The Epiphany: Come and Adore

The Feast of the Epiphany

“On the twelfth day of Christmas…”  January 6, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany!  This special day celebrates the coming of the Magi – the three wise men (or kings), from the East who followed a star and came and adore Jesus.

The definition of the word “epiphany” is a divine or supernatural manifestation – just as the wise men discovered Jesus.

“We Three Kings”

Who were the three kings?  Their story is shrouded in legend and tradition but it is believed that they were skilled at watching the stars.  They knew about the many prophesies that spoke of the Messiah and when they saw the bright star they knew something special was about to happen – that the Messiah had finally arrived.

The Magi traveled for a long time – roughly three years.  Their first stop was to visit King Herod in Jerusalem because they thought that the King of the Jews would be born in a palace.

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”  Matthew 2:2

Herod was furious because he did not know that Jesus’ kingdom would be a heavenly one and he thought that his power was in danger.  The chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem told Herod what the scriptures had said:

And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.  Matthew 2:6

King Herod then secretly met with the Magi and asked them exactly when the star appeared.  He then told them that they could find the King of the Jews in Bethlehem.  He told them:

“Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” Matthew 2:8

“Westward Leading, Still Proceeding”

The Magi set out for Bethlehem and eventually they came to the house where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were staying.  They gave Jesus the gifts they brought for Him – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Gold because Jesus is king; Frankincense because Jesus is God; and Myrrh because Jesus would one day die upon the cross to save us from our sins.

As they prepared to leave Bethlehem and return home, God warned them in a dream to avoid Herod and so they took a different way home.

Herod was furious when he found out that the Magi tricked him.  Because he still felt threatened by this newborn King of the Jews, he ordered the killing of every baby boy from birth to three years old.  God warned Joseph in a dream that they should flee to Egypt and so Joseph and Mary escaped to Egypt and Jesus’ life was spared.

“We Traverse Afar”

There are many special ways all around the world to celebrate the Epiphany.  In some countries, children open presents on the Epiphany instead of Christmas.  Some people believe the Magi bring the presents instead of Santa Claus.  Christmas decorations can be taken down on the Epiphany but some people choose to wait until Candlemas – the Presentation of the Lord.

In almost every country, there is a special cake associated with the day and many of the foods and sweets associated with this day have many spices to symbolize the spices the Magi gave Jesus.  Spanish children write a letter to the three kings asking for a special grace, blessing, or virtue for the year ahead.  In Ireland, the Epiphany is sometimes known as Women’s Christmas, a day when the men take over so the women could rest from all the hard work of preparing for Christmas.

House Blessing

On the Feast of the Epiphany, it is very special to ask the blessing of God on your house throughout the following year.  This blessing can help us remember that God is a part of our comings and goings and every aspect of our daily lives.  As a part of this blessing, it is traditional to write in chalk above the main entrance to the home.  This is what the writing would look like for 2018: +20 C M B 18+.

The letters C, M, B can signify the names of the three Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.  They can also stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which is Latin for May Christ bless this house.  The + signs represent the cross of Christ and the first two numbers are the first part of the year, while the last two numbers are the last part of the year.

“Guide Us to Thy Perfect Light”

The Epiphany should remind us of how special Jesus is and that we should spend our lives seeking Him.  Jesus is the light for everyone and if we follow Him we will never go astray.

Star of wonder, star of might, star with royal beauty bright – westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to the perfect light.

The Candy Cane: More Than Meets the Eye

Candy Cane Legends

The origins of the Candy Cane are uncertain and shrouded in legend.  One legend says a choirmaster invented a ‘J’ shaped candy to remind the children in the choir of Jesus and to keep them quiet during the long Christmas service.

In The Candymaker’s Gift by Helen and David Haidle, a candy maker wants to invent a candy that will remind children of the true meaning of Christmas.

Fundamentally, each of the legends tells the same story.  Most revolve around a candy maker who wanted to make a special kind of Christmas candy and remind everyone of Jesus, the reason for the special season of Christmas.  He began with a stick of hard, white candy.  Then he twisted the candy to form a ‘J’ and a shepherd’s staff.  To brighten up the white candy, the candy maker added red stripes – large ones and small ones.

Hidden Meaning

Although the meaning has been mostly forgotten, each candy cane contains hidden significance.

The hard candy symbolizes Jesus’ strength, dependability, and unfailing love.

