Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

I don’t like thinking of myself as a prideful person. I like to think that, especially in my relationship with God, I am humble and obedient. But, I was reflecting on my prayer life, and I realized that my prayer often sounds like this: “Hey God, I want to do this, and if you could help me with it, that would be great.” That may sound good. I want God to help me. I want God to come with me. And while wanting God to come with me is better than not wanting God to come with me, at the end of the day, I am still the one in control. I decide where I am going, and I want God to go there with me. I want God to make my plans come to fruition. All too often, my relationship with God is driven by my own ego. Rather than being humble and obedient, I am committed to doing my own will, and I use God simply as a means of accomplishing what I want. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I’m going to guess that I am not the only one who does that. If we are honest, I would suspect that many of us often pray that way.

The Gospel today gives us a different model. Two disciples of John the Baptist start following Jesus. When Our Lord asks them what they are seeking, they answer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And at Christ’s bidding they go and stay with Him. Their question is, “Rabbi, Teacher, where are you staying? Where do you abide? We want to go where you are going.” Notice the difference between that and the kind of prayer I was talking about. The kind of prayer that I often do, the kind of prayer I think that a lot of people often do, is “Lord, come where I want to go.” These two disciples, on the other hand, say, “Lord, we want to go where you are going.”

In our relationship with God, we need to always remember that God is the one who is supposed to be in control. God is God, and I am not. I am not the one in charge. As we sang in the responsorial Psalm, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.” That’s what we say. But all too often, our actual approach is, “Here I am Lord; help me to do my will.” If that is my approach to prayer, then God isn’t really God for me. He is just an extension of my desires. He exists just to help me do what I want. And so rather than growing in humility and surrender, I am simply using God to further my pride. It is hard to let go of our will in order to truly seek God’s will. I want what I want, and I don’t want anyone to get in the way, even God. But if I truly want to be a follower of Christ, I have to be precisely that, a follower. That means that Christ is the one who leads, and I go where He wants to go and do what He wants to do. Being a follower means setting aside where I want to go in order to go where Christ wants to go. Being a follower requires humility; it requires surrender. “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”

One of the reasons it is easier to do my own will instead of doing God’s will is that it is easy to know what I want, but it is a lot harder to know what God wants. What I want to do is clear to me. I don’t have any trouble knowing what my will is. But knowing God’s will for me is more challenging. I don’t just automatically know it. There are times where God’s will is clear. If I’m trying to choose between sinning and not sinning, then God’s will is pretty clear. I don’t have to work too hard to know what God wants for me in that decision. But following God is about more than just not breaking the commandments. We are called to follow Christ in all things. If I want to do someone’s will, I have to know what their will is; I have to know what they want. And if I want to know their will, I have to listen to them. The same is true with God. If I want to do God’s will, I have to know God’s will. And if I want to know God’s will, I have to listen to Him.

Listening to God takes practice. We don’t automatically know how to hear God when He speaks to us. We see that in our first reading. In the reading, Samuel is assisting Eli in serving God in the Temple. Samuel knows about God. He is literally sleeping next to the Ark of the Covenant. And yet, when God speaks to him, he doesn’t recognize God’s voice. God usually doesn’t speak to us audibly like He did with Samuel, but He does speak to us. But also like Samuel, we have to learn to recognize God’s voice. That doesn’t happen just by showing up. Samuel is living and working in the Temple, but he doesn’t know God or His voice. Just because we show up to Church doesn’t mean that we will recognize God’s voice in our lives. We have to have a real relationship with God, a real, vibrant prayer life where we talk to Him and, most importantly, where we let Him talk to us, if we are going to be able to recognize His voice when He speaks to us. Only if we learn how to hear God’s voice will we be able to know His will and do it.

We have to ask ourselves, what kind of relationship do I want to have with God? Do I want a relationship where I basically do my will and expect God to help me do whatever I want? Or do I want a relationship where I truly follow Him, where I do His will? Am I the god of my life, or is Christ God in my life? If we want the latter, then it means we have to learn to hear His voice. We need to daily take time to pray, not just speaking to God but allowing Him to speak to us. And we need to ask God for the humility to choose His will instead of our own, to follow Him wherever He goes.

