Being a dad is heroic stuff. It demands strength, hard work, a quick wit, a compassionate heart, and an unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of this cute little stranger that has captured your heart. Being a dad is usually intentional. Being an adoptive dad is intentionality on steroids. If all men look to St. Joseph as a guide, companion, and mentor, we will have a more just, prosperous, and peaceful world.
While I am writing this reflection for all dads, I want to address young dads or men who are thinking about being dads. My hope is that St. Joseph will awaken in you a clear-eyed grasp of the “fiat” or “yes” of fatherhood.
Let me share where I am coming from. I am an adoptive dad with three sons; the oldest is married with three kids of his own, the middle son is headed to college, and the youngest will be a high school junior in the fall. A life-long Catholic, my professional life is in the Church: campus ministry, priestly formation, and mission. Barb and I, married 23 years, wrote a book a few years ago – Rise, Take the Child – Reflections on the Vocation of Adoption.
Joseph was an “in the background” saint to me until I became an adoptive dad. In my office, I have an icon of the Holy Family. Our oldest was baptized on the Feast of the Holy Family. In that icon, Joseph is holding Mary (on his right) and Jesus (on his left). He is holding Mary, who is holding Jesus, and he completes the “embrace” of Jesus. Who is this “third person” in the Holy Family?
I wanted to encounter Joseph the man. I examined my assumptions. I thought of Joseph as an old man even though biblical evidence suggests he was a strong man, capable of protecting his family, leading them into exile in Egypt and back home, and establishing himself as a successful carpenter.
There is nothing “romantic” about Joseph if Shakespeare’s Romeo is our model of a man in love. I find Joseph, in Franco Zeffirelli’s film Jesus of Nazareth, is authentically conflicted; balancing the longing for the completion of marriage, his desire for Mary, the promise of family, the hurt and anger he feels when he learns Mary is pregnant, and his deep desire to do good and avoid evil.
Finally, contrary to Joseph’s Song, which I like in many ways, Joseph was not a “simple” carpenter. In the time of Jesus, and even in our time, a carpenter is much more than a laborer. Carpenters were craftsmen – highly skilled and “essential” for society. Some, perhaps even Joseph, were artists.
When we pray with Saint Joseph, we need to see him first as a man with his own story, network of relationships, aspirations, work, skill, and deep, abiding faith. This is Joseph, Mary’s tender and loving betrothed, a fierce and decisive protector, a skilled and dedicated provider, and a humble and faithful father who raises Jesus, with Mary, into manhood in first century Galilee.
We know the most about Joseph from the Gospel of St. Matthew, which records his four dreams. In his first dream, Joseph “wrestles” with what the law of his faith teaches and what his heart says. Fatherhood is born out of love of a woman. Heterosexual men “long for” the completion a woman provides. This sexual longing (eros) finds its perfection in self-sacrificing love (agape). Joseph does not ignore Mary’s pregnancy – he embraces it as an act of faith and love. He sets aside his fears, welcomes her into his home as his wife, and witnesses God’s saving act unfolding in and through her.
His second dream compels Joseph to protect the Mary and the infant Jesus from Herod. Mary, in Luke’s Gospel, “makes haste” to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Joseph, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “makes haste” at night into an unknown exile to Egypt, away from the threat of Herod. I am sure there were other dangers on the way to Egypt and challenges in finding work and establishing a home there.
There is far less drama in the third dream. Joseph was able to hire himself out as a skilled craftsman and establish a home in Egypt. And yet, he is called by God to help write the great “theo-drama” of salvation so that Jesus, his adoptive son, can fulfill his destiny as God’s “only begotten Son” who is “called out of Egypt.” In some ways, this is Joseph’s “fiat,” his “yes” to God. Through his actions, Joseph accepts the responsibility of raising Jesus as a Jewish man among his people.
The fourth dream, on the road home, points to Joseph as provider – choosing a place where Mary and Jesus would be safe, where Jesus could grow “in wisdom and age,” and he could provide for them through the work of his hands. St. Luke’s Gospel points to the peace and tranquility of this domestic time (sometimes referred to as the “hidden life”) for Joseph when he tells the story of Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the Temple. Imagine the frantic search for Jesus followed by Joseph seeing and hearing his son teaching the elders of Israel in the Temple, the most sacred place on earth. Imagine the rush of emotions – the relief, the wonder, the astonishment.
As I prayed with this passage, I was reminded of my experience of my own son playing basketball. He was about ten or eleven years old, he was fouled, and he cautiously approached the free-throw line. He took command of the ball, set his body, and did a perfect shot. Nothing but net. It took my breath away. Others too. We just did not expect “perfection” from someone so young. Was that what Joseph felt when he heard Jesus teaching the elders of Israel in the Temple?
In many ways, every father is called to be an “adoptive” father in the sense that they, too, must be intentional, like Joseph, in how they love their children. First, love your wife and partner with her to be a family. Protect her and your children from all that is evil with your strength, perseverance, and decisiveness. Provide for your family through your labor, your craftsmanship, your artistry. And raise your children to adulthood through the witness of your life, integrity, and faith.
Pope Francis declared 2021 the Year of St. Joseph, and he wrote a wonderful apostolic letter, Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), that provides further insights into this ordinary hero, this extraordinary “every man,” who raised to manhood the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
Click here to read more about St. Joseph in this post written by Barbara and Don McCrabb.
I recently learned that a medical condition (that I have suffered from for most of my life) might be greatly improved or even completely healed via a major diet overhaul. Although I may one day be able to reintroduce some foods back into my diet, it is difficult for me to face giving up many of my favorite foods for several months, years, or even forever.
