How would we celebrate without our mothers? Imagine birthday parties without shopping lists full of food, drink, and decorations. Think of a dinner party without clean dishes, candlelight, or the soap dispenser in the bathroom being refilled. Would anyone hear from your family at Christmas time without your mother’s stationary, stamps, and time spent filling out festive cards? All of these things can be accomplished by men, of course, but by and large, they speak to the attention of a woman. There is a reason we talk about homes and special events needing a “woman’s touch.” That reason is that women have a gift for the particular.
On May 13, 2017, it will be 100 years since the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to the three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, with a message of peace, but a grave warning as well. Unlike many of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which all are obviously serious in nature), this particular apparition seems to stand out above the others in its intensity and gravity concerning the future of mankind. The world was (and still is) embarking on the path of disaster. The turn of the 20th Century was a time of great progress with the advent of the automobile, moving pictures (cinema), radio, television, aviation, industry, etc. It was a time that brought tremendous change in the way we lived our lives. The so-called “Roaring Twenties” ushered in a time of economic boom and a new type of rebellion, expressed through fashions and behavior. We saw women break from the conventions of the Victorian era (e.g., the flapper) and display a flagrant disregard for social mores through their dress, or lack thereof, in addition to the heavy consumption of alcohol triggered by the Prohibition laws of the time.
My mother began practicing the art of pysanky when I was a kid. I assume it was so she could do something away from us children. Making something beautiful was just a bonus. Pysanky (the word pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, “to write”, as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax) egg decorating is a complex and painstaking process, and I really had no interest in getting anywhere near it in my young parenting years – eggs, hot wax, permanent dye, and small children are one of those combinations that parenting books warn you about. But then one year, my very youngest, very artistic sister came to live with us while she finished up her last year of college. And it just so happened that my small children had, by this time, become sort of grown up children who adored their fashionable and artistic aunt. So, pysanky.
For five years now, ever since I saw my oldest child, in her infancy, marked with an ashen cross on Ash Wednesday, a realization has been dawning: I am surprisingly hesitant to introduce my children to the less rosy parts of the Church’s faith. From the martyrdom experienced by the saints to the magnitude of Jesus’ suffering, I find myself wanting to shy away, to simplify, to sweep under the rug. Some of these difficult realities comprise focal points of the Lenten season that have deterred me from including my children in any sort of Lenten practice until very recently. Indeed, this season has proven a hard one for me to make toddler-friendly. Lent lacks the intoxicating anticipation that Advent holds as we wait for Christmas. It is not a time of joy and exultant “Gloria”s or “Alleluia!”s, which are exclaimed throughout the Christmas and Easter seasons. Instead, we are faced, during Lent, with the desert, where Jesus fasted and overcame temptations, and with the Cross, which he journeyed toward bloodied, bruised, and humiliated. It is a wonderful privilege to introduce children to new concepts and ideas, but it is quite difficult for me to tell my small, round-faced little ones – who love Jesus and his Church with a spontaneous innocence – about these somber, painful things. Further, facing the fact that these dear creatures my husband and I have cooperated with the Lord to bring into being are also sinful beings is a somber, painful reality for me. I realize it anew every Ash Wednesday, and it is all I can do not to cry when I see the ashen crosses on their tiny foreheads.
Ember Days occur four times in the church year, at the beginning of each season. In spring, those days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the first Sunday of Lent. These three days are set apart for fasting, abstinence, and prayer. We know that Ember Days have been observed at least since St. Augustine’s time, and possibly from the time of the Apostles . In fact, the observances may even derive from Jewish tradition in which there were four yearly periods of fasting.
My First Apron
It was red and blue and white all over – the first one that I bought with my uncle. Excitement flowed through my little-girl body, for I know that my uncle and I would get use them – and match! – the following Sunday at Grandma’s house. It was something which symbolized that we could bond through sharing our mutual gifts, together and for the good of our family. Our matching aprons are something I can look back on to see how Christ began to slowly form me into Himself, the woman that God created me to be – and the apron can be a tangible symbol for all of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14 RSVCE).
