Recently, I celebrated my graduation from my PhD program. As I stood in line of the academic procession, waiting for the moment to cross the stage when my name was called, I caught the eye of a former professor who was standing near me. Without saying a word, this professor reached out her hand and clasped mine, and smiled so proudly at me. Just a few years before, I encountered this smile in my professor’s office as I confided in her about my anxiety about my future, my career plans, and my relationships. My professor had listened patiently as I told her about a challenging situation I was going through, offering words of wisdom and encouragement. Since that day, my professor continued to accompany me. She often became the person I sought out for advice or guidance, always eager to draw on her own experience as a doctoral student, Catholic, and woman to help me find the next step on my path.
I could not help but imagine that, on the day of my graduation as she stretched out her hands towards me, my professor remembered just how much anxiety, worry, and fear I had to navigate to get to that day. Unlike many others who just saw fancy academic regalia and a large diploma, my professor had seen the challenges that I went through that others did not understand. As she gripped my hand and smiled, my professor remembered my journey and knew the deep meaning of it. She had been with me on the journey as my professor. She was able to offer wisdom to me because she had also been on the journey herself.
Today’s feast is the Feast of the Visitation, which I believe invites us to contemplate those who have been on the journeys of our lives with us, who understand so much more than others who just perceive our lives at surface level. In other words, the Feast of the Visitation calls us to consider those who live in solidarity with us, walking with us and helping us to consider the work of God in our lives.
In today’s Gospel, we see the excitement of Elizabeth and the infant, John the Baptist, in her womb as Mary greets them. Though the words of the Gospel do not reveal all the details about Mary’s and Elizabeth’s conversations with one another, I like to imagine and fill in the gaps. Both women might have shared their stories with one another about their encounters with angels and miraculous pregnancies. Imagine the laughter, sighs of relief, and the words ”You, too?!” exchanged with one another in the telling of their stories. Think of what their conversations sounded like: posing questions to one another, offering insights, and asking, “What could this mean for us?” Consider what emotions both women might have felt when they recognized they weren’t isolated in their experience any longer. Though Mary had Joseph and Elizabeth had Zechariah, imagine what it must have been like to feel seen and understood by another who had also been through such a unique and particular experience.
The Feast of the Visitation reminds us of a great truth that Pope Francis himself often makes reference to: that in the Christian life, we are never meant to be isolated. We are meant to be seen, known, understood, and accompanied. In Fratelli Tutti, the pope writes, “Once more we realiz[e] that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.” In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s case, the two women considered the mystery of what happened to them together. They were able to consider the meaning of each other’s story in a profound way because of their own separate experiences. In the moment I shared with my former professor on my graduation day, I was reminded of someone who walked with me during my years in my doctoral program, and shared solidarity with me in the struggles I navigated. Without the accompaniment of my professor, my journey would have felt isolating, with no one to share questions, experiences, and “You, too?!” with.
The Visitation invites us to consider those who walk with us and bear witness to significant moments in our lives. Who is with you on your journey? Who has made you feel seen, known, and accompanied, and how are you called to be with others on their journeys?
Pentecost is coming and we say, “Come, Holy Spirit.” As baptized, we are already “temples of the Holy Spirit,” with the seven-fold gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. What do we mean when we say “Come, Holy Spirit”? We mean that we are open to where the Holy Spirit wants us to move. That is not easy. We want to be in control of where we are going and what we are doing. This is true not only as individuals, but also sometimes true as the Church.
The time in the Cenacle or the Upper Room between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost provided a time of prayerful waiting and deepening as a community of faith in the Risen Christ. Jesus gave them a share in his mission and when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, they were given what they needed to go forth for him.
Christ gives us the same share in his mission. The challenge is for us to discern in what ways we are called to live the mission of Christ. The Holy Spirit guides us and provides us with charisms to share with the community of faith and with the world. Through prayer and discernment, we can then act. Prayer, discernment, and action can be done on our own, but are often much more fruitful when done in communion with others.
