Greatest

“Greatest” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel, when Jesus teaches that “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven." The Greek word for “greatest” (megas) is where we get our word “mega,” which we hear all the time in phrases like “mega-church” or the “mega-million lottery.” The word itself means great or the greatest in reference to something’s status or stature. But it also means superabundance, especially about personally experiencing grace, such as the first time the word appears in the New Testament, when the wise men saw the star that they had been following settle over the Bethlehem stable and “they rejoiced exceedingly with great [megas] joy” (Matthew 2:10). This word can also mean very loud, such as when Jesus cried with a loud (megas) voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46).

This word also occurs when Jesus calmed the storm and “there was a great [megas] calm” (Mark 4:39), giving this kind of calm a very unique experience, like one that had never been experienced before, or might not ever be experienced again: Calmness in the greatest sense of peace. This word is even used in a quick contrast when the angel of the Lord appears to Bethlehem shepherds “and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great [megas] fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great [megas] joy which will come to all the people’” (Luke 2:9—10). Great fear is what occurs at the beginning of divine revelation; great joy is what follows.

This word is repeated over two hundred more times and used in various ways throughout the New Testament. But this word is meant to be understood in the sense of ultimate power, such as the last two times it is used in Revelation, when describing what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as a vision of “the glory of God… his love… the mysterious presence of the Triune God” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 13 May 2007), that is, a description of the Heavenly Jerusalem: “And in the spirit he carried me away to a great [megas], high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… It has a great [megas], high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels” (see Revelatoin 21:10, 12).

Jesus’s word in today’s gospel unites obedience to and evangelism of God’s law with being the greatest—the most unrepeatable, the most glorious, the most perfect—one in heaven. But our greatness isn’t about being better than anyone else, but being united to Christ, who unites us to his glory and everyone else who obey, teach, unite themselves to him, too. That is the greatness awaiting us. Ultimate, complete, perfect union. That’s heaven.

Serve

“Serve” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel, when Jesus teaches his disciples that “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The Greek word used in this verse, diakoneó, means servant, but one who is very active, almost tirelessly energetic, since this word comes from two other words: diá (thoroughly) and konis (dust). In a more literal sense, this means that the servant is so active that his feet are kicking up dust and making a dust cloud all around him—a visual imagery not unlike the Peanuts character Pigpen.

This word is used to describe many kinds of servants throughout the New Testament, such as the angels who ministered to Jesus (see Matthew 4:11) and the servants at the wedding at Cana to whom Mary commanded, Do whatever Jesus tells you (see John 2:5), a command that is applicable even to this day for all people who are called to minister, all people who are called to serve—which is all people.

This service is not meant to be a burden, but to recall the great gift of God in the Garden of Eden—the gift of work. From the very beginning, he desired all of us to work when “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Work before the original sin was not toilsome. God gave man work that was as joyful as God’s work in creating the universe. It was service for the other, not service for the self. It was the joy of altruism; it was the joy of unstinting love. It was the joy of being caked in the dirt of the Garden of Eden, thoroughly covered in dust with the joy of service.

God continually calls each of us to serve, not to be served, but he also calls us to find joy in that service. Let us ask him today to give us joy in serving him, to fill us with the joy of doing whatever he tells us, to thoroughly cover us in the dust of our joyful service.

Mighty Deed

“Mighty deed” is the word that stands out in today’s readings because, in the original Greek text, it’s not two words but one. When John tells Jesus that he tried to stop someone exorcising demons in Jesus’s name, Jesus tells him, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.”

This phrase “mighty deed” (dynamin) is where we get our word dynamic! Essentially, it means power, yet not power in the ordinary sense of muscle power, but in the extraordinary sense of mystical power. The gospels often use this word to describe the power of God, such as when Jesus tells the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, that their beliefs are wrong because they “know neither the scriptures nor the power [dynamin] of God” (Matthew 22:29), and when Jesus tells Caiaphas the high priest that he “will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power [dynamin], and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

In a theologically powerful (pun intended) passage, St. Paul explains that God’s unseeable, unsearchable nature is tantamount to an unlimited, unselfish power. “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature—namely, his eternal power [dynamin] and deity—has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). It is this very same dynamic power that St. John describes at the very end of the book of Revelation, when, after the fall of Babylon, all heaven is rejoicing: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power [dynamin] belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:1—2). 

The power that Jesus is talking about in today’s reading is an eternal power, an undefeatable power, an all-loving power, the only power that will bring true justice upon the earth, the only power that will bring true comfort in the hearts of all, and the only power that will satisfy the hungry and thirsty soul.

