Fr. James' Marian Reflections





Dear Friends,

I want you to be close to the Lord. I want you to love him and, in loving him, experience his peace.

Christ only wants to give us the fullness of life. He created us freely so that we could experience his supreme joy. There is no debt to God. There is only gift. I pray for myself that I can receive the gift. I pray for you, that you can receive it too.

Let these days of May be simple and easy, though they are busy with activity. Let the world around you fill your lungs with fragrance. Let Mary, the gentle woman, open your heart like the petals of a flower to receive her son's gift.

This little booklet isn't intended to be a burden. This is not a "consecration"; a manual of daily prayers so that on June 1st you are now a new person and have everything figured out. No, it is not that. There is nothing to figure out. There is just a life to live, and to live with Jesus and his mother by our side.

May she help us love life and truly enjoy what her Son has given us.




Lent is usually a focused and fulfilling time. We set for ourselves concrete objectives of prayer and fasting, we can measure our success (or failure) easily, and the goal is clear: Easter. There is a sense of awareness with our Lenten prayer, and even if we didn't do things perfectly, we are at least satisfied we tried.

Lent ends, Easter Sunday is joyous, and then, like the once-bright petals on the Easter lilies, we too fall off and become dingy. Jesus is no longer in the center of our vision. We may even feel lost like the apostles in the Resurrection period.

At the very point we seem to be stuck in the Easter rut, we enter the month of May. With Mary we have a chance for consolation. Not to return to Lent, but to return to the focus on Jesus; to clear paths in our lives so that we can be renewed. The white of the Easter lily is replaced by the blue of the lily of the valley.

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Jesus spoke these words to Nicodemus, a man who was searching for more in his life, a man who was in a similar Easter rut. It is noteworthy that Jesus would use the image of birth with this floundering disciple. If Lent is the time of pregnancy, Easter is the time of early childhood. Just as a newborn baby needs as much attention, if not more, outside the womb than inside, Easter requires even more effort than Lent. Fitting that our Lord called the apostles "children" when he appeared to them on the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection.

Time with Mary in this month can help us experience that new "birth from above." Mary can help us see the Kingdom right before our eyes and live in it. We shall find ourselves not in a rut, but in the valley, and on a path through it to the heart of our Savior.




"Jesus answered: My Father is at work until now, and I am at work." - John 5:17

There is a decision we come to in our lives of whether we are going to put our energy behind our "resume virtues," as author David Brooks calls them, or our "eulogy virtues." We all have careers and we are all called to earn a living and be useful in the world. Christ himself was a carpenter. But we do not have to sacrifice relationships for money. We do not have to abandon the present for the future. Work is necessary, but it is a means to an end. We will not have our jobs, nor our income in heaven. We will have people, and we will have God.

May 1st for most countries around the world is Labor Day, and so the Church today celebrates the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. If we currently find ourselves losing what really matters in life — losing the eulogy for the resume — then we can turn to Mary and her husband for recalibration.

We can surrender the resume with the help from our Lord. With all due respect to President Lincoln, Jesus Christ was the Great Emancipator. One who is too attached to his work and material comfort is not free. Christ came to set us free. He learned how to free the slaves from his mother and father. May our Lord breathe true freedom into us, using the lungs that are Mary and Joseph. May he help us love the people before us.

Prayer: Mary, I am too focused on myself and my work. It becomes almost an obsession. Please help me loosen my grip on the tasks before me and relax in you and in your Son. May my eyes be open to see the beautiful people around me and be graced by them.




"Son, your father and I have been looking for you." - Luke 2:48 

According to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the first person to whom Christ appeared after the Resurrection was his mother Mary. Scripture has no account of this — Mary Magdalene is the first person who sees Christ outside the tomb — but it seems reasonable.

One can only imagine the meeting of mother and son and the conversation had between the two of them. There must have been a deep joy and peace in both Jesus and Mary.

The Greek artist El Greco in 1595 painted "Christ taking leave of his mother" (see my Pastor’s Letter on page 3). The scene is Christ's departure from Galilee for his final journey southward to Jerusalem for the Passion. A scene also not explicitly recounted in Scripture, Mary has a look of serenity as Jesus seems to explain his purpose. There is a comfort and confidence between mother and son.

Had this painting not been titled, one could claim the scene depicts Christ's departure from Nazareth at age 30. Or the Wedding Feast at Cana. Or Mary outside the house in Capernaum looking to see her son. Or the post-Resurrection proto-apparition of Ignatius of Loyola.

Or, we could say the scene is mother and son in eternity. Yes, let's go with that. In heaven, Mary and Jesus discuss the state of affairs of the world, the church, you and me. 

Imagine Mary discussing you. She has a look of love and serenity regarding you, as much as you might be struggling. Jesus assures her he has a beautiful plan for you. Imagine the same for the person you struggle with the most.

Prayer: Mary, my soul longs to be at rest with your son, Jesus. I long to love him more and commit my entire life to him. Please help me accept that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for me. And if he takes leave of you again in Heaven, may it be to come into my soul and take me up to both you and him.




"Jesus said this to test Philip, for he knew himself what he was going to do." - John 6:6

Don't overthink it. It's a suggestion I'm given frequently in my life. When presented with a course of action I can become bogged down in the details. My deliberation, while serving some good of preventing mistakes, also creates a burden on me, as the action is not completed and I'm stuck with an unresolved issue.

Challenges are from God. The goal isn't to solve them and avoid mistakes and suffering. The goal is surrender to God. A challenge is meant to unite us to God. Overthinking stifles faith. It keeps us in our head and out of our heart, and we unite to God in our heart.

Christ presents Saint Philip with a challenge. "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" One can imagine Philip's brain twisting to find the answer." It would take more than a year's wages to buy enough bread for each of the 5,000 to have even a little," he responds. Philip is burdened by the mind.

There is no answer to this challenge. Or, rather, the answer is to turn to Jesus. He will provide the solution on how to feed the massive crowd.

