"The Visitation" by Roger Van Der Wyden

Roger Van Der Wyden

"From a theological point of view, Easter is the center of the Church year; but Christmas is the most profoundly human feast of faith, because it allows us to feel most deeply the humanity of God. The crib has a unique power to show us what it means to say that God wished to be "Immanuel"-- a "God with us", a God whom we may address in intimate language, because he encounters us as a child.  This makes Christmas a feast that invites us in a special way to meditation, to an internal act of looking at the Word (cf Lk 1:29; 2:19; 2:51). " -Pope Benedict XVI

During this first week of Advent, let us notice the children around us and remember that is how Christ came to us. As Pope Benedict XVI said this allowed us "to feel most deeply the humanity of God."  We are waiting for the birth of our savior. Just as a pregnant woman waits for her child to be born, there are many things to do to prepare for that child's arrival. In the same way lets use this short liturgical season to prepare for Christ. Whether that consists in committing to daily meditation in scripture, going to confession before Christmas Mass, daily sacrificial offerings, or daily Mass.

May we be ready to hold the Christ child on Christmas day because it is "in the Child Jesus, that we see most clearly the defenselessness of God's love".

Mysterium Corporis

"Natural beauty speaks eloquently about the Beauty of the Creator that it modestly reflects. They are God's footprints." ~Saint Bonaventure Every morning when my daughter wakes up, she loves to get dressed and attempts to pick out her outfit and put on Mommy's shoes (she's only 14 months old 🙂 ). She loves when I tell her, "You look pretty, Therese!" Even though she is so young,  she recognizes something "mysterious" or special about being a female. A few weeks ago I wrote about the basic foundation of becoming a woman of God to combat our distorted culture; primarily looking to Mother Mary as the perfect example of womanhood, prayer, and confession. There is so much more we could go into but this week I'm going to focus on how the very nature of the female body points to the very mystery of Christ himself.  Authentic beauty is somewhat distorted in our culture today. Well what does it mean to be "beautiful", to reflect the Beauty of the Creator?  Our very feminine bodies point to a deep reality so intricately tied with the redemption of Christ. First, the woman's intimate organs are not visible. They are "hidden" within her. This is clearly different from a man, who is outwardly visible. God made it so because something that is hidden refers to something mysterious, something that should be protected. For example, a study was done on a college campus of the differing ways men and women carry their school books. All the woman would hold their books in front of their chest and all the men would carry their books at their side. Already, nature reveals this desire of a woman to "protect" and "nurture" something hidden within.  A woman's body symbolizes a garden that should be protected, and the for the keys to belong to God. It is God's property in a special sense that is to be kept untouched until He allows "the bride-to-be to give the keys to her husband-to-be".   How beautiful it is when on the night of the bride's wedding she can say to her husband, I have kept this garden unsullied for you; and now that God has received our pledge to become one I entrust my keys to this garden.  Your body is a great mystery. God intended it to be this way. This mysterious character of the feminine genius is a reflection of the greatest event that has taken place in history. The Incarnation~ God becoming man. Jesus was hidden for nine months in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Our savior of the world, was kept a secret for almost a year, and only the most humble of souls knew. Even St. Joseph was not informed for sometime. This has profound meaning. God's mysteries are secret and hidden. The female body has the capability in partaking in the life giving and redemptive properties that our very own Mother Mary partook in, she brought our Salvation into the world through her "hidden" womb. How I hope we can all see the beauty of our bodies in a new light, even through the pains our monthly cycle can bring. Rather than see our fertility as a "disease" (as culture tells us), lets embrace our bodies as a great gift from God the Father. Your body points to the Incarnation! This week I challenge you, every time you look in the mirror and start to question your "beauty", remember the incredible "hidden" gift your body holds. Remember that God created the female body exactly the way it is because we have the ability to partake in his Salvation, by bringing new life into the world through suffering. You are mysterious and beautiful. Lets be the guardians of purity and teach others by example.  

