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MaryToday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mystery of the Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin.
 
Human beings have inherited the burden of the first sin against God, which is dramatized in the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. We are cleansed of that burden by the sacrament of baptism, through which we receive the grace Jesus won for us with his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
 
Mary, who was to be the mother of God, was spared the stain of that sin.
 
A feast based on this mystery was celebrated in Syria as early as the fifth century. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Alexander VII in 1661, and it was defined as a dogmatic teaching of the church by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s At Prayer With Mary, available in our online bookstore.

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Mary_JesusMay is traditionally the month dedicated to the Mother of God. She holds special significance for us during this Jubilee Year of Mercy because, through her willingness to bear the Christ child, God became “visible’’ in a particular way as the Father who is rich in mercy.
 
Pope Saint John Paul II, in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), calls Jesus the incarnation of mercy. No one has ever seen God (John 1:18), but by virtue of Mary’s motherhood, God is made known to us by Christ, and known above all in Christ’s “relationship of love” for humanity.
 
Mary spoke some very heart-warming words during her visit to her cousin, Elizabeth—“His mercy is from generation to generation”—heart-warming words because God’s mercy continues to be revealed in her and through her—right down to us today.
 
Mary obtained mercy in an exceptional way, as no other person has. She, then, has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Mary, Mother of Mercy,
we thank you for your share in revealing God’s mercy.
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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Mary“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them”
(Luke 2:16-20).
 
Mary gives birth in a barn or stable and the shepherds come to see her Child. They leave singing praises. Mary ponders and reflects and treasures all these things that happen to her. She is our model in so many ways. Here, Mary is the first follower of Jesus, the first disciple. And the example she sets, the model she gives through her
actions, is that a follower of Jesus takes time to reflect on life’s events. A true disciple believes that there is meaning and mystery in daily life. A Christian takes time to pray quietly and sit at the feet of his or her Master to be still and hear God’s lessons that present themselves.
 
What can I learn from this? What is this teaching me? What is God’s message? These are questions we can ask each day as we meditate on the happenings of our seemingly ordinary life. There is always another dimension in which we live. The spiritual is real, but hidden.
 
And the way to uncover it is simply to ponder, as did Mary, and ask God to help us see with eyes of faith the important meaning, message, and challenge that we might otherwise miss. This is the role of a disciple as Mary, the first disciple, shows us. We, too, must ponder, reflect, and treasure the gifts of each day that God gives us.
 
How do I take time to listen in my heart each day, as Mary does?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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“All things seem possible in May.”
 
That observation by naturalist Edward Teale rings true: In May, the memory of winter fades away, new life springs from the earth, and summer no longer seems like an empty promise.
 
This atmosphere of rejuvenation and hope—ideas that are related to motherhood—has inspired Christians in many cultures to dedicate the month of May to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
 
In a way, they are emulating people who came before them: the ancient Greeks dedicated May to Artemis, a goddess associated with such things as hunting, wildlife, wilderness, and childbirth.
 
For the Romans, May was the month of the goddess Flora who, as her name implied, was associated with flowers and with the season of spring.
 
The Christian practice of dedicating the month to Mary arose as early as the end of the thirteenth century when King Alphonso X of Castile wrote about devotions to Mary on certain days during the month, but its popularity really began to flourish in the sixteenth century among Jesuits who encouraged it among their students in Rome, as well as in churches in Genoa and Verona.
 
Honoring Mary during May has been endorsed by the popes, including Pope Leo XIII, who wrote twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary, Pope Pius XII who wrote that the custom of prayer to Mary in May was “of special import and dignity,’’ and Pope Paul VI who said the month of prayer to Mary was an especially appropriate time to pray for peace.
 
Because honoring Mary as “Queen of the May” arose from popular piety, it is practiced in different ways in different cultures.
 
The most well-known devotion is the “May crowning” in which a statue or icon of Mary is the focus of a procession, prayers, hymns, and some physical manifestation such as a floral crown.
 
