“I am the servant of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38)
This passage from Mary’s fiat was the theme of this year’s World Youth Day (WYD). World Youth Day 2019 took place from January 22-27 in Panama City, Panama, where it gathered hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world to share in the faith, culture, and joy of the Catholic Church. WYD is a pilgrimage for young people that includes times of reflection and prayer that often results in lifelong shared experiences with other people. Many people, myself included, couldn’t make such an international pilgrimage this year. Instead, I joined over 1,500 young adults from 20 different dioceses in the US for Panama in the Capital at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A stateside gathering like this is intended to carry the spirit of World Youth Day to people much closer to home, while also modeling the solidarity of the Catholic faith with those around the world who gather in God’s name.
The Catholic Apostolate Center was asked to be a co-host and platinum sponsor of the event. Our role in Panama in the Capital helped the Center live out part of our mission of spreading the Gospel and increasing the awareness of the importance of young adults and their faith journeys within the Church. For us, it is as simple as Pope Francis said during the close of WYD: “You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God. He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you.” For the Church, the importance of evangelization through the current generation of young people is critically important for the vitality of the Church in the present and for the cementing of the future of the Church.
We were fortunate to have our Director, Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. give a presentation on how to lead as a Christian. Various staff were present to cover the event digitally for pilgrims. Our staff were asked to serve as Masters of Ceremonies during the event at the St. Vincent Pallotti Stage, and so Blog Editor Kate Fowler and Administrative Associate Brian Rhude volunteered their talents to welcoming presenters and musicians alike to the stage throughout the whole event. We were able to exhibit and provide resource materials for people in the area, as well as share in the general excitement of the event. Monica Thom Konschnik, the Center’s Assistant Director of Administration, had been working with the event’s planning team for 18 months when we finally all gathered together to celebrate.
Fr. Frank was able to give some remarks to the gathered attendees for the Vigil Mass and also served as a concelebrant for the Mass. In the evening, staff were invited to assist in the candlelight Stations of the Cross in the Crypt Church in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, presiding. It was a wonderful event that was reminiscent of what happens at World Youth Day with the Holy Father. All in all, our young adult staff was present and contributed to this event with a sincere appreciation of the Church in its mission to evangelize. We were honored to make this international event more accessible to young people locally and pray that this experience helped many encounter Christ and celebrate the joy and wonder of World Youth Day.
Questions for Reflection: What is your experience of World Youth Day? How can you show solidarity with those present at WYD within your local community?
To learn more about WYD, please click here.
For the past five years, I have had the privilege of working full-time in high school ministry. I often hear people say, “That’s so great that you are working with the future of the Church”. For the longest time, this statement didn’t sit well with me. I recently figured out why: young people are not the future of the Church, they are the Church. I have learned during this privileged time of ministry that there is great HOPE and JOY to be found in the young Church today.
St. John Bosco is the patron saint of youth - and for good reason! At the centenary of his death, John Paul II named him “Father and Teacher of Youth”. At one point during his ministry, St. John Bosco ran a home which housed over eight hundred young men and he worked tirelessly to promote their dignity. His love for the Eucharist and steadfast promotion of the mercy of Jesus serve as examples for all of us working in ministry. I’ve received a glimpse over these last several years of what St. John Bosco tells us with his life: there is great hope and joy to be found in following Jesus and in sharing that joy with others.
The “Father and Teacher of Youth” is famous for saying, Servite Domino in laetitia!, which is Latin for “Serve the Lord joyfully”. In any of our apostolic endeavors, it is crucial that we lead with joy.
With everything going on in our world and Church, it can be all too easy to fall into despair - to question or wonder where God is. In the young people I have the privilege of working with, I have seen God’s hand everywhere. I have seen His hand in the ways that they encounter the heart of God for the first time; I have seen it when they grow in communion with each other; and I have seen it when they choose hope over the lies of this world.
It is our great privilege to not only share the hope that is to be found in living for Christ— whether in the young Church or elsewhere—but also our responsibility to proclaim the joy of the Gospel. I am grateful for all that the young people I work with have taught me and count myself as privileged to learn what it means to live a life filled with Christian hope and joy.
