Getting Mary’s Help in this New Year

Happy New Year!  Usually, my first post of the year is about how we should not make “praying more” a new year’s resolution because making something a new year’s resolution almost guarantees failure.  However, this year I’m going to take a different tone based on the homily I heard last Sunday on the feast of the Solemnity of Mary.

At my parish, Father Tony talked about the importance of asking Mary for help with all the challenges and concerns in our lives.  He iterated the Church’s teaching that Mary will clarify and amplify your intentions before her son, Jesus Christ, and act as your mediator.  You may only have a vague notion of what you want or need but Mary will help you better understand those needs and help you present them to Jesus.

That homily got me thinking about new year’s resolutions.  What if they don’t fail because they are often rather vague promises made on a somewhat arbitrary day on a calendar?  Instead, maybe new year’s resolutions do not stick because people try to accomplish them on their own without any help.  Maybe we should ask Mary for her assistance in trying to accomplish our resolution.  After all, she desperately wants to help all of us achieve true happiness by eventually living in God’s Kingdom of Heaven.

But how will Mary help me lose weight?  How will Mary help me earn $10k in the stock market?  Does she really care about helping you achieve any non-spiritual goals?  Probably not.  And maybe she wants us to take a hint.  If certain goals are not a priority to Mary, maybe they shouldn’t be a priority for us either.  Like I said earlier, part of Mary’s intercession is to clarify what we truly need.  Finding a meaningful resolution is just as important as following through on one.

Yes, but will it buy you true happiness?

In the spirit of including Mary in helping me throughout my life in all important matters, not just a single new years resolution, I’m going to try to remember to add the Memorare prayer to my daily routine.  I invite you to do the same.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in your mercy, hear and answer me.
Amen.

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Two Different Responses to God’s Unbelievable Plan

The Bible is full of parallels.  It may be parallel themes between Old and New Testament readings or accounts of different people having similar encounters with God.  We see one such parallel between the story of Mary in the Annunciation and that of Zechariah, husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.  We pray and meditate on these readings, which make up the first two Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, all this week leading up to Christmas.

Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annu...
Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annuncio dell’angelo a San Zaccaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In both accounts, the angel Gabriel comes with news of a pregnancy.  Mary is told she will give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit and Zechariah is told that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist.  Furthermore, the announcement is initially met by disbelief.  Mary’s amazement comes because she is not married and Zechariah’s stems from Elizabeth’s old age.

The difference in these two accounts comes next.  In Mary’s case, she praises God and humbles herself saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  But in Zechariah’s case, the angel Gabriel takes away his ability to speak because of his disbelief.

What confused me about these two accounts was that according to the text, it appears as if Mary and Zechariah both show a very similar reaction, one of amazement and disbelief.  Why was Zechariah punished and not Mary?  I think the key is understanding Gabriel’s ability to see into someone’s heart and not just hear their words.

Angel Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary, by Muril...
Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, by Murillo, c. 1655 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Mary was confused initially, in her heart she truly believed and accepted God’s Will for her.  But I think that Gabriel must have sensed that Zechariah did not fully believe the news he had just heard.  To put it another way, Mary’s initial reaction may have been out of shock and quickly passed while Zechariah harbored a real sense of disbelief.  Maybe, while he was in the holy sanctuary, Zechariah was going through the motions of prayer but not fully open to God’s grace.  It is fitting that he was punished with speechlessness as a sign that maybe he was giving more lip service to his faith rather than truly internalizing it.

As we prepare in these final days of Advent, let us remember to have an open heart like Mary and not a closed one like Zechariah.  Pray that you don’t go through the motions of spirituality by treating Christmas Mass like a mere formality before the real celebration can begin.  Mass is the real celebration!  I know many of you have large dinners to attend, guests to entertain, and presents to open.  And while you may say you believe and celebrate Jesus’ birth, how much of your heart is centered around Him?  God knows what is in our hearts and you can’t fool him.

This Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  The best birthday present you can give Him is an honestly open heart.  Don’t go through the motions of prayer and practicing your faith but earnestly make room in your heart for God’s grace manifested in His son, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas!

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“Let’s go to Bethlehem” — The Shepherds’ Tale

I wanted to write one more post before Christmas.  I really thought I would be able to get something out last week but two small boys really just suck up all available time and energy.  I don’t have a lot of time and I’m sure many of you are already in party mode.  But I would appreciate it if you could just entertain one more rosary insight before diving into the egg nog.

