Matthew 11:28-30 - Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Joshua 24:15 - Choose this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
There are some questions in life we all must answer. Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? These are important questions and ones we do well to spend some time on.
There is another such question, that sheds light on answers to all the rest. That question is,
"Who do you say Jesus is?".
I love this picture because it gives some simple answers to the question. He is the creator of the birds and the flowers. He became a man and walked this Earth as a simple, Jewish rabbi two thousand years ago. He is a person, a man like me in all things but sin. He lived as a simple man that served others in all he did, and ultimately with his life.
This is not a multiple choice question with one or even a few right answers, but it is not a question you can afford not to answer. Its answer has eternal significance.
There are related questions we can ponder:
Where can I find Jesus?
What would he be doing if he was here? In fact - what is he doing right here and now?
What does he think of those I don't like very much right now? What would he have me do for them?
Where does he call me to go?
Whom does he call me to be?
These are hard questions. The answers are easy but living them is again hard.
For some very thought provoking talks on serving Jesus in places where Christians are often persecuted and most of us can't imagine voluntarily going, see: http://www.carlmedearis.com/free-stuff/
The Christian faith is a living thing, an active relationship between the creator of the universe and his creations, his people. God is not a distant figure, uninvolved in the affairs of men. Holy Scripture is full of stories of God and his messengers in the form of angels intervening in the affairs of men to care for and protect God's children. Furthermore, these connections between Heaven and Earth did not end with the conclusion of the New Testament.
Within the last 500 years there have been many documented appearances of our Lord and Mary at different times and places. The miracles at Lourdes France in 1858 and Fatima, Portugal in 1917 are two thoroughly substantiated miracles approved by the church. A third approved visitation of Mary, mother of Jesus under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in the Americas yearly on December 12th. Under this title she is the saint or patroness of both the Americas (because of where she appeared) and the unborn (because in the image she depicted herself as the pregnant mother of Jesus). The appearance of Mary to a peasant Indian in Mexico City named Juan Diego in 1531 is described at the link above. Mary appeared there to speak to the local people who were just starting to be reached by the Christian faith, and to ask that a church be built there to stand as a sign of her intercession on behalf of the people of the Americas. When the local bishop asked Juan Diego for proof that he was being visited by the Virgin Mary, she appeared to him again, healed his uncle of a deathly fever, and left him with a mysteriously imprinted image of herself on his cloak or tilma, by arranging roses within it. Over four hundred years later the tilma and its image remain intact and viewable at the shrine (pictures later) although this would not be expected due to the low cost, open weave cloth the cloak is made from. Much scientific research has been done on this cloth and image which I will not go into here. See articles such as this one for more details.
I recently had an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to this holy place, and this is what I found.
I was fortunate to arrive coincidentally on the feast day itself when thousands of pilgrim's are present to witness the various events of the day. The taxi driver could not get me any closer then about 10-12 blocks from the site because so many people were present and many of the local streets were closed to traffic.
I was able to be present for mass, eucharistic adoration and prayers in the new and old shrine (there are actually seven separate churches/chapels on the site). I spent about five hours there over two separate days, and it was a time of pervading, spiritual peace.
Here are a couple pictures of the basilica around sunrise on my second visit.
The actual appearances occurred on a hill overlooking the site known as Tepeyac
Here is a view of the old and new shrine from part way up the hill.
As well as a view of the chapel at the top commemorating the historic visit.
The tilma with the miraculous image created by Our Lady herself remains on display above the main altar in the new basilica.
Why would I make such a pilgrimage? Do such religious sites like this still matter? Sites and events such as Guadalupe are not necessary to faith or
salvation, but they are helpful signposts along the way. The
incarnation of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and his subsequent death on
the cross and resurrection are more then enough evidence for me.
But, places like the Guadalupe shrine in Mexico City are reminders that
Heaven and Earth are connected, and the story is still in progress. We
have a chance to participate in that story. The fact that Mary would visit the Americas, to a normal
peasant, helps me remember that me and my story matter as well. The
story did not end 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem.
It seems reasonable to believe when Mary appeared to Juan Diego she sanctified him and the location in some special way. This fact is further confirmed by the canonization of Juan Diego as a recognized saint, by the Church on July 31st, 2002. That peace and holiness was still quite evident to me during my short visit to Guadalupe. The physical beauty of the gardens of Tepeyac are overwhelming.