St. John Bosco, pray for us!
**At the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Panama, Pope Francis also discussed the role of the young Church and their mission "now." “Not tomorrow but now”, he said. “Realize that you have a mission and fall in love”, Click here to continue reading.
For more resources to learn about World Youth Day, please click here.
World Youth Day (WYD) is so much more than an international get-together with the pope. Too often, global experiences of faith get overlooked or underestimated; other times, since these gatherings have taken place now for four decades, they are simply taken for granted within the Church. But such oversight would be a missed opportunity for everyone in the Church and around the world.
Why should we care? Three simple words: World. Youth. Day.
Let me explain:
The first reason is that WYD is truly meant for the whole world. While young adults heading to Krakow in July are the primary protagonists of this particular international gathering, the message of WYD applies to everyone – everywhere.
In fact, thanks in part to the growing accessibility of technology and social media, this pilgrimage is not limited to those who have the means to travel overseas. There are millions of young adult Catholics in the United States who can engage in WYD – through local stateside events in their parish, campus, or diocese, as well as through social media and digital communications.
The U.S. bishops and pilgrim leaders in Krakow will be engaging directly with stateside and digital pilgrims this year so that those at home in the United States are as much a part of the pilgrimage as those who boarded a plane bound for Poland.
No one is excluded – and that message is exactly what WYD offers the rest of the world. One of the frustrations many people experience during these international displays of faith is feeling left out, or feeling like they don’t matter. WYD is a chance for pilgrims to share in real time on social media a message of mercy and love that’s available to all. This message is meant not just for Catholics, Christians, or Krakow pilgrims; it is meant for the world.
There are many times when I get asked about “the kids” at WYD, and often, this feels like a dismissal – that this global experience is somehow just a “giant youth rally” not needing to be taken seriously. Such thinking is exactly why Pope St. John Paul II established the practice of WYDs: to remind the world that a gathering of young people is essential to the vibrancy of the Church and the transformation of the entire planet.
Even more, there is a significant misconception about WHO this gathering is intended for. The name alone can be misleading. The “youth” in the WYD title is actually mistranslated in English. The target audiences for these international pilgrimages are “young adults.” That is, those in their late teens, twenties, and into their thirties. In 2016, the majority of U.S. pilgrims range from ages 18 to 30, and most diocesan groups are taking young men and women in their 20s and 30s, single and married. In other words, they aren’t “kids.”
This news is actually incredibly refreshing, considering that young adults are one of the most disconnected groups of people from the Catholic Church and the practice of the faith. Around the United States, studies show that only 17% of millennial Catholics attend church weekly, and over one-third of young millennials have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
To know that thousands of young adults from the U.S. are going to Krakow, and even more are engaging stateside or digitally, is one of the most important things that Catholics can celebrate this month. Let’s work to create local communities open to their enthusiasm so that returning pilgrims can engage in the life of the Church.
It can be easy to dismiss WYD as a “Catholic Woodstock” – a one-time festival over the course of a few days when the pope and millions of young people gather together in a large open field to pray and talk about God. But again, there is so much more.
WYD is not a “day” at all – but a pilgrimage. It includes months or years of spiritual and practical preparation, leading into years of follow-up work: putting into practice the message of WYD and the lessons learned along the way. One could compare this experience to a mountaintop journey. The events in Krakow or stateside are just the peak. And mountains are more than their highest summits.
Too often, especially in the twenty-first century, we jump from one major task to the next, hardly stopping to slow down. Sometimes WYD is reduced to another task or event in a long line of trips, events, or papal visits. Many WYD pilgrims know that the journey is so much more than that. For some, WYD inspired them to their life’s calling: to marriage, to religious life or to the priesthood, to their careers, or to simply being an active adult Catholic. WYD is a catalyst for great things yet to come. This is just one reason why I encourage people to pay attention to WYD and what might emerge from the pilgrims who return home, and who will rise to the occasion.