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherd...
Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds, still influenced by St. Bridget (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rosary mystery that relates to Christmas is an obvious one — The Third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity.  I want to focus on a group of people in this mystery that I don’t think get a lot of mention in Christmas homilies — the shepherds.  To recap from Luke’s Gospel:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.

Remember, being a shepherd nearly 2000 years ago wasn’t an easy job.  A shepherd spent day and night taking care of sheep in all sorts of environments.  You couldn’t just run off and leave the sheep unattended or else some wolves would have a very grand feast.  While they worked in groups, I’m sure a few shepherds leaving created a huge burden on the others.  So you have to picture the sense of awe they felt when they saw that great company of the heavenly host in the sky and how deeply the spirit moved them to go and seek out the baby Jesus.  They risked their livelihood to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the newborn king.  After all, I’m sure the “angel excuse” wasn’t going to hold up very well with their employers if the sheep were eaten by wolves.  But they were filled with a sense that seeing Jesus was something unique and important.  Their jobs, while important as well, could wait for a bit.

Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds...
Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds (1644) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s learn from the Gospel’s shepherds this Christmas.  For just a few moments, whether it is a week, day, or just a few hours, cast aside your fears and worries in your life to just bask in Jesus’ presence.  Just trust in the Lord that the world won’t come crashing down because you stopped and took a few minutes to pray.  Like the shepherds, you don’t need to come bearing great gifts.  You just need to give your time and attention and most importantly, show a little faith.  Christmas is chaotic, I get that.  It’s not always easy to escape our responsibilities of work and family.  But I hope we can all just take a few moments to just be with Jesus in prayer and allow Him to remind us what’s truly important — God’s love and a sense of hope for a peace, both inner peace in our souls and an exterior peace with each other.

Merry Christmas!

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Bath Time! — Mary’s Rosary Promise #9

I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.

Ah Purgatory!  After the high regard Catholics have for Mary, nothing seems more contentious than the existence and need for Purgatory.  It brings up debates between Catholics and protestants and questions like, “Where is Purgatory mentioned in the bible?”  Aside from the theological arguments whether Purgatory exists, there is just a general fear of it.  I think many people don’t really care all that much about the theological underpinnings of Purgatory.  Rather, many wish that it didn’t exist because they think it’s some sort of “Hell Lite.”

We need to frame Purgatory in the proper context — it is a level of existence between our earthly life and a heavenly one where we become purified and worthy of Heaven.  We cast off the last layers of our earthly selves — the sin, the shortcomings, the weakness to temptation, the pressure and anxieties, and everything else that prevents us from fully embracing God‘s love.  No matter how good any of us are, with the exception of the saints, most of us die tied down to worldly things in some way or another.  Purgatory is like that final, cleansing bath that washes away that worldly “grime” we accumulated throughout our lives.

Bath time
Splashy, splashy!  Time to get clean for God’s kingdom.

If we truly understood the majesty and beauty of what awaits us in Heaven, we would not only understand why we need Purgatory, but actually want to go to it.  I think that when we die and we get the full sense of who God is, we would not even consider entering His kingdom any other way but in a state of perfection.  Would you want to attend a wedding in your work clothes?  Would you walk through someone’s immaculately clean home in muddy shoes?  There are social situations in this life where we feel embarrassed if we arrive in a state not appropriate for the event.  Similarly, I think when we get a taste of just how awesome God is at our final judgement, we won’t give a stay in Purgatory a second thought.  The notion of entering His kingdom with any worldly blemishes will seem embarrassingly laughable.

This shows The Virgin and The Child being pres...

But just because we understand the need for Purgatory doesn’t make it any easier to endure.  But the suffering isn’t the type of suffering we encounter in Hell.  Rather, we suffer because we know just how close we are to the infinite joy and peace of Heaven.  We are like children on Christmas Eve that can’t wait for Christmas morning and open the presents under the tree.  Every minute is just agony as time just seems to slow to a stop and it seems like Christmas day will never come.  Likewise, every moment in Purgatory probably seems unbearable with the knowledge that we are so close to completing a long journey.  We want Mary to act as our advocate so our time waiting in Purgatory will be brief.

Like many of her other promises, I think Mary reveals more of a result of praying the rosary than something that she actively applies.  Those who are devoted to the rosary are less likely to commit sins which require a longer stay in Purgatory to clean.  Those who pray the rosary already have a better understanding of just how great Heaven must be and try extra hard to live in a way where they will most quickly arrive in Heaven after their death.  As I said in early articles, it’s not solely the act of praying the rosary itself that leads us to Heaven, but the wisdom and will to live in God’s grace that it helps implant in our souls.  Mary is here to help those who want her help and ask for it through rosary prayer.

