Do I Follow?Read Now
Underneath where eyes don't go
A sound that keeps the beat that holds
Alive the song I listen close
Do I follow, do I follow, where it goes
This refrain from the song, Where it Goes, by the Gray Havens provides a beautiful canvas of the human longing to live life most deeply. The human heart desires more than what the human flesh can provide on its own, recognizing that persistent longing (like a “beat that holds”) that exists “underneath where eyes don’t go.” This is, in a nutshell, the religious experience of every human person. The religious person recognizes this persistent desire and seeks to pay attention to it.
I share this on the feast of St. Andrew and in the season of Advent, because the account of Andrew and John in the Gospel reflects this very experience--our experience. It is also an experience that the season of Advent invites us to embrace.
What is this experience? It is our longing for the exceptional. Yes, it sounds cliché and hollow, but that is because many common words have lost their true value and power. Fr. Giussani, in his book Generating Traces, helps us recapture the essence of this word by describing the exceptional as that which corresponds to the deepest desires of one’s heart. So this experience (manifested by the song lyrics above and Andrew in the Gospel) is this longing to encounter that which corresponds to the deepest desires of one’s heart—a longing for the exceptional.
The question in the song, “Do I follow?” is answered affirmatively by Andrew. He follows. But he follows a particular man. Why? What makes this one man worth following? What is it about this man that triggered a response to leave everything behind and follow? What is it about this man that allowed the disciples to have this great affection for Him?
Fr. Giussani beautifully asks these questions and offers that one-word answer that again seems so simple—too simple—yet indeed profound. Fr. Giussani writes that this man, Jesus Christ, generated attraction because He was exceptional. And so Christ was exceptional in the eyes of the apostle Andrew because Christ corresponded to the deepest desires of his heart.
Such reflections may lead us to wonder what this desire actually looks like in our life. Yes, we can, as faithful believers, affirm that Jesus is truly exceptional, but what does my desire for the exceptional look like on a daily basis?
This year’s theme for the 2023 New York Encounter beautifully illustrates our current situation. To paraphrase, the theme highlights that the last few years have strengthened within each of us a desire for authentic community, a community that is truly interdependent. The uncertainty of the past few years (and the feeling of our inadequacy to face said uncertainty) have intensified our desire to be seen, accepted, and affirmed by someone in the flesh. We yearn for the presence of someone in our life who is not scandalized or embarrassed by our brokenness and sins. We desire the presence of someone who understands our life with certainty and accompanies us throughout it. We long for a presence that truly sees us and unconditionally loves us.
This is why Andrew followed Jesus along the road. For the first time, Andrew experienced this presence that saw him, a presence that understood his own life better than he did, a presence that filled this need. This is why Andrew was able to respond with such simplicity and certainty—a simplicity and certainty which would seem absurd to any outsider (think about the absurdity of following someone along the road whom you have barely met!). But the exceptional presence of Christ—the fulfillment of his desire to be seen and loved—draws out this unquestionable attraction and clarity in Andrew.
The season of Advent can draw out this unquestionable attraction and clarity within each one of us. This beautiful yet short liturgical season proposes a time to reawaken this desire and see with renewed eyes the exceptionality of Christ. In our longing to be seen, known, and loved, Advent proposes the coming of the only presence that can fill this need.
Advent gives us, if you will, a space “underneath” in which we can listen close to the song of our heart.
And like Andrew, we can follow.
Living the Liturgical Year at HomeRead Now
With the new liturgical year beginning this first Sunday of Advent, I am making a resolution to approach each liturgical season and day with more intentionality. In my collaboration with religious communities, I have come to admire the way they commemorate the life of their particular community within the rhythm of liturgical feasts and seasons. Their communal prayer is often guided by an ordo, a list specific to each community and/or diocese that organizes the dates of feasts (particularly those special to the community, such as patronal feasts or local saints), readings, and a necrology (the anniversaries of the deaths of members of the community) for each day. They also celebrate milestones and anniversaries of the profession of final vows and ordinations.
Why not approach the liturgical year in a similar way in our own family, our domestic Church? We too can strive to be more mindful about preparing for and celebrating special days within our Church and our family, taking time beforehand to plan which Mass to attend or finding other creative ways to observe a feast or special occasion. As we approach this new liturgical year, it may be a good time to look ahead and make plans to mark not only the big celebrations, like Christmas and Easter, but also every feast day your family may want to celebrate.
