Posts in Category: Reflections on Life

The Second Sunday of Advent

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,


Yesterday I listened to President Obama at the Willard Hotel in Washington as part of the Saban Forum. The president was defending his recent arrangement with Iran over the development of a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, who strongly disagrees with President Obama, also addressed the Forum, expressing his doubts and dismay over the agreement that Secretary of State Kerry put together in Geneva. Israel fears the US is allowing Iran time to further develop a nuclear bomb.


After so much conflict in the middle east, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, it seems impossible that there shall be no harm or ruin on the holy mountain. But that is the 2500 year old promise of the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading.  How can this be?


We sang with the psalmist today –


Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.


The key to peace, any peace, is justice. In the pledge of allegiance we recite: with liberty and justice for all. Sounds simple, but is it? Justice is complicated. It is defined in the Catholic Dictionary as “A virtue, the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due.”  But what is everyone’s rightful due? That’s where the difficulty is. We talk a lot about rights, the right to worship God (religious freedom), the right to speak our minds (Freedom of Speech), the right to marry (is it only a man and woman, or can a man marry a man and a woman marry a woman?), bear arms and so on. At the Forum yesterday President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the right of the Jewish State to exist, but do the Palestinians also have a right to an Arab state? Here’s where it all gets very complicated. Can we ever know what true justice is?


Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,


Well, we have courts of law to work out the finer points of social justice (when the US Supreme Court was designed by Chief Justice William Taft, he called it a “Temple of Justice”), Jesus gave us a very simple, very basic rule to determine what is just for each other: the Golden Rule –


Do to others, as you would have them do to you.


In giving this rule, Jesus was very cleverly expanding on a rule already practiced by the Rabbis which said –


Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. It’s important to point out that Jesus did not rescind (take back) this rule when he gave his Golden Rule. He left this one in place while adding his new one. So, “Do to others what you want them to do to you and do not do to others what you don’t want them to do to you!”


OK: treat the other person just the way you want to be treated.


Now that’s a simple rule. While it may not resolve the big questions about peace in the Middle East, or cases at the Supreme Court, it does give to us guidance in our everyday relationships, in our families, among neighbors, church members, classmates, fellow employees, people of different religions, political parties, cultures and so on.


…do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’


It’s when we imagine that we belong to a special group that is better than another that we get into trouble over justice. When we think that because we’re part of this group or that group, that we should be treated better than the other person, that’s when we wind up violating justice, dividing people and causing strife.


So how do we find peace and justice in our relationships?


Just treat the other person just the way you want to be treated.


Force the Vote! by Fr. Frank Pavone

by Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life, Pastoral Director, National Prolife Center


Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with a third of his colleagues as co-sponsors, has introduced in the US Senate a bill to protect children from abortion starting at 20-weeks of fetal age (“22 weeks LMP”).


The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, has been enacted in 10 states, and enjoys the support of close to two-thirds of the American public. This legislation identifies the child’s ability to feel pain as the relevant state interest in protecting that child from dismemberment by abortion.


Now it’s time to work to get the Senate to bring this bill to a vote, and to introduce the debate to the general public and urge them to communicate with their Senators about it. This is a top priority for Priests for Life, which has been calling for a focus on late-term abortion for many years.


Of course, one of the first things opponents will try to do is to start talking about “hard cases” of parents who find out late in pregnancy that their children have terrible deformities. But before we even explain that these children deserve protection too (just like they have after birth), we need to focus people on the reality of who these babies are, the reality of the violence that abortion represents, and the question as to whether healthy babies of healthy mothers should continue to be dismembered legally in the womb.


The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which is the best source for abortion statistics in the United States, reports, “Sixty-four percent of [abortion] providers offer at least some second-trimester abortion services (13 weeks or later), and 23% offer abortion after 20 weeks. …11% of all abortion providers offer abortions at 24 weeks.” The institute also indicates that of the approximately 1.2 million abortions in the United States each year, some 18,150 are performed at 21 weeks or more. Of the 40 states that reported in 2005 to the Centers for Disease Control, 32 states reported abortions of babies 21 weeks or older.


This means that every day in America, 50 babies the size of a large banana are dismembered and decapitated – and these include healthy babies of healthy mothers…and it’s happening legally.


