Tag Archives: grace

Baseball and Discipleship

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Oh hey, ball, I'm just gonna slide across the ground and catch you now. No big deal.
Oh hey, ball, I’m just gonna slide across the ground and catch you now. No big deal.

Professional baseball players make the sport look easy. It’s not. Everything happens in fractions of a second: a batter decides to swing at a smallish ball traveling toward him at a speed faster than most cars are allowed to drive on a highway; a fielder decides how far to run in a particular direction for a catch, or at what trajectory he needs to throw the ball to his teammate; a pitcher suddenly hurls the ball to a baseman instead of the catcher in an attempt to throw a runner out. Watch the World Series game tonight if you don’t believe me. This game is hard. And yet, again, the pros make it look easy; or, more accurately, they make it look possible. When kids watch their heroes step up to the plate and knock a homerun out of the park, they often think to themselves, “I can do that.”

What those kids rarely realize is that the effortlessness they’re watching onscreen or in the ballpark is the result of years spent cultivating God-given athletic talent through training, hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. They’re watching the hours spent in the gym, the innumerable practices, the strict diet (in most cases), the intense spring training, the grueling travel schedule. They’re watching a lifetime of choosing one way over another for the sake of a desired goal. In other words, they’re watching a pretty good model for the life of Christian discipleship (you know, if you give the players the benefit of the doubt as far as performance-enhancing drugs and other illicit activities are concerned—it’s a good model, not a perfect one).

Where the model breaks down is precisely where it also breaks open. Whereas professional athletes, or musicians, or dancers, or actors, or teachers, or doctors all have specific God-given talents or capacities that they’ve chosen to cultivate through work and study, in the Christian life, God has capacitated everyone to become a disciple. Indeed, God has not only capacitated but called everyone to become a disciple, and not just any run-of-the-mill disciple, but a Major League Disciple—a saint. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

We read in Lumen Gentium of this “universal call to holiness,” that “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity” (§40). Yet this sanctity is not something we can attain on our own through sheer capacity of will (sorry, Pelagius); that would be like someone with no athletic ability whatsoever dreaming that a career in Major League Baseball is possible if he simply eats enough Wheaties and works out enough. Rather, the capacity for sanctity is derived from the grace received in Baptism, from being grafted like a branch onto Christ the true vine. Just like the athlete or musician does not “earn” his or her natural capacities like height or a particular physical build, this grace—this capacity for discipleship and holiness and sainthood—is also a gift the Christian has not earned; yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes, the fact that the Christian has not earned this grace in no way reduces its value. Quite the opposite. This is a “costly grace” (The Cost of Discipleship, ch.1), and the price is nothing less than the life of the beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Léon Bonnat, Christ on the Cross
Léon Bonnat, Christ on the Cross

Accepting this gift of costly grace costs us something, too. Just as imparting the gift of grace cost the Son of God his life on the Cross, so too does our receiving his gift of grace cost us our very lives: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23–24; see also Mt 16:24–25 and Mk 8:34–35). The professional athlete knows that growing in his or her ability means saying no to some things in order to say yes to others. To grow in holiness, we must follow Christ, and to follow Christ means we say yes to one way of life and no to all others; we must say yes to him who is The Way (cf. Jn 14:6). Grace costs, both in the giving and in the receiving, but, as any professional athlete will tell you, the price of pain is worth the prize of glory on the field, and how much more so for the Christian, whose prize is the glory of eternal life with God in heaven.

Just as the pros make baseball look easy, in the Christian life, too, we find outstanding examples of holiness who almost make following Jesus look easy. Some of these men and women have been canonized as saints, and as we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints this Sunday, we have to be aware of the reality that, in recalling the lives of these canonized saints, or even in thinking back on the lives of those holy loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, it can be easy to look at them with the eyes of children watching their favorite baseball players at bat—to see only the seeming effortlessness of the saints and to forget that their faith only radiates the life of Christ because it has been tried and tested and purified by fire (cf. 1 Pet 1:6). The effortlessness we see when we look at the saints attests to the mystery that they have attained what T.S. Eliot describes as “A condition of complete simplicity / (Costing nothing less than everything)” (“Little Gidding,” Four Quartets). Every day of the Christian life is a day in the crucible, but for those who persevere, for those who gaze at their Savior on the Cross and say, “I can do that” or better yet, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13), the glory of eternal life awaits.

Baseball is hard, but this is a good thing, for as Coach Jimmy Dugan reminds us in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” The reality is that, no matter how hard a person may try, not everyone has the physical, God-given capacities to play this sport well. The life of discipleship is infinitely harder, but it’s supposed to be hard, because Christ’s gift of self on the Cross that made this life possible was the hardest and greatest gift of all, and our only possible response to the gift of “costly grace” we receive in the waters of Baptism (where, as St. Paul reminds us, we are baptized into Christ’s death (cf. Rom 6:3)) is to offer in return a life of “costly discipleship”—a life that costs “nothing less than everything,” a life poured forth in love that gives unto the end. The hard is what makes it great. The hard is what makes us saints.

My (Pudding) Cup Overflows

MLewisMadeline Lewis
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

When I was little, I would always jump at the chance to go with my mom to the grocery store. Not because I wanted to help her out, really- I was pretty much just in it for the perks: being helper at the grocery store gave me a considerable sway in which items my mom purchased. And there was one food in particular that I wanted to make sure she didn’t screw up: the pudding. Obtaining my favorite kind of pudding was actually a strategic art. I would make sure I was extra nice and helpful when we got to the aisles leading up to the pudding section, and once there, I would casually slip in a request for my Grocery store aislefavorite pudding pack. Looking back, I realize what a blessing it was that my biggest crisis as a child was whether or not our cabinets would be stocked with my favorite kind of pudding. My cup overflowed with childhood blessings: my parents cared for us with a beautiful fullness of love, and my childhood is one happy blur.