The white candy represents purity and the holiness and sinless nature of Jesus.  It can also symbolize the forgiveness we receive from God that makes our souls white.

The cane shape can remind us of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who is always present to guide and protect us.

If you turn the candy cane upside down (or right side up) the letter ‘J’ is formed – J for Jesus!

Traditional candy canes have a peppermint flavor.  This can remind us of the spices that the three Wise Men brought to Jesus.

The color red reminds us of the merciful and unending love of God – who is Love!  Red can also remind us of the blood of Jesus, shed to save and purify us from our sins.

The large stripes can represent the cross of Jesus while the small stripes can represent the whip on his back, the crown of thorns on his head, and the nail wounds in his hands and feet.

A Sweet Reminder

Although the candy cane may be a legend, the truth it can symbolize is not!  Every Christmas we should be reminded of the great love God has for each one of us!  My associate pastor pointed out in a homily recently, that most babies are born to live but baby Jesus was born to die.  The sole purpose of the coming of Jesus was to save us from our sins.  Even if only one person on earth needed redemption, Jesus still would have come and died.

So, as you see and enjoy candy canes, remember the sweet truth that you are loved by God for all eternity!

“Be joyful this Christmas.  Don’t fuss or complain.  Remember God’s LOVE with this sweet candy cane.”  – Helen Haidle

Let it Snow: A Lesson from Snowflakes

“The Weather Outside is Frightful”

Every year, winter comes.  And every year, some people are happy while others are miserable.  Almost everyone has a love-hate relationship with snow and with winter in general.  However, despite the challenges winter presents, there is much beauty too!  We just have to take the time to look and really experience the moment – learning a lesson from each snowflake.

Taking a Closer Look

This winter, during the first official snowfall of the year, I was standing outside, shivering with cold.  Then, I held out my hand, and a teeny-tiny snowflake landed on my black mitten.  It just sat there, and it was the smallest, sweetest snowflake ever!  It had its own distinct pattern, shape, and size.  The next snowflake to fall on my mitten did not look like it and neither did the many snowflakes that were falling on my head or all around me.

Each snowflake has a distinct and unique pattern just as each person has a singular and unique purpose and mission in life.  It is as if God has a custom-made gift for each of us and no one will ever receive the same gift again.  We are unique and irreplaceable!  Just like that little snowflake, which will never fall from the sky again, no one exactly like us will ever walk the earth again.

Taking Courage

The little snowflake is immensely beautiful and yet its life cycle is so brief.  It falls from the sky, blends in with all its fellow snowflakes, eventually becomes dirty, and after a few days has melted completely never to be seen again.  In many ways, we are the same.  We are born, we live, blending in with the people around us and allowing the world to dirty our hearts, and eventually we are gone.  With this humdrum pattern, we can easily forget that each person is special and treasured by God.

Making a Difference

“Every avalanche starts with one snowflake.”

This quote, by an unknown author, is one that we should take to heart.  Since we each have a special mission in life, we can start making a difference just by being ourselves.  If we remember that there is only one of us and that no one can do our job or live our lives for us, we can take heart and journey on through the difficulties and the struggles.  One baby step at a time can see us through the most difficult times, just like one snowflake at a time can eventually create enough snow to cause an avalanche.

There is a beautiful story that I have included below that emphasizes the importance of even the smallest actions.

The Weight of a Snowflake

Fresh Packet of Sower’s Seeds, page 66

Not too long ago in a place not too far away, a field mouse asked a wise old owl what is the weight of a snowflake. “Why nothing more than nothing,” answered the owl.

The mouse went on to tell the owl about the time he was resting on a branch in a fir tree, counting each snowflake until the number was exactly 3 million, 471 thousand, 952. Then with the settling of the very next flake – crack. The branch suddenly snapped, tumbling the mouse and the snow to the ground. “Humph…Such was the weight of nothing,” said the mouse.

So the next time you think your contributions, your acts of charity, your works for justice, your gifts of love, and your talents are nothing, or that they are small in comparison to those of others, remember that when one is added to another, and then to another and so forth, great things can happen from nothing. In the same way, what seems to be ordinary can be transformed into something extraordinary with just a little extra nothing.