These are babies that the mother can already feel moving. According to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, these babies are storing fat on their bodies, their heartbeat can be heard with a stethoscope, they can hear, they have eyebrows, eyelashes, fingernails and toenails. Incidentally, MedlinePlus calls them “babies.” (See


I took part in a meeting of Senator Graham with other pro-life leaders the day before he introduced the bill. We all agreed with the Senator when he said that this is the next chapter in the effort to end abortion. It is. And just like the decade-long effort to ban partial-birth abortion, this will take time. The goal right now is to force the vote in the Senate. Raise the issue. Get people on the record about it. Start the debate. It is one that we will win — and so will the babies.

Fr. Paul Schenck on Edith Stein: Daughter of Israel, Daughter of the Church

This article first appeared in Catholic Online.

Edith Stein wrote her forward to her autobiography, Life in a Jewish Family, in the month of September, 1933, six months after Hitler assumed power and the first concentration camp, Dachau, was opened. In a prescient observation, a most prophetic one, she invokes the word that would decades later come to convey, in a compact, yet massively potent way, the calamity that befell the Jews of Europe.


In an almost passing phrase, she reflects, “In one of those conversations by which one seeks to arrive at an understanding of a sudden catastrophe [katastrophe] that has befallen one, a Jewish friend of mine expressed her anguish, ‘If only I knew how Hitler came by his terrible hatred of the Jews.’” (1)


In calling the phenomenon of anti-Semitism catastrophe she predicted just what the Jewish people would come to call it, Shoah, a Hebrew word encompassing disaster, calamity, catastrophe. (2)  Though millions of non-Jews suffered and died at Nazi hands, the Jews embraced the Shoah in a unique way.


It was visited upon them because of their identity as Jews, and its memory became a part of their identity. Edith would share that realization in the fullest sense, being persecuted, hunted and ultimately murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. That she did so as a Catholic, a cloistered nun destined to become a saint, makes her Jewish identity compelling.


Edith’s Jewish identity played a significant formative role in her life, her pursuit of philosophy, her conversion and in aspects of her Religious life. She explains, “I would like to give, simply, a straightforward account of my own experience of Jewish life.” She does this particularly to counter the anti-Jewish propaganda of “the new dictators”, and the “racial hatred” spawned by it.(3)


It was important to Edith that the characteristics of her Jewish family show that Jews shared all the common human traits of their non-Jewish neighbors, and were conscientious citizens who loved their families, their country and practiced a religion with high moral and ethical aspirations.


In a letter she wrote to Pope Pius XI in the Spring of 1933 in which she begs for the Church to protest Hitler’s persecution of the Jews in Germany, she wrote, “As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans.” (4)


By defining herself as both “a child of the Jewish people” and “a child of the Catholic Church” she simultaneously embraces both a Jewish and Catholic identity, something not ordinarily understood by Catholics. Conversion is more often seen as a renunciation of one’s former religious beliefs and practices, and therefore aturning away from that identity and taking on a new identity as a Christian, a Catholic.


Edith did not understand her identity as mutually exclusive. This is important to understand if we are to get an appreciation of the influence of her Jewish experience on her formation as a philosopher, a Catholic and a religious.


Though Edith was raised in a religiously observant (albeit liberal, or reformed) family, she herself was not a deeply religious Jew. She lost her faith in God at fourteen, when she deliberately stopped praying. Though she never spoke of herself as an atheist, she said she found God irrelevant to the challenges of life.


She eventually pursued philosophy, and became a student and then assistant to Edmund Husserl, the founder of the school of phenomenology, which seeks to determine the true meaning of things by examining the person’s perception of them.


It is important to note that several of Edith’s mentors and peers, including Husserl (whom she always referred to as “the master”) were baptized Jews. This meant that Edith would be exposed to a Christianity that was not inimical to Jewish identity.


Throughout her life, Edith never renounced or denounced her Jewish identity. Rather, as demonstrated in her memoir, her participation in Jewish customs at home, her letter to the Pope and in her correspondences, she spoke of her Jewish roots as intrinsic to her self-identification, to her views and even to aspects of her vocation. In a letter to Mother Petra Bruning, OSU, written from the Cologne Carmel, she intimates that part of her mission as a Carmelite was redemptive toward the Jews.