One person we can call on to be with us in our prayer, discernment, and action, is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, if we choose to ask for her guidance and intercession. We can learn from her example of discipleship of her Son.
As apostles or missionary disciples of Christ, we go forth to revive faith and rekindle charity in our world.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
Let’s face it, trudging along in our daily lives can be dull sometimes. One must try, even if the thought is just a curious leap of the soul, to remove oneself from the business of the world and to look up at the sky. We must look up in the sky toward a marvelous sight, the light that propels life on this earth, the face of the creation, and the Creator of beauty.
In all areas of darkness, light abounds brighter than ever. In all things, we exist and share in our lives with our Creator. Everything we do is profound in its own small way. Everything that happens, happens with and for a purpose, with and for a cause, ever meaningful and ever present in our lives. Our lives are living, never truly dying. We will always have the light to look toward. The hope that always lets us know we are never truly alone in anything we do.
We must rise into the light in this very moment. This is what the fires of Pentecost are about. We must remember to put action into the journey of the disciple in sharing the truth and love of God in the world. It is waiting for the passions of our own lives to pass and form into one focus of love, pure and true. We are waiting for love, preparing for love, being there for love, attending to love, sacrificing for love, yet we must always remember that we ARE Love. We, as beautiful reflections of the heart of God can illuminate the darkness not only in our own lives, but in others as well. We can be beacons of light, shining bright for others to see.
Light is what draws us to the Heavens on a day with a clear sky. It is what makes us wonder at the millions of stars bursting in radiance in the night. It is what can illuminate any darkness no matter how small the flame may be. The light we see in the Sacraments passing from Christ into His people is nothing short of a miracle. The light we witness on the Cross, expelling all sin and darkness from our twisted up hearts, brings us closer to the very nature of love, the deepest kind of love, the love of Christ. In Him I see my guiding Light and my strength to carry on each and every day of my life. He is my starlight in the dark of the sky, letting me gaze of his majesty.
In everything, there is light. It is truly present infinitely in our universe. There is a place for us in the skies with the Father, for we, in this world, will rise a stronger people, ready to take up the mission of light, the mission of love, and the mission of hope for all who are searching for something, anything that can fulfill a restless heart.
**This post was originally published on 6/18/2015**
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology & Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“He said to them: ‘… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:7-11).
Forty days ago, we celebrated the miraculous Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and joyful the start of the Easter season. Finally, after millennia of prophecies and expectation, the promise that humanity would be redeemed and restored in its relationship with God was fulfilled. Now Christ had risen in glory and conquered death by His Passion, allowing humanity to once again be united with its loving Creator (c.f. 2 Peter 1:4). This reunification of the disciples and their beloved Teacher was indeed a cause for celebration! What intense feelings of love and wonder must have resounded in the apostles’ hearts after their Master, Teacher, and Savior had been cruelly put to death only a few days ago. They believed that Jesus’ return meant that He would now “restore the kingdom to Israel” to finish His earthly ministry (Acts 1:6).
“Not so, not yet,” Jesus corrects them (c.f. CCC 672). Instead, it was now time for Him to join the Father in Heaven since He had accomplished the Mission of atonement that He had been sent to earth for on the Cross (c.f. John 19:30). With that, Jesus was taken up before His followers into Glory. While they were still watching, whether out of wonder, awe, confusion, or fear as what to do next (perceptibly without Jesus), two heavenly messengers appear and urge the disciples not to stand there, looking up. Jesus would come again, they promised. Meanwhile, there was a mission to undertake; they were to go and wait for the Spirit, Who would help them take the next steps towards completing Jesus’ final instructions, which were, as St. Pope John Paul II put it, “the faithful expression of the Father’s will.”
Before He was taken up, Jesus said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ was planning something bigger than establishing a temporal kingdom on earth, as the Jews commonly thought their awaited Messiah would bring.
