There’s a lot of preparation that goes into the holiday season. It seems in our secular society as soon as the calendar changes to November that the world begins buzzing with cooking, baking, buying, wrapping, and planning. Our calendars overflow with gatherings and obligations and before we know it, it’s a new year. As Catholics, we know that this time of year tells a different story. However, the loud hubbub of secular holiday cheer swirling around us can make it difficult to proclaim it, even to ourselves.
What would it look like in our daily lives over these next few weeks if we as Catholics challenged ourselves, in this season of frenzied preparation, to prepare ourselves to wait? What might that look like? Here are a few steps that we can take.
We cannot decipher what steps to take if we do not spend the time observing where our current steps are leading. Take some time over these next few weeks to observe your spiritual and physical life. Make note of the areas of your life that you feel you are consistently inviting the Holy Spirit to be a part of and those areas in which He has not received an invitation. Notice the time of day or week that anger, frustration, hurt, or anxiety creep into your heart and mind. Where are your moments of joy, praise, and thanksgiving?
How are you caring for your physical body and its environment? Observe how you are fueling your body and your mind. Is the source and substance of that nourishment strengthening your body and mind to be the best version of yourself? Are you spending moments in joyful movement, whatever that may look like for your body, in praise and thanksgiving of the vessel that is fearfully and wonderfully made? Simply take time to observe and collect information on your current state. Try not to put a label or judgment on your observation, but rather work to build your awareness.
Once you have collected your observations, spend some time reflecting on this newfound information and present it at the foot of the Cross. Implore the Holy Trinity to open your eyes and your heart to reveal to you the areas in your life that could be improved or strengthened. Ask for divine intervention to reveal to you the strengths that you possess and the gifts and talents that have been given to you. How might you utilize these strengths, gifts, and talents to bring life and light to those areas of your life that may be lacking? Be patient in your reflection. Do not be afraid of silence! It is often within the quiet of silence that He will make His presence known to you. Allow this prayerful, reflective time to turn your observational information into knowledge.
It’s time to turn that knowledge into a plan. Through your observation and reflection, you will have gathered the necessary tools to be able to move forward in your journey. Carry the strengths that have been revealed to you and humbly face the shortcomings that you have observed. What does action look like for your journey? What steps are required to strengthen areas of your spiritual and physical life that may be lacking? Put your plan into practice and remain vigilant and prayerful of the different ways that you can tweak your plan.
We have spent the remaining weeks of the liturgical year in observation, reflection, and action… and now we wait. As you enter into the Church’s new year and the season of Advent, commit to the action plan you have created and joyfully await the celebration of the birth of YOUR Savior. If you’ve put the work into the first three steps, you will find that your action plan is in fact leading you to prepare for the tiny babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5)
Prepare to wait. Prepare the way. Prepare the place and invite Him to take residence in you – body, mind, and soul.
For more resources to accompany you during this Advent season, please click here.
Today is the celebration of the Feast of St. Januarius, lovingly known in Italy as St. Gennaro. Januarius was an Italian bishop and martyr who died around the year 305. Not much is known about him other than what has been passed down in tradition, which tells us that the bishop of Benevento died under the Christian persecution of Diocletian along with six companions. After being thrown to wild beasts, who did not attack them, the Christians were beheaded.
The accounts and lives of the martyrs always serve to build up the Church. As Tertullian’s saying famously states, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." We recall the accounts of martyrs throughout the ages such as Felicity and Perpetua, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Miguel Pro, Blessed Richard Henkes, S.A.C., and most of the Apostles themselves. How diverse and rich is the witness of the martyrs and saints! In each generation, the martyrs demonstrate heroic faith in a culture of opposition that culminated in the sacrifice of their very lives.
In the case of St. Januarius, his witness continues in a special way today as a result of his relics. Not only is his witness of martyrdom powerful, so is the miracle associated with his blood. After Janurius’ beheading, a woman named Eusebia collected the bishop’s blood in a vial. This was brought to Naples and has been venerated for centuries. Most extraordinarily, for the past recorded 400 years starting in 1389, the dried vial of Januarius’ blood liquefies typically on three dates a year: “in the spring during celebrations of the feast of the transfer of the saint’s relics to Naples; Sept. 19, his feast day; and Dec. 16, the local feast commemorating the averting of a threatened eruption of Mount Vesuvius through the intervention of the saint.”
Most recently, his blood half-liquefied on a date outside of the normal dates with a visit from Pope Francis in March of 2015. In his typical humble fashion, Pope Francis responded to the applause from the crowd saying, “The bishop said the blood is half liquefied. It means the saint loves us halfway; we must all convert a bit more, so that he would love us more.” Through his words, Pope Francis reminds us that the purpose of miracles is to draw us closer to Christ and to increase our faith. Jesus performed miracles not for spectacle, but for healing and conversion.