She wrote, “I keep thinking of Queen Esther who was taken from among her people precisely that she might represent them before the king. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. That is such a great comfort.” (5)  This reveals that she saw even her Religious life as containing a mission on behalf of her Jewish people.


Edith’s ultimate martyrdom resulted directly from her Jewish identity. In her canonization homily, Blessed Pope John Paul II said, “Because she was Jewish, Edith Stein was taken with her sister Rosa and many other Catholic Jews from the Netherlands to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, where she died with them in the gas chambers.” (6)


In her last testament, drafted long before her martyrdom would be realized, she wrote, “I joyfully accept in advance the death God had appointed for me, in perfect submission to his most holy will. May the Lord accept my life and death for the honor and glory of his name, for the needs of his holy Church – especially for the preservation, sanctification and final perfecting of our holy Order and in particular for the Carmels of Cologne and Echt - for the Jewish people, that the Lord may be received by his own and his kingdom come in glory, for the deliverance of Germany and peace throughout the world, and finally, for all my relatives living and dead and all whom God has given me: May none of them be lost.” (7)


This shows that her identification with the Jews is at the very core of her being.


In his introduction to her biography by Waltraud Herbstrith, Jan Nota wrote of Edith’s “deep sense ofJewishness and her love and commitment to Judaism” which caused him to conclude, “Christ was a Jew, and Edith Stein felt proud to belong to his people.”  From her birth on Yom Kippur to her death in Auschwitz, Edith Stein, Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, retained a deep sense of her Jewish identity and that identity endures.


Why, and why not, Plan B?, by Fr. Paul CB Schenck

The US Food and Drug Administration has directed the pharmaceutical manufacturer of the so-called “morning after pill” or “Plan B” contraceptive to market the controversial drug, without a prescription, to minor girls as young as fifteen.


“Plan B” is levonorgestrel, a female hormone that prevents ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). The drug also causes physiological changes that frustrate the possibility of pregnancy. For these reasons, Plan B is used for women who are victims of sexual assault, even in Catholic hospitals. According to Fr. Tad Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center,


“Some have argued that it may be immoral for Catholics to provide any contraceptive measures at all to a woman who has been raped. Such a view is incorrect … because a woman who has been sexually assaulted is clearly entitled to protect herself from the attacker’s sperm. The Church teaches that rape is not a unitive act that requires openness to procreation. It is rather an act of violence against another person, and the woman is allowed to take steps to prevent the possible fertilization of her own egg(s). It is permissible, then, for Catholic hospitals to provide their patients with morning-after pills if the following four conditions are met:
1.         The woman is not already pregnant from prior, freely-chosen sexual activity.

2.         The woman has been sexually assaulted.

3.         The woman has not yet ovulated.

4.         The morning-after pill can reasonably be expected to prevent her from ovulating.


According to Fr. Pacholczyk, after a sexual assault, the woman can be tested for LH (leutinizing hormone) that will determine whether she is ovulating. If she is, the morning-after pill would not block the egg’s release. In this circumstance, the drug might function to block the implantation of an embryo, which would result in an abortion. “Under these conditions, therefore, the morning-after pill should not be administered.” (See, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, “Getting it right ‘the morning after.’” at Otherwise, it may be used to prevent the fertilization of her ova by the rapist. This is not a contraceptive or abortive act, but a defensive one.


This legitimate use of “Plan B” does not however justify making it available as a contraceptive or abortifacient, especially to under-age users. Leaving pharmacological decisions to minors seems wrongheaded at best. Any parent knows how difficult it can be to manage a child’s medications under the best of circumstances. Children don’t ordinarily have the knowledge, experience or discipline to take the proper dose at the proper time etc. When a young girl is conflicted, afraid, or embarrassed, the possibility of misuse is magnified.


Young girls are vulnerable to young or older men who might urge them to take the drug “just in case”. There is a real danger that predatory or exploitative males will use the availability of levonorgestrel to pressure a young girl to have sex. To rule this scenario out is naive, irresponsible and dangerous.


