I pray daily for the lost, forgotten, lonely, wounded, and rebellious people in my family, community, and the whole world. Prayer is an action that accomplishes many things. It keeps me focused on who God is and who I am. It gives me peace to lift up these people to our heavenly Father and know that He will do what is best for them. It also supernaturally connects me to these people in a special way that crosses all geographical and physical barriers. We all have these people in our lives, and as fellow humans, we are created to be relational and find ways to build up each other. As committed Christians, we are called to actively share the love of Christ with each other and don’t we have an awesome calling in this! Recently at church, we sang the song “As We Gather at Your Table” by Carl P. Daw and this sentence grabbed my attention: “Turn your worship into witness in the sacrament of love.” I love attending Mass often, reciting various prayers and devotions daily because Mass and prayer are my food for the ministry I am called to engage in as a Christian. It is vital that I listen to a hurting family member or friend and offer hope. I am called to reach across the chasm of their doubt and despair and be the love and tenderness of Jesus to them. I am expected to extend the invitation to believe in God’s salvific power and help them find joy in His immense love for them. When I do this, my worship turns into witness. Once upon a time in my adolescence, two very loving and Godly people (aside from my parents) reached out and invited me into an active role of sharing God’s message with others. That was the beginning of my being willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around me. I began assisting in teaching religious education classes to second graders who probably taught me more about sharing God’s love and truth than I imparted – but it was my entrance into focusing on others and not all of my own deficiencies. God uses us all when we generously surrender ourselves to His work.
In a culture riddled with negativity and selfishness, we are challenged to be activists with our faith. The walking wounded are all around us – many in our own families. We are on the frontlines of a war against faith, hope, and love. Malice, greed, confusion, and hatred so easily pervade the environment we live in. But we have the antidote; we have the remedy that can heal broken and torn brethren and bring them unity, joy and peace. We just have to be bold enough to share it. And the beautiful thing is that God equips us with the grace to do just this! Through my prayers, the Holy Spirit adjusts my spiritual armor to battle the evils that seek to destroy our brothers, sisters, children, friends, and co-workers. One person at a time – one opportunity as it presents itself – I extend a hand, a hug, a smile, a listening ear and let them know I accept them where they are and that I am willing to share their load and offer encouragement through truth and love.
As Christians, we also have many holy men and women who have gone before us that we can ask to intercede on our behalf to help us be the hope-filled hands and heart of Jesus to others. In a time such as this, when the world seems all topsy turvy, I like to call on Saint Jude. He is the patron saint of hope and impossible causes. When we are walking in God’s truth, we know nothing is impossible because He promised He would be victorious over all evil. This strong apostle of Jesus tells us: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:20-21). I know his intercession will help me! Another beautiful example of one who can aide us in our mission is St. Teresa of Avila. She suffered much for the faith in her life and she offers much wisdom and hope for us to pass on: “God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” She most definitely is a saint to call on for intercession.
I encourage you, my fellow disciples, to find joy in the work of sharing the hope that comes from being an active Christian and be devoted to this calling above all things. We have the weapons to overcome fear, loneliness, woundedness, and despair and we need to use them one encounter at a time. So, I journey through this day, calling on all the assistance from heaven, to extend God’s invitation to a life in Him, and pray each person responds with a wholehearted Yes! God uses our witness in amazing ways to accomplish His plan on this earth! Join with me and let’s do it!
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
My wife and I welcomed our first daughter into the world on February 24th, and we brought her home a few days later on Ash Wednesday. As is the typical newborn parent experience, we’ve endured frustrating, sleepless nights and reveled in joy-filled, playful mornings. Because of stay-at-home, work-from-home orders in Texas, my parental leave has been longer than I anticipated, but I believe this is a blessing. Each moment I’ve had with my daughter has been precious, and as I sit on this (squeaky!) rocking chair holding her in my arms, balancing my laptop on my knee, the recent advice of expert parents runs through my mind and evokes in my heart a fresh understanding of God’s divine fatherhood and my pursuit of sainthood.
In the weeks leading up to our daughter’s birth, one mother of 6 said something to me to the effect of: “The nights are long and the days are short, but the years are the fastest of all.” In these first few weeks of parenthood, I’ve found that my wife is more easily roused during the night. When it’s my turn (opportunity, really) to get up mid-REM cycle, the nights really do feel long. Honestly, they drag. But it’s struck me more than once that getting up in the middle of the night is a very practical way that I can pursue holiness in my vocation. To sacrifice sleep to offer comfort to my child and rest for my wife is not in the same league as answering a burning question for the Summa or calling out a witty line while being burned at the stake, but it is a constant formation in the virtues of humility and charity. I’m led to consider St. Therese’s “little way,” which makes more and more sense each day. Those long nights always do turn into days and, I’m sure, the years will speed by soon.