On reflecting and praying about my reluctance and fear about this daunting task, I realized that my personal struggle with my physical health is analogous to the human soul’s struggle with concupiscence and sinfulness. My body has been growing progressively sicker over nearly two decades, with symptoms that none of my previous doctors had been able to explain. But I have been so sick for so long that there were times (usually in between the worst flare ups) that I convinced myself everything was manageable, or even that it was all totally fine and normal. But during the worst flare ups—whose pain or duration I could never anticipate and for which I never had any warning—I would be in so much pain that I could sometimes barely function.
In a similar way, mankind clings to sin. Why do we hesitate to put aside the things that keep us from God? Why is it so hard for us to simply reject our sins and turn to a deeper relationship with our loving Creator? Like me with my medical condition, I think we can become so used to our vices—to how it feels for our souls to be sick from repetitive sins—that we convince ourselves that turning back to God and casting aside our sinful habits is too difficult and would not make us any more joyful or free.
Choosing the healthier or holier life is difficult. Establishing good habits always seems to take more effort than establishing or sliding back into bad ones. Of course, it does not help that temptations abound in the temporal world; inflammatory foods are the easiest and cheapest things at the grocery store and are laced throughout restaurant menus. Likewise with temptations to sin: the ubiquity of screens and social media, which can create barriers to personal relationships and wipe out our daily prayer times; the constant push to place religious devotion with devotion to ‘things’, the pressure to ignore the natural moral order in favor of the self and the self’s pleasures.
Because we are a fallen race, we often seem incapable of rejecting short-term pleasure in favor of long-term gain. I know my health will drastically improve if I permanently remove the inflammation-triggering causes from my life, but somehow the very process—the sacrifice itself and the initial withdrawal I will surely feel as I miss that old diet—seems like too much to bear. How can I ever survive without donuts after Mass sometimes? How can I possibly stop eating cheese? Maybe I can just take a pill instead and keep on living my life how I want to. It’s like this with our vices, too: How can I give up this behavior or this selfishness that is rooted in my heart? I know I should put down my phone and pray, but I’ll do that in five minutes (or thirty, or sixty). There isn’t really any need to change my lifestyle to be a stronger follower of Christ, is there? And besides, wouldn’t my hundreds of Instagram followers miss me if I stop posting photos five times a day?
Entering into a deeper relationship with God demands radical changes of us. I eventually realized that my physical health is also tied to my spiritual health. God gave me this unique body, fearfully and wonderfully made in His own image, and it is my responsibility to care for that gift by treating it well—by seeking to heal it in the ways that are available to me and to which God has slowly led me over the past ten years. If I know that my soul is sick—and that more stuff, more screen time, and more licentiousness are not going to heal me—should I not put my sinfulness or woundedness into the hands of the God who will heal me?
Maybe it will take years for my body to heal. Maybe there are some things that I will never eat again, while others I will be able to tolerate on occasion or even fully reincorporate into my daily diet. But, in physical as well as spiritual health, I won’t ever find out what it feels like to be healed unless I commit to getting rid of the things that are holding me back.
There are few religious images that hold more significance for me than that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My grandmother, a pillar of faith in our Mexican-American family, kept a framed copy of the image in her bedroom, adorned with numerous prayer cards, mementos, and old palm branches. For a young child walking by the door, that image seemed both mysterious and comforting. What was it actually depicting and why should it be a focus of such devotion? Who was this Jesus who stared out at me, gesturing to the flaming heart in his chest, poised as if to offer it out through the frame of the picture?
Only years later would the full meaning of the image become apparent, as I learned more about the history of Christianity and the fundamental meaning of the Incarnation. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which developed particularly in 17th century France from earlier medieval devotions to Christ, is about much more than the image itself. Given particular shape by the writings and experiences of figures such as St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the devotion is a way of contemplating more deeply the mystery of God’s love for humanity expressed in the true human existence of the Son of God as the Incarnate Word. Ultimately, the image and devotion remind us that the God we confess as Christians is not a powerful yet distant God. Rather, the God who so loved the world (Jn 3:16) loved us in such a way that he truly entered into human life, becoming a human being not merely in appearance but complete with body and soul, mind and heart.
In a certain way, the devotion trains our minds to resist passing over the Incarnation as simply a well-worn article of doctrine, affirmed as a matter of course but rarely considered more closely for its radical implications. Christianity is not ultimately a belief in formulas but rather an encounter with God in faith expressed, preserved, and remembered authentically through such fundamental doctrines as the Incarnation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church §170). As Pope Benedict XVI wrote so beautifully in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, §1).
The devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the strikingly concrete image of a human heart, presents this encounter in high relief. Jesus Christ is much more than a moral teacher or religious sage. He is much more than a simple mode of communication between God and human beings, or a courier of divine knowledge and commandments. He is, instead, the Good Shepherd who has come to us, whose heart is moved with pity. He is the Bridegroom who has loved us with a human heart and given himself completely for us. He is the God who is Love (1 Jn 4:8), who unites to himself a human heart in the Incarnation and transfigures it with the fire of divine love as the heart of the Incarnate God.
This good (and truly astounding) news is depicted in the gaze and kindled heart, the crown of thorns and the cross, of the image of Jesus that hung in my grandmother’s bedroom. The image and devotion, so widespread now as to feel fundamentally traditional, invites all Christians to return in awe to an encounter with this God who has loved us and humbled himself so much for our sake, “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). On this Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, may we turn to Jesus, who is turned to us and always has his eyes fixed lovingly upon us (cf. St. John Eudes, Letter 9), so that we may “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge… [and] be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).