This is why it came as such a shock when, the summer before my junior year of high school, my parents sat my brothers and I down to have a talk with us. That whole conversation is one unhappy blur, but I know they said these words: your dad… prison… three to five years. I could tell that my parents were just as surprised to say these words as we were to hear them.

There was a whole lot I didn’t understand, but the short version of it is that my dad was a lawyer who represented a man who turned out to be very bad. When this man got caught he told the authorities that my dad was part of his scheme. The important part, though, is that suddenly, I was so far away from that little girl whose biggest crisis was obtaining her favorite pudding at the grocery store. I was confused by what I thought was now a very broken version of the life I had formerly known and loved. My cup of blessings, I was sure, had been knocked over, and all of my blessings were quickly spilling out.

prisonIt was this tangled heart, sorrowful and confused, that I carried with me the first time we visited my dad in prison. I tried my best to pretend like I didn’t see everything: the security guards, the barbed wire, the paleness that washed out my dad’s tender face. We couldn’t touch or sit next to my dad. Still, there was one thing we could do: buy him food from the vending machines. Of course, there was always a constant battle amongst my brothers and I over who would take the bag of quarters and go buy the food. But my mom managed to convince me to go pick out some treats for our family: “You can pick out whatever you want” she said.

After a quick perusal of the mostly stale and overpriced options, I came across a glimmer of hope: there, waiting for me in the vending machine, was the most glorious looking pudding cup, handcrafted by the prison kitchen. With haste, I shoved $4 worth of quarters vending machinedown the coin slot. I may be in the strangest and most saddening place I have ever been, I thought, but gosh-dang-it, I will get this pudding cup.

Unfortunately, it was right at that moment that the vending machine ate all of my quarters. Not only did I not get the pudding cup- I had also wasted all of the money my mom had given me.

So, it is at this point that I started to heave heavy sobs in front of a vending machine in a federal prison in southern Michigan. And at this point, my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of this:

I have nothing.  It’s not fair.  My heart is so very, very empty.  

(I think you can tell that this wasn’t really about the pudding cup anymore.)

Now, I know it may seem strange, but something started happening once I got to college and started eating at the dining hall. I couldn’t get pudding for dessert without thinking of that prison pudding cup. At first, this was just another reminder of the brokenness that I thought was surrounding my family from all sides. And my goodness, I was so tired of all of those reminders. I was tired of having to awkwardly change the subject each time someone asked what my parents did for a living. I was tired of my new friends wondering why my dad wasn’t there to move me into my dorm room at Notre Dame, why my dad wasn’t in any of my graduation pictures, and why I’d sometimes leave the room abruptly and excitedly to catch one of my dad’s rare phone calls. I didn’t want to share the story of my family with anyone because I only saw the brokenness.

But as I thought more about that prison pudding cup, I began to realize something important. Me, sobbing in front of that vending machine? That isn’t the whole story.

There was something deeper than the brokenness, something that gave my family the grace-filled opportunity to love each other more fully, in the most unexpected of circumstances. In fact, when my dad came back home this past spring, I saw this love present in my family more than ever before, and coming home from college was so exciting.

Now, being a typical college student, one of the first things I did when I got home was head to the fridge in search of food. To my surprise, there was a little gift waiting for me there: a pack of my favorite pudding, that my dad had picked up at the grocery store just for me.

The thing is, this little gift of pudding was a reminder of a whole lot my cup overflowsof love- and the surprise of those pudding cups waiting for me wasn’t the only surprise. For, even in the years that I had thought were broken, there had been so many surprising gifts of love: the gift of a new friend hearing my family’s story and not loving us any less, the gift of generous strangers who helped my family make ends meet each month, the gift of family and friends that visited on holidays and birthdays so that our home would never feel empty, but filled with love- love in overflow.

I never wanted to tell a soul about my family situation when it was, to me, only a story of brokenness. But as time passes, and God’s grace abounds, I am starting to see the fuller story. It’s not the story of a cup knocked over. It’s not the story of a cup emptied to the last, desolate drop. It’s the story of a strong, loving hand- a God that steadied and filled my cup with blessings even when I couldn’t see it: Blessings in overflow. I’m still learning that I always need God’s help, even today, to see all of the stories of my life as a story of love. But He always steadies my heart, giving me the grace to see the real and hidden story, with joy and in thanksgiving.

pudding cups

One Prayer for One Life

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision

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Rosary beads passed through my fingers this past Friday as I prayed over a child’s grave at the back of Cedar Grove Cemetery.  Just over a year earlier this young girl was laid to rest, the daughter of loving parents, the sister of loving siblings, the beloved of many.  The first half of her life was spent in her mother’s bodily care and the second half was spent almost without interruption in the arms of family and friends.  In the resplendent light of this April morning, I prayed for her intercession because later that day a young mother—the friend of one of my students—was scheduled to terminate her own pregnancy.

I went to this grave with my rosary in hand because I didn’t know exactly what to pray for.  I had thirty minutes before I was to drive my student to the train station so she could go home to be with her friend—the pregnant mother, whose appointment at the abortion clinic was later that day.  Certainly, I wanted to pray for the life of this child, which, as far as I knew, would only last another few hours.  Of course, I wanted to pray for this young mother, whom I do not know and whose particular suffering I could not fully imagine.  And yet in the passing of the previous night I had already begun to ponder all that a ‘prayer for this child’ and a ‘prayer for this mother’ would entail.  It would at least also mean praying for the child’s father, who, as I was told, is an “abusive boyfriend.”  It would mean praying for the child’s mother’s mother, who, as I was told, “wants her to get the abortion.”  It would mean praying for the love and support of a family I cannot name, a community I cannot picture, and, ideally but also rightly, a set of conditions that would truly support life.  In short, I needed to pray for a miracle and I didn’t quite know how to do that.  But I did know Issa Grace.