Today, lean on that power—that mighty and dynamic power—that is doing more mighty deeds than can be seen in this fleeting life. Depend upon God’s power to be at work in your life dynamically!

Begged

“Begged” is the word that stands out in today’s readings. People brought a blind man to Jesus and begged the Lord to touch him.

How many of us have begged the Lord? Maybe we’ve said something like: Please, Jesus, help me… Please, Lord, hear my prayer… No doubt, many of us can relate to begging Jesus for healing, or begging him for help, or begging him for any number of miracles in our lives.

In our readings today, this Greek word for “begged” (parakaleó) can also mean in several other passages to comfort—such as “comfort [parakaleó] one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) and “comfort [parakaleó] your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:17). St. Paul also teaches that God “comforts [parakaleó] us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort [parakaleó] those who are in any affliction, with the comfort [paraklésis] with which we ourselves are comforted [parakaleó] by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Paul also transitions this word from comfort to beg when he teaches about dealing with people who offend us: “You should rather turn to forgive and comfort [parakaleó] him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg [parakaleó] you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).

Paul begs us to comfort.

And the people in today’s reading are doing just that. They too are begging, but they are not asking Jesus to comfort them as much as they are begging him to comfort the blind man. In a very real way, they are interceding for someone who is suffering. They are begging God to give comfort in the most just language, because as Pope Benedict XVI explains, “when God comforts, he satisfies the hunger for righteousness, he wipes away the tears of those who mourn, which means that, as well as compensating each one in a practical way, he opens the Kingdom of Heaven” (Benedict XVI, Angelus, 30 January 2011).

When we beg God for comfort, we must also remember to ask God to bring comfort to others who are suffering.

Defile

The word that stands out in today’s readings is “defile.” Our Lord uses it when he teaches that the things that can come out of us are the things that truly defile us, things like “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” Jesus adds that these things come from the heart, and because they do, they defile.

But what does this mean? These days, this word is commonly associated with becoming dirty or spoiled. Yet that’s not exactly what Jesus means. The Greek word for “defile” (koinoó) means more than just dirtying or spoiling. It has to be seen in comparison with holiness.

The New Testament word for holy (hagios) means to set apart. It’s sort of like setting clean dishes apart from dirty ones, or clean clothes apart from dirty clothes, but this too means something more. Holiness (hagios) means to be set apart for God, or dedicated to God. The saints are the best examples. St. Teresa of Calcutta, for instance, nobody was like her; nobody was ministering to the “poorest of the poor” like her. She was truly set apart. She was truly dedicated to God. She truly shows us the heart of holiness.

This word “defile” (koinoó) is the opposite of being holy, the opposite of being set apart. This New Testament word means making common, as in taking something set apart for God and returning it to the ordinary things not dedicated to God. In other words, when we defile ourselves, when we have evil thoughts, when we are unchaste, when we steal or are greedy, when we are envious or blasphemous or arrogant, we are not simply defiling ourselves in the sense of becoming spiritually dirty. Sin makes us common. Sin makes us not dedicated to God. Sin stops us from being set apart.

Furthermore, this word for “defile” implies that we are already holy, that we are already set apart for the glory of God and dedicated to him alone. When we defile ourselves through sin, we are like misbehaving children, not simply taking back something set apart for God and dedicated to him only, but also devaluing our dignity as a holy people whom God has already set apart in his love, as it says in the Psalms: “know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself” (Psalm 4:3).

So, today, do not sin. Do not be common. Be holy. Be set apart for God.

Discipline

“Discipline” is the word that stands out in the readings for today’s mass. We hear from the letter to the Hebrews: “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as his sons.” This word for discipline (paideuó) is translated in a variety of ways throughout the New Testament. Pilate uses it twice during Jesus’s passion to refer to a physical ordeal of punishment: “I will therefore chastise [paideuó] him and release him” (Luke 23:16, 22). The next time this word appears is in the Acts of the Apostles, when St. Stephen reminds the Jewish council that “Moses was instructed [paideuó] in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). Several chapters later, St. Paul uses this same word and meaning when he explains to his fellow Jews that he was “educated [paideuó] according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3). “Discipline” now takes on a new dimension; it can mean not simply chastisement, but also education and maturity through wisdom. But a third aspect of this word appears when Paul later urges St. Timothy to gently “correct” (paideuó) his opponents. Now this word for “discipline” can mean physical chastisement, wise education, and gentle correction. And all of these qualities can be found in any good and loving parent.

Many of us know what it’s like to suffer, to endure difficulties, to struggle through this world’s “vale of tears.” But how many of us accept our trials as the gifts of a loving Father for his children? Venerable Fulton Sheen used to lament what he called “wasted suffering” because so many of us forget that God uses suffering for salvation. Just look at the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate suffering became the ultimate source of eternal life.

