I recently started a podcast called “You Are More,” that focuses on living life outside the box yet inside the bounds of God’s perfect plan. As a therapist, I want people to know they are not defined by any box or label in their life. This idea originated after I wrote a book about each person being more than their relationship status. God defines us; labels just help describe us. One of my podcast guests posited that the saints are more than saints. Though we know saints by the parishes, organizations, and cities that honor them, or by reading their names in Scripture, they are humans at their core. The Chosen is a TV series that exhibits the humanity of Jesus and His disciples beautifully.
After watching the first three seasons of The Chosen, characters pop off the page when I read or hear passages from the Bible. This week, we celebrate two apostles who share a feast day: St. Simon (the Zealot or the Canaanite) and St. Jude (also known as Thaddeus). Both men are lesser known than Peter, James, or John. And yet, they are close followers of our Lord. I can picture their personalities and their journeys. In the show, they are known as “Z” and Thaddeus.
Franciscan Media explains that for Zealots, “the messianic promise of the Old Testament meant that the Jews were to be a free and independent nation. God alone was their king, and any payment of taxes to the Romans – the very domination of the Romans – was a blasphemy against God.” Loyola Press adds that, “some Zealots were very concerned that the spiritual ideals of their religion be kept. But others acted more like modern-day terrorists by raiding, killing, and inciting riots.”
Linked below is a depiction of Simon Z being called to follow Jesus that shows he felt defined by his zealot training and weapons. Jesus told him that He does not need Simon, but he wants him… not for his weapons, but for him.
In this dinner conversation at the Wedding at Cana, Thaddeus shares with the disciples how he met Jesus working by his side at a construction site. Linked below:
The disciples were friends with Jesus and with one another. They lived in community and had their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses. The reason the Church shares the stories of the saints is not to show us unattainable ideals, but to remind us of what is possible for each of us. We can find our story in their stories and be encouraged that they were able to hold onto hope, faith, and love throughout life’s ups and downs.
You may be a passionate person who is willing to take risks in the name of peace and justice like Simon Z. You may be meeker and inclined to accompany others, so they feel seen and heard like Thaddeus. You may even connect with another disciple better than either of these men, but that is a beautiful reminder that you are unique and have your own gifts. If you are not authentically you, you cannot be a saint. Jesus made you to be who you are, not someone else. Simon and Thaddeus may be lesser known in the story compared to the bigger names, yet, they are wanted by Christ. Jesus wants you to follow Him just as you are.
Some of us have lost hope in our lives, and as a therapist I like to offer to hold the hope for my clients until they are ready to pick it back up again. In the Church, we know Thaddeus as St. Jude, the patron of hopeless causes. His name was originally Judas Thaddeus, which was eerily like the name Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. Because of this similarity, people were afraid to pray to him until St. Bridget had a vision of Our Lord asking her to confidently pray for his intercession. He became known as Jude to differentiate him from the infamous Judas. Now, countless miracles are attributed to his intercession.
Simon and Jude both show different sides of Our Lord. Our Lord can be determined, feisty, and aggressive while also being slow, quiet, and gentle. Both exhibit hope. Article 1817 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
How are you desiring the kingdom of heaven? How can you place a greater trust in Christ’s promises this week? How can you rely less on your own strength and more on the grace of the Holy Spirit?
Sts. Simon and Jude, pray for us!
**This photo is from The Chosen television series.**
Today, we at Catholic Apostolate Center celebrate twelve years of reviving faith, rekindling charity, and forming apostles. Twelve years is the anniversary of this ministry of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers of the Immaculate Conception Province, more formally known as the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. In many ways, the work of the Center really dates back to 1835 and the founding of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, an inspiration of St. Vincent Pallotti. The Union is a collaborative and co-responsible association of lay people, religious, and clergy to revive faith, rekindle charity, and form apostles. The Center is simply an expression of Pallotti’s inspiration – his charism.
Catholic Apostolate Center collaborates with various entities of the Church in the United States and beyond. We provide numerous resources and assist in developing greater collaboration and co-responsibility in the Church. The Center aids also in the growth of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, including its member religious communities of priests, brothers, and sisters.
