While I was speaking with a priest not very long ago about young adult ministry and how to grow a community of young adults in my area, he said something which felt as if someone was smacking me on the head. Almost in passing, he remarked, “We must share the teachings of Jesus in such a way that people become disciples of Christ and not consumers of Christ.”
I am sure this was not the most significant thing that he was getting at, and it was not the focus of our conversation. However, as I was driving home from that meeting, I could think of little else.
As I reflected on this, I was reminded of a fundamental aspect of our faith. We are called to be in relationship. In a way, all the stories throughout the Bible, from Moses in the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, are about forming and maintaining relationships.
Relationship is everything—relationship with God, our fellow brothers and sisters, and (as Pope Francis explained more recently in Laudato Si’) creation. Someone who is in a true relationship with God, humanity, and the environment will be seen as a disciple of Christ and not a consumer of Christ.
But how do we do this? How do we realize the value in relationships?
First, we must drop the idea that we deserve our relationship with Christ. Too often we seem to walk into the church on Saturdays to take the sacrament of reconciliation, or on Sundays to take the sacrament of Holy Communion just as if we were walking into a Starbucks and placing an order. But the sacraments are not about taking, they are about receiving.
I think a “graduation mentality” can enter into our faith life at times: we can partake in the sacraments as something which we have earned. To take something is to only recognize the one who takes. To receive something is to recognize not only the receiver but also the giver. To receive something is to form a relationship.
In taking the time to understand this difference, I realized the importance of being a disciple of Christ and not simply a consumer of Christ. Being a disciple is being open to those relationships, and taking an active part in them. This sounds simple, but simple does not mean easy.
How then do we fully partake in these relationships?
This is the second part of what it means to be a disciple. We must truly understand that a relationship takes two to work. Again, this sounds simple but it is not easy. For those of us who are outgoing it can be difficult to listen, and it can be difficult for those of us who are comfortable in our silence to speak. However, it is important that we do both! We must be able to voice our opinions, positions, and thoughts just as we must be able to listen to our God, our family, our friends, and to creation.
Doing this can be uncomfortable at times. We will have to participate when we do not want to, and we will have to wait patiently when all we want to do is speak. This giving and receiving is manifested in the structure of the Mass. We give God our prayers, attention, and hearts, and he gives us himself through his Word and the Eucharist.
This touches on another aspect of relationships – action. Relationships are not only about speaking and listening, but also about the actions we take to fulfill the words we speak. Jesus did not simply talk about giving up his life for our salvation. He endured the scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the cross, and his crucifixion to redeem us. The perfection of his actions opened up the possibility for us to be in perfect relationship with our Savior, our Creator, and all of creation.
Relationships can be messy. In order to be disciples of Christ, we must put away our spiritual debit cards and throw away our transactional faith mentality. Being a disciple of Christ is about being in and building relationships. It is not easy, but sacrifice never is. We are called to be disciples of Christ, not consumers of Christ.
To learn more about what it means to be a disciple, please click here.
The Catholic Apostolate Center has had a presence at the Mid-Atlantic Congress (MAC) since 2013. Over these years, we have created spaces for attendees to gather and network; to share our resources and programs in the exhibit space; and to offer our expertise on various topics facing Catholic leaders today. This work is not done on our own: it is accomplished through great collaboration among the planners of the Congress, our presentation partners, and our team.
I have had the opportunity to be the point person for the Center’s involvement with MAC since we first started attending. Over the years I have been able to work with our team and our collaborators to develop presentations that are interesting, relevant, and useful in the Church today. Each year, I am always struck by the work of the Holy Spirit in each of the aspects of our involvement with MAC, and this year was no exception. Our two presentations brought together members of our team with two outside collaborators from the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and Washington.
Our first presentation, titled “What now? Vocational Discernment and Accompaniment After the 2018 Synod,” focused on the experiences of three young adults who were in Rome during last year’s Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. We had many conversations prior to the event about what each presenter would talk about and how they would present, but I was still struck while watching the presentation at how alive the Church is in her young people.
