Ave Maria, Gratia plena!

This blog is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is my hope that all Christians who visit this site - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant or evangelical - will be encouraged, filled with joy but also challenged by the fact that they have not just a Father, but a Mother in Heaven.

For all who are seeking the deepest possible intimacy with God, with our Lord Jesus Christ, may we look nowhere else, in the end, than the one human being who has, since the Incarnation of Christ, experienced the most superlative closeness - physically and spiritually - to God-in-human-flesh. She is the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of Jesus Christ herself: the Daughter of God the Father, the Spouse of God the Holy Spirit, and the Mother of God the Son.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mother of Mercy, bottomless abyss of mercy

It's liberating and at the same time challenging to no longer think that certain people are just predestined to go to hell, and there's nothing anyone can do for them past a certain point. But our Holy Mother is indeed close to those who need our Lord's mercy the most - for all Catholics devoted to Mary, we can pray with this confidence, that she will honor our earnest desire to see that those who need mercy most are sent up to heaven ahead of everyone else. I never thought that my own biological parents, who for their whole lives have had nothing to do with God or with any religion at all, would now be so high on the list of Mary's intercessory concerns in my devotional times. Who but this humble, immaculate virgin could have placed it in my heart to honor my parents (obey the basic commandment) in this particular way?

The greatest sacrifice that any human being can make through prayer is to find the lowest, most despised and rejected of creatures and give up one's own preferences to see to it that such creatures are placed first in line to reach the glory of God. Mary has always prayed for sinners in this way: may all who love her look forward to finding her working feverishly on behalf of such hopeless souls.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some thoughts about confession and penance

Today I had my first face-to-face with one of my parish priests, the parochial vicar, who is most likely going to be my confessor upon my confirmation and entry into the Roman Catholic Church.

I know that this particular sacrament of the Catholic Church - confession and penance - stirs negative thoughts in many people's minds. Indeed, lapsed Catholics and many Protestants typically view it as being too much of just a guilt-trip that doesn't accomplish much in terms of actually getting someone to truly change his or her ways. And of course, as the priest told me, the sacrament must be taken as a means to receive God's grace and love. So the question before many Catholics, including reverts like myself, is, Does this really have to be mediated by a priest?

Ultimately, I think it's a matter of obedience to the Church and of perfect transparency before God. There must be many virtuous, God-fearing Christians who don't go to confession or receive the sacrament of penance, but I'd dare say that even such Christians would be better off - definitely not worse off - if they confess their sins regularly and perform penances likewise. And for anyone who wishes to become a good servant and follower of God, sooner or later he or she should greatly desire that all known sin in one's life - even the "secret sins" that only God is aware of - be confessed before the Church and done away with.

For the ultimate standard by which we will be judged by Christ is not how many people we "save" for Him, nor how many miracles we perform in His name, but simply how sinless we are before Him in His burning holiness. On this point, Catholics are greatly advantaged to be guided and protected by the sinless Blessed Mother - in her we see that yes, one can and should strive for a completely sin-free life, far removed from the desire or even the ability to offend God in everyday thoughts and actions. And yes, we should greatly desire Mary's purity and sanctity, even if it costs us everything, including even our own notions of devotion to God.

As for Protestants, that is my heart for my evangelical brethren: that they will see that the true aim of the Christian life in their everyday walk is to become sinless and perfect, not necessarily to make disciples and gain followers, which are only secondary aims. For only if we become sinless and perfect can we truly join the Virgin Mary and all the saints and angels in heaven in the unending worship of Almighty God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for all Catholics

Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mediatrix, the Glory of the Blessed Trinity: pray for all Catholics worldwide, that we may be brought to greater unity in they mystical Body of Christ. May this be our witness to the world - including to non-Catholic Christians - that there is only one true Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, only one true Apostolic succession from the days of your Divine Son's earthy life.

Blessed, Immaculate Virgin: may we as Catholics recognize and take to heart that we need not try to re-invent the wheel, but in you, we see the very original model of pure sanctity and devotion to God Almighty, and in all things, we are to emulate your example of service and care for our Lord Jesus Christ, the babe who nursed at your blessed bosom, who died on the Cross of Calvary before your gaze of blind faith, whose company you now enjoy forever and ever in the glory of the Father.

Teach us true humility, Holy Mother of God: grant us your maternal assistance to become worthy of the promises of your Son Jesus. May we agree to God's plan for our lives with the courage and simplicty of your reply to the angel: "Be it done to me according to God's will." Remind us, O sweet Virgin Mary, that our "yes" to God entails a "no" to our own ways, our own selfish desires, and our own conceptions of who God is. It is an agreement on our part to deny ourselves, to renounce our own rights and privileges so that the dying may be given life, the poor may be made rich, the hungry may be filled and satisfied, just as you declared: "He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent away empty."