The moral objections to facilitating sexual relations between minors, or between an adult male and minor female (in most jurisdictions this constituted rape), are replete. Making this deleterious drug available to minors undermines parental responsibility, potentially separates the minor child, boy or girl, from the guidance of their parents and faith community and leads them to believe there is a “quick fix” to a life altering, highly personal event.


What are parents to do? Young people need to be taught that “legal” is not the same as “good” or “right”. Smoking, gambling and promiscuity are “legal”, but entail serious spiritual, emotional and physical risks. Careful, informative and age appropriate guidance will fortify children’s resolve to avoid the actions that would tempt them to use this drug.


Most telling in the shadow of the FDA’s decision to dispense levonorgestrel to fifteen year olds is this warning, which comes directly from the package label -


“Do not give this medication to anyone younger than 17 years old. Contact a doctor for medical advice.” I would add: “But before you do – consult with your parents and pastor.”!



Fr. Paul CB Schenck, MA, EdD, is Diocesan Director of Respect Life Activities and Chair of the National Pro-Life Center on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.


Family Life

The US Catholic Bishops recently stated, “Marriage, understood as the union of one man and one woman, is not an historical relic, but a vital and foundational institution of civil society today,” and  “No other institution joins together persons with the natural ability to have children, to assure that those children are properly cared for. No other institution ensures that children will at least have the opportunity of being raised by their mother and father together.” They said this, not in a catechetical publication, but in a legal brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court! Furthermore, they warn, “Societal ills that flow from the dissolution of marriage and family would not be addressed—indeed, they would only be aggravated—were the government to fail to reinforce the union of one man and one woman with the unique encouragement and support it deserves.”

The family as it has been known throughout human history, as a man joined with a woman, open to children, is in trouble. The number of couples living together without marriage and temporarily, the percentage of marriages ended by divorce and those rejecting children is steadily rising. The Bishops have said, “We are troubled by the fact that far too many people do not understand what it means to say that marriage—both as a natural institution and a Christian sacrament—is a blessing and gift from God.” And that “We are alarmed that a couple‘s responsibility to serve life by being open to children is being denied and abandoned more frequently today.” They “note a disturbing trend today to view marriage as a mostly private matter, an individualistic project not related to the common good but oriented mostly to achieving personal satisfaction.”

The suffering that ensues includes poverty stricken one parent households, psychological and emotional disturbances rooted in feelings of abandonment and alienation, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and a tendency to criminal behaviors. These are proven to result from a culture that has widely rejected the ideal of the life-long, monogamous union of a man and woman open to children. In a phrase, the natural family.

The Catholic Church has a deep, broad and rich tradition of catechesis on the family. She has the example of the married saints to both inspire and demonstrate faithful family life. And, above all, she has the exemplar of the Holy Family to emulate. Christians see in these models the ideal of love, commitment, fidelity and generosity that should define the loving union of a man and woman who freely choose one another for life and together bring forth, or adopt, the new life God gives them as the superlative gift.

As we work to turn our society away from a culture of death – which disposes of lives perceived to be unfulfilling, inconvenient or counterproductive, we must turn our hearts and efforts towards this family. The Church vigorously advocates for the status and rights of the natural family because, as Blessed John Paul II so vividly declared, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family.” Catholics especially must work together to foster a family friendly and supportive society which guides young people into the joyous realization of the love of husbands and wives, their openness to children, the celebration of the Sacraments within the family and the prayerful dedication of young men to the discernment and reception of Holy Orders. Such dedication is essential to all pro-life work. We need to pray, work and sacrifice on behalf of the family.

Later this year, I plan to bring members of my family on a holy pilgrimage to the shrines of Fatima, Lourdes and Sagrada Familia. At Fatima, the Blessed Mother proposed the spiritual remedies for the ills that now plague families. At Lourdes, she nurtured the virtues of faith, hope and love which are essential to family life. The beautiful Shrine of the Sagrada Familia in Spain is perhaps the most beautiful temple to the Holy Family in the whole world. My hope is that our pilgrimage will inspire and guide us in our work on behalf of the Family and of Life. To join us on our holy journey, please email me at


Church bells tolled across the midstate [last] Tuesday afternoon, marking the 40-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

One hundred Catholic churches participated in the bell ringing as a sign of mourning.

