Sunday, December 10, 2017

Our Lady of Loreto

The title "Our Lady of Loreto" is associated with the Holy House of Loreto in Italy, the house of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, miraculously transported by the angels from Palestine to Europe.

The house of the Holy Family in Nazareth has always been the object of Christian veneration. Shortly after 313, St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, built a basilica over this holy abode. The Saracens invaded the Holy Land in 1090, plundering and destroying Christian shrines, including Constantine’s basilica. Under the ruble, the Holy House was found intact. During the twelfth century, another basilica was built to protect the holy dwelling. In 1219 or 1220 St. Francis of Assisi visited the Holy House in Nazareth. So did King St. Louis IX of France, when he was leading a crusade to liberate the Holy Land. In 1263, when the Muslims overpowered the crusaders, the basilica was again destroyed but, once more, the Holy House was found intact.

When the crusaders where completely driven out of the Holy Land in 1291, the Holy House disappeared.

On May 10, 1291 a parish priest, Fr. Alexander Georgevich in the town of Tersatto, Dalmatia, (present-day Croatia) noticed the sudden appearance of a small building resting on a plot of land. Puzzled, he prayed about it, and in a dream saw the Blessed Virgin Mary, who explained that the structure was the house of the Holy Family, brought there by the power of God.

In 1294, with the Moslem invasion of Albania, the house disappeared again. According to the testimony of shepherds, it was seen on December 10 of that year born aloft by angels over the Adriatic Sea. This time the Holy House came to rest in a wooded area four miles from Recanati, Italy. As the news spread fast, thousands flocked there, and many miracles took place at the site.

Due to contrary circumstances, twice again the house was moved, finally coming to rest in the town of Loreto, Italy, its present location.

As miracles continued to occur in connection with pilgrimages to the house, deputations were sent to Nazareth to determine its origins in 1292, in 1296, and in 1524. All three declared that the measurements of the house corresponded to the visible foundations of the house of Nazareth.

In 1871 at the suggestion of Cardinal Bartolini, Professor Ratti of the University of Rome was given mortar and stones from the house at Loreto, and similar materials from houses in Nazareth. Ignorant of which was which, Prof. Ratti ascertained that the composition of the material from the house of Loreto while not original to Italy was identical to that of the material from Nazareth.

Other striking facts about the house in Loreto are that it has no foundations. The walls rest on a plot that was part field and part road, a sure indication that it was not built there but placed there. The style of the house of Loreto is not Italian but Eastern. And the original door was on the long side of the house, indicating that it was a dwelling and not a church.

Today a great basilica houses the dwelling of the holiest of families.  From 1330, practically all the Popes have considered Loreto the greatest shrine of Christendom. Bulls in favor of the shrine were issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1491 and by Julius II in 1507. While the miracle of the translation of the house is not a matter of faith, Innocent XII, in the seventeenth century, appointed a special Mass for the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House. Numerous saints have visited the house-relic.

As pilgrims enter the small precinct, they read on the threshold, “Hic Verbum caro factum est” – “Here the Word became flesh”. Above the altar inside the holy house is an ancient statue of Our Lady holding the Infant Jesus, known as Our Lady of Loreto.

Surrender

To surrender oneself is more than to devote oneself,
more than to give oneself,

it is even something more than to abandon oneself to God.
In a word, to surrender oneself is to die to everything and to self,
to be no longer concerned with self
except to keep it continually turned toward God.


St. Marie-Victoire Couderc

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Beautiful Season of Advent




Advent, beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew, November 30, is a season of preparation for the birth of Our Lord Jesus. Advent comprises four Sundays.
Just as Lent prepares us for the Passion of the Lord and Easter, Advent prepares us for the birth of the Lord, Christmas.
As opposed to Lent, which prepares our hearts focusing on the sufferings of Christ Jesus, Advent is a time of preparation that focuses on His birthday, the greatest ever. So although the liturgical season of Advent is still penitential in the sense of making our spirits ready, it carries a marked note of joy.




Any form of penitence or penance, which includes contrition, atonement and reparation, only has one purpose: to prepare the house (our hearts) for divine visitation. It’s what we call, “cleaning house”. We do it for any guest, and certainly for a divine Guest.
So the idea is to spiritually prepare for Christmas by a closer focusing on the marvelous mystery of the Nativity, by reading, meditation, prayer and the reception of the Sacraments: Confession and Holy Communion.