Certainly this includes birthdays and anniversaries, but it also means making note of
To find some of these dates, you may need to refer to sacramental records, such as a Baptismal Certificate, or consult family members. Personal planner templates available online can be customized to mark these dates, and once you’ve compiled a basic list, you can continue to add to it year after year. You may also wish to set aside a few special items for these celebrations, such as a bottle of holy water, a baptismal candle or baptismal garment, pictures from the event observed, holy cards, or images of the saints or family members commemorated. Children may particularly enjoy setting up a prayer space to reflect the occasion.
One helpful resource for planning is the Catholic Apostolate Center’s feast day website, which has information about the saints organized by feast day, region, time period, and more. Another useful resource is a book entitled Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It contains special blessings for birthdays, name days, and baptismal anniversaries as well as short daily prayers; seasonal blessings and prayers; blessings for life events such as graduations, birthdays, engagements, pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and moving into a new home; and prayers for times of sickness and difficulty.
You can even make it a practice to have a special meal on these days, choosing a menu related to the feast being observed or simply enjoying the favorite foods of the person being celebrated. Not only can you take the opportunity to share about your faith, but you can also share a bit of family history and bring the liturgical year to life in a more personal way.
By doing these things, we learn more about the mysteries and people of faith commemorated, even as we strive to emulate them. We also join in the age-old tradition of the “People of God [who] have observed fixed feasts, beginning with Passover, to commemorate the astonishing actions of the Savior God, to give him thanks for them, to perpetuate their remembrance, and to teach new generations to conform their conduct to them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1164).
This approach of gratitude, remembrance, and faithfulness may help us live the liturgical seasons more fruitfully, as we unfold throughout the course of the year the various aspects of “the whole mystery of Christ from his Incarnation and Nativity through his Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102 §2). May this new liturgical year truly be a “year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:19)!
Hope, Peace, Joy and LoveRead Now
Advent offers us a time of waiting, but we sometime do not accept this offer. We are busy with preparations for Christmas and with other things. The time moves by with maybe a few fleeting Advent thoughts and aspirations. Yet, interestingly, one of the most popular resources pages that we at Catholic Apostolate Center created is the one on Advent. We find there is a desire to enter into this season in an authentic and prayerful way. As you will see below, we have some new Advent resources to share.
What would you like to do during the soon to arrive Advent season? Here are a few suggestions:
Live in hope
Live in joy
Live in peace
Live in love
Hope, joy, peace, and love are not greeting card sentiments. They are rooted in life in Christ and our living for him. When we live them, we live Advent. Each of us will have our own way of living them. May Advent be a time to live them more deeply and fully.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
Finding Time to be ThankfulRead Now
Thanksgiving is one of the most quintessential American holidays. Eating turkey and stuffing, watching football, and spending time with family are some of the most prominent themes throughout the holiday. Yet, with all the stress of cooking, the big game, and holiday travel, we can sometimes find ourselves missing the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
I know, for me, with all the stress of the holidays, it feels like the only time I can think about the things for which I am thankful is during grace at the dinner table. An entire year's worth of gratitude is simmered down to two minutes of frantic thinking when my turn arrives from around the table. I am trying to incorporate more time for grappling with this question of thankfulness throughout the year and not just at the holiday season. For example, it can be so routine and easy in prayer to ask for something from the Lord or to barter with Him (Lord, if you do this, I will do that). It is something that we all do, yet how often are we thanking the Lord in our prayer? Not just thanking Him for an answered prayer but also for the little moments throughout our lives: thanking Him for a quick commute home, for a found car key, or even for a really good cup of coffee after a sleepless night. It is these little moments that I found bring me the greatest gratitude, these little moments that make up such a small part of my life but greatly impact the cadence of my day.
In a similar way, I have tried to find saints whose patronage may align with something that is going on in my life or with whom I feel a connection. The Catholic Apostolate Center’s Feast Day site is a wonderful resource for looking into some saints that may interest you. From there, I can ask these saints for their intercession in my daily life and thank them for their prayers. Feast days are a great time to give thanks to the specific saints that mean a lot in your life. When saying grace at mealtimes, it may be nice to include a “shout out” to special saints in your life on these days to give gratitude to them.
I’ve also tried to bring a similar technique into my friendships. I have found that since graduating college and after the COVID-19 pandemic, I am even more grateful for spending quality time with my friends. I’ve made it a sort of habit to try to message those who mean the most to me and thank them for our quality time together. It can be as simple as “Thank you for listening to me today,” or “I really enjoyed spending time with you today.” When doing so, I find myself reflecting on the time that I spent with my friends and enjoying the memories of our time together.