Beauty transformed my soul—waking it up from the depths of hibernation and shaking loose the layers of grief, bitterness, and resentment which had grown over time. My heart could not resist the lure of cobblestone streets, golden light cascading down narrow alleyways, or the shadows of the towering cathedral. I felt alive during those months abroad in a way I had hardly known was possible. Afternoon jogs on an ancient Roman bridge. Secret courtyards and hidden gardens overlooking the city. Tucked-away alcoves and incense emanating from ancient chapels. A croissant shop with an expansive menu that dared me to try them all.
I did, by the way, try them all. I had goals like that while I was studying abroad. For the first time in many years, the over-achiever A-student was not living for grades and recognition. She was living for experience, for delight, for beauty. And in this was a newfound freedom. I remember sitting in the cavernous cathedral of Salamanca for long stretches between classes breathing in the music that played softly between services and basking in the magnanimous splendor. Moments like this made me long for something outside and above myself, though I could not precisely say what or why. Only later would I come realize it was the Bridegroom Nicholas Cabasilas writes of in “The Life in Christ” calling me to glimpse the eternal I was created for.
Cabasilas explains, “When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound."
Beauty wounded me that semester in a delightful way. It awakened my heart with a longing to reach for what transcends human experience: the eternal. My experience living abroad enabled me to delight in creation and life in a way people seldom do or ever get the chance to. And this knowledge humbled me profoundly.
“I do not deserve this,” I thought many times throughout my studies abroad. What had I done to earn the experience of such majesty? The short answer: nothing. It was sheer, unmerited gift. I knew almost immediately who the gift givers were. First: my parents, who had spent their lives providing for their children and modeling servant leadership and sacrificial love. It was because of them and their contributions to my education that I was able to study abroad in the first place. The other gift giver: God himself—the author of beauty.
It was in this way that God revealed himself to me personally and began to bring me back to himself.
The famous line from Dostoevesky, “Beauty will save the world” started for me that fall in Spain. Beauty saved me. God, beauty itself, the author of beauty, created us with a desire to grasp at and experience beauty in order to draw us closer to himself.
Beauty is sheer gift—unnecessary by logical standards and not necessarily functional or efficient. It does more than just appeal to our senses: it awakens our soul. It is meant to draw us outside of ourselves with what Cardinal Ratzinger at the time called a “longing for the Ineffable, [a] readiness for sacrifice, [and lead to] the abandonment of self.” Furthermore, “Beauty does not end with us or with our experience, but calls us outward on mission. Artistic beauty provokes interior emotion, it silently arouses astonishment and leads to an ‘exit from self’, an ecstasy” (Pontifical Council for Culture, Plenary Assembly Final Document-The Way of Beauty. section III.2, The Beauty of the Arts).
This was my experience exactly. I came home a different person—one overflowing with gratitude and humility. It manifested in frequent phone calls to my family, much to their concern. The formerly independent, cold, aloof daughter was calling her parents each week to say thank you and to check in. After ascertaining that my mental health was still sound, my mother offered wise advice to her daughter now bubbling with gratitude: spend 5 to ten minutes a day thanking God.
Beauty was, therefore, God’s entry point into my heart. As a result, I turned back to him in praise and thanksgiving. My friends and family noticed the transformation, the newfound peace that overflowed, the eyes now on the lookout for glimpses of the Creator hidden among his creation.
Beauty resulted in action—slow and gradual, but intentional in my remaining college years. I entered the Campus Ministry office for the first time upon my return stateside. I began making use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly and sitting in the beautiful mission church of my alma mater for daily Mass. I attended retreats, began participating in service opportunities, and mentored younger students. Beauty drew me outside of myself and into the other—I had received an unmerited gift and wanted to reciprocate the giving.
As Bishop James D. Conley said at an apologetics conference, “When we begin with beauty, this can then lead to a desire to want to know the truth of the thing that is drawing us, a desire to participate in it. And then the truth can inspire us to do the good, to strive after virtue.”
Almost a decade later, as a mother of small boys, often limited to the sphere of my domestic church, how and where can I experience beauty? How can each of us, in whatever vocation we find ourselves in, find and experience beauty?
After a year in which sin, division, sickness, and isolation threatened to obscure the beauty of life and our world, I believe we are called to reclaim this truth and open our eyes to the beauty and wonder of God once again.
Beauty is not reserved for a special place or time, but can be found all around us: in the newborn’s first cry, the child’s wonder, the cicada’s song, the family dinner, the work done well, the priest’s sacrifice, the nun’s contemplative prayer, the humor of a colleague, the glowing of the stars, the dawn of a new day.
Let us allow ourselves to believe and hope in the glimmers of beauty all around us that reveal a greater beauty we are called to. Let us strive to make the world more beautiful with our kind words and gestures, deeds done with love, hope, and joy, with the way we relish life as a gift and inspire laughter, with the way we live our lives authentically—in such a way that others are drawn to the joy of our Gospel message. Why? So that the world can see and come to know him. The ultimate purpose of beauty is redemption—knowing and experiencing Christ himself.
The then-Cardinal Ratzinger put it so well, “We must learn to see him. If we know him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.”
Ever struggle with attempting to find God in your daily life? Do you ever feel that you are just so busy that engaging in a personal relationship with the Lord seems out of the question? Do you struggle in attempting to recognize how God is acting in your life, at work, or in the classroom? I promise, you are not alone. Many of us struggle with finding God not only in the ordinary, but also in our busy lives. Different saints, such as St. Francis de Sales, even recognized how at times it can be challenging to find God’s presence in the ordinary. Surprising right?! Sometimes, it seems so difficult to find God in the mundane or in the office. Yet, this is exactly where we can find God’s presence—in the ordinary!
