Posted by: wordofthevine | December 26, 2017

How to Truly Celebrate Christmas All Year

Let us celebrate Christmas with an awareness of new possibilities. The Lord desires that our life acquire a new dimension this year. We are to become fruitful for others by living a new way of spiritual vitality. A special companion for me in understanding and living this call has been Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida (Conchita), a wife, a mother of a large family and a mystic alive during the last century.

Her prolific writings, some 8000 pages in her spiritual diary, The Account of Conscience, show us that holiness is within the reach of all states of life. In fact, today, we are living in the age of the laity, where the world is awaiting a new advent of graces liberated into the World when the seemingly ordinary Christian begins to take their call to holiness of life seriously.  This Christmas, we celebrate that holiness is not just for priests and nuns but for all of us.

Father Luis Ruiz Vazquez, M.Sp.S., a priest in the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, an order of priests inspired by the life of Venerable Concepcion Cabrera, writes “We reach this (holiness of mission) by learning how to confide in Jesus lovingly, by adorning Christ, by having a growing confidence in God and believing in God’s power(18)” in Priestly Oblation of Christ and Priestly Dimensions of Baptism in Concepcion Cabrera de Armida.

To learn how to live out these practical principles of holiness, join us for a weekly pick-me-up when we read and discuss this in my book, Awakening a Life-giving Heart: Insights for Women who Pray for the Church. Join us through Incarnate Institute facebook page. Incidentally, although the title of the book quotes, insights for women, the book benefits both women and men who desire to grow in contemplative life to live out the Spirituality of the Cross.

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 24, 2017

How to have God’s Favor Rest on Us this Christmas

Imagine that you hear it, maybe ever so softly, the sound of the angels singing in Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14)! Servant of God, Archbishop Luis Martinez, in Meditations to Prepare for Christmas, tells us that the angels not only sang this 2000 years ago to the shepherds, they can sing it now in our hearts if we prepare “a complete Bethlehem,” an abundant loving intimacy with Jesus this Advent season.

St. Joseph, the simple man of Faith, has shown us the power of discerning God’s will for us in the midst of the moment, and of responding to it fully. Martinez told us that, like St. Joseph, we do not always need to understand the why of the events of our lives. We only need to know what and when, in order to fulfill God’s will.

Martinez shared that the last part of following God’s will and forming our hearts as a “complete Bethlehem,” is to have our hearts be like Mary’s heart, so Jesus can really be born in our hearts this Christmas. According to Archbishop Martinez, “More than the manger from which He taught the world most eloquently about humility, more than the faithful and prudent servant (St. Joseph), our Heavenly Father had to carefully prepare Mary… a heart so full of tenderness, totally forgetting and denying its own self and ready for all sacrifices, so it would be capable of understanding the bitter pains and intimate joys of the Heart of Jesus.” In the great mystery, Jesus remained in the “bosom of the Father while He came to our world.” Jesus was often lonely on earth although He was outwardly surrounded by people for “He bore in His Heart such great mysteries, such deep secrets…he needed a heart that was made to beat in unison with His Divine Heart,” the heart of a mother…Mary. Mary shows both men and women the power of forming an open heart for God.

When we learn to cultivate inner intimacy with Jesus, we, like Mary, become able to beget spiritual life to others through our prayers, sacrifices, insights and our emotional availability to them. Emmanuel comes through us!  How profound! Jesus, not only wants to gift us this Christmas with His presence in our hearts, He wants to make us gifts to others in our world. As Martinez describes this, “When the love of God passes through the tiny prism of our hearts, it breaks into many pieces [the love of a friend, a parent, a lover, a minister]. Still it is the one love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts, and it is a perfect, although remote, image of the Divine Love. ” This Christmas, let us receive this Love, Jesus, and hear the echo the angels…“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14)!


Posted by: wordofthevine | December 21, 2017

The Infant Christ and New Possibilities for Holiness!

