January 1, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, one of the holy days of obligation in the Church. This celebration is a special way to celebrate Mary’s special role in God’s plan in the Christmas story, as well as a way to start the year full of grace, ready to tackle those New Year’s resolutions. Although the practice of New Year’s resolutions is not distinctly Christian, our resolutions gain a new significance when we attend to Mary’s story.
Discern Your Resolutions
The story of Mary’s call to motherhood is a paradigm of Biblical discernment. When Mary received Gabriel’s announcement, “She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). In faith, Mary wrestles with God’s calling. Even after her great “Yes,” and giving birth, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), revealing she is still learning what her vocation means and how to live it.
What’s this got to do with New Year’s resolutions? Discernment is a spiritual, prayerful decision-making process between possible courses of action. What specific habits or practices is God calling you to work on this year? There are plenty of worthwhile resolutions—there’s a million things I need work on—but it’s just not all possible to accomplish in a year, or ever. Prioritize resolutions that strengthen your personal vocation.
Expect Without Expectations
Mary’s faith is “expectant” but without “expectations.” In other words, Mary expects God to act in her life, but doesn’t place limitations on who, what, when, and where. Mary trusts the angel Gabriel’s words, “nothing will be impossible for God” and is free to live and say, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:37-38).
Maybe God will bring about the outcomes of your resolution through unexpected ways or people. That’s the way it often works in scripture and the lives of the Saints. When you give God permission to act on his terms, you are free to boldly expect that God will do new and great things in your life this year.
Make Room For Others
Even free from original sin, God uses other people to accomplish his plan in Mary’s life. Mary’s story was made possible through her reliance upon truthful friends and family. Her cousin Elizabeth speaks truth and hope into her situation (Luke 1:42), and her husband Joseph goes to heroic lengths to let God’s call come to fruition.
Share your resolution with someone you trust. Whether it’s a major lifestyle change or not, ask them to keep you accountable, and always with prayer. Accountability also prevents goals from becoming purely self-centered or even idols from seeking God first (e.g., just to impress people at the beach). No one can accomplish your resolution for you, but you can find people to accomplish it with you.
Resolve to Live the Truth
Mary shows the true path by always making everything about Jesus. “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). A true personal change will always lead us to more fully reflect our true identities as sons and daughters created in the image and likeness of God.
But the truth is, sometimes resolutions are born of self-loathing or lies we’ve bought instead of the desire to more fully reflect God’s truth. This often happens with body or image-related resolutions; to be thinner, smarter, stronger, etc. While these aren’t de facto bad things, the tendency becomes seeking physical solutions for a spiritual or psychological wound that really needs healing. That’s why discernment with spiritual direction and honest accountability is vital. Exercise programs or supplements say we should consult a physician first- but it’s also true when it applies to spiritual exercises for our soul! Mary and the saints save us from spiritual self-medication, which close us off from the Divine Physician.
**This post was originally published on 12/30/2015.
As we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas, I find myself grateful that the Church has established the liturgical calendar in such a way as to help shake us out of our spiritual complacency. The high-points of the Church year—and the larger Christian experience— are referenced so much in our Faith that we may sometimes find ourselves on spiritual autopilot. Before we know it, we might find that solemnities are immediately upon us (or past us), and we feel that we could have benefited from more spiritual preparation. This year, I was looking for a clear and direct theme I could really focus on as Christmas approached. I came across some writings of Venerable Servant of God Fulton Sheen that called to mind certain details of Scripture that my eyes (and spiritual life) might typically gloss over. Recalling the helpless innocence of the Christ-child ready to be born of Mary, Sheen related Mary and Joseph’s plight in searching for late-night shelter in Bethlehem to the lack of hearts open to God which can offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords a place to dwell and reign:
[W]hen finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest lines of all will be: ‘There was no room in the inn.’ The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is the place for outcasts, the ignored, and the forgotten… The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God-Made-Man is invited to enter into His own world through a back door.