Many people, including our pediatrician, have said, “Always hold your baby in the first few weeks, even when she’s sleeping. You’re not spoiling her, and you won’t get to do that forever.” As a general rule, I’ve always believed babies are cute and, therefore, worthy of spoiling. But no one warned me that when it comes to one’s own child, evolutionary biology and divine motivation combine to make one certain that one’s own baby is the most perfect, most adorable being on all the earth and, therefore, is automatically deserving of every good thing. When I’m holding my daughter in my arms, and I gaze upon her (perfect) little face with its self-inflicted scratches and baby acne, I’m blown away at how much love I have for her. Then, I’m briefly terrified at the thought that something bad could happen to her.
And isn’t that how it is for our relationship with God our Father? He gazes upon us, loving us with all our imperfections, slightly terrified and sorrowful at the thought that sin and death and temporal pursuits could lead us to ruin. As I adjust this baby in my arms right now, I’m wondering whether God pulls us closer to His bosom in those moments of near separation, gazing upon us all the while, reminding us how beloved we are with, as Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved, “all the tenderness and force that love can hold.”
There are many more pieces of advice that have yielded great spiritual reflections for me these last few weeks. Now, I know that I’m not offering any groundbreaking reflections, but maybe the point of this post is not to offer a new thought, but instead to acknowledge that God has spoken these familiar realities of His love and affection for me in a deeper way through the experience of my vocation. I’m encouraged to remind you in these times of distress: God is a loving Father whose sacrificial love turns against all else, even His own justice (Deus Caritas Est, 10) to gaze upon you with all the force that love can hold. Perhaps this is a notion all mothers and fathers before me—spiritual, adoptive, and biological—have come to understand already, but it’s consoling to know that in a time of uncertainty, God still speaks to and affirms His people through personal encounters. Even through a sleeping baby and a squeaky rocking chair.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
**This post was originally published on 4/28/2020.
As the Church prepares to celebrate World Mission Sunday, we invite you to read this post from Sister Mary Altar of Sacrifice about her missionary vocation.
When I was in seventh grade, about the age of 12, I decided to plan my life. I thought that I urgently needed to have an idea and start preparing for my future. I decided that I would be a missionary. I wanted to go to Africa and care for the children, especially those in most need. I always desired to adopt many children, including many with different disabilities. However, the missing piece of my life puzzle was that I didn’t even know what “being a missionary” really meant, and I had never thought about how my vocation would fit into my life either. As time went on, I realized that it was true that I loved to be around and work with children, and I had a great desire in my heart to go out to the whole world to help those in most need. However, I also discovered that God had a very special calling and plan for me, to use me as His instrument. As Mother Teresa said, “I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking, He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it’s hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more.”
My name is Sister Mary Altar of Sacrifice, and I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas and went to Catholic school my whole life, from kindergarten through college. Thanks be to God, I was given a Catholic upbringing not only at school but also at home. Although I have a truly bad memory, I distinctly remember the different moments of the sacraments in my life, and I believe that it was the grace of the sacraments that opened my heart and led me to discover my religious and missionary vocation. Preparing for First Communion, I remember arguing with my mom about not wanting to wear the fancy white dress. I really disliked dresses because I was a tomboy who grew up with 3 older brothers. However, I understood the importance of the sacrament and was so excited to receive Jesus that I knew that I had to look my very best!
It wasn’t until I was preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation that I began to take my Catholic faith seriously and hold it as my own. Our religion teacher told us “this is the moment (Confirmation) that you become an adult in the Church and have to take your faith as your own, so you must decide what you will do with it!” After that, I continually got more involved in the Church throughout high school by joining the youth group, aiding with junior high youth group, lectoring, being a Eucharistic Minister, leading retreats, frequenting the sacraments of confession and communion, etc. I also had the opportunity to do a 2-week mission trip to Peru, which confirmed my early desire to do mission work abroad. The experience of leaving all behind to go serve another was exciting and invigorating. I could concretely see that these people materially were poorer than I, but to see the richness of the treasure of their faith was enlightening.
Finally, the time came for me to decide which college I would go to. I decided instead that I would do a gap year of service in another country, but my parents had other plans for me, so my “missionary adventure” was put on hold. Thanks be to God, I decided to go to Benedictine College, where I fell even more in love with Jesus and my Catholic faith, discovered my religious vocation, and finished my degrees in Elementary and Special Education. A month after graduation, I entered the convent in Washington D.C. with the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, a missionary order founded in Argentina and currently in over 40 countries. When I visited them for the first time during college, there was a moment of actual grace that I understood this is where God was calling me to fulfill my vocation, and here, He would fulfill all the desires of my heart. I could see the puzzle pieces all fit perfectly together.