Our second presentation, titled “Using Social Media and Digital Resources to be Catholic Evangelical Witnesses,” helped Catholic leaders learn more about how to use social media and other digital resources to evangelize within their parishes, dioceses, and organizations. At the Center, social media and digital resources are part of our everyday work, so it is easy for me to forget how useful these tools may be for a group or parish starting to reach out by those means. Our team gave insight into the various platforms, but also offered suggestions about how to use social media in a productive, charitable way.
St. Vincent Pallotti, the patron saint of the Catholic Apostolate Center, encouraged collaboration among clergy, religious, and the laity when he was a priest in Rome in the early 19th century. His message of collaboration is still true today and a goal the Center strives for in all that we do. Events like the Mid-Atlantic Congress are a great way to live out St. Vincent Pallotti’s hope – we can grow who we are individually, spiritually, and organizationally when we work in collaboration with one another.
Lent is fast approaching. Ash Wednesday will arrive with the usual crowds to mark its beginning. Even though it is not a holy day of obligation, many Catholics feel the need to participate in a Mass or service and have ashes imparted upon them. Several of the same, even if they do not go to Mass on a regular basis, will take up the various Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but particularly fasting in the form of “giving up” something. It is important to consider that there is something stirring spiritually within these brothers and sisters. Those who are very active in the life of faith can either dismiss them or accompany them into deeper life in Christ, in and through his Church.
How? By using well the tools of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – as ways in which we can witness Christ more authentically to our brothers and sisters and deepen our encounter with him. In his Lenten message last year, Pope Francis made this invitation once again,
“Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.” (2018 Lenten Message)
The “enthusiasm” that comes from prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is not of our own making. It is the work of God and one in which we cooperate. The disciplines of Lent are not ends in themselves. They are means to an end, greater communion with Jesus Christ. We are challenged by these practices to focus our attention not on ourselves, but more fully on God and neighbor.
A focus on our neighbor returns us to those who are spiritually searching and arrive on Ash Wednesday or “give something up” for Lent. It means less attention on ourselves and more prayer for them, uniting our fasting with and for them, and giving of our time to them, especially to listen and accompany them back into living more deeply the life of faith. Not an easy task, but a sacrifice that, if lived well and authentically, could assist others in coming to Easter joy!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For resources to accompany you throughout the Lenten season, please click here.
I remember sharing an odd insight with my fiancé as we walked briskly up to the cathedral where we would soon be married. “This is going to be hard,” I said, referring to marriage.
This might have caught most people off guard. It’s not common for a young, blissful couple about to embark on a lifelong journey of commitment to think about its difficulty. I didn’t know at the time how true these words were, only that they were necessary for understanding some of the implications of any lifelong commitment.
It’s a lot easier, and a lot more enjoyable, to think about all the beauty involved in marriage: visions of your spouse bringing you breakfast in bed, selflessly offering to do the laundry, bringing home flowers “just because,” going on countless adventures, experiencing the thrill of starting a family, buying homes, building careers, and doing it all as a team, forever.
In February, the United States celebrates love on Valentine’s Day. The Church celebrates a form of love as well, with February 7-14 being National Marriage Week in the US and February 10 being World Marriage Day.
Celebrations of love are appropriate and beautiful, but I think we do love and marriage an injustice if we only celebrate what we consider to be positive and only on certain days. My husband and I continue to learn—after three years of marriage and two children—that true love is sacrifice. More romantic to me than any bouquet is my husband getting up early with one of our sons, taking the trash out, or working to improve our almost 100-year-old home. The moments when he gives of himself in quiet ways are what make marriage beautiful. And our journey of learning the selfless love Jesus modeled for his disciples is a lifelong one.
We are learning we must choose to love each other after being woken up 3 or 4 times a night, after 2 hour-long commutes a day, after changing countless diapers, mediating children’s fights, trying to solve the latest home issue, and working on a budget. This--this is what makes marriage hard: the choice to give of oneself in the midst of imperfect and less than ideal circumstances. This is the tip of what I meant that day when I told my husband that marriage would be hard. I didn’t know all the details, just that it was a reality we would need to grapple with in the years to come.
