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Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

January 1, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


I’ve always found it challenging getting into the “spirit” of a “new year”. Why is that?

January does not seem to hold anything new, at least in the northern hemisphere. Rather everything seems to be the same—the same old dreary days of winter: cold and gray, short days and long nights.

It just does not feel right, to me at least, to say “out with the old and in with the new” when nothing about this time of the year feels “new” to me. Now, if New Year’s Day fell in mid-March when the leaves are starting to green up the grey sky and tulips are starting to paint the ground—now that would feel new to me.

And why do people decide year at this time of year to make “resolutions,” which they know they are not going to keep. I’ve been a regular at exercising ever since I was a kid—part of the blessing and curse of having a mom who majored in physical education—so working out at a gym or fitness center has been part of the fabric of my life. It never fails that this time of year new faces show up at the fitness center, and then they are gone by February.

Maybe I’m just getting older and turning into an old fuddy-duddy, but I don’t see the reason for saying January is a fresh start.

So, in the midst of all this looking ahead, I take great comfort in the example Mary gives at the start of it all, showing us the importance of looking back. On this solemnity celebrating her role as the Mother of God, she teaches us on this 1st day of the year to look back. Or this is how the evangelist Luke puts it:

She “… kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

There are no New Year’s resolutions for Mary, Rather, she teaches us how to pay attention to what is said about her Son. She shows us how to listen to what Jesus says and observe what he does, and ponder what this all means for our salvation. In the Gospel for this past Sunday, where Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus in the temple and he somewhat scolds them for not looking for him first in his Father’s house, the evangelist Luke notes that when Jesus goes home from the temple with Mary and Joseph that she “kept all these things in her heart.”

As the first disciple, as the One who models for us a life of discipleship, Mary teaches us that the first and most important thing is to reflect upon what Jesus says and does. To treasure these things in our heart, to look back at them and learn.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, taught his followers a specific way of looking back in prayer. Ignatius called this prayer the “Examen. It’s full title is the “Examen of Consciousness.” Ignatius instructed his brother Jesuits that if they were to do only one prayer in the day, then they needed to do this 5-10 minute prayer at the end of the day.

The structure of the “Examen” is quite simple. First, you call upon the Holy Spirit to illumine your day, to reveal what needs to be seen. Then, as you look back on the day by the light of the Holy Spirit, you give thanks for the specific blessings of God given that day. Next, and this is the heart of the prayer, you ask: “How did I respond to the visits of the Lord this day? When God’s face shone up me, did I turn toward Him or turn away? When I was given the opportunity to love the Lord Jesus coming to me through the people I encountered this day, did I choose to love Him or did I refuse?” Then follows a simple prayer asking the Lord to forgive you for not loving Him, for not responding to an invitation of love. Only after “looking back”, after reflecting in such a prayerful way do you then complete the Examen by looking ahead with hope to do better tomorrow.

As we conclude these 8 high holy days of the Christmas season, hopefully we have learned during this octave of Christmas that God became human so God could meet us in our lives as they are.

God is with us, Emmanuel. The Son of God walks with us. The Son of God wants us to open our eyes to see His presence.

Unlike the dramatic pledge of a New Year’s resolution, the slow work of reflection is a daily commitment to do something ordinary. But it uncovers the extra-ordinary presence of God. Right where we are, the Lord with us. In the middle of things. In the middle of our messy lives. The Son of God walking with us and CALLING US TO NEW LIFE!

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

December 8, 2018

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Carlo Maria Martini, a deceased Italian Jesuit cardinal and former Archbishop of Milan, once described grace as knowing that “you have been loved for a very long time.” Cardinal Martini, who died in 2012, defined grace in this beautiful way: knowing that “you have been loved for a very long time.” So, take your age plus nine months and then add in eternity— that is how long you have been loved by God. Grace is knowing this everlasting love of God and living out of that love.

St. Paul states the same truth in a different way, saying that God the Father chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. From the beginning of Creation, God knew each one of us and intended us to be born. So that we are loved not so much for what we do, but for who we are, because we have been chosen in by the Father in His Son.

Pope Francis teaches that each one of us “is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody…the Gospel”

Being chosen by God also means God has a plan and a purpose for our life. You matter, I matter, and so does our mission in this life. Pope Francis teaches that each one of us “is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody…the Gospel” (On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World, #19 ).

Since Mary was chosen from the beginning of time to be the Mother of the Son of God, Mary’s Mission is a unique one. So much so that God prepared her to be the Mother of the Son of God by freeing her from sin and the effects of sin from the very first moment of her existence in the womb of her mother, Anne. Mary is full of grace, free to allow God who is love to take her flesh, to say a complete and full Yes to God’s plan to live in her womb and be born into the world through her.

The archangel Gabriel’s greeting is our greeting as well to Mary on this great Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception: “Hail Mary, full of grace.” For this humble virgin from the backwoods town of Nazareth was indeed full of grace. To be full of grace is to be filled with life and love and light. To be full of grace is to live out the marks of holiness described by St. Paul VI in his great encyclical, “Evangelization in the Modern World.” This saintly pope said: “The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice.”

To be full of grace is to yearn for peace in the world, to do acts of kindness every day, to have an inclusive heart, to be able to laugh and cry, to feel deeply the sorrows and joys of the world. To be full of grace is to accept what God gives and to give what God takes, a lesson that St. Teresa of Calcutta taught her sisters and the world.

But you and I are not full of grace. Something blocks us from completely embracing the mystery of God’s love and mercy in Jesus. Call it pride, call it ignorance, call it fear, something holds us back from uttering the fully obedient “YES” that Mary proclaimed the Annunciation.

From the beginning, our first parents chose not to believe in God’s love for them. Instead of saying “YES” in obedience to all that God offered them, they disobeyed, failing to trust in God’s goodness, trusting only in themselves and their desire to be God. Thus sin and the affects of sin entered the world. Instead of standing erect and raising their heads to bask in the light of God’s love, our first parents hid in their shame and passed the blame.

We, too, still wrestle with sin and the affects of sin in our lives, but by Mary’s “YES” which reversed the “NO” of our first parents, we have been given a Savior who frees us from the obstacles in our lives which prevent us from living out of the love of God for us. So, one of the cries of Advent is, “Come O Lord and set us free.” Set us free from the sin which binds us, the fear which enslaves us, heal us of our blindness.

When we embrace the truth which Mary knew, that we have been loved for a very long time, our lives are transformed. Knowing how much we are loved by God sets us free to give love away.

In the giving away of God’s love, more space is created for a new influx of divine grace.

It is this rhythm that defines the life of discipleship. It is this rhythm of receiving and sharing God’s love that Mary, the 1st disciple, teaches us.