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The Ascension

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To us who celebrate it every year the Ascension of Jesus  seems to naturally follow the initial celebration of his Resurrection. 

However I imagine it was an earth shattering surprise to his followers that he would be leaving them yet again. 

When I reflect on this event as part of the rosary the virtue I link to the Ascension is detachment as I see him beautifully disappear before the eyes of his followers as “a  cloud removed him from their sight.” 

The family of believers had to let go of their expectations that Jesus as they knew him would permanently remain to walk and talk with them. Again they had to face that Jesus was not about to get rid of the Roman occupiers either. There would be no restoration of the Davidic Kingdom  in the literal way they had thought of it. And the One they loved was going to withdraw from them yet again. They must have felt as if they were back from the defining experience of their lives with nothing to show for it, as if they were just a rag tag group of people standing on a mountainside for no particular reason. They were shocked and bereft. They didn’t understand what Jesus meant about him having to leave that the Holy Spirit could come to them. How could they? 

When the angel said that Jesus would be back they must have shaken their heads. Jesus had said for them to go and baptize, to take his message to the world. This must have seemed like too much for them, an overwhelming task, especially on their own. 

They had to greatly expand their understanding of God even past the miraculous three years they had left everything for and deeply identified with now. 

They had to let go so they could be filled and receive Jesus in a whole new way, by his presence in their hearts, and to come to know the Holy Spirit who was new to them. 

How can we receive the Spirit without detachment, self emptying, without freedom of heart? 

“Love- the way God wants to be loved, and leave off your own way of acting,” said St. John of the Cross. 

Or, as Jesus said to St. Angela of Foligno, “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make myself a torrent.” 

Jesus said that if his friends loved him they would be happy he was going to the Father. (Jon.14:28) Is there something more to that than being happy for him? Yes, because he says, “for the Father is greater than I.” Maybe it also means that we have to let our current perhaps more comfortable understanding go to make room for the immensity he has for us. We can be happy he is going to the Father because then, in letting him go as we thought we had him, he then is truly closer than our breath, more accessible than ever. Detachment is hard. We feel that we are losing our Treasure.   

 St. Faustina said of Mary’s experience of the Ascension that she deeply grieved as any mother would  that her Son was leaving but that, “her heart could not want what God did not want.” 

In seeking a pure heart for God and a Marian detachment; a detachment with great love, a detachment even from the way we thought Jesus would be present to us, we open ourselves to what is even greater, beyond what we could ever have thought of ourselves.  But first we let go. 

“Bend  my heart according to your will, O God.” (Ps. 119:36) 

Then, 

“I shall run in your paths for You will enlarge my heart.” (Psalm 119:32)

In this is peace that comes from open-ness to God and freedom of heart.

These verses are a perfect prayer to cultivate holy detachment as the disciples struggled to do this, standing there on the Mount of Olives, not knowing what to do with themselves. 

Fortunately we don’t have to rely on our own strength in this and neither did they.

Jesus had said to wait in Jerusalem and to pray. They did. They trusted in simplicity. And prayer continually purified theirattachments and intentions as disciples, transforming their dismay into receptivity.   

They still longed for Jesus; his voice, his hug, the sound of his footsteps, “like a deer that longs for running streams in a dry weary land without water,” (Ps. 42:2)  However they soon found that once emptied, their muddled and broken hearts were then open to the new gift of God’s presence; the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, filling them past overflowing, their thirst for God more than quenched.  “Your torrents and all your waves swept over me.”  (Ps. 42: 8)

Come, Holy Spirit, come. 

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A Quiet Easter 2023

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I have been sick this Triduum so it’s been very different than most for me. I have been in bed with cats all over me, hearing Hannah Montana music non stop because my granddaughter loves it these days.( No fair I already went through that with her mother!)

My youngest daughter and my granddaughter and I did little family liturgies for each day of this Triduum. The seven year old was wiggly but reasonably behaved and interested. She only had to be threatened by her mother a couple of times with no TV if she didn’t settle down and stop interrupting. This year the washing of feet seemed to resonate for her. I think she really listened to Jesus’ words about that and was surprised by them.

I followed the readings and slept and the prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and slept. I followed my personal traditions as well as I could as Christians all over the world walked together with Jesus through the last days of his earthly life.

I missed the mass of all masses last night, the great Easter Vigil. But I think my fever broke.

I missed experiencing that with everybody.

The good thing is I was in touch with the grace of this holy time. I do feel changed. I do feel that I passed from death to life with Jesus hand in hand.

We didn’t come out of the tomb with trumpet blast or brilliant light. We just walked out of there. Then we went to see our friends and console our mom.