Pope Francis speaks often of the realities of marriage throughout his preaching. He said in one homily that marriage is not fiction, acknowledging that “the path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements, otherwise it would not be human…It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life.” I love that he is so down to earth and realistic in his observations. Yes, marriage is sacred and beautiful and designed by God. But it is also hard work, something I think may need to be more addressed in our culture – especially today when this lifelong commitment seems less and less possible.
The fact that marriage is hard is not cause for fear, despair, or surrender. The fact that it’s hard means your marriage is normal and human. Simply because it is comprised of two people with past hurts, wounds, weaknesses, and imperfections, marriage will always be complicated.
But it is within the context of a lifelong commitment that these wounds and imperfections can be transfigured. This is the beauty of marriage: when seen in the light of the eternal, it enables each person in the relationship to be sanctified. What transfigures marriage is prayer, grace, and, yes, hard work. Marriage is the daily choice to give of oneself, to surrender, to submit mutually to one another. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one's own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving” (CCC 1609).
Pope Francis has made note of this as well, saying that a healthy marriage requires the mutual gift of self and the grace of Christ. In a dialogue with engaged couples on Valentine’s Day in 2014, Pope Francis advised those present to entrust themselves “to the Lord Jesus in a life that becomes a daily spiritual journey, made up of steps – small steps, steps of joint growth – made up of the commitment to become mature women and men in the faith.” He continued, “The more you entrust yourselves to Him the more your love will be ‘forever,’ capable of being renewed and it will overcome every difficulty.”
As we continue to reflect on love and marriage in our culture, let us remember that this call to love is not reserved for married couples, but for all Christians. Every act of service and sacrifice made for others is the living out a life of discipleship. Love is hard. But the same Christ who knelt before his disciples and washed their feet, the same Christ who multiplied the wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana, enables us to live this love as we pick up our crosses, daily, to follow him. Let us entrust ourselves and our relationships to the Bridegroom who makes all things new.
Question for Reflection: How can you practice the sometimes difficult love Christ calls us to in your life today?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
The authentic Christian life resounds with love. Beyond any fleeting attraction or fondness, this love is not meant to be hoarded, but to be given in charity and service to others. The love of a Christian reflects the love of God, without Whom we would not exist nor would we have the capacity to love beyond the other, lesser creatures of this planet. This love cannot be restricted to a single day on the calendar but is meant to flow freely every day at every hour through every difficulty and joy, every sorrow and labor, and every moment of pain and peace. It is love which motivates us not only to live for others, but always for the glory of God.
Normally, the marital love between a man and a woman manifests and literally takes on new life in the conception of a child. That child adds another wonderful dimension to the love of married life that encompasses parenthood. Years of teaching, correcting, protecting, caring for, playing with, cherishing, and feeding children are physical and emotional applications of love purposed with raising them as members of the domestic church. Eventually, the outpouring of parental love for children can be reciprocated by them in selfless acts of charity, gratitude, joy, or other expressions of affection. Think of the times your parents would beam at seeing your room tidy without asking, warmly embrace you, offer a surprise gift, or watch you shine at school or on the field. Similarly, the example of love shown between parents is not lost on children. This example imprints the strength of the sacrament of marriage—especially during times of difficulty or stress—and encourages children to better appreciate and actively participate in the love of family life. For example, chores or other labors may be done more freely as intrinsically valuable to the functioning of the domestic church; without love, children might only begrudgingly pick up after themselves when forced.
How does love otherwise radiate through family life? The eyes which looked upon the spouse on the wedding day can continue to hold the same gaze of awe-filled love through later moments of despair or pain. The hands which exchanged wedding rings can embrace one another with tenderness, consolation, joy, or mercy. They can also be used in service to the poor, the lonely, or the dying. The lips which uttered sacred vows can impart wisdom, praise, blessings, or part in radiant smiles. Just as God lovingly created the human body down to the smallest detail as “good”, so too can the body we have been gifted be utilized to facilitate God’s love among loved ones and neighbors.
