Am I Not Here, Who is Your Mother?

Mothers are a sturdy bunch. In fact, motherhood is not for wimps. We all had one, and it is easy to overlook the role and influence our mother had in our lives. While there is a plethora of “how to books” and plenty of unsolicited advice, there is not much that can adequately prepare a woman to be a mother. It is on-the-job training, in a sometimes-hostile environment, with natives who don’t speak the language, where one must rapidly adapt while grossly sleep deprived.  After all, children are beginners at life outside the womb.

Mothering is often the brunt of jokes or looked down upon. While it is important to laugh, to be laughed at is contrary to the dignity of that noble calling. In this disordered culture, their contribution is looked upon as a less important in the scheme of possibilities and careers for women. Somehow raising the next generation, influencing the future of society, and forming healthy, happy, hardworking citizens is “demeaning” for women. Nothing is further from the truth. Yet, it requires heroic virtue, cosmic patience, and supernatural strength for this work.

Nothing can turn a mom to mush faster than an inconsolable, eight-pound, un-swaddled miniature version of herself. Her work does not often produce ripe fruit for years.

I am curious why society has disdain for such a critical contribution to the good of humanity. Then again, the devil doesn’t trouble himself with things that are not a threat. Attacking marriage and the family, distorts the Image of God who made us.   Deluding and engrossing men and women into pursuits far worthier of their time and effort, than “just having kids.”

Yesterday was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I began to write my thoughts at two am having every intention of posting it by eight am on the feast day. Clearly, I am now a day late and a dollar short. Life happens and yet the reminder is valuable and so I beg you to continue to read on.

Under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary is the Patroness of the Americas. This is one of the many titles of our Blessed Mother. Like any loving and caring mom, she is active and present in the lives of her children, encouraging and imploring them to turn from evil and leading them to her Son. At Guadalupe she appeared as mestiza in this her first appearance in Mexico to Juan Diego. It was on the feast of the Immaculate Conception which was December nineth in the calendar at the time. It was later moved to the eighth as we know it today.

“Juanito, dearest Juan Diego. Juanito, my dearest son, where are you going?  

Know and understand well, you my most humble son, that I am the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth.”

Notice the tenderness in which Mary addresses Juan Diego in this short segment of her greeting.

The Bishop asks for a sign from Juan Diego and he delays for a bit due to taking care of his sick uncle. Mary finds him. You cannot hide very long from your mama. She always knows where to find us. Mary inquired why he had not done what she asked. He replies to her that the Bishop wants a sign.

On the fourth visit she says in part, “Hear me and understand well, my little son, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection?… My dear little son, this diversity of roses is the proof and the sign which you will take to the bishop…”

The “sign,” was a variety of flowers not native to the region and Castilian roses all blooming in the dead of winter on Tepeyak hill, modern day Mexico City. Juan Diego picks them placing them in his tilma. Mary, herself arranges the flowers for him. He heads to see the Bishop.

As Juan Diego opens his tilma the flowers fall out and a miraculous image of this beautiful lady is left there on the tilma. That gets the Bishops attention. There is no record of any divine painting other than this beautiful gift from God to us in this image of Mary.

If you get a chance to read more on this fascinating topic and get to know your Mother more personally, I highly recommend these books; first by Carl Anderson, “Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love,” or Bernal Diaz, “The Conquest of New Spain.”

Every feature on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is significant. For example, “The reflections that have been detected in the eyes of the image. If the tilma is laid horizontally across a map of Mexico, the major glyphs, the large symbols discernible to the Aztecs, all line up with the major volcanoes of Mexico. The constellations on Our Lady’s mantel are the precise constellations of the sky at the moment on December 12th.The image of our Lady of Guadalupe is reproduced more than any other image of any woman in history. God painted the image of Our Lady for us all to see and still miraculously survives to this day in the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is the most visited pilgrimage site, getting about 20 million visitors annually.

