When I was a seminarian I was on a Lenten retreat in a monastery in a small town in Italy. The local stray dogs barked constantly. It was a disruption to me at first, but then I thought of a fable that can help us appreciate what it was like for Christ to become man and to die for us. (Fulton Sheen gives us a similar image in his book, Those Mysterious Priests.)
Father James Wallace
Wives do not mind asking for directions. They tell their husbands to stop, pull over, and seek help. Mothers are also good counselors. They encourage their children to obtain tutors, instructors, coaches. They look to problem-solve and not remain condemned to the futility of the present predicament. What could be a negative situation a woman, through her humility and sensibleness, turns into something positive. It is like that time when Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, a 16th century saint, dropped a small statue of Jesus in the chapel while dusting it. Picking it up unbroken, she kissed it, saying, “If you had not fallen, you would not have gotten that.”
The geographies in the Holy Land themselves are a sermon. Nazareth, where Jesus was raised, is in the mountains. Capernaum, where Jesus performed his ministry, is on the sea. While mountains are interesting for visitors and passersby, for permanent residents, the mountains are fixtures. The mountain in the distance might as well be a painting on the wall. It is inexorable and secure, and it is predictable. In Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, under the mountains, Jesus had a solid upbringing. He went to synagogue and worked in his father's wood shop. Perhaps he traveled with his father to the nearby towns for business, but he was always rooted in holiness and obedience. Jesus had stability. If we were to characterize this with a color, we would say Nazareth was the color blue. For blue, like ice, denotes resoluteness.
Mary's perpetual virginity is an article of our faith. We Catholics believe that our Blessed Mother was a virgin before and after the birth of Jesus. (The “brothers and sisters” of Jesus we hear about in the Gospels are, actually, his cousins or perhaps half-siblings.) Mary was given to no man so that she could be given to each of us. That is the significance of Mary's virginity.
I gave a talk to the Boy Scouts recently on the virtue of reverence. The 12th and final point of the Scout Law reads, “A Scout is reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”
Lent is a time when we are conscientious of growing in holiness. We give something up or we do something positive. While these activities are all good, I think it might be helpful to hear some words from St. John Henry Newman's on perfection (another way of saying holiness):
Today, February 11th, is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and it was worth reflecting a bit on this Marian apparition. Briefly, in 1858 the Virgin Mary appeared to a fourteen year old girl in the small town in southwest France. A spring of water miraculously formed where the Blessed Mother spoke, and to this day pilgrims travel to Lourdes to drink and bathe in this healing water.
Towards the end of his life Mark Twain wrote The Diaries of Adam and Eve. The first part of the book is written by Adam; the second by Eve. Accounts of God's creation, life in the Garden of Eden, the fall, and life outside of Eden are given from two different perspectives. Adam's writing is simple and obtuse. He is annoyed at first by Eve's constant pursuit of him. He writes, “This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don't like this; I am not used to company...I wish it would not talk; it is always talking.” Later on Adam cannot figure out what new animal his sons, Cain and Abel, are. “I was going to stuff one of them for my collection,” he records, “but she is prejudiced against it for some reason or other; so I have relinquished the idea, though I think it is a mistake.”
Students looking for purpose can learn from the life of Winston Churchill. Arguably the greatest political figure of the 20th Century, they may not realize, had a difficult upbringing. Born prematurely, suffering from a speech impediment, and inclined to depression, Churchill was essentially rejected and scorned by his parents. He performed poorly in school and passed the entrance examination into the Royal Military College only after his third attempt. When his father, Lord Randolph, died when Winston was 21, he left only debts. Yet the ‘Last Lion’ persevered. Churchill did not let his family and environment hold him back. He did not allow the wounds he suffered as a youth handicap him. He pushed himself, believed in himself, and would not accept defeat. He made himself bound and determined, like a bulldog. Here is a quote from Lord Churchill:
Baudouin of Belgium abdicated the throne in 1990. It was not for any ignoble cause or selfish pursuit that the King stepped down from his position of authority. King Baudouin abdicated because he was pro-life. The Belgian Parliament had passed a law allowing abortion and he could not add his signature to the bill as required by procedure.