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La Epifanía del Señor

¿Y entonces qué? Los magos “regresaron a su tierra por otro camino,” ¿y entonces qué? ¿Qué hicieron después? Los magos eran astrólogos, interpretando el cielo de noche en busca de signos. Para ellos, la aparición de una estrella nueva fue un gran signo. Entonces, viajaron cientos de millas, y, naturalmente, fueron a Herodes, asumiendo que él sabrá de un rey nuevo. Pero Herodes no sabe, y en su logar, encuentran al Rey nuevo en la pobreza, el hijo de una mujer sencilla y un carpintero, aunque los magos oyen historias que el carpintero no es el padre del niño, que él no tiene un padre terrenal. Ellos oyen historias de ángeles y pastores y de profecías antiguas que se están cumpliendo. Los magos mismos fueron parte del cumpliendo de la profecía, como escuchamos en la primera lectura del profeta Isaías. Los magos saben que han encontrado al rey que buscaban, y pues postrándose, lo adoraron y le ofrecieron regalos. Luego, ellos reciben una señal, un sueño que les dice que no regresen a Herodes. Entonces, “regresaron a su tierra por otro camino.”

¿Y luego qué? ¿Le contaron a la gente en las ciudades que visitaron en el camino de regreso de las cosas grandes que habían pasado en la tierra de Judá? Cuando pasaron una caravana itinerante, ¿les presentaron a ellos el nacimiento de un gran rey? Cuando lo regresaron a su propio país, ¿le dijeron a su gente que, en Israel, se estaban cumpliendo las profecías antiguas? ¿Escucharon a través de sus vidas para los informes de este rey recién nacido?

¿O volvieron a sus vidas ordinarias, mirando las estrellas, yendo para pagar homenaje a esto y al otro rey o gobernante, mientras la memoria del niño en Belén se desvanece en sus memorias, perdido en su mente entre los diversos viajes que habían realizado? ¿Ser parte de la primera Navidad hizo una diferencia en sus vidas, o su impacto se desvaneció cuando llegaron a la tierra de la que provenían? ¿La Navidad los cambió, o fue simplemente una celebración pasajera que no dejó ningún impacto duradero?

¿Y nosotros? Todavía estamos, hasta mañana en la temporada de Navidad. En el calendario de la Iglesia, la Navidad aún no ha terminado, pero ¿cuántos de nosotros hemos regresado a nuestras vidas normales, no diferente de cómo éramos antes de Navidad? En A Chrismtas Carol por Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge proclama que mantendría la Navidad todo el año. Pero la mayoría de nosotros tienen dificultades para mantener la Navidad durante toda la temporada navideña. Como los Reyes Magos, hemos viajado a Belén. Hemos visto al Gran Rey acostado humilde en un pesebre. Hemos escuchado las profecías antiguas cumplidas. Hemos sido avisados de la amenaza que el pecado, el diablo, y el mundo representan para este Rey, como lo hizo Herodes hace tanto tiempo. ¿Pero hemos cambiado? ¿Somos diferentes como resultado de nuestra participación en el gran misterio de la Navidad? ¿O hemos vuelto a nuestras vidas, quizás con un suéter nuevo o algún otro regalo, pero por lo demás no diferente?

No sabemos qué pasó con los magos. La Biblia nunca habla de ellos otra vez. Sabemos que volvieron por otro camino, es decir, si al menos físicamente, volvieron a su propia tierra de forma diferente a la forma en que vinieron. Qué lástima si esa fuera la única diferencia que el nacimiento de Cristo hizo en sus vidas. Y qué lástima si la única diferencia que la Navidad hace en nuestras vidas es que recibimos un nuevo suéter o un artilugio de cocina. Ojalá, las vidas de los magos serían totalmente cambiados por su experiencia de Cristo. Además, nuestras vidas deben cambiarse completamente por el nacimiento de Cristo. ¿Cómo puede suceder eso? ¿Cómo pueden nuestras vidas ser cambiadas por la realidad de la Encarnación de Cristo?

Tradicionalmente, la fiesta de la Epifanía celebra que, en los Reyes Magos, el mensaje de Cristo se dio a conocer por primera vez a las naciones. Ya que hemos celebrado el nacimiento de Cristo, ahora es nuestra tarea para continuar esta proclamación del Evangelio al mundo. Si los Magos realmente entendieran lo que experimentaron en Belén, no podrían dejar de contarle a todos. También, si nosotros realmente entendemos lo que celebramos en la Navidad, no podemos dejar de contarle a todo sobre la buena noticia de Cristo. Que encontremos, en la alegría y la paz que provienen al Encarnación de Cristo, un deseo renovado de contar a todos las personas de Jesús. A medida que la temporada navideña llega a su fin, que resolvamos que, como los Magos, volveremos diferentemente. Oremos que Dios nos dará la gracia para continuar la proclamación del Evangelio a todas las naciones. Que la celebración de Navidad de este año nos haga diferentes. Que el mensaje de la Navidad arraigue en nuestras vidas, para que podamos difundirlo a todos los demás.

