Somewhere in Egypt – many months after the birth of Jesus

My dear cousin Elizabeth,

I have wanted so much to visit with you again, to see you smile, to hear your voice and spend some peaceful moments in your garden. I don’t know when I will be able to visit, so I have decided to write to you to let you know how I am doing and where I am.

I hope and pray that you, Zechariah and your son John are all well. Joseph, my husband, sends his love.

Mary’s visit with Elizabeth

So much has happened since I stayed with you before the birth of your son John – it seems now as though that pleasant memory was only a dream. Joseph and I were married soon after I returned to Nazareth and began our married life together. Those first few months of our marriage were a joyful time for Joseph and me, as we quickly learned each other’s habits and needs and found great solace in living together. About four or five months after our marriage was celebrated, the census demanded by Rome was announced. Joseph was required to travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth to register, as Bethlehem was the birthplace of his ancestor David.

I traveled with Joseph to register for the census even though the date of my child’s birth was close. I wanted Joseph to be present when the child was born, and thankfully, he was. Joseph was such a great help to me when the child was born and continues to be my dearest friend and confidant. He is a wonderful father and is overjoyed at the presence of the child in our midst.

I had no difficulty in giving birth to our son. We have named the child Yeshua as we were instructed before his birth. Because of all the travelers coming to Bethlehem for the census, Joseph was unable to find suitable housing for us until after the birth of our son, yet with God’s providence we were safe and secure. Joseph found daily work once Yeshua was born which has provided for our needs. We planned to return to Nazareth as soon as our son was presented to the Lord and hoped to visit with you and Zechariah on our return journey home.

The Presentation of Mary

I have looked forward with great anticipation since Yeshua’s birth to the day of my purification. How I longed to be in the Jerusalem Temple once again, lifting up my eyes to the Holy of Holies from the women’s court and feel in my heart the Lord’s presence with us. I have missed the sense of closeness to God that I once felt in the Temple as a child, even though I know that our loving God is always close to us wherever we may be.

Once I completed the rites of purification, it was time for our son Yeshua to be presented to the Lord. The Temple was full, as it almost always is – the sights and sounds were overwhelming. The air seemed alive with expectation; the sun shining bright and clear with a nearly cloudless sky. The day was perfect. There were so many people milling about, offering their praise to God, praying aloud or silently, with their faces uplifted with wonder and a sense of peace.

Simeon and Anna

As we walked toward the place where Yeshua would be presented to God by the high priest, we were approached by the old woman Anna, whom I remember fondly from so many years ago. Anna’s face was lit by an inner light – she seemed almost young again and was full of joy. I was surprised and delighted when Anna reached out to our son Yeshua, longing to hold him in her arms. As I relinquished Yeshua to her grasp, Anna cried out with words of joyful praise. A small crowd gathered around us, all appeared to be delighted to see our infant son.

Not long after Anna approached and spoke with us, an old man, Simeon, joined our small gathering. He too reached out for Yeshua, taking him from Anna and holding our son aloft in his arms. Simeon spoke a prayer of such intimacy and joy, it was as though he had been waiting a lifetime to see and hold Yeshua. 

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel”.

Joseph and I stood quietly aside, both of us stunned and speechless. How could this elderly stranger Simeon and ancient Anna know anything about our son?  Who has shared this knowledge with them? We have told no one. Only to you, Elizabeth, and your husband Zechariah has this knowledge been revealed by our gracious and loving God.

Simeon blessed Joseph and me and then took me aside, away from the others who had gathered around us, to give me a word of warning: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

After presenting Yeshua to the priest for the ceremony, Joseph and I quickly left the Temple and Jerusalem, hiding our child under my veil, as we were concerned and frightened by all that had happened and had been said to us. Once back in our temporary home in Bethlehem, we prepared to return to Nazareth the next morning. Joseph made a quick trip to the market to purchase the remaining needed supplies and before eating a light supper, he watered and fed our faithful, little donkey. How we have depended on this sweet little creature of God for his service to us through all this time!