Pope Benedict XVI explained this value of suffering in his address on Good Friday in 2009: “It is for love of us that Christ dies on the cross! Throughout the course of the millennia, a great multitude of men and women have been drawn deeply into this mystery and they have followed him, making in their turn, like him and with his help, a gift to others of their own lives. They are the saints and the martyrs, many of whom remain unknown to us. Even in our own time, how many people, in the silence of their daily lives, unite their sufferings with those of the Crucified One and become apostles of a true spiritual and social renewal!”

Today’s reading encourages us to endure our trials because they are the disciplines of God treating us as his children. So we should not shun this word “discipline,” but embrace it as a gift from our Heavenly Father. Discipline is an opportunity for us to learn, for us to grow, and for us to be drawn closer to Christ in deeper intimacy the more we unite our suffering to his own for the salvation of souls.

Hear This

The word that stands out in today’s Gospel is “Hear this”! Jesus is teaching on a boat anchored near the shore while a crowd is gathered on the shore listening to him. Can you imagine how difficult it might be to hear someone speaking over the tide or the wind? Jesus begins his teaching by exclaiming: “Hear this”!

This brief exclamation is actually one word in the Greek text: “Hear this” (akouó). It’s where we get our word for acoustic. An acoustic guitar is literally a guitar that is hearable. But this word in the Gospel carries a much deeper and richer meaning. Jesus is not asking, Can you hear me? He’s saying, Listen up!

Listening has played an important role in our faith for thousands of years. One of the most powerful times we encounter the act of listening in Scripture happens when the Lord calls the prophet Samuel, who replies, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). A direct connection is made between listening and servanthood. God’s servants are always ready to hear the voice of the Lord and listen to his direction in our lives. In this way, listening is tantamount to obedience.

That does not mean blind obedience. On the contrary, it is the loving obedience that all children should have for their parents, not simply hearing them, but listening to them. You parents understand the difference between hearing and listening. A child can hear a parent, but not listen to them. The same can be said of all of us in our relationship with God. We might hear God’s voice calling. But are we listening to him?

Jesus explains that we are more than mere servants when he repeats this same word: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard [akouó] from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). And he adds that “he who is of God hears [akouó] the words of God” (John 8:47), and “every one then who hears [akouó] these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock… and every one who hears [akouó] these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand” (Matthew 7:24, 26). As Jesus’s friends, we ought to listen to him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’s call, “Hear this,” is for all of us. He’s calling us to let his Word be sown on the good soil of our souls, so that he can be deeply rooted in our lives, so that Satan can never snatch away the Word, so that we can long-suffer “tribulation or persecution”, so that we can endure “worldly anxiety” and resist “the lure of riches and the craving for other things”, and so that we can avoid the near occasion of sin and all things that bear no fruit.

Our communion with God is not about what we could be saying, but about what we should be hearing, and who we should be listening to, as St. John Paul II explains, “Even more than speaking, prayer is listening” (St. John Paul II, Address, 6 February 1993). Hear God in your life today. And listen to him.

Grieved

“Grieved” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel. Jesus asked the Pharisees if it is “lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it.” They believed otherwise and the hardness of their heart “grieved” Jesus. 

This word for “grieved” (sullupeó) carries a deep sense of emotional pain, almost like the sadness of a broken heart. Jesus was “grieved” (sullupeó) in his heart because of the state of their hearts. By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had already performed many miraculous healings, just as God had already performed many miracles for the Israelites in the wilderness during the Exile, such as in Exodus 17, one of the places where we first encounter the hardness of heart, when the Israelites kept testing the Lord and finding fault with Moses. Hard-heartedness becomes a running theme throughout Scripture, so much so that God promises “a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:23).

But what does it mean to have a heart as hard as stone? The word for “hard” (qashah) in the Old Testament is used to describe the severity (qashah) of Rachel’s labor when she gave birth to Benjamin (see Genesis 35:16-17). Jacob also used this word to describe the cruelty (qashah) of Simeon and Levi’s fury (see Genesis 49:5-7). This word is also used to describe the difficulty (qashah) of Elisha’s request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (see 2 Kings 2:10). The hardness of a person’s heart is not simply about stubbornness, as today’s gospel seems to indicate, but it also implies stubbornness to the point of severity and cruelty in need of a miraculous transformation. 