St. Francis De Sales, a Doctor of the Church and inspiration of the ever popular Salesian Spirituality, wrote in his famed Introduction to the Devout Life that “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people… Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to a perfect life.” St. Francis De Sales advocates the notion that everyone is called to be in relationship with God no matter their specific state in life. For St. Francis De Sales, the soldier, the mechanic, the government officials, and the married couple—any lay person—can find God in the ordinary. God meets each of us were we are; his presence is not restricted to a building. Nevertheless, what are some practical ways in which we can find God in the ordinary?
Again, St. Francis de Sales has more wisdom for us from his Introduction to the Devout Life, writing that “occasions do not often present themselves for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity, and great generosity, but meekness, temperance, integrity, and humility are virtues that must mark all our actions in life.” When we refrain from boasting about our accomplishments in the office or when we refrain from lying to our professor regarding a string of absences from class, we are encountering God in the ordinary. When we simply take a minute in the beginning of the morning and offer our day to God, we are encountering God in the ordinary. When we take a moment to recognize a coworker’s kindness to a stranger or a fellow student’s concern for a student falling behind in class, we are encountering God in the ordinary. Encountering God is not solely done on in the pews or on the mountaintop. Instead, we can encounter God in the ordinary, in our everyday life.
To learn more about seeing God in the ordinary, please visit our Prayer Resources page by clicking here.
On Pentecost we celebrate the gifting of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles in the Upper Room. For nine days past they have been hiding in fear, awaiting this gift, the Advocate. The Holy Spirit descends upon the Church in an outpouring of love, and with Mary as their guide, the disciple’s mission begins: proclaiming the Kingdom, outpouring their gifts, and healing the world.
The Apostles were filled with fear up to this point. They had witnessed the Risen Lord’s Ascension into Heaven, and still their purpose was not yet realized. The liturgical calendar enables the faithful to reflect on our own lives, hearts, and mission. We are called to place ourselves in the very heart of the story, to participate as if this very event is happening today. And so Pentecost beckons the questions: “In what ways am I in the Upper Room, unsure of how the Lord is calling me to serve?” “What brings my heart to fear?” “In what ways am I holding onto lies, listening to a voice that is not the Lord’s?”
Jesus Christ chose men and women who, like you and me, struggled with human fears, human sin, and human misunderstanding. We can resonate with their experience in the Upper Room, awaiting guidance and courage. The moment the Holy Spirit descends on those in the Upper Room, everything changes and their hearts are transformed. The Apostles baptized 3,000 people that very day. The mission of the Church begins, and the Apostles are equipped with what is needed to live out that mission.
From Pentecost onward, the Gospel was shared and people were baptized from as far as India to Spain; miracles and healings took place in Jesus’ name! Now in 2021, we have the same Spirit, and this brings our hearts great hope. This is the very Spirit given to us in our Baptism and Confirmation! We have the power to spread the love and message of Jesus’ life and Resurrection to others because we are equipped with all that is necessary. It is easy to read of the Early Christians who bravely faced martyrdom and changed the world and to just dismiss it, as if the Spirit within them has diminished over time and no longer carries the same power. No, the call of the Christian is to open our hearts to this very same Spirit and ask Him to show us the path to love. The same Spirit that transformed the world through the Apostles can transform our world today.
In our ordinary lives there can be extraordinary love, sacrifice, and renewal in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Today we are called to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit’s transformative love, asking Him to show us the path to mission. In what ways is He calling you outside of yourself to love those around you? How can you let go of fear and open your heart to the burning fire of His love for you and the whole world?
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
Walking into the endzone of FedEx Field of the Washington Football Team made everything feel real—not some fantasy about playing professional football, but the reality of graduating college and entering into a new stage in life. In the middle of May, I graduated from The Catholic University of America at FedEx Field. It was an experience filled with much joy, but also some uncertainty.
The joy and happiness were palpable throughout the stadium. It was rewarding seeing four long, hard years of work and late nights come to fruition. I felt a happy sense of relief that we had made it through the chaos and craziness of the past three semesters amidst the pandemic. It was exciting getting to celebrate with our friends and family—a truly special ceremony.
Later that day, I began to feel some uncertainty mixed in with my joy. Friends were moving back home or across the country. Some friends were starting new jobs while others were going to graduate school. Some friends were younger and would still be at school another year while other friends had full-time jobs. There was a lot still up in the air.
Over the past couple of weeks since graduation, I have reflected on that uncertainty and realized that it relates to a lot going on today. There’s uncertainty in starting a new job, in moving, or any type of new beginning. There’s uncertainty in returning to work in person maybe for the first time in a long time. There’s even uncertainty about traveling and going on vacations with differing restrictions. As I reflected on the uncertainty I felt from graduating college, I was comforted by one simple fact: the same Jesus who was present and working in my life before will be present throughout the uncertainty.
During the Nicene Creed, we say, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” In these four marks of the Church, catholic is referring to the universality of the Church. This is what I found comfort in. Even though I wouldn’t be going to Mass at Catholic University anymore, Jesus would be present at Mass at my new parish community. Even though I wouldn’t have the ability to go to a chapel as frequently, Jesus would still hear my prayers throughout my workday. I found this realization comforting and encouraging – I knew Jesus would be present throughout the uncertainty and the change.