Now, I am currently a missionary in Papua New Guinea in Oceania and have been here for just over a year. My main apostolate (or missionary work) is in the Primary School of our parish, teaching and working to bring a higher level of integral education to our students. Since I have entered religious life, every day has been a “missionary adventure.” However, being a missionary doesn’t just mean going to another country. Through our Baptism, we have been called to follow Jesus and sent to be missionaries to the world. The first step is to evangelize ourselves. We must look at our life and ask, “am I truly living the Gospel in my daily life and following Jesus in everything I think, say, and do?” Then, we must complete Christ’s mandate to love our neighbors and bring the Gospel to those closest to us.
Sometimes, this is even more challenging than leaving our own family and country to serve someone. We must learn to be missionaries in our daily lives and pray and discern to see where and how God is calling us to fulfill that mission. Some have a special calling to give their whole lives as priests or religious to do this work! In addition, God calls some—priests, religious, and laity—to be missionaries abroad. However, we, as Catholics, are all called to be missionaries. As St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire!” So, I invite you to pray for the missions and all missionaries in the world in a special way during this month of missions, but also I invite you to take some time to listen and pray about how God is calling you to be a missionary in your life.
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
**This post was originally published on 11/3/2020.
Sister Mary Altar of Sacrifice serves as a religious missionary in the Diocese of Vanimo, Papua New Guinea
Several weeks ago, I stood in line for what I thought would be a “normal” Confession. The line was long, which was good because I needed time to get my thoughts in order.
I had not been to Confession for some time and my prayer routine had been... anything but routine. The busy-ness of life had gotten in the way. Moving to a new city, buying a new house, starting a new job, raising a young daughter, and anxiously awaiting another baby on the way were just some of the things that had been preoccupying my mind and time. I felt guilty for “ignoring” God, like many other parents who attempt to balance work and family life while trying to manage their spiritual lives as well.
As I moved closer to the Confessional, I became very aware of a familiar guilt creeping into my soul. Memories of un-Christian actions and inactions that have made lasting impacts on my life hit me in mental waves. These are things that I’ve taken to the Confessional before, but I still felt their burden of shame in my mind and heart. I tried to rouse my theological senses to rationalize my worry away, “There is no unforgivable sin.” I tried to encourage myself. Did I really think that my sinfulness was greater than the Divine Goodness? I became uncharacteristically racked with doubt as I neared the Confessional.
Only a few people stood between me and the Confessional door, and I took this chance to look at the tabernacle. “Lord, can You really do this? Can You forgive me, even when I can’t forget what I've done? Even when I can’t forgive myself?” I was surprised at the depth of my anguish. I decided to bring this up to the priest in my Confession, and I eagerly anticipated hearing some good counsel.
After I made my Confession, the priest took a deep breath and remained silent for a time. I was convinced for a moment that I had overburdened him, that I had shocked him with my doubts. After a few moments he said, “For your penance, spend a few minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Let Jesus talk to you.”
I’ll admit, initially I was a bit downcast. I was hoping for some advice! Something that I could do to help myself. I have prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament many times, and I’ve had more mundane experiences than life-changing ones. Slightly disappointed, I made my Act of Contrition and walked off to the Blessed Sacrament chapel. I knelt and fixed my eyes on the tabernacle. I repeated the question I had asked earlier, “Lord, can you really forgive me?”
And then very clearly, very abruptly, and in a voice not my own, I heard:
“Do you think I’m a liar?”
His question was presented in a challenging way, but not an aggressive way. It was presented in a way that gave me space to respond with an answer, a true answer. In God’s loving mercy, He knew how to speak to me so that I would understand that He had forgiven me. He responded to my question with His own question, as a good Rabbi would. The Lord shattered my racing, scrupulous thoughts, and he dared me to call Him a liar, just to get my attention. All in the presence of his sacred Body.
I had to stifle laughter as I knelt in the chapel with the other penitents. I was amazed! His simple question had infused my soul with joy and comfort because I know and believe that God is not a liar. How could I kneel before the Eucharist, gaze upon His sacramental Body, and call him a liar? God is Truth, there is nothing false in Him. And He does what He says He will do.
I gazed at the Eucharistic Body of our Lord and was full of gratitude and awe. The God of the Universe had made Himself present through bread so that I might know His Love.
A week ago, the Church commemorated Blessed Carlo Acutis, a young man who was filled with Eucharistic awe and who knew that it is the act of gazing upon the Eucharistic Body of Jesus—not looking at ourselves—that changes hearts. I think one of his wiser quotes sums up this thought, “Sadness is looking at ourselves. Happiness is looking toward God.” God used the Eucharist, the sacrament of Love, to remind me that I was living incurvatus in se--turned in on myself—which was preventing me from seeing that I was freed from my sins, that I could live anew. Confession and Eucharist together brought me great spiritual consolation that day.