Making a Difference

And so, the next time it snows, every time we behold teeny snowflakes, and really, each and every day, let us remember that we are special and loved uniquely by God.  Let us live our lives serving others in our unique and special way and thus bring God’s love, life, and light to the world.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you.  What you do with it is your gift to the world.”  Leo Buscaglia

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini: The Immigrant Saint

An Italian Beginning

Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini was born Maria Francesca Cabrini on July 15, 1850 in Italy.  She was two months premature and the youngest of thirteen children.  Only four Cabrini children survived into adulthood and Frances was sickly and delicate most of her life.

Even when Frances was little she wanted to become a religious.  She went to a school taught by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart and graduated with a teaching license.  When she was 18, she asked to enter the Daughters of the Sacred Heart but she wasn’t allowed because of her poor health.  Instead she taught in an orphanage for the next 6 years.

A New Mission

Frances made her religious vows in 1877 and took the name Sister Frances Xavier.  In November 1880, Sister Frances Xavier and six other women founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Mother Cabrini was the Mother General of the community until her death.  The sisters served the poor by founding schools and hospitals.

Mother Cabrini wanted to become a missionary to China but instead Pope Leo XIII asked her to go the United States to help the Italian immigrants.

“Land of the Free; Home of the Brave”

On March 31, 1889, Mother Cabrini and six other sisters landed in New York City.

Even though Mother Cabrini was terrified of water as a child, she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times!  Things were very difficult at first, the house they were supposed to turn into an orphanage was no longer available, and the archbishop wanted them to return to Italy.  Mother Cabrini never gave up.  The sisters lived with the Sisters of Charity until they received permission to found an orphanage in New York.

Mother Cabrini founded 67 schools, orphanages, and hospitals in many states over the course of 35 years.  Throughout her life she cared for the poor, sick, and abandoned.  She cared especially for Italian immigrants to the United States.

“The Road Goes On”

In 1909, Mother Cabrini became a naturalized United States citizen.  Eight years later, on December 22, 1917, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini died of Malaria at the age of 67 in Chicago.  She was beatified by Pope Pius XI on November 13, 1938 and canonized on July 7, 1946 by Pope Pius XII.  Her feast day is November 13 and she is the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be canonized.  She is the patron Saint of immigrants and hospital administrators.

Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini, please pray for us!

“Go often my dear ones and place yourself at the feet of Jesus.  He is our comfort, our way, and our life.”  Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

Saint Jude: Saint of the Impossible

“Faithful Friend and Follower of Jesus”

Jude Thaddeus was one of Jesus’ original twelve apostles.  Saint Jude was very popular in the middle ages.  However, many began to confuse Saint Jude with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.  Because of this, Saint Jude slipped into obscurity for many years.

The name Thaddeus means courageous heart, and serves as a kind of nickname for Saint Jude.  It is believed that Jude was the brother of James the Less, who was also one of the apostles, and Simon the Zealot who shares Saint Jude’s feast day.  It is also believed that James and Jude were Jesus’ second cousins.  Most of Jude’s life is shrouded in speculation and legend and thus, nothing can be known for certain.

A Mission of Love

Our Lord appeared to both Saint Bridget of Sweden and Saint Bernard, asking them to accept Saint Jude as the “Patron Saint of the Impossible.”  Jesus told Saint Brigid of Sweden:

“In accordance with his surname (last name), Thaddeus, the amiable or loving, he will show himself most willing to give help.”

Throughout his life, Jude preached the Gospel passionately even when it was very difficult.  He traveled throughout Mesopotamia, Lybia, and Persia with Saint Simon the Zealot.  It is believed that both Simon and Jude were martyred in either Persia or Armenia.

Saint Jude is the Patron Saint of hopeless, lost, desperate, and impossible causes.  Legend has it that many people did not pray for his intercession because they were afraid of accidentally praying to Judas Iscariot.  It is believed that Saint Jude was so eager to assist anyone who prayed to him that he interceded in the most impossible situations.  He is usually depicted holding a club and the image of Jesus in his hands.  He is also pictured with a flame on his head, which is a symbol of Pentecost.  The Feast of Saint Jude (and Saint Simon) is celebrated on October 28 in Western Christianity.  Eastern Christianity celebrates their feast on June 19.

“Impossible odds set the stage for amazing miracles.”  Jentezen Franklin

Saint Margaret Mary: Sister of the Sacred Heart

“Mary, I am Thine”

Margaret was born on July 22, 1647.  As a child, she had a great love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  She loved silence and prayer very much.  She made a vow to our Blessed Mother that she would become a religious sister.  In honor of this vow, she added Mary to her name.