Mary can help us turn outward. She can help us leave our mind. She can help us say, "Jesus, I don't know what to do. Please help me." Mary quiets our minds and activates our souls. With her we see that the challenges given to us in life are tests. Tests not to torture us, but tests to help us learn the lesson of relying not on ourselves but on God.

Prayer: Mary, I have an issue before me. Several issues, in fact. They seem impossible to solve. Even if there was a solution, I don't have the strength or ability to do it myself. I let all of that go. I see Jesus standing right beside me with the answer in hand. Your son will do it for me, for us. I give him my heart right now.




"No one knows where the wind comes from and where it goes." - John 3:8

Christ's presence was elusive after Easter. The apostles found themselves alone more often than not. And just as they looked for Jesus prior to the Resurrection, when he went off to pray by himself early in the morning, they looked for him now. But it was like searching for the wind. No origin, no destination. Everywhere and nowhere at once.

To encounter the risen Jesus we need a different way of seeing. We need to be in the spirit. The apostles couldn't expect to see Jesus the way they saw him for those three years prior to his death. We can't expect to see Jesus the way we want to see him. If we do, it'll be like us searching for the wind, or for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, to use another image. We can drive and drive and we'll never arrive at the illusion.

Mary, however, can take us to the origin of the wind, of the rainbow. She can bring us to the pot of gold. Peter and the others were frustrated after the Resurrection. They went fishing. We, instead, can turn our attention to Mary. She will give us a new heart and new eyes to see her son.

Prayer: Mary, I want more of your son. I want more of my life. I want to be renewed. Please take me to your son. Give me an open heart to see his glorified face. Pour the gold that is the love of the Holy Spirit over me and into my soul.




"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the way?" - Luke 24:32

Heartburn. In the biological life, it is a nuisance. In the spiritual life, it is a blessing.

Medically speaking, heartburn actually has nothing to do with the heart. Stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus, giving a burning sensation in the chest. It can be caused by particular foods or pressure to the abdomen, as in the case of pregnant women, or some other issue. There are ways to relieve heartburn, like antacids or Pepto-Bismol.

Spiritually speaking, our hearts burn in a good way when we are in the presence of the Lord. This comes in the form of consolation, but also in the form of the cross. When we are suffering or challenged by something, if we turn to the Lord for guidance and strength, our hearts burn. We might not be consciously aware of the Lord's presence at the time, but when we look back, we see how our faith was increased by that trial. That burning, which we assumed was painful and forsaken, was actually the sign of grace.

The disciples on the Road to Emmaus experienced heartburn not because they stopped at a White Castle along the way and indulged in a Ghost-Pepper Cheese Slider. It was because the Lord was with them. In their frustration with the crucifixion, the Holy Spirit expanded their hearts and they became even greater disciples.

Mary's Immaculate Heart was engulfed in flames. Staying close to her can ensure our pierced hearts burn and expand as well.

Prayer: Jesus, I love you and desire to love you even more. I desire to be completely consumed in love for you. Mary, please bring about this heartburn. Melt away any heaviness in my heart that would prevent me from experiencing the love of your son. In you, Mary, I know I am in Jesus. I know he is walking with me on the way.




"In your patience you shall possess your souls." - Luke 21:19

"If we wish to be the children of Mary," writes Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, "then we must endeavor to imitate Mary in her patience." 

If Our Lady of Patience isn't yet a title for our Blessed Mother, then let it become one for us today.

We know we struggle with patience. It is the most commonly confessed sin. Whether it is in traffic or with our vocation, we are inclined to immediate gratification. We want the result now. We want it now so we can move on to the next thing. We can see, thus, how impatience is rooted in a lack of attention to, and trust in, the present moment. We don't trust that what is occurring right now, even if it is not to our liking, is actually meaningful. Praying with Mary can help settle our future-oriented minds and accept what is before us, imperfect as it might be. Remember, Christ is in the broken bread. His mother can help us accept that truth.

We can also be impatient with others who struggle. Saint Paul writes: "We who are powerful need to be patient with the weakness of those who don’t have power, and not please ourselves." The frustrating individual is placed in our lives for a reason. They can bring us to God and help us share the power and goodness we have, becoming a true father or mother, like Mary.

Prayer: Mary, as Jesus breathed on the apostles and gave them peace, breathe on me and give me patience. May I recognize I don't have all the answers and there is nowhere better I need to be than where I am right now. May I see not the thorns in people, but the roses.




"Jesus asked them a question." Matthew 22:41

Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning is asked twice, first by the angels and then by Jesus, "Woman, why are you weeping?" Then Jesus follows up with, "Woman, whom are you looking for?" Earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus asked the disciples of John the Baptist on the Jordan River, "What are you looking for?" To the disciples on the road to Emmaus he asked, "What are you discussing as you walk along?"

The questions of the Lord help us articulate our love. Why are you weeping? is an opportunity for us to think about what exactly our relationship to Jesus means for us. We'd be sad if we no longer had Christ in our lives… why? Because we'd be alone and miss out on the greatest love there is. What/whom are you looking for? is a means for us to see that God is our ultimate desire. We might think we want health, money, happiness, but, really, we want God, because only in him is our soul at rest. What are you discussing? is a reminder to keep Christ in the center of our vision, lest we grow exasperated with the trials around us.

None of the above figures are able to answer Jesus directly. Mary responds, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him..." Andrew and John respond, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Cleopas and the others just vent their anger.

If we allow the Mother of God to ask us those questions, we will respond directly and rest in the beauty of the answers.

Prayer: Mary, I place myself before you and silence my voice. Please ask me any question — any question of your son. I love Jesus and want to hold on to his feet, like Magdalene, and never let go. I trust in his love for me.




"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied." Matthew 5:6

As we grow in our devotion to God, we feel a hunger in our heart for more. We want to take more from prayer. We want to understand God more clearly. We want to overcome our sins.