The Apostles, moreover, were instructed to teach— to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. And they were to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus, they were to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. The Apostles were to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began. And everybody knew that this missionary era could never end until the same Jesus, who went up to heaven, would come back again. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
We, too, in a sense, can stand with the apostles, looking heavenward to that place where our Lord ascended. We, too, can experience that intense wonder deep within each of us which transforms fear and tragedy, insecurity and tension into a peaceful certainty that floods the heart with loving warmth from God. From this, the same question posed to the disciples nearly two thousand years ago is asked of each of us even today: why do you stand looking up? The Church’s mission has always been that of the Great Commission, to spread the glorious, joyful, and redemptive news of Christ’s rising from the dead (c.f. John 3:16). As Saint Augustine testified, we are the Church and are commanded to accept this mission and not stand idly by in either amazement or apathy!
Certainly, Holy Mother Church’s evangelization has endured obstacles, dogmatic disputes, and other setbacks over the centuries in bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth. No matter the challenge, the Church always pulls through since she has been founded by Christ Himself with the promise that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). As the disciples and the Blessed Mother would experience on Pentecost Sunday, it is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, Who is the source of the Church’s strength. It is He Who guides the Church in the way of Truth in the spreading of the Gospel, doing so through the power of God and not by means of the imperfect wisdom or strength of man.
After having undergone the humiliation of His passion and death, Jesus took His place at the right-hand of God; He took His place with His eternal Father. But He also entered heaven as our Head whereupon, in the expression of Leo the Great, the glory of the Head became the hope of the body… our nature is with God in Christ. And as man, the Lord Jesus lives forever to intercede for us with Father. At the same time, from His throne of glory, Jesus sends out to the whole Church a message of hope and a call to holiness. Because of Christ’s merits, because of His intercession with the Father, we are able to attain justice and holiness of life, in him… The power of the glorified Christ, the beloved Son of the eternal Father, is superabundant, to sustain each of us and all of us in the fidelity of our dedication to God’s Kingdom.
The efficacy of Christ’s Ascension touches all us in the concrete reality of our daily lives. Because of this mystery it is the vocation of the whole Church to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
As part of the “New Evangelization,” we are reminded of this command to reveal the Truth of our resurrected Lord through our words and actions in accordance with how we are called to live as Christians, that is, with love (c.f. John 13:34-35). Like the evangelizers before us, we can expect face challenges when spreading the Gospel message, namely persecution (c.f. John 15:18, Romans 8:35-39, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:16-19). Ah, but what a price to pay for the glory of God!
Remember, too, that Christ promised that He would always be with us in our ministry (c.f. Matthew 28:20, Galatians 2:19-20)! As Pope Francis noted during his fourth general audience, Jesus is no longer “in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension… He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us.” We can always turn to Him in prayer; He, in turn, will sustain us with strength, grace, and Love. Given the difficulty of our task (often requiring great sacrifice on our part), this is indeed a great comfort! In addition, it is Christ as both God and man Who brings our humanity before God to intercede for us. Finally, the Ascension of the Lord is also our Feast because we have ascended with the Lord! The Feast presents an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between our profession of faith and our daily life. It is the start of the evangelization of the world by Christ’s disciples and the call for us to do that same Work, started nearly two millennia ago, in joyful witness to the Redeemer of the world.
The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel”, must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection. His very words, with which the Gospel according to St Matthew ends, accompany and comfort us: “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Homily of His Holiness During the Pastoral Visit to Cassino and Monte Cassino,” May 24, 2009
**This post was originally published on 5/24/2014
"Journeying is precisely the art of looking toward the horizon, thinking where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue of the journey, which is sometimes difficult. … There are dark days, even days when we fail, even days when we fall … but always think of this: Don't be afraid of failures. Don't be afraid of falling . . . This is working every day, this is journeying as humans. But also, it's bad walking alone: It's bad and boring. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us, that helps us. It helps us to arrive precisely at that goal, that 'there where' we're supposed to arrive.”--Pope Francis
College years are some of the most formative times in a young person’s life. One not only learns the skills they need to succeed in their future career, they also learn professionalism, time management, and make friends that can last a lifetime. One’s faith can also dramatically shift and change in college. As a cradle Catholic, it is hard for me to point to one moment of surrender, acceptance, or conversion to Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Instead, I characterize my faith journey as a slow metanoia, a more methodical reorienting of my heart and mind to Christ through formation and acceptance over time. It was through gradual engagement in The Catholic University of America’s Campus Ministry and communal life that my personal faith began to be transformed and deepened as I grew in relationship with Christ. As I reflect upon my undergraduate faith journey, what stands out to me as transformative experiences that led me closer to Christ have been moments where I have been accompanied by peer and ordained ministers and when I was trusted to accompany others along their faith journeys.