When Margaret Mary was 17, her mother wanted her to marry.  Since she believed her childhood vow was no longer binding, and in obedience to her mother, she began socializing in hopes of finding a husband.

A New Path

One day, Margaret Mary returned home after attending a dance with her brothers.  Jesus appeared to her, sad that she had forgotten him.  Jesus also assured her that His Heart was full of love for her because of the promise she made to the Blessed Mother.

Because of this vision, Margaret Mary entered the Visitation Convent on May 25, 1671, at the age of 25.

The Sacred Heart

Sister Margaret Mary experienced many trials in her life as a Sister.  She was kind, honest, simple, and patient.  While she was in the convent, Sister Margaret Mary experienced several visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  These visions were the origin of the First Friday devotions and devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Jesus allowed her to rest her head upon His Heart.  He told her that His Heart is burning with love for all of Humanity but we so seldom approach Him.  This saddens Him very much.  Many people doubted the authenticity of her visions, but eventually, she received the support of a Jesuit Priest.

Sister Margaret Mary died on October 17, 1690 at the age of 43.  She was beatified on September 18, 1864 by Pope Pius IX and canonized on May 13, 1920, by Pope Benedict XV.  She is most well known for spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Saint Margaret Mary is the patron Saint of those suffering with polio, those who are devoted to the Sacred Heart, and those who have lost their parents.  Her feast day is celebrated on October 16.  The Visitation Order celebrates her feast on October 17 and on October 20 in Canada.

Let us always remember that the Heart of Jesus burns with love for each one of us.  Jesus is always waiting for us to come to Him in our times of joy, sorrow, need, or simply with gratitude and love.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I implore that I may ever love thee more and more!  Saint Margaret Mary, please pray for us!

“I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the Heart of Jesus.”  Saint Margaret Mary

Guardian Angels: Our Friends and Intercessors

Friends Forever

Life on earth is extremely difficult and sometimes it may seem like we are all alone.  This is not the case, however. Ever since the beginning of our lives, God gave us a special angel to be our constant and life-long friend and companion. This special angel is known as our Guardian Angel.

Our Guardian Angels watch over us, pray for us, intercede for us, and guide us along the way.  We should pray often to our Guardian Angels and speak to them as if we were speaking to a friend here on earth.

There is a beautiful quote by Saint Jerome that says:

“How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.”

We celebrate the feast of the Guardian Angels on October 2nd!

Everyone has a Guardian Angel and none of us has to walk through the trials and sufferings of this life alone, because we each have a special friend that is ours alone.  No one before us had our specific Guardian Angel, and no one after us will have the same one ever again.  Many Saints have even seen their Guardian Angels and spoken with them.

Prayers to the Guardian Angels

There are many prayers we can say to our Guardian Angel.

The most traditional one is the Guardian Angel prayer but here, I am writing it with a variation from the Order of the Holy Angels:

“Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits here, ever this day/night be at my side to light, to guard, to rule, and guide.  Take me by the hand I promise docile obedience to your guidance so that I may attain eternal happiness.”

We should pray often to our Guardian Angel for guidance and protection.  They want to help us, but we have to be open to allowing them to work in our lives.

Guardian Angel Resources

There is a lovely book, Under Angel Wings, about a young girl who often saw and spoke with her Guardian Angel.  It is easy to read and a precious story for adults and children.  The Order of the Holy Angels has many books about the Holy Angels and Guardian Angels.  They also have many prayers to the Guardian Angels and Holy Angels, including a prayer to the Guardian Angel of the United States!  The Order of the Holy Angels has many other resources on their website.

On this feast of the Guardian Angels, let us thank God for giving us a very special friend to be with us on our journey through life.  We were not made to suffer alone and so we should not be afraid to turn to our Guardian Angels when we are feeling lonely, lost, or afraid.  They stand by our sides every step of the way to comfort us when we are sad, to protect us when we are in danger, and to lead us back to Jesus when we have lost our way.

“No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent.  For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways.  With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”  Psalm 91: 11-12

Our Lady of Sorrows: Mater Dolorosa

“Is There Any Sorrow Like My Sorrow?”

Every year, on September 15, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows who is also known as Mater Dolorosa or Mother of Sorrows.  On this day, we remember seven sorrows from the life of Our Blessed Mother such as losing Jesus in the Temple, the prophesy of Simeon, and the Crucifixion.  There are seven promises associated with the Seven Sorrows of Mary.  This article from the National Catholic Register has more about the Seven Sorrows and the promises associated with them.