The miracles of holy men and women continue to this day and serve the same purpose: to inspire profound faith in the ongoing work of God that causes us to strengthen our love of Him in word, action, and service. May they inspire our own faith and lead us closer to the One who modelled perfect martyrdom in charity—Jesus Christ—whose martyrdom we commemorate at every celebration of the Eucharist. Nourished by his Body and Blood, may we emerge from our parishes strengthened to answer persecution with love, hatred with forgiveness, apathy with zeal, ignorance with truth, and selfishness with compassion. In doing so, we will be everyday martyrs—literally, witnesses—proclaiming the Gospel with our lives.
St. Januarius, pray for us.
While I was speaking with a priest not very long ago about young adult ministry and how to grow a community of young adults in my area, he said something which felt as if someone was smacking me on the head. Almost in passing, he remarked, “We must share the teachings of Jesus in such a way that people become disciples of Christ and not consumers of Christ.”
I am sure this was not the most significant thing that he was getting at, and it was not the focus of our conversation. However, as I was driving home from that meeting, I could think of little else.
As I reflected on this, I was reminded of a fundamental aspect of our faith. We are called to be in relationship. In a way, all the stories throughout the Bible, from Moses in the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, are about forming and maintaining relationships.
Relationship is everything—relationship with God, our fellow brothers and sisters, and (as Pope Francis explained more recently in Laudato Si’) creation. Someone who is in a true relationship with God, humanity, and the environment will be seen as a disciple of Christ and not a consumer of Christ.
But how do we do this? How do we realize the value in relationships?
First, we must drop the idea that we deserve our relationship with Christ. Too often we seem to walk into the church on Saturdays to take the sacrament of reconciliation, or on Sundays to take the sacrament of Holy Communion just as if we were walking into a Starbucks and placing an order. But the sacraments are not about taking, they are about receiving.
I think a “graduation mentality” can enter into our faith life at times: we can partake in the sacraments as something which we have earned. To take something is to only recognize the one who takes. To receive something is to recognize not only the receiver but also the giver. To receive something is to form a relationship.
In taking the time to understand this difference, I realized the importance of being a disciple of Christ and not simply a consumer of Christ. Being a disciple is being open to those relationships, and taking an active part in them. This sounds simple, but simple does not mean easy.
How then do we fully partake in these relationships?
This is the second part of what it means to be a disciple. We must truly understand that a relationship takes two to work. Again, this sounds simple but it is not easy. For those of us who are outgoing it can be difficult to listen, and it can be difficult for those of us who are comfortable in our silence to speak. However, it is important that we do both! We must be able to voice our opinions, positions, and thoughts just as we must be able to listen to our God, our family, our friends, and to creation.
Doing this can be uncomfortable at times. We will have to participate when we do not want to, and we will have to wait patiently when all we want to do is speak. This giving and receiving is manifested in the structure of the Mass. We give God our prayers, attention, and hearts, and he gives us himself through his Word and the Eucharist.
This touches on another aspect of relationships – action. Relationships are not only about speaking and listening, but also about the actions we take to fulfill the words we speak. Jesus did not simply talk about giving up his life for our salvation. He endured the scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the cross, and his crucifixion to redeem us. The perfection of his actions opened up the possibility for us to be in perfect relationship with our Savior, our Creator, and all of creation.
Relationships can be messy. In order to be disciples of Christ, we must put away our spiritual debit cards and throw away our transactional faith mentality. Being a disciple of Christ is about being in and building relationships. It is not easy, but sacrifice never is. We are called to be disciples of Christ, not consumers of Christ.
To learn more about what it means to be a disciple, please click here.
This year, the theme for Catechetical Sunday (September 16th) is “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” This day is a reminder that all of the baptized play a role in the mission of sharing Christ with others, whether that be through formal or informal ministry.
This mission seems pressing today. In Bishop Robert Barron’s 2018 message for Catechetical Sunday, he says we are losing baptized Catholics at an alarming rate. In a Pew Research report, we see that Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics make up about 23% of the U.S. adult population.
This group of religiously unaffiliated individuals, or “nones,” is mostly concentrated among young adults, and the median age of unaffiliated adults continues to get younger. Of this population, those who describe themselves as agnostic or “nothing in particular” cite their top reason for not affiliating with a religion is that they question a lot of religious teachings. Having questions is actually an essential part of learning about and understanding the Catholic faith; only when we question can we begin to move beyond a lack of understanding and come to learn the truth of the Gospel. God desires for us to use our intelligence to come to know him before acting upon our faith.
The majority of young adults and “nones” find value in meaningful relationships over institutionalism and in authenticity over authority (Halbach). This shows us that the Church can engage the “nones” by forming relationships in order to accompany them along the journey of life. In the mission to bring Christ to others, we serve as authentic witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel through our lives. The Church needs the active participation of the laity to conduct outreach efforts in the everyday moments of our lives, both inside and outside of the Church. We were created to be social beings who can form relationships with others that will lead them to Christ and to the Church.