This happens. We become holy. But holiness is not something we put on a shelf and define by "I prayed a rosary today" or "I avoided mortal sin" or "I know Scripture." Holiness is the assimilation into God. Because God is infinite, we stop thinking about obtaining holiness and just live in it.

20th Century theologian and mystic, Dorothee Soelle, once wrote, "Mysticism is not a new vision of God, but a different relationship to the world — one that has borrowed the eyes of God."

The Blessed Mother was a mystic. She loved God intensely, lived an incredible interior life, and loved her neighbor in a way no other human has. Then she went out into the world. She followed her son's ministry in Capernaum at a distance, not remaining in Nazareth. She was present at Calvary and stayed with the apostles after the Resurrection. She sits next to her son in heaven to govern the world. She returns occasionally to the world to help it (see Lourdes, Fatima, Mexico City, etc.). She comes to us, her children, to make us mystics too.

Yes, Mary sees the world with the eyes of her son. She sees the world as a great opportunity for God's glory.

If we remain faithful to prayer, and close to Mary, as the years go by we will stop thinking about ourselves. We will look at the world. We will move into it and, inspired by God, help save it.

Prayer: Mary, I desire to love your Son and be one with him. But I also desire to do his will and make some difference, however small it may be, in this world. I want to serve my brothers and sisters. I want to love them and help them become mystics. I surrender these desires to you and trust you will bring it about. May I rest in the gaze of Jesus.




"And the Father put all things beneath Christ's feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who wills all things in every way." Ephesians 1:22

"He who does not have the Church for a Mother cannot have God for a Father," wrote St. Cyprian. The Church is the means by which Christ chose to be with us and save us. Our Lord could have undertaken his ministry while on this earth by himself. He chose, instead, twelve apostles, seventy-two missionaries, and hundreds of other disciples to be with him and learn from him, and then do his work after he left the earth. Moses had Aaron, Miriam, and Joshua. David had his thirty elite warriors. Elijah had Elisha. Christ has his church.

Everything the Church needs to complete its mission, Christ gives to it. This is why we call the Church the "Bride of Christ." The husband and wife are united. They own everything and provide for each other's well being. Everything that is in the name of Christ and is his by right is in the name of the Church and is hers by right. "Christ put his most precious merits at our disposal," says Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene.

Mary, the mother of Christ, is the mother of the Church. We need this reminder, for while Christ has no imperfections or faults, his bride does. We've seen the blemishes of the Church. We've seen people leave it because they are bored by it. If we walk away from the Church, we walk away from God. With Mary in our lives, no matter our opinion of our bride, we will remain faithful to the Church.

Prayer: Mary, I'm so often tempted to do things by myself. I want to be alone, to pray alone, to confess my sins to God alone, to study alone. But I know this is not good for me. I know that if I am alone I will miss out on greater beauty, greater experiences of love, and the opportunity to grow more fully. Keep me in union with the Church. Help me to die to myself and be in love with your son and his bride.


MAY 10


"What you did for the least of these, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

"There are things you can't reach," writes poet Mary Oliver, "but you can reach out to them, and all day long."

In the 4th Station of the Cross at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Stowe, Vermont, Mary and Jesus reach out to each other. They do not connect, but there is joy in this encounter.


This unique image (above) was painted by French artist André Girard in 1949. Girard had been commissioned to decorate the newly built parish founded with the help of Maria von Trapp, whose family had relocated to Vermont. Murals depicting the life of Joseph Dutton, the other famed resident of Stowe, decorated the church exterior.

Brother Joseph Dutton was a Civil War veteran who became Catholic and then left the United States to minister to the lepers on Molokai in Hawaii with St. Damien. Dutton took over management of the colony when Damien died in 1889. Presidents Roosevelt, Wilson, and many other distinguished figures around the world recognized Dutton as a hero. On its triumphant worldwide tour, the US Pacific Fleet sailed by Molokai to salute Brother Dutton.

Dutton and Damien reached out to the suffering lepers. They sought to hold their faces, and for this many looked up to these two men, just as Christ looks up to his mother in the 4th Station.

Mary approaches to hold our face. She locks us into her son, easing our suffering. The ugliness around us becomes beautiful with Mary in our life.

Prayer: Saint Damien, today is your feast day. May you and Brother Joseph pray for me. Pray that I may look up to Mary and allow her to hold my face. Mary, as you hold my wounded face, I close my eyes and trust in you. I release all of my worries and surrender all my vanities. I remain in union with you and your son.


MAY 11


"And to you a sword shall pierce your soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:35

The Greek Orthodox Church has what is called the "Akathist Hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary." It was composed in Constantinople in 536 by Romanos the Melodist and has been in use ever since. Similar to one of our litanies in the Latin Church, the Akathist is a chant consisting of 12 sets of praises to Mary. The titles of the praises are beautiful and each worth meditating upon. Here is a sampling:

Hail, O you, through whom Joy will shine forth!

Hail, O Redemption of the Tears of Eve!

Hail, O Belief in Silence That Must Be!

Hail, O Tender of mankind's loving Tender!

Hail, O Fold of rational sheep!

Hail, O Food who took the place of Manna!

Hail, Shady Glen where many are sheltered!

Hail, O Crown of Self-mastery!

Hail, O Key to the Kingdom of Christ!

Hail, O Space of the Spaceless God!

Hail, O Harbor for the Sailors of Life!

Hail, O Ark that the Spirit has gilded!

Hail, O Wound, ever-hurting to the demons!

This last invocation is quite striking. The epithet is a reference to Mary's wounded heart from the passion of her son. As Mary's heart is broken on Calvary on Good Friday, the venom from the serpent is removed. Satan and his minions can still bite, but death need not result. But then there's also the sense of emotional wounds, from trauma and what not. Mary's immaculate conception means she has no wounds of her own. But we do have wounds, and because she is our mother, our wounds are her wounds. 

