Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mary, Elizabeth, Infant Baptism & Immaculate Conception

If you were at Mass (or one of the many Protestant congregations that use the Church's cycle of readings) this Fourth Sunday of Advent, then you heard the story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth. It is an amazingly rich story, but here I wish to highlight what it has to say to us about Mary's immaculate conception and the practice of infant baptism.

Look at Elizabeth's words to Mary: "At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:44). Let the implications of that verse sink in: The New Testament says that John the Baptist responded to grace at only six months of fetal development. John rejoiced, in utero, to be in the presence of Jesus (within the womb of Mary)! It is as the angel Gabriel had promised John's father, "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb" (Luke 1:15).

You see, the Holy Spirit does not have to wait until a child reaches the "age of reason" to free him or her from original sin and impart supernatural life to the child's soul. This is the reason that Catholics, Orthodox, and the majority of Protestant Christians practice infant baptism. The fact that John was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and his soul able to react to Christ's presence shows us what God wants to do under the New Covenant. The only debate that you find in the early Church over infant baptism was whether, since baptism was the fulfillment of circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), infants had to wait until they were eight days old to receive it! The bishops - in perfect harmony with Luke's Gospel - said no, there was no reason to wait (Council of Carthage, 203 A.D.).

Now what, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Mary's immaculate conception? Well, this Catholic dogma states that, in lieu of Jesus's redemptive death and infinite merits, Mary was preserved, at the moment of her conception, from contracting the stain of original sin. We Catholics believe that, in baptism, both adults and infants are set free from original sin and filled with the Holy Spirit. Today's gospel reading tells us that God did this for John even before birth. The dogma of Mary's immaculate conception is absolutely consistent with all that we've seen thus far, continuing it back to the moment of conception. One may have qualms with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but it clearly shouldn't be over God's ability to work redemption at the moment of conception!

That's how powerful our God is to save.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christ's Utter Lack of Selfishness

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich." ~2 Cor. 8:9

A few days ago, while praying the Rosary, I became completely dumbstruck at Jesus's total and complete lack of selfishness. There is nothing - and I mean, nothing - that our Lord holds back for Himself. I remember the twinge of jealousy I felt as a child when my mom turned her attention from me to a friend; and yet, Jesus freely entrusts His Mother to each member of His Church (John 19:26-27; Rev. 12:17). Even more momentous, the only begotten Son of the Father invites us into the intimacy of the Divine Family: "No one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matt. 11:27); "Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father" (John 20:17). Our Lord won't even keep His own Flesh and Blood for Himself, but gives them to us as supernatural food and drink

Bask in the Lord Jesus's generosity. Be overwhelmed by His love for you.

Then turn to this truth that was at the center of Pope St. John Paul II's teaching: "Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for his own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self" (Gaudium et Spes, No. 24). Jesus invites us to love as He loves. That is our call. That is the goal of our lives - to fully image the Son. No, to be empowered by the Son to bravely pour ourselves out, holding nothing in reserve. To say that is difficult is an understatement; constantly calling out for grace and cooperating with it is painful...but in it one finds the beauty of the Crucified. This is why we Catholics never tire of looking at the lives of God's saints - we see the victory of Christ's unselfish love in the lives of people just like ourselves, and it inspires us to let go of our security blankets and give ourselves away just a little bit more.

God can do it in us. He did it in the life of the young mother, Chiara Petrillo; and just this morning I discovered that He had done it in the life of another young mother right here in my own city of St. Louis. I invite you to read her story and keep her family in your prayers - pray both for their comforting and for God's continual grace that they be able to imitate her, as she imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." ~John 15:12

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Pilgrimage to Ireland with Dr. Kevin Vost

If you are up for an adventurous pilgrimage to the land of Saints Patrick, Bridget, and Kevin (as well as countless others) then I can't imagine a more exciting and insightful trip than this one, with the author of  TAN's Three Irish Saints, my good friend Dr. Kevin Vost. (I wish I could be there with you all, but the Good Lord has other plans.)

This pilgrimage is offered through Catholic Heritage Tours. You can learn more information, as well as register, here.