Let’s face it, trudging along in our daily lives can be dull sometimes. One must try, even if the thought is just a curious leap of the soul, to remove oneself from the business of the world and to look up at the sky. We must look up in the sky toward a marvelous sight, the light that propels life on this earth, the face of the creation, and the Creator of beauty.
In all areas of darkness, light abounds brighter than ever. In all things, we exist and share in our lives with our Creator. Everything we do is profound in its own small way. Everything that happens, happens with and for a purpose, with and for a cause, ever meaningful and ever present in our lives. Our lives are living, never truly dying. We will always have the light to look toward. The hope that always lets us know we are never truly alone in anything we do.
We must rise into the light in this very moment. This is what the fires of Pentecost are about. We must remember to put action into the journey of the disciple in sharing the truth and love of God in the world. It is waiting for the passions of our own lives to pass and form into one focus of love, pure and true. We are waiting for love, preparing for love, being there for love, attending to love, sacrificing for love, yet we must always remember that we ARE Love. We, as beautiful reflections of the heart of God can illuminate the darkness not only in our own lives, but in others as well. We can be beacons of light, shining bright for others to see.
Light is what draws us to the Heavens on a day with a clear sky. It is what makes us wonder at the millions of stars bursting in radiance in the night. It is what can illuminate any darkness no matter how small the flame may be. The light we see in the Sacraments passing from Christ into His people is nothing short of a miracle. The light we witness on the Cross, expelling all sin and darkness from our twisted up hearts, brings us closer to the very nature of love, the deepest kind of love, the love of Christ. In Him I see my guiding Light and my strength to carry on each and every day of my life. He is my starlight in the dark of the sky, letting me gaze of his majesty.
In everything, there is light. It is truly present infinitely in our universe. There is a place for us in the skies with the Father, for we, in this world, will rise a stronger people, ready to take up the mission of light, the mission of love, and the mission of hope for all who are searching for something, anything that can fulfill a restless heart.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology & Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Be sure to check out Pope Francis' latest encyclical, Laudauto Si, and visit the Catholic Apostolate Center's Laudato Si Resource Page!
We are about two weeks into our Lenten sojourn, and I’m not sure about your experience so far, but I know that it has already been a challenge for me. And that’s good! I wanted this Lent to more closely unite me to the Cross of Christ, not just for these forty days, but beyond this season, and God is answering this prayer in ways that I could never expect. In fact, he is delivering me from my own crosses so that I may know joy through this suffering.
So far, I’ve been able to take away two important lessons from my Lenten journey so far:
Life is hard. Our days are filled with many demands, and sometimes we fail to meet them. People will disappoint us. We may hurt others by our words or actions. We find ourselves exasperated, or at times feeling hopeless. But the one who hopes in the Lord knows that all of these trials of being human bring us to the Cross and teach us sacrificial love. This weekend at mass I was told, “Lent is a school of charity. Life is a school of charity” (Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth). As we navigate these crosses, God is literally stretching our hearts to be open to love – the love of the Cross – so that when we reach heaven, our hearts are like Christ’s sacred heart. And if he stretches our hearts through pain and sorrow, imagine how much God stretches our hearts through hope and joy! Through every trial and every gift we are being molded to become more Christ-like, capable of infinite love. If we could truly fathom this infinite love that God is preparing us for, we would live life on our knees in awe of the Cross. Truly we can say that life is a school of love, a school of charity.
The readings today teach us how we can plant our roots to let the Lord more fully direct our lives. We are consistently given the image of a tree whose roots are planted near running water. This tree’s leaves never fade, and in even drought, it still bears fruit. For me, this tree represents my cross, whose confidence must rely solely in the Lord. God can only keep my leaves evergreen if I live off of his waters, God will perform miracles in my life if I let him. Truly letting go of my pride and independence is so hard, yet extremely humbling. It truly takes confidence and prayer. In this school of charity, I’ve learned that even the simplest of prayers can help me submit my cross to God each day: “Multiply my time, Lord,” or “Let me see you where you need me to.” When I say these prayers and trust God to fulfill them, he does. He’s stretching my heart to know his love. He carries my crosses for me. Truly, I am a mere student in this school of charity.