In today’s gospel, it was easier for Jesus to “restore” a withered hand than a hard heart. He commanded the man with the withered hand, "Stretch out your hand,” but he commands all of us: Stretch out your heart. And just like the man with the withered hand who obeyed Jesus, we must do the same. We must stretch out the withered hand of our hard hearts toward Christ so that he can miraculously restore all hearts from cruelty to compassion, from severity to sanctity, from pride to piety and purity, because he is grieved at our hard-heartedness. He is grieved when we do not let him replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. He is grieved when we do not let him restore our lives to holiness. 

 Be restored by him today. Stretch out your heart!


Deserted

“Deserted” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel. “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

This word for “deserted” (erémos) is also translated as “wilderness.” It’s often used to describe the living conditions of John the Baptist. As a child, “he was in the wilderness [erémos] till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). As a man, he was found “preaching in the wilderness [erémos]” (Matthew 3:1). He even said of himself, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness [erémos], ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23). This word is also used in the New Testament to describe the conditions of the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness [erémos]” (John 6:31). “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness [erémos] of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush” (Acts 7:30). When Jesus went out to a deserted place, the imagery of communing with God comes to mind, the kind of communion experienced by John the Baptist and the ancient Israelites.

This word for “deserted” (erémos) is also where we get our word eremitic—a descriptor for the life of a hermit, which the Catechism describes as people who “manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ” (CCC 921). In one sense, Jesus going out to a “deserted” (erémos) place for prayer is like a hermit seeking personal intimacy with God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI teaches us that, in this scene, “the true centre of the mystery of Jesus appears” because in this deserted place, in this hermitic behavior, “Jesus was conversing with the Father and raised his human spirit in communion with the Person of the Son, so that the humanity of the Son, united to him, might speak in the Trinitarian dialogue with the Father; and thus, he also made true prayer possible for us” (Homily, February 2006).

Sometimes it’s important for all of us to be hermit-like—to go out to a deserted place and spend time in prayer, to enter into a personal intimacy with Christ, and to deepen our relationship with God. Those intimate encounters are the moments when the Lord replenishes our soul so that we can love him more fully and serve our neighbors more wholeheartedly. A deserted place isn’t truly a wilderness; it’s an oasis of peace.

Take courage

“Take courage” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel because in the Greek text it’s actually one word: tharseó. This word occurs only seven times in the New Testament. Twice it happens before a miraculous healing, first with a paralytic in Matthew 9:2 and next in Matthew 9:22 with a woman suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. Jesus tells them both: “Take courage” (tharseó). His disciples repeat this phrase when they bring the blind Bartimaeus to Jesus for healing. “Take courage [tharseó],” they tell him; “Jesus is calling you” (Mark 10:49).

Today’s gospel portrays Jesus telling his disciples to “take courage” (tharseó) after he miraculously walks across the sea to them. This scene is retold in Matthew 14. In both gospel passages, Jesus couples this encouragement with the reminder, “Do not be afraid.” This coupling is also implied in John 16:33, the very last time this word appears in the gospels, in the very last sentence of Jesus’s very last teaching right before his high priestly prayer and his passion and death. He tells his disciples to “take courage” (tharseó) because he has defeated the world.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also focuses on “taking courage” in Christ and to “fear nothing” through faith in his explanation of today’s gospel: “‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear’, Jesus exclaimed to the disciples who, with the wind against them, were bent over their oars on the Sea of Gennesaret (Mk 6: 50). Although sometimes the present blows a stormy wind in our faces and we are filled with great fear for the future, we must have confidence; we must not be afraid because God comes to our aid. If we understand the future in this way, we shall be able to confront its challenge. We shall then be able to shape the future and to make the most of the opportunities it offers us” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Message on the occasion of the 97th German Katholikentag, 2008).

When Jesus tells his disciples to “take courage,” it is a message for all of us, when the storms of life seem overwhelming. That is the time to be not afraid. That is the time to invite him into the boat of our souls and wait until he calms every tempest.

Straight

“Straight” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel, when John the Baptist sums his mission by explaining that he is the voice of one crying out in the desert: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” 

What does it mean to make “straight”? 

This word for straight (euthunó) appears only twice in the New Testament. The next time it appears is in James 3:4 when teachers are described as pilots (euthunó) who steer massive ships with small rudders. 

John the Baptist is talking about direction. He is urging us to make a straight path that leads directly to the heart of God. 

But how? 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains that making straight the way of the Lord “calls for inner conversion” and to “make a sincere examination of our life” (Angelus, 4 December 2011). Making a straight way for the Lord begins with our willingness to stop sinning and to start turning the rudder of our soul toward Christ. 

But sometimes, when we feel like a ship lost and tossed on rough waters in the darkness, it seems as if turning our lives around and making a straight path for Christ is impossible. That’s the hour to turn to Mary. 