 

Epiphany of the Lord

And then what? The magi “departed for their country by another way,” and then what? What did they do next? The magi were astrologers, trying to interpret the night sky for signs. For them, the appearance of a new star was a great sign. So they traveled hundreds of miles, and naturally, they went to Herod, assuming the ruling king will know the cause of this great sign. But Herod is unaware, and instead, they find the new King in poverty, the child of a simple woman and a carpenter, though they hear stories that he is not the father, that the child has no earthly father. There are other stories of angels and shepherds and ancient prophecies coming to fulfillment. They themselves were part of fulfilling prophecy, as we hear in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. The magi know that they have found the king they sought, and so they do him homage and present him with great gifts. Then, they themselves receive a sign, a dream that tells them not to return to Herod. And “they departed for their country by another way.” And then what?

Did they tell people in the cities they visited on the way back of the great things that had happened in the land of Judah? When they passed a travelling caravan, did they report to them the birth of a great king? When they made it back to their own country, did they tell their people that, in Israel, ancient prophecies were being fulfilled? Did they listen through their lives for reports about this newborn king?

Or did they return to their ordinary lives, watching the stars, going and paying homage to this and that king and ruler, allowing the child in Bethlehem to fade in their memory, lost in their mind among the various trips they have taken? Did being a part of the first Christmas make a difference in their lives, or did its impact fade by the time they made it back to the land they came from? Did Christmas change them, or was it simply a passing celebration that didn’t leave any lasting impact?

And what about us? We are still, until tomorrow, in the Christmas season. In the Church calendar, Christmas is not even over, but how many of us have gone on with our lives, no different from how we were before Christmas? At some point during Advent or Christmas, most of us probably saw some version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which ended with Ebenezer Scrooge proclaiming that he would keep Christmas all year long. Most of us, on the other hand, probably find it different to keep Christmas for even the entire Christmas season. Like the magi, we have journeyed to Bethlehem. We have seen the Great King lying humble in a manger. We have heard the ancient prophecies fulfilled. We have been warned of the threat that sin, the devil, and the world pose to this newborn King, just as Herod did so long ago. But have we changed? Are we different as a result of our participation in the great mystery of Christmas? Or have we returned to our lives, perhaps with a new sweater or some other new gift, but otherwise no different?

We do not know what happened to the magi. The Bible never speaks of them again. We do know that they returned by another way, that is, if at least physically, they went back to their own land differently than the way that they came. What a shame it would be if that was the only difference that the birth of Christ made in their lives. And what a shame it would be if the only difference that Christmas made in our lives was that we got a new sweater or kitchen gadget. Ideally, the magi’s lives would be entirely changed by their experience of Christ. Likewise, our lives should be entirely changed by the birth of Christ. How can that happen? How can our lives be changed by the reality of Christ’s Incarnation?

Traditionally, the feast of the Epiphany celebrates that, in the wise men, the message of Christ was first made known to the nations. Having just celebrated the birth of Christ, it is now our task to continue this proclamation of the Gospel to the world. If the magi really understood what they experienced in Bethlehem, they wouldn’t be able to stop telling everyone about it. And if we truly understand what we celebrate at Christmas, we won’t be able to stop telling everyone about it. May we find, in the joy and peace which comes from the Incarnation of Christ, a renewed desire to tell all people about Jesus. As the Christmas season comes to an end and our lives return to normal, let us resolve that, like the magi, we will return differently. Let us pray that God will give us the grace to continue the proclamation of the Gospel to all nations. May this year’s celebration of Christmas make us different. May the message of Christmas take root in our lives, so that we can spread it to all others.

Holy Family

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the family life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but what it does tell us is important. In a few brief passages, it gives us a beautiful image of what made the Holy Family holy. And one of the key features of the Holy Family is their obedience. Jesus’s obedience towards Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph’s obedience towards each other. And above all, their obedience to God. Obedience was a fundamental part of the Holy Family, and it is also necessary if we want our families to be holy as well.

In today’s world, people don’t like the idea of “obedience.” It rubs against our desire for independence and self-determination. We want to be our own person, make our own rules. We want to be free. Obedience seems opposed to all of that. But when we really understand obedience, we will see how it is necessary for family life. The word obedience comes from two Latin words: “ob,” meaning “towards,” and “audire,” meaning “to listen.” Obedience means “to listen towards” or “to listen into” someone. It is to listen closely. True obedience isn’t just about doing what someone says just because they say so. True obedience is about listening closely to another person that we truly understand what it is this person wants and needs.