In many places, this crowning takes place on or near May 1, and in some parishes in the United States it takes place on Mother’s Day—the second Sunday of the month. In some parishes, the procession and crowning involve the children who have recently received first Communion.
 
This May crowning practice waned during the 1970s and 1980s, but it has become popular again in more recent years, and many Catholic adults are again hearing a refrain they know from their youth:
 

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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tomb_of_maryToday we celebrate an event that took place at the end of the Virgin Mary’s life on earth.
 
The church believes that when that time came, Mary was taken body and spirit into the presence of God – an idea that is incomprehensible to us because it is completely outside our experience.
 
The church does not say, because it has no evidence, whether Mary died and was then assumed into heaven or whether she was taken while she was still living, but the church has taught for many centuries that God would not allow the woman who bore the Christ child to undergo the corruption of the grave.
 
This was formally defined as Catholic dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
 
The document the pope issued had an impressive name: Munificentissimus Deus—the most benevolent God.
 
And the church identifies Mary with the woman described by the author of the Book of Revelations: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
 
And yet the woman—or, rather, the girl we read about in the gospel passage proclaimed at Mass today, a girl rushing to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, didn’t have any of those trappings of glory.
 
On the contrary, she was as simple and obscure as she could possibly be, and she had every reason to believe that she would stay that way.
 
But simple doesn’t mean naïve.
 
Simple doesn’t mean simple-minded.
 
Simple doesn’t mean ignorant.
 
In fact, it may be because she was such a simple person whose mind wasn’t cluttered up with ambition and greed and suspicion that Mary had such clear vision.
 
There’s a great deal of meaning in Elizabeth’s remark to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’’
 
Mary was a unique human being in a few ways.
 
She was conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin.
 
She conceived a child through the direct action of God’s Holy Spirit.
 
And she gave birth to that child who had within him both the nature of humanity and the nature of God.
 
No other human being can make these claims.
 
But still, Mary was a human being, and she had to cope with these extraordinary circumstances by using her human faculties.
 
Elizabeth says “blessed are you who believed” because Mary had accepted God’s will, as she understood it, through the exercise of her own free will and her Jewish faith.
 
And that didn’t end with the birth of Jesus.
 
In recent years, the church and religious scholars have put increased emphasis on Mary’s role—not only as the mother of Jesus and then as the queen of heaven — but also as the first and most faithful disciple of Jesus.
 
The scriptures necessarily focus on the ministry of Jesus, but it is clear in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles that Mary didn’t just wave good-bye to her son and stay home in the empty nest.
 
On the contrary, Mary closely followed her son’s ministry, visibly identified herself with him even as he was dying on the cross, remained among the apostles and other disciples in those uncertain and dangerous days after the resurrection, and was present when the Holy Spirit infused the infant church on the occasion we know as Pentecost.
 
In doing this, of course, she set an example for us who are no less human and no more human than she was.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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In the last two years of her life, my mother received notes from various people telling her of their gratitude for her friendship and the impact she had on their lives. I shared snippets of them during the eulogy at her funeral. One is a letter from Rosemarie to my mom in honor of her 87th birthday. Rosemarie had known my mom for more than 55 years. They first met when my parents with my two older brothers moved to the house next to Rosemarie’s family. Rosemarie was sixteen and often visited my mother and
helped her with my brothers.
 
In her letter, Rosemarie recalled the birth of her first child. Her husband was working when her labor pains began. She immediately called my mom who quickly dropped my brothers off at my grandmother’s and drove Rosemarie to the hospital. Rosemarie wrote that my mother’s strong and caring presence diminished her fear and gave her a steady confidence. My mom stayed with her until the baby was born and Rosemarie’s husband arrived. Rosemarie wrote, “The memory of your contagious illuminating smile will always be with me.” The story of these two women of different generations, supporting each other in a time of both great need and deep joy, is the story of God’s presence among us.
 