Ask for Mary’s help to quickly pass through Purgatory.  Pick up a rosary and pray it today!

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Christmas Bells Are Ringing

It’s that time of year again where we crawl deep into our garages and take out all the Christmas lights and decorations.  I’m always excited each year to see if the outdoor decorations I bought the year before at a discount (since I buy them after December 25th) will actually work.  This year, a lit snowman backed by candy cane lights graced our front lawn to keep our Christmas polar bear company.  Of course, the Christmas season is also about shopping.  I know that we all say Christmas shouldn’t be about gifts, but chances are you will need to buy presents for at least one person.  I’m going to tell you how you can shop for Christmas gifts online while supporting RosaryMeds and without it costing you an extra cent.

Do you know why blog websites display ads for various online retailers?  Whenever you follow a link from a blog site to an online store and purchase something, that blog site gets a little payment from that online store as a small “thank you” for referring someone’s business.  This is called affiliate marketing.  I know that term gets a lot of bad press since most people associate it with pyramid, MLM, work-at-home, and “get rich quick” schemes.  But it’s a legitimate way many blogs try to cover their costs (hosting, domain registration, site design expenses, etc.).  The great thing about affiliate links is that they require you, the customer, to do nothing differently except initially go to the website via a special link from the blog site.  You just purchase items that you were going to buy anyway, but the blog site gets a small payment.  I try my best to be selective about who I partner with and only promote sites and products that I personally like and relate to the overall themes of RosaryMeds — the Catholic faith, rosary meditation, and prayer.

For example, you might want to consider buying something from Mystic Monk Coffee.  This coffee is actually roasted by Carmelite monks in Wyoming as part of their vow of daily labour.   It’s the only coffee we brew in my house.  Sure, I could go to the market or Starbucks and pick up a bag of dark-roasted beans.  But I feel good knowing that when I buy Mystic Monk coffee I’m helping support a monastery and people who dedicate their lives to praying for others like you and me.  And when brewed correctly, it tastes great to boot.  Do you have a coffee drinker on your gift list?  Consider Mystic Monk.

Another Catholic online retailer that is near and dear to my heart is Ignatius Press.  To be honest, it is sometimes a love/hate relationship particularly when they send me their catalogue in the mail.  The frustration comes from the fact that they offer so many interesting books and videos that there aren’t enough hours in the day to read them all.  Just to name a few titles that look interesting to me — 50 Questions on the Natural Law, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass, The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church, and Modern Moral Problems.  Do you have an avid reader or movie watcher on your gift list?  Consider buying something from Ignatius Press.

Of course, in my humble opinion (wink, wink), one of the best gifts you can give yourself or others is a copy of my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us: A Practical Guide to our Most Powerful Prayer.  I saw a huge gap in the types of rosary books available to aspiring prayer warriors.  The books are either extremely basic; giving only small paragraph descriptions of each mystery and not even much reflection.  Other rosary books are incredibly dense with a lot of scholarly analysis and history of the rosary.  That might make for good reading, but does it make for better praying?  My book focuses on helping you get the most out of actually praying the rosary, not just learning its history or the story behind each mystery.  Do you know someone who could use a little rosary prayer?  Consider The Rosary for the Rest of Us.

So there you go — three great Christmas gift ideas.  Follow the links to those online stores from this post or on from the banners on the left-hand sidebar of the RosaryMeds website as a way of showing your appreciation for either my articles or my book.  And, speaking for bloggers everywhere, if you do intend on purchasing something online this Christmas, check and see if your favourite blog has an affiliate link to the sites that have the items you want.  It’s a great way of saying “thank you” to the blogs that you enjoy visiting without requiring any extra effort or money.

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Don’t be La Befana this Christmas

English: Snowman in Stra Italiano: Befana di n...

I just heard an interesting Italian legend about La Befana.  She was a woman (or a witch in some accounts) who was approached by the Three Magi on their journey to see the baby Jesus.  She gave them shelter and food as she was known for being a great hostess.  When the three magi invited her to join them in their travel, she declined saying that she had too much housework to complete.  Later, once she understood the shortsightedness of turning down such an offer, she ran out in search of Jesus; leaving gifts at every house on her way in hope that the Holy Family was in one of them.  And so, on every Feast of the Epiphany, she leaves treats at each house as she still is looking for the baby Jesus.