As you pray today over your takeaways from Lent so far, I pray that you come to find peace in how the Lord is trying to carry your cross through His school of charity, and that you call upon the grace to let him do so. I pray that you reflect on where your tree is planted and that you want to live by God’s living streams. Ultimately, I pray that you know how loved you are. You are so loved that God is stretching your heart so that you may become more like him. He wants you to know infinite love, who is our Lord Jesus himself.
“I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love.” – Ephesians 3:17-18
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington, D.C.
In my community, I am a member of a young Catholic adult group where there are weekly women and men small groups. During one women’s small group we discussed discernment for everyday actions and decisions. One of the members mentioned Saint Ignatius’ book, The Discernment of Spirits, as interpreted by Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. and how the book helps her differentiate between God’s plan for her and her own wishes and temptations in everyday life. I hadn’t heard of this book before and decided to read the “Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living.”
While recuperating from a leg wound from the battle against the French in Pamplona, Ignatius asked for reading materials, of which he was given religious texts. Gallagher states, “While Ignatius ceases reflecting on the worldly project he finds himself ‘dry and discontented.’ Yet after he has considered the project of imitating the saints, the delight remains. He continues enduringly to be “content and happy.” Ignatius begins to become aware of the differences between bad spirits and the spirit of God. Ignatius then follows the process of becoming aware, understanding and taking action in order to discern what he must do.
Becoming aware means taking notice of what is happening in our inner spiritual thoughts. Gallagher is completely right when he says that, “the goods of the senses are more visible, more tangible, and more readily apparent to us than those of the mind and of the spiritual order… it is no easy task to untangle and identify the innumerable threads in the tapestry of our daily affective and reflective life.” Henry David Thoreau described how fast-paced we live our lives when he said in Walden, “It lives too fast.” The discernment of spirits requires us to focus on spiritual awareness, and not psychological or moral awareness. As our world becomes increasingly filled with technology and having the need to fill every moment with activity, we can easily lose quiet and reflection time required of us to discern what God is calling us to do.
Understanding is the reflection we take on the stirrings we have now noticed that allows us to see what is of God and what is not. In Ignatius’ experience, he notices the differences between the thoughts that leave him happy and those that leave him dry. He reflects upon these and eventually comes to recognize why a thought is of God and the other not. As for our own lives, Gallagher says to ponder if these thoughts affect our lives of faith, hope and love and if they allow us to follow God’s will. If so, than these are of God.
Taking action refers to accepting to live according to what we’ve noticed is of God and rejecting what is not of God. As if the first two steps of becoming aware and understanding God’s call to us aren’t difficult enough, rejecting or accepting a spiritual action requires us to make a decision in following God’s call. In Ignatius’ case, he accepts God’s project: he travels to Manresa to begin a life in imitation of the saints, and makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
There are a total of 14 rules Saint Ignatius describes in his text. Ignatius indicates that these rules are for the person who strives to overcome sin and who is simultaneously growing in the service of the Lord – a dedicated and progressing Christian.
As I continue on the journey of reading and reflecting on the discernment of spirits, I will happily share what I’m learning. Next up – a deeper dive into understanding the 14 rules!
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
“Deeds done well.” Note the emphasis that St. Vincent Pallotti places on how things are done. Too often there are many deeds that are not done well. They are done in a half-hearted, almost mechanical way. This is a “maintenance” mentality, as noted by the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization. A missionary mode of operating, as emphasized by the Synod and by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, was at the core of the actions of St. Vincent Pallotti. Today is Pallotti’s feast day. As founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, an association of lay people, consecrated persons, and clergy, a part of which is the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers), he understood the need for all Christians to be people of action, apostles of Christ.