Perhaps the first lesson your parents taught you was that God is love. By virtue of our baptism, we have become adopted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. As such, every answer to our prayers is entirely out of love, regardless of the result. Similarly, our parents, having been entrusted with caring for us, draw upon the love in their marriage to instruct, guide, nourish, or chastise. While our parents’ love may be imperfect, we can look upon the perfect example of the love of the Trinity to shape our applications of love to transcend human limitations.
As St. Paul famously wrote, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If it did not, how could any of us be forgiven for our sins against each other or God? How would salvation history exist without love? Authentic marriage or family life is not sustainable without love. And yet, our human limitations may restrict our application of love in certain circumstances. That is why love must be renewed. It must deepen over time to reflect the experiences of life and extend to others. Couples may go on date nights, retreats, vacations, or other activities which can foster relaxation and various communications of love. Similarly, we are reminded of God’s love at each Mass, in which recalling the ultimate Love on the cross helps us receive spiritual renewal to offer that same love to all we encounter. The spiritual renewal we attain allows us to recall the presence of God in our daily lives at every moment and to live up to the potential He calls us to. If our vocation is religious life, then we can hold steadfast to the rules of the order to which we belong and rejoice in our sacred calling. If we are single, we can allow ourselves to increase our capacity to love or extend it to others. If we are married, we can reaffirm the gifts of love in the family— raising children in the Faith or cherishing our spouse.
In doing so, we realize that love does not come from ourselves. Rather, God, the source of all love, dwells in our hearts and provides the strength and courage to open ourselves in vulnerability to another. Our love may be spurned, mocked, or tested, but just as God will not refuse His infinite mercy to the hardest of sinners’ hearts, so too are we called to rise above human judgements or inclinations and extend to others the great gift of love God Himself never tires of bestowing.
Question for Reflection: Who are some examples of authentic Christian love in your own life?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
January, as the first month of the new calendar year, is for many people a time to start fresh. And January 2019 in particular seemed to be the month of intense home decluttering. This is probably due to the advent of the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” I have friends and relatives who had never heard of Kondo’s bestselling book before the streaming show debuted, and yet I have watched them become KonMari method adherents, filling my social media feeds with success stories about the household clutter they are donating or dumping.
Amid all this physical decluttering, I find myself wondering how often we take time to do some spiritual decluttering as well. Especially for myself—I strive to maintain a ruthless-but-not-obsessive attitude about household clutter. But do I regularly declutter my soul outside of going to confession every month or two? And when I do attempt spiritual decluttering, do I approach it with the same kind of enthusiasm about ridding my soul of the things that are holding me back from God?
In this new year’s spirit of decluttering and simplifying, we tend to think about the kinds of things in our homes that we no longer need: toys missing essential pieces, gifts we will never use but feel too guilty to donate, soccer participation trophies from third grade. But we should also think about the kinds of things that make up ‘spiritual clutter’: useless smartphone games that waste hours of our time, social media accounts that just fuel jealousy and resentment toward our peers, junk food binges that disrespect our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. What are the things that our minds, our bodies, or our souls cling to that do not bring us closer to God?
In Luke’s Gospel, Simon, James, and John “leave everything” to follow Christ. We also are called to leave everything and follow Christ. But what does everything mean when we live in the twenty-first century with all of its modern conveniences? We are not all called to join a mendicant order, to become cloistered nuns, or to become missionaries in the far-flung corners of the world. We still need shelter, food, clothing, and dignified work. But along with striving to make our homes oases of calm in a chaotic life, so too should we strive to make our souls oases of peace in a fallen world.
If we really stop to think about it, spiritual clutter is as ubiquitous as and more detrimental than physical clutter. Everywhere we turn, there are bad habits and ill-formed attachments that keep us from deepening our relationship with God. And just like physical clutter, spiritual clutter is a deeply personal thing. We can choose to ignore it, but—like its physical counterpart—spiritual clutter will eventually take over our lives until we dread even peeking into those areas that are the messiest and need the most work. But we must look inward in order to grapple with the things that keep us from following Christ—especially if we dread what we will discover about ourselves.