Our wounds — events from the past that still cause pain for us today and the weaknesses we have now — are not detractions. They are what allow us to be saved and loved by Jesus, who "came not to call the healthy, but the sick." When we acknowledge our wounds and go to Jesus, the demons are hurt. With Mary, the Wound, present in our consciousness, we shall never rue our vulnerability!

Prayer: Mary, I am a "wounded duck," as they say. Instances from the past, insecurities about who I am now, fears of the future are all sources of pain in my soul. I look upon your wounded heart and receive affirmation that this is not just okay, but this is beautiful. My wound is a dimple in the radiant star and I pray not to have the wound removed, but to be close to your Son.


MAY 12


"She took off the widow's garb to raise the afflicted of Israel." Judith 16:7

In the two Old Testament stories of Judith and Esther we see women who were able to use their exceeding beauty and intelligence to beguile the foes of Israel and glorify God. Stunningly attractive, Judith captures the heart of Holofernes, who was besieging Israel, and executes him at night. He had let her into his confidence and inner chamber. Also mesmerizing to the eyes, Esther gains access to the King of Persia and is able to save her nation from destruction. She is able to speak before the king when no one else was given such permission.

Both women also demonstrate humility. On the eve of their exploit with the enemy, both pray to God and express dismay for the gifts they have. "I abhor the sign of grandeur which rests on my head when I appear in public," says Esther, "abhor it like a polluted rag and do not wear it in private" (Esther C:27). Judith covers herself in ashes and strews her hair wildly.

But after their self-abasement, the women continue on with the mission, using the gifts God had given them. They did God's will and never let the focus of glory remain on themselves.

These women are icons of the Virgin Mary, the self-styled "handmaid of the Lord." The beauty of Mary's body and soul is what has captured the world time and time again. She has only increased devotion to her son.

Vanity is a vice most struggle with. People claim as their own the beauty they have been given. They strive to possess even more of it. They flaunt it before others to tempt them. They seek the glory. And, little do they know, they actually become ugly.

Mary will help us remain beautiful and have a positive impact on those around us, as Judith and Esther did.

Prayer: Mary, I'm greedy for more beauty. I think the beauty you've given me is for my own satisfaction and, because we can never be satisfied completely until we are with you in eternity, the enemy deceives me into thinking I need more. Vanity is the bait. Help me reject this bait, Mary. I abhor my gifts as Judith and Esther did. I desire only to do God's will for the good of my brothers and sisters.


MAY 13


"Peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you." John 14:27

On this day in 1917 our Lady appeared to three young children in Fatima, Portugal. She would go on to appear miraculously on the thirteenth day of each month until October. Mary gave messages to the children and to the world about praying the rosary, resisting evil, loving her son, and respecting life.

Fatima is not just an event from the past we recall and draw lessons from for the present. None of the Marian apparitions are. Nor are the apparitions strictly about the places — Portugal or southern France or Mexico City or wherever. The apparitions are about Mary, who is real and relating to us right now. In Our Lady of Fatima or Guadalupe or Knock or Lourdes we have another insight into who Mary is and what she offers us.

Our Lady of Fatima is about the evil of the world. It was communism in 1917; it is something else today. Mary's appearing and talking specifically about the world assures us that she knows what is going on around us today. She knows our fears and frustrations with society, with politics, with international affairs.

Praying with Our Lady of Fatima isn't meant to rev us up and turn us into culture warriors. It is meant to give us peace. Mary eases our anger and bitterness and hostility. She assures us her son is the one in charge of the world. We can surrender our anxiety to him. She will soften our hearts to make us instruments of change in the world, for it is not anger that conquers, but love.

"Fatima is more important now than in 1917!" said John Paul II. We would echo that sentiment.

Prayer: Mary, I'm upset about the world. I'm upset about the political scene, the violence, the injustice. I feel the temptation to anger and despair; to lashing out at my opponents. Our Lady of Fatima, you know exactly the evil. I don't need to say any more. You and your son will take care of us and the most vulnerable in the world. I bring my foes and my loved ones into my heart, and I rest in your Immaculate Heart. 


MAY 14


"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13

The World's Fair in Philadelphia in 1876, held on the centenary of the American Revolution, debuted the typewriter, sewing machine, telephone, Heinz Ketchup, and root beer. Less well-known at the exhibition was the presentation of a life-sized statue of Mary and the child Jesus in golf leaf and ivory (see image above).

The statue became known as Our Lady of Holy Hill when it was purchased from the fair for the site in southern Wisconsin. In 1878 eighteen young women carried the statue barefoot to the top of the hill. According to the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, where the statue resides, "the women were escorted by an entourage of 100 men on horseback, many priests and delegates from all over the state." Pilgrims see the statue today and are comforted by its tender and profound display, leaving crutches and other mementoes outside the chapel.

The statue need not reside only on the one Holy Hill. May it reside in the holy hills of our hearts. Mary can coat our heart in gold, the way she stands in front of the pink-veined Kasota marble wall of the chapel. She can help us repent of our sins and make our hearts pure. She will give us the joy of the child Jesus.

World's Fairs are meant to help people with their displays and inventions. Philadelphia's helped us by giving us Mary, the Help of Christians.

Prayer: Mary, I adore your Son. I delight in him as I would delight in a young child. A child so easily finds hope; so easily seeks and receives comfort; so easily forgets grievances and looks to joy in the moment. Mary, may you help me receive and be your son.


MAY 15


"The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." John 10:3

We are sheep. Jesus is the shepherd. He calls each of us individually by name to a pasture suited just for our needs. We follow him because we trust the sound in his voice. We know instinctively that Jesus has our best interest in mind. In this verdant pasture we will be given the fullness of life.

This calling of our name isn't a one-time event. Jesus calls us each day. And this pasture to which he leads us looks differently each day. One day might be to experience the peace of Christ in contemplative prayer. Another day might be to have some involvement in the Church or in charitable activity. Another day might be be faithful and honest in our interactions at work and in the world.