Guadalupe in Mexico City is a treasure of that country and of the Americas as well. I'm thankful for my time at this special place. If you ever get a chance to pass through, take the time to stop and see for yourself.
When the sensor on your five year old digital camera just gives up and burns out, that is not a good thing, except that you get to upgrade to something new and shiny. That happened to me this week. Here are some pictures with me getting used to my favorite new Canon camera (SX130).
It's hard to take bad pictures with subjects this cute!
How does one dad get blessed with that many adorable kids?
We all need heroes to look up to, to encourage us to do greater things. Some find these role models in sports figures, famous musicians, government leaders or in any other number of vocational roles and callings. There is a category of hero often overlooked by young people of today. These people are humble people, spiritual giants, who place their talents and very lives at the service of others. I'm talking about priests, religious and normal Christians who devote their lives to following the Gospel and answering our Lord's calling. In today's moral and spiritual climate, it is hard to find leaders and heroes worth emulating. So many have shown themselves to not be worthy of our trust.
Over the last couple years, and especially recently our family has had the opportunity to meet many examples of the positive kind. Our very own Caleb the photo nut has been lucky enough to have his picture taken with many of these heroes. I thought I'd share a few of those photos and their stories with you, in the hopes that someone reading may decide to adopt a new hero, and as a tribute to the work these people have done shining a light on our life's path when we needed one.
Starting locally, I'd have to begin by thanking our own pastor, Reverend Marc Oliver, pictured below with the Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan and some other men at a recent vocation dinner at our local seminary for young men considering the priesthood. Father Oliver is special for a lot of reasons, not least of which are the ministries he leads that reach out to local university students, the hispanic community and his pursuit of excellence and faithfulness in celebration of the daily mass. His work leading the restoration of St. Peter's church in Kingston is nothing short of incredible.
Next I'd like to give a bit of tribute to a man who needs no introduction, Father Benedict Groeschl, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Fr. Groeschl has spent his life restoring a sense of proper religious life, serving the poor in cities around the world, and writing and talking on the faith in a way that has encouraged a whole new evangelical zeal amongst the people he as touched. The work of his friars at local summer camps and weekend retreats has impacted our family personally on many occasions. Fr. Groeschel's impact on us actually began at the beginning of our marriage when we saw him speak as a newly married couple awaiting our first child. Below are pictures of that child, kneeling to talk and be blessed by the old priest himself, at a recent men's conference in Newark, NJ. Caleb had the chance to see Fr. Groeschl not once but twice in the span of a month, yielding the second set of pictures below.
While we are on Christian leaders in the greater New York area, let's cover a few more starting with a few more of Archbishop Dolan himself. Having heard this man talk at least six times now in person all I can say is what a godly man he is. His love for people, the church and his Lord is evident in everything he says and does. Since coming to New York in 2009, he has been a great inspiration to our family and he gets out to see his flock, even in the far north on a regular basis. He currently leads the US bishops conference, and in the past was chariman of Catholic Relief Services.
Two other great servants of our archdiocese are the rector of the Saint Joseph's seminary in Yonkers, Bishop Walsh (pictured below with the Archbishop) and the vocations director Father Luke Sweeney. Bishop Walsh actually confirmed Caleb, and Fr. Sweeney runs the wonderful Cathedral Prep program for young men discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood. We are very thankful for their blessings on our area and son.
To round out our collection of priestly heroes, we have had the opportunity a couple times to hear Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life talk. What a wonderful priest he is on the front lines of the fight for recognition of rights of smallest and most powerless among us, children in the womb.
Like me, Steve is a father and convert to the Catholic faith. When I was first married, his counsel on all topics related to marriage, fathering and faith was invaluable to me. I've listened to countless radio, TV and podcast programs by Steve, but recently heard him talk in person for the first time. As usual, he was truly inspring. Thank you Steve!
Well there you have it. Quite a few heroes worth emulating for young men (and young women) who wish to follow Jesus Christ. There are so many more I could list, but these are just a few who have touched our lives directly and personally in the recent past.
Who are your heroes? Are they the rich and famous only, or do they include people such as these of strong faith and character? If you need a further set of examples to follow, you don't need to look any further then the lives of the saints (or Saint of the Day), recent and ancient for further guidance and wisdom. May God Bless you in your walk with godly influences and true heroes.