Flight into Egypt

We had not been asleep long when Joseph reached out to me and woke me: “Finish packing quickly”, Joseph whispered almost frantically. “We need to leave Bethlehem at once!” I complied, without question or comment, spurred on by the fear I could see on Joseph’s face and the rapid beating of my own heart. I wrapped the sleeping child in my cloak, lifted him to my shoulder and followed Joseph as we walked hurriedly away from our Bethlehem home. Our faithful little donkey made no noise or complaint when Joseph roused him from his stall and led him away before us. When we were all safely away from Bethlehem, Joseph related the message of the angel which God had sent to him earlier that night in a dream: Herod was preparing to send troops to Bethlehem to seek out Yeshua and kill him. God had warned Joseph that we had little time to flee to safety.

We were so thankful that the night was dark, illumined only by the twinkling stars. Even the moon, which was often bright this time of year, did not show its light until nearly morning. The road to Egypt was easy to find, and as we walked quietly, we could see in the sky behind us the light of fires illuminating Bethlehem and hear the sounds of screams and cries as the soldiers rode into the town, killing all the younger children and any parent who tried to hide or protect the children. Simeon’s prophecy was already coming true! My heart was breaking even as we walked, and I cried silent tears for all those who had been hurt or killed by Herod. The memory of that evil act haunts me still.

For quite a few days we traveled only at night, hiding whenever we were approached by riders on horseback, fearing that Herod had sent his soldiers to find us. It took several weeks to make the journey into Egypt. Joseph assured me that in that strange land we would be safe from Herod. Once we had crossed the river into Egypt, we found another Jewish family who kindly offered us lodging until Joseph could find us a temporary home and obtain work to sustain us. We have been here in Egypt since then.

How I long to return to our homeland, to my friends and family and our little home in Nazareth. Joseph and I are daily reliving our ancestors’ struggles to make a life when they were sent into exile. We both understand now how our ancestors yearned for the sights and sounds of home, and how the ancient songs and prayers of our people sustained the faithful during those years away from the land God had given to us.

We are so grateful to our powerful God for the protection He has provided for us during all this time away from home. Joseph finds frequent work to provide for our food and lodging. Our son Yeshua is healthy and strong and seems to grow more each day. He is a happy child, always smiling and cooing and seldom frets except when he is hungry. We have even made a few friends among the Jewish population in this strange place. We are praying that God will soon instruct us to return to our own land and to Nazareth.

If at all possible, Joseph and I will visit you in Ein Karem on our way to Nazareth. I am praying that the time to return home will be soon. Until we meet again, dear Elizabeth, I think of you daily and whisper little prayers to God to keep you and your family happy and safe. I am confidant that our gracious God hears my whispered prayers and answers them.

All my love,

Miriam

The Visitation of Mary Luke 1:39-55

Aunt Rose

I was thinking about the Visitation the other morning as I meditated on this mystery of the rosary. I remembered my occasional visits with my Aunt Rose during the summer months as my husband and I traveled to New Hampshire from our home. Those were wonderful times full of laughter and the sharing of memories with lots of hugs and smiles. Always before we left to continue our journey Aunt Rose would offer me a gift which had some connection with our shared past. Once it was my grandfather’s smoking stand, another time it was the wooden lawn chair that “grandpa” would sit in during the summer evenings greeting neighbors as they walked past his front sidewalk, often it would be photographs of those who had passed before us. I still have those precious items for they are a reminder of those I knew and loved so long ago. As my husband and I left Aunt Rose’s home to continue our journey, there were always little packets of food passed to us to munch on as we drove and lots of hugs and tears as we promised to return soon. The most important of those gifts shared with me during our visits were the evenings Aunt Rose and I spent reminiscing about the times and people we both loved and missed so deeply.

As I continued to think about Mary’s visit with Elizabeth during those last three months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, I thought Elizabeth would want to share some small item as a memento of the times she and Mary had spent together just as Aunt Rose had done with me.

