Monday, December 9, 2019


If you follow the Mass readings throughout Advent you can plainly see the two great figures of the Gospels, besides Jesus, are John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  John and Mary seem to be complete opposites.   The Baptist is an ascetic living in the wilderness calling people to repent, while our image of Mary is often one of docile maiden.  But I believe Mary had the same boldness and courage as John the Baptist.   How else would she have had the nerve to say “Yes” to God’s messenger if she had not been “Full of Grace?”  (Luke 1:28)  
In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 3:1-12), John the Baptist doesn’t mince words.  He spoke truth to power.  Convert, or else!  How many of us would be so bold or have the courage as to challenge the authorities to, “Repent. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

Commercial! If you want to know my take on the John, read my novel, HERE I AM, The Life of John the Baptist.  Order online: BOOK PATCH HERE I AM 

Because Sundays’ in Advent displaces any feast days, today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception has been moved to Monday.  This feast proclaims that Mary was conceived without sin.  It’s not to be confused with the Annunciation of the Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and therefore without sin.  To add to the confusion, the Annunciation reading is the Gospel used for the Immaculate Conception.   

The foundress of the Redemptoristine Nuns, Bl. M. Celeste Crostarosa (1696-1755) gave daily reflections to her community in Foggia, Italy during the Advent of 1751.   Today, I am going to share what I gleaned from Celeste’s prayer style and how she praised the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout Advent.

Celeste muses on the Annunciation for the first eleven days of Advent.  She continues for another six days on the Visitation, and then Celeste devotes twenty days to the Canticle of Mary.  After 31 days of Advent, she finally gets to the Birth of the Lord!  Mind you, the longest Advent can be is 28 days.  That is how effusive and lavish Celeste is in her prayer and in sharing her meditations.  In this talk I will concentrate on the meditations on the Annunciation, which I will later apply to the Immaculate Conception.

Bl. Celeste’s style of prayer:
Celeste had a pattern to her meditations.  She always began with Lectio Divina: Selecting a short verse to ponder over from the Gospel.  For instance:  … the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man… (Lk 1:26-27) 

Then Celeste would always invite herself, and her community, to prayer.  She uses a refrain like this as an invitation:  “Enter, my soul, in meditation into this sea of grace and listen to this happy annunciation.”    As each day passes she continues with the next verse of the Gospel passage and repeats the invitation to prayer with slight variations according to the passage:  “Enter my soul, to celebrate the marriage…of Mary and Joseph.”  “Enter, my soul, with the light of faith.” Later she switches to, “Consider, my soul, how this most Prudent Mother listens…”  I can imagine Celeste being an eye-witness to these exchanges of the Archangel with the BVM and watches Mary closely that she in turn might emulate our Lady in all her responses.

Celeste was very descriptive in recounting the scene from Lectio Divina and draws her sisters in to share for themselves what their Holy Mother foundress was experiencing.  Celeste is often full of wonder and amazement, and exclaims:  “Oh admirable mystery!”  “Oh incomprehensible gifts!”  “Oh sweetness of love! Oh love of Sweetness!”

Bl. Celeste tends to speak with exclamation marks. 

Celeste, as she is known to do, turns to the theme of humility.  She often calls it ‘annihilation.’  But what she means is a total emptying of self that she may be pure.   She longs to be like the Virgin Mary, and Jesus, who emptied himself to become Mary’s child.  In Celeste’s humility she asks pardon for her pride and “disordered concerns” and asks for “true knowledge of herself so that she may be worthy to possess God.”  “I beg you,” Celeste prays, “not to refuse the company of this most miserable creature.” 

It seems to me, that those who are truly close to God see themselves as empty and in darkness in comparison to the Glory of the Eternal Father.  In her darkness she prays to be enlightened: “Oh Mother of Humility!  Admit me into your school to learn…holy fear.”  Celeste continues, “Teach me how I am to fulfil the will of God…”

Sometimes Celeste can be quite demanding.  She boldly says: “Make me love God alone.”  “I shall not depart from your most loving feet until you grant me what you yourself have obtained.”  “Do it for me.” 