“Roe v. Wade is a monumental immoral decision,” said Father Paul Schenck, Director Respect Life. “It led to untold human suffering and premature deaths of millions of American citizens. If anyone else did what an abortionist does, it would be considered homicide. Does it make it more moral because consent was given? I don’t think so.”

Click here to read this article in full…


Today we celebrate Epiphany, what we might call “the other Christmas”. Why do I say that? On Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Son of David – the renowned Jewish king, foretold by the prophets. We return to the ancient Judean capital, Bethlehem, the City of David, where he is circumcised on the eighth day and given the Hebrew Name Yeshua, Jesus.

Today, we celebrate the Good News “breaking out” beyond the boundaries of Israel, and being made known to all the peoples of the world – to every tribe, and tongue and people and nation. So, we celebrate the Savior who comes to the Gentiles. This is symbolized by the three wise men who came from the East (Iraq and Iran!) to welcome and worship Him.

“Epiphany” – means “revealed”. But what is it, exactly, that is revealed to the magi?

-       It’s revealed that God loves all human beings, not just one kind.

-       It’s revealed that God has a perfect plan to save us from the dead-end of sin and selfishness, and love us back from the brink of hatred, jealousy, prejudice, greed and violence that threatens to destroy us.

-       It’s revealed that God chose to do this through a small, humble and unassuming family from a poor neighborhood so that the poor and the rich could recognize the love at the heart of this world-transforming event.

Notice the stark contrast between the Magi kings and Herod the king: Herod sees the promised child as a threat. He’s afraid the coming baby will crimp his style, will challenge his power and lower his status.

Today, we too often see the commitment to marriage, the prospect of a child and the responsibilities of family life as a threat to our personal freedom, our power to do whatever we want and a challenge to our independent lifestyles.

The Magi see the promised child as wonderful gift. They’ve humbled themselves to travel a great distance to a strange culture that speaks a different language, which looks and acts differently, in order to embrace this baby who fulfills God’s love.

Herod’s selfishness, fueled by his fears, leads to his downfall. The Magi’s worship, inspired by the prophets, leads to the salvation of all the nations. Today more than two billion people call themselves Christians, in large part because of the humility of these three kings.

The gift of eternal life is offered to the peoples of the world through the birth a child. The gift of human life, the greatest gift anyone can ever receive, is still being offered to us in each and every child of every race and gender, country and culture.

Each of us needs to be open to this wonderful gift of human life, of eternal life, by responding to God’s love calling us to worship Him as single persons, religious, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony and by cherishing the new life that every child embodies.

Today we celebrate the “Epiphany”, God’s great gift revealed to the world in the babe of Bethlehem, and we celebrate the great gift of humanity revealed to the world in each and every child, born, stillborn and yet to be born.

Feliz Navidad by Fr. Paul CB Schenck

“Feliz Navidad”, Jose Feliciano’s Christmas song, is one of the most popular in the US and around the world. The Spanish greeting literally means, “Happy Nativity”

In the new translation of the Roman Missal,  Christmas is formally called “The Solemnity of The Nativity of The Lord”.  The “Nativity Scene” with the Babe in the manger, surrounded by a serene Blessed Mother and a careful St. Joseph, is a familiar, cherished and enduring image of the observance of Christmas.  The carols of Christmas exult, “Christ is born today, Christ is born today!”

Birth is defined in Webster’s as, “the process or circumstances of being born”. Birth is a process, rather than a single, isolated event. Biologically, birth does not “produce” a child. The child, already present and very much alive, only transfers from one place, her mother’s womb, to another – outside her mother’s body. Neither does the birth process produce a person, the person already exists, simply moving from one place to another, and one status to another, from pre-born to born.

The Christ Child was already the Incarnate second person of the Holy Trinity before his birth.  He was already “true God from true God” and Savior, before he was born. In every way, Jesus Christ was himself, before and after his nativity.

What then do we celebrate at Christmas, “the solemnity of the Nativity of The Lord”? We celebrate our Lord and Savior reaching his birth day, emerging from the Tabernacle of his Mother’s womb as Emmanuel, “God with us”. We receive him as he already is, and for who he already is – Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christmas then is a paradigm, an example of how we should receive every child – before – at – and after birth. Just as birth did not produce The Christ Child, or give him his personhood – so birth does not make any child or give him personhood. Each and every child is herself or himself, fully a human person, from the very first moment they come into existence at conception. The birth of a child is the celebration that she or he has reached their birth day and emerged from their mother’s sanctuary and is now among us.