“Issa Grace O’Brien of South Bend, IN, passed away in the loving arms of her family, on Monday, March 24, 2014, after living for nine months with Trisomy 18.”

This blessed child.  It would be foolish to try to mark where the care she received ended and her life began.  Who she was and the care she received were inseparable.  The care she received was bound up in who she was, and thus those who provided the care were themselves bound up in her, and she in them. That isn’t just who Issa was, that is who Issa is—the same Issa who is now moving into the fullness of glory.  How can I pray for that unborn child in the last hours of his or her life?  What does this prayer sound like, what does it look like?  My answer was this blessed child, Issa Grace.

I wasn’t just praying ‘to’ Issa ‘for’ this other child.  I don’t really know how else to say this, but I was praying ‘with’ Issa and, even more startling, she ‘is’ my prayer.  I pray that the child in the womb of that young mother will become who Issa is: the beloved of many, the one whom many behold, the gift of care.  To pray for this unborn child is to pray for everything.  It is total prayer.

If Trisomy 18 is an abnormality; the care Issa received should not be.

Praying over Issa’s grave I found myself desperate for the life of this other child I did not know.  I prayed for her life, and in doing so I prayed for her mother, and thus for her father, and for her mother’s mother, and for all those circles of care that could and should be there for this child, and for all the arms that can and should hold him or her, and for all of us who must not rest at anything less than total care in our total prayer.

I don’t personally know any of the people for whom I was praying and I don’t presume to know too much of their situation, nor do I presume to know too much about what it is like to carry a child into this world.  What I do know is what I have witnessed and, in some real way, participated in as my wife carried our four children to term.  I know that even under the best circumstances—with a supportive family, excellent medical care, more than adequate financial resources, the seemliness of a child born in wedlock—that child bearing and child rearing is nothing short of heroic.  Truly.  No matter how common childbirth might be in this world, it requires much more than common virtue.  What’s more, no one can do it alone.  It is an act of community to support the mother who supports the child who comes into the world.  Next to all the more obvious sacrifices of body that most everyone can probably imagine for the mother, there are innumerable imperceptible sacrifices that run from beginning to end: small sacrifices of time, preference, comfort, privacy, and the like.

I know this from (imperfectly) accompanying my wife as she carried and, in many ways, still carries our four children, but I also know this from that remarkable witness of little Issa Grace and her family.  Rarely if ever was there a moment when that child was not carried, and rarely if ever was there a moment when those who carried her—beginning but not ending with her mother—were not themselves carried by others.  The prayer I was learning to pray for this unknown child now held within the body of this unknown mother is a prayer for the miracle of these layers of care and carrying to sprout in the apparent hopelessness of the present situation.  In the desert of desolation pressing in on that child, I was learning to pray for the emergence of those concentric circles of life, opening like a rose in full bloom.

HandsRosary

When I felt that last bead of the rosary slip through my fingers, and as those last words of prayer were passing over my lips and floating over Issa’s grave, my heart had expanded to make room for what my prayer means:

Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy

Our Life, our sweetness, and our hope,

To thee do we cry,

poor banished children of Eve…

If that child for whom I sought to pray is the one crying out to the Mother of Mercy, then that child is praying that I, myself, recognize the poverty of my own care for others and how I, myself, am wandering in exile from the love in which I should live.  But that child is also praying that I, myself, might always remember that I am a child of the care I have received, and do receive, and will receive, in the sight of those eyes of mercy turned towards me and in the eyes of all who have likewise seen me in mercy.  That child for whom I pray is already the image of what I pray for: that child lives for the moment without fear or anxiety, wholly supported in the body of his or her mother.  In a moment such as that, who that child is and the care that child receives are inseparable.  That child was not in exile; I’m in exile—along with all those like me who do not trust in this care nor live up to the duty of providing it without ceasing.  That child did not know the day nor did that child have any sense of the approaching hour.

All this pierced my heart as I concluded my prayer, and all I knew is that I wanted this child to live.

Sometimes it is harder to accept the answer to a prayer than it is to pray the prayer itself.  But when I received the text from my student later in the day that her friend, “isn’t getting it done until Wednesday because she printed off the wrong sheet of paper,” I immediately rejoiced.  The “wrong sheet of paper” meant five more days of life, all of it gift.  For this child who, I imagine, cannot yet measure time (though who knows if I am right about that), five days is an eternity… almost literally.  Dare I even hope that in those five days that miracle for which I pray might come to be: that the family and the community and all of us will hold the mother who holds the child and accept the sweet weight of holding that child now and at the hour of his birth?  Dare I hope that this child will be another Issa: the one beheld and beloved all the days of her life?

All I know at this moment is that that child lives, even though, as of this writing, nearly half of the time given by the miracle of that “wrong sheet of paper” is already spent.  It is still hard for me to know exactly what I should pray for, and so I continue to think of Issa, to pray for her intercession, to allow her to be my prayer.  She is the image of my prayer for this one life.  Issa holds together my prayer for this child with the prayer for this child’s mother.  Issa connects that prayer to the prayer for the father, for the mother’s mother, for the mother’s family, for the community, and even for myself, even though I don’t personally know any of them.  In short, I pray for life.

Issa Grace, pray for us.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla, pray for us.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Mother Mary, pray for us.

In Praise of Adoption

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The following piece is written in honor of Adoption Awareness Month (November).

Recently, I found myself reading a book on Thanksgiving, a text that my wife was considering using for a parents’ gathering at our parish. The authors of the children’s book were concerned with presenting a wide swath of humanity, all assembling together to celebrate the American meal par excellence. One page, specifically, grabbed my attention. One of the aunts arrived at the meal, a child in tow (along with pumpkin pies). The text made sure to point out that the infant, who the aunt was bringing along, was her “adopted child.”

