“Today we ask the Lord to become missionaries in the Church, apostles in the Church but in this spirit: a great magnanimity and also a great humility.” – Pope Francis
Many people throughout the world whether Catholic or not have been affected by the humility of Pope Francis. His witness calls us to more, a more generous spirit that is not tied to things or honors or what we desire, but is instead showing love of God and love of neighbor in what we do and in what we say. This witness is not meant to be held within our families, among our friends, or in our churches. We are sent as apostles, as witnesses of faith and charity to a world that is in need of hope. Faith grounds us in the One who is beyond us all but is also the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, God, who is Infinite Love. We are called to share this love in our acts of charity, justice, and service – building up a broken world not for ourselves or our own benefit, but as co-workers in the mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
The type of kingdom is the one brought forth in our world by Jesus Christ. The preface for Mass today offers us some insight. Christ’s kingdom is:
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
As number 31 of Lumen Gentium teaches, all of the baptized are “sharers” in this kingly mission of Christ. How? By growing in holiness and working toward a more just and virtuous society (CCC, 908-909). This work is not simply in word, but most especially in deed.
Apostles, or missionary disciples, are sent then to not only preach, but to heal (Luke 9:2;10:9). Our world is in need of so much healing. Look anywhere in the world and it seems that destruction and hate are much more present than life-giving love. We can and must be bearers of love! If we, as people of faith, as Catholics, are not apostles of faith and charity, then who do we expect to do it? What are we waiting for, an invitation? Look again at the quote above – it is not only a prayer, it is an invitation by Pope Francis to generously and humbly give of ourselves to Christ and to others. It is part of our sharing in the kingly mission of Jesus Christ.
Faith is not meant to be kept to ourselves or locked in our churches, it is meant to be shared in word and deed. We are challenged then to deepen continuously our formation so that we may more fully embrace our being sent as apostles of faith and charity, doing what is said at the end of Mass – “Go, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
To find out more about Prayer and Catechesis, please view our Resource Page!
This blog post was first published on November 23 on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
Some time ago, I wrote about the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. I mentioned how often times we hear that piece performed around Christmastime, although that portion of the Messiah is actually about Easter and the Resurrection. Now that the Nativity has arrived, perhaps it might be interesting to look at what Handel did use to interpret the Birth of Christ.
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” is taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah (Is 9:6):
For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
And the government
Shall be upon His shoulder
And his name shall be called
The Mighty God
The Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace
In that one verse, the prophet presents so much insight into the aforementioned Child to be born. He will be a son, he shall reign over a great dominion, and he shall bring peace. Well, only one child fits that description: Jesus Christ.
When Isaiah tells of a son being given to the faithful, he is not just talking about the neighbor’s kid. He foretells of a son presented as a gift to all who believe. And indeed, in Christ, we have not only a child but also the moment when the word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). And through that word, humanity is redeemed. Through Christ, death no longer has power. The gates of heaven are opened to all that would follow he who is called the Son of God.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” declared John the Baptist (Mt 3:2). Yes, we believe that at the end of time Christ will establish his kingdom for all eternity (CCC 1042). But in the meantime, his kingdom exists on earth in the form of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (CCC 763). Founded by Jesus with a mission to manifest the will of God, the Church waits in hopeful anticipation for the establishment of Christ’s eternal reign.
It is very appropriate, then, for Isaiah to foretell a Prince of Peace. Not only would Jesus go on to proclaim a kingdom of love but also, when he returns, establish a heavenly domain that knows no end. At Christmas, we celebrate both a beginning and an end. We celebrate the very beginning of Christ ruling the hearts and minds of the faithful while also looking toward the end when he will come again and his “kingdom will have no end.”