Everywhere our Mother Mary has appeared, she takes on the appearance of the people she is there to aid. She is the Mother of All Nations and Peoples. She is the Queen of Heaven and our Mother too. I encourage you to read more about Marian apparitions, and to pray the Rosary which she has asked us to do countless times. As our Mother, who loves us dearly, she is trying to help us avert future chastisement, but there is only so much any mother can do. She can ask and ultimately it is up to the person to decide if they follow that advice and act.

To think that we can continue in the debauchery and outright flagrant sinfulness and think God is ok with it or has somehow turned a blind eye is exactly what evil would like us to think.

It was said that at Kibeho, when she appeared to the girls in Rwanda, as she tried to warn them to pray to avert the genocide, that she was inconsolable. Can you imagine the Mother of God, being inconsolable because as hard as she is trying to help us, we chose to go about our merry lives excluding God and doing our own thing?

Any mom is heartbroken when one of her children makes bad choices. Mary is trying to help all of humanity. We must do our part. Let us seek to please our dear sweet Mother and do what we are told.

The Maternal Heart

As I age and have more life behind me than in front of me, I find myself in my deepest emotional and physical pain, identifying most intensely with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here is the woman who in her own Earthly life experienced so much suffering through her fiat.

God designed woman in a particularly ingenious way and our Blessed Mother Mary exemplifies womanhood in the most perfect, humble manner.

Mary Mother of grace, Mother of Mercy. Pray for us!

Servant of God Archbishop Luis M. Martinez wrote, “Earthly love is especially characterized by deep intuitions and a capacity of unsurpassed comprehension – maternal love.

Deep intuitions?

Mothers have an unimaginable capacity to know and to feel in the depth of their hearts. This “unsurpassed comprehension” is a two-edged sword at times. I know and understand this in a very raw personal way yet, it is nothing in comparison to what the Virgin Mary experienced. I don’t think we can fully comprehend the immensity of what the Lord asked of her as Mother of the long-awaited Savior of the world. From the moment her “yes” resounded through time, her life was never to be the same. She showed us that humble trust, obedience, and surrender, intensifies the magnitude of what God can do through ordinary human beings.

I have a little pillow which boldly states, “Motherhood is not for wimps.” Mary is proof positive of this.

During this time of the liturgical year, if we are willing, we have a unique opportunity to ponder what Mary might have pondered as the time of the birth drew near. What did she imagine her life would be like raising the God-Man?

What does any parent wonder about their child and the impact he or she will have on the world? Mary wasn’t carrying just another baby boy, but Emmanuel, the prophesied, anxiously anticipated Messiah. She couldn’t show her family and friends his little ultra-sound picture and point out the little halo around his tiny head. No, she had little insight into the journey this child would take her on, or the personal cost.

Did she wonder what he might look like, what he was capable of, or what changes would he bring about in saving his people? I wonder if it ever entered her mind that he might be rejected, plotted against, betrayed, and crucified. Simeon’s prophesy eludes to this at Christ’s dedication to the Lord at just eight days old.

I imagine like any other pregnant mom, she was excited, she was anxious, and she wondered what all this might mean and how God’s plan might come about.

As I look back at my own life, it is God’s great mercy not to have shown me ahead of time what my crosses would look like, or how heavy they would be. So many times they seemed nearly impossible to carry and I wondered why a God who loves me would ask so much of me. But with every cross I grew stronger, wiser, and more trusting. Through the little crosses I gained strength, wisdom, and learned surrender which would help me carry the heavier ones down the road.

We see this in Mary’s life and need to draw strength from her example. All the little crosses prepared her for the ultimate Cross. God did not ask immediately so heavy a burden on a young mother. He prepared her little by little, helping her to continue to trust, to let go, and to believe there was a Divine plan for good even when it didn’t seem possible. This is a supreme lesson for us all.

What does Mary’s maternal heart feel as she intercedes before the Godhead for us now? Her unruly, ungrateful, unfaithful, complicated, and often contemptible children?

Anger, frustration, rejection – no! “Mary’s love is not cooled, is not extinguished even by our ingratitude, infidelity, contempt, nor the most atrocious of iniquities” (Dom Roberto ER. Cam. Seventeenth-century hermit). He writes further, “And if I desert and offend her a thousand times daily, she lovingly receives me in her arms a thousand times, if I return to her.”