Much of this relationship building happens organically in our communities and parishes. For example, a couple of weeks ago, my parish young adult group heard that the grandmother of one of our new members had passed away. After hearing this news, we wrote and signed a sympathy card to mail her. By this small act of love for our fellow sister in Christ, we were able to show our genuine care for her and our desire to welcome her back to church after her travels for the funeral.
As missionary disciples, we know that there is no one “right” path to building these relationships and caring about those around us. This allows us to share our innate gifts creatively with others in order to build authentic relationships. Furthermore, sharing our own faith stories of personal encounters with Christ helps us to accompany others on their faith journeys as well. We must show others that we love them through our actions rather than our words. Christ enlists us as his witnesses. This Catechetical Sunday, how can you respond to his call?
Questions for Reflection: Are we open to questions about our Catholic faith in helping ourselves and others come to know God? Are we preparing ourselves to be able to answer questions from others about the faith in a rational manner? What are some ways you can begin to build authentic relationships with others in your community or parish? How are you building personal relationships with others in context of your faith journey?
To learn more about living as missionary disciples, click here.
What is the best method of evangelization? In an era when 35% of young adults (ages 18-29) identify as having no religion at all, we as Christians ought to consider whether our approach to evangelization is working. Too often we think that if those outside the fold just heard the right arguments, if they just read--really read--the right things, they would see the capital “T” Truth. We press onto our non-religious friends blogs and books, podcasts and pamphlets, all with answers to the usual questions skeptics raise (What about evolution? What about violent extremism? Etc.) and we assume that they’ll suddenly just see the light and believe.
It should be apparent by now that this approach doesn’t work.
Imagine doing this in any other context. Paraphrasing an analogy from Bishop Robert Barron, let’s imagine that you are taking a group of seven-year-old boys out onto a baseball field for the first time. You say as the coach, “Now boys, today I’m going to teach you about the incredible game of baseball. It’s a game that you’ll love your whole life. It’s a beautiful game of strategy and strength, precision and unpredictability. Ready to get started? Good. For your first lesson in this game, I’m going to teach you the infield pop-fly rule. Now, yes, it’s a ticky-tacky rule, but it’s actually crucial and can make the difference in a big play. Now let’s go sit on that bench in the dugout and take a look at this little diagram I have here about what to do when you encounter this tricky little hit.”
What seven-year-old walks away from that with a love for baseball?
Rather, says Bishop Barron, you ought to introduce the little guy to the beauty of the game. Take him to the stadium and let him see the best of the best playing. Let him watch as the batter slams one to left field only to have the ball caught in a running dive by the outfielder—his whole body outstretched from head to toe, muscles straining in his neck, eyes up, glove out, lunging across the green as he just barely catches the ball with an audible thunk!
Let the boy see the magic of the game unfold before him.
When we allow a beautiful thing to be beautiful, it speaks for itself. There’s no need to come armed with arguments. The beautiful thing itself lays hold of our soul and draws us in. For the seven-year-old baseball player, he sees the beauty of the game, he desires to participate, and then once he himself is playing, he starts to learn the nuances of the rules and how the rules themselves are part of what makes the game beautiful. In time, the boy is so in love with the game and its rules that he is moved to share that love with others, to get them to see what he sees. Citing the 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of aesthetics, Barron says that beauty claims the viewer, changes him, and then sends him on mission.
Theologically, beauty is one aspect of the three properties of being called the Transcendentals – the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, all of which together lead us to God, who is Being itself. The trick, of course, is determining the order of our approach. When we start our mission of evangelization with truth we too often shut down dialogue with non-believers, who often find themselves enmeshed in a culture of moral relativism and self-made meaning – who are you to tell me what’s true?
I agree, with Balthasar, Bishop Barron, and others, that we ought to flip the order around. Let the beauty of our Christian faith–whether it is displayed through our liturgy, our sacred art and music, our actions toward one another, or the radiant light of Christ shining through us–draw people in. Let them experience the beauty of the Faith so that they desire to participate in it, in however small a way at first. Consider this hypothetical scenario: A non-believer friend sees you act charitably toward someone who has made you suffer. He sees you forgive and put the wrong behind you. He is taken aback by your generosity. He thinks that he would like to be like that too. In time, he finds himself emulating you. In time, he begins to see that Christians as a people are not all hypocritical. In time, he begins to think that Church teaching might actually engender goodness in human beings in general, not just you. In time, he finds himself agreeing with the basic moral vision of Christianity, even if he rejects the faith itself. In time, he happens to hear Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and begins to wonder what it all means. In time, your beautiful action leads him home.
As Christians, our love for Christ and our love for the Church sometimes make us blind to the sincerity of many skeptics. We dismiss their often earnest desire to do and be good merely because we’ve determined that they can’t do it without God. We feel like it’s our duty as Christians to steer them straight, bring them to the fold. Yet, the next time we consider jumping into the Facebook fray of endless arguments about religion and morals, let us instead refresh our screens, share something beautiful, and move on. Let us allow beauty to soften our hearts of stone and turn them to the sacred heart of Jesus.
