the people of the 1500’s, He made sure that the tilma would be a source of evangelization for generations to come.

The 500 year old tilma is made of cactus fiber that has a longevity of about 20 years (meaning, it should have perished 480 years ago).  Despite the degradability of the fabric, the tilma hung freely for over 100 years without any protection from the environment, visitors, or candles before it was finally placed behind a thin protective glass casing.  The colors have never faded, and the fabric shows no signs of decay.  For reference, the American Declaration of Independence too was exposed to the elements for over 100 years before preservation measures were thought of.  However, by then it had already suffered damage from water, sun exposure and decay.  This 200 year old man-made document resides in a bulletproof, titanium case filled with inert argon gas.  Man needs titanium to protect his treasures, meanwhile God continues to astonish us with His protection.  In 1921, a large bomb was placed in a vase of flowers below the tilma.  The dynamite destroyed the church, blew out the windows, reduced the marble altar to rubble and mangled the large iron crucifix.  The target of the blast, the tilma, survived.  Its primitive glass casing wasn’t so much as even cracked.

Over the last 100 years, experts in many fields have investigated the miraculous tilma (including NASA researchers and a Nobel prize winner).  Researchers have been unable to identify the pigment used on the canvas, as the colors do not show to be made of any coloring agent, natural or synthetic, known to man.  The image has never faded, and has never been retouched.  Furthermore, upon close inspection, the pigment of the image does not actually reside in the cactus fibers of the tilma, instead the image hovers about 0.3 mm away from it (Reason to Believe pg 162).

Visitors say that the most memorable aspect of the Virgin is Her eyes, that they are genuinely lifelike.  This type of detail should be impossible to capture on crude cactus fiber.  The ability for such precision isn’t capable by the material.  Yet, in the 1950’s, photographic enlargements of the eyes showed the reflection of people, later learned to be Juan Diego, the Bishop and his interpreter, the three men who were gathered at the presentation of the tilma in 1531.  Lastly, in the mid 90’s, examination of the Virgin’s eyes by an ophthalmologist revealed that all of the proper parts of human eyes were present, “The eyes have all the characteristics of a human eye.  It has all the parts.  Around the pupil are contraction furrows which operate to contract the pupil in front of light.  These furrows were only detected by opthalmologic science in the twentieth century.  You can see the vascular supply in the upper eyelid of the right eye” says Dr. Jorge Escalante in Reason to Believe (pg 165).  If the image on the tilma holds secrets that could only be detected by technology 400 years later, imagine what other secrets She may be harboring for the unbelievers armed with even more advanced technology in the future?

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a conversion weapon of God’s that has proven effective over many, many generations.  While the Church struggled with sin and schism in the 1500s, God brought millions of new followers to Him through the Virgin.  Today, while the Church struggles to protect an ancient faith in the midst of man’s prideful technological advancement, we find that God is still showing us who’s Boss through the same evangelization tool.

So, next time you see the image of the Woman in the starry mantle with the sun glowing behind Her, remember why our Latin American friends are so fond of Her.  Just like at the Nativity 2,000 years ago, where God used His Mother to bring forth the Word Made Flesh,  Our Lord also used His mother to bring the Word of God to millions of people (and their children for generations to come) in the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, 1531.

“My belief in miracles cannot be considered a mystical belief: it is founded on human evidence, as is my belief in the discovery of America.  It is, indeed, a simple logical fact that hardly needs to be recognized or interpreted.  The extraordinary idea going around is that those who deny the miracle know how to consider the facts coolly and directly, while those who accept the miracle always relate the facts with the dogma previously accepted.  In fact, the opposite is the case: the believers accept the miracle (with or without reason) because the evidence compels them to do so.  The unbelievers deny it (with or without reason) because the doctrine they profess compels them to do so.” – G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy.

In addition to Reason to Believe, see also http://www.maryourmother.net/Guadalupe.html.

* Originally published with “Central America” instead of “Mexico”, which is incorrect as Mexico is in North America.

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Advent Holy Days of Obligation Ink Slingers Loss Shiela

My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Based in both Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it is the day we remember that Mary was conceived without sin by God’s redeeming Grace.  It is a holy day of obligation for Catholics and it is a very special day for my family.

In the summer of 2003, I suffered a miscarriage.  It was my second pregnancy loss.    I had two toddlers at home that provided great solace and distraction to me, but, my heart grieved for the child I had prayed for and my body grieved for the child I could not hold and nurture.   Pregnancy loss challenged my faith.  It also made me desire my faith more.  So, I spent more time in prayer and my husband and I sought ways to immerse our family in our faith.  In the early spring of 2004, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  We attended Mass and confession and we toured the beautiful Shrine.    It is a very special place.  I was still grieving and so desiring of another child to add to our family.  And, at age 37, I was considered advanced maternal age, so my ability to pray with confidence in God was faltering.