Mother of Mercy, our sweetness and our hope, look with favor upon us, the poor children of Eve who yearn for redemption. In your mercy may you create in our hearts a genuine repentance and desire to care for the concerns of Jesus Christ. Hear our cries for help so that our sins will not be held against us when we stand before Christ in His righteous judgment of our lives, nor against those who need God's mercy through our prayers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why the Catholic emphasis on Mary?

Any fervent Catholic will tell you: devotion to the Virgin Mary is the key mark of a true Catholic. The reason is quite simple: below Christ Himself, Mary is the highest spiritual authority that we as Christians can turn to for guidance and support.

Now the Protestant question: Why can't we just go straight to Jesus? It seems to work just fine.

Catholics won't disagree: Christ's power is real and available and anyone with the right faith in Him can perform miracles in His name. But the issue is ultimately one of how close - how intimately - one can draw to God. I remember the senior pastor of my former Protestant church telling me once, "Of course you're far from God compared to them", by "them" referring to the holy apostles and prophets of the Biblical record. And earlier he had even admitted himself that he is far from God compared to the author of Psalm 139: he said this in the context of commenting on how it's hard for us to understand how someone as close to an all-loving, all-merciful God (in this case, King David) could speak so passionately about his hatred for evildoers.

So if the question is one of proximity to our Lord Jesus, then of course, not a single creature in the whole universe can boast of such closeness as His mother. Indeed, she is too close for comfort for many non-Catholics. Chances are that as Catholics, many if not most Protestants we meet will consider it idolatrous and heretical to summon Mary's name - many of these same Protestants, though, probably don't agree with my former pastor's assessment that all of Christ's original followers in the New Testament are indeed closer to Him than we are. "Oh, they're just dead saints" is probably how they see them.

But as Catholics, it is a matter of faith for us that the Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven upon her death and has thus enjoyed a beatific view of the Holy Trinity for the past two millennia. As such, she is in a uniquely good position to hear the supplications of those who seek the mercy of her Divine Son. While anyone can call on Christ directly (and even as Catholics, we should), a refusal to acknowledge Mary's intercession will leave the following gaps in our spiritual life:

1) An incomplete understanding of the depth of God's purity
2) An incomplete understanding of the depth of God's mercy
3) An incomplete understanding of God as a Trinity

To expand on these points is for another time. For now, let us rejoice that our Mother in Heaven is the model of perfect devotion to God Almighty - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The aim of the Christian life is to become sinless, to the extent that our Holy Mother is sinless and thus worthy to enjoy the vision of God's glory. May we be filled with joyful hope that we will be in the company of such a beautiful woman in the age to come.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some initial thoughts. . . why this blog?

The Blessed Virgin Mary is, we can very strongly argue, the most precious secret of the Bible: whereas her Son Jesus Christ is explicitly declared as Lord and Savior, Mary is very much a hidden figure, and the testimony of Roman Catholic saints for two millennia has been that the deeply mystical aspects of the Christian faith are centered largely on the person of Mary, the Holy Mother of not only Jesus Christ but also of His one true Apostolic, catholic Church - the Church of St. Peter and the other original Apostles.

Why should we learn more about Mary and develop a personal relationship with her via her intercession? Quite simply, it's because she has always been the one creature to whom our Lord Jesus Christ has enjoyed the closest, most perfectly loving relationship. To know Mary is to know Christ in the highest degree possible - whether in this age or even in the age to come.

Indeed, for two millennia, but especially since the era of St. Francis and St. Dominic (early 13th century), the most legendary and beloved saints of Roman Catholic tradition have been so devoted and attached to Mary as the secret to attaining union with her Son that it's hardly a surprise that Protestants can't distinguish veneration of Mary and reliance on her intercession from heretical goddess-worship.

A former Protestant myself - and a rather zealous one, according to my former pastor - I have now gladly joined the long-running, still-growing list of the Blessed Virgin's clients who, above all else, have hungered and thirsted after her sanctity and virginal purity before God.

For those Christians who don't yet know their Holy Mother, including those who consider it downright heresy that we should pray to anyone other than our Lord Jesus Himself, I hope this blog will open your eyes to the beautiful mystery of the crown of God's creation, the ever-Immaculate Virgin who was given the unique privilege of bringing the second person of the Holy Trinity into space and time to save not only the world from its sins, but also to restore peace and order in a universe that had lost it sometime in eternity past, when Satan led one-third of the angelic host into rebellion against God.