The Custom of the Advent Wreath
A great way to make Advent visual, palpable, and to involve children, is to make an Advent Wreath, a European custom that has lately grown popular in the US. The wreath includes four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent. Three of the candles are purple, symbol of penitence, and one is pink, symbol of joy.
The wreath is a symbol of God, because a circle has no beginning and no end. The decorations attached to the wreath symbolize the joy of the divine birth and salvation that approaches.
For the first week of Advent, one purple candle is lit every day before the evening meal and an accompanying prayer said. The flame, symbol of Christ, the Light of the World, stays lit during the meal.
All these symbolisms should be explained to children, as symbols are visual signs that make an invisible reality easier to grasp, take in, and make their own.
For the second week of Advent, another purple candle is lit, and the same procedure followed.
For the Third week of Advent the pink candle is lit in sync with the liturgical Gaudete Sunday or “Sunday of Joy” a kind of “break” the Church takes from the penitential spirit, as Christmas draws near. The same procedure follows.
And for the Fourth week of Advent the fourth purple candle is lit, in a last penitential gesture as the great day becomes imminent. The same procedure is kept.
An Advent wreath can be made or bought at any Catholic book/devotionals store, or googled for several options. The wreath can be decorated in a thousand ways, as simply or as creatively as wished.  Only make sure the holders are safe and each candle is extinguished after the meal and prayers.


By Andrea F. Phillips
References: Catholic Online, Wikipedia
Photo: by Andrea F. Phillips

How to obtain happiness

Happiness is secured through virtue;
it is a good attained by man’s own will.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin

Juan Diego was born in Cuautlitlán – today part of Mexico City – in the year 1474 and given the name "Cuauhtlatoatzin" or "Eagle that speaks". He was a gifted member of the Chichimeca people, one of the more culturally advanced indigenous groups living in the Anáhuac Valley.

In 1524, at fifty years of age, Juan Diego was baptized with his wife Maria Lucia by one of the first Franciscan missionaries to arrive in Mexico, Fray Pedro de Gante. His religious fervor, his simple artlessness, and his respectful but gracious demeanor are among his defining characteristics. It is said that after their baptism, he and his wife, inspired by a sermon on the virtue of chastity, mutually decided to embrace this evangelical counsel by living celibately afterwards. After the 1529 death of his wife, Juan Diego moved to be near his aged uncle Juan Bernardino in Tolpetlac. Thereafter, the pious widower was in the habit of walking to the Franciscan mission at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform his religious duties. His frequent journeys took him close by the hill at Tepeyac.

At daybreak on Saturday, December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass as usual, when he suddenly heard the exquisite sound of many birds singing. The beautiful melody came from higher up the hill, and thinking himself transported to heaven, his whole being attracted by the sound, he let it draw him up the Tepeyac. When the birdsongs suddenly ceased, he heard his name called in his native Náhuatl language and he beheld a beautiful young maiden. She called him to come closer and Juan Diego, “filled with admiration for the way her perfect grandeur exceeded all imagination,” prostrated himself in her presence. With unutterable sweetness, she revealed her identity to him “… the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth.” She asked him to go to the bishop in Mexico City, Don Fray Juan de Zumárraga, and to request in her name that a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out abundant graces upon those who invoked her.

After some difficulty in gaining admission to the bishop, the humble messenger recounted the marvels he had witnessed and delivered the lady’s message. However, the prelate’s response was discouraging and Juan Diego left downcast and disappointed.

The Queen of Heaven was waiting for him at the top of Tepeyac on his return that evening, and casting himself down he told her of his heart’s sorrow at meeting with incredulity on the part of the bishop and adds: “I beg you, my Lady, Queen, my little girl, to have one of the nobles who are held in esteem, one who is known, respected, honored, [have him] carry, take your dear breath, your dear word, so that he will be believed. Because I am really [just] a man from the country, I am a [porter’s] rope … a man of no importance: I myself need to be led, carried on someone’s back. That place you are sending me to is a place where I’m not used to going or spending any time in, my little Virgin, my Youngest Daughter, my Lady, Little girl.”

With great gentleness, she tells him that he is the one that must carry out this commission. And Juan Diego promises that he will return to the bishop the following day with her request.

Despite the obstacles posed by the bishop’s attendants, Juan Diego was again admitted into his presence. Don Juan de Zumárraga questioned the Indian kneeling before him thoroughly but remained unmoved by the man’s account. Not on his word alone would he believe, he told him, a sign must be given to prove that the apparition was indeed from heaven.