I’m still in bed today missing all the stuff. The best I can do is to pray Morning Prayer and burn frankincense incense in the censor I save for holy days. I’m enjoying clouding up the room.

I am hoping to join my parish in an evening mass, and to see my eldest daughter and her boys today. They are excited about egg hunting. My granddaughter has been practicing in our apartment with plastic eggs for several days so she is ready.

Oh Jesus we will never come to the end of your beautiful surprises. The physical resurrection of your body happened in quiet and dark but its repercussions are endless, eternal, a treasure we will never exhaust, never fully understand.

We thank you. We bless you. We adore you. We glorify you.

Praised be Jesus Christ

-both now and forever.

Mary’s Preparations for the Passover

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Where was Mary during the day Holy Thursday?

I think Mary would have been helping to prepare her Son’s last Passover today with the other women, feeling the tip of the sword in her heart as she chopped vegetables, listened to the chatter in the kitchen as her heart began to bleed. But I imagine at the same time she would have carried a shining joy because of her love for him.

She would have wanted to make this night beautiful for him and for the others too. At intense times like the last hours we will have with someone we love terribly, we are drawn deeply into the moment. We stay in the now letting love define it.

Her simple actions she had performed many times would have taken on an almost liturgical rhythm, a stillness in her heart, a sense of the sacramental as she cooked and stirred and set the table for him and his followers. Maybe she knew what he had planned for the evening. Maybe she would be as surprised as anyone. But she had to know his hour had come.

Remembering this and that she placed wildflowers at each place around the table, working her way around blessing silently each one who would sit there.

I think she would have snuck off to pray for this night, for all Jesus needed to say and do, her mother’s heart clutched with the frantic desire that this cup would pass him by, loving him and us enough to know if it couldn’t she must accept that it had to happen this way.
Back among the others maybe she let her eyes linger on every face with prayerful love, knowing they were about to be horribly tried by whatever happened next, but praying her So ‘s words would have their full sway with them tonight.

She tried to prepare herself too.

“Bend my heart according to your will O God.” (Psalm 119:36)

Maybe God said to her that he always heard her prayers and would always do as she asked.

Maybe she told him she would always do as he asked too. “

Maybe she repeated to herself and to God her “Let it be done,” as she had at the Annunciation.

” At some point perhaps as she carried in water, or brought something needed to the table, her eyes would have caught Jesus’s for a second and they silently strengthened one another.

Oh Mary help us prepare our hearts for this commemoration, our participation in this Holy Night.

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St. Joseph Novena Day 9

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St. Joseph Novena Day 9

You Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high. Psalm 3:3

St. Joseph living in glory your work is not done but is different! Now you have tremendous ability to share that glory and love and fullness of joy with us as well. And so we entrust ourselves to you as an understanding father who is also the terror of demons, the tender protector, the universal teacher and master of prayer and the Christian life. We want what you have. We want to live and work and laugh with Jesus and Mary every day. We want to die in their arms. We want to be with you and with them in Heaven. We are so happy it is your Solemnity; the Solemnity of your beautiful life, of you in your heavenly glory and you as amazing intercessor. We bless you St. Joseph and we thank God for you and so does all of Heaven. You have our love as small as our hearts are sometimes. May God make our hearts mighty to love as you did, as you continue to do. Intercede for us with your Son. Remain with us today in a special way. Amen.

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St. Joseph Novena Day 7

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God of my fathers, Lord of mercy,
you who have made all things by your word
and in your wisdom have established man
to rule the creatures produced by you,
to govern the world in holiness and justice,
and to render judgment in integrity of heart:

Give me Wisdom, the attendant at your throne,
and reject me not from among your children:
for I am your servant, the son of your handmaid,
a man weak and short-lived
and lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws.

Indeed, though one be perfect among the sons of men,
if Wisdom, who comes from you, be not with him,
he shall be held in no esteem.

Now with you is Wisdom who knows your works
and was present when you made the world;
who understands what is pleasing in your eyes
and what is conformable with your commands.

Send her forth from your holy heavens
and from your glorious throne dispatch her
that she may be with me and work with me,
that I may know what is your pleasure.

For she knows and understands all things,
and will guide me discreetly in my affairs
and safeguard me by her glory.”
(Wisdom 9:1-6, 9-11)

St. Joseph I can only imagine how overwhelming the prospect of being a father to Jesus the Son of God would have been for you. And Mary would have said, ”Joey you were made for this! God will give you everything you need!” And you believed. You were a strong good and kind man, humble and wise. Wisdom was with you, beautiful father. All the love and the example you gave Jesus made him able to do what he came to do and be what he came to be. Today we ask you also to be a father to each of us. And we thank you for every hug, every talk, every lesson, every game you played with Jesus when he was growing up, and most of all for just being there and filling his life with your love.

