A Papal Visit to any country comes with a long list of preparations and precautions to ensure that it goes off without a hitch. Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last week was no exception. Many months and countless hours went into the planning of his three city tour by hundreds of people. As we look back on this historic visit, we know that it truly was overall a successful visit.
Emotions come with any Papal Visit, and again this past week was no exception. Everywhere that our Holy Father went, he was greeted with tremendous emotion from those he encountered. Whether it was the faithful at the Canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, members of Congress, the families at the 9/11 memorial, immigrant families at Independence Mall, the prisoners of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the World Meeting of Families attendees, schoolchildren at the airports, or dozens of Bishops, Priests, and consecrated men and women religious, everyone seemed to have a powerful experience. Even though I was present at the Canonization Mass, my emotions surfaced later as I watched the Holy Father’s address to Congress. Even from my own home, his words and message brought me to tears and gave me hope that those representing us politically would take his words to heart.
I think that perhaps these powerful emotions have much to do with the distance that the Pope usually has from us here in the United States. While Catholics (and many non-Catholics) look to the Holy Father for guidance, his physical distance from us makes it difficult for him to elicit palpable emotions. By bringing his message directly to us, both in word and deed, Pope Francis makes us stop and take in the moment--letting us find the joy within us. Oftentimes this manifests itself in tears--not tears of sadness but tears of joy. This joy stems from the knowledge that Christ’s vicar is here among us, showing us that no matter how important we may think he is—he is still one of us.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington has indicated that the Holy Father’s visit should be more than a celebration; it should be an encounter. Over these last few days, encounters with the Holy Father have changed the lives of so many - not just those that he personally met. His message of love is one that resonated with the thousands of people that came to catch a glimpse of him. This message is one that we must continue to spread. We must take the emotion that was brought to the surface and continue to help the Holy Father spread his message of love for all people and our common home. We must bring this encounter to others.
In his homily at the Canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis asked us to move forward. In his homily at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, he reminded us that we must be missionary disciples:
"One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world.”
Pope Francis is asking us to act, to show others that our mission in life is love for all. The emotions that we experienced while he was here should not fall away now that he is gone. Together let us take the emotion that we had while he was here and allow it to permeate our lives and impel us to live out the charge he has given us.
Like many of you, I have been following Pope Francis’ visit rather closely. Undoubtedly, his presence has impacted each of us in different ways, and I am very excited about the words and actions to come in the days ahead. As I sit here in my office with an unusual lull in activity, I am struck by two ideas our Holy Father has articulated, but are getting very little play in the news.
The first idea comes from his address to the U.S. Congress. While highlighting Abraham Lincoln, he emphasized unity, and Lincoln’s great struggle to bring union, freedom, and peace to a divided and war ravaged nation. Francis named the delicate balance of rejecting fundamentalism that threatens these great virtues that Lincoln fought for, while not sacrificing those same liberties in an effort to defeat these threats.
Within that balance, our Pope names the danger of seeing the world in non-negotiable black and white. I am particularly caught by this because I am often far too quick to judge, especially in a political or theological situation. If people don’t think like me, I reject their ideas as closed-minded nonsense. This line of thinking is all too common in our society. 24-hour news channels that cater to particular political views, blogs and podcasts that target niche groups, and seemingly endless gridlock in Washington reiterates to us constantly that dialogue is overrated, and if you don’t agree with me I have no time for you.
Unfortunately, there is a great danger in seeing things in black and white. When we see things in black and white we claim the moral compass; we claim to know what is righteous and what is sin. And when we get trapped in that line of thinking, there is no more room for anyone else in our lives, not even God. We declare our independence from what we view as wrong only to discover that we can no longer discuss and dialogue with those around us. Nothing anyone has to say is worth listening to.