Question for reflection: Which of your interests and passions in life started with an experience of beauty? Who among us seems to need an experience of the beautiful and how can you be the one to give it to them?
We live in a world where social media creates a narrative of perfection and curated happiness. The constant pursuit of success, fulfillment and precision fuel our actions. We confuse modern ideals of self-interest, pleasure and minimalism with happiness. This false sense of happiness leads to a severe sense of discontent with our culture of appearances and deception. This, in turn, gives rise to the importance placed on truth and authenticity. Beneath the discontent we all feel is a shared desire to witness and live authentic lives.
In a new film, “Pope Francis – A Man of His Word,” we watch the story of a man who practices what he preaches. In the movie, we hear from a religious sister who says that God gives us a pope who is a reflection of what we need in the current times. In a global society that is starved for genuineness, sincerity and truth, Pope Francis provides the world with simple, bite-sized snippets of profound wisdom that are easily understood.
In one of those snippets of wisdom, our pope urges us to “Talk little, listen a lot.” As 1 John 3:18 says, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Pope Francis shows us through his actions – washing the feet of inmates, providing a kind touch of prayer to sick children – that tenderness is strength and not weakness. I work in communications and in my profession we have a common phrase that says, “show, don’t tell.” Our culture yearns to see others living out honest, genuine values through action, not words. Pope Francis is an example of someone who shows us how to love and that love is a choice.
Love is at the core of Jesus’ message. His teachings are those of love in action. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” However, in order for us to love like Jesus, we must be free to give of ourselves to another. Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever we want, when we want, where we want; it’s the ability to choose what is noble, true and right.
Sometimes it seems that as a society we have lost our identities as free beings created by God to love and be loved. We forget that God placed the sense of longing for happiness in our hearts so that we may love him, ourselves and others. This yearning is designed to bring us closer to God and ultimately provides our fulfillment.
Questions for Reflection: Who are the people in your life that show you how to freely love others? How can you show love for others in your own way using the gifts bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit? What are some simple steps you can take to live out your life authentically?
"Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well." – St. Vincent Pallotti
Blessings to all on the feast day of St. Vincent Pallotti!
Today’s feast is not celebrated universally in the Church, even though it is listed on the Vatican’s calendar of saints. And yet, this humble Roman priest who was ordained 200 years ago this coming May 16th, by his deeds and words still affects the lives of people around the world through his legacy, the Union of Catholic Apostolate.
The Catholic Apostolate Center is a 21st century expression of the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti as articulated in the General Statutes of the Union, particularly number 12:
“The Union of Catholic Apostolate participates in the mission of the Church to reawaken faith and an awareness of the vocation to the apostolate, to rekindle charity among all the members of the People of God, so that they be ever more united in a commitment to spread charity and so that there be, as soon as possible, one flock under one Shepherd (cf. Jn 10, 16). Therefore, the Union, in communion with the competent Pastors, promotes collaboration among all the faithful in openness to new forms of evangelization.”
The action that we take is not simply on our own, but is in collaboration and union with others and fosters greater co-responsibility for the mission of Christ and his Church.
As we celebrate this special feast day today, please know that our prayers are with you. May you continue to revive faith, rekindle charity, and form apostles wherever you are and in whatever you are doing. May your words and deeds be done well!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Peter and Paul are often depicted together in iconography in a circle, embracing one another in a brotherly hug with expressions of affection. In contrast, images of Romulus and Remus, the mythological twins, are usually facing away from each other.
According to legend, Romulus and Remus, after whom the city of Rome was named, were abandoned at birth and cast into the Tiber River. When they grew up, the twins embarked on a quest to found their own city. Romulus and Remus disagreed about which hill to build their city on. Eventually, Romulus just started digging a ditch around the Palatine Hill and building a wall. Remus mocked his brother’s work, and in a fit of anger Romulus killed him; Rome and her empire were founded on fratricide.
Now contrast this with the re-founding of Rome through the spread of Christianity by Sts. Peter and Paul. If anyone had a cause for strife and division, it was these two. Paul was the chief persecutor of the early Christians led by Peter. These two, at first, had little in common. It took divine action to make these enemies into brothers. Peter and Paul were ultimately bound together in a bond stronger than blood: the love of Christ.
It is in this love that Peter and Paul had the foundation of their relationship. Through Christ, these two men were closer than twins in the womb. That’s something I don’t think we fully understand today. Media often portrays the family as the highest and most deserving of our love and loyalty, but there is One who has a higher claim on us. Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” God must come first in our lives, as he did for Peter and Paul. All of our relationships need to take their cue from this one. It isn’t that these natural, human relationships are bad; quite the contrary, they are good. But they are called to be ordered and rooted in the love of Christ.
