A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released an article titled “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.” Immediately after the study’s release, social media erupted with reactions of disbelief, shock, and anger, as well as theories of how to “fix this,” including greater catechesis and adjustments to our general liturgical practices. Despite the immediate reaction, there is no need for panic, as Christ assures the Church that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, jumping to such dire conclusions after one survey is not necessarily good pastoral or catechetical practice. As the Church examines the status of belief in the Real Presence and how to cultivate a greater understanding of that reality, she is also very aware of the need to deepen our encounter with Christ. As we ponder Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we must ask ourselves if we have truly encountered him. In his encyclical letter Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis suggests that we “look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (Jn 1:41).”
In the end, how we catechize and what our liturgical practices are both require deeper reflection and greater discernment as to how God is calling us to use them as methods of ongoing conversion and evangelization. The doctrines and dogmas that we teach, how we celebrate the Mass, how we best serve our fellow man, are all likely to fall on deaf ears if they are not built on a deep and personal encounter with the Risen Christ. To examine this issue of Eucharistic belief, we should first look to chapter 4 of Christus Vivit, where Pope Francis reminds young people (and all of the people of God) that God is love, he saves us, he gives us life, and he is alive! If these four truths, which are expounded upon in good catechesis and experienced in their fullness in the Mass, are not understood deeply and intimately in the heart of every baptized Catholic, then moving forward will be extremely difficult. If I do not know Christ as the one who saves me, who walks with me through my life, as the one who gives me life, then why does it matter if it is truly his Body and Blood that I receive in its fullness at the Mass? Similarly, if we don’t understand the Kerygma—the mystery of the salvific work of God culminating in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—then how can we begin to understand the mystery of transubstantiation (CCC1376), especially when philosophical distinctions like matter and form aren’t in the everyday vocabulary of most Catholics? Pope Francis reminded pilgrims of this reality during a November 2017 General Audience when he said, “Every celebration of the Eucharist is a ray of light of the unsetting sun that is the Risen Jesus Christ. To participate in Mass, especially on Sunday, means entering in the victory of the Risen, being illuminated by his light, warmed by his warmth.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously wrote in his encyclical letter Deus Charitas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” I certainly don’t have the “easy fix” answer as to how to increase belief in the real presence in the Eucharist, but I heartily believe that it begins with a renewed sense of the encounter Pope Benedict XVI was writing about. We use the word “renewed” because even those of us who profess our faith in the Risen Lord are invited “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I [Pope Francis] ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (Evangelii Gaudium). We must witness to the encounter that has given our lives “a new horizon and a decisive direction,” and share that with those whom we meet. When we accompany our brothers and sisters on their journey to know Christ more fully, we help them to encounter him in the way that the Holy Spirit guides them. If that encounter is through theological and philosophical distinctions, through service, through the liturgy, etc. then praise God, because it is through him that those are effective and not because of their own merits. As we continue to wrestle with this recent study and its implications, may we meditate on this: if we believe that the Eucharist changes us, strengthens us, heals us, then we must show it, we must witness to it authentically and humbly in all circumstances.
**This blog was originally published on August 29, 2019.**
When I was first introduced to the Congregation of Holy Cross as a student at Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame, I was confused why their patron is Our Lady of Sorrows. I see myself as a cheerleader for my loved ones and try to bring joy to everything I do in life. Studying psychology and theology taught me more about the depths of joy and the paradox of holding joy and sorrow simultaneously. Joy and sorrow are not analogous to happiness and sadness. So, I can still bring joy even when accompanying others in sorrow.
In the first letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians, we learn that faith, hope, and love are the three things that will last forever. We cannot have one without the other two. We have hope because we have faith and love.
As a Christ-centered marriage and family therapist, I have a couple of images of the sorrowful mother in my office so my clients are reminded that they are not alone in their suffering. The Church provides a way to reflect on the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. In each of these arrows that pierce her heart, she is either holding, searching for, or gazing at Jesus.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary:
At the Wedding at Cana, Jesus told his beloved mother that if he began his public works, their humble life together as a family would never be the same. He would no longer be just her son but recognized as the Savior of all. She would no longer be just his mother but the mother of all. She consented to this road of suffering because she trusted God and meant her words at the Annunciation, “may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Imagine Mary at the foot of the Cross. She was full of sorrow watching her son take his last breaths. What kind of mother would she be if she was not sad watching her son suffer? In her tears, she believed (“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45) in the God she knew so intimately and loved with a heart that was not tarnished by sin. So, if it is okay for her to be full of sorrow, it is okay for each of us, too. We must be cognizant that our sorrow does not turn us away from the Cross in despair, but rather leads us toward the Cross in hope.