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Advent SongRead Now
My entire life I have always had a yearning in my heart to become a teacher, and this summer was the beginning of that dream becoming a reality. I spent all summer soaking up every classroom management technique I was given, as well as learning the best ways to make math fun for secondary students. I entered the classroom in August, and I realized that implementing those tools was nothing less than difficult. I pray that my students learned half as much from me as I learned from them. Although this job is not easy, my students inspire me to wake up every day and teach them something about translating algebraic expressions, but even more so, about love and the goodness of life.
However, my teaching cohort met at the end of the semester to pre-plan for January, and we were reminded that inspiration is not enough to do this work. We need passion and drive to see us through this work so that we may do it well. Every. Single. Day. One professor challenged us saying, “Your teaching is a song. What song gets you going every single morning and keeps you going throughout the day? The week? The month? The year?”
I realized that our faith, too, needs a song. We need an Advent Song – a gift from the beginning that continues to fuel us throughout the day, the week, the month, the year. As Advent comes to a close, we celebrate the joy of Christ’s birth, but after that, will we continue to live our Advent Song each day?
In yesterday’s Gospel, we learn of Mary’s Advent Song – “The Magnificat.” She sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior…” (Luke 1:46-47). Her life was exemplified by this song. If you read beyond today’s Gospel, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, also sings out, “Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people” (Luke 1:68). Each sing of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, which we know endures forever.
As you reflect on the close of this Advent season, transitioning into Christmas, ask God what song will keep your heart burning and returning to him throughout the year. What will help you know the Lord each day and what will help you give Him to others? What song will fill you with joy so that you may also sing with Mary and Zechariah?
As Advent comes to a close, know of my prayers for you: that you may find your Advent Song and sing God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout the year long.
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington DC.
To learn more about Advent, please see our Advent Resource Page!
God with UsRead Now
Today marks one week until a great man comes to visit us, bringing joy to all. Given the nature of this blog, I’m guessing you think I’m talking about the coming of the newborn Jesus Christ. But I’m actually talking about Santa Claus! The jolly old man himself, bringing loads of goodies on his sleigh to the girls and boys on his twice-checked list. Yes, indeed. What else is special about Christmas? It is interesting to see the secular meaning of Christmas intersect with the glorious birth of our Savior to yield a sort-of confused holiday. The world seems to forget that during this season of Advent when Catholics are preparing their hearts to welcome Jesus on the 25th, many are just preparing themselves to welcome elves and anxiety. This year in particular, I have had to take a step back from all the noise and busyness, and enjoy the peace and joy of this Advent season. Can we still find God with us?
The Gospel today helps us anticipate God’s Promise through faith. In Matthew 1:23, Joseph is visited by an angel to fulfill what the prophets had written, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). Joseph had extraordinary faith to believe that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and that he would care for the One who was being sent to save the world. This was no small feat for a simple carpenter, but Joseph understood the importance of Christ’s birth.
This last part of this passage, God with us, caught my ear when I first read it, and reminded me of a Theology class from freshman year in college. We learned that in order to redeem the world from Original Sin, God had to dwell among us on earth. God could only do that by becoming fully Divine and fully Human, and only through a stainless virgin could Jesus be stainless himself. The world has truly been saved because of a small child, born in a stable and laid in manger over 2,000 years ago. Each year we have 4 weeks to ready ourselves for his arrival again. The joy of the season is not packages, ribbons, and bows, it’s realizing that God is here to love us and save us.
In my classroom, we have an elf named Chester who comes to visit during the weeks of Advent. He arrived on the first day back from Thanksgiving break, and we have found him in a new spot every morning. According to the book he brought with him called, Elf on the Shelf, he returns to Santa to relay messages about whether or not the kids in my class were naughty or nice each day. Based on this report, my students will have a visit from Santa on Christmas morning. What if instead of Santa visiting us with things, we visited God with full hearts and open arms? Although Chester the Elf is here throughout Advent and will disappear after Christmas, God is always with us.
Krissy Kirby is a Kindergarten teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
To learn more about Advent, please see our Advent Resources!