In my experience at CUA, I had countless individuals willing to journey with me as I learned and grew in the Faith. Specifically, I had peer ministers who were fellow students that grabbed coffee with me, answered my questions about college and the Church, and even commiserated with me over bad professors or annoying classes. My minister was only a year above me, and being able to ask someone who was so relatable about living one’s Catholic faith in college helped me see how to practically follow Christ’s teachings in my four years at CUA. This accompaniment made me realize that Christ calls the members of the Church to care for each other genuinely and authentically, instead of from a place of authority or condescension. Similarly, I was also introduced to spiritual direction early in my sophomore year, and experiences with my spiritual director allowed me to more fully enter into a relationship with Christ that is comfortable with the highs and lows of the Christian life. My spiritual director wanted to understand my faith journey in all of its facets. He helped me chart a course of discipleship that facilitated an encounter with Jesus Christ both sacramentally and in those around me. This relationship also kept me grounded when I had questions and when hard decisions of life rocked the boat that is my personal faith. The relationships with my Student Minister and spiritual director brought me into the Church’s relational mission that was somewhat absent in my faith life before I arrived at college, and the accompaniment I experienced from these individuals led me to get involved in college ministry. Eventually, I became the proverbial accompanier for first-year students at CUA.
Just as being accompanied helped me become more mindful of Christ’s presence in those around me, being the one who accompanies helped me grow closer to Christ as well. I was privileged to be a retreat leader as well as a Student Minister in my time at CUA, and it is from walking with first-year students in these capacities that I have been exposed to new ways of prayer, thinking about God, and living the Christian life as best we can. What has been most impactful from my experience as a Student Minister was walking with my residents as we all made our way back to “in-person” faith throughout 2020 and 2021. Having been isolated from March to April of 2020, my residents and I walked together, helping each other unpack Scripture, become comfortable in Mass again, and encounter Christ differently throughout the pandemic. Even meeting for our weekly Bible study was incredibly transformative after our months of isolation, and our weekly group allowed us to relearn how to worship and reflect as a community again. Journeying with my peers as a lay ecclesial minister allowed me to more deeply encounter Christ in my peers and form a deeper relationship with Him as I was constantly leading or participating in Faith Formation.
Throughout my experiences at college, accompaniment and community have been cornerstones of my faith development. I have come to realize that I am accompanied, I accompany others, and through it all, Jesus journeys with me. Jesus’s presence in the Eucharist and in others has helped me remain firmly rooted in His redemptive love that overcomes all human hardship. College years—especially during a pandemic—can be very isolating, but students can grow greatly in their personal faith with faithful accompaniment.
“Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism… It is they who testify to the beauty of life.”
I sit on the second leg of a cross-country plane ride sandwiched between a carseat and a five- year-old boy. My son sleeps deeply with his head on my lap, scrunched up in his seat. In my arms is my six-month-old daughter, whom I attempt to nurse over her brother. I sit in this makeshift human game of tetris, breathe in deeply, and think, hours left in our journey, “what is my life?”
There are many times when I have asked this question throughout the past five and a half years. It’s a question I ask bemusedly from time to time when I have been stretched in such a way that I never thought would be possible—in the moments when I am asked to give creatively, humorously, or abundantly. As you might imagine, motherhood presents those opportunities quite often.