I began to think of ways that I could actively embrace the uncertainty by welcoming Jesus into the small day-to-day actions that I knew would come about because of the changes. I set two goals for this uncertain time:
“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is how I begin all of my prayers; and it comes from a long tradition in Christianity. As Catholics, we usually accompany these words by making the Sign of the Cross with our hand. Why is this so important to our faith and to me personally? To begin, I suggest revisiting and praying the Nicene Creed as it is proclaimed at every Catholic Mass. This is our profession of faith. The Holy Trinity – three persons in one – is a mystery we mere mortals can scarcely understand, but it explains our identity as children of God.
We are taught from the Old Testament that God the Father is the Creator, and He sustains all of the world. In the New Testament we are instructed that God the Son is our Savior, Jesus Christ – both divine and human in nature and whose behavior we strive to model. At Pentecost, as told in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, we are shown that the Holy Spirit is imparted to each of us as the presence of God in us who gives us wisdom and boldness to act as we are taught by Jesus. The unity of these three divine beings in one God is a profound gift I believe in complete faith, and it helps me understand who I am in His Kingdom. I am a child of the Father who loved me into being together with my earthly mom and dad, I am redeemed by the body and blood poured out by Jesus His Son for all my failings, and I am aided constantly by the Holy Spirit to live and profess the Christian life in joy and exuberance! I like to think of myself as being a flesh and bone human with supernatural assistance (as long as I cooperate with the will of God)! That is a pretty amazing disposition to live out of. We read in the Old Testament’s books of the prophets that God promised a Messiah to save His people, and then in Matthew 1:2-16 the genealogy of Jesus is recorded and spiritually comes to include each of us, who through our baptism become sons and daughters of God. This is an earthly and divine bond like no other in all of creation.
There is so much more to us human beings than our earthly bodies and this temporary space we inhabit. We are walking, talking, living, breathing messengers of God the Almighty, commissioned to share love and mercy to every other living being around us. We are flesh and bone, but we are also spirit and intellect. When in right relationship with our Lord, we are the dwelling place for God to move and work in and through us. Understanding our identity and praying for guidance to live it out in what we do and say is imperative to being a member of the Kingdom of Heaven. This knowledge and the grace and virtues that flow from accepting our mission gives us the power to bring life and healing and hope and joy to a hurting, confused, and broken world.
So, if you are ready to accept the mission, be prepared to be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit and be equipped with all that is necessary to be a present day apostle! Several years ago, one of our young sons made a simple but beautiful bookmark for my husband as a gift. It was brightly colored and had the words: WORK FOR GOD! down the middle. This summarizes exactly what we are called to do and continues to be a great reminder as it sits in my husband’s Bible. The Holy Trinity is the foundation of all our Christian beliefs and it gives me great comfort knowing who I come from and who I belong to for time and eternity, even when I do not fully comprehend it. We can sing from the rooftops: “Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; while in essence only one, undivided God we claim Thee; and adoring bend the knee, while we own the mystery” (Holy God, We Praise Thy Name by Ignace Franz).
To learn more about living as a missionary disciple, please click here.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning in earnest, there were many questions about what would happen in the Catholic Church if people’s lives were upended in such profound ways. In many respects, we may not truly understand the ramifications of a worldwide change in perspective until we can look back at it. That being said, with “the return to normal,” the opening up of parishes, and the re-starting of activities have come questions about what we have learned from this pandemic experience. I think many of us re-learned that community and connection are important. The question that seems to be challenging folks is: Now that we can start to plan to meet in person, what should our parish activities look like?
For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of doing Master’s work in Church Management at Villanova University. Most of my studies occurred during this pandemic and offered a unique perspective of what effective parishes and communities have done to respond to a sudden shift in the assumptions of what the Church in the United States looks and acts like. Most of the parishes that were able to weather the storm well were able to do so because they were intentional about what community is and should be. They did not assume that a parish had to be only the functions that happen within a city block or a singular location, but rather can have an online presence and remotely meet people where they are. I think of my friends and colleagues with young families or who have long commutes and the complications that our parishes can impose on people who would like to be involved, but cannot be due to the lives that they lead. Are we as church leaders imposing certain restrictions for the members of the parish to be able to build a community?
As active Catholics, our job is to share the joy of the Gospel that we hopefully have experienced with others. The pandemic has proven that there is a desire for community and for Christ in people’s lives despite barriers. However, we as Catholics also need to acknowledge that if we “are now just going back to normal,” we are also going back to the normal of an older and smaller church. We need to see the pandemic not as a temporary event, but rather the opportunity that God has given us to think creatively and reflectively over the past year about what it means to be Catholic in the United States. Similarly, what is our hope for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States? If we do not think about these things, we risk becoming a closed community for only those who are already active members.
There were many challenges during the pandemic, but there were opportunities to grow and learn for our Church as well. My hope is that we take the lessons that we have learned, both positive and negative, about what it means to be in a community and to be community leaders and apply those findings in healthy, creative ways going forward.
For more resources on navigating COVID-19 as a community, please click here.
We are in the time of the Upper Room, the Cenacle. The days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost are liturgically the time when the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the disciples were together in prayer, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. They did not really know what to expect. In fire and wind, the Holy Spirit came, and their lives were transformed forever. The world is also transformed and is transforming. The mission continues in the name of Jesus Christ! We are sent as apostles, as missionary disciples, out into the world. Hiding in a room, in our homes, even in a church is not our call. Instead, we go forth, going where the Holy Spirit moves us to go.