One of her most ancient titles is Our Lady Star of the Sea. She is like a star that sailors watch so that they can steer the rudder of their ship in a straight direction through the darkness of night. We must let her be our guiding star. We must ask her to give us inner conversion. We must ask her to help us make a sincere examination of our life. We must ask her to make straight the way for her Son to enter into our heart and show us the way to the harbor of heaven. 

Beware

December 26, 2018, Wednesday, Feast of Saint Stephen

“Beware” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel, on the feast of St. Stephen. The word itself mirrors the peculiarity of the day, the feast of the Church’s first martyr right after the solemnity of our Savior’s birth—a celebration of life followed by a celebration of death—since the word for beware (prosechó) is very different from the words we have been investigating this month: pity, grace, and joy. As we begin the Christmas season, we are immediately called to “beware” (prosechó), a word that is essentially identified with Advent as an urgent call to “be aware” of the coming Christ. The Christmas season begins where Advent left off: with watchfulness. But what do we have to watch for now that the Word has become Incarnate? Christ warns in Luke 21:34-36 that you must be aware “lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.” In other words, now that we have finished being watchful for Christ’s first coming, now we have to be aware of Christ’s final coming, which is in our midst right now, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains: “Jesus Christ does not belong to the past, nor is he confined to a distant future whose coming we do not even have the courage to seek. He arrives with a great procession of saints… he is already on his way towards us, towards our present” (Christmas greetings, 21 December 2007). Beware. Be aware of Jesus Christ in your life.

Joy

December 19, 2018, Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

“Joy” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel, when the angel Gabriel appears before Zechariah and tells him that, at the birth of his son John the Baptist, “you will have joy and gladness.”

This word for joy (chara) is related to the word we dug into last week when Gabriel greeted Mary, “Hail, full of grace!” The word for full of grace (kecharitōmenē) comes from the common New Testament word for grace (charis). Joy (chara) and grace (charis) are both related. The joy predicted for Zechariah at the birth of John the Baptist is an experience of God’s grace, a free gift that Elizabeth also experienced during the Visitation when she “heard Mary’s greeting” and” the infant leaped in her womb” and filled Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit, which St. John Paul II, describes as a “small Pentecost,” because “the Virgin, who carries the Son conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in her womb, radiates grace and spiritual joy around her. It is the presence of the Spirit within her that causes Elizabeth’s son, John, destined to prepare the way for the Son of God made man, to leap with joy” (Address, May 31, 2001). John passes that same grace-filled joy to his father Zechariah, whose first words at the birth of his son is a song that begins, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” a song that the Church still sings joyfully every morning at Lauds in the Divine Office.

May you all be filled with this same gracious joy this Christmas.

Full of Grace

December 12, 2018, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Second Week of Advent

“Full of grace” is the word that stands out in today’s Gospel on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

This phrase “full of grace” is actually one word (kecharitōmenē) that can also be translated as highly favored one. It’s a unique word that doesn’t appear again in Scripture, a word that reflects the uniqueness of Mary herself. The word is an indication of how special she is among all women in salvation history. Pope Pius IX connects this uniqueness to Mary’s Immaculate Conception when he explains that this greeting “showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854). In other words, even before the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, she already had “a special grace and privilege of God” from the “first instant of the soul's infusion into the body” (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854). This word “full of grace” (kecharitōmenē) means that “the Blessed Virgin was, through grace, entirely free from every stain of sin, and from all corruption of body, soul and mind; that she was always united with God and joined to him by an eternal covenant” (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854).

An anonymous painter of the 18th century captured this perfectly, depicting God the Father eternally painting the image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe for his Son, who with the Holy Spirit is lovingly looking on. That’s how Mary is truly “full of grace.”

Pity

December 5, 2018, Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

“Pity” is the word that stands out in today’s Gospel, when great crowds follow Jesus and he says of them, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.”

This word for “pity” (splagchnizomai) refers to a person’s internal organs, especially when those inward parts are moved by an emotional experience. Have you ever felt broken hearted? Have you ever experienced a gut-wrenching feeling? You know your heart wasn’t actually broken and your guts weren’t physically wrenched. But they certainly felt that way. The pity that Jesus experiences for this crowd is a physical reaction, going on deep down inside our Lord; but it’s also a spiritual action, since this word for “pity” is directly related to “the tender [splagchnon] mercy of our God” in Luke 1:78. Jesus’s pity that sparks the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes is a gut-tugging compassion that is the image of the invisible God’s tender mercy for all of us.

As we begin this season of Advent, let us continually pray that God will have the same gut-wrenching pity, that same tender mercy upon us when he comes again.