I smirk in these moments because I know these thoughts come from the woman who said as an adolescent that she would rather not have children. Babies were foreign to me and teenagers seemed like purgatory. Why would I want to have kids who would one day likely treat me the way I had treated my parents as a young person—always keeping them on their toes, suggesting another mission trip or school program that happened to be thousands of miles away in third world countries, or simply giving them attitude, ungrateful responses, and callous words?
Why would I want to pour myself out to a being that may not appreciate me or reciprocate the love I gave?
Why would I want children?
My family loves to tease me about and remind me of this fact with each child I have.
Here I find myself, three kids in, packing extra clothes for that one blowout, using a toddler potty in dire instances of emergency, cutting sandwiches into bento lunch boxes, sneaking vegetables into homecooked dinners, and bandaging the latest knee scrape. Here I find myself, convincing toddlers that shoes are a good idea, cleaning the mold from bath toy crevices, trying to keep my cool when the freshly assembled yogurt and granola bowl is tipped over, listening to children’s saint podcast episodes, and reading all the books using all the voices.
How did this happen?
The best answer I can say is grace. God took the young callous woman who had never changed a diaper and made a mother out of me (more on that journey another time), and I found that I loved it.
I remember when our first son was born. I would go to bed after he was asleep and lay there hoping to be needed by him again (I know—crazy right?). I relished the fact that I could provide for him—I could feed, soothe, hold him. It felt like the most important task I had ever been given. Probably because it was and continues to be. As John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Women, “For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfil their deepest vocation.”
Today, motherhood takes every ounce of my energy and creativity and patience. There have been many times when I have fallen short of my vocation to love unconditionally, forgive immeasurably, and respond charitably. I lose my patience, raise my voice, and threaten ridiculous consequences. Sometimes I wonder who indeed the child is in a scenario.
But I don’t regret a minute of it. My task, though often behind the scenes, is to help form a civilization of love starting with my domestic church—my home. My task, though often overlooked, is to raise men and women of virtue striving to become saints. My task, though often ignored, is to bring the "genius of women” to society--“placing [myself] at the service of others in..everyday [life].”
I have learned slowly what St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of when he prayed to “give and not count the cost.” As a teenager, I could not fathom the depths of true love and mercy. Years later in graduate school, I heard a professor define mercy as “love that keeps giving in the face of rejection.” What seemed like it was for chumps to my teenage mind now comprises my entire life mission. Mothers, and parents overall, are called to live this mercy profoundly—imaging for the world in a special way the love of God.
And I’m not the only one attempting this kind of supernatural love. I’m surrounded by these kinds of mothers. I’m surrounded by women who give of themselves extraordinarily every day. Mothers who offer to watch my kids for a couple of hours to give me a mental health morning. Mothers who drop off a day of meals when our family is sick. Mothers who leave notes of encouragement for one another. Who call to say hi and just check in. Mothers who remember my birthday. Who encourage me with their witness of authenticity, humility, and courage. Mothers with multiple roles or jobs ,new mothers and seasoned mothers.
So many times, I have looked around and thought not only, “what is my life?” but “what is life, what is society, what is culture, without motherhood?” And not only physical motherhood, but spiritual motherhood, too. Women who bring life into the world in ways as unique as themselves—with their compassion, sensitivity, creativity, and love.
I have been humbled by this vocation time and again.
And so, I look up with a smirk to the Lord, my shoulders wrapped in a nursing cover, finagling an infant and sweating, trying to keep two children asleep in a cramped airplane row, and say not only, “what is my life?” but “thank you for this life.
Part Two: Fully Initiated- Learning and Living our Faith through the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA)Read Now
I shared in Part One about the need for our Church’s pathway for those desiring to become Catholic, officially called the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA), to foster more than head knowledge of the faith and instead cultivate our call to communion through real-life holy habits and spiritual practices. Easier said than done!