Sheep sometimes need to be prodded. They become too absorbed in their current pasture, thinking what they are feeding upon is all they need. Or they hear other voices or invitations and become confused.

Mary is the gatekeeper for her son. She breaks us from our self-absorption to allow us to hear her son. She silences the other voices that paralyze us and weigh us down.

Jesus desires to call us to a specific pasture today. He did yesterday and the day before. If we feel like we haven't heard the voice of Jesus lately, perhaps we can turn our focus to his gatekeeper.

Prayer: Lord, I want to have life and have it more abundantly. I know where you are leading me, while unfamiliar and therefore a little frightening, is so much better than where I am now. Mary, I turn to you. I can now hear those competing voices dimming. I can hear your son speaking my name. All I need to do is follow. I trust that is enough. I surrender myself to you.


MAY 16


"Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will Be on your food and water. I will take away Sickness from among you." Exodus 23:25

I was sick some time back and a very motherly parishioner dropped off at the rectory a pot of chicken soup. The soup was so good I wondered if I should get sick more often. Alas, the soup worked and I was soon healthy.

While it may seem like an old myth, chicken soup does actually help fight illness. For one, the adage 'feed a cold' is accurate, as the body, fighting off infection, expends more energy and requires replenishment. Chicken soup in particular has certain nutrients to help the immune system. Chicken contains the compound carnosine, which reduces congestion by stopping the migration of white blood cells. Glucosamine and chondroitin from the bones and broth also also assist with inflammation.

We could see the Blessed Mother as the chicken-soup provider for the ill. When we're feeling low spiritually, she gives us the energy we need to fight off the attacks of the enemy that drag us even lower. When we're "stuffed up" spiritually — we can't pray as easily or hear Christ as clearly — resting in the Blessed Mother's presence will soon cure us. And while we might feel otherwise lousy, a dose of Mary will make us feel good, like that delicious bowl of chicken soup.

Prayer: Mary, I'm sick and can't do what I normally would do. I quiet the inner voice of shame, along with the voice that drives me on to keep working as normal. I simply rest in your presence. I savor your calming love. I trust that the illness will pass and I will soon see your Son again. 


MAY 17


"Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will Be on your food and water. I will take away Sickness from among you." Exodus 23:25

Edgar Allen Poe stopped inside a Catholic Church he was walking by one day to inquire why the bells were ringing. It was noon. He was told by a Jesuit priest about the Angelus, a hymn sung three times a day in honor of the Blessed Mother. Poe, from that moment, was inspired to write his own hymn to Mary. It follows:

At morn — at noon — at twilight dim —

Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!

In joy and wo — in good and ill —

Mother of God, be with me still!

When the Hours flew brightly by,

And not a cloud obscured the sky,

My soul, lest it should truant be,

Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;

Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast

Darkly my Present and my Past,

Let my Future radiant shine

With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

(Hymn, E.A. Poe, 1845)

There is infinite hope in the eyes of a loving mother with her young child. She knows the child will be safe; that God will provide. Thus the mother is able to sing the sweet lullaby to the child and bestow a sense of peace in the heart of the infant.

A prayer to Mary three times a day grounds us in her hopeful heart. Even if the present and past are dark for us, with Mary sweetly singing to us, her children, we will rest in the thought of a radiant future.

Prayer: Mary, I worry about the future. Where am I going, what will happen to the nation and church around me, will I have done God's will? I've sinned in the past and have my weaknesses here in the present. But you brush those aside and assure me the future is bright. All I need is your son, and you will take me to him. May I bask in your warmth this hour.


MAY 18


"Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death." Hebrews 11:19

The defining moment of Abraham's life was the call to kill Isaac, his beloved and only son. Abraham trusted in God. He took along his son with a few servants on a three day journey to Mount Moriah, carrying only a bundle of wood, a knife, and a torch. When they reached the base of the mountain, Abraham dismissed the servants and went alone with his son to the summit, where he built an altar and laid Isaac upon the wood. When the knife was about to plunge into Isaac's heart, the angel intervened, staying Abraham's hand. Isaac lived and Abraham was crowned the father of the nation.

Abraham did not necessarily believe that what ended up happening would happen--that God would call off the sacrifice at the last second. Abraham was not expecting a bluff. He was prepared to see his son die. What Abraham believed, rather, was that he would receive Isaac back.

That is, as Saint Paul tell us, Abraham believe in the Resurrection. Yes, Abraham is the first witness and first believer in the Resurrection. Isaac was a foreshadowing of Christ.

Mary, like Abraham, was called to see her son be sacrificed. She traveled with him up the same Mount Moriah. Unlike Isaac, who was spared, Jesus did indeed die. Mary believed in the Resurrection, even before Easter Sunday. This is why she did not need to race to the empty tomb. She knew it. She trusted in God. She, like Abraham, became the mother of many nations.

Prayer: Mary, I know I am called to carry my cross to Calvary. The wood is on my back, like Isaac. You stand beside me with the knife and flame. Give me a faith in the resurrection — that if I lose my life I will gain it; that if I give everything to Jesus and push myself to the limit for him a redemption will occur. Help me to die with your son.


MAY 19


"If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains, and go and search for the one that is lost?" Matthew 18:12

A true shepherd has an eye for the lost. Yes, he provides for his ninety-nine and loves them, but he looks for the lost. And when he sees the lost, he leaves the ninety-nine and goes out for that one.

This is much easier said than done. Finding the lost isn't simply a matter of walking twenty feet, putting the stray sheep on your shoulder, and walking back to the fold. This is a journey that takes effort, both physical and emotional. The lost sheep has an issue with the fold. The lost sheep won't return easily, and certainly won't return just because the shepherd orders the sheep to. The lost sheep needs time and attention. The shepherd needs to listen and receive the broken heart of the sheep, perhaps even receive the anger of the lost sheep. The matter will not be resolved in one encounter. The shepherd needs to leave the one sheep lost for the day but then return to it tomorrow to try again. And again and again. The shepherd has to put aside his own needs and be committed to the lost sheep. The lost sheep won't give the shepherd affirmation, like the ninety-nine will. The lost sheep won't be friendly and fun and easy like the ninety-nine. But the shepherd will discover that, while it was an exhausting endeavor, his search for the lost was a blessing.