Here is where the Pope’s message strikes deepest. President Lincoln in his first and primary purpose fought the Civil War to preserve the union, to keep these United States from dividing into isolation. Lincoln chose openness and dialogue, and that is where Pope Francis is calling all of us today. For too long I have looked down on those I disagree with thinking they are not as nuanced or educated as I am. Yet God speaks in history, and if I fail to speak with and be open to my sisters and brothers, how can I hear God? How can I grow? And most importantly, how can I live in union as a member of the Church and as a citizen of this country, if I fail to dialogue and work in communion to realize the Kingdom of God and build a more perfect union?
The second chord that struck me came from the address to the U.S. Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. While watching the reflection, I was unsure what the Pope was going to say, but I was deeply moved by the compassionate urgency he had while addressing the mission of the church in the United States. He acknowledged the heavy workload, the damaging reality of the sexual abuse crisis, and the corrosiveness of secular culture. However, he made very clear that it was in this context that all of us who minister to God’s people are charged with finding some way to evangelize, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ as his disciples.
In my new job I am struggling to engage young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. I have a loose plan, and we are having our first event in a few weeks. However, like anything new, I am having doubts about how successful it will be in bringing young adults back to Christ. I went through all of this training and education and I don’t have a sure answer for how to lead people to discipleship. What if no one shows up?
Through that cloud of doubt, there was the Pope speaking to a cathedral full of bishops, but yet also speaking to my fears. Evangelization is the most important work. We must keep trying. We must keep praying, and we must keep going. Only God builds the Church, but we must keep removing barriers and facilitating encounter, so that the seeds of faith may be watered and eventually produce much fruit.
These last few days have already made for an incredible papal visit. The headlines will undoubtedly continue to be filled with the Pope’s stance on particular issues, and on his discussions at the World Meeting of Families. Through all of that, try to listen to the words surrounding the hot buttoned issues because there Francis is not telling us what to believe, he is rather telling us how to live as human beings. Pope Francis, in his straight talk and unassuming persona, has figured out how to remove those barriers to faith, and in his words over the last few days, I can’t help but feel that Christ has spoken directly to me.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on Catholic How and was reprinted with permission
“Man, I can’t believe I saw the pope today! THE. POPE.” Everywhere I turn, I’m encountering men and women, young and old, believers and nonbelievers who are still in shock, electrified from the day’s events. And what a day it’s been! Months after the initial announcement, after countless preparations, programs, and prayers, Pope Francis was welcomed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the campus of The Catholic University of America. During his homily, Pope Francis called the church to rejoice, to proclaim the Good News to all and to step out of complacency and apathy. "Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable," he said. It’s an experience people following the papal visit won’t soon forget, especially with all the coverage by global news outlets and social media alike. And yet, what will these people take away from the message of the Holy Father? Are they overjoyed to have been in his presence? Will they use the experience as a springboard to launch a new evangelization? Are they simply thrilled to post pope photos on social media in pursuit of as many “likes” and affirmations as possible? Are they annoyed because of the inconveniences brought about from having such a high level of security screen a crowd of tens of thousands of onlookers? What will the world remember from such an event?
“Peace be with you,” the Pope had greeted the crowds, an invitation to set aside any and all of the worries, the disappointments, the troubles, and the restlessness burdening each and every one of those attending the Mass. This may not be one of the famous one-liners of Pope Francis the media picked up on as they ran commentary, but those words have been recorded in Sacred Scripture thousands of years ago and continue to be repeated countlessly each and every day around the world. How necessary is it for us to recognize this great greeting of blessing and to appreciate the call for us to focus on God and His infinite love for us!
While the headlines will tell of Pope Francis’incredible addresses to the United Nations and a joint session of Congress for sure, the Holy Father isn’t as overly impressed by these displays of power. The only power he is awed by is that which radiates from the Cross and which resides perpetually in every tabernacle, which contains our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Most Holy Eucharist. The most incredible action then occurs at every Mass celebrated around the world--
and Pope Francis isn’t the first or only person to perform such a deed!