At first, I admired the move made by the author of said book. It is normative for adopting parents today to reveal to their son or daughter (at the right time) his or her status as adopted. Undoubtedly, this is healthier for the psychological development of the child, who grows up aware of the particularity of his or her narrative. This book publicly recognized that there are children in the world, who are also adopted. If literature functions as a kind of mirror, the adopted child encountered in this Thanksgiving narrative a recognized status. There are other adopted children in the world. I am not alone.

Yet, since my initial reading, I have grew concerned about the function of the adopted infant in this children’s book. When I introduce my son to other people, I generally don’t say, “The toddler who is presently trying to throw himself into a mound of snow–he is my adopted child.” No, he is my son. Although my wife and I did not conceive him through sex reproduction, he is the sacramental embodiment of our love extended into the world (along with the gift of his birth mother and father). Although we don’t share genetic material with one another, we share biological matter all the time with our toddler. SleepingBabyI hold him when sickness takes over his body, no longer thinking twice about wiping snot from his nose or cleaning vomit off the floor. When I eat yogurt in the morning, there is no doubt that this food is also his, as he toddles toward me–his mouth agape to receive a food that he normally rejects (except when dad is eating it). My heartbeat is recognizable to him, enough so that he calms down as soon as I hold him in the midst of a restless sleep. He is mine, and I am his.

Nonetheless, whether adopted or not, Kara and I will experience the reality that all parents come to know so well. Our son, the one who drastically changed our lives, re-oriented every facet of our existence (like a dictator), will one day make it clear to the world that he is not ours. That he is an independent being, capable of thought and action, apart from his beloved (and adopting) parents. In reality, every child born into the world is an “adopted” child insofar as that creature is never really “ours” to begin with. And from the perspective of the child, he or she is born into a family GiftoftheSon(whether adopted or not) that was not chosen by the child. All that we receive in our earliest days upon earth is given to us without anyone seeking out our particular interest in receiving it. Born into the world, each of us are adopted into a language, a culture, a religious tradition, an ethos. Our facial gestures, our style of speaking, our interests–these are bestowed to us as gift. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Every human being, in fact, is adopted (or at least should be) into an ecology of…love. Adoption is a sign for all Christians that a person’s fundamental identity is as one who has received love: the love of God generously and precariously poured out upon creation, the love of God manifested in Christ, who reveals to us that our humanity was made for total self-gift. Those relationships with teachers, friends and parents, which immerse us into the logic of this sort of love, reveal to us that we are indeed beloved.

Adoption, as a form of family life, serves a prophetic function in the Christian life. It reminds us of the “giftedness” of life itself. Life is not “gift” because it is an extension of our own biological productivity. Life is gift because…it is. Everything that we receive is inscribed in an act of generosity that is divine love itself. From a Christian perspective, a marriage is fruitful (and thus Trinitarian and Eucharistic), not simply when it introduces new biological children into the world, but when it forms a space in which we come to recognize the concrete gift of love itself.

My child is thus “adopted,” but in a very really way, his adoption is not entirely distinct from all of us who enter into a world that we did not choose to abide within in the first place. My son has not chosen his parents; but nor did I, a product of a biological marriage. Adoption is a particular form of family life, consonant with the Christian narrative as a whole, that inscribes us primordially in the gift first received. Much theological work still needs to be done relative to a number of these themes.

Nonetheless, it is inadequate to articulate a sacramental theology of marriage, which perceives adoption as a benign aberration vis-a-vis biological Christian family life. Adoption, for both child and parent, introduces a particular form of life that is radically sacramental in its particularity. It reveals to us God’s plan for humanity, for creation itself, as adopted into a love that we can only imagine. Adoption, biological childbirth, and spiritual paternity or maternity together reveal a full image of what constitutes entrance into the family of God.

 

Adoption is worthy of such praise, not simply in the month of November, but all the days of the calendar year.

 

J.R.R. Tolkien, Grace, and the Shape of a Eucharistic Life

HopeBoettner Hope ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

 

 

 

 

“Why was I chosen?” (Frodo, reflecting on his role as ring-bearer) “Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”

gandalf_frodo_moria_aicn

If we could sum it up, I think this quote would encompass a theology of grace according to Tolkien. We have been chosen. God has not created, redeemed, or chosen us in love because we can “earn” it, any more than Frodo earned his role of ring-bearer. Understanding God’s grace involves much more than performing mere business transactions with God! As one of my professors recently commented, it is not as if we go to the God’s Grace ATM, Inc. and withdraw some help in the form of grace coins whenever we need it. The whole “God’s grace and understanding how we participate in that” issue is much more complicated, nuanced, and (honestly) more beautiful than that.*We simply cannot—or cannot simply earn grace.

Nevertheless, we see that Tolkien stresses that we ought to use our abilities and gifts for the right purposes, even if those gifts are not why we were initially chosen. To highlight this, Gandalf says to Frodo at a different point in The Fellowship of the Ring: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” If we use Tolkien’s vision here as an example in our lives of faith, we learn we are chosen or called, and then we decide. We act. It seems that in the Christian life, the simple reality of being given grace necessitates both a) its overflow into action and b) a response of thankfulness to the Giver.

How does that play out in our lives? God’s grace in our lives can come through and in the process of discerning, exploring, and deciding upon our future vocations and callings (fellow college seniors, I’m looking at you). God’s grace profoundly reached down to become flesh and dwell among us in Jesus. God communicates grace and love to our human nature in the form and matter of the sacraments. God’s grace allows us to participate in liturgy, and through the liturgy in the life of the Trinity. God’s grace is present in the reality and challenge of being chosen or asked to do something we did not expect. Finally, we ought to remember that in the simple fact of being made in God’s image and likeness–and thus called to live in relationship with Him, we have automatically been chosen and called by God for something. Our existences in and of themselves are further examples of grace!