 What would Elizabeth choose as a gift to Mary? Would it be a piece of Elizabeth’s favorite jewelry, a pressed flower or a small stone from the garden where they would sit together during the heat of the day? It would be something personal, something that could be easily carried in a pocket, perhaps kept close to Mary’s heart and looked at over and over again in the years to come. It might be a handwritten letter to thank Mary for her sacrifice in visiting with Elizabeth and a reminder of the times they had shared. 

Outside of birthday card
Inside of card

In my own life it is the words of love which I treasure above all the material things. I still keep the greeting cards Aunt Rose sent to me even though her message was always short and sweet – she always signed the cards  “Love, Aunt Rose”. In those three simple words are a lifetime of memories and all the love my heart can hold. 

I can never duplicate Elizabeth’s words or truly imagine the times Mary and Elizabeth had shared. Still I wrote a letter that Elizabeth might have written so long ago. I know that Mary would have treasured Elizabeth’s letter and carried it with her always.

—————————————-

My dearest Mary,

Thank you so much for coming such a long way to visit with me. I know the travel was difficult even though you didn’t say a word about how hard it was for you. I have made the trip to Nazareth several times and as I remember the journey, it was never easy – so many hills to climb, so many dusty roads, so many nights spent sleeping outdoors on the hard ground.

The Visitation

Having you here with me during the last three  months of my confinement before John’s birth was so comforting to me. Your help with the simple tasks of dressing and caring for my household and my husband Zechariah provided such help to me. I enjoyed all of our quiet conversations, our walks and naps in my garden during the heat of the day, the loving memories we shared of your parents and your childhood.  

The little prayers we would say for the child growing in my womb gave me such hope. Seeing your smile and hearing your sweet voice was a great blessing for me. I am so grateful to our loving and faithful Lord for sending you to me.

Having you here beside me, holding my hand, as my little one was fighting his way to be born gave me peace. The songs you sang to me, the prayers you said for me as I was in labor relieved my pain. 

I am not looking forward to your leaving – I know our final hugs will be watered by my many tears. I would keep you here forever, but I know that God has plans for your life and the life of your unborn child. I love you more than my simple words can reveal. I miss you already and yet you are still here with me.

I will pray each and every moment for your safe travel. May God bless you on your journey. May He protect you and the child who is growing in your womb and bring you safely home to your beloved Joseph.

If it is possible, let me know that you have arrived home safely. Perhaps Joseph knows someone who will be traveling to Jerusalem for a festival or for work who can carry your message. Zechariah and I will provide the traveler with a warm welcome and a safe place to stay. 

Shalom, my dear cousin. You carry all my love with you.

Elizabeth

We have arrived safely! – Joseph

Dear Family,

I am sending this short letter with a distant relative whom Mary and I met in Bethlehem – Simon bar Josiah. Simon has promised to deliver this letter to all of our family when he travels soon to Nazareth. 

On the way to Bethlehem – F. McDonald

Our journey to Bethlehem was difficult for Mary, since she was so heavy with child. We could not keep up with the caravans traveling to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Mary rode our donkey for the bulk of our travel which slowed the pace of our journey to Bethlehem. We were often alone during the days and nights of our travel, but our merciful and gracious Lord protected and sustained us. Mary and I arrived safely even though the journey took much longer than we had anticipated.

Mary and I could not find proper lodging when we arrived, since so many people had arrived in Bethlehem ahead of us. A kind soul pointed out the grottos on the hillside outside of Bethlehem where sheep were sometimes sheltered at night. We were able to find an empty cave which was a warm and quiet place, and Mary was delivered safely of our Son. We named the child Yeshua at His circumcision. He is a strong and healthy child.

I was able to find lodging for us in Bethlehem a few days after the child’s birth, as most of those who had come for the census had now returned home. It is a small living space, but it is quiet and secure. Both Mary and the child are doing well. God’s Providence has been guiding us throughout all this time of difficulty. May the Lord be praised!

Purification of Mary

I have found work to help support us while we await the time of Mary’s Purification. Mary and I look forward to returning home to Nazareth once this time of waiting is over. The child will be stronger as will Mary, so I am hopeful that the return journey to Nazareth will be safe for both Mary and the child.

Please give our sincere thanks to our new found relative Simon when he visits with you. He has been helping our little family more than I can say in this short letter.