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we hear the gospel story of the Visitation. Elizabeth is aware of and welcomes into her home the presence of God in Mary. Mary is aware of the goodness of Elizabeth and knows of the messenger of God, whom Elizabeth bears in her womb. The women rejoice with one another in the impossible becoming possible in their lives and express gratitude for that great gift.
 
During their visit Elizabeth, having resigned herself to living with the disappointment of not having a child, now has to deal with an unexpected blessing. Mary in turn has to resolve living with a blessing that causes more problems than it solves. How would she explain this to Joseph? Elizabeth and Mary’s mutual encouragement enables them to go forward with more confidence and joy despite the struggles they face.
 
When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, there is a leaping for joy in the darkness of her own womb. In that moment, Elizabeth experienced a bodily knowing that God was present and active in her and Mary’s lives. Through these pregnant prophets God was working out the divine will in the world.
 
During the Advent season we celebrate the various comings or visits of God into our human community—into the past, the present, and the future. Jesus is the God of Advent. How has God visited you in the very ordinariness of your life? Pay attention to the presence of God in the gathering of friends and family during this holiday season. These may be visitation moments. Don’t miss them.
 
Sr. Terry is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Presentation of the BVMIn Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the narrator, describing events in a mental hospital, comments that “it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.’’
 
It’s an idea that we accept all the time, and it applies to an observance in the Catholic Church during this month.
 
We accept this paradoxical statement, for example, when we hear the parables of Jesus.
 
It doesn’t matter to us whether a father actually forgave his prodigal son or whether a Samaritan traveler actually helped a Jewish man who had been mugged.
 
We hear those stories, and we get the message, whether the stories are true or whether Jesus made them up.
 
So it is with the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which the eastern and western Catholic churches and the Orthodox Church celebrate on November 21.
 
This observance commemorates the occasion when the parents of Mary brought her to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God.
 
There is one complication: None of the Gospels that are recognized by the Church and therefore included in the New Testament describe this incident.
 
This story comes instead from “apocryphal’’ literature—that is, a body of gospels and letters that purport to be the work of authoritative writers, including some of the apostles, but which Catholic scholars regard as either pious fiction, possibly laced with some facts, or outright fraud.
 
Some of these writings, including the Protoevangelium of James, embellish what we know about the betrothal and marriage of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus.
 
People in the early Christian era apparently were a lot like people today in their curiosity about the lives of famous people, and these apocryphal writings, whatever else they achieved, satisfied some of that curiosity.
 
The Protoevangelium of James, which scholars think was written in the second century, includes an elaborate account of the birth and childhood of Mary.
 
According to the author, Joachim and Anna were distraught because they did not have a child, but while Joachim fasted in the desert, God responded through an angel to Anna’s intense prayer.
 
The angel announced that Anna was pregnant and that “your child will be spoken of everywhere people live.”
 
When Mary was three years old, her parents—because of their gratitude—took her to the Temple and consecrated her to God.
 
Mary remained in the Temple until she was 12 years old, and then the priests selected Joseph—a widower and a father—to take custody of her.
 
At least in part, it is from this account that we derive the tradition that Joseph was much older than Mary and the idea accepted by some Christians that Jesus had siblings—ostensibly including the James, who wrote this gospel and claimed to be Joseph’s son.
 
A feast day to commemorate Mary’s appearance in the temple originated in connection with the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary the New which was built in the sixth century near the former site of the Temple and destroyed by the Persians during the siege of Jerusalem in 614 AD.
 
So this feast has a somewhat complicated history, but there is nothing complicated about its implications.
 
Whether or not the story is true, this feast reminds us that Mary was devoted to God throughout her life and that she was not only the mother of Jesus but his first disciple.
 
As St. Augustine expressed it, Mary herself was a temple, bearing Jesus in her own body and keeping the word of God in her mind and heart—as always, an example for all of us.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Our Lady, Mary,” Pope Francis recently remarked, “is more important than the apostles, bishops, priests, or deacons.’’
 