Today in Washington, D.C., thousands and thousands of people are taking to the streets in a show of action for life. One of the things that characterizes this effort is the joy that those who participate show in witness to life. Sometimes people of action, including Catholics, do not show joy in their actions. Joyful action will draw others, invite others, unite them, and send them forth to collaborate for the good of the Church and for the world.
As we celebrate today the feast of the Patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, I invite you to reflect on the the words of St. John Paul II and to do many deeds to make them a reality:
“Continue to multiply your efforts so that what was prophetically announced by Vincent Pallotti, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, that all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world” (Homily of June 22, 1986).
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Fr. Frank Donio S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
To celebrate the Catholic Apostolate Center passing 50,000 "likes" on Facebook, Communications and Social Media Intern Andrew Buonopane created a list of 50 Ways to Enjoy your Faith. This is the first post in a five-part series where we'll share the whole list. Check back on the first Tuesday of the month for another installment!
#50 - Go to Confession
The Sacrament of Confession is one that many Catholics do not celebrate regularly. Haven’t been in a while? Check your parish website and see when Confession is offered and give it a try again! Need a refresher on the ritual? Check out the Catholic Apostolate Center’s Lenten Resource Page for year-round resources on this important sacrament.
#49- Remember to Laugh
Laughing is not only emotionally beneficial, but also has health benefits as well! Take the time to find humor where you can!
#48 - Learn to appreciate Silence
In our busy lives, silence is often hard to come by. When you do have a quiet moment, take a second to appreciate it!
#47 - Devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, whose "little way" taught that holiness can be sought in ordinary, everyday life.
Take some time to learn more about this incredible saint, whose feast day is celebrated on October 1st. She can teach us how to find holiness in our daily lives!
#46 - Become more active in your Parish
Next Sunday, check out your Church bulletin to see what is going on in your parish. See if there’s something you’d like to be more involved in!
#45 - Serve the Poor
Find a local meal program in your city and learn more about volunteering there. There are many programs and services that need time, talent, and treasure and offer many ways to serve those less fortunate.
#44 - View and Reflect on Sacred Art
Find an art museum or view a museum’s online collection to see many important works of art that depict sacred scenes. Or check out local art in parishes in your diocese! Many churches contain beautiful works of art such as stained glass windows.
#43 - Own a Catechism
…or view the new USCCB online Catechism here! The catechism is a great place to turn with questions about your faith or as a resource to learn more about what we as Catholics believe.
#42 - Take a pilgrimage
Pilgrimages can be to places near or far. In your own diocese, visit a parish or church you never have been before! Or research places such as the St. Jude Shrine, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, or other places of pilgrimage farther away!
#41- Devotion to St. Jude
St. Jude is a wonderful Saint to pray to when you don’t know where else to turn. He’s the patron saint of hopeless causes and many people find peace in praying to him.
#40 - Find a Bible Study
See if your parish has a bible study and get involved! Studying sacred scripture is an important way to deepen your faith.
Andrew Buonopane is the Communications & Social Media Intern for the Catholic Apostolate Center
I don’t know if you’re like me, but unfortunately I’m pretty good at losing things. In the past week alone I have lost my keys about 3 times (of course with St. Anthony to the rescue), and I think I have lost a Metro Card indefinitely. In the hustle and bustle of life, things that seem little begin to lose their priority, and when you need them you realize how important these things are in your daily life. When you find what has been lost you are incredibly thankful, but then the next day you forget about your celebration, and go on to the hustle and bustle of life, once again finding yourself in the same situation, begging God to help you find your keys.
Sometimes we treat our faith like our keys. We go through the motions of grabbing our keys and heading out the door, just like how we go through the motions of going to Mass every week. We just do it. We do so mindlessly, going through the routine, not really conscious of our actions and their meaning. Before you know it, we find ourselves in a mess bigger than we can handle, and we run to God because we know he is the one who can solve it. And without fail, God is faithful, and he embraces us in his loving arms, regardless of whether or not this is the first, second, tenth, or fiftieth time something has happened.