We can do amazing things in the name of Jesus Christ. There is no need to wait until someone invites us. No, if we are baptized, and especially if we are confirmed, then we can go forth! We need to recognize, though, that we do not send ourselves. We are sent by Christ, in and through his Church. The community of faith that we call Church is where we go forth from and to which we return. The Church teaches us, forms us, heals and nourishes us through the Sacraments, and sends us on mission. The mission is not ours; it is Christ’s. We, as members of Christ’s Faithful, are called to live his mission until he comes again, just as the Apostles were told to do.
In all of this, Mary, Queen of Apostles, is with us as our Mother and Queen. Her feast day is the day before Pentecost. She was the perfect disciple of Christ. St. Vincent Pallotti said of her: “We have most holy Mary, after Jesus Christ, the most perfect model of true apostolic zeal, and of perfect love” (OOCC I, 7). The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity of the Second Vatican Council echoes this sentiment of Pallotti:
“The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, who while leading the life common to all here on earth, one filled with family concerns and labors, was always intimately united with her Son and in an entirely unique way cooperated in the work of the Savior… All should devoutly venerate her and commend their life and apostolate to her maternal care” (4).
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
To learn more about Mary, Queen of Apostles, please click here.
It is rare to find a moment of silence in a household with a two-year-old. Last week, unusually, provided many quiet moments as my normally energetic daughter had a high fever and spent the day on the couch or sleeping only while being held. My wife and I took turns silently holding her to help her get much needed rest. Sitting in silence—without a phone or other distraction--was agitating at first. As the time went on, the simple time spent in silence holding a sleeping child became nourishing and awakened in me a hunger for silence that I often spend time avoiding.
This past Lent, I co-led an online small group for newly married men in DC. As we reflected on how the life of St. Joseph relates to us as men, we returned almost weekly to the challenge of finding silence amid phones and families. St. Joseph was not a character that most of us had taken seriously before being married or becoming a father. Yet in marriage and fatherhood, Joseph is the silent role model we need. Someone who understands us and who inspires us.
St. Joseph was not a loud or flashy saint. In the children’s books of saints we have for our daughter, the life of silent St. Joseph is hardly mentioned. How can he compete with traveling missionaries, miracle workers, religious founders, and the stories of martyrs losing their heads, eyes, and more? Though his life was not extroverted or bloody, it was no less meaningful. The life of Joseph was a life of daily martyrdoms and silent missions. Without having to leave his home or his workshop, he set out each day as a missionary to offer his life for Jesus and Mary.
This is reassuring to me as a husband and father of a toddler, who has been stuck at home during the last 12 months during the COVID pandemic. It is tempting to think that the only way to be holy is to be on the move or to be noticed, like the many Catholic social media influencers or popular Catholic priests or bishops. St. Joseph reminds us of a quieter, ordinary path to holiness that will earn us no new likes or followers. He shows us a hidden, silent example that we need in the noise of daily life.
Joseph’s silence teaches us to rediscover the silent mission work found in our own kitchens and living rooms. The artist and Oblate Brother Mickey McGrath has a beautiful image of “St. Thérèse Doing the Dishes.” In the painting, Thérèse is at the kitchen sink elevating a plate as the priest elevates the Eucharist at the altar. This image makes plain our mission as lay men and women to unite our daily work and sacrifices to the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which we commemorate at each Eucharistic celebration.
Perhaps this image of St. Thérèse doing dishes stands out today because our dishwasher broke this week and my mission field has been researching dishwasher pumps and motor assemblies and spending extra time in soapy water. The image reminds me that God has called me to this mission, regardless of whether it is my preference or how qualified I feel for the task. Joseph must have felt the same way in the ordinary tasks of his workshop and home. St. Joseph is a role model for how we are called to integrate our lives, finding God in every moment of our day—whether doing dishes, praying the Rosary, updating spreadsheets, or building a table.
In the life of Joseph, daily work “is a kind of prayer, a way of finding God, a means of salvation…Joseph gave to his carts and yokes the same care he would have given to a tabernacle, since he understood perfectly that a word done in love goes straight to God” (Michel Gasnier, Joseph the Silent, 29). Pope Francis reminds us that, “working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us” (Patris Corde, 6).
St. Joseph is well known for not having a single word recorded in Scripture, but we cannot confuse his silence with a lack of mission. Joseph was a silent missionary who invites us in this Year of St. Joseph to join him in the quiet work. The silent mission of holding a sick child who has fallen asleep, of holding our tongue from an uncharitable word with a family member or colleague, of doing the dishes, or of going about our work with love. Silently. Without recognition. Like St. Joseph.
“Why are you standing there?”
The angels who spoke these words to the astounded disciples now turn to ask us this question today. Perhaps, like the disciples after the Ascension, we too have been stuck looking up at the sky, wondering where Christ is.
Our answers to the angels’ question are probably very legitimate. “I am standing here because of the pandemic, because I lost my job, because of isolation, because of sickness, because of racial discord, because of people’s differences, because I don’t know what else to do.”
In this passage from today’s Gospel reading, which is the same as this upcoming Sunday’s, I remind myself that at least the disciples were looking up. They at least had their eyes fixed on Christ. That, in and of itself, is a good thing. But what God wants to convey through the angels after Jesus’ Ascension is that just seeing Christ or believing in him is not enough. A relationship with Christ results not in paralysis, but in action.
“You will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells his disciples moments before he ascends to the Father.