Isn’t that what we need the most when we have sinned? A loving, forgiving Mother, who won’t lord it over us and instead welcomes us arms open wide. Should we not experience as much from our own Earthly mothers?

How grateful we should be to have such a heavenly Mother who intercedes on our behalf countless times. She never gives up on us. As often as we fail, we should rush back to her loving arms. This is joyous news worthy of being shared with other hurting, disheartened, and lost humans. They are never too far from the loving embrace of their Mother.

This Advent, come to know your Mother and if you want to get to know her Son, ask her to lead you there. She will show you the most perfect way that leads to Him, whom she loves more than anything.

Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Hang in There

I remember bringing a meal and spending time visiting a friend of mine who was having another bout with cancer a few years ago. In a strange turn of events, months later it was that same friend who brought dinner to me as I recovered from a hospitalization. Just two years ago, I stood at her bedside as she unconsciously labored barely clinging to life. I held her hand and spoke with her son. Other visitors came and I knew it was time for me to go. Leaning close to her ear the words I really wanted to say were nowhere to be found.  What came out was simply, “hang in there.”

I cried all the way home at the sheer stupidity of what I had said to my dying friend. How completely devoid of inspiration and hope. Normally, I have lots of words in my little arsenal and rarely am at a loss for what to say. This was one of those moments, and it breaks my heart. ‘Who says that to a dying person?

There will be times in our life when we are confronted by situations that hit us like a brick wall and we are confused about what to say. Sometimes there is no need to say anything. Our presence and attentive listening are enough. We may not know what to say, or how to say something, so in the awkward silence we say something stupid instead.  I wonder, if up in heaven there is a bulletin board labeled, “Stupid Things Said to the Dying.” I know my comment is there.

Other annoying statements like, “You be you” or, “this is just who I am,” are both selfish driven copouts which infer doing whatever one wants with no concern for anyone else or the consequences.

I remember when our youngest daughter who was a senior in high school said to me one fine day, “how about I do me, and you do you.” She was not happy when me doing me, left her unable to “do” what she wanted to do. It is like wanting autonomy but being completely dependent. Later that year, she wanted to have us pay for an apartment for her and a friend. She was laboring under our restrictions put in place for her well-being. Silly little thing, how cute and naïve. So, I did what any parent should do and enlightened her on the reality of life and the real costs, outside the shelter of our loving home. She was unaware apparently and must have assumed everything was free from the tooth fairy?

I have come to see that we can sometimes be those ungrateful children to our heavenly Father as well. We want it all: autonomy and protection, God’s ear when we are in trouble, but not bothered with maintaining a relationship. We want to go to heaven…someday, but not live as if our lives depended on it.

Many of the readings and Gospels leading up to Advent have reminded us to watch and be alert. Today’s Gospel finds Jesus saying to his disciples and us, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” (Lk 21:34)

Are we listening?

I think it is enlightening to see that Jesus places “anxieties of life” in the same sentence as drunkenness and carousing. All these things let us be taken away from the present reality.

“That is the point Barb.”

Perhaps. God is in the present, in the messiness and reality of day to day life. When we medicate or overly distract ourselves to escape those realities in an unhealthy way, we distance ourselves from God’s saving grace available in the present moment. I suggest that when we want to run and hide from reality, the place that we go to instead is to God, praying for His strength and grace.

There are still ten days left in our 30-day Journey Toward Holiness campaign. No need to hesitate any longer, it’s free. “Get holy, or die trying” is our motto, and now is as good of time as any to begin before Advent.

Then join us for the Advent Mission featuring Mark Hart on Monday and Tuesday nights, 6:30pm, December 7th and 8th. You won’t want to miss it. Seriously…Mark is hilarious, knowledgeable, engaging and real! He is the Bible Geek after all.