To those who find the Mass to be boring or unnecessary in their spiritual lives, Pope Francis reminds them that:
“The Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual exercise, it is not a simple commemoration of what Jesus did at the Last Supper…[T]he Eucharist is Jesus himself who gives himself entirely to us. Nourishing ourselves of Him and abiding in Him through Eucharistic Communion, if we do so with faith,transforms our life, transforms it into a gift to God and to our brothers and sisters. Nourishing ourselves of that ‘Bread of Life’means entering into harmony with the heart of Christ, assimilating his choices, his thoughts, his behaviour. It means entering into a dynamism of love and becoming people of peace, people of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of sharing in solidarity. The very things that Jesus did.”
The Eucharist is meant for every person, every nation, and the entire world! Similarly, Jesus is as truly and substantially present on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as on the east portico of the National Shrine here in DC or on the altar in my high school’s chapel in Lincroft, New Jersey.
The mission of the Vicar of Christ, then, is to increase our faith and to bear witness to the love of our Lord and Savior. The Apostolic Visit to our nation is surely a tremendous and needed blessing: the faithful are united in the joy of the visit and are called to share this joy in their everyday lives and encounters with others. The Love realized in the Real Presence is the same which inspires and moves each of us to bring all, no matter their circumstances, to embrace and take part in this Love within the Universal Church.
During the spring of 2008, I was a freshman at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I was nearing the end of my first year of school, preparing to enter into finals, and attempting to figure out what my plans were for the summer. A few months prior, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be visiting the D.C. during his US Papal visit. Furthermore, he would be speaking at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America in subsequent days. To say I was a little excited for my first Papal Visit is a bit of an understatement. I remember vividly watching him ride in the Popemobile in front of the Basilica on the Wednesday of his arrival, the next day participating in the celebration of the Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in Nationals Park, and finally, seeing him drive near the Catholic University Law School lawn before his talk on the importance of Catholic Education. He greeted the crowds that came to see him. The people present were excited simply to be a part of that moment in history.
As I write this on Sept 15th, Pope Francis will be arriving in the United States in less than a week. That same excitement fills the air of our nations’ capital. That same excitement fills my heart as much as it did over seven years ago. Why is it that we should be excited for his arrival? In the age of computers, smartphones, and the 24/7 news media cycle, everyone can be a witness to Pope Francis and his message all the time. The excitement that I feel about his visiting the United States comes from a sense of honor and pride. Of all the countries in which Catholics live (and there are many), the choice of the Pontiff to visit our country brings a sense of pride to be a member of the nation that is experiencing history. As a note, this is not only Pope Francis’ first visit as pontiff to our country, it is also his first time ever visiting our country.
When Pope Francis arrives at Joint Base Andrews, United States Catholics around the country will watch, participate, and attend the events that Pope Francis will be a part of in Washington, D.C., New York City, NY, and Philadelphia, PA. Throughout six days, Catholics around the country have the opportunity to join in welcoming Pope Francis to our country. Whether through attending, participating, watching, or praying, all US Catholics can join in a celebration of the Pope’s visit and (hopefully) pride in understanding the momentous occasion of the event. It will hopefully renew that most perfect love, the love between God and man. In many ways, this visit from September 22-27 will be a great event and moment of potential evangelization.
What will we do on September 28? Will we simply go back to our lives as if this event never happened? This thought leads me back to my spring experience in 2008 because that is exactly what I did after Pope Benedict traveled back to Rome. As important and great as is the visit of a pope to your country, the words and actions of the pope during his visit are what should ultimately serve as a stepping off point in our evangelization journey. It doesn’t have to be something grandiose and over the top. Simple, sustainable acts of charity and prayer are enough to carry on the message of the Pope that was espoused when Francis was here. Fortunately for us, Pope Francis gave us a simple direction in his Apostolic Mission message: Love. Love is our primary mission as Catholics in the United States, and while this can be difficult to do, it is an important mission to carry forth when we watch Pope Francis leave from Philadelphia.
