Category Archives: Mary

Mary, help me

Friends in the Lord, on this Saturday of Our Lady, we wish to reflect on the particular role that Mary plays in the plan, or we would say, the economy of salvation.
The greatest treasure of the soul is grace; by it, we are raised to the honor of being the friends of God. For this reason, Jesus did not hesitate to call his disciples his friends. What then should we say of a sinner, who has lost friendship with God, and is now an enemy? As St. Alphonsus says, he must find a mediator who will obtain pardon for him.
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The Lord has given us this Mediator: He is Jesus Christ, True God and True Man. Jesus then provides the way to be reconciled with God. It is true however, that because of their sins, some people fear Jesus Christ. Because of their own sins, they believe him to be angry.
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Though a good father of a family loves his children, the child who becomes a delinquent, fears meeting his father. Hating his own sins, and hating himself, he supposes that his father hates him as well. In our sins, we sometimes fear this Jesus, who although our judge, has also suffered to redeem us.
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Nevertheless, says St. Bernard, if you are full of fear and trepidation, go to Mary, for she will intercede for thee with her Son. As at Cana in Galilee, Mother Mary obtains all that she asks from Jesus. ‘This divine Mother, concludes St. Bernard, is the ladder of sinners.
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When a child who is a delinquent in the family, fears to approach his father, he will nevertheless knock quietly at the back door, and speak with his mother in the kitchen – the merciful mother who is ready to speak, heart-to-heart. Mary says: I am the defender of those who have recourse to me, I have been appointed by my Lord to be a peace-maker between sinners and my Son.
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Cardinal Hugo says, Mary is the great peace-maker; she is salvation for those who are lost and in despair. The Holy Spirit tells us, that this Mother of Mercy never treats of war and vengeance against sinners, but only of peace. So let us go daily to this Divine Mother, who will show us the merciful face of Jesus.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

Friends in Christ, in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola we find that one day he met a Moor while riding his mule along a road. They began to discuss religion, and the Moor did not say good things about the Blessed Virgin; but the Moor was in a hurry, and went on ahead out of sight. Now as Ignatius thought more about this, about what the man had said, he became very angry, and wished that he had defended the honor of Mary better.
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He thought that perhaps he should go after that Moor and stab him, for what he said. But coming to a fork in the road, he did not know which path the Moor had taken. He decided he would let go of the reins, and allow the mule to choose the path. If the path led to the Moor, he would stab him. Otherwise not. Fortunately, the mule did not take the path of the Moor, and Ignatius later learned that violence is not the way of a Christian. Nevertheless, we see from this incident the great love that he had for Mother Mary and her honor.
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Today is the birthday of Mary, her Nativity. When Mary was born to St. Anne and St. Joachim, it was without sin. Mary was the culmination of a long, long time of humanity waiting. As we see in the Gospel, generations and generations prepared and waited for the Savior, and now is finally born, the Mother of the Savior, the beginning of the New Dispensation.
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At the age of 3 Mary wanted to go and learn and pray at the Temple, as did many of the virgins, so her parents took her, where she prayed and studied night and day. She knew from the prophets, that the savior would be born of a virgin, and she prayed often for that virgin, whoever she was. It did not dawn on her, that SHE would be that girl. But she did pray often, that she would live to see the Redeemer whenever he was to come.
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In the Church, in the Mystical Body of Christ, Jesus is the head, and we are the members, St. Paul says this. Of Mary it can be said, that she is the neck, of the Mystical Body. Pope St. Pius X, following St. Bernard, said this very thing in his encyclical Ad diem illum in 1904. He said that in the Mystical Body, Christ is the Head and Mary is the neck through which the head exerts its power and strength on the body. It is through Mary, that all spiritual gifts are communicated to us.
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The Blessed Virgin remains always close to us if we call on her. She knows what it is like to grow up, like other children, because she did. She knows our troubles almost before we tell her. Let us therefore always defend the honor of this good Mother, and call on her often. St. Antoninus says, it is impossible that the Mother of God should pray in vain. Her prayers are always heard, because they are the prayers of a Mother. Pray for us Mary, especially as we honor you on your birthday.