This is why obedience is necessary for good family life, because listening is necessary for good family life. So many times I have heard people complain, “They don’t listen to me.” Spouses complain about each other, parents complain about their children or children about their parents. “They don’t listen to me.” They don’t listen in the really deep kind of listening. I think one reason our world doesn’t like obedience is because we have lost the ability to truly listen attentively and closely. How often, when someone else is talking to us, do we find ourselves thinking more about what I am going to say next rather than truly listening to what they are saying to me? I’m more concerned about what I am thinking and what I want to say than them. And so I am not really listening to them. Perhaps this is why the Bible records so few words spoken by Mary and none by Joseph, because their lives were founded more on listening than on speaking. To listen, to listen deeply, is an investment in another person. I give my time, my attention, and my energy completely to hearing you. Listening is an act of love, because it is giving of myself for the good of another. True obedience means that after I listen to someone, after I hear what it is they want and need, I then respond in love.

The Holy Family is a great example of obedience. But we must not think of this obedience as servile degradation. It was an act of supreme love and humility. In love and humility, Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph. In love and humility, Mary and Joseph were obedient to each other. They listened to each other and then responded in love to each other’s needs. If we want our families to be holy as well, it requires obedience also. If we want our families holy, it means that we first have to listen to each other. We have to really hear what our loved ones are saying to us. Then, obedience means that after I listen to them, I do something about it. I respond in love to what it is they need.

If there is going to be this kind of deep listening in our families, there also has to be deep talking. My family can’t listen to me and respond if I don’t give them anything to listen to. And while sometimes listening to what we don’t say is as important as listening to what we do say, this also means that there needs to be real communication. For far too many families, I fear that their normal communication rarely goes beyond who is driving the kids to soccer practice or what show to watch on the DVR. We need to talk deeply if other people are going to be able to listen deeply and obey.

Of course, the Holy Family was not just obedient to each other; above all they were obedient to God. Their obedience to God was not just about following a bunch of rules. But rather, it was about listening closely to what God was saying to them and responding in love. We heard of Mary and Joseph’s obedience to God during Advent as they were told of God’s amazing plan for them. We see their obedience to God in the Gospel today, as they present the Christchild in the Temple. We hear also today of Abraham and Sarah’s obedience to God as well. If we want our families to be holy, it requires not just obedience to each other, but above all it requires obedience to God. If I want my family to be holy, I have to be obedient to God. First, that means that I have to listen, and listen closely, to God. Then I have to respond, not out of fear or obligation, but out of love.

As we celebrate today the feast of the Holy Family, we see in them a lived example of how our families can also be holy. And one thing that is necessary for this holiness is true, loving obedience – obedience to each other, and obedience to God. Perhaps as we prepare to begin a new year, we could make it a point to work this year at listening better to our loved ones, and to God, and responding in love.

Tercer Domingo de Adviento

Hoy es el domingo Gaudete, o, como yo lo llamo, el domingo en que todas las personas comentar sobre mi casulla rosada. El domingo Gaudete. La palabra “Gaudete” es latín, y se significa “alégrense.” Lo escuchamos en la primera y la segunda lectura. La profeta Isaías dice, “Me alegro en el Señor con toda el alma y me lleno de júbilo en mi Dios.” Y San Pablo nos ordena, “Vivan siempre alegres.” La fe debería darnos alegría. Sí, hay dificultades. Sí, hay contrición y penitencia. Pero aun en medio de estas cosas, deberíamos ser personas de alegría. Esto domingo se existe para recordarnos que somos una gente de alegría. Aun en medio del Adviento, una temporada de penitencia y introspección, no deberíamos ser sin alegría. El Papa Francisco ha hablado con frecuencia de alegría. Su primera exhortación apostólica es titulado “Evangelii gaudium,” se significa “La alegría del evangelio.” Si ustedes no lo han leído, y probablemente la mayoría no han, se animo a que lo hagan. Es libre en el web, y no es difícil. Y es muy bueno. El Papa escribió, “un evangelizador no debería tener permanentemente cara de funeral. ¡No nos dejemos robar la alegría evangelizadora!”