A Vision for a New YearRead Now
It is the Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis and begun on November 30, 2014. It is actually more than a year … extending until February 2, 2016! In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted February 2nd as World Day for Consecrated Life, which is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
This year is to be along the lines of the Year of the Priest a few years ago or the Year of Faith of more recent memory – a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, this makes it pretty exciting! In Pope Francis’ video message that was viewed at the Vigil to begin the Year of Consecrated Life, he set the stage, “My first words, on this occasion, are of gratitude to the Lord for the precious gift of consecrated life to the Church and to the world. May this Year of Consecrated Life be an occasion for all members of the People of God to thank the Lord, from whom every good comes, for the gift of consecrated life, appreciating it appropriately.” It is the Year OF Consecrated Life and FOR the whole Church.
Much of the content connected with this celebratory Year is directed to Consecrated persons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in it for everyone. Since it is the season when we might start thinking about making New Year’s resolutions, I thought the three “aims” of the Year of Consecrated Life might give us food for thought.
Pope Francis issued a letter – his full message – for the Year, issued on November 29, 2014, the eve of the Year and directed to his “Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life.” (If you’re interested in reading the whole thing, you can find it here.)
The first aim of the Year of Consecrated life “is to look at the past with gratitude.” (Introduction) In a couple of weeks we will start to see all of the “year in review” programs and news captions. Do we have our own manner of reviewing our year or several years? Do I tend to focus on my mistakes or bad things that happened? Pope Francis starts us off with the disposition of gratitude as we look back. He invites Consecrated persons to claim the richness of their Institute’s history, charism, and action of the Spirit which brings us to the point where we are today.
This is a valuable activity because, as Pope Francis explains, “Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging. More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities.” Advent calls us to the same kind of remembering. In the readings of last Sunday, Peter asks us “what sort of person ought you to be?” Looking at our past can help remind us of our goals, values, and ideal, and recognize how we live consistently with this vision and where we might do better.
The second aim of the Year of Consecrated Life gives us some concrete follow-through from the first aim: “This Year also calls us to live the present with passion. Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life.” Recalling those things most important to me, the things innate to my identity, I can claim them as my own (again or for the first time) and live out of them, anew, with passion!
The challenge to Consecrated persons is no less the same for all believers. “For the various founders and foundresses, the Gospel was the absolute rule, whereas every other rule was meant merely to be an expression of the Gospel and a means of living the Gospel to the full…. The creativity of charity is boundless; it is able to find countless new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and every corner of society.” Does this fit into our plan for the New Year? It is a nice idea, but what does it look like? Pope Francis continues,
“Living the present with passion means becoming “experts in communion,”… In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters….So, be men and women of communion! Have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one (cf. Jn 17:21).”
As in all things Catholic, there are never two without three! The third aim should come as no surprise: to embrace the future with hope. Hope for the future makes the past both meaningful and bearable, and the passion for the present possible. This is not meant to be a wishful-thinking hope, but a leap of faith. How can I embrace that which is not yet here? Pope Francis explains, “This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.” How am I writing my own history? Can I trust in the God for whom all things are possible? If I resolve to the live the present with passion, can I add that next layer of commitment to embrace the future with hope?
The Year of Consecrated Life is just beginning; may the blessings and graces of this Year be enjoyed by you and all People of Good Will!
Sr. Kelly Connors, pm, teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online and is member of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.
This blog post was first published on October 26th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
Our Lady of GuadalupeRead Now
Mary has appeared throughout the last two thousand years to different peoples all around the world. Tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on which we celebrate the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac outside of Mexico City. We have all heard the story of how Mary appeared to Juan Diego and told him to build a church on the hill in her honor. Upon returning to his town and informing the Archbishop of what he had seen, the Archbishop instructed him to return to Tepeyac and ask for a sign that this was indeed the Virgin Mary. Mary instructed Juan Diego to fill his tilma with roses and carry them back to the Archbishop. When Juan Diego laid the roses before the Archbishop there on his tilma was an image of the Virgin Mary, the image that we know today as Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Basilica built on the very spot of her appearance is the most visited Catholic site in the world. This alone speaks to the widespread devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the world. Today’s feast day provides us with a wonderful opportunity to remember the universality of Mary. She has appeared to many different cultures at many different times throughout history and with each depiction she reminds us that she stands beside each and every one of us as a mother for all people.