Dedication of St. Mary Major (ii)

Friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ has two natures: Divine nature and human nature – he is Truly God, and truly Man – yet he is one Divine Person. In this, Jesus unites heaven and earth, he joins our human life to God’s life, he is the perfect ‘ladder’ to heaven. But in the 4th century, an error in the understanding of Christ was taught, primarily by a man named Nestorius: He would say that Mary is the Mother of the human nature of Christ only, as if Jesus were two persons in one, a Divine Person and a Human Person. But this idea is totally against the teaching that Our Lord is One Divine Person, who unites in himself divinity and humanity. Jesus is One, Divine Person, with two natures.
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To address the heresy, the Church called the great Council of Ephesus in 431, and said, ‘Jesus is One Person in two natures. He is not a split personality. And to illustrate this perfectly, the Council taught that Mary is the Mother of God. Mary cannot give birth to a ‘nature,’ no. It is true, that Christ existed from all eternity according to his Divinity; but the Child born to Mary is a Person and so we say that Mary is the Mother of God, and this shows the unity of the Person of Jesus Christ.
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In honor of this great teaching, Pope Sixtus had built in Rome the church which is today called St. Mary Major. Today’s liturgy recalls the dedication of St. Mary Major, and this basilica is considered to be the most important church of Our Lady in the West.
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If you go to Rome, after St. Peter’s, this is the Church that must be visited. As Ms. June Hager explains, ‘In the course of 16 centuries all the arts have joined together to glorify this basilica as the house of the Virgin Mary on earth. It is a jewel box of treasures of every age. Classical marble columns divide the nave and side aisles. Byzantine mosaics glitter with gold in the apse, while colored mosaics from an earlier period wind their way high above the architrave. It all underlines one constant theme— the pre-eminence of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.’
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At the end of the 4th century a replica of the Bethlehem nativity was placed there; for this reason the Church is also called “St. Mary of the Crib.” To those who live in Rome, this church really IS Bethlehem, and the first Papal Mass of Christmas is always offered there.
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Because Christ has united perfectly in himself humanity and Divinity, into one Person, we too become the spiritual offspring of Mary; and so she is the Mother of God and also the Mother of us!

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Mary’s Humility

Friends in Christ, today is Saturday, the day of Our Lady; if we think of the saints, and all the virtues they possessed, Mary possessed them to a greater degree. One of the great virtues of the Blessed Virgin, is humility, and she did possess this virtue more than any other saint.  
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It has been said that Mary won God with her humility. St. Augustine says, Mary’s humility was like a ladder, by which Our Lord descended from heaven to earth to become Man in her womb.  This is confirmed by St. Antoninus, who says,  the humility of Mary was her most perfect virtue,  and the one that immediately prepared her to become the Mother of God.   
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Humility is not to act in some artificial, deprecating way; humility is to know the truth of one’s self before God. The truth that we are utterly nothing in comparison to God, but at the same time that we are unbelievably blessed in experiencing God’s love for us.  Now in this virtue of humility, Mary exceeded, as we have said, all the other saints put together.    
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This is in stark contrast to that of God’s enemy, Lucifer;  such a beautiful, gifted, angel,  seeing himself endowed with such marvels,  aspired to exalt his throne above the stars and to make himself like God.   But Isaiah 14:7 tells us: ‘How have you fallen from the heavens, O Lucifer?  You said in your heart: I will scale the heavens; above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will be like the Most High!   Yes. But now, ‘down to hell you go, to the recesses of the pit! You are cast forth, loathsome and corrupt, as a rotten carcass.  This is the end for those full of pride.  Thus, God’s mortal Enemy.    
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Mary, on the other hand, by her most humble heart, in a way, held God captive; Francone the Abbot says, Mary, with a kind of ‘sweet violence,’ drew the Word himself down from heaven and made him a prisoner in her chaste womb.   And St. Bernard remarks, O Lady, by your humility  you drew the Eternal Son from his repose into thy most pure womb.   
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Albert the Great says: O Mary, you have found, not taken, grace as Lucifer tried to take it.  You did not lose it as Adam lost it;  you have not bought it as Simon Magnus tried to buy it.  But you have found it, because you have desired and sought it.    
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St. Louis de Montfort says that in a certain way,  the devil fears Mary more than God. Why?   Because Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more,  being beaten by a humble and little handmaid;  he fears even one sigh of Mary for a poor sinner,  than all the prayers of all the Saints.           