A loss of words…

  There have been many occasions in my life where I've stumbled my words trying to defend the Church's teachings. Whether it was to friends being impure with their boyfriends, getting drunk, or using artificial birth control, the topic always seemed to be brought up and I always dreaded having to speak why it was wrong. This is something I have and still struggle with but with many failed attempts, prayer, a firm belief in the wisdom of Holy Mother Church and (of course) grace, im slowly learning how to lovingly and clearly speak the truth of our Catholic faith. Growing up I heard a lot of NO without any explanation of why. It's true that we should learn the basics and (hopefully) MORE about our faith at home, but the reality is that most of us dont, and even if so, dont learn the WHY. Lets zoom in on a few important WHY's. WHY is "hooking up" or pre-marital sex a mortal sin? WHY is getting drunk or using drugs a mortal sin? WHY is birth control a mortal sin? These and many other questions rattled my heart as I sought to find truth for myself and others. Lets start with the basic definition of sin:
1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."121Catechism of the Catholic Church
Then on to mortal sin:
1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. -Catechism of the Catholic Church 1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."131 -Catechism of the Catholic Church For more on venial and mortal sin-
  Let that sink in...   Contrary to what our culture believes, great freedom is found in those words. Basically ladies, our answer to the WHY is because of our great desire to stay in union with God. If we do sin mortally, that is OUR choice to turn away from God. Not His. What a loving Father that He will NEVER turn from us. Our God, our Creator, the One who made everything! If we are not in union with Him our life crumbles and we can't see clearly. Take it from me, its the darkest and most desolate place to be, even when we pretend its not. But there is hope. Gods Mercy has brought us the sacrament of reconciliation for when we fall. Don't be afraid to invite other Catholic friends there as well. Lets set our hearts on heaven and not in this world. We can be that example to our friends and lovingly speak from our hearts why we are convicted to never turn from God. So if you are faced with this challenge, pray for courage and the help of The Holy Spirit and let the truth pour out.   If we don't have God, then what DO we have?

Humble Acceptance

“The world in which we now live is a world whose outlook is so distorted that we absolutize what is relative (money-making, power, success) and relativise what is absolute (truth, moral values, and God).” –Alice Von Hildebrand (emphasis mine)

How is a young woman today supposed to know how to go out in the world and truly become a woman of God? Re-read the above quote and let it sink in. First, what is relativism? You may already know this, but simply put, it is the concept that your personal beliefs are all dependent on external conditions. Basically, there is no truth beyond what I make or what I claim. For example, a “good” catholic may believe against abortion but finds out they are pregnant with a child who has birth defects and justifies by saying this is my situation and this child will not have a good life so I will end their life. As terrible as this may sound, many people have bought into the belief that there are no absolute truths or everything is situational to each individual. Unfortunately we encounter this culture day in and day out, as we watch TV, as we go to school, in our families. Lets move on to define absolute. Absolute, according to Webester’s dictionary is defined as: free from imperfection; complete; perfect. God is absolute, perfection itself. Your femininity is a unique participation in the very perfection of God Himself. So as Alice Von Hidlebrand expressed, our world has become distorted. Our culture tells us money, superficial beauty, success and power are absolutes. And morals, values, and God are relative to each individual. Over the course of the next few months, I am going to reveal how to become a woman of God in order to combat the distortions of our culture. The foundation to becoming a woman of God is a life rooted in prayer. Oh, how many times I have heard this and you probably have too. And yet, there is always an opportunity to dig deeper and find ways to be in conversation with Christ more than we do. How do holy women pray? God has given us an extremely unique gift as female. Did you know that studies have actually proven that women contain more folds and cross-connections in their brains compared to men, hence the reason why we can have an emotional connection to any and every situation. Things become personal to us because God made us to be that way for very specific reasons. I will go into more detail about this later. So back to how holy women pray; the first woman to look to is Mary, recalling what Emily talked about Mother Mary last Saturday. Mary is with out sin. She is the absolute example of femininity. She embraced her mission as woman to serve others.  She said yes to hold the Christ Child in her womb, raise him tenderly, and watch her only son be tortured to death and die in front of her. As Christ says, “I have not come to be served but to serve.” Gregory VII introduced the most glorious title of the Holy Father who called him servus servorum Dei (the servant of the servants of God). Mother Mary embraced and fully lived out this trait of womanhood.  Naturally, our femininity points to serve others. This in fact is seen as a great weakness in our culture.  Humility is a virtue that finds little favor in our secular world today. Second, we must become humble. A life rooted in prayer begins with a committed habit to frequent confession. Further, a commitment to nightly examining our day and work on our vices or struggles can build true humility. Through recognizing our own faults, a life of prayer has room to blossom within our souls.  When I was first coming back to the faith, I really struggled with going to confession. Many times I just told God I was sorry. But the more I grew in my faith I realized that by doing so I was making myself the judge of my own contrition. The Church has given us confession so we don't have to be the judge but God will. And to receive the words from another " Your sins are forgiven, go in peace" gives you a deep sense of  renewal and freedom. This enables you to have room to pray, hear God, and ultimately choose to love. Prayer alone can drive our true feminine nature to naturally spring forth a servant attitude towards others. As I reflect on my own daily shortcomings, it is difficult for me many times to even feel worthy to talk to God because how could he love someone like me. But I realize by thinking that way, it is quite selfish, since he created me in the first place; God desires so much for us to converse and share all our inner struggles and thoughts with him. Women especially have the capability to do this easily and it’s rooted in science, as noted above. God wants all of us, especially our daily thoughts and emotions. The surest way to God is the “humble acceptance of one’s helplessness: “Come to my aid, O Lord, hasten to help me””. –Alice Von Hildebrand               