St. Joseph Novena Day 5

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1 Samuel 16

“12 So Jesse sent for him. He had a healthy complexion, attractive eyes, and a handsome appearance. The Lord said, “Go ahead, anoint him. He is the one.” 13 Samuel took the flask of olive oil and anointed David in the presence of his brothers. The Lord’s Spirit came over David and stayed with him from that day on. Then Samuel left for Ramah.”

St. Joseph, Son of David, I bet when you were growing up the stories from the Torah you loved best were the stories of King David your ancestor. God told the Prophet Samuel that God does not choose as we do but sees the heart. You were poor but descended from a humanly unlikely king who was nevertheless after God’s own heart. He was little and yet mighty. His greatest gifts were from within. You could relate to that. Your boyish heart must have longed for adventure. Little did you know what adventure and danger and helping to save the world you were in for, and what joy you would find in ordinary life and the work of your hands, the love that surrounded you, the privilege you alone were given. You really were royalty. 👑 Help us to keep in mind our beautiful crowns as children of God and to love this day in quiet joy.

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St. Joseph Novena Day One

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1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. (From Psalm 1)

St. Joseph you would have heard and read and studied this Scripture. How beautifully you embodied it as you went about your daily work, took part in your community, served and loved Mary and Jesus. And to this day you are a beautiful tree planted by streams of water, shading and protecting us, giving us the fruit of your meditations and your labors and your love.
Do us the honor of walking with us during this novena, giving us your blessing, teaching us your way.
Pray with us the prayer you prayed daily all of your life.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Dt. 6)
Amen

Book Review: Our Lady of Hot Messes by Leticia Ochoa Adams

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I’ve been following Leticia Ochoa Adams, one of my favorite Catholic writers, for years on social media and I’ve loved reading her blog posts. She has always said what I wished someone would say even though I didn’t know I wished that until she made me laugh out loud or feel totally seen by a Catholic writer in a way I had not felt before. I admire her fearless and thorough self assessments, her frank story telling. There is a freedom that inspires in the way she manages to be rigorously honest about herself without sounding self absorbed or over dramatic. Reading her writing feels like sitting at The Kettle late at night with a comfortable friend who still surprises  with her stories and insights. 

So when I saw she had a book coming out I couldn’t wait to read it. It’s called Our Lady of Hot Messes from Ave Maria Press. It is the author’s spiritual memoir; the story of her life, a record of her conversion, an experience of her spirituality, the lessons she has learned, her observations about the world, her commentary on the times we are living through. 

Leticia Ochoa Adams is not shy. Thank goodness because the world needs her voice, the voice of a Tejano daughter of a single mother who has endured more than her share of trauma and tragedy. Most recently she has survived the suicide of her son, Anthony. She is able to talk about this and the abuse she experienced as a child without being either lurid or glib. She makes it easy to learn from what she has been through and in sharing these things she lights the way for others. 

She writes about the ways she, and we, numb ourselves, attaching ourselves to activities and material things that keep us from being with God as fully as we could be like “doom scrolling,” on social media and even more innocent things we become inordinately attached to. She examines the mixed motivations she and we often have with a disarming simplicity and clarity.  

She reminds us we should just be ourselves. The most important thing to her is being real. I think she has accomplished that with a strength and self possession that might make you raise your eyebrows a little as you read.

One of her chapters is called “Cussing is Normal” in which she challenges us to consider if it’s really enough to use words like “dumb bunny” instead of cuss words when we have the same amount of malice in our hearts when we say them to someone. 

I enjoyed her passages about finding God among people.  She saw how Christ-like bar flies can be when they care for one another having witnessed the lives and friendships of the men who hung out in the dive bar where she was once a bartender. She learned the Ten Commandments and honorable conduct as part of a community from the “G Code” at the majority black high school she attended long before she learned these things in church. God had been teaching her all along through the events and people in her life. Jesus had been there.

Jesus is real and immediate to her. He’s watching TV with her on the couch. He’s funny, he makes her laugh sometimes and he loves her. She tells him everything. I appreciate the way she shares how that relationship has grown throughout her life, through grief and love and her search for  truth. 

 She wants us to know she doesn’t have it all together, that we are at home in the Church whether we feel we have the perfect Catholic life or not. 