Mary’s solicitude for us

Friends in Christ,[i] today is a Saturday of our Lady, and this dear Blessed Virgin can easily come to mind as we read the gospel today. 3 times Our Lord says, ‘Don’t worry.’ ‘“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.’ Later he says, ‘So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ And then again: ‘Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
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People often worry because they are afraid that God won’t arrange things to be the way they want them to be; they worry that something difficult, painful, or unwanted might come. But we know that we must put ourself in the hands of God, and accept his will whether it be easy or difficult.
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But it can also help us to realize that we have a Mother above, who is very solicitous for us, Mary wants to help us, just like a good mother does. I was speaking to a mother recently, asking her about her adult children. She told me about them. I said, ‘did you not also say you had a son in California?’ ‘Yes, she said. He is the one that causes all my worries.
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Our Mother Mary is not filled with worries, but with a real concern and a readiness to help us. Now you may say, ‘perhaps Mary does not see, or does not feel for our necessities? Oh, she does. St. Antoninus says, there is not one among all the saints who can ever feel for us in our troubles, both bodily and spiritual, like this woman, the most Blessed Virgin, so much so, he says, that when she sees our suffering heart, she cannot do otherwise than instantly fly to relieve it with her compassion.
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The Emperor Titus so much wanted to show assistance and mercy to those who came to him, that when a day passed without being able to grant a favor, he used to say, ‘I have lost a day, for I have spent it without benefiting anyone.’ But Mary is greater than a pagan emperor; her heart would be all sorrow, if a day should pass when she cannot obtain some favor for us to help us. Bernadine de Bustis therefore says, whenever we go to Her, we always find her hands full of mercy and generosity.

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[i] Glories of Mary, p. 251-2

Stairway to heaven

Friends in Christ, in reading through the Old Testament,  you will read there about the great Patriarch Jacob, and there were two important events that happened to him. One was, that a Jacob met what seemed to be a man who wrestled with him,  but he said, ‘You have wrestled with God and man.’ It was a mysterious event, but many believe this was a foreshadowing of Christ.   
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The other event that happened to Jacob, is that one night he had a dream of a stairway or a ladder that reached up to heaven; angels were ascending and descending this stairway. It was a connection between heaven and earth.  That is where we get the idea of ‘Stairway to heaven.’  It is also called a ‘ladder,’ as in ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’   
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But on this Saturday of Our Blessed Mother, I thought we could take for our meditation today, some thoughts from St. John Damascene[i] on these events.  Speaking to Mary he says, ‘Mary, you are that ladder by which God comes down to us, assuming the weakness of our nature.’
‘If Jacob’s wrestling with a God-Man symbolizes Jesus, then he says, the Ladder symbolizes Mary, by means of which God comes down to earth.   
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He writes: ‘Through her, the long warfare waged with the Creator has been ended. Grace and peace were granted to us, so that men and angels are united in the same choir, and we have become sons of God. Mary became Mediatrix of all blessings, and in her, God became man, and man became God.’  
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There are many signs of Mary in the Old Testament; she is the Woman who will crush the head of the serpent; she is Jael and Judith who defeated the enemies of the People of God.  John Damascene back in the year 750 believed that Jacob’s Ladder anticipates this Divine Mother by whom heaven will come down to earth, that is, Jesus.  
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This Mother wishes always to bring Jesus down to us, we must only turn from our foolish sins, begin again, and put ourselves under her Motherly protection. St. John Damascene speaks for us when he says: ‘What is sweeter than the mother of my God? She has taken my mind captive; she has taken possession of my heart; she is on my mind day and night.   

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[i] Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 405-8

Mary’s Service

Friends in Christ, today is a Saturday of Our Lady, and so I thought today we could consider something that Adrienne von Speyr mentions in her book about Mary.
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During the past Christmas season, we reflected on that encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel; Mary responded with an expression of humility: ‘I am the maidservant of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to Thy word.’ Adrienne Von Speyr says, Mary places herself at the service of God. She does not put any limitations on this service.
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Part of her obedience to the Lord will be in the daily matters of the household, her work in the home of Joseph, and all the dealings with relatives and neighbors. The Blessed Virgin makes no distinctions between her service owed to heaven and that of doing God’s will on earth; love of God and love of neighbor merge into ‘one love of God;’ really, she is now carrying heaven within herself: Jesus.
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In fancy homes where they have servants or maids, the owner of the house first shows her all the rooms and chests; the linens and the washing, the stove and so on. Once she is able to understand the home and her duties, in a sense, she knows her employer’s thoughts and wishes, and she wants to carry them out.
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Mary is this way, because she has come to know the thoughts and priorities of her Son, and so she gives of herself in his service. It is true, most maids or house servants only work a limited schedule with limited responsibilities; but Mary’s service to her Son is total and unlimited; she knows that she must be flexible as she serves her Son’s changing needs.
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For example, the desires of her Son Jesus change according to his age; in his Infancy, she tended to his little, physical needs. When Christ lived his public life, Mary served one way, at the Cross another, and in the early Church she tended to the Apostles and the concerns of her Lord’s early followers.
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But in these days, Mary’s service concerns her with the Living Body of Christ, with us; but this is not just in some general way, but in the particulars, with each individual disciple of Jesus.
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When we are little, we take for granted the service of our dear mothers, who mend our socks and wipe our face and make good food. Sometimes, when we are older, we are able to appreciate our mother, and we see how, in all those little acts of service – how she has won our heart.
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Mary is like that, serving us and concerning herself with the details of our life. And that is why we can never love and honor her enough.