In prayer, I have found myself trying to be more present in the moment, more thankful, and more reflective in my thoughts. I try to write down the moments when I find myself needing grace and the moments when I am thankful for the most mundane things, and then I keep a record of them either in a physical journal or on the Notes app on my phone. When going into prayer, I like to call on this list and let it inspire my prayer of thanksgiving for these moments. I also like to look at this list when I’m feeling down or upset, as it helps me to refocus on the positive moments in my life.
Gratitude does not need to be a big thing that only happens once a year. It can be practiced daily through prayer and throughout our daily activities. Finding five minutes a day to practice gratitude exercises, work on gratitude journaling, or call a loved one can fill our hearts with joy this Thanksgiving season and can be implemented throughout the year to keep our spirits high.
The First World Day of the PoorRead Now
This past September, a colleague and I traveled to three cities in the U.S. to discuss with local ministry leaders ways in which Catholic Relief Services (CRS) could engage young adults. Our basic question was this: How can CRS contribute to the conversations folks in their 20s and 30s are already having around issues of peace, justice, and global solidarity?
Two very clear, and slightly discordant, ideas emerged. The first: folks in their 20s and 30s want to offer their time to serve those in need. The second: we as Church might do better to shift from doing good for a world in need to being good for our world.
What do I mean by this? The instinct to do good—to be a service to others, to give of ourselves, to respond in charity to the Gospel invitation to love our neighbor—is something to be applauded. In fact, integrating service into young adult ministry was a priority we heard time and again during our conversations.
But not all world-changing, do-good ideas are created equal. In fact, some can be quite harmful. (For one example from some of CRS’ work that illustrates this general point, check out our Changing the Way We Care initiative on orphanages.)
I’m not saying we shouldn’t dedicate time, talent, and treasure to helping those in need—both in our own communities and around the world. But we should challenge ourselves to be intentional about our initiatives, to investigate the real impact of our efforts—both intended and unintended. We should also ask ourselves who we are really serving: our own sense of self-worth or the real common good.
I write all this by way of reflection on Pope Francis’ calling for a World Day of the Poor, the first of an annually recurring day that begins November 19, 2017. (Click here to read about it in the pope’s own words.) When we think of poverty, our knee-jerk reaction may be to rush to the nearest shelter with old clothes in hand. It may be to donate to a worthy cause. It may be to jump on a plane and fly across the world ready and able to build a house for a family without one.
None of those things are bad, right? People need and deserve clothing and shelter, and charitable donations fuel so many organizations like my own. But intentionality demands that we challenge our own assumptions. Is the local shelter looking for the kinds of clothing I’d like to give, and do they have capacity to sort through them? Does that distant country need me to build a house, or is there a local engineer who is better able to accomplish the job? Do I know what percentage of donations an organization puts toward actually helping those in need?
These are questions I myself have had to wrestle with, and the answers are different in every situation. But they must be asked. Why? Because they help me remove my own ego from the situation and instead make room for the true needs—and solutions—of others.
Pope Francis challenges us to go beyond the doing—which is unmistakably important—to inhabit a new way of living: “We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”
So, then, as we reflect on this first World Day of the Poor, I challenge all of us to not simply do good, but to be good—to integrate God’s vision for humanity not simply into our acts of charity but into our daily choices, our lifestyles, and our long-term goals.
Question for Reflection: How can you follow Eric's advice and not only do good, but be good?
Interested in joining CRS in conversation around these issues? Join our new initiative for folks in their 20s & 30s CROSSROADS en el camino.
To learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, please click here.
**This post was originally published on 11/16/2017**
The Mother and HeadRead Now
November 9th is a worldwide feast day celebrating the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. It may seem silly to have a feast day devoted to a church; after all, we are used to commemorating great saints, like Cecilia (November 22nd) or Andrew the Apostle (November 30th), or an aspect of Christ’s life, like the Solemnity of Christ the King (this year, November 25th). So why celebrate a building? Sure, it is a church, Mass is held there, the Eucharist is housed there – but that can be said of any other Catholic church. What makes the Lateran Basilica so special?