We all know someone in our life who is lost. Not just someone who has walked away from the Church, but someone who is a struggle to us. We each have a classmate, a neighbor, a relative, a parishioner who is difficult. We'd rather be with the ninety-nine who are like us and easy to be around. But we are called by Jesus to be with the lost. Mary will help us do it.

Prayer: Mary, give me the heart of a good shepherd. Your son has called us to seek the lost. He needs us to be on the lookout for that one person who does not fit in. Give me the grace to say no to the popular ninety-nine and befriend the black sheep. Help me to die to myself. Help me to trust that the ninety-nine will be happier with the lost returned to the fold. Let me see the lost sheep.


MAY 20


"They wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head." Matthew 27:29

May is a month of crowns.

Laurel wreaths adorn Mary's head these days on the various statues in our churches, homes, and gardens. The laurel wreath, of course, was the symbol of triumph in antiquity, not the crown of metal and stone as in the medieval period. The Greek gods wore crowns of blossoms, as did Olympian winners, Roman Emperors, and victorious generals returning from war.

Jesus is the victor. He has triumphed over the devil. But instead of receiving the laurel wreath for himself, he has given it to his mother. The classic May Crowning hymn, "Bring flowers of the rarest" calls Mary "the rose of the vale." Jesus has kept the crown of thorns for himself and given its produce to Mary.

After the fall, God informed Adam thus: "Because you listened to the woman and ate from the forbidden tree, the very ground upon which you stand will be cursed, sprouting thorns and thistles" (Genesis 3:18). This is changed with Jesus and Mary. Whenever we receive the Eucharist, the real fruit of the vine from the tree of life, crowns are casted. The crown of thorns is pressed into our Lord's head and the crown of roses is placed atop Mary. Our Lord's Passion redeems the world, and Mary's honor makes the world beautiful. It's one thing to till the soil, it's another to plant crops. 

Prayer: Jesus, I gaze upon the crucifix and see your crown of thorns. You suffered for us and set us free. That is your triumph. Mary, I look upon you and see your laurel wreath. You pray for us and allow us to bear fruit in our lives. That is your triumph. I thank you and your son for your wondrous generosity.


MAY 21


Madonna of Loretto, Caravaggio, 1606

"Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by God would by fulfilled." Luke 1:45

After the Lord's Prayer at Mass, the priest prays a curious prayer aloud:

Lord, Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.' Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will, who live and reign for ever and ever.

This prayer used to be prayed silently by the priest, and instead of 'our sins' he petitioned God to overlook his own sins. Now he emphasizes the 'faith of the Church.'

We are part of a team. And not just any team. A winning team...a championship-winning team. None of us is perfect, but it is a team sport we play, and because of the goodness of the team, God rewards us with gifts. It's the same principle for why we can baptize a baby who cannot make an act of faith (sacraments require the intention of the recipient). The Church--the team--supplies the faith for the child. It is the faith of the Church that allows us sinners to receive the Eucharist.

We are bench warmers on this team. Role players at best. The saints are starters. The Blessed Mother and her Son are the stars. It is Mary's faith and Mary's holiness that covers for us and earns us the grace from God. Mary supplies us for the other virtues as well. Her patience covers for our impatience. Her purity for our impurity. Her poverty for our greed. Her humility for our vanity. Her gentleness for our anger. Her courage for our timidity. Her vision for our blindness.

Prayer: Mary, I am incomplete. I am a sinner. I am consumed by a variety of vices. I surrender my heart to you and abandon myself into the loving arms of the Church. You will cover for me. I will earn a ring because of your success.


MAY 22


"She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy." Proverbs 31:20

When famed Baroque painter Michelangelo Marisi da Caravaggio unveiled his painting, Madonna of Loreto, also known as Madonna dei pellegrini (Mary of the Pilgrims, see above), there was quite the uproar. The painting was deemed scandalous. The pilgrims were shockingly poor, with their dirty feet in the viewer's face. Mary was barefoot like the peasants. Instead of being in some beautiful, marble-columned adorned facade, the doorway in which she stood was decrepit. Her halo was faint, her clothes rather ordinary, and her beauty nothing excessively striking as other paintings had her. Mary also clutched to her child in a "working position," as if she was hoisting a laundry basket or water jug.

The public quickly overcame their shock and appreciated the beauty and significance of the painting. We are more like peasants than we are princes. Mary comes out of the doorway to meet us. And not from some palace or sequestered chamber, but a regular house, like ours. Her likeness to ours allows us to forget our dirty feet and shabby clothing and other shortcomings. We are able to adore the Lord before us and receive his love. With the Blessed Mother in our lives, there is no posturing, no pretense in our prayer.

Prayer: Mary, I come before you weary and dirty, a pilgrim from a long journey. Your homeliness puts me at ease. You stand outside the doorway of the church. The church is not a palace for the rich. It is a home for the downtrodden like me. Please help me to love your child and give him what meager offering I have.


MAY 23


"Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth." Genesis 11:4

Tower of Ivory is one of the titles we give to the Blessed Mother. She is the antithesis of the Tower of Babel. The latter was mankind's failed attempt to reach the heavens and be God. Mary is our success. She is our means to piercing the heights and becoming like her son.

The Tower of Babel was constructed in the "plain of Shinar," which was the land in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates — what would become Babylon (from Babel). The flood waters had receded into these two great rivers to form the plain, and the inhabitants, like their ancestors, fell into sin. When one studies Genesis, one notices a similar literary pattern in the accounts of Babel, Eden, and Noah's flood. The people come together in sin, God comes down and intervenes, realignment occurs.