Affectionately,

Joseph

Mary as Mother and Queen

The Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven

John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, you mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

The Church points to these verses to teach us that Jesus left his mother Mary to be our mother as well. We all have a human mother, the one who gives us birth, but we also have a mother in heaven who loves us and watches over us just as our mother on earth does during her lifetime.

I have been and still am a mother, I have had a wonderful, loving earthly mother. There are other women, not my mother, who have mothered me on those days when I was desperately in need of their kindness and care. And I have grown to accept that I have another mother in heaven, Jesus’ own mother, Mary, who watches over me as well.

The Church also teaches us that Mary is a queen. When we pray the Glorious mysteries of the rosary, the very last Glorious mystery is the crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven. That mystery has been difficult for me to understand and to imagine as I pray the rosary. 

I cannot picture in my mind’s eye what a crown in heaven looks like – is it golden with jewels encircling the crown? Or is it a crown of twinkling stars? I want to see the ceremony and the clothes the Queen wears – are her clothes translucent and iridescent studded with pearls and glittering jewels? Are roses strewn in her path as she walks? I want to hear the music as the ceremony proceeds. Are angels singing and playing heavenly instruments? I want to see the angels who accompany the Queen. I want to see the King as He crowns the Queen. I cannot imagine any of it. I think that it all must be beyond my understanding.

Growing up in the United States the title “queen”, though familiar to me, is not a daily part of my life as a citizen of this country. Great Britain has a queen, Elizabeth, and there are many queens I have read about in history books. But what does it feel like to live “under a queen” as part of the government? What is the queen’s role? How do I relate to the queen and the queen’s work? How can I picture the queen’s daily life?

In Biblical times the queen in Israel was the “queen mother”, the mother of the current king. We see that most readily in the book of Kings. In Chapter two of the first book of Kings, after David’s death, Solomon, his son, is made king. Though the Bible doesn’t describe the crowning of Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, as Queen, we see her action on behalf of the Jewish people. A brother of Solomon, Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, approaches Bathsheba and asks her to intercede with King Solomon on his behalf. Adonijah says in 1 King verse 17, “Please ask King Solomon, who will not refuse you, to give me Abishag the Shunamite for my wife.” Bathsheba replies in the next verse that she will speak to the king. When Bathsheba approached the king, who was sitting on his throne, Solomon stood up to greet her. Then a throne was brought for Bathsheba and she sat next to the king on his right.

As we read these passages we can see the respect which the king, Solomon, has for the Queen – Solomon stands when Bathsheba enters the room and has a throne brought in for her. The Queen sits at the king’s right which is a place of high honor.

So I think it must be for Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is as the Church teaches. Mary is seated at the Lord’s right hand and intercedes for us with her Son – that is part of her role as Queen of heaven. Mary is honored by her Son. This is why we honor Mary. We ask for her intercession for us much as the Israelites did so long ago with their earthly queens. It is not worship, as Mary is not God, and only God may be worshipped. We venerate and respect Mary because her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, has greatly honored her.

The Resurrection

The recommended “mysteries” of the rosary for Sunday are the Glorious ones. Mysteries of the Rosary are particular scenes of events in Our Lord’s life. By meditating on the mysteries we come to know and love the Lord more. The repetition of the prayers takes the mind from daily problems and allows our minds to focus on the events in Christ’s life.

Rosary with St. Jude centerpiece

The first Glorious Mystery is the Resurrection of the Lord. We have all read the Resurrection stories. They go something like this:

It is dark with the light just appearing over the horizon, when the women leave their homes early in the morning to visit Christ’s tomb. The women, who were disciples of Jesus and had followed him throughout his ministry, want to complete the tasks that are usually performed after a person dies to honor the deceased. Since Jesus’ body was taken down hastily as Passover was about to begin, those necessary tasks were left undone or incomplete. If we close our eyes, we can see the events as they transpire. 