In this post, I’d like to share a few ways we set out to alter the typical “classroom” paradigm—meeting for classroom teaching/discussion one night a week for six to nine months—by “pastorally engineering” a process aimed at personal belonging in the parish community and steady immersion into the mystery of faith through first-hand experience. As a matter of fact, that is what the liturgical text (the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults) is all about. Putting the words into relevant practice takes both fidelity and creativity. I don’t claim any “unprecedented” results. What I’m sharing is simply our “work-in-progress” attempts to try something different and maybe raise some discussion in your own contexts. If the OCIA process is new or unfamiliar, I hope this also gives you a better idea of what’s involved.
Stage One: The Period of Evangelization and Inquiry (Pre-Catechumenate)
People inquire about becoming Catholic at all points in the year (some parish OCIA programs meet all year round, but we don’t). I meet with them, listen to their story, share basic information about the OCIA process, and encourage them to get involved in parish life if they aren’t already. I then ask them to do two things to prepare for when our formal OCIA program begins (in October): 1) If not already, simply begin attending Mass every Sunday, and 2) Read the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end.
In October, when OCIA sessions officially begin, we have class every Monday night up until the beginning of Advent. This Period (Evangelization and Inquiry) is entirely about the proclamation of the Kerygma and the basics of Christianity, no matter what stage or knowledge of faith. (Of course, each class goes into more depth and discussion as you would imagine).
The only readings I ask during this period come from the Bible- by this point (over two months), they will have read the entire Gospel of Matthew and other important passages of the Old Testament and New Testament. Each class includes teaching and doing a form of prayer together (e.g., Sign of the Cross, Examen, Lectio Divina, The Lord’s Prayer, etc.). We can’t just tell people to pray- we have to teach them by doing it with them!
Each Session is focused on a single question:
Week 1) Who is God?
Week 2) Who am I?
Week 3) What is Salvation?
Week 4) Who is Jesus?
Week 5) Why Did Jesus Die?
Week 6) What is the Resurrection?
The last session (7) on “Who is the Holy Spirit?” actually takes place during a 9am – 3pm group Advent retreat day on Saturday of the beginning of Advent (for the Annunciation). On this retreat day, which we celebrated at some Catholic historical sites in Baltimore, we also celebrated the Rite of Acceptance of Catechumens, which signals the transition to the next stage of OCIA. The Four Stages of OCIA are built around the Liturgical Year.
One more critical thing; before we move on to Stage Two of the OCIA, I ask them to select their sponsor/godparent. The sponsor is the most important individual for their OCIA journey. Their sponsor must be able to fulfill the program requirements, which beyond merely fulfilling canon law criteria, include attending Mass with them or their family every Sunday and Holy Day, and completing all of the “Missions” with them. Yes. For this reason, I effectively “require” their sponsor to be a parishioner. I do not assign sponsors, but, if necessary, as pastorally responsible, I will seek to introduce and create the relationship with a potential sponsor (disclosure: I haven’t had to do this yet). The impetus was our parish’s mentor-model marriage preparation program, but I simply see this as discipleship happening in pairs (Mk 6:7; Lk 10:1). I mostly refer to the sponsor as their companion (literally, “to share bread with).
Stage Two: The Period of the Catechumenate
This stage comprises the bulk of the candidate’s time and formation. Having gone deep into the Kerygma, we now delve into topics like What is the Creed? What is the Church? Who is Mary? and each of the sacraments. This Stage runs from the beginning of Advent to the beginning of Lent.
During this stage, the group stops meeting every Monday and meets one Monday a month. Instead, the Catechumen and their Sponsor are sent out “two-by-two” to accomplish specific “Missions” with their companion. Each “Mission” is designed to illuminate an aspect of the mystery of the faith by participating in that sacred time and space.
The Mission is accompanied by readings from Scripture, the Catechism, and the writings of the saints along with some reflection questions. (I do not use any “textbooks”- primary sources only!) I personally put together a workbook for each stage that I call “Field Guides” that simply contain the readings and, most importantly, the “Missions” I ask them to accomplish with their Sponsor.