Con frecuencia, podemos ver la fe como solamente un montón de reglas para seguir o historias para conocer o rituales para realizar. Pero nos olvidamos que todos de estas reglas y historias y rituales son partes del evangelio. La palabra “Evangelio” se significa “buena noticia.” Tenemos buena noticia. Y cosas buenas nos dan alegría. Si no tenemos alegría en el evangelio, si no tenemos alegría en nuestra fe, necesitamos reexaminar como verlo. ¿Yo veo mi fe como algo bueno? ¿La veo como algo que me da vida y fuerza? ¿La veo como una fuente de luz en el medio de la oscuridad de la vida? O ¿la veo como una obligación, una carga, una restricción, o solamente como algo que yo hago porque mis padres lo hicieron?

Debemos recordar que alegría y placer no son lo mismo. Como el Papa Pablo Sixto escribió, “la sociedad tecnológica ha logrado multiplicar las ocasiones de placer, pero encuentra muy difícil engendrar la alegría.” Placer es fugaz, es temporal. Podemos cansarnos de esa. Placer y el dolor no pueden coexistir. Pero alegría es más profundo. Alegría es persistente. Podemos tener alegría en medio de los dolores grandes de la vida. Los mártires fueron personas de alegría grande, aun mientras experimentaron persecución y sufrimientos por Cristo. También, alegría no es lo mismo como felicidad. Felicidad es una emoción, y, como placer, es temporal y se depende de las realidades externas. Una persona pueden ser triste o sombrío y aún tener alegría, y una persona puede estar feliz pero no tener alegría.

Alegría es esencial por la vida de cualquier cristiano. Primero, es esencial porque es una señal que comprendemos la verdad. Un cristiano sin alegría es un cristiano que no entiende cristianismo. Un cristiano sin alegría no entiende que el evangelio es buena noticia. No necesitamos ser siempre exuberante y animado y sonriendo, pero debemos ser alegre. Debemos preguntarnos, ¿la fe me trae alegría? Y, si no, ¿por qué?

Ademas, alegría es esencial porque es necesario por evangelización. Cristo nos llama para traer la fe a los otros. Pero si la fe es por nosotros solamente una carga o una obligación, los otros no va a querer lo que nosotros tenemos. Isaías dice, “el Señor me ha ungido y me ha enviado para anunciar la buena nueva a los pobres.” En el evangelio, San Juan el Bautista predica el viniendo del Mesías. Como cristianos, eso es nuestro trabajo también. Estamos llamado para predicar el evangelio, la buena nueva. Como humanos, es natural compartir cosas que nos dan alegría. Yo veo imagen divertida en el web, lo comparto en Facebook. Yo veo una película que me gusta, yo digo a mis amigos. Como dice el Papa Francisco, “El bien siempre tiende a comunicarse.” Si entendemos que el evangelio es una cosa buena, es una cosa que nos da alegría, entonces querremos compartirlo. No tenemos ninguna dificultad para contarle a alguien acerca de nuestro programa de TV favorito o una canción que nos gusta. ¿Por qué tenemos dificultad contarle acerca de Cristo? ¿Por qué es fácil compartir las cosas buenas pequeñas, pero tenemos miedo para compartir el mejor bueno, la fuente de todo bueno?

No podemos llevar la alegría del Evangelio a los otros a menos que primero la hayamos experimentados por nosotros mismos. Como celebramos esto domingo Gaudete, pidamos fervientemente al Señor que profundice nuestra alegría en él. Pidamos la gracia de regocijarnos siempre en Él y de ser fuente de esa alegría para el mundo entero.

Second Sunday of Advent

As a kid, the phrase “Dad is home” could cause great rejoicing, or great fear. If dad had been gone on a business trip, the announcement that he was home was a cause of much happiness. In addition to being able to see him after being gone, it also usually meant some present from wherever he had been. On the other hand, sometimes the announcement that “Dad is home” was the cause of great fear. When my sister and I were home from school on breaks, mom and dad often left us a list of chores to do. Being kids, we usually put them off until the end of the day. But sometimes we waited too long, or dad would get off work early. On those days, my sister shouting “Dad is home” as she looked out the kitchen window meant that he was going to find out that we had spent all day watching TV and hadn’t done the chores he left us to do. So, depending on the situation, the idea of dad coming home could be the cause of rejoicing or of fear.

God is coming. But is that a cause for rejoicing or for fear? In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of God coming to His people in beautiful terms. “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated. Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!” That sounds lovely. It sounds like God coming to us is something we should rejoice it. God comes to bring comfort and tenderness and an end to servitude and guilt. We should want God to come to us.