And it is by living out our relationship with Christ as witnesses that the world comes to know him and that our faith comes alive. Witnessing to our faith and accompanying others on their faith journeys shake us out of our paralysis and help us overcome our fear. Jesus is not conveying that hardship, suffering, or unrest will be absent from our lives, but that these no longer have the power to paralyze and trap us. His Resurrection has changed the narrative. And as the Easter season comes to a close, Jesus is calling us not only to believe in him, but to act— to have our lives transformed by the knowledge of the Resurrection and to live boldly and faithfully as a result.
At this point, however, the disciples are still focused on earthly things. Just before Jesus’ Ascension, they ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Many of us have similar questions.
“Lord, at this time will I get my job promotion? As this time, will my addiction be healed? At this time, will the pandemic end? At this time, will our family be reconciled?”
These are valid, important questions of the human heart. Questions that long for answers, for resolutions, for miracles.
Jesus’ response seems mystifying and even unrelated:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”
While the disciples are still caught focusing on the restoration of Israel and victory over their oppressors, Christ promises more. So much more, in fact, that they are unable to grasp it without the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate on the Feast of Pentecost on May 23rd.
It is why Jesus chose to ascend at this time. He had spent 40 days teaching and opening the Scriptures to his disciples after his Resurrection, but they still could only fathom human goals and objectives. Jesus knows his ministry has come to an end and that a new chapter of the Church will begin with the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
After he answers them, Jesus compels his disciples to look up to the heavens as he begins to ascend to the Father. He is physically showing them the needed disposition of their hearts and minds in order to receive the Holy Spirit: they should be considering heavenly things and a heavenly goal.
But then, moments later, they are startled to hear: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
It can be tempting at times to separate ourselves from the reality of the here and now by over-spiritualizing things or being preoccupied with the past or future. The disciples are left looking up (very understandably), but this looking up and clinging to Jesus in his physical form distracts them from the action to which he has called and chosen them: to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
This balance between living in the world but not of it can be difficult to grasp and practice.
It’s important first to consider where you find yourself today. Are you asking the Lord to restore the kingdom to Israel? Are you standing looking at the sky? Many of us are somewhere in between.
Below are 6 practices that help ground me in Christ and deepen my ability to witness to his love:
By considering these practices, it is my hope that, renewed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we will enter into Ordinary Time ready to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. Christ calls us each to so much more than simply remain standing.
For more resources on living as missionary disciples, please click here.
Yesterday the Church celebrated the feast day of St. Damien of Molokai. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, I reflected on the life of Fr. Damien and how striking of an example his life can be for us today. Fr. Damien was a priest in the second half of the 19th century known for his work with the leper colony on the Kalaupapa Peninsula in Hawaii. Fr. Damien initially went to the leper colony to provide support for the residents. He helped balance and stabilize the basic necessities of life for the people who lived in the colony. Even though his ministry at the colony was only supposed to be temporary, Fr. Damien discerned God’s will and recognized the need of the residents and stayed there for the rest of his life, walking with everyone in the colony. He eventually died in 1889 from leprosy he contracted from his work there.
As an aspiring Catholic doctor and scientist, I have looked up to Fr. Damien. The funny thing is that Fr. Damien was neither a medical doctor nor a scientist! He was a priest who discerned God’s call to care for the physical health and well-being of the people in the leper colony. Two elements of Fr. Damien’s life have been particularly impactful for me that I think are especially relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Firstly, I am inspired by Fr. Damien’s discernment of God’s will in caring for the health and well-being of the residents, and his courage to follow God’s will. I think it is very easy to see the path of least resistance and assume that it is the “right” path. But Fr. Damien teaches us a different lesson. He knew it would have been easier to stay at the leper colony temporarily, but instead of placing his will first, Fr. Damien placed God’s will first. Even though this meant continuing an incredibly challenging ministry that he was not particularly qualified for, Fr. Damien followed God’s will. He opened his heart to be filled with grace and courage to continue his ministry.
Secondly, Fr. Damien can serve as a role model for us today in recognizing the interconnected nature of physical health and spiritual health. This school year, I have found myself quarantining and isolating on multiple occasions. We weren’t allowed to walk outside or anything in isolation. I found it hard to get the energy to watch online Mass or much less do anything when physically I couldn’t go anywhere. In his ministry on the leper colony, Fr. Damien recognized that part of caring for one’s spiritual health included caring for their physical health. He devoted himself to holistically improving the living conditions of those in the leper colony to the greatest extent that he could. He lived a life of service, always adapting to the greatest need of the people he was with.
I’m neither a doctor nor a scientist yet, and most of us will never be. So, I find myself thinking, how can I connect the lessons from Fr. Damien’s life to my day-to-day life? One way I think we can do that is by discerning God’s will for us, even in small, routine actions. In our workplaces, schools, parishes, and other places we frequent, we can discern God’s will for using our gifts to benefit the community. These might not be big, grand ways like Fr. Damien, but lots of small actions over time that build up to have a great effect! And, just like Fr. Damien, we can pray for the grace and courage to live out God’s will throughout our lives. A second way we can live out Fr. Damien’s lessons is by helping to care for our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. in their physical health. If we know someone is having to quarantine, we can drop off food outside to them. As the weather is getting nicer, we can go on socially distanced walks outdoors or other outdoor activities. While we aren’t called to a leper colony in Hawaii like Fr. Damien, we can still connect our physical and spiritual health right where we are and learn from Fr. Damien as a role model for us today.
St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us!
As the mother of a young toddler, I’ve found that life is moving pretty quickly. One moment I’m running after him so he doesn’t grab the dog’s water bowl, and the next, I’m reading his little children’s Bible for the third time in 5 minutes. I’m finding that my toddler is learning so much from his environment. Every day, he can say new words or hum or sing or dance. When I hear him say, “Mama and Vinny,” I just stop and think about Mary.