In a world torn apart by violence, polarization, and fear, let us heed the value of a lifelong pilgrimage: a process of accompaniment that requires time, patience, compassionate listening, and understanding – things often lacking in our world today.
It can be tempting to excuse ourselves from caring about or thinking about WYD, dismissing it for one reason or another. Yet this is a moment of grace for everyone – from the pilgrims to the rest of the world. For one week, the Church turns its attention to this special encounter. Let’s not let this moment pass us by or excuse ourselves from paying attention.
The world, especially in uncertain times and the face of tragedy and unrest, is in need of the graces that can come from WYD. It is meant for the world. It can be a mountaintop of the Catholic young adult experience. Let us pray that the end results can help heal, transform, and bring mercy and compassion into a world torn apart and hurting.
To learn more about World Youth Day, please click here.
*This post was originally published for our World Youth Day series on July 20, 2016
Near the persevered room of St. Vincent Pallotti in the Generalate of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers) in Rome is a small museum. It contains many personal items of Pallotti. Most are very mundane – his umbrella, hat, shoes, habit, chalice and paten, but in a small glass case there are some things that are unique. Among them is a container with small slips of paper and pieces of wax (see the video “What is a Saint?” for more on that) and a notebook with mathematical formulae and assorted notes. Looking more closely, one can see that it is differential calculus. Pallotti was pondering the concept of infinity. He was using mathematics in his ongoing search for God.
Pallotti experienced God as “infinite” and “incomprehensible,” and yet also as “infinite love and mercy.” His intimate experience of God caused him to modify the Ignatian motto of Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of God) to Ad Infinitam Dei Gloriam (For the Infinite Glory of God). Pallotti desired that all experience God as Infinite Love which is why he created the Union of Catholic Apostolate, an association of lay people, clergy, and religious, to assist the missionary efforts of the Church, revive the faith of Catholics, and engage in works of universal charity. Through word and deed, members of the Union could then be witnesses of God who is Infinite Love.
As we celebrate today the feast day of St. Vincent Pallotti, may we be inspired by his life to be bearers of God’s Infinite Love to all those we encounter.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti, please click here.
* This post was originally published on February 5, 2013
On 20 January 1963, just over a month after the close of the first session of the Second Vatican Council, the rows of tiered seating on either side of the main aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica meant to accommodate over 2000 Council Fathers filled to capacity again. The faithful came on that day for the canonization of one person, Vincent Pallotti (21 April 1795- 22 January 1850), a priest of Rome and founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate. Blessed John XXIII, who canonized him that day, called Pallotti “an innovator of new ways whereby people could come to know and love God.” For Pallotti this was the way of an apostle, one who is sent on mission, urged on by the love of Christ. As Blessed John XXIII explained, “the apostle does not nourish his personal concerns, nor seek his own glory, but he works for a reward far and eternal, happy to please God alone, and to bring souls, possibly all souls to his merciful love.”
The Rome of Pallotti’s day was not a place of peace and tranquility. His lifetime was punctuated by revolution and his witnessing three times over the forced absence of a pope. He experienced Catholics throwing off their faith and, therefore, saw a great need to “revive faith and rekindle charity” among Catholics and also serve the growing needs of the Church in the missions. On 9 January 1835, he was inspired to found the Union of Catholic Apostolate as a response to these needs of the Church. Pallotti called the Union an “evangelical trumpet, calling all, inviting all, rekindling zeal and charity in all the faithful of every state, situation and condition” that “would effectively cooperate in all evangelical undertakings, and in the growth, defense, and propagation of charity and of the Catholic faith” (OO CC I, 4-5). His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State, summarized the elements and effect of this inspiration in a recent letter to the Pallottine family:
“Living faith and active charity were the two pillars on which St. Vincent Pallotti rested firmly his whole luminous life and generous work, two inner forces that spurred and supported the many apostolic initiatives that filled his life. ‘Caritas Christi urget nos’ (2 Cor 5:14) was his motto, which also motivated his followers. The ripe fruit of his zeal was the foundation of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, that even at that time, valued the collaboration of all categories of the faithful of the Church – laity, priests, and religious – vivifying the faith of each to become an authentic apostle, carrying the fire of God’s love!”