Who wears the Apron?
“A dingy piece of cloth for objectified women?! How does that symbolize Christ and His love?!”
Although the apron’s reputation has been degraded and has traditional ties only to the woman who stays in the home, the apron can be used with a much larger vision: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, a good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt. 4:10). Especially in our current world, men and women, the youth and the aged, have discovered and developed their personal gifts in cooking, baking, and grilling, and both genders tend to contribute to duties around the household scene. As Christ came “not to be served but to serve” (Mt. 20:28), so, too, should we use our daily duties and talents in service of those around us. Although aprons largely fell out of use since the youthful days of our grandmothers, they can become for us a symbol of our interior disposition: “As I put this apron on, I am putting on Christ.” It becomes not a shield or defense mechanism between the wearer and the world but a bridge showing that one is ready to step more deeply into the mess and chaos of the world… that one is not afraid to face the ugliness of the world and sin… that one is ready to serve those in most need as Chris did. Particularly for those with gifs in the kitchen or the grill, the apron can be a symbol that inspires a person to use his or her gifts in service of another.
Christ Provides the Food
Christ came largely to serve by means of providing nourishment for people: the multiplication of the fish and loaves, the wedding feast at Cana, the Last Supper, and even the “last breakfast” after Jesus’ Resurrection, where Jesus tells his disciples, ‘”Come and have breakfast”‘ (Jn. 21:12). Jesus desires to nourish His people, because he wants to remind them that just as they were created to need food in order to live, they ultimately need God to live; that Heaven will be like a wedding banquet with “fat calves” (Mt. 22:4) and a promised land “flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 27:3); that they must live on Him, the “Bread of Life” (Jn. 6:48), Christ in the Eucharist, his flesh and blood, which man must eat to have life (53-56). Bottom line: nourishing God’s people points to the Divine Nourisher, the Divine Giver of life. Through donning the apron, one can enter into this specific service of God: nourishing His people to point them to Heaven.
Men and Women are Complementary
As Christ shows, providing nourishment is not solely a woman’s role, as the modern world often makes it out to be. The present, sarcastic, “Make me a sandwich!” is geared towards women in the kitchen as slaves of men. Nourishment, however, is not at all about the tyranny of man and the imprisonment of woman! Yes; men and women were most certainly created differently, as “male and female” (Gen. 5:2). This does not necessarily relegate either gender to a certain room at the house. It does, however, point to the different ways in which they give themselves to God and to humanity – the way in which they serve. Both man and woman are called to “submit yourselves to one another, in fear of Christ” (Eph. 5;21). Traditionally, men, with naturally paternal hearts, show this by providing for their families (or their spiritual family – all of God’s children); women, with naturally maternal hearts, show this by nourishing their families. Both of these roles can fit into the service found with the apron: the man, in a more active role, wants to make sure that he makes available and supplies for the needs of his family; he wants to provide their nourishment. With a more passive action, the woman wants to make sure that her family is healthy, strong, and filled with life; she wants her family to be nourished. This, the apron can be a symbol of the mutual service and love between men and women and also, perhaps, a way to highlight the complementarity of male and female.
An Apron as a Symbol of Christ’s Love
Of course, the apron is not the cause of any of these good things, but it can be a symbol to remind us of our service in Christ and Baptism, where we were transformed into Christ (CCC 1265). Being physical beings, it is good and beneficial to have tangible reminders of life’s spiritual realities. Whether we choose to don the apron or not, may we always be renewed in our vigor to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14) in service to one another by putting to use our gifts for the nourishment of God’s children. May the apron be a reminder for me – and hopefully for you – of the joy of serving our families through the gift of food. May it never be a symbol of division but always a symbol of unity as we choose to dive into the messiness of humanity and become “one even as [the Father and Jesus] are one” (Jn. 17:22).
Lord Jesus Christ,
as I put on this apron, may I be clothed with You.
Help me to serve those around me in love so that I may lead them to You.
Dispel all fear to dive into the messiness of sinful humanity.
I bring to You my own chaos,
along with the mess and brokenness of all those I will serve this day.