A prayer for the New Year

Friends in Christ, today we begin the New Year.
Through the centuries, in the church, January 1st has been commemorated in different ways. In the early years in Rome, this day honored Mary as the Mother of God; by the 7th century, influence from the Eastern Church led us to emphasize more, the other Marian feasts; later, following the practice in Spain and France, today commemorated Christ’s infancy and Circumcision. Nevertheless, all along, the prayers of the Mass have retained the ancient tradition of honoring the Motherhood of Mary.
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There is a painting by Beate Heinen called ‘The Manger and the Cross.’ In the foreground one sees the stable with the newborn Child Jesus in the manger; from this little scene, a path leads out and through a beautiful meadow; but the path winds further and further in the distance, up a steep and gloomy hill, with three crosses on top of it. As someone has said, ‘the wood of the cradle and the wood of the cross are the same. The cradle was the first step to the cross.
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This little Child has a long and difficult path to follow, but the Mother is there with him at the beginning, as well as the finish. So we can see that God’s plan to save us from our sins – from the beginning, it involved the Son and the Mother.
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The Son of God is Eternal, he has always been; the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, through whom all things were made; the Son of God is Divine. Yet in time, this Son came down from heaven, and took flesh from the Virgin Mary, and became Man. This Jesus, who is True God and True Man, is the Child of Mary, and so we rightly call her the Mother of God. Now as Mary is the Mother of her Son, and was with him along his difficult journey of life, so too is Mary our Mother, who is with us in all the things of life.
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St. Ambose, speaking of Jesus in the womb of Mary, says that virtually, we were all there with him. And God revealed to St. Bridget that although Jesus was Mary’s first-born Son in the flesh, all of mankind are her other children according to the Spirit. As the lives of Jesus and Mary are intertwined and inseparable, so the Mystery of our own Redemption, looks to Jesus the Savior, and Mary our Mother.
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A beautiful Catholic prayer calls to mind these Mysteries of our salvation, the Angelus. Unlike other prayers that we say, the Angelus is said, not just whenever we wish, but at specific times of day. At 6:00am, 12noon, and 6:00pm. The idea is to stop what you are doing, and pray. It is a kind of test of our love of God: ‘Will you stop what you are doing and pray now?’ ‘Are you willing to tear yourself away from the newspaper or the internet – to pray.
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A friend from the Philippines told me that even today, if you are in some of the malls there shopping, at noon a bell is rung, and many stop to pray the Angelus. Here, on Catholic, Relevant Radio, the Angelus is broadcast each day so that you can pray along.
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Fr. Roger Scheckel writes about rural life in the Midwest, years ago; then, the Angelus was a normal part of daily life; he says, ‘one could look out at the fields at the noon bell, and see the farmers and their horses stop in their tracks for the Angelus. Even the horses automatically knew to stop when they heard the Church bell.
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Sister Nirmala, a nun in India, was asked “How did you come to know Jesus Christ?”
“I did not wish to, she said. I was very happy being a Hindu. But when I was visiting a Catholic school, when the bell rang at noon, a young girl knelt down to pray her Angelus. I stood there looking at her, and something happened, a movement in my soul and I felt that the living Jesus came to me.’ That new convert would one day succeed Mother Teresa as the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity.
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The Angelus in one prayer, summarizes the great events of these Christmas days. It begins: ‘The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.’ This is the Mystery of the Annunciation. God makes the initiative, Mary is invited to become the Mother of God. ‘Mary, what will you say? Please say yes, for our sake, for our salvation.
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‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy word. Mary gives her ‘yes’ to be the Mother of God, to walk this path of salvation with her Son, no matter the cost. As is said, ‘the humility of the Blessed Virgin drew the Eternal Word down from heaven.’
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The last aspiration of the Angelus: ‘And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us.’ The Son of God became flesh yes, many years ago. But when we pray the Angelus, we are reminded that he is here, in us, in the flesh, in his Mystical Body. We are not alone. And this is good to know, in the middle of our work day.
Finally we pray: ‘Pour your grace O Lord, into our hearts….., .
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By praying this prayer at mid-day we are reminded of Mary’s love, and God’s closeness to us. And we ask that God would pour his grace into our hearts, to help us.
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As the New year begins, perhaps we could make a resolution to pray the Angelus at least at noon each day. Stopping our work – giving our Will to God; and asking for his grace.
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May the Mother of God intercede for us in the New Year ahead, that we ourselves, may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. John Vianney]