When the metaphorical pile of spiritual clutter seems insurmountable, it is good for us to remember that we are not alone in our endeavors: God is there beside us, calling us to engage with him in the sacrament of Penance, which itself is spiritual decluttering. With its thorough examination of conscience and its outpouring of God’s grace, going to confession not only absolves us of the sins that clutter our hearts, but it also bolsters us to overcome those temptations in the future. And, with God’s grace, the spiritual clutter that accumulates in our hearts will slowly begin to seem more manageable and less insurmountable, until one day we realize that the things that had once seemed to control our lives are no longer more than a passing temptation.
As the new year continues on and we declutter more of our physical homes, let us remember to give equal attention to our spiritual homes.
Question for Reflection: What are some things that are cluttering your spiritual life?
It was a sunny but cold day in October. Twenty young men in long, dark habits knelt in the big, roomy church. The melody of the old organ, played by an invisible musician, echoed through the building. That melody was unknown to me. On that day, I believed that every corner of that church and my heart were full of the melody of glory.
I was one of the twenty men kneeling near the altar who had received from the hands of a priest the big silver cross. It was attached to a ribbon that was a black as coal. This was the act of my eternal sacrifice to God. In my shaking hands, I held the crucifix of the One to whom I promised to be a member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. I promised chastity, poverty, obedience, perseverance, the sharing of resources, and the spirit of service. I remember noticing that it was like a wedding: the melody of that song had some similarity to a wedding song, although it is possible that it was just the melody of my heart...
After one year in the priesthood, I was completely immersed in pastoral work. Holy Mass, catechesis, and long lines to the confessional before Christmas and Easter filled me with happiness. Often when having conversations with people, I would ask them who Jesus was for them. Once, when I met a classmate from school, she asked what made me decide to become a priest. I tried to explain to her that it was a calling to follow God and to explain the happiness that I had in my heart. However, the more I tried to explain to her, the more I understood the weakness of my arguments to a non-believer. After that conversation, the question that Jesus made to the apostles “Who do you say that I am?” often appeared in my mind. Who is that One to whom I offered my life in the Pallottine community?
I was the assistant to the parish priest near my hometown, and I was also a chaplain in a neuropsychiatric clinic where there were more than 200 men with different mental disabilities. I thought that I was used to the unusual situations that sometimes happened during Holy Mass: interruptions, babies with smiles on their faces, spontaneous and childish simple questions that they asked. However, there were still many things I was not used to, like the young burdened man at the clinic who touched the cross that I sometimes wear and asked me, “Who is that man?” I was a little confused by his question and tried to give him a simple answer—I just said that he was my friend. This answer was enough for the young man, because he understood the concept of friendship. His nurse Anna and caretaker Julia, who suffered with him in his illness, embodied friendship for him. Then I noticed that my answer was not just an answer to his question, but also to my own. “Who do you say that I am?”
Friendship—this is one word with which I can describe my consecrated life. Friendship is not easy because it implies relationship, maturation, and a constant internal struggle with selfishness. I have noticed that in arduous times in my life the voice of my Friend can be heard more strongly. I have heard that voice many times throughout my Pallottine life. Maybe it was the voice of that invisible musician who played the melody in my heart while I first held the big silver cross in my hands during my final vows. I know that this voice has been calling me to bring the words of His Gospel to many different people and areas, which sometimes are very dangerous and unpredictable.
I believe that—like the melody in that church where I was kneeling near the altar with my confreres—my consecrated life gains new notes, changes, and rhythms each day. It is not possible to change the melody. I just try to hear the voice of the Eternal Master, the invisible musician, for whom I have consecrated my life in the melody of His glory.
This year, we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life on February 2. For more resources to guide you through vocational discernment, please click here.
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti and Pallottine spirituality, please click here.