For Peter and Paul, Jesus of Nazareth was the source of their relationship. Peter knew Jesus and walked with him for three years before Christ entrusted him with his flock. Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, persecuted Christ by persecuting his followers until Jesus appeared to him on the way to Damascus. Peter and Paul eventually met and talked about the workings of God in their lives and in their ministry.
That doesn’t mean they always got along perfectly. In what is known as the “Incident in Antioch,” Paul calls Peter out on the issue of whether or not Gentile converts have to first become Jews and follow Jewish laws in order to be “real” Christians. Peter had previously stated that the Gentiles had no need to follow Jewish custom, and that the new covenant was open to all. However, under pressure from Jerusalem, Peter went back on his word. He traveled to Antioch, where Paul was, and Paul “opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.” One can almost hear the exasperation in Paul’s voice as he writes of the incident. But along with the exasperation, one can hear love. Paul is not calling Peter out for the sake of pointing out his spiritual brother’s mistake, but for the sake of the Church and Christ, whom they both love and preach. Peter accepted Paul’s rebuke. In fact, it gave Peter courage to stand up to the Judaizers, those who wanted the Gentiles to practice Jewish customs. Paul always accepted and sought out Peter’s authority as head of the Church, but it didn’t stop him from encouraging his brother to remember the truth and to care for the souls entrusted to him.
Peter and Paul remind us that brothers can be born from unlikely sources. Early Christian tradition tells us they were imprisoned together for nine months before their martyrdoms on the same day. The New Rome and her Kingdom were founded on fraternal love. As we celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, let us look to their model of fraternal correction and mutual love as we work to spread the Gospel message in our own lives.
Questions for Reflection: Have you ever had to challenge a friend or family member to become a better version of themselves? Has anyone ever called you out on something you were doing that wasn’t in line with your faith?
Today is the fifth day of the Octave of Christmas and for many of us, the hubbub of Christmas has come and gone and we are getting back to work. On Christmas Day, we were overwhelmed with the joy of the birth of Christ and the excitement of sharing in God’s love for the world. This feeling does not necessarily wear off right away, it can stick with us for many weeks to come and leaves us wondering “what’s next?”
Every time I hear these words I think of the show The West Wing, where President Bartlet’s signature phrase is “what’s next?”. This phrase brings continuity to the story line as the characters continually dedicate their lives to serving the nation. As I think about it now, we can use this simple little phrase to help ground us as we move beyond the Christmas season. The year 2017 is just a few days away and many of us are thinking about what our new year’s resolutions are going to be: from dieting, to posting a photo on Instagram every day, to reconnecting with old friends. While these are great ideas for the coming year, instead of just focusing on ourselves, let us also try to ask “what’s next” for our faith and our relationship with Christ. We can do this in a few simple steps:
Our relationship with Christ is critical and now is the perfect time to evaluate it. We have so many resources available to us: our priests and parishes, our friends and bible study groups, the saints and the Holy Family, and many more. Asking ourselves “what’s next,” gives us the opportunity to recommit ourselves to God, to dive deeper into our faith, and to live out our lives as apostles. Let us use the momentum of the new year and the joy of the Christmas season to motivate ourselves into keeping our faith alive and healthy.
Nicholas Shields is a Young Professional in Washington, D.C.
I recently watched a movie that’s been on my Hulu queue for some time--a 1966, mostly black and white film by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky on the 15th century medieval Russian artist named Andrei Rublev. Sound exciting? Maybe not to all… but it was on the Vatican’s recommended Best Films list, so I thought it was one probably worth seeing.
Of all the magnificent works of Christian art and architecture, I believe the Russian monk and artist Andrei Rublev’s (c. ~1360–1430) icon of the Holy Trinity still stands out. For how influential the icon has been for generations of artists and theologians, it doesn’t look like much. You may have seen the icon but never heard of the Russian monk and artist, Rublev, of whom little information is known (especially after he took his vow of silence!). Those who have seen the icon may never have recognized the Trinity present in the domestic scene of three people sitting around a table. Rublev’s icon is both simple and complex.
Even though the Catechism tells us the, “mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234), we may still find it difficult to imagine what difference the Trinity makes in our daily life and actions.
The Sunday after Pentecost (this May 22) celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or Trinity Sunday for short. I’m not giving a movie review or a systematic take on the Trinity, but Andrei Rublev did serve as a reminder of the great mystery and gift of God revealed in the three persons of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Rublev’s work is not simply a masterpiece of medieval Russian iconography, but also represents one of the most profound and concise theological reflections on the Trinity in history. Known by most non-Western Christians as The Hospitality of Abraham, the three persons seated around a table depicts the Old Testament scene of three angels visiting Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-15) that Christian tradition sees prefiguring the Trinity fully revealed at the coming of Christ and the sending the Holy Spirit.