As we begin another year of this ministry, we invite you to share ways in which we can assist you in your work to form apostles or missionary disciples. We especially ask for your prayerful support of our efforts. Please know that our prayers are with you.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
In my adult years, I have often turned to St. Teresa of Avila as a spiritual mother. I love her courage, her passion, her wit, and her boldness. Throughout her life, she was always on the go. She was a reformer who brought the Carmelite Order back to its original roots. She got things done, founding over fifteen monasteries. And yet she was a great mystic--a woman who received beautiful graces, revelations and experiences of God in profound ways that are hard to tangibly explain. She went into ecstasies as a result of her deep relationship with the Lord and wrote a book called The Interior Castle about the journey of faith leading to union with God. I love the synthesis of the practical and the mystical in her personality. This synthesis becomes more compelling in our lives today, for it reveals that we are capable of a deep interior life and relationship with God in the midst of the busyness of life.
There is a story about Teresa of Avila that has caused me to laugh in genuine appreciation of her character. According to tradition, Teresa fell off her donkey while journeying to visit one of her convents--causing her to land in the mud and dirty her Carmelite habit. With her quick, fiery Spanish temper, Teresa looked up to heaven and said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many.”
I love this story because it beautifully depicts St. Teresa’s humanity and honest relationship with God. It is a raw, unfiltered moment of frankness that I believe is an example of both true prayer and transparency in our relationship with God.
If prayer is ongoing dialogue with God through words, thoughts or actions, what is Teresa’s statement if not prayer? She talks to God with confidence and trust. She is bold about her feelings, knowing that God can handle her honesty. Notably, where does Teresa turn first in her day to day life? To God. He is her crutch, her foundation, even in times of frustration and annoyance. He is at the forefront of her mind.
When I first heard this anecdote, I could completely relate to St. Teresa. Like her, I fall down on the road towards holiness. Furthermore, I often catch myself blaming God for different moments of hardship and frustration. What we sometimes miss as we lie there in the mud is the hand that’s in front of us--the extended hand of Christ that I often imagine in the story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus saves from being stoned. God is not the one who pushes us down, but he is the one who picks us up. How quick are we to reach for the outstretched hand? Do we even reach out for it? Or are we too proud, choosing to try to get up by ourselves? What did St. Teresa do? In one of her reflections, she writes, “I praise the mercy of God, for it was he alone who gave me his hand.” (Life, Ch 7, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume One, ICS Publications, Washington D.C. 1987)
Do we turn immediately to God in our day to day lives? This is a question we can all reflect upon. Taking our reflection a step further, do we respond to the situations in which we find ourselves with joy or a sense of humor?
I believe Pope Francis and St. Teresa would have been great friends. In his homily at the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis reminded us of St. Paul’s command to “rejoice always.” If we forget this call, we fall into the temptation of becoming “sourpusses”--to use Pope Francis’ term. We are called to be people of joy in the midst of suffering, not in the absence of it. It is this type of transparency in our relationship with God, this type of outlook on the life of faith, this sense of humor that helps us move forward in answering the universal call to be missionary disciples who witness to the Gospel through their encounter with those around them.
Like St. Teresa, may we always have a sense of humor. May we be bold and honest in our dialogue with God. May we be apostles of joy. And may we join in saying the phrase very often attributed to her, “God protect us from sour-faced saints”!
**This blog was originally published on October 15, 2015.**
**This image is from: https://www.holyart.co.uk/blog/religious-items/saint-teresa-of-avila-spanish-nun-and-mystic/**
I’m writing this blog while sitting on a patio at an AirBnB in Sedona, Arizona overlooking a beautiful landscape of red rocks and green trees. My sister is walking hand-in-hand in the grass with her 10-month-old daughter who just learned how to walk. The sun warms my skin, and the breeze cools my face after a challenging hike this morning. Being immersed by the great outdoors draws my mind to St. Francis of Assisi. I chose him (or some say that he chose me) to be my Confirmation Saint because of my love for peace and creation.
The views of town from this house on a hill remind me of the small mountain town of Assisi. When I visited there, I could feel St. Francis’ presence as I was awestruck by the beauty around me and the peace within me. His tomb is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. The energy of his presence is palpable in that room, and his legacy continues as people flock to where his bones eternally rest in peace.
Energy is a popular term around Sedona since this area is believed to be a “vortex.” A vortex is a “swirling center of energy that can produce a range of physical, emotional, and spiritual effects.” (Sedona.net). According to VisitSedona.com, “Sedona has long been regarded as a place both sacred and powerful. It is a cathedral without walls. It is Stonehenge not yet assembled. People travel from across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks.”
Energy is indeed a scientific reality; all creation gives off a certain energy. A woman has a feminine energy that complements a man’s masculine energy. Someone can either bring enthusiastic energy into a room or suck all the positive energy out of it. The Church embraces science and affirms scientific truth as God’s truth.