One of my patients with hospice collects nativity scenes. Although she told me that in her prime, she would display 90 nativity scenes during the Christmas holidays, now she only had about 10 in her apartment. She had given her kids the remainder. She got me thinking that we can appreciate the mystery of Christmas, the coming of Christ, son of God in as a baby for our salvation. We need to appreciate the profound and transforming reality that we have within our reach at Christmas. Christmas isn’t a “lifeless statute” but a living reality we can learn to live out through out the year. Our Baptisms are powerful and truly a gift that we can renew that keeps on giving.

We come to a deeper awareness of our Baptisms through unearthing the insights that Christ shared with Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida (Conchita), a contemporary wife, mother and mystic who started the Works of the Cross at the height of the Mexican Revolution. She helps us understand the intimacy Christ wants to have with us through His incarnation. Her words, though profound, offer us a practical and everyday, moment by moment plan for holiness.

Through Concepcion’s perspectives, we see that Christ’s living spark that we celebrate in the manager can spark and come alive within our heart, life animating our mission in the world. This year, as you decorate your house for Christmas, and display a nativity scene, spend some time meditating on the infant of Christ. Beg for a new sensibility of love that will bring you to feel as your own the difficulties and even sins of others. We ask for this,  because from the core of our being and lives, we can learn to love God, like Concepcion did, in the name of others to gain graces for them. Keep this in mind when you bemoan that some family members seem away from God and the Church. Enter into the mystery of Christmas. In your littleness, offer your life for the needs of others. Moment by moment, pain by or irritation by irritation, don’t waste anything that life offers you today. Jesus, alive among us, gives us new possibilities for holiness by allowing us to offer our difficulties and prayers with His for those that need it the most around us.

To learn more, join us for a live discussion on Wednesday evenings, January 3-February 7, 7-8 PM, CST through Incarnate Institute on facebook live. ~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 19, 2017

Our Spiritual Journey and Weight Gain

I sat down and prayed, “Lord, help me come to peace with my weight!” I have not had to struggle earlier in my life to maintain my weight so much but not now. For a number of years, I had been chasing and racing around after 6 kids with an active family life. I notice that now life has simmered down but my weight has gradually crept up. I haven’t liked that. I should know how to work with this. I have had to become more astutely aware of what I am yearning for and am hungry for. A good sign that I’m eating not much more than I need is that I have time everyday where I am pretty hungry, especially first thing in the morning and about meal time. When I grazed through the day with little snacks bits here and there, I didn’t notice these hungry periods but did the weight gain.

Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, a lay woman, mother and founder of Madona House,  challenges us in Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer that to grow spiritually too, we have to become people comfortable with emptiness. She says, “We begin to understand the emptiness which must take place in us, the depth of surrender of our will to God’s. He (one who seeks God alone) become so empty that he is simply one who carries God(112).”

Maybe this is why, in mid-life, when God is helping us mature spiritually, he allows this struggle with our weight. He wants us to figure out how to seek him from the depths of our being by allowing “emptiness” to become a regular part of our daily tempo. Working with our appetites, eating and weight is a spiritual discipline that brings growth and abundant fruitfulness! What about you? Do you find managing your weight and appetite a struggle to surrender all to God? ~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 14, 2017

Incompatibilities: A Necessary Part of Holy Marriage

I often gain so much from the examples of the Saints. My husband found a video of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen discussing marriage.  Fulton Sheen spoke about going on retreat with Dominican priest, Father Felix Leseur, O.P., whose wife is Elisabeth reportedly asked God for some physical suffering that she could offer for the conversion of her atheist husband, Felix. She experienced painful Chron’s Disease and finally breast cancer which claimed her life. While she lived, she never saw the fruit of her daily offering for her husband’s soul but God gave her a word of knowing. She told him before he died that he would one day become a Dominican priest, a thought that Felix shrugged off until he read her diary after her death. He returned to the practice of his Catholic faith after he realized how she had offered her suffering for his conversion. While on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, he also, according to Sheen received the perfect gift of Faith, to know clearly without wondering, what God was asking of him and wanting in the moment. He became a Dominican priest in 1923 at the age of 62, nine years following Elisabeth’s death.