With all the seasonal emphasis on gifts and personal generosity, I am especially touched by that first line and the reality that there was no room made available for the arrival of the long-awaited Son of God. How often do we hear calls to be watchful and ready for the Second Coming of Christ; that is, to be repentant of sin and committed to pursuing holiness? This preparation is what the first part of the Advent season is all about. When we are called before the Final Judgement seat of the Most High, and God Himself shows us what we did or did not do for Him in our earthly encounters with the people in our lives, will we say that it was too difficult or inconvenient to take up what we knew was expected of us? All of the baptized are called to be missionary disciples—people who spread the joy of the Gospel by their very lives. We can bring others into an encounter with the Living God—or at least instill a sense of hope, dignity, and love in those who are in need—in the workplace, at home, in our neighborhoods, in our parishes, and within our families. In doing so, we make room in the inn of our hearts for the Christ-child.
Without Christ present in our hearts and at the core of our being, we will find ourselves serving a different master—be it vices, worldly pleasures, fleeting successes or honors, or other vanities. Just as the innkeepers of Bethlehem two-thousand years ago declined to open their doors to the Holy Family, so too do each of us have the choice either to be seduced by the empty promises of the world or to pursue a life of holiness and of speaking the Truth among the doubtful, suspicious, hateful, or unrepentant.
This Christmas season, let us allow Christ into our lives in order to bring him to others. Let us preach the Gospel with our lives and seek to always make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Christmas is a time for celebration! We rejoice that the Lord God Himself took on human nature and was born as a helpless Child into the world He created in order to free us from sin and death and invite us to live with Him forever. The occasion of Christmas encourages each of us to be a welcoming soul to the Lord rather than one who closed their doors to the Holy Family that holy night:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And let it begin with me. Amen.
 Sheen, Fulton. “Life of Christ” (1954).
 cf. Matthew 25:40.
**This post was originally published on 12/27/2019.
It is just a couple of days before Christmas and the sparkle and bright lights of the season have been adorned in homes, neighborhoods, and towns all over the country for weeks now. Trees are trimmed, lights are hung, special foods baked, festive music plays, and gifts are purchased and wrapped. It is the season of light, but as Christians, are we receiving Christmas or are we giving it? Are we soaking in the bright warmth of all the lights – or are we being lights? The older I get, the more mindful I am of what that first gift of Christmas helps us to be. Christmas is a gift to be received deep in our hearts and then to be shared. The first gift of Christmas is love: love incarnate, love divine. God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to walk with us and instruct us how to be light in a world filled with darkness.
Unwrapping the gift of Jesus is our most important mission as Christians. We revel at the manger and are filled with warmth and joy at the birth of a newborn baby. But, we must fully comprehend the entirety of the Christmas story that brings the baby from the manger in Bethlehem to the man who was sacrificed on the hill in Calvary to ransom us from the darkness of our sin.
“Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians fear; for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading:
Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through, the cross be born, for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.”
William C. Dix
‘What Child Is This?’
As we enter into this holy season of light, we celebrate all the richness it bestows in our hearts and souls. Let us not forget amidst the glittery enhancements we have placed on this holiday that it is a sacred holy day- the birthday of our Savior! We receive His love that came down from heaven to earth and we rejoice in the fullness of that gift opening the door to our eternal salvation! When we really grasp the immensity of this gift, we cannot help but want to share it with everyone around us. And how do we live as Christmas lights? We shine with encouragement and support to our neighbor. We sparkle with unashamed exuberance in sharing the Good News of Christ’s saving power. We generously share what we have to those in need. We reach out in flesh and allow the divine to work through us to dispel any darkness that would prevent us from reaching our heavenly inheritance. We embody hope, peace, joy, and love in everything we do. This is how we unwrap the gift of Christmas and be His light to the world.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone
light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand and it gives light to all in
the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so they may see your
good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16
“Each of us – let’s not forget this – has a mission to accomplish. So, let’s not be afraid to ask the Lord: what should I do? Let us ask him this question repeatedly.” – Pope Francis, Angelus, December 12, 2021
What is our mission in life? As Christians, it is obvious, we share in the mission of Christ. That is easy to say, but a challenge to do. What Pope Francis proposes is important, especially about asking the question “repeatedly.” Sometimes we might think that discernment of how we live the mission is something done once or occasionally. Instead, it is a day-to-day discernment and sometimes even moment by moment.
“What should I do, Lord?”
Consider the question now, then ask it again and again. This deeper portion of Advent, on the cusp of Christmas, provides a perfect time to reflect on what we should do for Christ, with Christ, and in Christ to accomplish well our particular mission.