Pope Francis, in an audience shortly before the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe in 2013, spoke of one of the most important aspects of Mary: “When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.” This points right to the heart of Mary as our Mother, a Mother for all peoples, for all cultures.
The Virgin Mary is an important aspect of my own faith, but for one reason or another, her depiction as Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in my heart. It might be because her feast day is also my birthday, or because my Dad often jokes that he wanted to name me Guadalupe, or that I grew up in Texas where this depiction is very prominent. I do not know why her image speaks to me so deeply, but I do know that in my devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe I feel a Mother’s embrace. I know that she welcomes me in and I feel at home.
But we are not meant to just live for that embrace of Mary, our Mother, but rather we are called to embrace all peoples and all cultures. And Mary teaches us how! She is the perfect example of how to live out that embrace. She unites us in our humanity and she strengthens our faith in Jesus. She knelt before the cross watching her own son die, and yet when Christ entrusted all of humanity to her, she said yes. She opened her arms and welcomed us in. On this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let us be like her, let us open ourselves to the whole Church, not just in our local communities but throughout the world.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional in Washington, D.C.
The Most Important InvitationRead Now
Having just celebrated the Second Sunday of Advent, we heard in the First Reading from Isaiah how, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed...” What always strikes me about this reading is how the Lord destroys every obstacle in His way, and all that stands against Him is defeated. This alone is important to remember I think, because in the midst of so much activity and stress it is easy to forget that our Lord is always the one in charge and has the power to wash away all of our blemishes and sins. Everything with imperfections is made perfect in Him.
Advent is a time of preparing ourselves for the birth of our Savior and the second coming of Christ. The Church gives us this liturgical time so that we may ensure we are ready for Christ’s entrance into our midst on the Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord and prepare for how “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” So, Advent is a time of great hope, expectation, and preparation, but how exactly can we prepare our hearts for Christ? How can the Lord wipe away my own sin, my own imperfections so that I can worthily prepare for His Coming?
Partaking in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a perfect way to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming and be ready for His arrival. We hear in the Second Reading of this past Sunday how the Lord, “is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The Lord never tires of extending forgiveness to us, He is ever merciful. He wants the best for all of us, even when sometimes we don’t know exactly what that is. Just as in Isaiah, the Lord defeats and washes away all of our sins and imperfections with this wonderful Sacrament. Pope Francis during one of his Wednesday audiences said, “every time we go to confession, God embraces us.”
With all of the different parties and events during this time of year, with all the invitations, there is one invitation that you should be certain to consider. The Lord has already extended to us the invitation, an invitation that prepares us for Christ’s coming by partaking in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The question is - will you accept it?
Conor Boland is a College Ministerial Intern at One Bread, One Cup and is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America.
For more information on Reconciliation and the Advent season, please see our Advent Resources!
St. Francis XavierRead Now
This past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, my home parish of St. Francis Xavier marked a big milestone in its history – we have just concluded much needed renovations to the church building. The event was commemorated with a special Mass celebrated by our archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, along with many concelebrating priests and assisting deacons who have been assigned to the parish over the years. It was also my first “official” trip home to the parish since entering seminary this past summer. This was a happy and exciting day for the entire parish and was a great way to usher in this season of Advent, this season of hopeful anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ.
These renovations to the parish have been in progress for many years, ever since I was a little kid serving Mass. One might say that the community has endured a long season of Advent – a long time of patiently awaiting this rejuvenation of our sacred space, our spiritual home. And the patience definitely paid off! We now have a more beautiful place to pray, to celebrate the sacraments, and to gather as a parish community to worship God.