We do not venerate the Cross because it is a torture device, but rather an instrument of salvation. Good Friday is not the end of the story, and Easter Sunday cannot exist without Good Friday. St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “all things work for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28) God does not waste anything and does not leave us alone in our sorrow. As Catholics, we believe in redemptive suffering; we can offer our suffering for the redemption of the souls of others. Mary is the first and greatest disciple and her intercession is incredibly efficacious. In my life and the lives of the clients I journey with, I have witnessed that the greatest transformation comes from seasons of sorrow. It is in those most challenging moments that Jesus and Our Sorrowful Mother embrace us with such tenderness and empathy.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Mother Teresa so beautifully says that, “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
As you carry your crosses this week, may you see it just as a piece of the puzzle that God is building in your story. Jesus is not defined by the Cross; He overcame it. You are not defined by your crosses, either. St. John Paul the Great says, “we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.” In tragic circumstances, look for the heroes. In times of darkness, look for the light.
I think of a hymn written by Steve Warner that is often sung on the campuses of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. The refrain is:
“Cross of our hope, and tree of our salvation,
Sown in our land, and spread near and far,
Life-giving fruit, our portion and our promise,
Ave Crux! Spes Unica!”
**This image is from: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/study-of-the-pieta-127796**
On September 12th, the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary. Throughout the year we honor countless saints who have uniquely modeled for us the path to holiness. However, Jesus and Mary are the only two people for whom the Church sets aside a feast just for their name. Each person’s name deeply and intimately reveals something about who they are. If this is true for myself, you, and each of the saints, it is all the more true for Jesus and His Blessed Mother.
Throughout the centuries, Mary has earned countless and various titles based on the places she has appeared and the different characteristics that define her. But before all of these, she was given her first title by the child Jesus: Mom. This wasn’t a title Mary could have given herself; rather it was bestowed on her.
The Father chose Mary to conceive and bear Jesus, and it was in His birth that she became a mother. It was through the Incarnate Lord that Mary’s motherhood was fulfilled and she became “Mom.” For all of the times you have called your own mother’s name, Jesus called Mary “mother,” too. He spoke her name in joy and in sorrow, in petition and in gratitude. He models for us how to live in relationship with His own blessed mother and how to speak her name. However, even with Jesus showing us the way to His mother, it can still be a challenge to have a relationship with Mary. How do we relate to her and live under her maternity? How do we speak to Mary, our spiritual mother?
The Church models so many beautiful devotions in answer to this question. We can pray a morning offering through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, asking her to be with us throughout our day. We can pray the rosary, walking alongside her through Jesus’ life. We can sing a Marian hymn with our nightly prayers, inviting her to watch over us in our rest.
When we speak Mary’s name and call out to her as our spiritual mom, we are fulfilling St. Francis de Sales' words to “run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.” We can give ourselves to Mary, like Jesus did, and she will in turn bring us closer to God. In the repetition of these Marian prayers and hymns we spiritually speak our mother Mary’s name and ask for her help from the depths of our hearts.
Just like our earthly mothers cherish the little gifts we give and imperfect efforts we make, Mary graciously receives and multiplies everything we call out to her from our heart. Mary doesn’t need us to come to her with perfect devotion, but with an honest desire to grow closer to Jesus through her. Day after day, we can speak her most holy name and call on her assistance with the confidence that she will come to our aid.
As we honor the Most Holy Name of Mary, we pray the Lord will enkindle in us a deeper trust and devotion to His mother. Let us speak Mary’s name with love and devotion, trusting in the power of her intercession and mediation for us. Mama Mary, pray for us!
**This image is from:
The past two months we have gotten to celebrate the feast days of many incredibly saints who can be role models for us throughout all the ups and downs of life. This September is no different. As we transition out of summer and enter into new routines in the midst of the continuing pandemic, we can turn to many of the saints this month who are known for their healing and ability to help others grow in their faith.
Saints Known for Physical Healing
Earlier this month on September 1st, we celebrated the feast of St. Giles. I had never heard of St. Giles until I read a blog post, from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, about the 14 Holy Helpers. But the more I got to learn about St. Giles, the more his life inspired my own personal faith journey. Even though an injury crippled one of his legs, St. Giles was known for his miracle-working abilities for those who came to him. His mission as a miracle-worker was always centered on others, not himself. A similar selflessness was seen by two martyrs in the early Church, Sts. Cosmas and Damian, whose feast we will celebrate on September 26th. They both were doctors and did not accept payment for any of their services, recognizing the humanity in each person. They utilized their God-given skills to help anyone in need, which led them to become recognized as the patron saints of physicians. All three of these saints remind me that while this world is not our final destination, taking care of our earthly bodies remains very important. In whatever way we may need physical healing, God is eager to hear us and to help us physically as we continue to live out His mission here on Earth.