Why is God so willing to always take care of us, even when we have lost sight of him before? Even though we sin and feel unworthy? In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us two parables of God’s rejoicing when he searches for us and finds us. If you were the hundredth sheep in a flock, and you went missing, God would leave the ninety-nine and search for you until he found you. Not only does he search for you, but when he finds his lost sheep, “he [places you] on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep’” (Luke 15:5-6). Jesus then goes on to tell the story of a woman who lost one coin out of ten, and she lit a lamp and swept the house until she found her precious coin. When she found it, she rejoiced and celebrated with friends over finding what had once been lost! Just like the lost sheep or the missing coin, we are truly precious in God’s eyes and he celebrates when he brings us back to himself.
When we find ourselves in God’s embrace, it is important to remember that this is the place where we want to stay. It is a call for us as Christians to remember that heaven is our goal, and we need to be actively searching for God, just as God is always searching to bring us back to him. When we search for him, with eyes open and eager, we can find God in the smallest and simplest of things. Searching for God is a mindset that we must live out, and although it is challenging, there is grace and joy in living the life of a Christian. In today’s readings, St. Paul tells us that his mindset is this:
“More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:8-9)
As Christians we must lose ourselves and gain Christ. We must detach ourselves from this world and search for God. He is always giving us ways to bring us back to himself, if only we search for him. For me, in the trivial suffering of losing my keys, with the mindset of a Christian I see that God can use his glory in any situation to bring me back to himself. My dependence relies on God, not a set of keys.
Where can you search for God today? Is it when you lose your keys? Or perhaps you can find God in the rose bushes still blooming in November. Is it with a smile of a passerby? Where can you find Jesus? He is there, wherever you look for him. And when you find him, let your hearts rejoice (Ps 105:3).
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington D.C.
John: 15:9-11: As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” In today’s Gospel, we are given a clear picture of how we can live life in the joy of Christ. In order that our “joy might be complete”
Jesus tells us that we must imitate his love for the Father. Furthermore, Jesus references clear and simple guidelines on how to remain in his love, the commandments. In my own life, I believe the key here is the need for us to imitate Christ. We often say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and that could not be more true. Our goal should be union with God in heaven and the easiest way to achieve that union is by living a Christ-like life. Christ already loves us dearly, but how enamored is he when he sees us loving as he taught us! Christ yearns to be in relationship with us, for us to know him by loving like him. Mother Teresa had a beautiful devotion to Christ on the cross. When he exclaimed, “I thirst,” she interpreted this as Christ’s thirst for souls. He has an intimate longing for each of us to “remain in his love,” to know him and to love him. Therefore, when we imitate the love of Christ, we not only acknowledge the truth of his actions, but also are called to further relationship with God.
It is crucial for us to remain in Christ’s love and in relationship with him because we thirst for him as well. Our world longs for perfection and satisfaction, but we will never be able to achieve this as the world sees it. The perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect grades, house, family, car – none of these can satisfy us like we often think it will. Christ knows this because he knows us intimately – “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). He did not merely make us for this short life on earth – Christ made us to live eternally with him in heaven! Christ calls us to live this calling as citizens of heaven and to follow his commandments so that we may know him and his infinite joy. Let us pray with St. Paul that we may not be conformed to this age, but that we may be transformed by the renewal of our minds to the way of heaven, that we may discern what is the will of God, “what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
In conforming ourselves to Christ, in imitating his actions of love to all people and to the Father, by obeying the commandments laid out before us, we are called to be in relationship with him and thus take a most important step on the journey toward our salvation. It is important that we recognize the examples around us in Mother Teresa, St. John Paul II, our mothers and fathers, but it is also important to recognize that their holiness and their passion for the Lord steps from an imitation of Christ’s life. As the Easter season comes to a close in the next couple weeks, let us make a concerted effort to imitate Christ’s love and to conform ourselves to him.
Nicholas Shields is a graduate of The Catholic University of America with a degree in Mathematics.