Ultimately, Bl. Celeste works herself up to a fever-pitch thanking the Lord. With exalts of joy she is driven to say many times, “What a work to make every loving soul crazy with love!”  “Oh unheard of excesses that makes every faithful soul crazy with love and joy!” 

In her childhood, Celeste was known for her exuberant ways.  In Scala, when Celeste was a young religious, she was inspired by the Lord to form a new religious Order.  At that time, people called her crazy.  Thankfully, years later, she was able to form the Redemptoristine Nuns in Foggia in peace, despite of what was being said of her, because Celeste’s pure faith and trust led her to follow the Redeemer unreservedly.

What can we glean from Celeste about the Immaculate Conception from her meditations on the Annunciation?

She says, “Who can describe the greatness of Mary?  The Eternal Father looked with love on Mary as His daughter; the most holy among the children of Eve.”  She was predestined before the foundation of the earth to be “immune from the fault of Adam.”  

God knitted Mary in the womb of her mother Ann with all the graces and virtues of Jesus the Christ, and adorned her with faith and hope; a true knowledge of her lowliness combined with trust, boldness of heart, courage and pure love. 

Celeste exclaims, “God who has no beginning and is Creator of all, why so many excesses?” She answers herself, “I can hear God replying, ‘Only for love, only for love, only for love.’  Oh fortunate Maiden, you are the only one who has had such favors! What a splendid work to make every loving soul crazy in love with God!” 
Let me read some of the Third Day of Advent Meditation to give you an idea of her exuberance in prayer and sharing.  It’s as if in her Lectio Divina she is eavesdropping on the conversation between the Blessed Virgin and the Archangel Gabriel, and then wishes to share the lights of her own contemplation.

She begins with the Lectio Divina of the Gospel passage from Lk 1:28, 42    And the angel Gabriel came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you!  Blessed are you among women… and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  

“Enter, my soul, with this divine and heavenly ambassador, into the little house of Nazareth and look at your Lady Mary there.  See how this fortunate and humble virgin, hidden away from the world and all its creatures…for she is great only before the most pure eyes of her God.   And while she is absorbed in her most profound contemplation, behold, the Archangel Gabriel!  After bowing profoundly before her, his greeting follows, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’

“Hear the Angel of the Lord call her fortunate and blessed among women.  O my Lady and Queen!  You are full of grace because the Lord is with you.  You are full of God, because you are the Temple and the Ark of the divine Wisdom.  ….Oh blessed fruit of Mary’s womb!...Not only did Jesus repair the ruin that the sin of our first father Adam had caused in our human nature,  but still more,  Jesus raised our human nature to indescribable dignity!

“O divine Lady!  Obtain the possession of God for me. Obtain that humble hiddenness, that feeling of lowliness in myself; a true knowledge of my own nothingness, so that I may be worthy to possess God and be filled with God.  Make me love God alone, so that God may live in the Life of my heart.”

So we see that Bl. M. Celeste’s style of prayer was full of fervor, humble yet bold.  She addresses Mary with such familiarity.  We hear in her ponderings of the Gospel what she mined of the spiritual truths and enthusiastically shared them with her community. 

Theologians had been pondering the Immaculate Conception since the twelfth century. Celeste was contemplating the Immaculate Conception one hundred years before this important article of faith was officially proclaimed by Pope Pius IX as ineffable in 1854.   The tenet of faith is that Mary was free from original sin by virtue of the merits of her son Jesus. The Church teaches that God acted upon Mary in the first moment of her conception, keeping her "immaculate."   This is referred to as Mary's pre-redemption by Christ.

It is amazing how Bl. Celeste encapsulates the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception especially in the Fifth Mediation as she explicitly says, “Oh most fortunate Maiden, you are the only one who has had such favors. What grace, my beloved Lady!  The divine Father, from God’s holy Eternity, looked upon you as His highly favored daughter, immune from the fault of Adam…  From eternity you were predestined, before the foundations of the earth were made, when the depths were not as yet formed, before the mountains and valleys existed, and before the sources of the water were created, in you God delighted.”