The Year of Faith

         Today, with The Holy Shepherd as our guide, we begin as a Church the Year of Faith. It begins on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and also marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text promulgated by Blessed John Paul II. As I prepare to start out this year of Faith I can't help but think of the example of two very holy women...
         St. Therese, the little flower, whose feast day we celebrated last week is a constant reminder of faith. She expressed her "little way" with great love and since has spread that way in a quiet boldness throughout this world and I'm sure onto the next. Her great faith was very hidden and holy, relying only on Jesus and with great humility drew close to his merciful Heart. She came to Jesus as a little child with great faith, just as He asked us all to come to him.
But Jesus called the children to him and said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. -Luke 18:16-17


  Our Blessed Mother is the ultimate example of faith with her holy "fiat" or yes. As women of Christ we too can say yes! Whether it be large or small, Jesus cares only for the position of our heart, not of the greatness or success of the outcome. We can say yes in our everyday life, be it serving our families or friends openly, or in the quiet of our sufferings, if we offer it all with great love and faith we too can be an example like Mary. Pope Benedict explains its so beautifully here:
By faith, Mary accepted the Angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in the obedience of her devotion (cf. Lk 1:38). Visiting Elizabeth, she raised her hymn of praise to the Most High for the marvels he worked in those who trust him (cf. Lk 1:46-55). With joy and trepidation she gave birth to her only son, keeping her virginity intact (cf. Lk 2:6-7). Trusting in Joseph, her husband, she took Jesus to Egypt to save him from Herod’s persecution (cf. Mt 2:13-15). With the same faith, she followed the Lord in his preaching and remained with him all the way to Golgotha (cf. Jn 19:25-27). By faith, Mary tasted the fruits of Jesus’ resurrection, and treasuring every memory in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), she passed them on to the Twelve assembled with her in the Upper Room to receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:1-4).
I invite us all in this Year of Faith to strive for a greater sense of faith and holiness. Pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read the treasure within. Take time to read and meditate upon the Gospels. Attend The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Adoration when possible. Recite the Creed often and let it always be silently on our lips. God will faithfully do His part if we only do ours. With these amazing resources and unfailing faith we can transform the culture and show that real women, relying solely on Christ, can set the world ablaze!  

Building Culture

We are dead. As a culture, a society, we are dead.”There is something worse than being deprived of life, it is being deprived of life and not knowing it.” – Walker Percy. We are ostensibly free individuals who allow certain people and powers to manipulate and control our lives through money, markets, media and technology. Ironically, our “culture” is held up as the ideal in the world. Yet, we are slaves. We are slaves but we do not even know we are slaves because we chose to be slaves. We are driven by our passions & appetites to “Whatever feels good.” There is something else. There is something greater.

A true culture, although not perfect, did exist. A culture where there was community, celebration, fasting, praying, leisure and work. A community where life, relationships and creation was truly valued and ordered properly. It’s known as Christendom. However, the Christendom that we know today, in most places is hardly a reflection of true Christian culture. Why? Today we are “Christians” yet live our lives in the same manner as the secular world – and we tack on mass – as another errand, or to-do during the week. Grocery store, gym, mass… We celebrate the same secular, politically correct holidays, eat the same high processed “food”, work 50-60hrs a week and when we have time spend time with the family and maybe a say prayer over dinner.

We are in desperate need to redefine culture. The term ‘culture’ comes from the Latin word cultus meaning religion.  Culture is in fact nothing more then the way a religion interacts with a people and their environment. Thus we need to Transform Culture – or rather to reclaim true culture. What we think culture is today – is not culture. How is this done? Liturgy. Liturgy can order our culture. It teaches us to see beyond the surface, to see the deeper meaning in the material world. Its seasons, feast days and fasts – order time and space. It teaches us how to approach God. It teaches us virtue, how to live properly ordered lives – not enslaved to our passions. It fosters true community – not based on emotional entertainment or “what I can get from this”. Liturgy, when celebrated correctly, transforms humanity and creates Culture. Ordered, life-giving and joyful.