The women leave their homes, carrying the needed supplies and make their way through the Roman gate past the soldiers who guard it. As the women arrive at the tomb, hoping someone will roll the closing stone away, they notice that the stone is already moved. The accounts go on to tell us about angels in the tomb, about Peter and John being alerted to the possible theft of their Master’s body and their running to the tomb to see for themselves. We see Mary Magdalen returning to the tomb after Peter and John have arrived and remaining there for some time. Mary Magdalen’s grief is without measure, as someone has taken her Lord’s body, not content to have killed him but to have done this unspeakable deed as well. Mary sees a man whom she thinks is the gardener and asks him to show her where Jesus’ body lies. But the man is Jesus and He speaks with Mary and gives her a message to take to the Apostles.

Because of the Gospel accounts, it is generally assumed that the first person to see Jesus after His Resurrection is Mary Magdalen. Ancient stories (hopes or traditions perhaps) relate that Jesus had actually visited His mother Mary first immediately after His Resurrection though the stories were not included in the Gospels. Being a mother that seems appropriate and so natural to me. So I was thinking about this scene of Son and mother meeting after the Resurrection, as I prayed the Rosary on Sunday morning. What would be the reaction of Mary when she sees her Son after His horrendous death? What would Jesus and Mary have said to one another?

I imagine Jesus appearing in the room, coming through a closed door as He would do later that day when he visited with the Apostles. Mary had finally fallen asleep sometime earlier, exhausted after the ordeal of watching her Son’s final hours and death. Mary has spent two days and nights, perhaps prostrate in prayer, grieving for her Son. She had long since run out of tears, her sobs of grief long since stilled. As Jesus enters the room, He awakens His mother, perhaps by a soft touch or by His voice softly calling to her. Mary awakens quickly, as mothers often do when our children call out to us in the night, always prepared to assist our children with hugs and soft words.

Mary and Jesus embrace each other, gaining strength and comfort after the horrible Passion and death of Jesus, grateful for the warmth and presence of each other’s bodies. Jesus tells Mary that He has been worried about her. Even from the cross Jesus had seen how much Mary had suffered. Tears fill Mary’s eyes as she sees that her Son is alive and well. It is a time of great joy for both.

Though Mary would keep her Son close to her forever, Jesus tells Mary that He has much to do before ascending to His Father. Mary wants to accompany Him, follow Jesus as she had done before, but the Lord tells His mother that there are still tasks for her to complete before they can be together again. The Apostles will need her constancy, her strength, her loving kindness and her memories of her Son to guide them as they begin their work after Jesus’ Ascension to the Father. That short visit gives Mary hope and peace, and the memory of that visit sustains Mary throughout the years until she at last joins her Son and God in heaven.

The Loneliness of Jesus

We are meant to meditate on the life of Jesus as we pray the mysteries of the rosary. In the Gospel of Matthew we read: “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray”. He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will ”. When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep.”

Gethsemane

Jesus had close relationships with the Apostles whom he had chosen and traveled with for nearly three years. The Bible tells us that His mother Mary followed Jesus as well after He began His public ministry. We don’t know if any of His chosen disciples were distant relatives – the Bible doesn’t tell us. Some scholars suspect that there was a distant familial relationship to Jesus among some of the Apostles.

What does it take to make a friend? From my own experience it takes a long time and a lot of work and thought. I meet someone new, who seems friendly, and as I “strike up a conversation” with the person and get past the ordinary courtesies, we each begin to reveal bits of ourselves. I have learned to go slowly in making a friend, because I want to be safe; I don’t want to be betrayed by giving away too much of myself before I am sure of the other person. I also don’t want to overwhelm my new found friend with the joy and/or pain that is in the heart of me. After quite a bit of time passes and numerous conversations have ensued, both my new found friend and I reveal the most deeply held parts of ourselves and our innermost experiences.

The Biblical writers did not tell us everything about the relationships which developed between Jesus and his Apostles. We know little of the friendships of the Apostles between themselves. We read in the Bible that some Apostles were related to one another – Andrew and Peter were brothers, as were James and John. We read of specific important events in those three years of Jesus’ ministry, but there are many things that remain unsaid – things that we must imagine for ourselves when we meditate on our reading of the Gospels. The Biblical authors were trying to share with us who Jesus is and what He did in His brief time on earth. Unlike our contemporary biographies, the Biblical authors omitted the day to day events and the minutia which we contemporary readers find so enjoyable. 