La Befana was so consumed trying to be the perfect hostess that she lost sight of what was really important.  Instead of taking the opportunity to praise Jesus, she worried that the floors were swept, the fire was warm, and there was food for her visitors.  Ironically, her desire to provide that perfect, welcoming environment ended up excluding her from joining the real celebration in a small, dirty stable in Bethlehem.

Are we like La Befana during Christmas?  Are we so consumed with the physical and commercial aspects of this season that we forget that it’s about glorifying Jesus?  We should remember that all those physical things — having the right outfit, baking the Christmas cookies, buying the perfect gifts, and having matching napkins for all our guests, are not what make for a great Christmas anyway.  It’s about friends, family, and most importantly, our faith.  The real party is not what takes place on the 24th and 25th.  Instead, use Christmas to reflect that God, through Jesus and His Church, calls all of us to one day join the infinitely larger celebration in His Kingdom of Heaven.

The legend of La Befana echos the story of Martha from the Gospel of Luke 10:38-42:

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.  She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I don’t think I need to go into too much commentary here as the parallels between Luke’s Gospel and La Befana should be clear.  Again we see Martha so concerned with providing a perfect hosting environment that she misses the opportunity to embrace and rejoice in Jesus’ presence.

I wrote about the “trappings” of Christmas in my article on the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity.  La Befana trapped herself by her desire for housework and making the perfect home.  We often trap ourselves by thinking of all the physical and social aspects of Christmas while glossing over the spiritual aspects.  I think the word “trap” is appropriate in this case.  All those gifts and ornamental dressings can ensnare and prevent us from receiving a much better Christmas gift — God’s grace.

Challenge yourself this Christmas to fully embrace Christmas Mass and not just think of it as something you have to endure for an hour before the fun begins.  Remember, the best gift you receive for Christmas is the Eucharist during Mass.  That is Jesus, His love, His grace, and His promise for eternal happiness right there in front of you which no physical gift or scrumptious feast can even compare.  As I said in the Fifth Luminous Mystery, don’t receive Jesus so casually when you receive the Eucharist.  Truly embrace the Lord and listen to Him in prayer on how He calls you to live.  Don’t be La Befana and ignore Jesus’ invitation to live for His Kingdom of Heaven.  Don’t regret that you missed an opportunity to fully enjoy the grace God deeply desires for you.  May you have a Merry Christmas by remembering and rejoicing in the gift God gave the world through Mary through the person of Jesus.

Like this article?  Show your support and jump start your prayer life with my new book.  Available now on Amazon!

 

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Sticky: The Rosary for the Rest of Us

It’s here!  After a year of careful assembly, I’m proud to announce my first-ever, self-published book, “The Rosary for the Rest of Us: A Practical Guide to Our Most Powerful Prayer.”  Inspired by the articles on RosaryMeds, this book should help you get so much more out of your rosary prayers.  Full of meditations, intentions, and illustrations on all 20 mysteries, this book has a little something to boost everyone’s rosary prayers.  This will make the perfect companion to anyone who prays the rosary (or wants to start praying the rosary).  On sale now!

I want to acknowledge and thank everyone who helped make my goal of becoming a published author a reality.  I could not have done this without my editors — Barbara, Linda, Rebecca, Voytek, and Zofia.  Thanks for taking the time to read the book and provide feedback.  I also want to thank Jakub.  Originally, I was going to turn my rosary postings on this site into a pdf file and just distribute it as an ebook through the RosaryMeds website.  It was Jakub who urged me to publish it “for real” and make it available to a wider audience.  And so, now this book is available on Amazon in paperback and will hopefully be on the Kindle soon.

I really don’t know what to expect from this book now that’s its gone live.  Sometimes the delusional side of me envisions interviews on EWTN Catholic radio or the Catholic San Francisco newspaper writing a review on my book.  I would love to be at Mass and see someone with the book tucked under their arm or hear that rosary prayer groups are using it.  More realistically, it would be nice if enough people bought the book to cover operating costs of RosaryMeds.  But honestly, I will be enthused if this book motivates someone to pray the rosary who otherwise would not.  I truly hope that my efforts will bring at least one new person into the world of the rosary.

Just in time for Christmas.  Here are just a few ideas for purchasing “The Rosary for the Rest of Us”:

  • Stocking stuffer for someone on your gift list
  • Combine it with the purchase of a rosary to create the ultimate rosary prayer kit
  • Us it to pad your Amazon order for free shipping

Order it now, either from the CreateSpace eStore or Amazon, to get it by Christmas.