With the insight of Fulton Sheen, and the example of Elisabeth and Felix Leseur’s lives, we see that certain incompatibilities in marriage are absolutely necessary so we can have something to offer for our spouse, family and Church. The Lord wants a whole-hearted offering for others from the core of our beings, an offering that costs us something so we learn to get ourselves, our selfish focus out of the way.

I was reminding myself this when I was out to dinner recently with my husband, John. He is a wonderful man but quiet. During this dinner, even though we were celebrating our anniversary, he was quiet and hardly spoke. This is somewhat the norm. John is quiet. I enjoy verbal interaction. My offering is to move away from what I’d prefer to relish who John is. I’m not going to change him, nor should I desire to do so. What about you? Where is God showing you that you can offer your experiences for the good of another, the world and the Church? Join me live on Wednesdays, January 3- February 7, from 7-8 PM CST as we discuss this further using my book, Awakening a Life-giving Heart: Insights for Women Who Pray for the Church. ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 13, 2017

Have a Blessed Life like St. Joseph this Christmas!

Over coffee one day, my eighty-five year old friend, Lorrenne, a beautiful, white haired, genteel woman, leaned forward and said with a gleam in her eye, “Mary, I really have had a blessed life.” In the next breath, she continued, “You know, it has not always been easy. Remember the story about my son, John, who had severe migraine headaches, which not even treatment at the Mayo Clinic helped. What jumped started my deep trust and faithfulness to God, was when one night a prayer group at my parish sensed that God wanted them to pray for John. They gathered around him, laid hands on him, asked God to heal him, and He did! For those people, God was real, and was someone who made His will obvious to them when they prayed. From then on, over time, I watched for patterns where God acted which helped me be more sensitive to Him and learn to act with confidence in what God was asking of me.”

Lorrenne, shows us that miracles, not coincidences, can happen when we learn to recognize God’s will and fulfill it in the moment, like another St. Joseph. Servant of God, Luis Martinez, (1881-1956), the late Archbishop of Mexico City, and talented spiritual director, in Meditations for Christmas, suggests that for Jesus to be born in our hearts this Season, the Father wants us to know that “He is the one who gives the orders, for we are mere instruments. To be faithful, then, we need to never want or look for anything but the holy will of God.” Instruments, like St. Joseph, are docile to the one guiding them.

Ask yourself what you would have done, if you were St. Joseph in a cold damp cave when an angel woke you up, told you to load your wife and newborn son on a donkey and head for Egypt. Would you have been practical and waited until daylight? Martinez relates that St. Joseph “did not necessarily understand why he had to hide the Child and flee Herod. He did not try to understand many things, but always said, ‘This is how God wants it.’ If we were that faithful and had as our sole norm of life the holy will of God [and not our own well made plans], the Father would entrust Jesus to us.”


To have the blessing of Jesus alive with us this Christmas, we can cultivate the faithfulness of St. Joseph by becoming sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us as it comes with the ups and downs of life.


Posted by: wordofthevine | December 12, 2017

Mother Teresa and Fear of Aging

One day I took a break in doing spiritual writing to try on a new foundation for my Avon order arrived. I applied the new foundation and then studied my face in the mirror. Did this new color blend in with my natural coloring? Did I look younger? After I wondered back to the computer, I wondered! Is that the goal, now that I’ve arrived at mid-life…to look younger and minimize wrinkles, the signs that I carry of having lived life?

I don’t think so. I am trying to give up trying to look younger and am following a new philosophy: of age enhancement rather than “age cover up.” I’m wondering if Mother Teresa felt the same way. Google an image of her and you see her beautiful and well wrinkled face. She challenges us to have faces alive. She writes, “Be the living expression of God’s kindness, kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”  

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 7, 2017

God…I Don’t Feel I Measure Up to Others!