Saints Known for Spiritual Healing
Next week, we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Marian feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is special because it is about the spiritual turmoil Mary experienced during her life. This is why Our Lady of Sorrows is typically represented by seven daggers piercing her heart. For me, Our Lady of Sorrows is not just about praying for the intercession of Mary, but also placing our complete trust in the Lord, just like she did throughout the sorrows in her life. This trust was also central to St. Padre Pio’s ministry. He recognized the need for spiritual healing and committed to hearing Confessions, and he understood the significant act of faith it took to go to Confession. Through the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Padre Pio, may we take time this month to trust God with spiritual healing in our lives.
Role Model Saints for Spiritual Growth
This month is bookended by two saints who are role models for integrating spiritual growth into the activities of their daily life: St. Teresa of Calcutta, whose feast was celebrated on September 5th, and St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast will be celebrated on September 27th. The interesting thing about these saints is that they both could have fallen into the categories of physical healing or spiritual healing. But for me, these well-known saints have been role models for integrating caring for other people with spiritual growth. It seems easy to get so focused on our work that we forget the deeper meaning behind it. Mother Teresa and St. Vincent de Paul worked to help those in need, and they saw Christ in everyone and in every task they did. While we may not be feeding the poor of Calcutta every day, we too can try to grow spiritually by seeing Christ in every aspect of our day.
As we continue throughout this month of September, let us ask for the saints’ intercession for healing and learn from their lives in order to grow closer to Christ.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in September, and each month, click here.
**This blog was originally published on September 9, 2021**
Both of my grandmothers had great devotion to the Blessed Mother. I remember going to their homes and seeing statues of Mary and other saints, prayer cards, and crystal and silver rosaries. I learned much from them and my mother about devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Back in 1901, on this day, the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, my grandmother, Millie Donio, was born. During my childhood, though, I did not know that it was a feast day, because with the reform of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the feast was removed. Restored by Blessed John Paul II in 2002 in the revised Roman Missal, it is now an optional memorial. Interestingly, there is only one other feast related to the name of a person, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated on January 3rd. This feast day was restored in 1996.
The name, Mary, could mean “sea of bitterness” or, possibly, “beloved”. Consider for a moment how many situations Mary found herself in that could have resulted in bitterness. When the unwed young Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was pregnant by the “power of holy Spirit,” she did not focus on her own situation, but made herself available to her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-40). When her son, Jesus, went off preaching suddenly at age 30, the scriptures show no evidence of her complaining about it. Instead, she says, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). No bitterness there. When she is at the foot of the cross watching her son die before her eyes, powerless to do anything about it, she accepts being given over the care of the Beloved Disciple, he as her son, she as his mother (John 19:26-27). Sorrow, yes. Bitterness, no. A “sea of bitterness” around her, but she, being the perfect disciple, shows us the way to be. She shows us how to live as beloved by God.
My grandmothers showed me how to live as one beloved by God. They each had their various hardships in life – physical sufferings, emotional difficulties, financial challenges – but each held firm to her faith and it was faith in God that sustained them. They each moved outside of themselves and cared for others, even in the midst of their own struggles. I will never forget going with Grandmom Donio quietly dropping off bags of fruits and vegetables at the back doors of the homes of people she knew were in need of them, but were not able to ask others for help. No words exchanged, we were not even seen, just an action done for good because the other is beloved by God.
Being beloved by God does not mean there will be no suffering or challenge in life. Being beloved by God, called by our name in Baptism, which claimed us for Jesus Christ, we are not left alone to simply move through life. We have the ones we call by name, Mary who intercedes for us with the other person we call by name, Jesus, who is also the Son of God. We call also on the names of the other baptized in the community of faith, the Church. We call out with all of our needs as we live in what can seem at times like a “sea of bitterness.” But, we are not meant to be bitter in life, no matter what we experience. Pope Francis offers us encouragement to move out of ourselves toward others:
“Let us never yield to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day; let us not yield to pessimism or discouragement: let us be quite certain that the Holy Spirit bestows upon the Church, with his powerful breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, so as to bring the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8)” (Audience with the College of Cardinals, March 15, 2013).
What are we to do then? Not live in bitterness, but witness as ones beloved. We are to call others by name and assist them in being good disciples of Jesus Christ, following the pattern of life and asking the intercession of the one called Mary.
**This blog was originally posted on September 12, 2013.**