The full name of this particular church is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran. What a mouthful! The Lateran Basilica is one of the “major or papal basilicas,” the four highest-ranking churches in Roman Catholicism, due to their historical significance. The other three are St. Peter’s in the Vatican, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major. St. John Lateran (as it is commonly known) is the oldest of the four, the oldest public church in Rome, and houses the cathedra (seat) of the pope in his capacity as the Bishop of Rome. Because it houses the cathedra, the basilica is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. It is also the sole holder of the title “archbasilica,” demonstrating its ranking above every other church in the world.
An inscription on the façade of the building says, “Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput.” Translated, it means, “The Most Holy Lateran Church, mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world.” Today’s feast day celebrates not only the physical structure itself, but also what it symbolizes. As the seat of the Holy Father, it reminds our hearts and minds of the fidelity we show to the successor of St. Peter, an expression of unity that binds together all the faithful. Moreover, the physical edifice of the church calls to mind what the Catechism states, “The Church is the Body of Christ” (CCC 805). While the Lateran Basilica itself is a magnificent building, housing priceless works of art, in the end it is just a hollow shell. The faithful who enter it, pray in it, and celebrate the Eucharist inside it are what truly bring it to life and bring its purpose to fulfillment.
On this feast day, let us pray. Let us pray for the Holy Father, that he may continue to lead the faithful entrusted to his care. And let us pray for the Church, that her members may always work in unity to bring about Christ’s kingdom on earth.
Victor David is a Collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and is a staff member at The Catholic University of America, his alma mater, in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
Finding Faith in a New ParishRead Now
“The parish is the presence of the Church in any given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship, and celebration.” —Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 28)
Parish life is the lifeblood of the Catholic Church. Local communities allow faith to be ignited, passed on to children, and developed throughout one’s life. However, pastors, chaplains, or any member of the faithful rarely discuss how one moves to a new parish and continues their deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. For example, I just graduated from college with my undergraduate degree and moved away from my incredibly Catholic college. While I was an undergrad, I was heavily involved in our campus ministry as a lay ecclesial minister who helped students transition from high school to college. This changed considerably with graduation, as I went from being incredibly involved and busy in “Church” activities to having no structure. Although I joined a new parish immediately, it took some time to feel connected to God and the community.
Going through the summer, I attended Mass regularly and made efforts to meet people. However, I still felt a disconnect. Knowing no one and trying to readapt my prayer life for life after college was incredibly difficult. Eventually, I settled into a new personal prayer life, reestablishing my connection with the Lord. Despite this, there was still no connection with the greater parish community. This changed when my fiancé and I attended our parish’s yearly “Fiesta” celebration. Celebrating the parish's diverse ethnicities and artistic pursuits, I was not only able to meet more people around my age and stage of faith, but I was also able to connect with ministries that connected with me. Specifically, I joined my parish’s Knights of Columbus Council and became a seventh-grade Confirmation catechist.
Becoming a catechist was what helped me immerse myself in the parish community. Not only was I able to meet fellow parishioners who wanted to become more holy, but also, as a group, we wanted to help the parish youth foster their personal relationship with God. For example, starting Confirmation preparation classes with the seventh graders was incredibly eye-opening. Not only could I show them that young people care about faith, but the class also allowed me to share my passion for Jesus with others, just like I did as a lay ecclesial minister during my time as an undergraduate. Although when working with the seventh graders, it can be incredibly difficult to get them engaged, particular moments of curiosity or engagement help me see that they are desirous of a deeper relationship with God, or at the very least, they want to learn more about God. My new ministry as a catechist has helped me realize how much our personal prayer lives are integrated with the greater parish. The parish—its community of people and its connection to God in the sacraments—allows us to meet God in our everyday life, and it is through the parish that God calls us to new challenges to grow in relationship with Him.
If you are new to a parish, I hope you will talk to people and get involved, because it is through service to the community that you begin to put down your roots and realize God’s presence in the parishioners around you.
Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, a scholar and theologian. He was instrumental in responding to the Protestant Reformation, and was named the Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan in 1564. Charles Borromeo has the distinction of being one of four saints mentioned in the Prologue to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and he is mentioned as a significant force behind the products of the Council of Trent, which “initiated a remarkable organization of the Church’s catechesis” (CCC 9). In addition to working for the Catholic Apostolate Center, I work in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis. While the New Evangelization efforts have brought renewed use of Evangelization in the vocabulary of many Catholics, often we forget about the importance of catechesis.