I can sense that my perspectives are changing. On one hand, I feel happier with life, more peaceful than I can remember. On the other hand, I don’t see life as an unending expanse before me. Maybe it is because I am more mid-life or maybe it’s because I work as a chaplain confidant of people who have life limiting illnesses on a daily basis. I want make the moments of everyday to count for something. I guess I seek significant moments of connection with others to meet their needs and with life.

At the same time, I am aware on a daily basis that I can be quite critical of myself in what I say to myself. I can expect a lot more of myself than I do of others. I was walking today, trying to get my 10,000 steps in, when I started reflecting to myself, “Well, Mary, you certainly have not been very social this week. You have come home from work and plopped in the chair after dinner rather than phoning your friends.” I felt a sting of shame and turned to God. I asked God in the quiet of my heart, should I have been more generous and reached out to my friends more this week? What came to me was real! A memory surfaced when I was looking ahead to this week. I had thought about arranging a social event with our adult friends, when I remembered that our college aged kids were arriving home. I made the decision to be available to them rather than traipse out for dinner with our friends. God affirmed me by taking me to the core of my life calling and reminding me of my conscious decision to be available. God brings me back to the truth in me!  What about you? Do you sometimes feel that everybody else has a vast array of friends and social events? Can you relate to feeling like you don’t measure up to what others seem to be living? ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 6, 2017

How can Jesus be born in our hearts this Christmas?

Being prepared for Christmas is much more than buying a tree and gifts! While Our Lord wants us to prepare, to prepare our hearts so the outward tasks of the season will be ways we love others, He wants something more. Jesus wants to be born in our hearts this Christmas, for this is our real human destiny: to be alive with Jesus from within!

Venerable Luis Martinez (1881-1956), the late Archbishop of Mexico City, and talented spiritual director, breaks open this mystery for us by saying, “We not only remember that night in Bethlehem, but moreover, we recognize that this mystery is truly happening in each well-prepared soul through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”  He seeks not only to be “born in the hearts of saints, but also in imperfect souls; where nothing will hinder Jesus from being born in them as long as they do what they can to purify themselves.” His admonition to us is for our hearts to become mangers for Jesus.

Mangers are in stables or rather little caves, which are usually cold, damp places that most people overlook unless they are shepherds or farmers. Where Jesus was born, Martinez described was “not the Bethlehem depicted on prayer cards, surrounded by doves and angels with everything neatly and artistically arranged. Rather it was a shelter for animals, a very common place. He was born in a very poor, very humble, smelly and dirty place. He, therefore, will not mind being born in our poor hearts.” Like seeds that sprout in the dirt, human life and growth can be messy for it happens down in the earth of our everyday life.

Now, what do mangers and hearts have in common? They both need cleaning up. Mangers need to be empty so they can hold what the animals need. Mangers attract. Animals approach a manger to eat, while a farmer/shepherd does too to drop the sweet hay and grain there. Our hearts need to be empty of self-preoccupation to become quieted by an awareness of our own shortcomings. We have to smell the native aroma of our hearts so we reach towards heaven for our fullness as we live, which is in God and not ourselves.

While we must try as hard as we can to tidy up, what hope do we have to have hearts clean enough to receive the King of Kings on our own efforts? Martinez encourages us “not to worry for, stables may be tided to a certain point, but they cannot be changed into marble palaces.”

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 5, 2017

A Christmas Gift with Eternal Benefits!

Our culture really seems to drive us to be self focused when it comes to Christmas gift buying. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of us are really focused on others, particularly many women. Just early this week, I found myself laying in bed awake, concerned about a situation with one of my kids. What’s missing is an awareness of how to draw our lives into a working whole, to cultivate meaning and well being so it makes a practical difference for others. We have to learn how to use the crosses that come to us so we grow in holiness ourselves and generate graces for others by connecting these moments to the Cross. What gift this Christmas could help you grow in this way?

Ask your husband, your family or your friends to purchase, Awakening a Life-giving Heart: Insights for Women Who Pray for the Church, and plan on joining us as we process the book live through facebook. We will be together through facebook live on Wednesdays, January 3-February 7, 7-8 PM, CST. Start your New Years resolutions for holiness this year~ Mary

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