It’s funny that she asked such hostile questions at the first RCIA  (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) class she went to, she got kicked out. She only went to get her boyfriend to marry her, she says. She had been taught at a different church growing up that Catholics were idol worshipers and that the rosary was witchcraft. She was ready to be hostile again on her second try at the class but she was so blown away by the explanation of John chapter 6 she forgot to be mad when they got to the Virgin Mary and the rosary because she was still thinking about the Eucharist.  

The thing I love most about being Catholic is that I have found a place that hasn’t gotten tired of my questions. I can ask them without fear of being kicked out. Having a relationship with God and his mother does not mean that I know everything. It does not mean that I do not question why things are the way they are. But it does mean that I get to show up as me, even if that means I fall asleep when I try to pray my rosary at bed time.” 

Her chapter on the rosary is my favorite one. “Praying the Rosary Like a Loser.”   

“I also consider that Hail Marys are what make up the Rosary and each one is a rose laid at her feet. So when I don’t have time to pray the Rosary I just try to lay spiritual roses at her feet like not cussing out a coworker or not flipping off someone in traffic or paying for someone’s lunch. Those are all just as valid as roses to her. And that, my friends, is how to pray the Rosary like a loser when you do not have your life together. You just try not to be a jerk to others, and you think about those moments as roses laid at the feet of Our Lady. And you know that you are loved.” 

The Purification of Mary, The Presentation of the Lord

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The feast of the Presentation, February 2, also celebrates in a quieter way Mary’s purification. In fact from the 7th century The Purification of Mary was the name of this feast. These days the focus is on the Presentation of little Jesus in the Temple. That Mary was “purified” used to puzzle me as a new Catholic and maybe it puzzles you too. Why would she need purification and what did that entail?

Leviticus Chapter 12 

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.

“‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.

“‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’” NIV

As Catholics we know Mary was free from both original sin and personal sin. She was the the Ark of the New Covenant. She was never unclean for even a second. Her womb is sacred and pure in a way we can hardly fathom. She had just born the Son of God. So what’s going on here?

“As with Jesus, so with Mary.” Jesus was baptized though he was divine and free from sin. So maybe Mary’s purification isn’t anymore puzzling than his baptism. Jesus’ baptism inaugurated in a beautiful ritual way the beginning of his ministry like a dedication, an intentional acceptance of who he was and what he was brought into the world to do. The Father responds in a wondrous way, and the Spirit descends on him as John the Baptist tells us.

Mary fulfilled the requirements of her religion in this purification regardless of her personal lack of need for it. God renewed its meaning and made it what he wanted it to be. Like much of Mary’s life how she would have experienced this requirement is hidden. We can however, learn more about the process she would have undergone.

After a woman’s period ended and the days of her ritual impurity (Niddah) were completed, during which no one could eat what she cooked or use what she touched and definitely not touch her at all, or become ritually impure themselves, she would have gone to the mikveh (pronounced MIK-vah). This was a special pool of naturally occurring water such as a spring or a well or collected rain water, enclosed for a ritual bath for the purpose of purification. All married women would have done this monthly and also after childbirth. Many Jewish women still do. She would have gone the night before the Presentation.

Mary would have bathed beforehand, to make sure there was nothing on her skin or hair or under her nails so that as much of her could be exposed to the water as possible. She would have brushed out her hair to get rid of any loose hairs and she would have clipped her nails. Once there she would have undressed privately and wrapped in a towel or loose robe around herself. A female attendant would have checked her nails and hair for cleanliness. Mary would have taken off the towel and walked down the seven steps ( representing the seven days of creation) into the water. The attendant would have made sure she was completely submerged including every bit of her hair. She would have come up and sank back into the water three times, praying:

Barukh ata Adonai Elohenu melekh ha’olam asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tevillah.

Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us concerning the immersion.

בּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָׁנוּ בּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל הַטְבִילָה

After this the attendant would give her the towel and Mary would have gone aside and prayed. We can imagine she had so much to pray about with all that was before her.

Maybe God used this ritual to open her heart even more and strengthen her before the presentation of Jesus. Maybe she recommitted herself to her mission, and to her family and to her love of God. I bet she was glad she would be able to hug Joseph again.

I loved learning about the mikveh because I love Mary and I want to understand as much about her life as I can. As Christians we no longer immerse in a mikveh. Instead we believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

Maybe now in the depths of winter we could use renewal and rededication too. We have the Sacrament of Reconciliation for that. And with Lent fast approaching this is a good time to begin our preparations and our intentions for it so we can come to Lent with a free heart ready for whatever God wants to communicate to us during this special time of grace.

We submit ourselves to the requirements of our faith with joy as Mary did, knowing that God will respond to us and grant us the graces we need to follow Jesus.

Luke 2:29-32

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (NIV)

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