Our Lady of Loreto

Friends in Christ, although it is not on the Liturgical Calendar today, December 10th is observed as Our Lady of Loreto, Loreto being the place in Italy where is Mary’s little house from Nazareth.
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According to legend, the house where Mary was born and where the Annunciation happened – this little house – when under the threat of war, was moved from the Holy Land to Croatia, to Italy, to Loreto – they say, by angels. Shepherds there discovered the sudden appearance of a little house in one of their fields. They went to the priest who himself was crippled; visiting the house, he had a vision and was suddenly cured.
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It seems that indeed, the house of Mary in the Holy Land had disappeared, leaving only a foundation that measured the exact size of the house. There are others that say a family of workmen disassembled the house and moved it. In any case, this shrine is a revered and holy place, and the source of many miracles.
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One miracle involved a young boy named Giovanni who had been sickly for many years. He wanted to be a priest, but was subject to seizures and other maladies. The Pope, who knew him, advised him to place himself in the hands of Mary. He therefore made a pilgrimage to Loreto and calling out to his heavenly Mother, was cured. Ultimately, he became not only a priest, but the Pope: Pope Pius IX, who would proclaim the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. As Pope he visited Loreto seven times, and this Holy house of Loreto is a favorite place for Popes to go and pray.
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Also originating at that Shrine, was the Litany of Loreto, which we usually call the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. When I was a young man, I was once speaking to an old priest. He showed me in his church, the verses of the Litany of Loreto inscribed around the walls of the Church. He then sat down, and as I looked at those verses, he recited all 51 of them by heart. He knew them all. His love for Mary made a big impression on me.
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It is a beautiful practice to add the Litany of Loreto to the end of Our Rosary each day.

Mary shows our destiny

Friends in Christ, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It is very apropos that during this Advent season, we meet Mary along the way on this feast day, and then we meet Mary again at the end of this week in Our Lady of Guadalupe, preparing for the birth of Christ.
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The Immaculate Conception.
‘Immaculate,’ means pure and clean. The Immaculate Conception, is when Mary was conceived without sin in her mother’s womb. She never had Original Sin. But what does this mean?
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A young woman asked, how Mary could have been conceived without sin, isn’t she human like us?’
Well, what IS Original Sin? A person with Original Sin actually has something missing. They are missing grace. We are born into the world without the supernatural grace of God. We come into the world in a natural sate, not supernatural –  without the Life of God in us. THAT is what Original Sin is. It’s a condition of being without sanctifying grace. So Mary was just as human as us,[i] just as human as her mother and father. Our Lady is a true member of the human family, one of us.
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WE acquire the supernatural life of God when we are baptized; grace comes into our soul. The Life of God. But for Mary, she received the Life of God in her – grace – right away. As the angel clearly said, ‘Hail Mary, FULL of grace.
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Eve had the life of God in her when she first was made; she and Adam walked with God, but they lost grace. Mary is called the New Eve, and St. Paul will say that Christ is the New Adam. So Mary is full of grace, from the very beginning, because she will be the model of what we can be.
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A protestant friend said to me, ‘Father, we are all sinners, we are nothing, we are vile and filthy and weak before the Lord God.’ Isn’t this true of Mary? I said, ‘It is true that we are sinners and wretches before the Good God.’ But you have forgotten the rest of the story: God wants us to become great. He has made us his children. Sons and daughters of the Most High. He wants us to be other Christs, like Jesus. He wants grace to increase in us – until we are Full of Grace!
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Now ONE of us shows the goal that God has for us, the Greatest Saint. Mary is the image of the whole Church. She is the first one of us to have it all. In heaven, Our Mother is sinless, pure, holy, great, beautiful, and alive. And this is the goal of the entire Church – to reach heaven and be great and pure, and immaculate.[ii] Mary leads the way, and so she is called the Gate of heaven.
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St. Bernard[iii] says that if we have the misfortune to lose grace, by mortal sin, if we are discouraged, Mary will help us. She will obtain for us the courage to confess, and change our life. He calls Mary the Finder of Grace!
Finder of Grace? She does not find it for herself, because she is full of grace; she finds it for us sinners.

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[i] Peter Kreeft in Catholic Christianity, p. 405. Protestants confuse Original Sin with a distorted humanity. They think Mary suddenly was born with a different humanity. Not so, same humanity, but with grace.

[ii] AD DIEM ILLUM LAETISSIMUM, number 5.

[iii] Glories, p. 81.

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