Next Tuesday at approximately 4:00 pm, Pope Francis will touch down at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, Maryland. This Apostolic Journey to the United States of America includes visits to three important American cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia.
I am excited to return next week to the campus of my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, where Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This Mass will make history, as it is the first canonization Mass to take place on U.S. soil and the first papal Mass to take place on a U.S. university campus.
As a seminarian, I will join thousands of my brother seminarians and those in religious formation in the Great Upper Church of the National Shrine for the Mass of Canonization. Although details are sparse, it is expected that Pope Francis will be greeted on the front steps of the National Shrine and then proceed down the center aisle before celebrating Mass on the steps of the National Shrine overlooking Catholic University.
The Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis has been described as an "encounter," not simply a trip. The secular media has focused on his address to Congress, the security concerns related to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and the associated merchandise. (I must admit that I'll be on the lookout for some fun Papal Visit trinkets as souvenirs!) I think there is something to be said, however, about this apostolic journey as an "encounter."
During an audience with seminarians and novices in July 2013, Pope Francis addressed them with these words, which are certainly applicable to us all:
I would like to tell you: come out of yourselves to proclaim the Gospel, but to do this you must come out of yourselves to encounter Jesus. There are two ways out: one towards the encounter with Jesus, towards transcendence; the other towards others in order to proclaim Jesus. These two go hand in hand. If you only take one of them, that is no good!
Encountering the Holy Father is a way to both deepen our faith and evangelize. This has been actualized in the "Walk with Francis" movement, which encourages people to join the Holy Father in prayer and service. The Holy Father has encouraged us to join in prayer not only for his Apostolic Journey to the United States, but also that his message of peace, mercy, discipleship, and love might touch the hearts of both believers and non-believers alike.
The theme of the Apostolic Journey, "Love is Our Mission," seems to indicate what it is that the Holy Father wishes to convey to us during his first visit to the United States. His words on love and mercy are poignant:
May a powerful gust of holiness sweep through all the Americas... We ask the Risen Jesus, Lord of all ages, that the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received; that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God. We pray, too, that this glory may be manifested in the culture of life, brotherhood, solidarity, peace and justice, with a preferential and concrete love for the poor, through the witness of Christians of various confessions and communities, together with believers of other religious traditions, and people of upright conscience and good will. Lord Jesus, we are merely your missionary disciples, your humble co-workers so that your Kingdom may come!
We look forward to welcoming you to the United States, Holy Father, and we join in walking with you in prayer and service that we might become witnesses to love and ministers of God's mercy. Pope Francis told the young people gathered at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro that "evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did." By serving others and witnessing to the love of God, may we be inspired to encounter the Lord in our sisters and brothers. May this encounter with Pope Francis in the United States inspire us all to answer the Holy Father's call to evangelize.
For more information on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to the United States, please visit our Papal Visit Portal.
What do you do when you are feeling sad, scared, or anxious? Where do you turn for a source of comfort?
The Blessed Mother knows all about sorrow. She is always ready to comfort any one of her children who come to her in prayer. But, have you ever thought about offering comfort to her?
The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is today, September 15, 2015. Perhaps you might be able to find a little bit of time to spend with her. Much less familiar than the Rosary is the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows. The chaplet is made up of seven groups of seven beads. Each group is separated by a single bead. In praying the chaplet, you would meditate on each of the seven sorrows while reciting one Our Father and seven Hail Mary’s. If you would like to pray the chaplet, this webpage can be of help.