And at the end of this adventurous day, as I take the apron off,
may I give You the mess that lies upon it – the mess of Your people –
so that You may make us clean through Your Precious Blood.
To view Catholic aprons for yourself or a loved one, click here to see our full line of aprons
Christ’s inquiry this Lent:
“Do you want to be made well?” John 5:6
As a teenager, I struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
I went through many rehabilitation programs before finally getting my life together. I recall one time being accepted into a particular treatment program and smoking pot before entering the facility to begin my recovery. When the administrators asked me when was the last time I used drugs or alcohol, I told them I smoked some pot shortly before arriving. They were so disappointed that they strongly considered ejecting me from the program on the spot. It was evident that my sincerity had been questionable.
I use this story to illustrate how I perceive Catholics when Lent rolls around. We do not prepare. It seems that we wait until Ash Wednesday arrives and then scramble and try to figure out what we need to do, or cry bloody murder that the Church requires of us an ecclesiastical fast and abstinence for the day (one meatless meal with the possibility of two small meals). Yet I am always surprised at how many Catholics survive the Ash Wednesday day of penance. The next day everyone is still alive and well, it is truly a miracle of God!
Money Faith Where Your Mouth Is
My theory is that if we were truly living an ascetical theology in our daily spiritual lives, we would not sweat Lent in the slightest. No, rather we would eagerly look forward to the sacred season of penance with gratitude in our hearts for the special infusion of grace that God faithfully provides each year in abundance. Grace is everything! Yes, God always grants us His grace freely, but, during Lent He overwhelms us with a torrent of pure love and mercy. Why do we not avail ourselves of this special time of grace? Why do we complain and become somber every time Ash Wednesday rolls around?
The Deeper Meaning
The reason we cry out when the Church asks us, in the most minimal way, to sacrifice, is because there is something wanting in our spiritual lives, something wanting in our love. There is a clear deficit in our generosity with God. He gives us everything and asks us to be generous with Him. Christ tells us that through prayer and fasting devils can be cast away! We seem to fail to realize the power that we have as Christians when we work together for the good of the mystical body of Christ.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” Mt. 3:2
Prayer and fasting, done with humility and in an effort to please God, bring down God’s blessings upon us. It also expiates temporal punishment in this life. Moreover, prayer and fasting engender self-control over our passions. If Catholics were making atonement for their sins and preparing for the next life there would be less evil in the world and many more conversions.
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Rm. 8:18
Every Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and every Friday is Good Friday. When we learn the meaning of this we will treat Lent for what it truly is, good news! It is a time of great opportunity for the Church to grow in holiness. God bless you!
Recently, I was pondering the story of the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem in the Gospel of Matthew and found myself plagued with tons of questions. Who were the magi? Where were they from? What was this pro-astrology story doing in the Bible? These and countless other questions piqued my curiosity and led me on a journey for the truth. What I discovered managed to completely shatter many of the preconceptions I had about the Epiphany story, while at the same time filling me with wonder and awe at the truth. Below, in Q&A style, I have summarized my findings for your reading pleasure. May they surprise and fill you with the same awe and reverence for God’s saving power in history on this wonderful Feast in Epiphany like they did for me!
Who were the Magi?
There are actually A LOT of theories about these mysterious men from chapter 2 of Matthew. Their exact origin is unknown; all we basically know is that they were from the East. Whether or not they were astrologers has been up for question. Some scholars interpret the wise men to be Chaldean priest-sages, while others assume they were from the priestly caste of the Medes and Persians. There are reasonable arguments for both positions (priest-sages vs astrologers). Those in favor of the priest-sage argument point to the fact that if the Magi a small group of astrologers, this would affirm the highly-condemned (among Jews at the time) pseudo-science of astrology. Rather, they were priestly-sages familiar with the prophecy of Balaam in the Book of Numbers.
I see him, but not now.
I see him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob.
A scepter will rise out of Israel,
and shall strike through the corners of Moab,
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Those in favor of the astrologers argument simply argue that while the Magi were astrologers, having been exiled among Jews they would have become familiar with the popular prophecy of Balaam in the Book of Numbers.