Echoes of Mary are in each account. She is the new Eve; she is the white dove finding a place to rest on the dry land; she is the new tower constructed amid the cacophony of voices. In the case of Babel, she is the one who had a name made for herself when she entered the sky at the Assumption. And when we pray with Mary, the confusion and noise around us dims. We experience harmony.

Prayer: Mary, I look around and see mankind's continued attempt to build towers to the sky. Even in our own city in Chicago there are skyscrapers. I look not to these monuments, but to you. With you I will pierce not so much the heights, but the depths: the depths of my heart and your son's heart. I want to see Jesus and be like him. Please take me to him.


MAY 24


"And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them." Mark 9:3

Stains are a normal part of life. Dirt on pants, spaghetti sauce on a shirt, red wine on an altar cloth. Stains happen, regardless of our best efforts to avoid them, and we don't panic when they occur. The washing machine can return them to normal. Even an avocado stain on my black clerical shirt (so much for black hiding stains) that was impervious to the standard pre-wash stain removers was eliminated by a bar of Fels-Naptha a parishioner had given to me to use. A stain is not the end of the world. And if the stain still will not vanish, clothes and linens can be easily replaced.

A newly baptized child receives a white garment, a symbol of its pure soul, and the parents are instructed to "keep that dignity unstained." They do this with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the Fels-Naptha for the soul.

As old as Fels-Naptha is, it wasn't around at the time of the Transfiguration. Dazzling white. In that scene the Lord's outer wear reflected his inner wear. His clothes and soul were pure white because of the help of his mother. Mothers are, after all, best at solving those pesky stains. As Mary's soul was pure and completely one with the Father, so too was her son's. And when his clothes became stained with blood during the Way of the Cross, she was there to restore the dignity.

Prayer: Mary, my soul has become marked with a sin, a fault, a false desire, a weakness. It vexes me, but you assure me and tell me not to panic. You will remove the stain from my heart. My bleached soul will reflect your son, upon whom I am gazing.


MAY 25


"Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, 'I do will it. Be made clean'." Mark 1:41

I will pray for you. It's something we say all the time to others. But what does it mean? Does it actually mean we'll pray for the suffering person or is it just a polite cliché to say, "Oh, I'm sorry about your situation?" And if we do actually pray for the person later on, how do we avoid falling into superstition, as if our Hail Mary is buying the miracle like an item from the grocery store shelf?

There is a way out of this conundrum of intercession. It is by invoking the presence of Mary. Sitting with Mary in prayer, with the suffering person on our heart, helps us to actually feel compassion and desire mercy for the other. It is this "feeling" — an experience in the heart, in the very depths of our being — that brings about grace.

Jesus healed the leper when he had pity. The word used for pity in the original language of the sacred text is more than just a thought. It's a movement in the interstices. Jesus suffered in his very being as the leper was suffering. It was his heart that was the chemistry lab for healing.

As all mothers feel for their children, Mary will help us feel for the person who has asked us to pray for them. We'll find, then, that we were actually the ones who needed the prayer.

Prayer: Mary, people have asked me to pray for them. I bring them all into my heart and I turn to you right now. Help me to truly desire their well-being. Help me to be like your son and be moved with pity. Their souls are in his hands. What little part I can do, I do now in this prayer.


MAY 26


"They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." Acts 1:14

Mary was with the apostles in the upper room at Pentecost. She would remain with them as a group in Jerusalem until each left to evangelize the world  — Philip and Thomas to India, Andrew to Macedonia, Peter to Rome. Mary went with John.

But before that final departure, there in that place in Jerusalem where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper and gave his last teachings (John 13-17), Mary finished the course of training for the apostles begun by her son. As Jesus was with them three years, so Mary would be with them three years.

When Peter and John went down to Samaria to impart the Holy Spirit and lay hands on the disciples created by Philip the Deacon, they went at Mary's behest. When Paul desired entrance into the community and inner twelve, after having persecuted the church, it was Mary who softened the apostles' heart to receive their new brother. When Peter and the others deliberated upon whether or not to maintain the Jewish law and circumcise Gentile converts, its was Mary whom they consulted for their final decision.

The Holy Spirit was guiding the early Church, and Mary, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, taught the apostles how to master the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit works in our lives, but we can be like children given the keys to a Lamborghini. We don't know how to operate the sophisticated equipment and make the most of it. Mary can show us how to surrender and follow.

Prayer: Mary, I pray for conversion and for grace all the time. I want to be holier and a greater disciple. I know Jesus wants it for me as well. But I'm not sure how to completely give myself over and trust. As you guided the apostles, please guide me now. I open my ears and heart to your gentle wisdom.


MAY 27


"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15

The early Christians were renowned for their joy. Even in the midst of terrible suffering — poverty, illness, persecution — they were deeply peaceful. They held no bitterness or resentment in their hearts, and they did not look as if they were burdened, depressed or despairing.

Why were they so hopeful? Because they trusted in the faithfulness of God. They were each deeply convicted that God was with them. That God, who is stronger than any evil or misfortune, had a specific plan for their wellbeing and fulfillment. They did not know exactly how that plan would unravel and when the actual suffering in the moment would pass, but they trusted God would resolve it. Their deep faith led to the hope and joy.

Mary had the deepest of faiths. We see it first at the Annunciation. When Gabriel tells Mary she will conceive by the Holy Spirit, Mary believes it. Her question, "how can this be?" does not come from a place of doubt, like Zechariah's question when told he and Elizabeth will conceive John. Zechariah does not think it is possible, and is rendered mute. Mary knows it will happen. As any lover would, she just wants to hear more about how it will be.

Praying with Mary can help cement in our hearts the truth that God will bless us. Joy will flower forth from our souls and all we will need to do is point out to others that flower.