Throughout her life, Celeste’s main desire was to be united with Jesus.  Her spirituality was of being a ‘viva memoria: a living memory of Christ.’  This is evident at the end of the Third Meditation where she says:

“Who can bless You, Jesus, as they ought and give You thanks according to Your merits!  And, just as You awaited the precious hour of Your Incarnation with infinite love, so unite Yourself to my flesh in the womb of Mary.  I long so for that precious hour when I shall be united with You and transform myself into You, the true Life of my heart.”

In today's Gospel, John the Baptist calls us to repent.
Tomorrow’s Gospel points to Mary Immaculate as ‘Full of Grace.’
 Celeste tells us we are united by our sharing in our common humanity with the Blessed Virgin and her Son, Jesus.  In her meditations Celeste says, “God imprints on our own nature the divine perfections God has put in Mary, our Mother.”   

What is our response to such a “stupendous and divine work?”  This work began with our baptism and continues with our repentance, our self-emptying, and our contemplation guides us into the transformation of our soul into God.   How can we respond?   How about being bold, be crazy in love with God and say, “Yes!”

The Associates made these tissue paper roses at the feet of our lady.

This poem is an invitation to use your imagination in pondering the Annunciation and answer the angel’s call in our lives.


Were others asked?
A lassie from an isle in a distant sea?
A maiden in North Africa
or a slave girl from the Congo?
How many times were angels sent
and returned, unheard, unheeded?
Was Mary tenth on salvation’s list.
Or the hundredth?
And you, my soul.
was fiat spoken
when the angel came?
                   Bishop Robert Morneau

This week we are treated to three feasts of our Lady: Immaculate  Conception, Our Lady of Loreto, the newest one promulgated just this year by Pope Francis,  and the much beloved, our Lady of  Guadalupe. 

The Immaculate Conception became doctrine in 1854.  Three years later, the 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous, an ignorant peasant from the foothills of the Pyrenees,  described her vision at Lourdes: “…out of the dark niche came a dazzling light,  and a white figure of a small young lady appeared wearing a white veil, a blue girdle and with a yellow rose on each foot.”  After asking her name many times, on the Lady’s 16th appearance, she answered, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”   If you haven’t seen it in a while, I recommend you see the beautiful 1943 movie, Song of Bernadette.

According to tradition, on Dec 10th , the Holy House of Loreto was carried by angels from Nazareth to the Italian hillside town of Loreto that night in 1294, after making a three-year stop in Croatia.   Custodians of the shrine have said the stones of the house were removed from the Holy Land and carried by ship by a member of the Angeli family.    In either case, tradition holds that the small house, made of three stone walls, is the place where Mary was born, where she was visited by an Archangel Gabriel and conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Family later lived.   The decree said the shrine in Loreto "recalls the mystery of the Incarnation."   
Despite the possibility that the house came by way of ship, Our Lady of Loreto is still the patron saint of air travel.
The Blessed Virgin appeared four times to Saint Juan Diego at Tepeyac in 1531, On the fourth visit on 12th of December, after failing to get the local bishop to agree to build a church in our Lady’s honor, the Virgin Mary reappeared to Juan Diego and told him to bring her flowers from the top of the Hill of Tepeyac, whose cold, stony summit was normally barren at this time of year.  To reassure Juan, Guadalupe identified herself as the Virgin Mary, "Mother of the very true God" and said, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” 

He followed her wishes, and to his surprise found roses growing.  He brought them to the Lady, who arranged them inside his cloak, and she told him to go show them to the unbelieving bishop.  When Juan Diego saw the bishop, he opened his cloak, the flowers fell to floor, and lo and behold, on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Her likeness on the tilma shows a young pregnant woman with a dark complexion, a mixture of indigenous and Spanish features, signifying Our Lady of Guadalupe represents the unity of all people.   She is the patron of the Americas, especially of the indigenous and the poor. 

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