We are not alone in this mission, we might have a unique way to go about it, but the mission is Christ’s. Our sisters and brothers in the community of faith that we call the Church live this mission as well. Let us pray for and support one another as we discern and then live what we should do for the Lord each day.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
May you have a blessed Christmas. Our prayers are with you.
In God, the Infinite Love,
A few weeks ago, I spent 3 days with over ten thousand Catholic youth and their leaders at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pre-pandemic, NCYC would welcome twenty-five thousand Catholic Youth and their leaders for an experience of big-name Catholic speakers, large liturgies, small group time, workshops, and more. Even though the Catholic Apostolate Center attended NCYC in 2013, this was my first. While I could write, for pages and pages, about our booth, stage, and experience, I want to focus on another aspect of my time in Indianapolis that has not left my mind since. That is the joy that was felt.
It’s fitting to reflect a bit about joy in this liturgical season of Advent. St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” We pay special attention to joy and the action of rejoicing in Advent as we await and prepare ourselves for the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas. We have joy in this season because we know that God’s gift to man, the Word being made flesh, is on its way. As the famous hymn says, Rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.
Joy is not an emotion; it is a state of being which transcends one’s individual experience or circumstances. Happiness is often conflated with joy. I’m happy because my favorite song came on the radio or because my favorite pizza was served in the dining hall. Joy, though, remains with the Christian in particular, in both good and bad. Joy remains in illness, in emergency, in suffering. Joy comes from knowing that Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, came among us, lived with us, suffered and died for us, redeemed us, and freed us from the grasp of sin and death. If hope is the rock upon which the Christian life is rooted, then joy is the flower that springs from the roots. As Bishop Arturo Cepeda said in 2019, “the joy of the Gospel begins with a smile.”
So why am I reflecting upon joy in light of my experience of NCYC? Because the joy was palpable, it was unescapable, it was refreshing. In so many parts of our world, including and at times especially in the Church, there is a lack of joy. The pandemic, racial unrest, injustice of all types has led to a world that is less and less joyful. Wherever you turned at NCYC, there was joy. It could be seen in the chants and the hats that groups used and wore as a calling card for their groups. It could be seen in the interactions at the booth as video games were played, radio shows were streamed, karaoke was sung, and conversations were had. It could be seen in the workshops as participants were challenged, were welcomed, and encountered the merciful love of Jesus Christ. This joy was most palpable in the liturgies, in adoration, and in the moments of prayer. Whether it was Christian rapper Lecrae’s concert, Eucharistic Adoration in Lucas Oil Stadium, or daily Mass in one of the conference center’s halls, you could tell that Jesus was present. He wasn’t just present because of the proximity of the Eucharist, or the gathering of his people, no that joy and his presence could be felt so tangibly because of the demeanor of his disciples who had gathered.
Anyone who knows me knows that I caution against these conferences without proper formation and accompaniment. Participants, especially youth, can fall into the trap of seeing the life of faith as being only emotional experiences, massive highs, which can result in the normalcy of the everyday life of the disciple as being unattractive. But at NCYC, I was reminded of the power of thousands of Catholics, especially young Catholics, joining together in worship, praise, and prayer. In these moments, conflicts and disagreement were not at the forefront. Certainly, if we’d polled every person there we would have found thousands of different opinions on liturgy, prayer, spirituality, music, etc., but that wasn’t the focus. No, the focus was the body of Christ and communal prayer and worship of our Lord. Isn’t that a beautiful goal for this Advent season? We know that the disagreements and the conflicts will continue. They’re not always bad in and of themselves. But can we enter into this Advent season with joy? Joy that is rooted in the hope that incarnation gives us. Joy that makes us effective evangelizers. Joy that is the hallmark of a Christian. Joy that comes from Christ alone.
Ten years of the Catholic Apostolate Center. It has been a joy to be a part of this ambitious and collaborative team for almost five years. I never pictured myself running social media for a Catholic organization. In fact, social media was just a personal hobby until my senior year of college at The Catholic University of America. I started my journey in Catholic social media at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. That opportunity honestly came to be through a few jokes made by close friends. After a few months in my role at the Basilica, Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. reached out to me about the Catholic Apostolate Center. I remember being floored. I joined the Catholic Apostolate Center team in January 2017 as the Social Media Associate.