Prayer: Mary, God blessed you not because you said yes. You were already blessed by him from the beginning of time, and that is why he appeared to you with the news of the Annunciation. He already knew your answer. Your joy flowed from his joy. Breathe into my soul that joy. I do believe God is with me and will bless me. Help my unbelief.


MAY 28


"Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." Luke 2:19

The above icon, Our Lady of Silence, pictures Mary holding her right index finger over her lips in a "shushing" position, while her left hand is gesturing "be at peace." When Pope Francis saw this icon created in 2010 he obtained a copy for the Vatican hallways.

Silence is indeed golden. It is our friend and one of the greatest means to sanctity. When we are in a group of people and we feel the urge to gossip or speak negatively about someone, being silent will prevent the sin of detraction. When we feel pressured to make a smart contribution to the meeting to stand apart, being silent will foster humility. When we're suffering and we want to cry out in anger or complaint, silence will help us draw near the heart of Christ. There we can repose in safety, as if we were listening to a summer thunderstorm from our shelter.

There are times our interior prayer calls for silence. Our mind can grind over a matter of discernment, a theological conundrum, or some frustration. It's as if we're "babbling like the pagans" when we ruminate and analyze. But if we have a spiritual life anchored in Mary, we will not fall into this noisy trap. Mary will come to us and place her finger on our lips. She will quiet our mind and allow us to rest in her and her son's heart.

Prayer: Mary, there is so much I want to know, so much I wonder about, so much I want to say. I surrender all of that to you. I don't need to know. I don't need to see. I don't need to remark. I can just be. You have given me your son and he is enough. 


MAY 29


"For the Lord, the God of Israel says, 'The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth'." 1 Kings 17:14

The prophet Elijah had quite the impressive career. Here was a man who trusted in God and fulfilled the Lord's will, even when it brought him great suffering. Elijah battled the false prophets of Baal, condemned the wicked Queen Jezebel and her weak husband Ahab, and then opposed the next king, Ahaziah, reigning down fire upon attacking soldiers. Elijah was such a great servant that when his successor, the prophet Elisha, was granted any wish, Elisha requested a double portion of Elijah's spirit.

Elijah's career started with the widow of Zarephath. Elijah had called a drought upon the land, at God's request, and had sought refuge in the widow's house. The prophet asked the widow for her remaining cup of water and handful of flour. It had to be an uncomfortable request by the prophet, especially since the widow had a young son, but Elijah trusted in God. The widow heeded Elijah's request for their last sustenance, and then was rewarded with miraculous food for a year. The unnamed widow, we could say, gave Elijah his initial training in evangelization.

We are called to be missionaries and prophets like Elijah. It is a difficult road, and one that will bring us suffering, as we are called to place demands on people and have demands placed on ourselves. It is a work we must do if we are to help others love Jesus the way we do. If we practice on Mary, as Elijah practiced on the widow, we will have a taste of success and receive the confidence to do God's will.

Prayer: Mary, please give me a double portion of Elijah's spirit; of your son's spirit. I was brought into this world and given this faith for a reason. May I make use of my gift and spread the love of Jesus. Give me courage to do anything for your son, even if it brings me suffering.


MAY 30


"'If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,' and Lydia prevailed on us." Acts 16:15

Saint Paul, weary from his travels, found a quiet spot on a river in Thyatira to celebrate Mass and pray. Or so he thought. A group of women soon gathered at the river and Paul, led by the Spirit, preached about Christ. Lydia was among the women who listened to the Holy Spirit at the riverside and was forever changed. Paul's preaching gave her the key to the quiet chamber in her soul. Lydia would go on to live from that place. The inner union with God gave her satisfaction, peace, and a strength in leading. Lydia was like the Blessed Mother, who, as 16th Century poet John Donne verses in "Annunciation"

hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room

Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.

Mary Cassatt was a similar feminine authority. Born in Pennsylvania in 1844, she moved to France when she was twenty-two and became one of the great Impressionist painters. Her image, Lydia Seated in the Garden with a Dog in Her Lap (see below), reflects the serenity, dignity, and composure of Lydia of Thyatira and Mary of Nazareth.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is eager to have us sit next to her in the garden of peace. She is eager to show us how to live boldly out of that little room.

Prayer: Mary, you sit next to your son in Heaven. Both of you watch calmly the affairs of the world, the affairs of my life. You await peacefully the Second Coming when our bodies will be as yours in paradise. Please allow me to remain in the little room in my heart, where you and your son dwell.


MAY 31


"And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Luke 1:43

We end the month of May with the feast of the Visitation — our Lady's surprise visit to her cousin Elizabeth. The Visitation is a lesson in the virtue of delighting in the joys of others. If we are called to feel compassion — that is, to feel pain when someone is suffering — then we are also called to feel joy when someone is blessed. Mary visits Elizabeth not so much to show off her own pregnancy, but to celebrate the miraculous pregnancy of her elder relative. Elizabeth returns the favor and delights in Mary's child.

Praying with the Blessed Mother is the great antidote to jealousy, envy, rivalry. To be envious is to be resentful or upset by another person's success. Their joy causes heaviness in us. The enemy whispers the lie in our ear saying the other person's good equals a diminishment in our own. That lie can lead us to sin further by resenting, coveting, undermining, and anything else against charity. Mary could rejoice in Elizabeth's pregnancy because she had given her whole life to God. It is not a zero-sum game with our Lord. Everyone can win. 

Prayer: Mary, your generosity and magnanimity in sharing in Elizabeth's joy led to Elizabeth's sanctity, as she was able to rejoice in you. John the Baptist from the womb shared in his cousin's joy too. Please crush the enemy's head in my soul that lies and says I am not good enough. Please help me to be truly happy for others.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068

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Phone: (847) 825-7605

Mass Schedule

UC = Upper Church
HFC = Holy Family Chapel 

Monday - Friday

6:25 am UC

8:30 am UC


8:30 am UC - weekday Mass

4:30 pm UC - vigil


7:30 am UC

9:00 am UC

10:30 am UC and HFC

12:00 pm UC