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The Annunciation and Freedom

Posted Mar. 25, 2014 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38).”

Today we celebrate that great event when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God. The Annunciation is a huge solemnity in the Church because it commemorates that moment when God took on human flesh. This day exemplifies God’s love for us in so many ways. All throughout the Old Testament we read about examples when God’s love was rejected by His people. Time and time again, He offered opportunities to accept His love, all the while, allowing His people to choose Him freely (or not choose Him as was often the case). Mary’s fiat or “yes” is celebrated because unlike anyone in history before her, she was completely and unreservedly open to God’s will in her life.

The event of the Annunciation teaches us a great deal about freedom. Often times, when we think of freedom, we see it as the ability to choose between “a” or “b,” without any pressure or influence to choose either one. We often believe that such an influence would be considered an infringement on our freedom. But when we look closer, this view of freedom is devoid of all truth. It assumes there is no difference between the options “a” and “b” and that the only good is the ability to choose. It never considers what is being chosen.

Authentic freedom, on the other hand, is shaped by truth. In the words of John Paul II, “Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom.” Apart from truth, freedom cannot exist. Take for example persons considered “free” to “express their sexuality” through the use of pornography, a medium that completely disregards the truth of human dignity and what human sexuality is made for. Through this addicting “expression,” a person can quickly become a slave to the sin of pornography. Contrarily, we are most free when we are living according to the truth of our existence.  Because she had never been touched by the stain of sin, Mary was completely free to embrace the will of God. She was completely free to live the life she was made to live.

Another lie society tells us is that our ability to choose is simply that, our choice. No one else needs to be involved and no one else should matter. We are autonomous, self-determining individuals, so the theory goes. The Annunciation shows us this is not the case. Mary’s willingness to participate in the event of the Incarnation has affected all of history. All of creation waited in anticipation of Mary’s “Yes.” We are all sharers in the benefit of Mary’s decision to choose the will of God. No choice we make is ever merely personal because we are all connected through our common humanity.

Finally, the Annunciation shows us that we can never truly separate faith and life. This is sometimes difficult to accept, especially within a culture that emphasizes the importance and necessity of separating “Church and state.” Today, it is considered normal to be “personally opposed” to something, but okay with it happening in the public realm. Our Catholic faith is different, however. There is no distinction between the public and private realm when it comes to living out our faith. Everything we do, whether it be eating, sleeping, talking or reading, should be done with an eye to who we are as created beings and why God made us. The Incarnation shows us that the physical matters. Salvation history occurs within history, it is a physical event.

There is a poem by Rev. John Duffy, C.S.s.R. which describes Mary’s first awakening after the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. In describing Mary, the poem explains “She was the Mother of the wandering Word, little and terrifying in her laboring womb. And nothing would again be casual and small, but everything with light invested (italics mine).” The Incarnation displays for us how involved God is in our daily lives. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).” He is not some distant God who creates us and leaves us to figure things out on our own. Instead, God is invested in our lives at every moment. He holds us in being through love, in love, and for love. As John Paul II explained, “man remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love (Redemptor Hominis, no 10).” So nothing we do should be separated from this realization that God is Love and desires each of us to be united with Him in Love. When we realize this, “nothing [will] again be casual and small.”

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Friday Fast: March 21

Posted Mar. 20, 2014 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Intention: We pray for all fathers, that through the example of St. Joseph, they may fully embrace their vocation and accept the privilege and responsibility of caring for their children as St. Joseph cared for Jesus.

Reflection: On Wednesday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Guardian of the Redeemer,” John Paul II referred to St. Joseph as “the guardian and cooperator in the providential mystery of God (no 14).” He explained that together with Mary, Joseph was the first guardian of Christ: “St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood (no 8).”

It is interesting to note that St. Joseph’s fatherhood and specific role in the plan of salvation would not have been possible apart from his marriage to Mary: “Joseph’s fatherhood – a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ…comes to pass through marriage to Mary, that is, through the family (no 7).” Let us pray that every husband and wife will be brought closer to Christ through their marriage to one another.

A further reflection on St. Joseph’s participation in the plan of salvation can be found here.

Did You Know? Pope Francis has a deep devotion to St. Joseph. Last year, he chose the Solemnity of St. Joseph as the date for his inaugural Mass. A sign of Pope Francis’ devotion to this Saint can be seen on his coat of arms. Next to the star representing Mary is the spikenard flower, which is often used to represent St. Joseph.

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Solemnity of St. Joseph

Posted Mar. 18, 2014 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

Among Saint Joseph’s many titles such as “mirror of patience”, “lover of poverty”, “terror of demons”, “pillar of families”, a particularly interesting one is “the guardian of the mystery of God.” In his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, John Paul II emphasized the importance of this title and the role St. Joseph was given to play in God’s plan of salvation.