I worked for the Center during my last year of undergraduate, my two years of graduate school, and for the first two and half years of my first full-time job at Catholic University in student affairs. I studied higher education in graduate school and thought that I would work at a university forever. During the early days of the pandemic, the Center pivoted its content to provide Covid-19 resources for our community. While it was a weird time for the world, it was a time of growth for the Center behind the scenes and in our content offerings. The Center team was churning out so much content that I found myself doing quite a bit of work for the Center during the initial lockdown. Some days I was doing more work for the Center than my full-time job (due to the early nature of remote work during the beginning of the pandemic). As the pandemic and work from home progressed, I realized that I was enjoying my work for the Center more than the work for my full-time job.
As time passed, I realized that I wanted to make a career change. I came to the realization that I wanted to shift to communications for a Catholic organization (ideally). I never expected that enjoying photography, graphic design, and social media would lead me to where I am today. I am greatly appreciative to the Center for giving me the opportunity to develop the skills that have become my career. It has been such an incredible experience to learn and grow with such a supportive team at the Catholic Apostolate Center. I have learned so much from the wonderful people that I have been able to work with.
In addition to growing my skills in social media and graphic design, the Center has allowed me to grow in my faith. I have learned so much from all of the content and resources that we produce. I have been able to strengthen my faith and theological background through the books that the Center has published and our webinars and podcasts. One of the best things about the Center is that we produce resources for so many learning styles. We have books for readers and visual learners, podcasts for audible learners, virtual retreats for those seeking spiritual resources, and so much more.
I encourage you to spend some time on our website, click through our resources, and see what you can find. One great part of my job is that there is always a wealth of content for me to promote. Some weeks I really have to pick and choose what goes on our social feeds because there is so much to be shared. I am so grateful that the Center is a part of my story, and I cannot wait to watch the Center continue to grow and evolve. I know that the Catholic Apostolate Center will be celebrating milestones for years to come.
This Advent is very special for three reasons. First, my son, who will be two in January, will be experiencing the lights, the beauty, and the gift of Advent in a brand new way this season and I’m so happy to share that with him. The second is because every year I teach about Advent to my class of PreK students, but because I’m really looking forward to it, I think I’ll be able to bring that joy into the classroom with me more than ever. Finally, this year in Advent I will be trying to intentionally do work in the service of others and helping where there is an imperative need. This year, I’m hoping to get caught up in the magic and in the giving and also appreciate the beauty of the season rather than waiting impatiently.
On the first Sunday of Advent, I went to Mass with my son and husband, along with another family with two young children. For the first half, my toddler was overwhelmed with excitement about the tree in the back filled with tags for people who need wrapped gifts for Christmas. He kept taking the tags off and swapping out one for another, screaming in joy about the whole thing while the congregation listened to the readings. After some quieting down, we went back into the pew with his little friends. As we knelt in prayer, I was overcome with emotion and gratitude between my husband and son. But the moment that really helped me see through the eyes of a child was when we walked up for Eucharist and my son noticed the purple at the altar, and the four candles with one purple one lit. He pointed and said, “Candle!” and in that moment I knew we would have such a joyful season of Advent. I invite you to notice something brand new about the lights, beauty, and hope that Advent brings to us all. Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love are the four weeks that bring us closer to Christ and prepare us for His coming. We can use this time to reawaken our hearts and see Advent all fresh and new, especially through the gentle ways of children!
In my PreK classroom, the children love holidays and especially look forward to Christmas. So many learn about Christmas and Advent for the first time in my class, and that is a really special opportunity for me as their teacher. Already this year, one student shouted, “Presents!” as we were talking about Thanksgiving, and I had to clarify the confusion between the holidays. Then, it struck me, isn’t that how it works sometimes? We want to skip right to something fun that might be in the more distant future instead of appreciating the celebration that might be happening right in front of us. Advent is this same phenomenon. We’re worried, anticipating, and anxious about one day every year, but if you consider that every day in Advent can be a celebration of the Season, it’s really like we have a whole month of Christmas!