Andrei Tarkovsky produced Andrei Rublev and loosely based it on the life of the artist and his conviction of “Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity.” Tarkovsky’s hauntingly beautiful film, set in 15th century Russia, is not really a biography, but an exploration of the human longing for transcendence and freedom in God through faith and art in a world often characterized by the chaos and violence of sin. When first released, various scenes were censored or cut out entirely by government officials of the atheistic and authoritarian Soviet Union, whose oppressive ideology the film subtly criticized. Tarkovsky believed his Trinitarian faith led him to take risks for truth, not remain comfortably passive. It was for this reason that he produced such a compelling film.
For Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Trinity wasn’t just an abstract idea, but a power and a presence at work in the world and in every human heart. Their work highlights their belief that when we suppress God in our lives, we are cut off from the source of true freedom, beauty, creativity, and peace. Instead, the Trinitarian character of our faith should empower us to bring these qualities into every aspect of our lives- from art to politics, medicine and healthcare, business, and everything else.
Maybe the most “practical” truth about our belief in the Trinity is how it changes the way we look at things, especially our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. Tarkovsky’s movie is in black and white… until towards the end when it shows Rublev’s icons. The Trinity icon is the last, and it stands out in vivid color. Artists like Rublev and Tarkovsky don’t show us what God actually looks like, but they do depict the realities of everyday as they look like through the eyes of faith.
The community of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a model of mutual affection and other-centeredness that we can apply to our relationships with friends, family members, and those we encounter. For example, in our political views, are we seeking power and influence over others, or striving for cooperation in achieving the common good? The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in their respective functions of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the world. Do our actions and lifestyles imitate this self-giving? By contemplating Trinitarian works of art like those of Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity helps our everyday thoughts and actions beautify and bless the world around us.
This year, my fellow CUA students and I have the honor of helping lead the hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates participating in the 43rd Annual March for Life in Washington, DC. The March for Life is one of my favorite events of the year. While the hope remains that one day we won’t need to march, the event remains a beautiful witness of women and men, clergy and religious, various peoples of culture and faith, the old and the young alike.
Throughout high school, I remember identifying more as “anti-abortion” rather than “pro-life” (the former focusing on fighting attempts to normalize abortion; the latter upholding the dignity of all human life, from cradle to grave). I was all too aware of the evils of abortion, such as the exploitation of women for money, the promotion of sexual promiscuity, and the intentional termination of the life of the unborn child. Even more so, I resented the continuous attacks on the dignity of the human person— whether in utero or with physician-assisted suicide—and found myself compelled to and justified in fighting back with a passion similar to that of those I deemed my opponents. After all, the God-given rights of the human person were at stake, and demanded a strong defense— I perceived anything less than that as scandalous of a human being.
When I attended my third March for Life as a freshman in college, however, I experienced a shift in the focus of my pro-life activism; it was just that— pro-life— in short, recognizing and promoting the wondrous beauty, goodness, and dignity of life itself. While attending the March for Life affords you the amazing opportunity to meet many, many others who are energized (in spite of the cold and often snowy weather) to make their pro-life witness heard, that year I recall paying closer attention to the speakers on stage during the rally prior to the March. In a recurring theme, speaker after speaker stressed to the crowds the importance of not only standing firm despite perceived setbacks or difficulties, but to also continue to love, especially if none is being offered back.
“Love is not passive,” I remember hearing, “If you’re passionate about loving life, then that love is what moves you— it’s the driving force behind your actions.” Authentic love demands recognizing all of humanity as good— even those opposing pro-life work. Now, pro-life work also includes issues pertaining to end-of-life care, the death penalty, and so on, but here I’m focusing on the life in the womb. All of humanity has this incredible dignity because our Lord Himself became human, sharing in our earthly life. All of humanity, then, is connected to Christ: “By His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human being” (Pope St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 2).
Just as Jesus exemplified in His ministry, we must seek out souls and love them. To truly become promoters of life, we must fearlessly speak the truth, not just to win an argument, but out of love for each unique and irreplaceable person. For example, we have to look with compassion on those who are facing difficult situations with pregnancies, end of life care, and facing the death penalty. We must love those who speak with hatred toward us. Above all, we must witness with lives of love to a society enthralled by the “culture of death.”
It is out of love for the beauty and gift of human life that we stand up against the evils that are offenses against it. Being pro-life is not about a personal agenda or political stance. Each life is a miracle created by God and continuously loved into existence by Him. Being pro-life isn’t about marching one day, writing a blog, or having a debate. It is about being humbled by the miracle of life, recognizing the dignity of each person, and living in a way that witnesses and defends the love of Christ:
“At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love. Now more than ever, in a world that is often without light and without the courage of noble ideals, people need the fresh, vital spirituality of the Gospel” (Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day 1993).
That is why we march.
‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” -Luke 17:10
The passage above, taken from Tuesday’s Gospel, describes the humble response Christ tells us to have in fulfilling our responsibilities. Even when God calls us to do extraordinary things, we should seek no praise for them. This kind of humility is exemplified by Pope Francis, whose papacy has had a deep humility as one of its defining characteristics. When reflecting on the moment of his election as the Successor to Saint Peter, Pope Francis said, “This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze … but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” Most of us will never be given such a place of honor, but it is in the small every day experiences that we can show our humility and be an instrument of Gods graces.
One example of someone showing humility comes from my brother, a midshipmen (student) at the U.S. Naval Academy. I feel that any person who offers up even a portion of their life to serve in the military and help make our freedoms possible should be respected and thanked. One way in which airline companies show their appreciation for the services provided by the military is to allow uniformed members of the military to board planes early. Though getting on an airplane a few minutes early may seem like something trivial, many of us go out of our way to try to get a good place while boarding a plane so that we may get a better seat or more overhead storage space.
The U.S. Naval Academy requires all of its midshipmen to travel in uniform. Once while traveling home with my brother, the crew announced that any uniformed members of the military could board early. I looked at my brother, expecting him to board, but he didn’t. The women making the announcements had noticed him in the terminal and made the announcement again, but he still just sat there. As the women moved on, I asked my brother why he didn’t board when he had the opportunity to. He said something to the effect of not having earned any special treatment. Regardless of his service record, I don’t think my brother would take up the airline’s offer. My brother could have gotten a great seat, but he quietly turned down the offer.
Service in the military for my brother is a duty. I think it’s an extraordinary responsibility worthy of many thanks. That is what makes the humility shown by so many of the members of the military such a powerful witness to me. If men and women who are willing to risk their lives can demonstrate such humility, how much more could I demonstrate in my own daily tasks? Let us pray for members of the military and thank them in whatever way we can for their service, and take to heart the example that those like my brother and others in our lives give us in doing the ordinary things God has called them to do with humility.
Patrick Burke is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Did you know that as Catholics we commemorate the month of October as the month of the rosary? The rosary calls us to reflect on the life of Christ through the intercession of Mary, our Blessed Mother. The rosary is an invitation for us to build a relationship with Mary, so that we can better know her son. St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” One way to get to know Mary is by reading about her life from scripture. Mary’s words are not recorded often, and her actions seem to skim by even more subtly. Even so, the presence of her words and actions are profound, calling us to a deeper relationship with her and her son.
First, we learn from Mary that it is okay to ask questions on our faith journey. When the angel Gabriel announces to her that she will be the mother of the Son of God, she simply asks, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34). To know ourselves and have confidence in what we believe, we should always be asking questions. As a teacher, I encourage my students to ask questions all of the time. Although I am not as good as I want to be myself, from Mary I can take courage to ask more questions so that I can learn and grow in hopeful faith. When Mary questioned the angel, she learned: “Nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). And from there, we are called to take Mary’s example of humility and trust in her “Fiat” when she says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The second lesson that I have learned from Mary in the Bible has had the most profound impact on my life. After the birth of her son, and in the presence of the shepherds and angels, Luke records that “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). For me, this calls me to a life of deep reflection and intimacy with God. What I keep in my heart can move me closer to God if I invite him to share it with me: the goodness of each day, the little and big miracles, and even the hard and difficult trials. With God, everything is divine and happens with purpose; it is how I react, reflect, and let him mold me with the contents of my heart that I can become most pure. Mary is the perfect model of this. She remembers God’s glory, and holds it fast to her heart. Her life is characterized by this. I want to revel in God’s glory in all things like Mary, so that I can share this joy and love with others, and trust in his goodness when trials arise.
Finally, Mary’s last words in the Bible occur at the Wedding of Cana when the reception has run out of wine. She tells her son of his time to perform his first miracle, "They have no wine" (John 2:3), and it seems as though Jesus is not convinced. But next, Mary tells the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) with the utmost simplicity and confidence. Not only does she know that he is capable of great things, but she knows that her son will do great things. And so we must “do,” too. This message – “do whatever he tells you” – is a call for all of us to follow the words of Christ. Mary can only lead us to her son if we submit to his will with the trust and confidence she has modeled for us. Like Mary, we too must live our life as a Fiat, “Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”
What beautiful gifts Mary gives to us to know her faith and to let her mold us to be more like her son. Do not be afraid to let Mary be the one to lead you to Christ. She is perfect, in that she knows how to live her life for God: “Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself” (Deus Caritas Est, 41). Let her help you magnify the Lord. Today I will be praying the “Magnificat,” which is found in Luke. It is Mary’s prayer of joy and thanksgiving to God. Please join me in asking for Mary’s guidance towards her son, to lead us to a life full of grace as hers.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington, D.C.