There are many examples above, but they do not even begin to express the myriad of ways God conveys and allows us to share in His life and reality or in ways that we can decide, “what to do with the time given us.” (Thankfully God’s creativity is much greater and farther reaching than mine!) But the point is fairly simple: God’s grace is present in our lives, in the fact of our existence, in the mundaneness of daily life, in the exciting, in the scary, and in anything and everything in between. If recognizing the gifts of the Giver and acting is part “A” of this journey according to a Tolkienien theology of grace, and if part “B” is gratitude toward the Giver, what might that look like?

How would it play itself out in our lives? We can, of course, pray in gratitude at any moment, thanking God for the gifts and graces we have been given. I think that is just a starting point– although it is an important one. What if we bring the sacrament of the Eucharist into play here? The Greek root for Eucharist in and of itself is “eucharistia.” Its direct translation is “gratitude” or “thanksgiving.” Could it be then, that the sacraments belong not just in some weekend ritual, but rather have the capacity to form us for an entire posture and way of living? The classic line from the Catechism, quoting Lumen Gentium, states that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” It is particularly poignant here, because if we a) recognize the grace present in our lives and act as we b) continually give thanks to the Giver, we will naturally be reflecting a eucharistic attitude. We will be living a “eucharistic” life. We will recognize the grace; we will act; we will give thanks. The sacrament of Eucharist will, at such a point, not merely be thought of as a grace pellet that we receive on Sundays, but rather as a culmination of an entire attitude of and reflection upon grace. Grace leads us to action. It leads us to thanksgiving. In the Eucharist, grace feeds and nourishes us to go out and continue the process anew. So let’s both live a Eucharistic attitude and use our “strength and hearts and wits” as Gandalf once exhorted a very small hobbit to do. Our power or our wisdom may not be WHY God chose us for our given tasks, work, and vocations in life. But nevertheless, our talents are further graces we will need along the way. If in an existential funk we at times question why we were chosen for something or ask, “Why me, God?!?” we might receive a fairly simple response: “Everything is grace.”

saint-therese-of-lisieux-12

(St. Therese of Lisieux)

And as a final reflection on a Eucharistic attitude, we might think of a favorite quote of mine from GK Chesterton: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

*The relationship between grace and works is also MUCH MUCH more nuanced than one can address in a single blog post! The Reformation (you might have heard of it…..) happened in part because of disputes over grace/works.

Inklings of a New Evangelization: The Quiet Wood of Ordinary Time

MiriamMarstonMiriam Marston, a freelance writer and musician, has been based in the Archdiocese of Boston since 2006, serving most recently as the Assistant Director of Theology Programs at the Theological Institute at St. John’s Seminary.  She has released two albums of original music, and is currently working on a third.

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Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit
                              Of Myths and Maps
Inside the Song
                                       A Word on Wonder
A Word on Tooks
                                   Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths
Escape and the Good Catastrophe      Treebeard and the Language of Reality
The Valor of Bilbo                                 Laughter and the Logos
Our Lady and the Elves                        Puddleglum’s Dark Night of the Soul
Francis and the Houses of Healing    Lo, How a Story E’er Blooming

He was standing by the edge of a small pool—not more than ten feet from side to side—in a wood…It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine…When he tried to describe it afterwards Digory always said, “It was a rich place; as rich as plum-cake…it’s not the sort of place where things happen.  The trees go on growing, that’s all.” ~ C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

By way of magic rings, two children named Digory and Polly have found themselves in a certain wood, surrounded by a number of pools, which happen to serve as doorways to other worlds waiting to be explored and adventures waiting to be had.  The Wood Between the WorldsThe wood, as Digory says, is a fairly uneventful spot, and yet, strangely enough, full of life.  This description prompts me to re-consider this present season of Ordinary Time in light of these images.  We spend more weeks in Ordinary Time than any other part of the liturgical calendar, after all, so these days must add up to be something more than a mere placeholder between seasons.

Perhaps it is because of the blanket of silence or the soft light pouring through the branches, but the forest makes Polly and Digory decidedly sleepy and forgetful at first.  They almost forget that they need only step a few feet in this or that direction, and they would be swept away to another world.  We mustn’t become sleepy or forgetful in this quiet wood of Ordinary Time!  As the trees keep on growing in this in-between place, so must we.   Even the green vestments of the priests are a reminder of this call to ongoing conversion and growth.  Ordinary TimeAre we waiting until Lent to address certain matters of personal prayer and discipline?  Why not go ahead and jump right in, on Wednesday of the fifth week of Ordinary Time?  And after the Easter season, as the numbered weeks tick by like hands on a clock, through the summer and fall, shall we let ourselves grow sleepy then?  When the parish becomes a little emptier, as people travel and go on holiday, will we press the pause button on our relationship with Christ, and make a private promise to revisit it come Advent, when it feels like “it’s the thing to do”?  Instead of pressing pause, we must press on…press on towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the glorious promise of Home, which has been written on our hearts, and is there, in the background of every good desire.