The writers don’t tell us about those quiet moments when Jesus was alone with only these specially chosen twelve men, perhaps sharing a quiet meal around a campfire when all the crowds had gone home. We are not told what the group spoke about or the songs they sang or the jokes they shared with each other; we know only that Jesus taught the Apostles what he had heard from His Father. We can surmise that Jesus had revealed his deepest heart to the Apostles during the time He spent with them, as He called them all “friends” the night before He died. During those hours in Gethsemane when Jesus was most in need of His friends, His specially chosen friends all fell asleep, weary from the day’s activities and grief stricken from what He had told them about his impending trial and death. Later that night when the soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus, His closest friends abandoned Jesus out of fear for their own lives.

Some of my close friends have moved away or died, or worse still, can no longer be considered “ close friends”, because we grew apart – our ways and places of living and/or our values and thinking changed. There is no longer much in common between us. When that happens, when someone I called a “friend” changes or shows me that she is not the person I thought she was, I question myself. How could I not notice the change that occurred in my friend or failed to see the person’s true self?  Losing those closest of friends is painful, for it is as though my heart has been ripped out of me. What once gave me strength and sustenance to move forward in my life is forever gone and remains only a memory of happier times.  The questions remain.

What did Jesus feel when Judas kissed Him as an act of betrayal? I imagine Jesus felt a deep and painful wound in His heart, as though a sword had passed through Him, knowing that someone with whom He had shared so much had betrayed Him for a few pieces of silver. I imagine, too, a tear escaped Jesus’ eye, knowing what the future was for the man who had betrayed Him. The very next day the betrayer’s final act in his own life was one of desperation and despair. Perhaps in his human heart, Jesus hoped and prayed for the man’s eventual repentance, as Jesus said to the man, “you would betray me with a kiss?”.  Those words would sting the hardest heart and speak of Our Lord’s deep sorrow and His hope of the man’s eventual return to the love which Jesus had for him.

What about my former friends, the ones I have loved and lost? Will I re-connect with those former friends at some time in the future? Is it possible to pick up the old friendships where we left off and move forward together once more? Those friendships I once cherished still remain in my memory, and I hope in my heart that what once gave me such joy can be again.

Just like Mary

May 8, 2021

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I was thinking about Our Blessed Mother this morning as I prayed with the Magnificat. The very first part of this morning’s prayer is a hymn to Mary – “Be Joyful, Mary, Heavenly Queen, Alleluia”.  Those beautiful words spurred my thoughts. I remembered how as children we were encouraged to “follow Mary”, to emulate her actions. For many years I thought that was impossible, that I would never be like Mary.

Mary was created by God without sin. During Mary’s entire life, we are told, Mary never sinned. Mary was completely open to God and loved Him with all her being. I have recognized since childhood that I am not like Mary in that way – how could I be, as I have sinned countless times? I know that many times throughout my life, I have turned my back on God and gone my own way and only later recognized my errors. 

As I sat in my recliner praying along with the Magnificat, I thought more intently about Mary. I imagined Mary’s joy at looking into her child’s eyes when her child was an infant, of how she must have smiled to see Him looking intently back at her, as all infants look at their mothers. I imagine Mary’s baby making all those sweet sounds babies make as infants, and how their small arms and legs move as their brains learn to move their bodies. I remembered my thoughts then as I looked into my child’s eyes and cared for her and heard those sweet sounds and saw her growing day by day. Just like Mary, I was blessed to experience those sweet and tender moments.

Mary had a household and a family to care for – a husband and a son, who both needed to be fed and clothed and a home to be tended. Mary had friends and people who cared for her. Though the bible doesn’t mention any friends of Mary, we know that with all the goodness and gentleness that was Mary, she would have many friends, who supported and cared for her during her life.