In our time there is still an urgent need to revive faith, rekindle charity, and call all the baptized to live as apostles. As in Pallotti’s day, so today, faith is being thrown off, not by revolution, but by indifference, lack of engagement, disinterest. The work of the New Evangelization as articulated by Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and recently reflected upon at the Synod on the New Evangelization emphasizes the intrinsic connection between faith and charity for authentic Christian living, a deepening by Catholics of their baptismal commitment through active evangelizing of self and others, and support of the missionary efforts of the Church throughout the world. These priorities of the New Evangelization were the priorities of St. Vincent Pallotti as well. They are the priorities of the Union of Catholic Apostolate today. According to Fr. Jacob Nampudakam, S.A.C., Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate and Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, “the Pallottine response to the challenge of the New Evangelization is, therefore, to revive faith and rekindle charity as apostles of Jesus in a changing world, sinking roots into a passion, the passion of St. Vincent Pallotti for Christ!”
This passion for Christ in the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti is manifesting itself for the twenty-first century in the response of the Union of Catholic Apostolate to the needs of the New Evangelization. The Union “promotes collaboration among all the faithful in openness to new forms of evangelization” (General Statutes, n. 12). The Catholic Apostolate Center in the United States of America is one of those responses. The Center is collaborating with various Church entities at the international, national, diocesan, and local levels to provide in-person and online formation programs for the New Evangelization and assists in fostering deeper collaboration and greater co-responsibility among all the baptized.
In this jubilee year of the 50th anniversary of the canonization of St. Vincent Pallotti, the Union of Catholic Apostolate actively pursues what Blessed John Paul II called it to do over twenty-five years ago,
“Continue to multiply your efforts so that what was prophetically announced by Vincent Pallotti,
and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, that all
Christians are authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world.”
Fr. Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., D. Min, Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center wrote this piece for the January 23rd English edition of © L'Osservatore Romano, 2013
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the cannonaization of St. Vincent Pallotti check out the PALLOTTI APP featuring daily meditations, St. Vincent Pallotti’s vision, and Pallotine Community Prayers.
As a nation, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 21st. Does this mean anything special for the Church—for Catholics, even? Catholics have much to learn and celebrate about the Baptist pastor, preacher, and prophet. The more we consider how far we have come as a nation and as a human race since Dr. King met his tragic end on April 4, 1968, the more we sense, I think, just how far we have to go to realize his Dream.
When I think of Dr. King, I think of justice. Biblical justice. To recall a famous quote (King’s paraphrase from Theodore Parker), “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” As our nation honors Dr. King in a few days, I think it might be wise to contemplate for a moment the role of justice in our discipleship, which is an integral aspect of our baptismal identity as priest, prophet, and king.
As a pastor and preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. understood deep in his bones the kerygmatic nature (from “kerygma”) of true justice. Justice is a gift of Jesus. Like all gifts and graces from God, it is meant to be multiplied and shared. Even in the most difficult times of persecution, Dr. King proclaimed the gift of justice. In his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote the words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King (who earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University) quotes St. Thomas Aquinas in defining an unjust law as “a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law,” and then adds a simple explanation: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1774), the great theologian of the Middle Ages and among the greatest in the history of the Church, defined justice as giving the other what is their due. Thomas Aquinas even defines “religion,” which is a virtue, as a form of justice, because it gives God the worship and adoration that is owed to him.