Joseph was one of the first to share in the mystery of the Incarnation with Mary. This “sharing” was in a real way an actual participation in Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation. In taking Mary as his wife instead of divorcing her, “what Joseph did united him in an altogether special way to the faith of Mary. He accepted as truth coming from God the very thing that she had already accepted at the Annunciation (no 4).” Mary and Joseph were one in their desire to follow the Will of God. In a particular way, Joseph silently and courageously took upon himself the many sufferings that Jesus and Mary would bear over the years. Whether by accepting the mysterious nature of Mary’s pregnancy, making the long journey to Bethlehem with no place to stay, and later escaping into Egypt to save Jesus’ life, Joseph fully embraced the supreme honor and responsibility of caring for Mary and Jesus.

It is important to note that Joseph’s fatherhood is tied to his marriage with Mary. In fact, “Joseph’s marriage to Mary is the juridical basis of his fatherhood (no 7).” God chose to have His only Son enter the world in a family. In the beginning of the Old Testament, we are told of a married couple, Adam and Eve, through whom “the source of evil was unleashed on the world (no 7).” It seems fitting therefore, that God would desire to bring salvation to the world through the marriage of Mary and Joseph. In this way, “the savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family – that sanctuary of love and cradle of life (no 7).”

Through Christ’s being born into and growing up in a family, we see the importance placed upon marriage and the family within salvation history. Each family today is given the opportunity to imitate the Holy Family and therefore participate in salvation history in a distinct way. Each family is a “domestic Church” where, as Pope Francis explained, “we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children (Evangelii Gaudium, no 66).” Each family is also given the opportunity to ask St. Joseph to guard and protect them as he guarded and protected Mary and Jesus. Let us never hesitate to ask this powerful saint to intercede on behalf of our families. St. Joseph, pray for us!

March 19, 2014

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Friday Prayer on the Feast of All Saints Day

Posted Nov. 7, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Intention: We remember the saints and martyrs who were servants of the Lord during their earthly lives and ask that they pray for us to one day join them in heaven.

Reflection: The Solemnity of All Saints is a feast in the Catholic Church that was originally instituted to honor the Christian martyrs of the late Roman Empire.

Although we often associate martyrdom with events of the past, violent persecution of Christians is still happening at an alarming rate in modern times in many countries. Therefore, in praying for the martyrs of ages past, let us also pray for suffering Christians around the world who continue to be persecuted in this day and age for following Christ.cemetery

Did You Know? Many families make it a tradition on All Saints’ Day to gather at a local cemetery and decorate the graves with flowers or wreaths in anticipation of All Souls’ Day, which occurs on November 2. Catholics in many countries honor and pray for the departed souls who may have no one to pray for them.

*Note on fasting: On the Solemnity of All Saints, we honor all of the saints and continue to join in prayer for the building up of a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty.  Since this feast day is a solemnity, it is not appropriate to fast on All Saints’ Day.

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Friday Fast: for those facing religious persecution

Posted Aug. 8, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

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Intention: For the intercession of the saints to fortify and encourage all those facing religious persecution.

Reflection: Today we celebrate the feast of St. Edith Stein, who was born into a Jewish family in 1891 in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. During her studies in philosophy, she encountered the writings of the great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, who inspired her conversion to Catholicism in 1922. In 1933, she joined the Carmelite Order, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Edith faced significant adversity during her early years in religious life. Recognizing the risk she presented to her fellow sisters during World War II because of her Jewish background, Edith left for Holland and entered the Carmel of Echt. Edith, however, was captured by Nazis and later taken to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.

St. Edith Stein stands as a profound witness for all who seek to live for the truth. Let us recall her words spoken just a few days before her death: “If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.” We pray ardently for the grace to stand courageously in the face of religious persecution.

Did you know? Last year, Pope Benedict XVI told the diplomatic corps that even in today’s time, “In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights…; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes. At times they are forced to leave the countries they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life.”  Read more about current threats to international religious freedom.

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Friday Fast: Pray for greater friendship with Jesus

Posted Aug. 1, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

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Intention: That we may become better friends with Jesus, and that our friendship with Him would help us to reflect His love for everyone.

Reflection: When we look at our society, we see a great deal of suffering, injustice, and heartache. We see people of inestimable worth who are looked down on or rejected because of their disabilities. We see women facing unexpected pregnancies who feel trapped and as though there is no life-affirming support for both them and their children. We see elderly men and women who fear that they are a burden.

Yet we know that “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted” (Ps 34:19). And we know that He invites us to help Him show all people His love. We might feel intimidated and overwhelmed because we don’t know how to respond to the great need we see, but He will show us.