The song continues: “Your Son who died was living, seen”, and I thought about Mary’s pain of watching her Son die, how much pain she too suffered. And I remembered my own child’s pain when her boyfriend took his life and nothing could comfort her, when my own daughter learned that she couldn’t have children of her own, when she needed surgery to heal her body from an illness. I remembered how I suffered along with my child, how I worried about her, and how I wished that I could take her place and suffer for her. I knew as I pondered what I had experienced with my own child that I was like our Blessed Mother, for she too suffered along with her Son and would have willingly taken His place on the cross.

After the angel visits Mary and announces the Incarnation, Mary accepts God’s call to be the mother of Jesus, she is told that her cousin, Elizabeth, is with child. Mary travels nearly 90 miles to visit her cousin, to help Elizabeth during her pregnancy. I remember the times I visited with my sister Jill, as she struggled those last years of her life, how I visited with my parents and my aunt Rose when they were ill and needed help. My journeys were easier than Mary’s, as I didn’t have to walk the distance to visit them, but because of my love for these people, I took those journeys willingly – just like Mary, whose heart was full of compassion for those who are struggling.

The Bible tells us that Mary pondered and held all these things, those special moments of her life, in her heart. I ponder, too, about all that I have experienced in my long life. I pray for those I love, perhaps just like Mary. In those quiet moments of every day, as I go about my work, I lift my heart to the Lord – just like Mary must have done so long ago.

I can never be sinless, as that was a special gift from God to fulfill Mary’s destiny. God has given me special gifts to help me with the path He has chosen for me. God has given me a family and good and sweet friends to share my burdens. I am so grateful for all that the Lord has done for me – and as the hymn proclaims:  “holy is His Name”!

The Ascension of Christ

I was driving to the HEB on Williams Drive this morning to pick up an order, praying the rosary as I drove. I usually smile when I pray the mystery of the Ascension of Christ, the second Glorious mystery,  because it is hard for me to believe that no one called out, “wait, don’t go yet!” as Jesus rose into the clouds. I like to imagine that I would have blurted that out and asked Jesus to stay a bit longer, if I were present on that hill. I know that it is a silly thought, that during  such an unusual or even spiritual experience people don’t respond as we normally would expect. The human mind is so enthralled, so taken aback by all the sensory data present at the time, that the mind is overwhelmed –  normal reactions are unlikely to occur.

Christ was incarnate and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, lived among us for 33 years, then suffered a horrible and painful death. Why did Jesus not stay here with us after the Resurrection? We are told that Jesus loved us so much that He became human to save us. I finally realized why Jesus left after completing His 33 year mission and why He didn’t continue His mission while living on this earth.

In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve faced a test of obedience. Eden was not Heaven, which God intended to be mankind’s final destination. It might even be surmised that in protecting Eden, as Adam was supposed to do and by extension, protecting Eve, his wife, Adam might have faced death. Adam would have had to find the courage and love to give up his life to fulfill his mission. Yet we are told that Adam, though he was with Eve at the time of the temptation from an evil enemy, said nothing to her or the enemy and did not try to stop Eve from touching and eating the forbidden fruit. It is hard to believe that one of Adam’s God given attributes was cowardice – that would be unlike God, who only gives great gifts. And then to make matters worse, Adam ate the forbidden fruit as well and blamed Eve for tempting him. So now Adam and Eve and humanity’s fate was sealed – we all face death and a possible loss of Heaven.

Because God loves humanity, Jesus comes to redeem us, dies, rises from the dead, and then He leaves us. The disciples are given a mission to spread the Good News to all the earth sometime after Jesus’ Resurrection. Why didn’t Jesus just stay and complete the task of telling everyone about God’s love for us? 

Could it be because mankind is still being tested? Every human being is given the same test as Adam received, even though the circumstances are different for each one of us. Will we be obedient to God’s laws as Adam and Eve were not? Will we have the courage to love God before all else, even at the risk of our own lives? The two concepts are connected – love of God and the courage to obey work together. If we love God, we respect His laws and seek to please Him by following the laws – sometimes that takes courage to fight against the “crowd” or the prevailing earthly “wisdom”. If so, then Heaven awaits us. If we do not, then the results are dire, and Heaven is not our final destination.