First, can we ask ourselves where justice is still lacking in our world and in our own Church insofar as it is, alongside its spiritual identity, an institution composed of fallible, sinful human beings? Any lack of justice is a sure sign that we, the Church, have become adept in talking about the Gospel but have yet to take living it just as seriously. In her ongoing task of renewal, the Church must recover a robustly biblical, prophetic vision and conviction that justice is not accessory to the Gospel. Fortunately, in my own observations and ministry, I have seen that many young Christians are mending the gap that seems to have developed between “social justice Christians” and “liturgy and doctrine Christians.” This distinction is foreign to Aquinas and King, and the extent to which we buy into this split is the sign that we have allowed our faith to be compromised by the politics of the day. To offer one way of restoring this divide, in his letter Dr. King writes, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” What if we thought about our baptismal garment, symbolic of putting on the life of Christ, as also the Church’s “garment of destiny”? Salvation and justice are the garment that clothes the body of Christ, the Church.
One way of looking at Dr. King’s quote about the moral arc is to see it as a challenge that is not “way out there” in the universe, but as an invitation to bend and mend our personal lives toward justice. What might it imply to bend our lives? A change of habit or lifestyle, resisting our initial unkind or selfish response or natural inclination, and going out of our way to change the trajectory of our relationship with other people, our nation, and even creation. This is the message of “integral ecology” Pope Francis teaches in his encyclical letter Laudato Si. Dr. King saw God’s providential hand at work on a cosmic level, and as Catholics, we recognize the need as disciples to participate in God’s grace, and that includes justice. Authentic justice takes work, effort, struggle, and at times—as many true prophets in Scripture and history have experienced—persecution. Not all of us are called to create justice in the same way, yet we are all called to create justice in some way.
Question for Reflection: What is one concrete step you can take to help create a more just situation in your family, school, workplace, or other sphere of influence today?
To learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, please click here.
The word vocation comes from the Latin “vocare,” which means to be called. Like any call, we are offered a choice to answer or ignore it.
Assisting others in discerning their apostolic vocation in life was an important aspect of the ministry of the Catholic Apostolate Center’s patron, St. Vincent Pallotti. Pallotti had a great belief in apostleship and what the Church today refers to as the “universal call to holiness.” Many years before the Second Vatican Council formally addressed the role of the laity in the Church, Pallotti understood deeply that each member of the Body of Christ plays a significant role in evangelization. This included the active participation of the laity in collaboration with priests and religious. As the Union of the Catholic Apostolate stated in a 2012 reflection, “Saint Vincent Pallotti was the first to show that the laity on their part share different talents and vocations, possess hidden treasures, and should be employed in the work of evangelization, of edification and of sanctification.” All of this work comprises our vocation, and is what I’m referring to when I speak of our vocation with a little “v.” Before we can begin to think about whether God is calling us to religious life, marriage, or the celibate single life (known as our Vocations with a capital “v”), we must first look to live out the calling he gives all of us: holiness.
I was raised outside of the Church. As a result, I wasn’t exposed to our beautiful faith (outside of my baptism) until high school. It wasn’t until three years into my high school career that I began to see religion, which had forever been just a class to me, as being something worth pursuing. Yet in high school, I more deeply came to understand Jesus’ words in Mark 2:17, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." A life of apostleship, which will lead to the better discernment of our Vocation, is not one of perfection, but of accompaniment and relationship building. We accompany others as they live out their vocation. Similarly, we are accompanied, which helps us keep going when we fall. Our vocation is not something that we choose when to live out, but rather it is an essential and fundamental part of our lives as Christians. As baptized members of the faithful, we are called to live out our baptismal offices of priest, prophet, and king.
To live out this call to holiness we must begin with prayer. Prayer, as St. Vincent Pallotti said, “consists in directing all one’s thoughts, words, and actions on God.” In fact, we should pray so much that we “pray without ceasing.” That means that we are living lives that are so full of God, so full of doing his will, that all of our actions, words, and thoughts become a prayer. It can be helpful to remember that prayer is a dialogue. Sometimes we talk and other times we are silent, waiting to hear the voice of God in whichever ways he decides to speak to us.
Secondly, we live out our vocations of holiness by living a life of doing good and avoiding evil. This comes from practicing charity with our neighbors and with ourselves and from opening our hearts to those around us who Pope Francis would say are “at the margins.” Through the living out of our vocation, we help others to encounter Christ. This encounter is at the heart of our faith. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “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.”