Digory says that the wood was as rich as plum-cake.  Well, I have never tasted plum-cake, so I could not tell you precisely how rich it is.  But I have had some exceedingly delicious chocolate cake and I was probably not the only one to indulge in a few extra slices during the festive Christmas season.  But these days, the extra desserts, as well as the cheerful lights and poinsettias, have retreated into the realm of memory.  And so we continue steadily down this pilgrim path, which might appear tedious, were it not for our belief that “Sunday after Sunday, the Church moves toward the final Lord’s Day, that Sunday which knows no end” (Dies Domini, §37).  So:  what’s a pilgrim to do on this particular stretch of road?  Perhaps a question has arisen in your mind concerning some words or phrases said during the Mass.  We’ve been saying consubstantial for a couple of years now in the Creed—it might be a good time to look it up if you’re still wondering what it really means.  If that’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, since there’s still plenty to do, especially if you’re looking for new adventures in charity.  I’ve said (and heard said) variations on the following:  “For Lent, I shall make an extra effort to be more loving toward Person A.”  But why do I insist on waiting, as though the days leading up to Ash Wednesday are inadequate for such a goal?  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has noted, Ordinary Time “does not mean that the commitment of Christians must diminish; quite the contrary, having entered divine life through the Sacraments, we are now called to remain open to the action of Grace in order to grow in love towards God and neighbor.”

Lewis gives us another good “in-between” place to consider:  a wardrobe.  When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child, it was the description of that wardrobe which left one of the most vivid impressions on my mind: the fur coats and mothballs, and, above all, Lucy’s sense that something extraordinary was already going on.

“Nothing there!” said Peter, and they all trooped out again—
all except Lucy.  She stayed behind because she thought
it would be worthwhile trying the door of the wardrobe…”

“Nothing there”…after the busy season of Christmas, we might think that there is not much there, and we jump ahead and focus on Lent instead.  But the Word of God spent thirty years of His life in the simplicity of Nazareth: working, eating, making friends, and sleeping—thus contradicting the notion that the commonplace is something less than holy ground.

“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe.”

Into the WardrobeThat was Lucy’s thought as she was moving through the fur coats and mothballs.  But when she felt something like snow under her feet, and something like a tree brush up against her hands, she knew that this was no ordinary wardrobe.  And this is no ordinary time that we live today.  It is enormous and as alive as Digory’s curious and quiet wood.   There is no better place and time than where we are right now to stretch our hearts in love and throw our arms wide open, ready to receive and show mercy.

Ever since receiving his superhero pajamas at Christmas, my nephew has not stopped requesting to wear his red cape.  He’ll make sure to put his cape on before dinner.  During playtime, he’ll suddenly sense the absence of that fluttering red fabric and he’ll cry out “Where is my cape?”  Bedtime, lunchtime, in the store, in the car…he wants to look like Superman at every instant, even when no one is looking.  My nephew pursues the noble goal of imitating his favorite superheroes.  And my prayer (as his godmother) is that one day, this two-year-old excitement about superheroes will translate into a fervent desire for the supernatural happiness found in imitating Jesus Christ.  So already, he has the right idea.  Not to mention he looks utterly adorable in a cape.  It makes me wonder how much daily effort we put into wearing the “cape” of Christian virtue, especially in these days of Ordinary Time, when the storefronts and parishes have resumed their regular sales and activities, and much of the seasonal excitement has faded away.

I turn to my nephew for added inspiration for the same reason that Lewis (like many other writers) often made children the primary protagonists in his stories.  The wisdom of the child lies in their ability to really look at a thing.  Have you observed a little child completely absorbed by the most mundane object or image, say, a little crack on the wall that has just enough texture and color to keep her occupied for a good ten minutes? An adult could walk past the very same thing, never giving it a moment’s notice.  But children will add even this small moment to their internal catalogue of knowledge and experience.   May we approach this season of Ordinary Time with a similar outlook: ready to be transformed—even just a bit—by the unassuming realities of grace enfolding us at any given moment.

That Which We Know to Be True

Megan ShepherdMegan Shepherd, M.Div.

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Thursday, January 16, 2014 (Psalter Week I). We are grateful for the author’s permission to share it here.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

These seven verses from the first letter of Peter (1 Peter 1:3-9) capture the truth of our Christian existence: that through baptism, by conforming ourselves to Christ, we are transformed—we are reborn. In this new life we find hope in the face of persecution, rejoice in the midst of suffering, and trust in an unseen God.

Not because we fail to grasp the reality of our situation, or ignore real problems and pain, but because through Christ we are able to pierce through the veil of distortion and perceive the truest of realities: the inheritance awaiting us in God.

Through baptism we see things as they really are; we see the promise of the loving God. It is this glimpse of our inheritance, the promise of salvation, that allows us to open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to see within our everyday lives how God is calling us to love, faith, and hope.

For although you have not seen him you love him;
Even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
You rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy. (1 Peter 1:8)

Mountain FastnessAt the moment of new birth all is fresh and new—clarity and confidence flow freely.  The Psalmist provides us with an image of this new birth: set atop a mountain where all seems good and strong, safe and clear. The new vista of new life in Christ.

I said to myself in my good fortune: “Nothing will ever disturb me.”
Your favor had set me on a mountain fastness. (Psalm 30:6-7a)

We treasure the moments that recall this grace: of consolation and seeing God’s grace easily, times we feel secure in our relationships with God and others, untouchable by anything that threatens our faith.

Yet in time we grow weary of sustaining hope and joy in the face of trials and suffering. Our desire for God is put in tension with the daily demands of our human existence and competes with worldly glory and concerns. And to us it may seem that You hid your face and I was put to confusion”  (Ps 30:7b).

We live much of our lives in this state of confusion. We know in the depths of our being the ultimate truth, the promise of our salvation in Christ.  But our choices, actions, and attitude paint a different narrative: one where despair, sorrow, fear, and sin seem to rule the day.

The reading from First Peter acknowledges the many challenges that we face in our lives of faith, the “various trials” that we may have to suffer. Each of us carries our own burdens, our own stories of pain and suffering, isolation and persecution.

While we cannot presume to know another’s story, we can connect their pain to the pain we each carry to unite us. Not in despair, but in hope. Hope that together we can help each other to see that there is a greater story behind and within our story.  And to reclaim that which is already ours.  Out of trust and faith and hope (in things unseen) we make an act of will—we make a choice—to call out to God and ask for help to see.