My girlfriend watches Grey's Anatomy. I must admit, I am not a fan of the show, but I was in the room this week when she was watching an episode. Even though I was doing work, and I am almost incapable of multi-tasking, one of the characters caught my attention: the Cat Man. When he was a teenager, the Cat Man had many surgeries to turn his face and hands into forms that resembled today's common feline. He had done it because he thought it resembled who he was. He was trying to find meaning. Now, however, when he looked in the mirror, all he saw was shame and regret. He was alone, broken, and desperately seeking a way out.
As we begin this Lenten journey tomorrow, I find myself laughing at the use of such an extraordinary TV character as a segue into this most holy time of year. But Lent is a time when we, too, look into the mirror. We examine our actions, choices, and relationships. In today's culture, which requires success, money, vanity, and friends for self worth, the mirror can be a terrifying thing. So many look and see only brokenness from sin and the imperfections of this world. They see only hopelessness.
Yet hopelessness is the opposite of what this season is all about. This reflection, this time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is not meant to rub our faces in our brokenness. It is meant to show nothing less than the transformative and salvific power of the love of God. In Lent, we come before Christ again, and prepare our hearts to receive and experience the Paschal Mystery. And when we do that, when we turn back to the one who created us, we see the image of God in us.
Yes, Lent is when we look into the mirror. And since we are created in God's image, it is a time when we look and see if our lives reflect the sacred beauty that is in us. We ask how can we be more like Christ, more like the one who made us, more like ourselves. Because in the end, becoming more of who we are is what God wants us to do. God created each of us, and if we continually try to be ourselves to the fullest as Jesus showed with his life, ours will be filled with beauty, joy, and fulfillment. Look into the mirror. Do not be afraid. Look and see the beauty waiting to shine forth.
Be sure to check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's Lenten resources, by clicking here.
Brian Niemiec is the Curriculum Consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Growing up in a farming community in southern New Jersey (yes, New Jersey does have farms, that is why it is called the Garden State), I learned a little something about soil that is good for planting and soil that needs work, sometimes a great deal of work, until planting can happen. Good soil does not just “happen”. There is preparation and proper nurturing, even times of rest so that the soil is best. In his recent encyclical Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis talks about “good soil,”
“In the parable of the sower, Saint Luke has left us these words of the Lord about the ‘good soil;’ ‘These are the ones who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance’ (Lk 8:15). In the context of Luke’s Gospel, this mention of an honest and good heart which hears and keeps the word is an implicit portrayal of the faith of the Virgin Mary” (Lumen Fidei, n. 58).
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, we are offered by the Church the great example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ever-faithful disciple, who witnesses for us the way to live well our baptismal call as disciples and apostles of Christ.
“By her complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 967).
By witnessing faith and charity we live well our baptismal vocation. Our vocation as baptized is our primary vocation. All of the other vocations as married, single, consecrated, or priest are all secondary to this primary vocation as follower of (disciple) and sent by (apostle) Jesus Christ. Each is a way one can live out the primary vocation. How does one decide? Through a process of discernment, one is called to be informed, pray, make a choice, and take action. I make it seem easy. The process is not an easy one, but like making “good soil,” it is necessary in order to make a truly informed choice about how to live our vocation as a disciple and apostle. You might not be ready to make a choice about what way to live this vocation for life, or maybe you have done so already, but living it out as a disciple and apostle is what all of us are called to do. The Blessed Virgin Mary can assist us in our discernment of our apostolic vocation in life and in living it out faithfully and well, truly being “good soil.”
May we join together in the prayer of Pope Francis at the conclusion of Lumen Fidei.
“Mother, help our faith! Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call. Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise. Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith. Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature. Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One. Remind us that those who believe are never alone. Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!"
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
I try to make it to weekday mass before work. One day recently, father spoke of self-possession. “We must fully possess ourselves to fully give ourselves.” For me, these words could not ring more true.
My service year thus far has been one of immense growth, complete with intense growing pains (I went from 5’4” to nearly 5’9” in middle school and I remember complaining to my father how much my knees and legs were hurting). Until mass that day, I didn’t connect that I’ve been learning, trial-by-fire, the important relationship between self-possession and self-gift.