Time is precious, life is short, and God is not going to be super open to, “Gosh, I was really busy Lord…”

Jesus reminds us in Scripture, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.” (Matt 25:13)

Escaping Our Own Gravity

We are halfway through our collective efforts to grow in holiness through the Journey Toward Holiness campaign. “What’s that”, you query? It is a Divinely inspired initiative we have launched to help us form habits that lead to holiness. You can read more about it here and if you want to sign up, you are welcome to do that. It is never too late to grow in holiness.

This journey for me has been an intentional effort to be kinder, more patient, and to smile more. I know it is hard to see that behind my mask, but it is there. I have found it to be a good reminder of the power in these simple acts which can have huge repercussions. I daresay, if humanity would start right there with those simple things, we would change the face of the planet for good, and just in time for Christmas. (One can only hope). Part of our goal for JTH, (Journey Toward Holiness) is to encourage each other, finish what we started, attend the Advent Mission with Mark Hart Monday & Tuesday December 7th and 8th (6:30pm live and live streamed), and to develop good habits for prayer. It is working for me, and I pray, for you as well.

“Our lives change, when our habits change.” (M Kelly)

I have a quote that I re-read from time to time and I wanted to share it with you. It comes from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. It is packed full of meaning and reminders for us as we journey in this world and make decisions that impact the next.

“Faith means resisting the brute force that would otherwise pull us under.

Faith is a liberation of my I from its preoccupation with self.

Faith is a breaking out of the isolation that is the malady of my I.

Faith is a new Yes that becomes possible when we are touched by God.

Faith is the finding of a You who upholds me and gives me the promise of an indestructible love.

 Faith means fellowship with Him who has a power that draws us up, holds us fast, and carries us safely over the elements of death.

To become a Believer means to escape our own gravity.”

To become a Believer means to escape our own gravity.”

As I attempt to unpack some of my thoughts on this quote, I find myself also wondering what insight you have. I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Do not think that this is too lofty of a quote to mine for the gold nuggets it contains precisely for you. Rather, take it sentence by sentence and think about what God may be saying through Benedict to you.

When PBXVI speaks of “brute force,” many things come to my mind. It can mean from the forces of evil who are bent on our destruction. An on-going spiritual battle rages between evil and good, to deny that fact, is to not fully understand the purpose of this life or your soul in the next.

“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Eph 6:11-12)

Perhaps he is suggesting the maladies of human life, as the brute force that pulls us under. The drudgery, monotony, and illness that comes with being human.

What “brute force” pulls you under in your day to day? How do you overcome it?

I love the second sentence, “liberation of my I, from its preoccupation with self.”  Humanity seems to be distracted in this perpetual preoccupation with self. It is true and so easy to be exclusively concerned with what is only important to me. I will admit I am guilty at times. Faith liberates me from focusing solely on myself. It is bigger than me.  When we are self-focused it causes us to look inward rather than outward towards God and neighbor. We feel the “isolation” that comes from such navel-gazing when we are so concerned about ourselves. Faith broadens the plain of our view to consider the command to “love one another,” and in doing so we are “touched by God.” In giving we receive, the answer to the dilemma.  It is through our neighbor that we will meet the image of God. This is how God set it up. When I look beyond me, I begin to recognize how small I am, how miniscule my problems and through helping others I am raised out of my fixation of self.

Faith is not a building, an institution, or set of rules to follow; it is a person, the Person of Christ Jesus. He is the “You who upholds me,” giving me the hope of heaven and eternal “indestructible love.” God always, “draws us up, holds us fast carrying us safely, through death to new life in heaven with Him.

Let us make every effort to escape our own gravity, thus freeing ourselves in the service of God and others.

To Each According to His Ability

I sit staring at my one-eyed gingerbread man who I have managed to dismember piece by piece. He is delicious by the way. When I contemplate my own talents, I get a sense of what they are as I look back at my life. If the “inability to say no” is a talent, I have tons of that. (It is not by the way) How about the need to constantly feed people desserts? I have that in spades. What about impulsive, fast acting, take charge, bossy? Sure, and those talents get things done. I like to write. I pretend I can draw, and I can make stuff. As I think about this and consume what is left of gingerbread Bob, I admit that I also have been gifted with creativity. There is no doubt I have done some wild things over the years with that talent. Ask anyone who ever went on the “Cold Testament” Jr. High retreat, which by the way, was not the actual name of the retreat. It was the Old Testament Retreat.