There is no easy, succinct definition for catechesis. Rather, it is a process that is both interactive and ongoing. We tend to use it most when discussing the formation of catechumens, especially in the teaching of young children or through the RCIA process. The USCCB describes catechesis as “the act of handing on the Word of God intended to inform the faith community and candidates for initiation into the Church about the teachings of Christ, transmitted by the Apostles to the Church.” At some point in our faith formation, most of us have experienced catechesis. Whether it was the elementary school teachers who taught you in religion classes in Catholic schools, the religious education teachers through your parish CCD program, or RCIA formation leaders, we have all benefited from the important work that catechists do. Through their tireless dedication to teaching and spreading the faith, these men and women play an integral role in our Church.
However, catechesis also takes place at a much more informal level as well. As the USCCB notes, “catechesis also involves the lifelong effort of forming people into witnesses to Christ and opening their hearts to the spiritual transformation given by the Holy Spirit.” Catechesis is an interactive process, not merely one person teaching another, but also involves a personal commitment to our own faith development. I know I have personally grown and developed in my faith through typical classroom learning, but also through life experiences. Catechesis takes both these forms. We never know the impact our words and actions can have on others, and perhaps your own experiences have helped someone else on their faith journey! Take a moment today to reflect on your own faith development and pray the prayer below, through the intercession of St. Charles Borromeo, for all those who have taken on the task of teaching our faith to others.
Jesus, you told us that laborers for the vineyard would be few and that we should pray to the Lord of the Harvest in the hope that many might respond. You have answered our prayers by sending us catechists for your vineyard.
Bless these men and women who have responded to your call to the ministry of catechesis. May they be filled with zeal for your Church, with care for those they catechize, and with love for your Word of Life. Let your Spirit come upon them so that your Word may echo through their teaching and through the witness of their lives. Through our catechists, may the members of our parish whom they teach be transformed into witnesses to your Word. And may these catechists receive the blessing your Son promised to all who labor in your vineyard.
We pray to you, gracious Father, in the name of your Son, Jesus, the Word of Life, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit who transforms us by that Word, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
**This post was originally published on 11/4/2014**
On November second every year, we celebrate the Feast of All Souls’ Day. It is a day when we are meant to remember and pray fervently for the souls of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially our loved ones. While it isn’t a holy day of obligation, it is a beautiful opportunity to go to Mass if you are able.
At Mass on All Souls’ Day, there’s a chance you might hear special music that you’re not used to hearing every Sunday. The reason for this is that there is a long and storied tradition of praying for the repose of souls in our music. This dates back to the very beginnings of Gregorian chant hundreds and hundreds of years ago. The sheer volume of work dedicated to this subject shows us the importance of the day and the importance of praying for our dead and remembering them always.
Going back all the way to the beginning, we look to the simple chants sung at requiem Masses (Masses for the dead) that have implanted themselves in the musical tradition of All Souls’ Day. For instance, you might be familiar with the beautiful chant “In Paradisum,” the text of which is sung at every funeral, in which we ask for eternal rest in paradise for the deceased, entrusting them to the angels to take them to the bosom of Abraham. There are many different versions of this chant, from very modern to traditional and choral. The same goes for the other requiem texts, the “Dies Irae” being another.
Moving forward in history, we see some of the greatest composers creating masterworks called “requiems.” In these, the special prayers for Masses for the dead mentioned above as well as the prayers that are sung at ordinary Masses (like the “Kyrie”) are set to music. Usually they were written for choir as well as orchestra or organ, some requiring hundreds of musicians. Some of the most famous requiems are Mozart’s, Verdi’s, and Fauré’s. You may hear selections of these at All Souls’ Day Masses, or at special concerts dedicated to the feast, or during the season of Lent. Listening to recordings of them is also a wonderful supplement to your prayers during this time.
One of the most famous pieces of music within the tradition of All Souls’ Day is the “Pie Jesu.” Again originating from the prayers of the Mass for the Dead, the text reads, “Pious Lord Jesus, give them rest. Pious Lord Jesus, give them everlasting rest.” This prayer has become one of the most frequent inspirations for performances and composers, as the prayer itself is so simple and beautiful. There are so many beautiful versions, including one—among the most popular—composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber, the composer of The Phantom of the Opera.
Whatever your taste in sacred music, there is much to be gleaned from the vast stores of music history with regard to All Souls’ Day. For a thousand years, composers have taken to the page to help us better pray for our deceased loved ones. This year, why not find a requiem that you haven’t heard before, or listen to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Pie Jesu”? Ask God to help you to pray for the souls of your loved ones through this music as millions of people have done before you and will continue to do as long as music lives.