With my job as case manager at a residential high school for emotionally disturbed teenage boys, I can’t afford to live a life of extremes. I know what it’s like to go to work with little sleep (awful), I know what it’s like to go to work unprepared (stressful) and I know what it’s like to go to work in a bad mood (disastrous). This year is a crash-course in how to be an adult – I cannot get away with the disorganization that characterized my life for three-and-a-half of my four years of college. Then, I lived only for myself. Now, I have a duty to my community and to my students. I live for nineteen wild teenage boys, and whether or not they see or appreciate it, I need to be at my best every minute that I am at work. Self-possession, or self-discipline, is an important skill I am trying to acquire for the sake of myself and those I serve.
Social service is a field that demands one to continually give of oneself. You give your time and attention to students with issues like, “I have a toothache and my mom’s insurance card isn’t working, can you make me an appointment?” to “I feel abandoned by my family and don’t want to be in this place” to irate calls from parents, to surprise visits from state agencies.. One is constantly giving time and attention to all types of people and situations.
Self-discipline may have too much of an ascetic, medieval tone to it, but it is so very important for good work. I need to sleep. I need to smile and listen to others even when I don’t feel like smiling or listening. I need to do my paperwork in a timely manner. I need to read my work email instead of browsing the internet. I need to make sure I have time with friends so that I can be in a place of peace and happiness for my work. I need to model how to live a good life, so that when I give my students a hard time for playing 18 hours of video games over the weekend or for not communicating respectfully with their parents, I am not picking out their splinter in their eyes while the plank is in my own.
We learn more from what people do than what they say. Our world is inundated with words, most of them pretty useless. Actions are more powerful, and someone who does what he or she preaches is the kind of person I might stop and listen to.
Our faith has the most beautiful image of love: Jesus on the cross. That example of pure love, of most unselfish self-gift, moves me to action more profoundly than any words of a thoughtful hallmark card, any viewing of the Notebook, any poem of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (and I enjoy EBB!). Love in our faith is a dying to oneself for the sake of others and God. If I fully possess myself, I have grown in my ability to die constantly to myself. And if I have created that habit within, then I can more freely love and give to those around me.
By Jen Coe, Lasallian Volunteer 12-13 Place of Service: Martin De Porres, Queens, NY
This post was originally written and posted on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog.
For more Catholic Volunteer Blog Posts please visit the CVN Blog Page.
The Catholic Apostolate Center is proud to partner with the Catholic Volunteer Network by developing faith formation resources for volunteers and alumni, assisting in its efforts to provide and advocate for faith-based volunteerism and collaborate in many additional ways.
With the liturgical season of Lent – one of the holiest and most sacred times for our Church – now upon us, - many Catholic minds are churning in anticipation. While we prepare ourselves with the due reverence for Lent, we are equally busy devising just exactly what we shall sacrifice and how shall we keep it. While this great fast is meant to ignite a vision of our Christ, unyielding in temperance through the desert in the face of Satan’s temptations, our holy fast often is diminished to a game of “what is the best fasting practices to talk about with others?” or “I’ll kick start my diet by giving up sweets for Lent.” Suddenly our religious devotional practice becomes much less about Christ, much more about ourselves.
This is not to say our mismanaged practices are meant to only serve ourselves. It is also not meant to say that our “sacrifices” are not challenges. Nor is this meant to discourage anyone from giving up sweets. This is to say that there is a chasm in many of our modern, personal interpretations of our Catholic practice. Often, we attempt to fulfill the tradition without prayer or holy intentions and we boastfully bemoan our devotion with ironic agony to our friends and family “I won’t even have sweets on Sunday, not a bite!”
This, I believe, is not what is meant for our journey through Lent with Christ. This journey is a glorious opportunity for devotion and recommitment to prayer, abstinence, and almsgiving. We may share our devotions with others, but we should seek to share as a means of support and reflection without pride or seeking attention.