As a new Youth Minister, we re-created a time when the twelve tribes of Israel wandered the desert, I imagined that this great hands-on learning experience for sixth through eighth graders would deepen their understanding of that period in history. They stayed overnight in tents, were divided by tribes, learned to make unleavened bread, and heard amazing talks. It was epic. The unanticipated challenge was I had planned it in February at Estrella Mountain Park. When the sun went down, so did any hope of warmth. It was a long freezing night. My sleeping bag that was supposedly “good to thirty below zero”, was ineffective. I instead deposited myself by the fire. This became my custom for the next six times we did these retreats, and that way the kids knew where to find me. That night we burned through a quarter cord of wood. I could hardly wait until daylight. Water froze in the dog bowls, as it had dropped to twenty-eight degrees. For the kids, it was a roaring success. So, we created the New Testament Retreat for the following year, this time in November. We were not made aware until we arrived that the “Faire Festival” was happening simultaneously. They were “casting spells” that evening. We were praying the Rosary, to counteract that dark nonsense. I kept waiting for the “Goblin King” to show up in the middle of the night when I was by the fire and scare the creativity right out of me.

I could not have pulled off most of my ideas without others who also invested their talents in the work of making something unique and memorable for the kids. Together, we made unbelievable things happen and we still do. The joke that has surfaced over the years is, “Barb made eye contact with me, so that’s why I volunteer.” I love it. Maybe that is a talent I have too? Blessed be God!

We all have been gifted with talents. That is a fact. In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus is going to remind us of that. He gives talents, “each according to his ability.”(Matt 25:15) The really incredible thing about talents is that when we use them, they grow and God is able to increase the yield through our willingness. I have been blessed to share my talents on a variety of initiatives. God is so good and ready to help us, help Him, help one another.

“For everyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matt 25:29)

In short, use them or lose them!

We need faith to bear fruit. What is faith? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines faith as, “man’s response to God, who reveals Himself and gives Himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life.” (CCC 26)

Jesus paid the ransom for our sins and through that singular act we were redeemed. I don’t know if we fully realize the priceless nature of this supreme gift and respond to God in gratitude. Faith is the response and discovering our talents helps us uncover the meaning and purpose of our life. Faith is an action. Sometimes we mistakenly think we “don’t have any talents,” so we do not nurture them. Or we are “not as talented as others,” so they go fallow from lack of use. Or we use them in all the other aspects of our life and save nothing for the Church “because we are too busy.” Or sometimes we take Christ at His Word and jump in with both feet and see what He does with our yes.

 “What will we give the Lord for what he has given us? Before we existed he made us, gave us life, gave us a lifetime, gave us a free will, gave us worldly goods, gave us talent, gave us reason, gave us knowledge, gave us all his creation that it might become [ours]” (St Quodvultdeus)

If you are not sure what your talents might be or how to use them at the service of the Lord, there are lots of ways to discover that. But none is more excellent than through Christ’s superabundant light. Spend time in prayer and in the Presence of Christ. He will enlighten and guide you. Yes, it is that simple. Then talk to those who know you best and ask them to tell you about what gifts/talents they see in you.

I have found the “Clifton Strengths Finder, Catholic Edition” useful. It helped me to put a name to actions which energized me, which further motivated me to use them. It was also excellent in suggesting areas where your talents would be best utilized and brought to fruition. Just a suggestion. 

I will say this, it all started for me with saying “yes” to a need at Church. I never knew where it would lead, and I did not have to know- because God knew the plans, He had for me. I cannot imagine my life without the incredible friends I have made through my willingness to share my gifts. Nor the inconceivable joy and energy of working in the vineyard of the Lord. God has blessed the work He has called me to do. He has supplied all the ideas, people, and resources, so that even a lowly pile of clay like me, can make a difference.

If He can use me, He can use you too. Blessed be God forever.