The pope made the comment while he was talking with reporters during his flight from Brazil to Rome. The context was a discussion of the role of women in the Church.
 
The idea that Mary is more important than the apostles, to say nothing of us deacons, is not new; but Pope Francis often states a church teaching so succinctly—so bluntly, one might say—that it strikes us with more force, with greater clarity than ever before.
 
Of course, the pope wasn’t demeaning the apostles with that observation; rather, he was emphasizing that Mary was the first disciple of her son, Jesus. She was a disciple who without hesitation accepted God’s will in her life, accepted separation and worry because of Jesus’ public life, endured the pain of witnessing his death, and remained in the midst of his followers during the uncertain and dangerous days following his resurrection.
 
The woman who did all this shared our human nature, but, by God’s grace, she was unique in ways that the Church describes as the mysteries of the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, and the Assumption—the last of which we will celebrate on August 15.
 
The mystery of the Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb without original sin. We human beings inherited the mark of the first sin against God, which the Book of Genesis expresses with the story of Adam and Eve and their encounter with the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
 
We are cleansed of that mark when we receive the sacrament of baptism.
 
But Mary, who was to be the mother of God, did not bear the mark of that sin when she was conceived in her own mother’s womb.
 
This doctrine, the Immaculate Conception, was proclaimed by Pope Alexander VII in 1661, although it had been celebrated much earlier, and it was defined as a dogmatic teaching of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
 
The second mystery, the Virgin Birth, refers to the fact that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb by the action of the Holy Spirit, not by man.
 
The mystery of the Assumption, which we celebrate this month, refers to the fact that Mary was taken into the presence of God, body and soul, at the end of her life on earth.
 
Catholics had believed this since at least the third or fourth century. Finally, Pope Pius XII asked the advice of all the bishops in the world and, based on their responses, defined it as dogma in 1950.
 
In doing so, the pope left open a question that had been debated for centuries, namely whether Mary ever died a natural death or whether she was taken living into heaven.
 
Either way, the pope wrote that it seemed impossible to think of Mary, “the one who conceived Christ, brought him forth, nursed him with her milk, held him in her arms, and clasped him to her breast, as being apart from him in body, even though not in soul, after this earthly life. Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary, he could not do otherwise, as the perfect observer of God’s law, than to honor, not only his eternal Father, but also his most beloved Mother. And, since it was within his power to grant her this great honor, to preserve her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that he really acted in this way’’ (Munficentissimus Deus, 38).
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Our Lady of Perpetual Help“He is the image [Greek: icon] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).
 
When an icon is created it is referred as being “written,” not painted. Iconography is a prayerful practice, one exercised humbly before God. Usually incorporating highly symbolic images, including shapes, colors, and forms, icons contain symbols of various spiritual realities. Inspired works of art, they are usually not signed and certainly not signed on the front. Iconographers are generally not famous artists but unpretentious men and women. It is not known who authored the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon pictured here.
 
This icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is believed to date from the 15th century. The icon has a storied past; it traveled through the centuries from Crete to where it is now enthroned at St. Alphonsus Church in Rome. By order of Pope Pius IX, it was given to this church for safe keeping by the Redemptorists. Pope Pius IX also fixed the feast day of the image. Countless miracles attributed to the image extend from the beginning of its documented history in 1495 until the present day.
 
Praying with icons is an ancient practice. While we often long for silence and time to “close our eyes to pray,” praying with an icon requires us to engage our sense of sight with the image before us, opening our hearts to what the image communicates. We seek a deeper meaning within the image of the icon as it draws us into what lies beyond what we can see, into the very heart of God.
 