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Is Jesus on Your Gift List?

The weather is turning cold and crisp.  The leaves are falling off the trees.  Houses are lighted up in the evening.  It’s official.  Christmas is here.  And most of us have a “todo” list a mile long.  There are gifts to buy, travel plans to make, decorations to put up, and a ton of other logistics.  But there are many important tasks that we tend to leave off the Christmas chore list.  While we remember the Christmas season, we often forget that it is also the season of Advent.

Advent

Much like how we clean the house for Christmas guests, our souls could use a little house keeping during Advent.  Think about all the time you will spend making everything “just right” for your guests.  But there is one person you should remember on your guest list — Jesus Christ.  As the saying goes, “He’s the reason for the season.”  And Jesus isn’t awed by the size of your outdoor lighting display, how nice the dining room table is set, or any gifts under the tree.  What He would really like to see is a clean soul.  You want to make Jesus’ Christmas?  Think about receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I’m reminded of the First Luminous Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  We hear the words of John the Baptist to repent and prepare the way for the Lord.  The whole point of Advent is that it is a time of preparation.  We prepare ourselves to fully celebrate Christmas and receive God‘s grace by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I know many of you are probably thinking that going to Confession is real downer and that I mixed up Advent with Lent.  Many of us want to think about “happy things” during the holidays, not confess what we’ve done wrong.  But if you were willing to fight the crowds at midnight on Black Friday, battle for that last parking space at the mall, and wander throughout town to find the last Elmo doll, then Confession will a breaze.  And unlike some cheaply made trinket that will occupy closet space in a few weeks, the gifts from the Holy Spirit received during Confession is something you can keep for a long time.  Through Reconciliation, you have a brand new start in the Lord’s grace which might be the foundation for leading a holy life.  To borrow another common expression, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  So why not start it on the best foot possible?

If you are scared to go to Confession, try picking up a rosary and praying a few decades every day.  Ask the Holy Spirit, Mary, and all the saints for the courage to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We have a little over three weeks left in Advent.  With a little prayer we can all find that energy to get that one last present on our gift list for Jesus.

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Medjugorje Message on December 25, 2009

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on Decemeber 25, 2009: Dear children! On this joyful day, I bring all of you before my Son, the King of Peace, that He may give you His peace and blessing. Little children, in love share that peace and blessing with others. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on Decemeber 25, 2009:

Dear children! On this joyful day, I bring all of you before my Son, the King of Peace, that He may give you His peace and blessing. Little children, in love share that peace and blessing with others. Thank you for having responded to my call.

While many of us have to return to work now, remember that the Christmas season is still upon us.  The store-bought gifts are all opened, the Christmas cookies are now gone, and the Christmas tree is starting to dry up.  But the love of Jesus Christ entering this world remains.  Embrace it!  Continue to meditate, pray, and fast especially for those who are living far from God’s love.

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Remembering the True Gift of Christmas

I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! All through human existence people have been searching for meaning; to make sense of everything in this world. In other words, we have been searching for God and trying to know His ways. On Christmas, God answered that eternal question through the birth of Jesus Christ.

img_2639I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas!  All through human existence people have been searching for meaning; to make sense of everything in this world.  In other words, we have been searching for God and trying to know His ways.  On Christmas, God answered that eternal question through the birth of Jesus Christ.  He became flesh so that we could try to comprehend His incomprehensible nature.  And we find that God is not distant, petty, or power-hungry like the false gods people worshiped in ages past, but is as innocent and humble as a newborn baby.  May we embrace this great gift from God by increasing our faith and love for Jesus.

On the practical side, let us remember to take advantage of Christmas Mass whether that be on Christmas eve, midnight, or Christmas day.  I know all too often Christmas Mass is seen as something to “get out of the way” if we even go at all.  And often we spend our time at Mass thinking, “I wonder what is in that big box under the tree?”  Or, “I need to get home and start on that turkey!”  I know sometimes I just “zone out” and start scanning the congregation for friends I have not seen in a long time.  I just want to remind you that the Mass is the high point of this holiday.  As I mentioned in my Third Joyful Mystery Meditation, let us not be consumed by the “trappings” of Christmas even if it can only be for that one hour during Mass (hey, it’s a start).  Really take in the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament and reflect on the greatest gift humanity has ever received — a personal and loving relationship with God.

Merry Christmas!

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