The Mass we attended was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Bishop was the celebrant.  My two toddlers were rambunctious and enjoying the melodic echo that their random screams and giggles made.  So, my husband and I had to leave the sanctuary and walk them around in the back of the church.  After Mass, the Bishop came out of the sanctuary in a grand procession with the knights in all of their regalia and walked right up to my husband and me.  We were embarrassed and thought he was going to ask us to keep them quiet next time.  But, instead, he smiled at the children, and said, “They are the reason we do all of this.”  He graciously posed for pictures with us.  Needless to say, the pilgrimage was a boost to our family morale and, now, we don’t make a trip North to grandma’s without stopping by.

In the weeks following our pilgrimage, I started to experience the familiar signs of new pregnancy.  And, it wasn’t long before I knew that we were expecting a child.  It was a time of great joy but tinged with anxiety because I had already lost two babies.  I made a great effort to feed my faith at that time.  I had no guarantee of the outcome of this pregnancy, but whatever happened, I knew that I did not want to lose my faith.

The pregnancy progressed normally and after we crossed the threshold of the first trimester, I was relieved of my anxiety and was able to enjoy the precious time with my baby in my womb.  We announced it to our two children.  My oldest daughter wanted to nickname the baby, so we let her. She chose the name Rose Petal.  We did not know if it was a girl or a boy.  But, it was so precious that we went with it.

On December 8, 2004, I gave birth to Rose Teresa.  My husband and I look back on our pilgrimage and feel that we may have been given a signal grace in the form of a beautiful baby, born on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother.   Although, there is no specific catechism on signal graces, they are a promise give to us by Mary.  And for me, they are guide posts or signs along the way that tell me I am headed in the right direction.  And, I can only see them by the supernatural light of faith.

I believe we all are given signal graces to guide us on our journey of faith.  Do you have a story to share about a time when your faith allowed you to see a sign from God?

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Michelle

Hail Mary, With Broken Fingers

 

Hail Mary, with broken fingers
There is goo stuck on you.
Blessed are you as you sit over our band aids,
And blessed is the child who cut his finger and needs one.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
I am sorry you are sticky,
I promise to be gentle when I scrub it off tomorrow.
Amen.

Yes, this is how our Blessed Mother sits in our home.  She stands protectively over top the plastic drawers that hold our band aids at the end of the hallway.  She is subject to grubby fingers rubbing her head, coloring on her dress, and breaking her outstretched fingers.

Maybe right now you are cringing inside at the thought of our lovely Mother having to endure these conditions.  Maybe you are thankful to hear another family confessing that Mary is displayed sticky and broken fingered just like in your own home.  Whatever your thoughts, don’t judge me just yet!

For a moment I want you to travel back in time to when Jesus was a small boy.  Call Doc Brown, turn the year back to 5 AD on the dial on the Delorean dashboard, and pray that the Flux Capacitor does its job!  When we get there we find the young Mother Mary with her small son Jesus.  He’s filthy and grubby from playing in the mud, he’s fallen and skinned his knee and his mother comes to his aid.  She covers his wound, wipes his tears, and kisses his cheek.  He reaches up and wraps his dirty little hands around her neck, pulls her close and says, “You are the best mama in the world!  I love you!”  Now her face is smudged with dirt, her veil muddy from kneeling, and her heart fuller from the love she has received from her precious son Jesus.

Of course we can’t know for certain this scene ever took place as the Bible doesn’t record all the things that went on in Jesus’ life from the beginning till the end.  However, given the fact that children are children and we know Jesus was both human and divine, we can safely assume that this scene probably happened many times over in Jesus and Mary’s life.

So what does this have to do with Mary, broken fingered and sitting on our band aid drawers at the end of our hallway?  You see, Jesus gave his mother to be our mother as he hung on the cross.  As he was dying he said, “Woman, behold your son.  And then he said to his disciple, “Behold your mother.”  John 19:26-27.  The Church has always taught that at this moment he was not only giving Mary to John for John to look after, but was giving her to us as well.  He wants us to take her into our homes and include her in our lives.

Maybe he didn’t foresee his mother getting sticky and colored on but he definitely wanted her to be a part of our lives.  He wanted us to treat her not only as his mother but as ours as well.  As a mom I know that I am the best at my job when I am on the floor playing, getting dirty and having sticky fingers squeeze my cheeks.  I feel most alive when I am interacting on a very personal level with my children.  I imagine Mary feels the same way.

We have other statues of Mary that are not covered in sticky fingerprints, pictures that hang reverently on the walls, beautiful prayer cards and a dozen rosaries hanging, waiting for us to pray with them as a family.  They are all reminders of our beautiful, blessed Mother.  I know she feels honored in our home.  But I don’t want her to just feel honored.  I want her to feel loved, wanted and needed.  I can think of no better way to achieve this than to make sure my children interact intimately with her.  I love to see little ones with their chubby arms wrapped gently (and sometimes not so gently) around Mary, talking to her in a language only she can understand and then slobberly kissing her just as they would anyone who means a lot to them.