Happily, God gives most of us – especially me – a lot of time to figure this out, to learn to love and obey. He stands by us every time we make a mistake and walk away from Him, always encouraging us to try again. Unlike Adam, who faced only one single test, we are tested throughout our lives. As time goes by and we learn from our mistakes and failure to love, our desire to obey and love God grows. We suffer times of difficulty, but God never gives up on us. Eventually we hope, we will get it right. How many of us love with such patience as God does? Our God is truly a wonder!

What if? A Bible Reflection

Whenever I pray the Glorious mysteries of the rosary, I am always intrigued with the mystery called: The Ascension. In my mind’s eye I can see Jesus ascending into heaven as the Apostles and perhaps some other disciples are looking on. I imagine myself standing there, crying out, “Don’t go yet!” The Bible says only that the Apostles were looking up and no one asked him to stay. In my thoughts I am wishing that Jesus had stayed around a little bit longer.

When my sister Jill was ill, several years before she passed away, I remember an event when it appeared that Jill was dying. Jill had lost 5 units of blood in 6 days from a kidney infection. I was so concerned about Jill’s care that I spent one night with her. While I was lying on the room’s sofa softly praying the rosary, I saw mom and dad standing at her bedside, praying for the life of their youngest daughter. As I had reacted some years ago when I witnessed my long dead parents at their child’s bedside, the Apostles were speechless and somewhat stunned by what they saw – Jesus, being taken up to heaven in a cloud, forever lost to their sight. The Apostles could not understand what they were witnessing, as I could not understand how my parents long dead were at Jill’s side.

We are told that clouds in the Bible express a theophany, a sign that God is visibly present. Men in white, presumably angels, tell the Apostles that Jesus will return just as they saw Him leave. The Apostles then return to Jerusalem, perhaps quiet and lost in their thoughts, to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, following Jesus’ instructions.

Waiting for Pentecost

We are also told that the Apostles “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” There are old paintings depicting that time, of the Apostles praying during those days as they awaited the Spirit. The paintings are usually somber, expressing a sense of quiet and deep prayer. I imagine that there were often times of solitary or even group prayer and perhaps prayers in the Temple as the Apostles waited, just as the old paintings depict. But maybe – and here is my “what if” – if much of what the Apostles did during those days was remember? The men and some women disciples sat around in that upper room in groups; they ate together; perhaps they sat by themselves at times – and they remembered and talked about the events of the last three years. The Apostles remembered His words; they remembered His miracles; they remembered the laughter and tears they had all shared. And as they remembered, the Lord was once again present to them in the words and memories which they shared.

Remembering can be a way of praying and uniting oneself with God, for it is meditative and draws one into a quiet time which leaves us open to our Creator’s voice. Perhaps instead of the Apostles always being on their knees in quiet and sadness at the loss of the Lord for days on end, as one might see in the paintings, the time was one of joy and expectation. It was a time of wonderment for them that ordinary men, as they were, had been privileged to see God, that they had been privileged to witness the unimaginable. They will wonder about those things until God calls them “home” just as I wonder about what I saw in that hospital room.

How did Mary know?

Blessed Virgin Mary
I am the handmaid of the Lord

Each time I pray the joyous mysteries, I am always at a loss at the first one – The Annunciation. Mary is approached by the Angel Gabriel and is told that God has chosen her to bear His Son into the world. How could Mary know that the angel was truly from God? We are told that Mary was without sin. Eve was conceived without sin. Eve was approached by the serpent, a disguise of the devil, and didn’t know that the one who approached her was not truthful. How could Mary know? Experience perhaps? Gabriel did announce himself; he told Mary who he was and from where he came. The serpent just began by asking questions of Eve. Could Mary’s experiences as a child, in her time in the Temple, in her training in her faith, in her hearing of the Word of God so enlighten Mary’s mind that she could discern truth from untruth? Did Mary ever wonder after the angel left whether what she thought she experienced was real? Is that one of the reasons Mary went to visit Elizabeth? To test the truth of what she believed had happened to her?

Lots to ponder.