The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
The Prophecy of Simeon
The Flight into Egypt
The Child Jesus Lost in the Temple
Mary Meets Jesus Carrying His Cross
Mary at the Foot of the Cross
Mary Receives the Body of Jesus
Mary Witnesses the Burial of Jesus
The seven sorrows span from the earliest days of Jesus’ life to His final hours. All of the Blessed Mother’s sorrows tie back to her Son. For a mother, very few things compare to watching the child she loves hurting. Although the Blessed Mother certainly put her entire trust in God, she still would have known terror when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the threat of King Herod to save their precious newborn Son. Not only was the Holy Family far from home, but they had no idea when it might be safe to return to Nazareth. Any parent can tell you how scary it is when their child is lost. No words would be adequate to describe how scared Mary must have felt as she and Saint Joseph spent three full days searching for Jesus before finding Him teaching the elders in the temple.
The next time you ask the Blessed Mother for her intercession before God, remember that she understands sorrow and anxiety. During her own life, the Blessed Mother understood suffering; just like all of us today understand the experience of suffering in our own lives. She is always there, more than happy to pray for us. Perhaps you might return the favor, and find a bit of time to spend with her.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Until recently, I had this perception that to serve God in a day job, someone had to work directly in religious life or work as a missionary. I thoroughly enjoy my day job in communications, but couldn’t help wondering if what I was doing ultimately served God. I searched the Internet for ways to see God in the day-to-day struggles of work-life balance.
Through my search and prayer, I realized that working in an ethical environment that fit with my morals and values was the first step to seeing how my work served God. After reflection, I also saw how the words I used and the promotional or informative materials I designed inspired and educated others. God gives us all unique talents to grow and develop, as mentioned in The Parable of the Talents in Matthew. I believe my communications role allows me to strengthen my gifts in thinking creatively and working quickly and efficiently, while helping me to be a positive voice in my work environment.
Here are some inspirational points I keep in mind while working in a nine-to-five career.
1. “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence.” –Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
A secular view removes God from our work. However, God wants to be a part of our work. He calls us to use our unique talents for others. This helps to reveal to us why we are important and what we are called to do. We can each bring honor and glory to God in our own way by using these unique talents in whatever work we do.
2. “Slaves, be obedient…as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” – Ephesians 6:5-8
Regardless of the type of work we do, God is our ultimate employer. Following God’s plan for our work is what gives it legitimacy. Just as Adam and Eve were given the task of taking care of God’s creation before they sinned, so too were we created to do God’s work of maintaining and providing for His creation.
It’s important to remain ethical in our daily tasks. When we are tempted to gossip, be grumpy, or give into peer pressure, we must remind ourselves that God calls us to act above those enticements.
3. “Those to whom God gives riches and property, and grants power to partake of them, so that they receive their lot and find joy in the fruits of their toil: This is a gift from God. For they will hardly dwell on the shortness of life, because God lets them busy themselves with the joy of their heart.” – Ecclesiastes 5:18-19
Serving God in our work completely depends on our attitude. We are called to be joyful in our work. This is made easier when we remember that we are ultimately serving others through our work. If there’s a menial or stressful task ahead, think of the people who benefit from your service.
4. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
God wants to be invited into every area of our lives, and much of our lives are spent doing work. Though we may attain monetary success or be productive in the workplace, if our work does not have God as its foundation, it is stripped of its transcendent meaning. Including God in our daily lives is a sign of humility. Try asking for God’s help throughout the day or during an important meeting or project.
5. “In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:35
While we work to earn a living and provide for our families, we are also called to be generous to our neighbors in need. After all, it is because of God’s blessings that we have the ability to take care of ourselves. We are, again, called to take care of all God’s creation.
Some ways we can take care of God’s creation include:
• Reflecting on what your God-given talents are, and seeking ways to put your talents to work by serving your community.
• Seeking to respect life in all forms – the environment, human life from conception to natural death, and other living animals.
• Finding ways to live simply and not be wasteful; recycle.
• Offering to help others in your office – if a coworker is on a tight deadline, ask them how you can assist in your role.
• Saving a portion of your monthly budget for charity, including church tithing. You never know when a service opportunity presents itself – and now, you’ll have a budget you can pull from!