I’m certain that Mary loves our household.  I think she likes being the protector of band aids.  I know she loves those sticky hands that hold her tightly and then caress her cheeks.  As a mother, how could she not?  She bandaged Jesus’ knees and felt his sticky, dirty hands caress her cheeks lovingly.  I can only believe that when our children do this she is reminded of her own son so many years ago.

Jesus asked that we take Mary as our mother, that we respect her and love her.  I can think of no better way to show our love for our beautiful Mother than making sure she is included in our everyday lives through prayer, contemplation and yes, through sticky fingers grabbing, coloring, caressing, holding and sometimes breaking our precious Mother.  Just as I love those signs of love, I have no doubt that all the attention Mary receives in our home makes her feel included and loved… just as Jesus had hoped.

How do you show love and honor for Mary in your homes?

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Advent Nicole

Mary, did you know?

There is a song I hear around this time of year that gives a different perspective of Christmas to those who hear it. Mary, Did You Know? was originally recorded and performed by Michael English, and has been popularized by other artists such as Wynona Judd and Kenny Rogers as a duet and Clay Aiken.

The song speaks to Mary, the Mother of God, asking her if, when she held her baby in her arms, she knew who He really was.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

The more I hear this song, the more it makes me think about the role of Mary during Advent, and perhaps moreso now that I am a mother myself.

Many mothers say that if they knew all the challenges and heartache that comes with motherhood, they would still do it because the love and joy you feel outweighs all that. When you have a child, you give your whole heart to that child, whether the child is your first, second, fifth, or twelfth (or even twentieth!). Your heart grows larger with each child, and there is an incredible connection between mother and child that can only be fully understood by a mother. There is something about motherhood that transcends all other experiences on this earth. And Mary felt that about the Christ Child just as I do for my precious Wyatt and Lilly.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?

Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?

When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God.

Mary knew her pregnancy was different. Gabriel told her, “’And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High […] the holy Child shall be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:31-32, 35 NASB)

While Gabriel explained to this young woman (well, likely a girl by today’s standards) that her Baby would be the Messiah, I can’t help but think she probably didn’t fully understand. Because, if I’m being honest, even I didn’t understand a lot of what my doctor told me at my prenatal appointments. (Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that….)

During Advent, Mary was reaching the end of her pregnancy. She was uncomfortable, probably in pain, and going on a long journey with her new husband. She probably knew her Baby would be born while she was away from home, away from the women in her family who would have helped with the delivery, and it was probably scary for her. And I can imagine it was her faith and trust in God that kept her going day after day.

And Mary said, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38a ASV)

Mary loved God, and was willing immediately to serve Him in any way He asked. So when Gabriel told her she was pregnant and was carrying Christ, she didn’t hesitate when she accepted the honor and responsibility that came with it. She may not have known what was in store for her, but she knew she was doing it for God, and that was enough.

Though pregnancy helps prepare a woman (physically and mentally) for motherhood, everything still changes when you see your baby for the first time. A new baby’s perfect face and tiny body is unlike anything else. The bond between mother and child that begins to form at that moment is for a lifetime, regardless of what happens in either of their lives. Mothers know their children better than anyone except the Lord.

So it could be that when Mary held her Baby for the first time, held Jesus in her arms and kissed His face, she knew. It could be that when she saw the face of God for herself, manifested in the perfect innocence of a newborn baby, she knew.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great I Am.

It is, in part, because of Mary that I love Christmas as much as I do. Even before I came into full communion with the Church I was drawn to the Blessed Mother. I knew I wanted to be a wife and mother for a long time before it happened, and Mary was an example of Christian motherhood and wifehood that moved me to grow in my faith every day.

As we celebrate Advent in anticipation of Christmas and the celebration of the birth of our Lord, I will spend more time talking to the Blessed Mother, learning more about her. And as I meditate on what she endured during her pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood, I will be strengthened in my own journey as a mother. As I think about the first time she held her Baby, our Lord, I will catch my own son in a hug before he can squirm away and kiss my daughter to make her smile. Because, just as Mary accepted her calling from God as the Mother of God, I welcome my calling as a Catholic wife and mother. And during this Advent and Christmas, especially, I will pray to God and say, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

[POSTSCRIPT] It was brought to my attention in a comment on this post that the song “Mary, Did You Know?” denies the Immaculate Conception in the line that says, “Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? / This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” It is not my intention to deny the Immaculate Conception at all. I would like to note that the song used in this post is to speak to Mary’s mindset as a new mother, and as the mother of Christ. It is not a Catholic song, so it does not strictly adhere to Catholic teachings. I apologize for any offense that may have come from this, and those lines have been deleted from the post. Thank you, and God bless.