This should cause us to celebrate a blessed solemnity of the Nativity of The Lord, a very Merry Christmas and a very happy birthday!

Faith & Works: ‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’

By Father Paul C.B. Schenck
September 16, 2012: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9; 2 James 2:14-18; Gospel of Mark 8:27-35
Responsorial Psalms 114:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

“See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong?” (Psalm 69)

Today is Catechetical Sunday, when the Church focuses on teaching and learning about our Catholic faith. When I made up my mind to become a Catholic, I decided I needed a Catholic theological degree – because what I learned about Catholicism in Protestant seminary was what we didn’t believe. So I thought I’d better study what we do believe. So I took a master catechetical diploma, a master of religious studies and finally a master of Theology.

But don’t get the wrong idea – catechesis is not academic – and it is not about the transfer of knowledge. The great Jesuit catechist Father John Hardon wrote that Catechesis  “is that form of ecclesiastical action that leads both communities and individual members of the faithful to maturity of faith.”

Maturity of faith. Mature is defined as the state or quality of being fully grown or developed. In a psychological sense it means the ability to react, cope and reason in an appropriate way for the situation. Now Faith means trusting the word of another and accepting their authority to say it. Now let’s put them together -

Faith, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is an act of the intellect (mind) assenting to the divine truth by command of the will (heart) moved by God through grace.

Sanit James asks us today: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”

It’s not just what we know, but what we do that demonstrates our faith. It’s not enough to just say that you love someone; you have to show that you love them. St. James sums it up by saying: “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

So, catechesis is learning about our faith with both our heads and our hearts; it’s learning what we believe, and how we’re supposed to live.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter said to him in reply: “You are the Christ.”

Faith is more than facts – and even more than acts. The Bible word for Faith is ðßóôéò, which means belief, trust, confidence; fidelity. To have trust and confidence in someone, and be faithful to them even in tough times, you really have to know them, isn’t that so?

I was in Russia and trying to change my U.S. $50 bill, and the teller told me she didn’t have enough U.S. dollars. Suddenly a stranger was beside me and said, “Do you need U.S. money?” He was well dressed, and spoke English well. “Yes,” I said. So he replied, “I have what you need” and he gave me a 20, two tens and two fives. I sat down and thought, “Who was he?” I took out my bills and held them up to the light and pulled out the red and blue threads. They were counterfeit.

To really trust someone, you need to know that person. Pope Benedict has said:  “Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.”

And on this Catechetical Sunday, may we each come to know Jesus more and more.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, Teach Us the Meaning of Life

By Deacon Keith Fournier
John Paul II Fellow of the National Pro-Life Center
Executive Director of the William Bentley Ball Religious Freedom Project on Capitol Hill

Some non-Catholic Christians don’t understand why Catholics hail Saint Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. Yet our prayers echo the Archangel Gabriel and her cousin, Saint Elizabeth, among others…

August 15, 2012 (Catholic Online) – Today we celebrate the great Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most of our Eastern Christian brethren acknowledge the same great event on this feast, calling it the Dormition of the Mother of God. Some join us in the celebration today and others, following another calendar, commemorate it in just a few days.

This event is the natural progression in the life of the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth. Her “Yes,” her “Fiat” of surrendered love, brought Heaven to Earth and opened Earth to the Heaven which received her. She is thus the sign of the Church’s future and provides the pattern of every Christian vocation. All who say “Yes” to her beloved Son and live their lives in surrendered love, bear Jesus Christ for the world and will join with her in the fullness of the communion of love for all eternity.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

In those few words, all of human history was forever changed. As we make them our own, our histories begin to change as well. The angel proclaimed that Mary was “full of grace,” filled with the very life and presence of God. She walked in a deep, abiding and intimate relationship with God. He was with her before she even responded to His invitation. God chose Mary even before she chose God. This order is vitally important.