Let us draw close to Jesus, spending time with Him and listening to His voice. Let us ask for help seeing Him in those around us and loving them with His heart: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

Did you know? Today is the feast day of St. Peter Julian Eymard (called the “Apostle of the Eucharist”): “Belong entirely to God through love, entirely to your neighbor through a gracious charity, entirely to the divine Eucharist by the offering and sacrifice of your whole self. Bear with yourself in the patience of our Lord.” (See also: “A Holy Hour for Life: Prayers Before the Blessed Sacrament for the Gospel of Life”).

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Friday Fast: For grandparents

Posted Jul. 26, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

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Intention: For grandparents, that they may be cherished by their families as they continue to witness to fidelity, love, and sacrifice.

Reflection: Today is the feast day of St. Joachim and St. Anne, the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said that grandparents are “witnesses of a personal and community history” that continues “to live on in their memories and in their wisdom.”

More quotes from Benedict’s talk on grandparents:

“Who does not remember their grandparents? Who can forget their presence and their witness by the domestic hearth? How many of us bear their names as a sign of continuity and gratitude!”

“May grandparents return to being a living presence in the family, in the Church and in society. With regard to the family, may grandparents continue to be witnesses of unity, of values founded on fidelity and of a unique love that gives rise to faith and the joy of living.”

“In the face of the crisis of the family, might it not be possible to set out anew precisely from the presence and witness of these people – grandparents – whose values and projects are more resilient?”

Did you know? The next video in the Marriage: Unique for a Reason series is a Spanish-language video called “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida” (“Marriage: Made for Love and Life”). In the video, grandparents Hector and Rosa, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary, gently help their grandson Miguel and his girlfriend Maria see the beauty of lifelong married love between a husband and wife. Go here to watch a trailer of “El Matrimonio” (with a dual-language script).

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Sunday Pope Quote: Bl. John Paul II on Marriage and the Trinity

Posted May. 26, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Sunday, May 26 is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. In his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, Bl. John Paul II wrote about the likeness between the Trinity and human persons.

Bl. John Paul II: God, who allows himself to be known by human beings through Christ, is the unity of the Trinity: unity in communion. In this way new light is also thrown on man’s image and likeness to God, spoken of in the book of Genesis. [link] The fact that man “created as man and woman” is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a “unity of the two” in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life.

- Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 7 (italics original, bold added)

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Friday Fast: Pray for religious freedom, and the courage to live our faith at all times

Posted May. 17, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

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Intention: As we approach the feast of Pentecost, we pray for the Church and that our faith might not be simply a private matter, but rather that the Holy Spirit will help us witness to Christ in all areas of our lives.

Reflection: As faithful Catholics, the beliefs that we profess in Church on Sunday carry over into our personal and professional lives. Christ invites us into loving relationship with Him, and His love infuses our actions, helping us to love Him in return by following His commandments in our daily lives. However, the proposed HHS “contraceptive mandate,”  in effect, attempts to restrict the practice of our faith to the private sphere. As explained by the USCCB general counsel, the mandate’s current definition of “religious employer” (a definition used to determine which employers are exempted from the mandate) excludes “a wide array of employers that are undeniably religious,” including organizations that “contribute most visibly to the common good through the provision of health, educational, and social services,” such as Catholic schools and hospitals. Telling faith-based organizations that they are not “religious enough” to qualify for an exemption to the contraceptive mandate is a violation of religious freedom.

As we approach the feast of Pentecost, let us ardently pray to Christ to send forth His Spirit so that we will be filled with His peace and strength to live our faith at all times.

Did you know? “This year’s Fortnight [for Freedom] occurs just weeks before August 1, when the administration’s mandate coercing us to violate our deeply-held beliefs will be enforced against most religious non-profits. During the Fortnight the Supreme Court’s decisions on the definition of marriage will likely be handed down as well. Those decisions could have a profound impact on religious freedom for generations to come.” Archbishop William E. Lori, News Release (May 13, 2013)

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Sunday Pope Quote: Bl. John Paul II on St. Gianna Molla

Posted Apr. 28, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Today, April 28, is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a married saint whom we profiled earlier in our married saints series. In honor of St. Gianna’s feast day, today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from the 2004 mass in which Bl. John Paul II canonized St. Gianna along with five others.

Bl. Pope John Paul II: “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love. In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: ‘Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women’.

Following the example of Christ, who ‘having loved his own…loved them to the end’ (Jn 13:1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.

Through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, may our age rediscover the pure, chaste and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call!”

- Homily at the Canonization of Six New Saints (May 16, 2004), emphasis added

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