This visit home moved me to consider how St. Francis Xavier, the namesake and patron of the parish, would have approached such an extended season of Advent. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit saint, brought the message of Christ to the people of Asia through his devoted missionary endeavors. Being sent on mission was not the way Francis had envisioned his priesthood, for he was preparing to dedicate his life to the intellectual pursuits of the faith and the fostering of the newly formed Society of Jesus. But, Francis Xavier was called to become a missionary priest and, obediently, he went.
Francis most certainly had many gifts and received many graces in order to accomplish his evangelizing activity in a far corner of the world with few companions. Of course, he had great faith in God and in the Church. Francis Xavier would have been a man with patience, endurance, and courage, for these are necessary to persevere through the difficult trials that come with priesthood and religious life, evangelization, and mission in foreign countries. He must have had great trust in the Lord and trust that his efforts to bring Christ to the people of Asia would indeed bear much fruit. Francis Xavier must have been a joyful man, one who attracted others to become followers of Jesus Christ. Most importantly, Francis Xavier must have been a filled with hope – hope for all of those people he evangelized, hope in the Society of Jesus, and hope in the Christian message of salvation. This, it seems, is the greatest virtue that we can learn from Francis Xavier as we enter into this Advent season – hope.
The sense of hope that undoubtedly carried Francis Xavier through his missions is similar to what helped the parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Church endure the long journey toward a renovation of their sacred space – the hope that our efforts and sacrifices may lead others to find Christ, and that one day we might all be united with him in Heaven. Though we are not necessarily called to be great missionary saints, we can certainly evangelize within our families and communities as we gather to celebrate the birth of the Lord. May St. Francis Xavier be a guide for us this Advent, as we try to “renovate” our lives to become more joyful, courageous, and hopeful witnesses to the wonderful Gospel message with the hope of bringing others to Christ.
Joe Hubbard is a Collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Boston.
As we begin AdventRead Now
This past Sunday, we celebrated the First Sunday of Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of Christ. This Advent season also signals the beginning of the liturgical New Year. Now, I’m the kind of girl that has been secretly listening to Christmas Carols since mid-November (with headphones and lowered volume so no one knows my secret!) so Advent is one of my favorite times of year. As a little girl, I loved the buildup to Christmas and loved helping my mom prepare our house for the torrent of annual Christmas events. From decorating the tree to baking cookies, I loved it all.
When we were little, my mom modeled an activity we did in school, placing an empty manger on our mantle with a bowl of straw. She explained to my brother, sisters, and me that Advent was about preparing for Christ’s birth and we had to prepare a comfortable crib for him by filling the manger with pieces of straw. She encouraged us to do kind things for those we knew and when we did to place a piece of straw in the manger. Throughout Advent we delighted in finding ways we could add more to the manger. The one rule that she had was that we could only place straw in the manger quietly, without bragging of our good deeds to each other, and we had to decide personally what qualified to place straw in the manger. The straw grew and grew and by Christmas the manger was full, ready for Christ. Although this activity seems small in the hustle and bustle of the Advent season, it taught my siblings and me a lot about what the season was really about.
Even as children, my mom strove to make sure that while we could get involved and excited about preparing for Christmas, we had to understand the true meaning behind the season. Advent, she always explained, was about preparing for the coming of Christ and not simply getting excited for Santa to visit. While we celebrate Advent and Christmas in many different ways, the important thing to remember is just how miraculous the Incarnation truly is. The miracle of the Incarnation is that Christ was made known to us in human form, to ultimately sacrifice Himself for us.
While this time of the year has many stresses as we try to prepare for all that is expected of us, keeping the “true meaning of Christmas” in mind throughout Advent is a good habit to get into. As you begin this Advent season, I encourage you to take some time to remember what we are preparing for. The selfless love that Christ demonstrates is what we celebrate this Advent season. Take a moment to step back and reflect on how you can prepare yourself for His coming.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
For more information, check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's Advent Resource Page!