Mary’s prayer, her “fiat” – Medieval Latin for “let it be done” – was a response to the visitation from the messenger of Heaven, the angel. It provides a pattern of prayer for every Christian. It unfolds into a life of praise, her “Magnificat.”

This canticle begins with the words in Latin “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” – “My soul doth magnify the Lord” – and is the Gospel text for the Liturgy during the day on this feast. (Luke 1:46-55)

The “Fiat” is more than a prayer and the “Magnificat” more than a hymn of praise. Together they constitute a lesson book, a guide for our own lives. This lesson book is desperately needed by Christians, indeed all people of good will, in an age characterized by pride and arrogance.

The pattern of the life of Mary, the first disciple of the Lord, reveals a trajectory of surrendered love. If we embrace the mystery of Mary, we will find the meaning of our own lives.

We were created out of Love, in Love and for Love. As the beloved disciple John, who stood with her at the Tree of the Cross, reminds us in his first letter, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)

Mary said “Yes” to the invitation to participate in the communion of God’s love. She confronted her own fears and entered into a new way of living. So must we. Christians use the word “mystery” in a manner quite different than the contemporary West perceives the word. Christian mysteries are not puzzles to be solved, but gifts to be received in faith.

The Greek word “mysterion” – later translated “sacramentum” in Latin – is the word used for the sacraments in the Eastern Church. They are mysteries of our faith. It is in that light that Mary is viewed as a mystery; she reveals the very heart of that faith. She also teaches us the meaning of our own lives. Like her, we are invited into communion with the Trinitarian God – the Holy Trinity – in and through Jesus Christ. She shows us the way.

Mary lived a life of receiving and giving and giving and receiving. She has been called from the early centuries the “God-bearer” or “Mother of God” – which in Greek is Theo-tokos. She brought forth the Word of God. Her Fiat, her humble surrender, led to her Magnificat. Thus she becomes a prototype, showing us the vocation of every human person.

Her response reveals the meaning of life itself. We were made to give ourselves away to the Lord Who has given Himself to us in a holy exchange. He comes and abides within us. Through Baptism we enter into a new way of living in His Body, the Church. Living in that Church we are called to continue His redemptive mission by giving ourselves in Him for the world. An early father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once wrote:
What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the Godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for “we no longer know Christ according to the flesh,” but He dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us.

When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, she bore within her the Incarnate Word of God as a living tabernacle of love. (Luke 1:38-45) Jesus, the Redeemer in the womb, was already saving the world and Mary, his chosen mother, was already His first disciple. This little Virgin from Nazareth not only experienced the great miracle but became herself a vehicle of grace for others.

Is it any wonder that the early Christians painted her image in the catacombs during their moments of fear, persecution and doubt? They found great inspiration from this little woman of great faith. In her “Yes” they came to understand that ordinary people can change human history. They were inspired to add their own “yes,” their own “fiat” to hers.

Justin Martyr and many other early Christian apologists found in her fiat, her obedient “Yes” to the angel, the undoing of the “No, I will not serve” given by the first woman, Eve. They called Mary “The Second Eve,” the mother of a new creation. In her womb was carried the One Whom the biblical authors would call the “New Adam.” He was born from her as the firstborn of a new race of men and women who would find a new birth and a new of living and dying through His incarnation, nativity, life, death and resurrection.

That same Redeemer now resides within – and lives through – all those who respond to the invitation of Love like she did. Mary’s choice, her response to the invitation of a God Who always respects human freedom, is a singularly extraordinary event in all of human history because it changed history forever.

However, it is more.

It is an invitation to each one of us to explore our own personal histories and to write them anew in Jesus Christ. Mary is a mirror, a reflection, of “Some-One,” Jesus Christ, her beloved Son,the Eternal Word from the Father Who became the Incarnate Word within her – the Savior Whom she was privileged to bear for the sake of the world filled her with His grace.

Each of us, now baptized into Him, is also called to become full of grace. The Lord desires to take up residence within us and be borne into a world that hungers for His love. Mary shows us the way. She heard the promise, believed, was filled with grace, and conceived the Lord Who is Love Incarnate. We can do likewise if we learn to pray, to listen, to hear and to respond with our own “Yes” – living our lives in surrendered love.

Hail Mary, full of grace
Teach us the meaning of Life.