Sometimes, Our Blessed Mother may seem too good – like she had an easy life with no pain.  This may be especially easy to think since she was without sin.  Being sinless, however, did not exempt her from human suffering, because she was, in fact, human.

In the Footsteps of Mary

We often hear about consoling the Heart of Jesus, but did you know that we can also console the Heart of Mary?  First Fridays are dedicated to consoling the Heart of Jesus, while First Saturdays are dedicated to consoling the Heart of Our Blessed Mother.

There is a beautiful song often sung during Lent/Holy Week called, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa.”  It is considered one of the seven greatest Latin hymns of all time.  Through this hymn, we see the great sorrow that Mary experienced watching her son suffer and die.  We see that Mary is truly a mother who understands our suffering and our pain because she experienced the greatest suffering of all.  The Seven Sorrows Rosary is a beautiful prayer with meditations on the Seven Sorrows of Mary.  When we allow ourselves to meditate on Mary’s sorrow, we can see that she is truly Our Lady of Sorrows.  However, her sorrow is not without hope.

A Source of Inspiration

On this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we should take comfort in knowing that we have a mother in Heaven who knows our pain and our sorrow.  She shared our grief and shed tears as we do.  However, she never lost hope that in the end, evil would not triumph.  Today, on this holy feast, we should give our wounded hearts to Our Lady of Sorrows and place our broken hearts into the pierced heart of Mater Dolorosa.  She hears our pleas and wants to comfort us and console us by leading us to the source of consolation – her Son, Jesus!

On this day, let our prayer be that of the Stabat Mater:

O thou Mother, font of love. touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord.  Make me feel as thou hast felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ my Lord.

Holy Mother, pierce me through, in my heart each wound renew of my Savior crucified: let me share with thee His pain, who for all my sins was slain, who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee, mourning Him who mourned for me, all the days that I may live.  By the Cross with thee to stay, there with thee to weep and pray, is all I ask of thee to give.

Our Lady of Sorrows, please pray for us!

“Do not leave the altar without first shedding tears of sorrow and love for Jesus, crucified for your eternal salvation.  Our Lady of Sorrows will keep you company and inspire you.”                                                                             Saint Padre Pio

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Symbol of Redemption

On September 14, the day before the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The preface for the Mass of the day beautifully captures the sprit of the celebration:

“For you placed the salvation of the human race on the wood of the Cross, so that, where death arose, life might again spring forth and the evil one, who conquered on a tree, might likewise on a tree be conquered, through Christ our Lord.

The Cross was a terrifying symbol in the days of the Romans.  It symbolized death and was considered one of the most brutal ways to be killed.  However, Jesus’ death transformed the symbol of death and despair into a symbol of hope.  In the days of the Romans, “Exaltation of the Holy Cross” was a nonsensical phrase.  Holy Cross would have been an oxi-moron and there would be no cause for exaltation.

However, as the preface states, the devil conquered the human race by tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The Cross of Christ is often called “the tree.”  And so, evil conquered on a tree, as the preface states.  But then, Christ, on a tree, conquered evil.  Thus, the Cross is not a symbol of mourning but of joy!  Many Churches were built in the form of a Cross commemorating the glorious symbol of our redemption.

Every time we pray the Stations of the Cross we pray,

“We adore you, O Christ and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world!

Christ conquered death through the exaltation of the Holy Cross!  He died to conquer death.  He lived so that we all might have life!

The Pathway to Life

On this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we should remember the comforting message that death no longer means the end.  The Cross is the pathway by which we can have Eternal Life.  In this life, we will all have crosses – our own difficulties to bear.  There is a saying that if we were all to throw our crosses in one big pile, we would hurriedly take back our own when we saw those of everyone else.  We should not look for crosses, however, we should embrace the ones Jesus gives us.  By taking up our Crosses and following Jesus, we will find Eternal Life!

Every feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross we should thank God for sending His Son to die for our sins and to save us!  Through the gift of His life, death, and sacrifice, the gates of Heaven are opened for us.  I am going to close with a beautiful, brief meditation by Billy Graham:

“God proved his love on the Cross.  When Christ hung, bled, and died, it was God saying to the world: “I love you.”

On this special day, let us tell our Savior that we love Him in return!

“Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim, ’til all the world adore His Sacred Name.”