If you are anything like me, you find it difficult to discern God’s call, but sometimes Jesus makes it plain and simple in Scripture. For example, Jesus very specifically calls us friends (John 15:15). Friendship is a calling.
In my own faith journey, I continually find this actually a rather strange, startling summons. Jesus’ friendship is an unmerited grace-filled gift, which is desirable, but it also demands something of me, which is a bit frightening. On a day-to-day basis, nothing gives me, or most people I imagine, greater joy than faithful friendships. If we Christians lack Gospel joy, it goes to show among other things, that we are not heeding the call to be faithful friends of Jesus.
Rediscovering friendship as a calling has challenged my paradigm for discerning my personal vocation. Friendship shapes both the context and content of my choices. Let me try to explain what I mean. A culture of friendship is an indispensable context for discerning a vocation. Faithful friends often know us better than we know ourselves. They help us discern our gifts, weaknesses, and purpose, and then encourage or challenge us to act in a way we couldn’t or wouldn’t on our own.
Like the spiritual life in general, friendships are very often difficult to navigate. This is not because the path ahead is overly complicated, but because the next step usually lies in the darkness of the unknown. Friends who know our hearts invite us to step into the vulnerability with courage and bring our darkness into light. One example in my life is the young adult group I attend, the Baltimore Frassati Fellowship. We don’t focus on multiplying social activities, which too easily becomes another way to fill rather than sanctify our time. The Church teaches us to share each other’s time, not compete for it. We focus on cultivating an atmosphere of trust and virtue that counterbalances the typically transitory and fast-paced “young adult” phase of life. Our events are rather ordinary, but they are consistent and dependable: weekly adoration, regular service opportunities, and a larger monthly Holy Hour and social.
Pretty soon, we all have to make decisions (something I’m bad at), so friendship also determines the content of our vocation. Paraphrasing John Henry Newman, each of us is called to some definite and unique vocation, which is centered in some specific friendship(s) (Meditations on Christian Doctrine, I.2).
Here is a question to pray with: What kind of friendship am I called to, and with whom?
I wasn’t always used to thinking about different “kinds” of friendships, so one helpful question I learned to ask while in seminary concerned the call to exclusive or inclusive friendships. Am I called to befriend one person like no other (marriage), to show no partiality and be a special part of many lives (religious life), or some other group? Moreover, since there is no greater love than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:13), friendship is also intrinsically sacrificial. Another form of the question is: Who is God calling me to daily lay down my life for: a spouse and children or on the altar of Eucharistic sacrifice?
That’s what makes so special the radical witness of someone like Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. Vanier felt called to leave behind an academic career to form a small community with persons with developmental disabilities where they could share their lives in faith and friendship. After 50 years, his original calling continues to grow and inspire others to embrace the joy, virtue, sacrifice, and particularity our friendships in Christ are meant to take.
As part of the universal call to holiness though, evangelization involves going out and befriending others and inviting them to become friends of Jesus. Friendship, though it takes different forms, is an apostolate all are called to.
The first time chant roused my senses occurred on a 5 day Ignatian Silent retreat. I remember being entranced by the music—the repetition, the words, the rhythm. We were allowed to sing only for Mass and during the Stations of the Cross. It was a small chant from the ecumenical Taizé community that mesmerized me as we walked in the candlelit night from station to station. I remember singing it to myself over our winter break and in the weeks after.
What was this Taizé community? I researched Taizé online and, to my surprise, was bombarded with YouTube videos and hundreds of songs from the community located in the Burgundy region of France. I ordered two of their CDs online and soon listened to nothing else.
I grew more and more in my love for anything monastic: silence, routine prayer, chant, the Divine Office. I began starting my days with silent prayer, going to daily Mass and listening to chant rather than my usual list of Top 40 Hits. The music had a way of easing my heart, elevating my soul, transporting me to a higher world. I remember telling my bewildered roommate once as I got ready for the day, “You just don’t hear music like this anymore. This brings you to contemplate something bigger than yourself!”