So, I propose a new kind of devotional practice. Instead of banishing the tasty treats from your pantry or giving up your favorite television show, let’s take one step closer to our Community of Faith in our Lenten sacrifice. These practices help us to grow closer to Christ. This year, why not try this through a prayer-filled recognition of the struggles that our brothers and sisters here on Earth face each day?
Practicing sacrifice with added prayerful reflection and a commitment to our community is much more doable than one might think! This Lent, park in the back of the grocery lot; as you walk towards the door, say a prayer for older adults who may be challenged to walk such a short distance Or, if you like to give up sweets, do so in celebration for the abundance of what you have been blessed with! The money that is not spent on sweets may be used to purchase non-perishables to donate to a local Saint Vincent de Paul societies. The idea is that while we make sacrifices this Lent, we do so in the spirit of Christ and in support of our community!
When we sacrifice of ourselves so that others may be blessed in the wake of our actions, we grow closer to Christ. As we sacrifice with a humble and gracious heart, prayer becomes a natural step towards not only a stronger relationship with Christ, but so too, with fellow members of our community. Brothers and sisters, let us prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Easter season by using the sacrificial Lenten season as a means to strengthen the bonds between Christ and community.
Samantha Alves is working toward a M.S.W. at Boston College and currently works for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
It is no secret that when disaster strikes, human beings band together to take care of each other. Regardless of race, age, gender, or belief system people come together to help rebuild homes and people’s spirits. This held true in the wake of Hurricane Sandy: a hurricane that barreled up the eastern seaboard bringing destruction to parts of New Jersey and New York. Across the country, people held food and clothing drives to try and bring relief to the affected areas. In the midst of a tragedy faith, hope, and love were restored because of the actions of people across the country.
Thankfully, there was no damage done to my home when Hurricane Sandy hit, but some of my other friends were not as lucky. Their homes have been destroyed and all their memories have been washed away with the floodwaters. After talking to some of the people who did lose everything, they said their faith in humanity was restored through the charity of others. When they said it, I didn’t think much about it. But then I began to think of what the word charity and being charitable truly means.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words”. Charity is an action that embodies this idea. When sharing our faith and living out what it means to be a Catholic, we do not have to use words and preach to people. Instead, we can use actions to evangelize and show the world what it truly means to be a Catholic. Actions speak louder than words and this holds true for the New Evangelization. This has been true for years, but I have not seen it displayed as prominently as I have through the hurricane relief efforts. Regardless of age, people are pitching in and donating both time and money. Their actions are showing what it means not only to be charitable but also Christian.
Young adults can use charity and Catholic Social Teaching to live out the New Evangelization not only during a time of crisis but during their everyday life. Catholic Social Teaching provides guidelines that people can use to live a just and moral life. Seven key themes of the Church’s social teaching include: life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community, and participation, rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, dignity of the rights of workers, solidarity and care for God’s creation. Catholic Social Teaching offers ways to live out our faith in everyday life and helps us in becoming tangible signs of Christ’s love.
I tell my students everyday that what we learn in class does not stop when they walk out the door. We are all walking signs of God’s love and it is our mission to spread it to everyone. Through our actions let us work to restore faith, hope and love in our world and be part of this New Evangelization.
Erin Flynn is a religion teacher at The Mary Louis Academy in New York.
In the shadow of last week’s election we are reminded that our citizenship does not exist in a vacuum of universal or unwavering agreement on social issues. Instead, we are empowered to raise our voices in opposition of or in agreement to any trending issue. You may be partisan, or not; controversial, or not; patriotic, or not. As Catholics, we are empowered to exist from a platform of universal participation in the human experience. We are reminded and called to be a Church of faith in action.
As Catholics we are given the gift of grace while at the same time inheriting the responsibility of caring for one another. Each day our lives are filled with many people, but how many of these people that surround us do we love fully? Can we say that we are truly pursing love with depth that Christ has given us? The Catechism of the Catholic Church challenges us that, "To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren" (no. 1397). This week, as we find ourselves in the midst of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, we are challenged to rekindle this charity that Christ models for us in the Paschal Mystery.