In the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sts. Michael and Gabriel flank the Blessed Mother while Jesus is depicted as holding the hands of his mother from whom he receives succor. The initials beside Mary’s crown identify her as “Mother of God.” Those beside the child, “ICXC,” are abbreviations meaning “Jesus Christ.” From the viewer’s perspective the smaller letters identify the angel on the left as “St. Michael the Archangel.” He is depicted holding the lance and spear with the vessel of vinegar and gall of Christ’s Passion. The angel on the right is identified as “St. Gabriel the Archangel.” He holds the cross and the nails. The depiction of Jesus with one sandal on and the other hanging off his foot is thought to represent both his human and divine nature, respectively. Mary’s robes are red (a color reserved for an empress and therefore representing the Queenship of Mary) and blue (believed to represent the color of motherhood).
 
Although the symbolism “written” into the icon explains its meaning, we are meant to “read” the icon for ourselves.
 
Spend some time today praying with this icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and perhaps Mary will offer you succor as she leads you to more closely follow her son.
 
Dr. Laura Kolmar is Director of Pastoral Services at RENEW International, and has worked in parish social ministry, workshop and retreat leadership, and pastoral care and counseling.

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Today is the Feast of the Visitation. Each year I marvel at how the day’s Scriptures surprise and challenge me. This year is no different. However, this year I decided to prepare for this feast day in a way I never have before.
 
Almost two months ago, on April 8, the feast of the Annunciation, I gathered for Mass with my colleagues here at the RENEW office in Plainfield, NJ. We talked about how Mary, in addition to saying “Yes” to God, also took an immediate action and set out to visit Elizabeth. In our faith sharing we discussed how Mary received a sign from God when the angel told her that Elizabeth was pregnant. Mary did not ask for a sign, nor did she need one, before committing herself to God. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity for her to reach out to assist her kinswoman. Her action was inspired by her faith.
 
Although I already have a devotion to Mary, I decided to find ways in the weeks leading up to the feast of the Visitation to recommit myself to Mary and to seek new ways in which she could lead me to her son, Jesus. When the feast of the Visitation arrived, I wanted to be ready to recognize and welcome Jesus as Elizabeth did.
 
Through prayerful meditation on the Scriptures and the mysteries of the rosary I became more attentive to the role that waiting plays in our faith. I learned that patience, in the form of waiting, is not passive. In these few short weeks, I “waited” in various emotional states—anxiety about test results, sadness in the anticipation of the anniversary of the death of a dear friend, and excitement as I looked forward to my son’s wedding. I found that I was challenged to find ways to “wait” with others. How could I, whether at home, in the office, or with friends, find ways to ease the suffering or join in the joy of “waiting” with others?
 
Although it would have been faster to “set out” with text messages, phone calls or emails, I decided on “snail mail” and wrote cards and notes to various people who were “waiting” in various circumstances. I sent notes to my friend and her daughter as the anniversary of the death of their husband and father approached. I sent a card of encouragement to a friend dealing with the care of aging parents. I sent notes of congratulations to recent graduates, and a card with a scripture quote to lend inspiration to someone searching for a job.
 
Preparation for today’s feast of the Visitation blessed me with the gift of a deepened faith and trust in the Lord’s presence. I made my way toward today “waiting” for Mary and Jesus to greet me yet again. I disposed my heart to be open to the surprise this visit would hold for me.
 
So today, filled with a sense of wonder at the presence of the Lord and the gift of faith, I ask myself, “To whom shall I go? What action am I called to take to carry the Lord to another?”
 
– How did the Lord visit you today? What action are you called to take to carry the Lord to another? Please share your ‘visitation’ with the Lord by posting a comment below.
 
Dr. Laura Kolmar is Director of Pastoral Services at RENEW International, and has worked in parish social ministry, workshop and retreat leadership, and pastoral care and counseling.

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Like many Catholics, I have always revered Mary. Her “yes” to becoming the mother of Jesus inspires us to listen and respond to God’s call. Her prayerful life is a model for us to follow.
 
To me, Mary was an ideal, an icon. While I had always honored and admired her, I never really had a devotion to her. I pray to God during Mass, my husband and I say Grace before dinner, and I thank God every evening for all of my
                                    blessings.
 