Did the Magi actually have names?
Contrary to popular belief, the names and number of Magi are the result of a legend. In Ravenna, Italy, there is a church called the New Basilica of Saint Apollinaris, with a mosaic dating back to the sixth century depicted the Magi. In the image (pictured below), above the heads of the Magi, we can see the three names popularly associated with the magi: +SCS BALTHASAR +SCS MELCHIOR +SCS GASPAR.
What was the significance of the gifts they brought?
While Church tradition has colored the gifts of the wise men with rich theological symbolism, the historical significance of the gifts at the very least represents the Magi’s homage to the future “King of the East.” In fact, the three gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh) were considered a standard way to honor a king or deity in biblical times. The individual importance of each gift is up for question. Some perceive that the gifts were merely products of the Magi’s country of origin. The Church sees the gifts as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah about Jerusalem’s restoration, where nations and kings will come and “bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6). Most folks though are familiar with the spiritual symbolism attributed to the gifts in the Church hymn “We Three Kings”: gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming.
Did the Magi worship the Christ child?
Despite some scriptural translations having the Magi worship the Christ child, a more correct translation would be that they paid Him homage. The reason behind this, according to some sources, is the Magi were probably monotheistic, and likely only recognized the Christ child as fulfilling the prophecy of an eastern king.
Finally, why would the Bible promote astrology?
For early Christians the story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew was a source of controversy. A simple reading of the story seemed to advocate the practice of astrology, something strongly condemned throughout Judeo-Christian history. Thankfully, some of the early Church Fathers reasoned to an explanation for the complication the story brought to the Gospel of Matthew. For Origen, a belief in the widespread knowledge and influence of Balaam throughout Mesopotamia provided the answer:
If Balaam’s prophecies were included in the sacred books by Moses, how much more would they have been copied by those who were then living in Mesopotamia, among whom Balaam had a great reputation and who are known to have been disciples in his art. It is said that the race of Magi descends from him, and that their institution flourishes in eastern lands, and that they [the Magi] had copied among them all of Balaam’s prophecies, including “A star shall arise out of Jacob” [Num 24.17]. The Magi had these things written among themselves, and so when Jesus was born they recognized the star and understood that the prophecy was fulfilled.
Origen – Homilies on Numbers 13.7
The most popular explanation for the astrology in the story of the Magi comes from Saint Jerome. He wrote that whether or not the Magi knew of Christ’s birth from the teaching of demons (astrology) or the prophecy of Balaam, the coming of God’s Son (marked by the star of Bethlehem) meant the destruction of the whole power of astrology:
A star shone in heaven,
brighter than all the stars,
and its light was ineffable,
and its novelty caused astonishment ;
all the other stars
together with the sun and moon
became a chorus for the star,
and it outshone them all with its light ;
and there was perplexity [as to] whence [came] this novelty so unlike them.
Thence was destroyed all magic,
and every bond vanished ;
evil’s ignorance was abolished,
the old kingdom perished,
God being revealed as human
to bring newness of eternal life,
and what had been prepared by God had its beginning ;
hence all things were disturbed
because the destruction of death was being worked out.
Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians 19.2-3
- The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim.
- The Magi and the Star in the Gospel of Matthew and Early Christian Tradition, Tim Hegedus, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, Wilfrid Laurier University, 2003, http://www.erudit.org/revue/LTP/2003/v59/n1/000790ar.html.
- The mythical interpretation of the Gospels [microform] ; critical studies in the historic narratives, pp. 46-47, Dr. Mill. 1861?
- New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional, and Patristic, Volume 10, Bruce Manning Metzger.
- The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), the official translation used by the USCCB.
As a prominent Patroness of my diocese, Our Lady of Guadalupe gradually made a home for herself in my life after I saw numerous images of her and heard saintly people asking for her intercession. However, my love for her as my Mother – for this is how she revealed herself to St. Juan Diego – was not truly nourished until I was on the brink of graduating High School . . . with a completely open future in front of me.