• cmcsullivan

Several years ago I was hired to do a little blogging for Loyola Press. Occasionally I'll hear from a friend that one of my old posts is circulating. Like today. Here's a link: Praying with Mary

The content is also below. The first practice, praying with scripture, is firmly ecumenical. The other two practices are more situated in the Catholic tradition for the Catholic audience to whom the original post was addressed.

Praying with Mary

The very essence of prayer is recognizing that God is with us. That is the meaning of one of the Lord’s names, one that we hear over and again in Advent, Emmanuel. The Lord is with Mary. The Lord is with us.

What does it take for us to pause amidst the busyness of this season of preparation—between the shopping and decorating, the family gatherings and holiday parties? Mary’s life is dramatically interrupted by the visitation of an angel and a miraculous conception. How do I hear the angelic messenger, that still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12) in my days? What does God wish to conceive in me? How does God want to use my flesh to incarnate the living Christ?

As we journey through this Advent and Christmas season, we can seek Mary’s intercession, looking to her example of how to welcome the overshadowing Spirit of God. As Mary said yes to the Spirit, I can trust in her to lead me to my own yes.

Here are some possible ways to practice praying with Mary this month.

Luke 1:26–56 chronicles Mary’s encounter with the angel, her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, and her song, which we call the Magnificat. Read this passage slowly. It’s long, so you may want to read just a few verses each day or each week. As you read, notice whether there is a word or a phrase that speaks to you. Ponder it in your heart as you go about your day. Invite the Lord to speak to you through his Word.

If the Rosary is not already part of your life, consider incorporating it once a week, or maybe try praying a decade a day. As the Joyful Mysteries recall the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, they are perfect for praying through the seasons of Advent and Christmas. As you meditate on each mystery, invite the Spirit to use the experiences of Mary and Joseph and Jesus to shine light on how the Spirit is moving in your life here and now.

The Angelus is a traditional prayer by which we can connect and reconnect with our ever-present God throughout the day. The Angelus is a brief reflection on the incarnation, recalling Mary’s yes to God’s invitation to bring Christ into the world. Prayed at 6:00 a.m., noon (often accompanied by a prayer for peace), and 6:00 p.m., the Angelus is a pause in the rhythm of our days in which we can recall Emmanuel, God with us.

How might praying with Mary enhance your experience of Advent and Christmas?

Blessed Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception!

Never heard of it? Here's an explanation from the ever-engaging Fr. Mike at Ascension Press.

  • cmcsullivan
The intermediate coming [of Christ] is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. - St. Bernard of Clairvaux

In some deep place within me, I am.

I am the truest, most complete version of who I was created to be. In moments, when I locate that solid center -- or it finds me -- I know who I am. I feel like myself. I am at home. I find myself riding the wave, coasting, flowing with clarity and purpose. I feel un-self-conscious. I simply am.

Who am I if not myself?

Coming home to ourselves ought to be the most natural thing in the world. Yet most of us feel like we live at a remove from our own centers. It makes sense. From our beginnings, we interact with a world broken by sin -- and we react. We're looking for three basic things: safety and security; affirmation and approval; and power and control. These are the things that help us to navigate an often hostile environment. Safety, approval, and control. These become the shields we wield to protect ourselves from the world.

An inside job

This might all be well and good if danger, judgment, and manipulation were only coming from outside of us. We could, I suppose, use these tools to ward off the forces and live in harmony with our inner selves. But it doesn't work that way. We ourselves, sinners all, are the source of these same forces. They flow out of us, and they circulate inside of us. I behave in ways that are self-destructive -- in my actions when I fail in self-care; in my judgmental thoughts; when I am identified with and consumed by my feelings. I am a danger to myself. I disapprove of me. I am out of control.

Who will save me from this body of death?

We have to learn to look beyond, beneath the surface of ourselves. We have forgotten who we are, if we ever consciously knew. We have taken as our true selves the self-protective façade we've constructed. That isn't me. My true self is a hidden treasure, but not un-discoverable. I can find it if I am willing to go into my own depths and explore. There I will find myself, and where I find myself, I will find Christ.

Where there is love, there is God

Self-discovery is not navel-gazing, and self-love is not the same as selfishness. What "saves" us (in the language of St. Bernard), is recognizing that where the true self dwells, God dwells too. The outer construct, a product of our sin and the sin of the world, separates us from God, and separate from God we are separate too from our authentic identities. Recognizing who I really am and coming to know God in Christ are not two different things. They are the same thing.

  • cmcsullivan

...For from Zion shall go forth instruction,

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

and set terms for many peoples.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

One nation shall not raise the sword against another,

nor shall they train for war again. - Isaiah 2:3-4

Primary instructions

The verses from Isaiah above are the very first words of the very first reading for the very first Sunday of the "A" cycle (among A, B, and C) of the church year. This prophetic word is "instruction" for all nations. The first word that the church invites us to hear from the mouth of the Lord in the new year is a declaration of peace.

Among the nations

The Biblical stories of Israel are rife with war. Israel was a tiny, insignificant nation that was conquered over and over again by the world-dominating superpowers of the ancient world: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome. In the best of times, Israel was in no position to tell anyone else what to do.

And yet...

The story that Israel tells about herself is that her God is the one real God. In the early part of her history, Israel understands that her God is the best God. Over time, she comes to understand that other "gods" are only idols, substitutes which the nations worship instead of worshiping God. It stands to reason that whatever Israel's God says through the prophets would apply to all the nations of the world. Even though the beginning of the book of the prophet Isaiah sees Israel again in the thrall of other nations and their so-called gods, the prophet can envision a time when every people will -- must! -- come to worship the one and only God, and hear and take heed to what God has to say.

The promise of peace

So it is that we are given to imagine this scene -- all the nations on earth streaming toward the mountain of God, the place from which he will instruct us. And his instruction is that all our war-making is at odds with God's hope for us. For the God whose Word has the power to bring creation into being, the vision of sheathed swords and closed training camps and pruning hooks where spears used to be is not just a wish. It is a promise.

All evidence to the contrary

Advent is the season of hopeful expectation. We hear the promise anew and await its fulfillment. This in spite of the dreary headlines that weigh on our weary hearts. Make no mistake: Christian hope isn't finger-crossing, rose-colored, pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna-ism. In the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, the people stream to another mountain on which the Prophet who is also the great High Priest and King gives instruction, by way of a series of blessings. These are not for the comfortable or the powerful, but rather for the poor and the mourning, the meek and the merciful. In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus includes this solemn promise:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

We wait. With unfailing hope.

Compassion. Encouragement. Challenge.

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