When I was pregnant, my husband bought me a beautiful picture of Mary. I loved it so much that I promptly put it up in our bedroom. I was nearing the end of my pregnancy during Advent and often thought of Mary because of the Gospel readings. Many nights before I went to bed, I contemplated Mary’s pregnancy. While the pregnancy was divine, she was still human. Did she have terrible heartburn as I did? Could she sleep at night towards the end of her pregnancy? I continued to be in awe of her “yes” to God and what she would endure by being the mother of Jesus.
 
Then I became a mother. For the first few weeks of motherhood I thought of nothing but feeding, soothing, and sleeping. One particular night, as I was rocking my son after a 2 a.m. -feeding, I looked up at the Mary picture. I wondered what kind of baby Jesus was. Did he cry in the night and keep her awake? Did she have to rock him and soothe him in the manger? Probably. Fully human and fully divine, he was just a baby. As I visualized Mary and Joseph soothing Jesus in the manger, I did something more than just admire her. I began to pray to Mary.
 
I was exhausted. I had been crying as I was rocking him, thinking of the long day it had been and the very long night still ahead of me.
 
I prayed to Mary for strength. She was a mother. She knew exactly how hard this was. She knew how much I loved my son, and how badly I needed him to go to sleep.
 
I asked her to watch over him, to protect him, to keep him growing healthy and strong. As he finally settled down, I prayed to her to let him sleep just a few hours so I could get some rest and be the attentive, nurturing mother I needed to be.
 
I put him down, crawled back into bed, and fell asleep saying the “Hail Mary” over and over again.
 
When he woke again, three blissful hours later, I scooped him up and started to feed him. I gazed at the picture of Mary and prayed in thanksgiving for the sleep, for my amazing son, and for my wonderful husband, who would be on diaper duty after this feeding.
 
In this new journey of motherhood, through the rough patches, the perfect moments, and everything in between, I am so grateful that Mary will be there with me every step of the way.
 
Amy Reed is a member of RENEW International’s Marketing and Communications team. A Notre Dame alumna, she and her husband recently welcomed their first child, a boy, to the family.

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If you have ever had the experience of being blindfolded and led around by another, you can understand how hesitant we are to “walk by faith.” It is daunting to have to trust another person completely. A person undergoing major surgery, for example, must have great faith in the doctors and other medical professionals who will take part in carrying out the procedure. Parents, too, must have great faith the first time they leave their child in the care of a babysitter. Letting go of one’s power and placing total trust in another person is difficult. Often, people are more comfortable trusting themselves than trusting others.
 
In view of this natural hesitation concerning the challenges of everyday life, imagine how difficult it must have been for a girl who may have been in her teens to accept an announcement, made by an angel, that she was to be the mother of the Son of God! She was evidently a person of prayer, undefiled by sin. But still, it was a great test of faith for her to be given this news and to respond—not only with, “How can this be?” but also with, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). What courage! What dedication! What strong faith!
 
Yet, Mary, a young Jewish woman of the first century, belonged to a people of faith whose living memory of God’s fidelity to them as his “chosen people” gave meaning and context to their daily lives. Mary’s faith-filled response to God was spoken within a long tradition of women, chosen and empowered by God, to be instrumental in salvation history. Mary knew the stories of her people, including stories of Miriam, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth and Naomi, and Hannah—stories of faith in God’s saving power made flesh in “ordinary” lives.
 
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, “The Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith” (CCC, 148). Mary, after receiving the news of the annunciation, did not leave herself time for worry and self-doubt. She expressed the communal dimension of faith in reaching out to another, her cousin Elizabeth, who was also with child by God’s grace. (cf. Luke 1:39-45). Faith is meant to be shared. It is strengthened by service to others.
 
– In time of trouble or doubt, has service to others ever strengthened your faith?
 
Reflection by John Phalen, CSC, adapted from RENEW International’s At Prayer With Mary.