I love to imagine her as Jesus’ mother: patient and loving, giving hugs, teaching him and walking among flowers. I picture the two of them laughing and playing in the sunshine filled with joy. But I also imagine her with Jesus throughout his life. I start by thinking of Jesus as a toddler--maybe when they were still in Egypt. He likely picked up sand and tried to eat it like my little one would or looked at a camel or water and began to say his first words. Then, I can imagine Mary and Joseph both searching for Jesus while he was not where they thought he should be, but instead in the Temple with teachers showing how much he knew about Scripture. She would be proud of him and his knowledge, maybe with a pang of understanding of his purpose on earth. Then I imagine later on in his first miracle at the wedding at Cana, when she really knew it was time for Jesus to begin his ministry. She supported her son, but also knew it was time to begin God’s work. Meditating on different Scripture passages and moments in the life of Christ can deepen our relationship not only with him, but with the many powerful witnesses to the faith like Our Blessed Mother.
Reflecting on moments with my toddler and my own motherhood has strengthened my relationship with Mary over this past year. In this month of May, let us turn to Christ’s Mother and celebrate her motherhood to all of us. Mense Maio, an encyclical by Pope Paul VI which came out on April 29th, 1965 discusses prayer during May for the preservation of peace and the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother in a variety of ways. As I was reading, I liked how Pope Paul VI mentioned different areas that need our prayers. In the twelfth section of the document called “Plea for Mary’s Help,” he writes, “she graciously lend(s) an ear to the devout pleas of those all over the world who beg her for peace.”
As we begin the Marian month of May, let us think about the people in our lives, maybe those marginalized or neglected who are in desperate need for our prayers and petitions. Let us turn to Our Blessed Mother and beg her for peace in our lives and throughout the world.
To read more blog posts about the Blessed Virgin Mary, please click here.
I felt for my husband. He had just hung up the phone with a family member, letting him know that we would not be attending a birthday party. “That was so uncomfortable,” he said, “I can tell I hurt his feelings.” The party would be fun, but jam-packed with people and a risk for our family that we were not yet ready for in COVID times.
I can relate to the discomfort. It had only been a week since a friend declined an invitation to dinner on our patio, citing the very same reasons that we had just offered to our family member: they weren’t ready. Receiving her text, however gracious it was, made me feel like she believed us to be dirty, reckless, and wrong in our choices. It is a situation we find ourselves in time and again: assessing risk and making decisions that bear the weight of our mental and physical health, all the while revealing a supposed worldview and delivering a perceived judgement. At best, these decisions and conversations are the source of relational aches. At worst, they create genuine conflict and damaged friendships where hurt hearts struggle to heal.
The rapid sequence of these interactions and the rate at which they seem to be occurring has given me pause. Each time, I worry about the repercussions of choosing not to attend an event at which I would be wearing a mask while no one else is--will my friends feel judged by me? Am I hurting them? How do I balance that with the decisions my husband and I have intentionally made for our family? Then, what do I do with the pain when friends and loved ones choose not to be around me? What do I let that say about who I am, and how they feel about me? Most importantly, how do I honor my role as a disciple of Jesus in each of these interactions?
As I try to remember to do with all things, I sought the answer to these questions by looking to Jesus. God’s Word, living and active, has plenty to say about navigating these complex moments.
Be merciful, just as your father is merciful. Luke 6:36
When I live wrongly, am uncharitable in my words or actions, or neglect to walk in faith, the Lord extends his mercy to me. I am reminded here that when I feel hurt by the manner in which an invitation is declined or I cannot see eye to eye with a loved one, that I am called to react with mercy. It is likely that I do not know the intricacies of the other persons’ thoughts and feelings around pandemic living. I don’t know the details of their story. I do know that I am commanded to love my neighbors, even if they are making different choices from me.
Search me, oh God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
I feel heat rise up in me when I interact with someone who is living differently from my family, even though I know it shouldn’t. I bear the responsibility of investigating the rise in tension that I feel, and bringing it before Jesus. I consider whether I am seeking validation in my choices from those around me or from God. I reflect on where my worth and acceptance come from, and if a change needs to be made. An assessment of my words and actions allows me to remain in truth, confess my sin, and love more like Jesus.
He said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you,” [...] Then he opened their minds to understand the scripture. Luke 24:44-45
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples upon seeing them for the first time after his Resurrection. Surely, in their humanity, they believed they understood the permanency of death and needed no additional data. Still, their minds were opened, they took on new information, and their beliefs changed. When I humble myself to hear thoughts and ideas that challenge what I believe and prove me under-informed, I grow. Allowing myself to be open to the possibility that the person with whom I’m in conflict with might have something to teach me allows me to love them well and avoid pridefulness.
Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
This has been an exceptionally tiresome period of life. My mind feels perpetually in high alert, my kids go from in-person schooling to virtual learning, and back again. The world feels at odds. When I’m exhausted, it’s hard to bring my best self to my friends and family, to introspection, and to take on more and challenging information. Some days I’m barely getting by. It’s why it has become essential for me to find rest in the Father. The more time I spend in prayer, in the Word, and participating in the sacraments, the greater my bandwidth will be to face the difficult interactions that will surely arise.
I turn to my husband and we walk through what God has laid out for us here. In charity and humility, we work to accept that what is right for our family is likely different for the families around us. We are affirmed in who God says we are, and we rest in that. And when we are faced with this situation again next week or the week after, we will do our best to remember these truths. We will try, in this and in all things, to love like Jesus.
For more resources to grow spiritually during the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.