By the end of the Second Stage, here is a list of what they will (in theory) have done together:
So, as you can see, even though we are not meeting in class every week, the participants are actively engaged, even more engaged than once a week class. Not to mention, this shifts the weight of pastoral responsibility and formation upon the sponsor—facilitating good memories and fortifying a deep bond of faith and friendship along the way. The Missions framework promotes a journey of faith built upon discovery and self-initiated learning. Imagine being an inquiring candidate or catechumen and having a trusted friend or mentor who performs and discusses these actions with you. That’s discipleship!
From a minister’s point of view, on a very practical note, this helps solve the problem of having to compete with Monday nights and schedules or doing “make-up sessions.” The participants must plan and complete all their “missions” on their own time. This way, no topic is (in theory) left uncovered. These “missions,” however, are not busy work or boxes to check, but ordinary Catholic practices that introduce the candidate (and sometimes their sponsor) into a Catholic way of life. They are engineered for immersion into the liturgical and communal life of the parish, diocese, and universal Church. It’s not merely talking about being Catholic, but simply going out and doing all the things that Catholics are called to do on a regular basis. We learn by living!
The requirement to “Pass Go” onto the Third Stage of OCIA is simply having completed these Missions and attended the monthly in-person Sessions that go into more teaching depth on special topics like the Eucharist and Holy Orders.
All these missions prepare the candidate and catechumen to participate in the Rite of Election at the cathedral, which happens at the beginning of Lent and signals the transition to Stage Three.
In Part Three (final) of this blog series, I will discuss Stage Three and Stage Four of OCIA and how this different paradigm has helped us foster a mentality of full initiation—both into the sacraments and the Parish Community and Universal Church—as the true goal of becoming Catholic.
I have always cringed when I have heard people describe new and seasoned mothers as “cute” or “adorable.” Though those things might be true, and though I might be biased as someone who is not a mother, I have always seen motherhood in a different light. “Cute” and “adorable” do not capture the fearsome and challenging vocation of being a mother. To me, motherhood seems tenacious, fierce, and strong.
My perspective of motherhood has been shaped by my own mother. My mom, a Danish and Irish Catholic originally from Long Island, is the sweetest and loveliest person you will meet. She has a discerning eye for the most appropriate greeting card for any occasion. She generously picks out treats from my favorite bakery and thoughtfully compiles care packages to extend her love from across the miles. Sparing no opportunity to offer encouragement, a listening ear, and hope, my mom’s gentleness and kindness continue to leave a lasting impact on my life.
At the same time, my mother is fierce. When my sister or I have experienced painful moments in our lives, my mom has sat with us, shared our anger or sadness, but also encouraged us to get up, have courage, and continue on. I watched her care for my grandmother with tenderness during my grandmother’s last years of life. Despite the many emotions that came with caring for an aging parent, my mother never relented in her patience or warmth though my grandmother was often scared or unsteady on her feet. I think often of how I learned to be strong and accompany others because of watching how my mom carried herself and listened patiently to others. I think the virtue that my mom has cultivated within me the most is hope, as she often reminded my sister and me that, though we might find ourselves sad or in pain in challenging moments, “the birds will still sing, and the sun will come up tomorrow.”
There are many moments when my mom’s strength, protectiveness, and ferocity have come to the fore. However, there is one story in particular that I believe encapsulates my mother’s strength. When I was 8 or 9, my family vacationed at a beach in the South Carolina low-country. I loved to play in the ocean and would often lose myself jumping and swimming in the salty waves. One day, when I was swimming in the ocean and immersed fully under the water, I felt a hand grab my wrist and pull me out of the water. It was my mother. From where she was standing on the shore, she had run into the water to drag me back onto the beach because she had seen a large shark fin making its way on the surface of the water towards where I was swimming.