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Mary, you are the Mother of Jesus
and my Mother,
my guide and inspiration.
Although I see your life as extraordinary,
you lived each day as an ordinary person
in your own time and place.
Help me to live my own ordinary life
according to God’s will.
Help me to see God’s will
and the connections between the ordinary and extraordinary
that happen for me each day.
Give me the commitment
to ponder and savor life as you did.
Bless me with insight to recognize
the Spirit’s action in my life
and reflect the Father’s goodness to others.
I ask this in the name of Jesus, your Son.
Amen.

From RENEW International’s resource The People’s Prayer Book, filled with over 160 prayers for every season and occasion.

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As I checked out my calendar, I discovered that July is blueberry month, hot dog month, and ice cream month. It seems that every day of the month is dedicated to something, for example, sidewalk egg frying day or build a scarecrow day. Every day that is, except July 16.
 
Yet, July 16 is really a very special day. It is the celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
 
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order. The Church has long recognized the special relationship between this group and the Blessed Mother, which is represented by the brown scapular Carmelites wear. The scapular has a threefold significance: it is a sign of membership in the order; it is a sign of devotion and trust in the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and it is a sign of a willingness and dedication to live by the example of Mary in her fidelity and dependence on God in everything.
 
That last sign is one that we should all apply to our own lives. Each day we should examine how deep our faith is becoming in the midst of the craziness of everyday life. We may hesitate to compare ourselves to Mary, as she was sinless. However, Mary was human, and her life was hardly perfect. She was not among the rich and she was not highly educated. She was not famous until the birth of her Son and, in fact, would have been scorned and stoned by society as an unwed mother if it were not for Joseph.
 
What truly set her apart from the rest of us was her unwavering faith. This was not a faith that depended on success, a faith that would grow only if Mary always got what she wanted and felt as if she were in control of her life. Mary never faltered.
 
This day in July is dedicated to Mary’s wonderful sense of commitment and fidelity. Just as the Carmelites dedicate their lives to being faithful to their vocation and ask Mary to guard that fidelity, so, too, must we ask Mary to keep us faithful in the midst of our times of doubt and fear.
 
PETITION PRAYER TO OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL
Oh, most beautiful flower of Mt. Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of Heaven,
Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in my
necessity. O Star of the Sea, help me and show me here you are my mother.
O Holy Mary Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, I humbly beg you
from the bottom of my heart to hear my request (add your request).
There are none who can withstand your power.
Holy Mary, I place this prayer in your hands. Amen.
 
Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and loves working with Young Adults as the program manager of Theology on Tap.

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Mary is a remarkable woman! I have grown in my affection for her over the years.

When I was in grade school, in the 1950s and 1960s, the May crowning of Mary was always the highlight of the year in my parish. Being a girl, this was especially a big deal for me because girls were excluded from most church activities such as choir and altar serving. But the May crowning procession was different. There, an eighth-grade girl was chosen to crown Mary and was accompanied by four First Communion girls. This was the tradition until my class. My class was told that none of us was worthy of such an honor. Instead, a second-grader would crown Mary. I was devastated!

Because of this, Mary became unreachable, untouchable, and being like her was unattainable. I felt this way for many years until, as a Dominican preacher, I met Mary in a brand new way through Luke’s account of the Annunciation. In praying that passage, I met a woman who was actively engaged in her relationship with God.

Mary was not, in this encounter, silent, passive, or submissive but open, listening, speaking, and questioning. Mary was alert, attentive, interacting, puzzled—alive! Mary was never told “Be quiet,” “Don’t question,” “Just say yes.” Mary was invited to be the Mother of God and was free, as we all are, to say “Yes” or “No.” Mary chose to say “Yes,” not because she knew what it all meant but because she knew she could trust the One who was asking—just as the One who was asking could trust the one being asked.

When we sense God is calling, asking, and inviting, may we be open, engaging, questioning, alive, and graced to trust the One who is asking, because the One who is asking is trusting us.

Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Why Catholic? team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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