During the spring of 2008, I was a freshman at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I was nearing the end of my first year of school, preparing to enter into finals, and attempting to figure out what my plans were for the summer. A few months prior, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be visiting the D.C. during his US Papal visit. Furthermore, he would be speaking at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America in subsequent days. To say I was a little excited for my first Papal Visit is a bit of an understatement. I remember vividly watching him ride in the Popemobile in front of the Basilica on the Wednesday of his arrival, the next day participating in the celebration of the Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in Nationals Park, and finally, seeing him drive near the Catholic University Law School lawn before his talk on the importance of Catholic Education. He greeted the crowds that came to see him. The people present were excited simply to be a part of that moment in history.
As I write this on Sept 15th, Pope Francis will be arriving in the United States in less than a week. That same excitement fills the air of our nations’ capital. That same excitement fills my heart as much as it did over seven years ago. Why is it that we should be excited for his arrival? In the age of computers, smartphones, and the 24/7 news media cycle, everyone can be a witness to Pope Francis and his message all the time. The excitement that I feel about his visiting the United States comes from a sense of honor and pride. Of all the countries in which Catholics live (and there are many), the choice of the Pontiff to visit our country brings a sense of pride to be a member of the nation that is experiencing history. As a note, this is not only Pope Francis’ first visit as pontiff to our country, it is also his first time ever visiting our country.
When Pope Francis arrives at Joint Base Andrews, United States Catholics around the country will watch, participate, and attend the events that Pope Francis will be a part of in Washington, D.C., New York City, NY, and Philadelphia, PA. Throughout six days, Catholics around the country have the opportunity to join in welcoming Pope Francis to our country. Whether through attending, participating, watching, or praying, all US Catholics can join in a celebration of the Pope’s visit and (hopefully) pride in understanding the momentous occasion of the event. It will hopefully renew that most perfect love, the love between God and man. In many ways, this visit from September 22-27 will be a great event and moment of potential evangelization.
What will we do on September 28? Will we simply go back to our lives as if this event never happened? This thought leads me back to my spring experience in 2008 because that is exactly what I did after Pope Benedict traveled back to Rome. As important and great as is the visit of a pope to your country, the words and actions of the pope during his visit are what should ultimately serve as a stepping off point in our evangelization journey. It doesn’t have to be something grandiose and over the top. Simple, sustainable acts of charity and prayer are enough to carry on the message of the Pope that was espoused when Francis was here. Fortunately for us, Pope Francis gave us a simple direction in his Apostolic Mission message: Love. Love is our primary mission as Catholics in the United States, and while this can be difficult to do, it is an important mission to carry forth when we watch Pope Francis leave from Philadelphia.
Recently, I took the plunge into adulthood and joined a local parish. This was no easy task and was a long time coming. For the past year or so following my college graduation, I have been searching for a parish to call home by attending Mass a few times here and a few there throughout my city. Just when the “church hopping” seemed endless...I found it. I knew it was where I belonged from the smiling baby in front of me, the bright and spacious sanctuary, and the other young-adults and families in the surrounding pews. I had been searching for a long time, focusing on small things like location, time, music selection, and ambiance, but I realized it was the community I was searching for so desperately. At this parish, it all came together.
My new parish is full of people, from newborns to elderly choir members, from single twenty-somethings to couples celebrating 40 years together, and everyone in between! The people are kind and welcoming, something I had not found in every church I stepped into. In the other churches people didn’t sing, or the homilies didn’t make sense, or the vibe was off, or there were no screaming kids present, and none of that seemed quite right. Although many people go to the parish closest to them, we are not at all required to do this. I was searching for a parish that felt right to me, especially after going to college where community was the center of my life, I knew I needed a place where an atmosphere of joy was present and alive in its parishioners each time I worship there. To illustrate my point, the USCCB provides a perfect explanation of what a parish community is:
"The parish is where the Church lives. Parishes are communities of faith, of action, and of hope. They are where the Gospel is proclaimed and celebrated, where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth. Parishes are the home of the Christian community; they are the heart of our Church. Parishes are the place where God's people meet Jesus in word and sacrament and come in touch with the source of the Church's life." --Communities of Salt and Light, p. 1
Now is the greatest time to become a parishioner. It is never too late to join a local parish, and it can be as easy as filling out an online application (like I did!). Here are three things that helped me throughout my search:
1. Bring someone. One way to not be nervous about going to a new church is to bring someone else with you like a friend or significant other.
2. Do your research. Look up all the information on that parish before you visit so that you understand a little bit more about the priests, rectors, and the size of the congregation.
3. Go early and explore. My favorite part about seeing a new church was when I got to walk around and see where everything was; everything from the beautiful stained glass and statues to the bathrooms and church hall.
Not long ago, I yearned for a welcoming, warm, friendly, vibrant, energetic parish that could be my new faith-filled community. Taking this leap into adulthood closed a chapter from my formative college years and began a new chapter in continuing my faith journey. So, whether it is Marriage, Baptism, Confirmation, Easter, Ordinary Time, or Advent, I know my heart will be open to listening for God’s message of love in a place I can call my home parish.
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.