In the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 7, there are beautiful verses describing Wisdom, often personified in the Hebrew scriptures as a woman. One verse in particular has always been my favorite and reminds me of the strength and ferocity of women in my life, especially my mother: “For she is the breath of the might of God” (Wisdom 7:25). When I think of this verse, I consider the unfathomable strength and ferocity of God. From our Scriptures, we know that the might of God has destroyed armies (2 Kings 19:35-37), parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14), created the world (Genesis 1-2), healed the sick (Matthew 14:14), and brought the dead back to life (John 20). At the same time, the word “breath” evokes a gentle sensation of air that is cooling, reviving, and life-giving. A breath is a small share in an organism’s larger pattern of breathing and is just one small part of the total function of a living being. From my view, it seems to me that my mother, as well as all mothers, have the capability to be “a breath of the might of God.” Mothers have the power to give life, protect, defend, encourage, and strengthen. They share in the power of God’s might through their steadfastness, gentleness, fierceness, and love.
Mothers, because they share in God’s might, invite us to contemplate God’s own fierceness, love, tenacity, and tenderness. Much like my mom letting nothing stop her from pulling me out of the water to protect me from a shark, God also is relentless in wanting to be in relationship with us as God’s beloved children. Like my mother cared for my grandmother with patience and tenderness, God also gifts us merciful, gentle love no matter the state we are in. Just as my mom continues to listen, encourage, and instill hope, God also accepts us and loves us just as we are. Though God’s power and might is totally incomprehensible to us as human beings, we may know it in a small way through the gift of our mothers.
This May, we have the joy of spending the whole month in the Easter season. We begin this month not far removed from Easter Sunday and end the month by celebrating the Ascension. Some parishes will also start a Pentecost Novena leading up to Pentecost on June 5th. One quirk of celebrating the saints is that when their feast day falls on a Sunday, we typically don’t get to celebrate them at Mass and learn about their lives. This May, there are three outstanding saints whose feasts fall on the three Sundays leading up to Pentecost.
St. Isidore the Farmer
The feast of the 11th and 12th century saint, Isidore the Farmer, is celebrated on May 15th. I find the life of St. Isidore the Farmer incredibly inspiring. St. Isidore was not a priest or member of the clergy. Rather, he was a pious farmer who was devoted to his work and also attended daily Mass. Through his commitment to farming and to the Eucharist, he was able to make a difference in his community and become a role model for other farmers. In today’s world, I sometimes find it hard to work in a more secular field while I have friends who work for the Church. I think of the example of saints like St. Isidore the Farmer who lived out their faith in their work and this witness inspires me hundreds of years later. As we prepare for Pentecost, let us pray for the intercession of St. Isidore the Farmer in living out our faith throughout our daily work.
St. Rita of Cascia
A week later, on May 22nd, we celebrate the feast of St. Rita of Cascia. St. Rita was a 15th century married Italian woman who eventually became an Augustinian nun. She is known as the patron saint of marital problems because of the way she gracefully handled her difficult marriage and her husband’s death by a feuding family. After her husband’s death, she cared for her sons and eventually became an Augustinian nun who devoted herself to praying for peace in the community of Cascia. Along with St. Jude, she is also known as a patron saint of lost and impossible causes. As we continue to prepare for Pentecost, let us pray for the intercession of St. Rita of Cascia in any challenges that may be holding us back from growing in our relationship with the Risen Christ.
Pope St. Paul VI
On May 29th we celebrate the feast of Pope St. Paul VI, one of the most recently canonized saints. Pope St. Paul VI continued the Second Vatican Council after the death of Pope John XXIII and helped implement many of the decisions and reforms that came from the Council. Many of these decisions were incredibly challenging, but Paul VI was able to navigate the situation and is highly respected for his ability to lead the Church in difficult times. Paul VI also helped grow ecumenical relations with Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches—a model which continued into the papacies of his successors. As we continue to prepare for Pentecost, let us pray for the intercession of Pope St. Paul VI in making difficult decisions that ultimately will help us grow closer to God and to our neighbor.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in May, and each month, click here.