Undaunted by the prelate’s request, he returns to Tepeyac to convey it to Our Lady, who asks him to return in the morning that she might give it to him. During the night, however, Juan Diego’s sick uncle worsens and it is clear that he is dying. Shortly after midnight, his nephew sets off for Tlatilolco to summon one of the priests that he might confess and prepare for death.

Not wanting to meet the beautiful Lady, who would surely want to send him to the bishop with the “proof” he had requested, he hurried along, set on his task. But the Queen of Heaven came down to meet him and gently chiding him she asked, “What is happening, youngest and dearest of all my sons? Where are you going, where are you headed?” Humbling himself before her, he told her of his uncle’s grave illness and his need for a priest to assist him. She assured him that the illness was not grave and that he had nothing to fear on that account. Her solicitude filled him with joy and consolation: “Am I not here, I, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you; do not let your uncle’s illness pressure you with grief, because he will not die of it now. You may be certain that he is already well…” And, as they later found out, his uncle became well at that very moment.

Full of confidence, Juan Diego begged her to send him immediately to the bishop with the sign she had promised. The Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find there. He obeyed, and although it was winter time and the frost at that time of year was very harsh, he found flowers of many kinds, in full bloom. Astonished, he cut and gathered the fragrant blossoms and took them to Our Lady who carefully arranged them in his mantle – the rough-woven “tilma” worn by his people – and told him to take them to the bishop as "proof". When he opened his tilma to show the bishop the profusion of blooms, the flowers fell to the ground, and there remained impressed upon his cloak an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac.

With the Bishop's permission, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life as a hermit in a small hut near the chapel where the miraculous image was placed for veneration. Here he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to pray to the Mother of Jesus. He died in 1548 and was buried in the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. He was beatified on May 6, 1990 by Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Mexico City and canonized by him on July 31, 2002.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Not changeable, fretful, scrupulous or timid

True devotion to our Lady is constant.
It strengthens us in our desire to do good and
prevents us from giving up our devotional practices too easily.
It gives us the courage to oppose the fashions and maxims of the world,
the vexations and unruly inclinations of the flesh
and the temptations of the devil.

Thus a person truly devoted to our Blessed Lady
is not changeable, fretful, scrupulous or timid.

St. Louis de Montfort

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The Catholic Church teaches that the Blessed Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived, that is, from the time of her conception in her mother’s womb, she was free from the stain of the original sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. This is a singular privilege of Mary Most Holy, applicable to no other human being.

By disobeying God’s command to refrain from eating of the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve forfeited their original holiness, their innocence and integrity (Genesis 2-3). They lost sanctifying grace, and human nature became “wounded”. Whereas before original sin our nature’s lower powers, passions and instincts were easily ruled by reason and the spirit, after original sin these same powers, passions and instincts became weakened and rebellious (CCC 396-309). Because Adam and Eve were the “seed” of the great human tree, every human being’s nature is tainted in that seed, although without personal guilt.

But it was only right that one human creature, the one chosen to be the New Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle of the living God, should be sinless from the start. Two passages in Scriptures support this claim: Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28.

Genesis 3:15 mentions that “enmity” would be placed between the serpent and “the Woman”. Sin of any kind is subjection to Satan, and if “the Woman”, interpreted by the Church as Mary, was to have nothing in common with him, she had to be sinless.

In Luke 1:28, the angel calls Mary “full of Grace” pointing to the fact that she had never lacked grace.

Throughout the centuries, several were the antagonists and protagonists of this doctrine. There were saints and sages on both sides of the debate. In the thirteenth century, Venerable Duns Scotus was one of the most brilliant advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. His is the beautiful argument that if Our Lord Jesus, as God, was capable of exempting his Mother from the original stain, He would certainly, as a loving Son, have done it.

In 1598 Pope St. Pius V included the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman breviary. In 1846 the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore declared Mary Immaculate patroness of the United States.

But it was only in 1854 that Blessed Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed, as Church Dogma, the doctrine that Mary was, indeed, exempt from original sin and immaculately conceived.

In 1858 in Lourdes, in the final apparition to young Bernadette Soubirous, Our Lady electrified the world when she said,  “I am the Immaculate Conception”, thus echoing Blessed Pius IX’s infallible declaration.