As we prayed in the Antiphon: I cried to you, Lord, and you healed me; I will praise you forever.

Person PrayingSo let every good man pray to you in the time of need.
The floods of water may reach high, but him they shall not reach.
You are my hiding place, O Lord; you save me from distress.
You surround me with cries of deliverance.  (Psalm 32:6-7)

Thus we pray together asking God to help us: to see that despite our fears, the waters will not reach us; to witness the grace in moments of suffering and pain; to hope for the promise of the future.

We pray to be reminded of that which we know to be true: seeing with new eyes the daily evidence of grace at work in the world, thus deepening our capacity to conform ourselves to Christ.

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Sophie JacobucciSophie Jacobucci

Echo Apprentice,
Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire
Master of Theology Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin.”
–St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999 (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §510)

Think about our modern day definition of virginity. In the Oxford Dictionary we read, “a person, typically a woman, who has never had sexual intercourse,” or “ a person who is naïve, innocent, or inexperienced in a particular context.” Most of us have looked at it as a type of inexperience of an intimate act, or a lack of maturity and knowledge about something. Yet, Saint Augustine writes that Mary, as the revered Mother of God, remained a virgin throughout her entire life, even when she had the experience of giving birth and nursing Jesus. This tells us that there is something more to understand about the concept of virginity.

Triptych-Adoration of the Kings, Annunciation detail-Sir Edward Coley Burne-JonesThe Church confesses that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, which affirms the corporeal aspect of the event. She became pregnant, not in the usual biological fashion, but by the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church sees the virginal conception as the sign that Jesus truly was the Son of God who came in a human form like our own (CCC, §496). This affirms the common belief that Mary did not have intercourse with Joseph. Rather, the Holy Spirit brought about Jesus’ conception in the womb of His Mother. Now this seems odd to our human reason. How could a man not be involved? The Gospel accounts understand the conception as a divine work that surpasses all of our human understanding and possibility. This is not simply mythology because we don’t understand the physical nature of conceiving without having intercourse. It is a fulfillment of the promise given through Isaiah. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Is 7:14; see also CCC, §497).

It is in contemplating this mystery that we can look to the faith of Mary to help us in our understanding. Historically, there was significant opposition to the idea of the virginal conception. Though we cannot dismiss that reality, we must acknowledge that Mary’s conception of Jesus without loss of her virginity is a mystery. It is a part of the totality of all mysteries in which we have faith, from Jesus’ Incarnation to His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and beyond. Saint Ignatius of Antioch said, “Mary’s virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord’s death escaped the notice of the prince of this world: these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God’s silence” (CCC, §498). In that silence we are beginning to see the truth of Saint Augustine’s statement. Virginity is a state of being and not simply a physical or mental attribute that is possessed.

Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it,” meaning that Mary retained a real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Incarnate Son of God (CCC, §499). We see the meaning of virginity in the humanity and divinity that are a part of Mary’s role as the Mother of God. Mary, Mother of InnocenceThe divine worked in Mary; the acceptance of this life is virginal because it is entirely the Spirit’s gift to man. The spousal character in relation to God is fulfilled perfectly in Mary’s virginal motherhood (CCC, §505). This perfect fulfillment is the opposite of the definitions of virginity discussed above. In a basic physical and mental sense those definitions tell us what is missing—the experience of intercourse, the naïveté of an experience. In short, a virgin is missing out on something. But as we read before, Mary remained a virgin and was certainly not missing out on the fullness of grace and bearing a child (CCC, §722).

The meaning of virgin is gift, the Spirit’s gift to man. Mary is a virgin because her virginity is a “sign of her faith” and her undivided gift of herself to God’s will. Gift. The view shifts entirely as we understand how virginity is a gift. Mary’s faith enabled her to become the Mother of the Son of God (CCC, §506). We’ve been challenged by modern understandings of virginity. Looking at the words of Saint Augustine and the Catechism we find that virginity is a gift, something of the divine working in us, in the same image of Mary’s own grace and holiness. We realize the imperfection of language and the limitation of the definitions that attempt to capture the gift of holiness that Mary possessed. The physical and spiritual realities have been joined in her existence as a Virgin Mother, and this invites us to probe deeper into our understanding of her life and role in God’s plan, while also looking at our own sense of virginity.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 8

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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This is the eighth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6
Reflections on the Creed: Part 7

“I believe in the Holy Spirit…”

Gratitude is easy to forget. A newlywed couple as the early days of marriage pass into the quotidian nature of married life may cease to see their lives with one another as gift. A teacher, once in awe of the opportunity to cultivate wisdom among her students, soon sees her work as an onerous task to be completed. A child growing up in a household suffused with loving kindness may gradually become blinded to the mundane beauty of such an existence. The expectation that love is owed to us, rather than received as a free gift, slowly moves us away from a posture of gratitude.

In some sense, our belief in the Holy Spirit suffers from the gradual fall from gratitude that is often a consequence of maturation in the Christian life. The Christian life inscribes us in the order of gift, of grace, of the Triune God who is love. The Father begets the Son before time itself, revealing to us that God’s very identity is self-gift. The Son offers Himself completely to the Father, an offering manifested in Jesus who loves unto the end in obedience to the will of the Father. And this self-gift, this order of love, is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit moves upon the waters in creation, overshadowing the whole created order in the love of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit dwells with Israel as she pilgrims through the desert, immersing the nation in God’s pedagogy of grace, inscribing His law of love upon tablets of stone, as well as the heart. The Spirit descends upon the prophets, whose vision is transfigured to see each breach of the covenant (no matter how small) as a spousal transgression against the God who first loved Israel into existence.