St. Francis loved creation and had a deep spirituality. At the front door of a Sedona New Age shop, a St. Francis statue welcomes patrons. The New Age belief is that “there is no spiritual authority higher than personal experience.” St. Francis loved creation because he loved the One who created it all. He encountered God in all things, even though everything is not God.
On one of the main vortexes surrounded by valleys and mountains rests The Chapel of the Holy Cross. It proclaims peace over all who enter. The larger-than-life crucifix is a reminder that Jesus is who we must seek in the heart of all creation.
The Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue released a document in 2003 entitled “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the New Age.” The following is a brief excerpt:
"Gaia, Mother Earth, is offered as an alternative to God the Father… there is talk of God, but it is not a personal God; the God of which New Age speaks is neither personal nor transcendent… belief in cosmic powers and some obscure kind of destiny withdraws the possibility of a relationship to a personal God revealed in Christ. For Christians, the real cosmic Christ is the one who is present actively in the various members of his body, which is the Church."
We all have different ways of praying and experiencing the power of God. If you have a spiritual encounter with nature, give thanks to the Holy Spirit for this beautiful connection to God’s creative energy. St. Francis loved being outside, but he did not make an idol of nature. We should not replace the Creator with creation. The Trinity invites us into a beautiful dance of love that is called “perichoresis.” In a humble attempt to create a metaphor, I could suggest that creation is the ballroom, dance floor, and the music that the Triune God created in order to help us dance with Him more beautifully. Creation brings us joy, peace, and refreshment, but it is not the ultimate source. We need to let God lead.
Like an astonishing view on a mountaintop after an arduous hike, the Chapel of the Holy Cross radiates the message of mercy. Mercy is most beautifully defined as love touching misery. Though we suffer in this life, the love of God is always pursuing us.
After the Feast of St. Francis, we celebrate the Feast of St. Faustina. She was an advocate for Divine Mercy and the Church has embraced her diary. She writes:
“Creation is contained in the inmost depths of the Divine mercy more deeply than an infant in the mother's bosom.” (Diary 421, 1076)
“Rejoice, all you creatures – she wrote – for you are dearer to God in His infinite mercy than a baby to his mother's heart.” (Diary 423)
“Jesus, Eternal Light, enlighten my mind, strengthen my will, inflame my heart and be with me as You have promised, for without You I am nothing.” (Diary, 495)
St. Faustina and St. Francis were both aware that without God they were nothing. Autumn reveals that beauty can come from “falling” or “dying.” As the leaves die and fall to the ground, they fill the sky with beautiful color before landing gently on the firm foundation. As this new season begins, I invite you to go on a walk outside and take Faustina or Francis with you. They are wonderful companions and would love to help you find the love, peace, energy, and mercy of Jesus Christ. Any nature that captures your attention is just a tiny glimpse of the masterpiece that God created in YOU!
Here is a PDF of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures:
Here is a sung version by Donna Cori Gibson:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Today on the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, affectionately known as the Little Flower, I turn to my sons’ example in accepting everything completely from God. My almost two-year-old is predictable: he loves blueberries, watching the garbage truck pick up trash on Mondays and Fridays, and playing in the backyard. Recently he has taken to playing with a giant cardboard box that my husband engineered into a “cottage” with a window and a workable door. The joy and excitement he exudes each morning playing with his cardboard cottage didn’t strike me at first. But after a few rounds of him serving me imaginary chocolate milk and tea from his little abode, I realized that this joy, the same joy and freedom he has when running ferociously to the front of the house to see the garbage being picked up, is the joy and freedom St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about and emulated in her life.
“To remain a child before God means to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God. It is not to become discouraged over our failings, for our children fall often, but they themselves are too little to hurt themselves very much.” St. Therese of Lisieux
Therese gives us the example of radical abandonment to the Father’s will. When we take a snapshot of her life—where she lived most of her life, whom she met, what accolades she was awarded—we see that her life was not much in worldly standards. And yet, Therese is honored with the title “Doctor of the Church.” Her writings and her example of charity beckon us to take a closer look at this simple and great saint.
While Saint Therese is a heavily pestered saint when it comes to intercession (as her intercession is known to be great) and her quotes are seen often, today let us take after her childlikeness and see the world through her eyes with childlike abandonment to God. I encourage you to find five beautiful things in the mundane of your day that your eye has not yet “truly” seen before. Thank and praise God for the life He has given you, in all its sufferings and joys, and ask for St. Therese’s intercession in seeing the beauty in the mundane.
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**This blog was originally published on October 1, 2020.**