Lastly, we must take part in the sacraments. God’s plan for our salvation is rooted in Christ, whose grace is poured out in all of the sacraments. We should receive the Eucharist, spend time in Adoration, and frequently receive his mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We have been given all of the tools necessary for living lives of holiness. Those tools are strengthened when we receive the sacraments.
So how does living out holiness, our lowercase vocation, pertain to our Vocation? I would argue that living out our Vocation, the call to religious life, priesthood, marriage, or the celibate single life, is one of the highest achievements of living out our vocation. A marriage cannot thrive, for example, without love, hope, mercy, prayer, and kindness. Neither would the ministry of a priest or religious sister.
When we truly see the beauty of the promises of Christ: salvation, freedom, mercy, and redemption, we naturally want to know how best to achieve and share them with others. When we understand our call to holiness, and live out our vocations, uppercase and lowercase “v,” then we will help to become saints and build the Kingdom of God.
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
“Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go.” -Pope Francis
I remember getting up in the middle of the night years ago to try and glimpse a rare, hybrid, solar eclipse. My husband and I camped out at the Lincoln Memorial in the wee hours of the night with blankets and hot chocolate to wait for a rising sun that would be covered by the moon. Rich pink and orange hues danced across the sky, basking the surrounding monuments. Though there were clouds that day, we knew something mysterious and magical was happening above us. We were willing to sacrifice some sleep and wait in the cold just to catch a glimpse of that star.
What did the magi see when they looked up in the sky over two thousand years ago? It was enough not only to make them camp out in wonder, but to set out in haste. Their journey required provisions, logistics, time, and great effort. But something in the sky beckoned them. I imagine it was similar to what Peter, Andrew, James and John saw in the face of Christ calling them on the beach – something so extraordinary and captivating that it called them out of their day-to-day routines to begin a new journey. Both the journey of the magi and that of the first apostles had the same end: Jesus Christ. These journeys show that an encounter with Jesus is life-changing. It sets us in motion: the journey of the magi, the life of discipleship and evangelization.
This past Sunday, the Christmas season continued with the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. The Gospel reading recounted the journey and visitation of the magi to the Christ-child. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. the great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.”
The birth of Christ is the first outward manifestation of the Messiah. Jesus, whose name means “God saves,” is the revelation of God’s plan of redemption. After years of prophecy and expectation, longing and promise, God comes in the midst of his people in the most intimate way possible: as one of them.
This Incarnation is awe-inspiring. So awe-inspiring, in fact, that it even draws strangers. The Messiah foretold was long-awaited by the Chosen People of God—the Israelites. And yet, how many do we see at the birth of our Lord? The Visitation of the Magi foretells the inclusion of the entire world in God’s plan of salvation. He has come not only to redeem Jews, but Gentiles—peoples of every land and nation. As Paul wrote in Sunday’s second reading, “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
What can we learn from the magi? In his homily on the Feast of the Epiphany last year, Pope Francis boiled it down to 3 things:
Let us imitate the magi in our lives of discipleship. They were not complacent, but so observant that they were able to recognize God’s sign: the star. “The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat,” Pope Francis said last year. “They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.” They were vigilant, ready to go when the time came. And their hearts were receptive, disposed to the signs of the times. From there, they set out on a journey which would lead them to Christ himself. This journey required effort, planning, and sacrifice. And finally, they came bearing costly gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They met the generosity of God by reciprocating generosity. Pope Francis continued, “To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus.”
As we reflect on the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany, let us look to the example of the magi in our lives of discipleship. Let us look up beyond the distractions of the world in order to see God’s star. Let us take the risk of setting out on our journey closer to Christ with joy. And let us give generously to a world which needs the generous love and mercy of the Christ-child.
Question for Reflection: What are some things in our life that might distract us from seeing God in the everyday?