This same Spirit enacts this love in the course of world history, such that even in the darkest moments of exile, God’s gift of love is a light to the nations, a promise that all humanity will be transfigured through the energetic work of God in the concrete structures of the world. The hope for the Messiah, pervading the writings of the prophets, is fanned by the Spirit.

The Spirit who dwelt with Israel in the desert now overshadows Mary. She is conceived without sin through the power of the Spirit, precisely that her very life might be inscribed in the logic of gratitude, of self-gift that is the Triune God. Her speech in the Gospel of Luke, her willingness to enter into God’s very history of salvation, is itself a gift from the Holy Spirit received in love and then offered back to the Father in her love of the Son.

This transformation of our humanity begun in Mary is completed in Jesus the Christ, the one anointed with the Spirit. Everything that is human is taken up into divine life through the Word made flesh. His deeds and His words are a breathing forth of the Holy Spirit for the life of the world, the reorientation of our humanity as an instrument for divine mercy. Yet Christ does not give the fullness of the Spirit in the Gospel of John until He is raised up on the Cross. Why?   Precisely because the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the completeness of divine love manifested on the Cross. It is the total gift of the Son to the Father, and the Father’s acceptance of this sacrificial love made evident in the Resurrection of the Son. And when Christ encounters His disciples as resurrected, He breathes forth the Spirit upon the humanity of the Apostles. The Apostles and the whole Church through Baptism are now taken up into the mission of the Triune God through the life of the Church.

Therefore in Baptism, the Christian receives the Holy Spirit and is inscribed into the gratuitous love of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. Our whole lives can be conceived now as grace. Not because we have reached the perfection of love on our own, grasping it as an individual achievement, a merit badge of Christian discipleship. Nor because all that we see in the world is a gift of God, a response of gratitude; facets of the world remained entrenched in the darkness of sin.

Instead, as the Christian enters more deeply into the Church, into the body of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit, our lives become grace. Our memories and imaginations are so taken over by the narrative of salvation that we cannot help but perceive our own experience, our existence as a participation in the unfolding work of the Spirit.

The desire to pray, even in mutilated words of love, is a gift of the Spirit stirring up our heart. Any act of justice we perform, any deed of love no matter how small, is a manifestation of this Spirit for the world to behold. All that we have is a gift bestowed by the Spirit to be offered to the Father in love, in faithful imitation of the obedience of the Son.

Thus, the Holy Spirit processes from the love of the Father and the Son. The Spirit processes into the Church, which is the Body of Christ, into the individual hearts of believers. This same Spirit processes through our very bones, our whole souls, so that we begin to perceive our lives as gifts to be offered to the Father. This procession of love transfigures our humanity, making us into saints, visible icons of divine love for the world. This work of the Spirit is total gift, the work of grace itself in the concrete historical milieu of men and women throughout time. Not a work that we think up, that we engineer on our own, but a work that the Triune God performs through the mediation of our humanity, however inadequate it is.

The more grateful we are, the more we are inscribed into the logic of self-giving love that is the Cross and Resurrection, the more our hearts are opened to receive and to breathe forth the Spirit for the life of the world. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

The Beauty of the Immaculate Conception

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The celebration of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of beauty and fittingness. It is one of harmony and order as an integral part of God’s plan to redeem the world in Christ Jesus. Mary’s Immaculate Conception is the first sign that the promise of salvation is about to be fulfilled, the first indication that the long night of sin and death is about to give way to the dawn of the Sun of Justice. As Msgr. Ronald Knox writes, “When God created the first Adam, he made his preparations beforehand; he fashioned a paradise ready for him to dwell in. And when he restored our nature in the second Adam, [Christ], once more there was a preparation to be made beforehand. He fashioned a paradise for the second Adam to dwell in, and in that paradise was the body and soul of our blessed Lady, immune from the taint of sin, Adam’s curse.” Indeed, Mary is the one spoken of in the book of Genesis at the dawn of creation; she is the woman of whom God says to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers” (Gen 3:15). It is that enmity – that void between Mary and Satan – that God fills with His grace.

We see in the Genesis passage the inextricable link between the woman and her offspring, between Mary and her Son, Jesus. All honor given to Mary is only given by virtue of her relationship to Christ, including the grace of the Immaculate Conception. In his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultis, Pope Paul VI explains the importance of this relationship: “In the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon Him. It was with a view to Christ that God the Father from all eternity chose her to be the all-holy Mother and adorned her with gifts of the Spirit granted to no one else” (§25). As the Catechism states, “The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ… The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (CCC, §492). From the dawn of time, Mary is redeemed by the salvific sacrifice of her Son, Jesus, and because of the outpouring of God’s grace, she is able to “[give] herself entirely to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God’s grace” (CCC, §494). It was fitting that Mary be conceived without sin so that she, in turn, might bring forth the Sinless One. She was immaculately conceived so that, empty of sin, she might be “full of grace.”

Indeed, a key to a greater understanding and appreciation of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is wrapped up in the greeting of the angel Gabriel: “Hail, full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). The angel addresses Mary, not by the name given her by her earthly parents at her birth, but by the name given her by her heavenly Father at the birth of creation. She is, from all eternity, “full of grace.” In this angelic salutation, Gabriel reveals Mary to herself as God truly sees her. Once Mary is enveloped in this revelation that God has chosen her as His own, protected her as the apple of His eye (see Ps 17:8), she is then able to see how the fullness of God’s grace will continue to act in her, to overshadow her, to bring about life in her virgin womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in that fullness of grace that she is able to surrender her self and her life completely to the divine will: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  And it is in that fullness of grace, in seeing herself as God sees her, that Mary is able to serve not only as a dwelling place for the Incarnate Word, but also as a magnifying lens through which we see the beauty and harmony of a life lived in God, a life void of self and full of grace, a life that proclaims for all eternity: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46b-47).