There is so much we can do for others in this challenging world right now and there are many in need of our help. Winter is cold and this year has already been chilly: there is a lot we can do for our Sisters and Brothers in Christ during Advent by sharing in joy, distributing resources, praying for those sick or in need, or offering kindness. In 2018, Pope Francis said, “Advent invites us to a commitment to vigilance, looking beyond ourselves, expanding our mind and heart in order to open ourselves up to the needs of people, of brothers and sisters, and to the desire for a new world." Advent is a time for service, here are some examples of helping others during this time of giving:
Whether you look at Advent through a child-like perspective, find joy in the daily celebration, or assist those less fortunate this Season, do it all with intentional preparation for Christ’s coming on Christmas. I’ll be busy getting caught up in the magic and beauty too! Happy Advent!
Click here for more resources on Advent.
Click here for more resources on the Works of Mercy.
We have entered the season of Advent and a new liturgical year. Advent offers us an important time to watch, wait, and reflect on the coming of Jesus Christ and on our encounter with him. He is encountered in the mystery of the Incarnation, which we represent by Nativity scenes placed in our churches, chapels, and homes. We could limit ourselves to only looking at the beauty of the artistic scene and not move into deeper reflection on the fact that God, who is infinite love and mercy, sent his only begotten Son to save us.
Christ is also encountered in the Eucharist, most significantly during the celebration of the Mass. Pope Francis describes this coming of Jesus:
“Mass is prayer; rather, it is prayer par excellence, the loftiest, the most sublime, and at the same time the most ‘concrete’. In fact, it is the loving encounter with God through his Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is an encounter with the Lord.” (General Audience, November 15, 2017).
And Christ will come again in all his glory at the end of time. We need to be prepared for this time not simply through passive waiting, but by active watching for the Lord and encountering him in our brothers and sisters who are most in need, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless (Mt. 25:31-46). As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are co-responsible for the mission that he left us until he comes again – for the salvation of souls – not only focusing on eternal life with God, but also on how we are collaborating with the Most Holy Trinity to build the Kingdom of God on this side of life.
Pope Francis also reminds us of the connection of the Immaculate Conception to the salvific plan of God.
“In the Immaculate Conception of Mary we are invited to recognize the dawn of the new world, transformed by the salvific work of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The dawn of the new creation brought about by divine mercy. For this reason, the Virgin Mary, never infected by sin and always full of God, is the mother of a new humanity. She is the mother of the recreated world.” (Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2015)
We have not been conceived without sin, but we have been washed clean of Original Sin at Baptism (and all prior sin, if one was baptized as an adult). While we have all sinned since that time, our Baptism offers us a share in the mission of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King. Though followers or disciples, he also sends us as apostles, or as missionary disciples, out into our challenging world to witness to him by what we say and do. That is why we are told at the end of each Mass to “Go”. We are sent on mission by Christ and the Church as joyful witnesses of God’s love and mercy.
Our best example of how to be a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She followed Jesus as his disciple unfailingly during her life and continues from her heavenly home as Queen of Apostles to invite us to encounter her Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
**This post was originally published on 12/7/2017.
“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my time thinking about the things that I don’t have. It’s not like I am constantly sitting in self-pity and comparison, but in the back of my head is a pretty consistent “why?” Why don’t I have this when so and so has this? I deserve this, why hasn’t God given it to me? Why why why? These thoughts certainly don’t make me happy, and they most certainly are not of God. So why is it so easy for me to live in a state of unease and ingratitude?
The evil one does not want us to count our blessings. He uses the good fortune of others to distract us from our own good fortune. He does not want us to live in the moment and bask in the glory of God’s creation. He wants us to see what everyone has, and for us to ask God, why don’t I have that? Why haven’t you chosen to give that thing to me?
The quote above from St. Gianna is such a perfect example for us to meditate on how to live each day praying in thanks to our God rather than letting ourselves sink into ingratitude. St. Gianna suffered from chronic illness in her life, and it would have been very easy for her to complain and sink into bitterness because of it. Instead, she chose to “live moment by moment” in gratitude for the gift of a life being lived for God.
Maybe an exercise we can try to practice this advent is any time we are tempted to compare, any time we are tempted to sit in self-pity instead of living in the moment, we instead offer a prayer for the people who seem to be more blessed than us. God knows their crosses as well as their joys, just as He knows ours.
And as we move forward into this new year in the Church, let’s make a resolution together. Let us follow the example of St. Gianna and the many saints in Heaven who lived singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for our blessings and for the blessings God has given to our fellow man. Let us not live in comparison and unease. Let us be grateful for every single moment!
Click here for more resources on Advent.
Click here for more resources about St. Gianna Molla.