Henri Nouwen said “Being the beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
On December 27, the Church celebrated the feast of St. John the Apostle - referred to in the Gospel of John as the beloved disciple. A few short days ago, we also celebrated the great and holy feast of Christmas: the turning point in history. On that night in Bethlehem, when God became a little baby, He made it possible for us to truly become “the beloved.”
St. John shows us that to truly love and become “the beloved,” we must stick by each other even through suffering. It was John, along with Our Lady and Mary Magdalene, who remained with Our Lord until His final moments at Calvary.
St. John’s Gospel not only gives us one of the most profound recollections of the crucifixion, but it also reminds us that we love others “because He first loved us.” As Christians, everything in our lives must first flow from a lived relationship with Love incarnate, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season. This relationship with Christ enables us to know what St. John knew: Jesus makes all things new, all burdens light.
Before we can believe the truth of being beloved, I have found that we often believe a lot of lies. Our world and culture - not to mention the Evil One - tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we are unworthy of love. But to truly love and be loved is to live in the truth of who God says we are and the truth of who He calls us to be.
The truth of our identity is that we are beloved sons and daughters, called to stay close to the manger AND the cross and commissioned to share the Good News that we are called to love because He first loved us.
Today as we are still reveling in the shadow of Christ’s manger in Bethlehem, let’s ask Our Lord, Our Lady, and St. John to fill us with the greatest truth of our existence: our identity as beloved.
Have you ever wondered why the Church decided to celebrate Mary, as Mother of God, on the first day of each calendar year? After all, we’re still in the midst of Christmas! Isn’t this season already busy and full of Feast Days and devotions? Before she could be revealed as the Immaculate Conception, or celebrated as Our Lady of Fatima, Lourdes, or Guadalupe, or even honored as Lady Poverty by St. Francis, Mary first had to accept God’s will for her in salvation history in order to become the mother of the savior who was born on Christmas Day.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, Mary is first hailed as God’s “favored one!” If this title, bestowed by the Almighty’s messenger, wasn’t honor enough, Mary would later receive the even greater title of “Mother of God.” Her cousin St. Elizabeth would confer this title upon her with the words, “the mother of my Lord.” First, of course, Mary had to agree to what God asked of her! Mary may not have understood just how great the decision was that she made, but, despite her youth, she nevertheless had the great gift of faith in God. Because of her infinite trust in God and her famed fiat, we can definitively venerate Mary, the Mother of God, and ask for her intercession.
Mary fulfills a unique role in the Mystery of Christ and the Church. Hailed as Theotokos (literally, “God Bearer”) by the Church in 431 at the First Council of Ephesus, Mary’s title reflects not only her role in salvation history, but also asserts the divinity of Christ. Just as the moon does not bear its own light but instead reflects the light from the sun, Mary entirely reflects the brilliance and grace of God. While a universal celebration on October 11 of the feast of the “Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary” was not declared by the Church until 1931 by Pope Pius XI, history records similar celebrations as part of the Christmas octave as early as the 13th or 14th century in Rome and Spain. Later celebrations developed in the 18th century in Portugal, Brazil, and Algeria and continued to take root around the world. After this great feast was finally moved to the first day of January by Pope St. John XXIII (in his 1960 revision of the liturgical calendar and rites), the Church would, at the Council Second Vatican, reaffirm Mary’s place in the Church Universal:
Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ... having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head.”… The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.
Even more recently, Pope Francis reflected upon why Mary is thus honored as the Mother of God and not just the Mother of Jesus:
From the moment that our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity. There is no longer God without man; the flesh Jesus took from his Mother is our own, now and for all eternity. To call Mary the Mother of God reminds us of this: God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb.
As we continue our celebration of Christmas, let us consider how, in His mother, God the Son was made Incarnate not only to be with us, but also to be like us! The Blessed Mother, seen in every nativity scene, faithfully watches over the infant in the manger as the Mother of God and also as mother to each of us! She does so with great love, silently in her heart (cf. Luke 2:51). In Mary we find what really matters—not only during the Christmas season, but in the whole of the Christian life. As her children, may we look upon Mary with love and faithfully call upon her intercession with great affection.