I continued to intersperse monastic spirituality into my days throughout the rest of my college experience and thereafter. While in Paris the summer after graduation, I stopped into the Church of St. Gervais for evening vespers and got lost in the beauty of the chanting of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, an order which entered the old church in white robes that glimmered underneath the stained glass windows. From there, I spent a week at the Taizé community I had come to love. My spiritual quest continued that summer after I flew back to the United States and spent a month at a Benedictine monastery who chanted the Divine Office in Latin. The music became the breath and heartbeat of my prayer life, an easy medium through which I could converse with God. The chants enabled me to praise and thank God with phrases that frequently came straight from Scripture, giving me words often better than my own and breathing new life into Word of God.
Gregorian chant takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, whose feast we celebrate today. Though historians argue over his precise role in the history of chant, Gregory the Great has been named a Doctor of the Church—joining St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. Gregory, who entered a Benedictine monastery in Rome and eventually became an abbot, was the first pope to be elected from a monastery. During his life, he founded 6 monasteries on his estate. Though Gregory’s association with Gregorian chant is disputed, his love of the monastic life cannot be. (American Catholic)
I can’t help but connect with Gregory’s monastic background; and I understand his love of it. I spent much of my summer after graduation as a pilgrim or guest at several spiritual havens because my soul yearned to spend time with God amidst nature, the sacraments and routine prayer. The music and chant were the glue that held these beautiful pieces together during my journeys—adding an almost mystical quality to my prayer life. As a result, I learned what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “pray without ceasing.”(1 Thess. 5:17). The words of chant often stuck in my head, I learned how to sing, to pray, unceasingly without ever having to open my mouth. Chant has a way of ingraining itself into your very heartbeat.
We can learn much from the monastic life, which has guided thousands of men and women like Pope Gregory the Great towards holiness. By incorporating silent prayer into our days, we are better able to dialogue with God. I invite you this week to start or end your day with 5 minutes of silence in the presence of the Trinity. Rather than asking God for anything, try instead to simply thank, praise or accompany Him. Below is a link to one of my favorite songs from the Taizé community. May it help you in your journey towards praying unceasingly.
“The Heavens are telling the Glory of God. The Firmament displays the wonders of his works.” -Psalm 19:1.
Joseph Haydn’s setting of Psalm 19:1 to music in No. 13 of his oratorio Die Schöpfung (The Creation), proclaims that Creation reveals the Creator. I have found this to be true throughout my life, and I often find that hiking and enjoying the world which God has created for us is the best way for me to encounter God.
I have twice had the opportunity to go on a 10 day backpacking trek in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico; where the Boy Scouts own 140,000 acres of wilderness called Philmont. Before you are allowed in the “backcountry” you must learn how to leave minimal impact in order to preserve the wilderness for others, principles called Leave No Trace. The ideal of these principles are to “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.” Because others have been good stewards of the beautiful country God created, I have had the opportunity to enjoy the views and encounter Christ myself through the beauty of his creation. For me, this encounter came from summiting some of the highest peaks in New Mexico and beholding the wonders of his works.
Each hiker at Philmont performs a conservation service project during his trek in order to preserve the ranch for future generations. This is the spirit that Pope Francis evokes in his encyclical Laudato Si’ and in today’s first annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1st. We are stewards of the earth and must do our part to ensure that the world is preserved for future generations of God’s children. This day of prayer is exciting on many fronts, both from our stewardship of creation and the unity of our Christian family.
Today is a day to pray for a culture that cares for every living thing from the unborn child, to the elderly, to the trees and rivers, birds and bees. As St. Vincent Pallotti foresaw, living in a shared world requires perseverance, sharing of resources and a spirit of service. We will all need these virtues to develop an authentic human ecology and build up Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.
Nick Wagman is Information Technology Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.