Our inheritance in the kingdom of God and our lineage among the community of saints ask us to live charity in all that we do. But, I find myself asking, how can any one person love so completely, tirelessly, and compassionately? How can anyone ask this of an impatient waitress-social worker-jogger-cat owner-caffeine dependent- graduate student? As an individual, I cannot love like that. In the past day alone, I have acted without love more times than I am willing to admit. Why do I act so constantly without the intensity of love I was born to fulfill? First, I should drink less coffee: it agitates me and makes me much less loving. But second, we cannot alone achieve this life of charity.
The Bishops remind us that, “Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives. In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us.” God asks all of us to love with unending depth. It is only through working with one another, serving one another and celebrating one another that we may live and love in the depths for which we have been so created. With this great love, we will share our human experience. It is then that we will doubtlessly uncover the answers to our growing social inequities and ideological rifts and discover the underlying nature that connects us all.
This week as we join with our nation to raise awareness of those most marginalized, let us rekindle charity and come to know Christ in our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. May we strengthening our spiritual lives in hopes of having a conversion of heart and begin to truly love another as God loves us.
Samantha Alves is working toward a M.S.W. at Boston College and currently works for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
Just a short week and a half ago, I felt like I was on top of the world! I could sleep in without missing class, I didn't have to wear shower shoes, and was treated to delicious home cooking; yes, it was spring break! However, that week off from school seemed to pass too quickly, as it always does, and soon I found myself back at school, where a mountainous pile of work awaited me. The joy that came with the start of break, a result of time off from an often busy and consuming world of commitments, had quickly vanished, and was replaced by the stress of things to be done.
Today I came across a chapter, aptly titled “Joy”, in a book I’m reading by Cardinal Dolan. Here he gave some suggestions as to what actually helps us attain a true and lasting joy, some of which took me by surprise. He first proposes that the source of all joy is peace. Looking through an exterior lens these seem to be mutually exclusive, particularly when the thought of someone who is quiet and peaceful is juxtaposed with the image of a jovial, fun-loving and joyful person. But Cardinal Dolan is referring to an inner peace that gives rise to a genuine exterior joy and happiness. This peace is rooted in the conviction that God loves us and, in return, we reciprocate this overwhelming love through our actions and interior life.
Knowing and accepting this great love can be a challenge, and is something I still struggle with on a regular basis. A wise religious sister recently told me how we must first let God love us, even with our imperfections, before we attempt to change other people – a tendency of perfectionists such as myself. How right she was! This is often a major stumbling block in finding inner peace, which ultimately leads us to genuine joy.
True joy can come about through trust in God’s plan, but requires a complete surrender of ourselves and our desires. As cliché as it may sound, Cardinal Dolan suggests this simple ordering of our lives to reach this joy:
J => Jesus
O => Others
Y => Yourself
When we are ordered this way, and place ourselves last in the line of priorities, our happiness no longer relies on promotions, accolades, or spring breaks, but from a much deeper source that doesn’t fade away despite busy schedules and stressors.
Lastly, Cardinal Dolan highlights an important distinction between joy and pleasure. C.S. Lewis once said, “Joy is never in our power, and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world”.
I realized that, while going to the beach in Cozumel, cruising the Caribbean, or simply sleeping in can all be good things and may bring me pleasure, these things will never be able to bring me real joy.
Perhaps we can all take a “Spring Break”, not in the sense of a vacation (although I’m sure none of you would object to that), but rather use Holy Week to take a break and reflect on what motivates our Joy. Is it an inner peace within ourselves and an acceptance of God’s immense love, exemplified in the Paschal Mystery that we will soon be celebrating? Or, is it based on the next compliment, promotion, or good grade? What do we need to change in order to reach this true Joy?
Fortunately, this joy is lasting; it is a joy that won’t leave you sunburned or yearning for more in a week’s time.
David Burkey is the Communications Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.