In our second reading from St. Peter, however, the coming of God sounds a little less appealing. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” He goes on to speak of, “the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” That does not sound as nice as the Prophet Isaiah made it sound. Isaiah speaks of comfort and tenderness. St. Peter speaks of the elements being dissolved by fire.

So which is it? Is it comfort and rejoicing or fear and fire? That depends, not on God, but on us. If you think about the example of my father coming home, whether his arrival was a source of rejoicing or of fear wasn’t because of something that he did. It depended on whether or not I was ready for him to come. If I was ready for dad to come home, then it was exciting. But if, on the other hand, I wasn’t ready yet, then him coming home was a source of fear.

The same is true with God. If we are ready for God when He comes, then, as Isaiah says, it will be a source of comfort and expiation. If, on the other hand, we are not ready to meet God when He comes to us, then it will be a source of fear. St. Peter speaks of “the earth and everything done on it will be found.” Again, if the things that we do are good and holy, then we will have no fear of them being found out. If, however, our deeds are sinful, then the idea of those deeds being found out causes fear.

And that is why our readings today call us to prepare. As Isaiah says, “In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” We hear this again in the Gospel, speaking of St. John the Baptist. He was sent to prepare for Christ’s coming among His people. And he did so by calling the people to repentance, to amend their lives. What are those crooked ways in my life that need to be made straight? What are those valleys that need to be filled in, those mountains and hills that need to be made low? The valleys are the places in my life where I am lacking in love and virtue. The mountains and hills are the obstacles to God, the sins and vices in my life that prevent me from receiving God. We all have them – valleys that need to be filled, mountains that need to be leveled. St Peter speaks of the world being dissolved by fire at the coming of God. If I love God with my whole heart, it won’t bother me that the world is burned away. But if I love the world, then when it is burned up at God’s coming I will be filled with fear and sorrow. Again, the difference is not in God, it is in whether I am prepared or not.

Advent is a time when the Church calls us to heed the words of John the Baptist, to prepare our hearts for the coming of God. God’s coming to us should be a cause of rejoicing, as Isaiah describes it, and not of fear. But that means that we have to be ready for Him. God comes to us right here and now in this Eucharist. In this Sacrament, we receive Jesus Himself. Are we prepared? Are we excited and ready to receive Him, or is there still work that needs to be done so that we can receive God with joy at His coming?

Immaculate Conception

What is so special about the Immaculate Conception that it warrants being a Holy Day of Obligation? To answer that question, we have to understand what the Immaculate Conception is. Our first parents were created by God with sanctifying grace, that is, with the very life of God present and active in their souls. By their sin, they lost that grace, and all other people, their descendants, have been created without that gift of God’s. But God did not want to leave us separated from Himself. In the first reading, we hear of the Fall of Adam and Eve, but this is immediately followed by God’s promise of a Savoir, as He tells the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” God promises a descendant of Eve who would crush the tempter underfoot.

And so, throughout the millennia, generation after generation were born into the state of original sin, until, in the fullness of time, God sent the one whom He promised at the Fall, the Savior who would free us from sin. When God chose to take on our human nature, He also chose Mary as His mother. And knowing, beforehand that He would ask her to take on such a role, He preserved her from original sin from the very first moment of her conception. As Pope Pius IX said, “by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, [Mary was] preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” On the Cross, Jesus merited the salvation of the whole world. In the Immaculate Conception, God, who exists outside of time, applied that salvation beforehand to Mary so that she could be worthy to bear Christ. The Immaculate Conception is the first fruit of Jesus’s salvation.

And that is why it is so important. What we celebrate today is the very beginning of God’s work of salvation. Humanity had existed in the dark night of sin; the Immaculate Conception is the first ray of dawn announcing that the sun is about to come. By the Immaculate Conception, Mary is the first and preeminent member of those who, as St. Paul says in our second reading, have been chosen by God.

So what does this have to do with us? Our Archbishop recently addressed this question. “Adam and Eve were prepared, through special graces, for the role God wanted them to have in salvation history. Their rejection of those graces and that role also had consequences for the entire human race.” “Mary was prepared, through a special grace, for the role God wanted her to have in salvation history. Her acceptance of that grace and role had consequences for the entire human race.” We hear of her acceptance in the Gospel today. God has a role for us in salvation history as well, and has given us grace. Like Adam, Eve, and Mary, we can choose to cooperate with the grace God has given us or reject it. And, like them, our decision to cooperate with or reject God’s grace has consequences for the entire human race. Let us ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, that, like her, we can always respond to God’s grace in our lives with an open and generous heart.