As the Church in the United States dedicates more time and energy to catechesis on the Eucharist, and as we celebrated Carlo Acutis’s life last week, I hope that we can find time to gaze upon God in the Eucharist and to come away awestruck by the great, sacrificial Love residing in the Blessed Sacrament.
Ten years is a brief amount of time, but it is enough to assess the fruitfulness of a ministry. The Catholic Apostolate Center came out of a desire of the leadership of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate to serve the Church in a way that speaks to its needs in the 21st century through the spiritual vision of St. Vincent Pallotti. The task that Pallotti embarked on in 1835 continues today. The Center is an expression of it. By living collaboration from the beginning and listening and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the growth, reach, and fruitfulness of the Catholic Apostolate Center in ten years is exceptional.
None of it could be possible without the collaboration of the Pallottines, Center staff, collaborators, advisors, various Catholic entities, and with you. In this, we are in thanksgiving. Similar to the Union of Catholic Apostolate (UAC), the Center is as a former President of the UAC says, “of the Church and for the Church.” We do not stand outside making some type of parallel Church or dwelling in ideologies. Instead, the Catholic Apostolate Center for a decade has faithfully assisted the Church in the mission of forming apostles for both the Church and world.
Ten years is only the beginning. As Pope Francis stated a few weeks ago to the faithful of the Diocese of Rome,
“This is essential: if Christians do not feel a deep inner restlessness, then something is missing. That inner restlessness is born of faith; it impels us to consider what it is best to do, what needs to be preserved or changed. History teaches us that it is not good for the Church to stand still (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 23). Movement is the fruit of docility to the Holy Spirit, who directs this history, in which all have a part to play, in which all are restless, never standing still.”
St. Vincent Pallotti put it this way, sempre più, always more.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
On October 22nd, we celebrate the feast of St. John Paul II, a saint of our times! He is remembered for many things, including his passion for the arts, outdoors, youth, and families. St. John Paul II also had a deep devotion to Mary, and in what I know of St. John Paul II’s life and loves, we can bring no greater joy in celebrating his sainthood than by honoring our blessed Mother.
St. John Paul II’s favorite prayer was the Rosary, and I too, have developed a fondness for praying it. I stumbled upon a recording a couple of years ago in my desire to pray it intentionally. As I would listen and pray along in my car every morning before work, I discovered a love for each mystery and the fruit they bear, as like Mary, I “pondered them in [my] heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). The mysteries of the Rosary invite us to contemplate the life of Christ through the memories of Mary. St. John Paul II says remembering these mysteries “were to be the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §11). In this remembering, the account of the Gospel from the eyes of Mary are timeless, “not only belong[ing] to ‘yesterday’; they are also a part of the ‘today’ of salvation” (John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §13). In this, St. John Paul II reminds us that the Rosary is an invitation to participate in Christ’s divine life, and it is relevant across time to the faithful of all ages.
Recently my routine for praying the Rosary has changed as I am now on maternity leave and spend the day taking care of my newborn daughter. Instead of rushing to get my two-year-old son into the car and dropped off at daycare before work and enjoying my prayer time alone in the car, we have the opportunity to hop in the stroller and walk to daycare, spending time together saying hi to neighbors and marveling at the changing of seasons before he starts his school day. Despite the enjoyment both my son and I get from these walks, in the transition of summer at home with mommy to school, and the transition from being an only child to living the realities of being a big brother at only two years old, for quite a few weeks my son was not happy about leaving home for the day. Although my son loves school, he was hating drop off, and his anxiety (and let’s be honest, mine, too) crept in the closer we got to school each day.
One morning as I was trying to get him excited for the day, I asked him if he wanted to pray the Rosary with me, telling him it always brings me calm and comfort, and he said yes. I told him I would let my recording play, and I would tell him the stories of each mystery. Thus began a new routine for us each morning. As the Joyful Mysteries play, I tell him about how much Mary loved God that she said yes to being Jesus’ Mommy, and how we pray that we can love God like her and say yes to Him when he needs us to. When the Luminous Mysteries play, I tell him about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, and that through Mary, she will lead us to Jesus and help us see the miracles he’s performing in our own lives. In praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, I am very closely brought to tears as I think about explaining death to a toddler, and moved by Jesus’ sacrifice for us, telling my son that no sin stops Christ’s love for us. We pray to be good people and follow the will of God. And when we pray the Glorious Mysteries, I get to teach my son about the glories of the Holy Spirit and Heaven, praying for our ultimate happiness with Jesus, Mary, and all the saints. In praying these, I am in awe of how parenting is transforming my heart, teaching me to be like a little child, loving Jesus without abandon like my son does. By the time we’ve prayed our Rosary for the day, we’ve arrived at daycare. Filled with his spunky confidence and newfound graces, my son hops out of his stroller and says “let me give you a kiss for the road,” and sends me off on my way. Each day, he runs off to the playground to play with his friends, and I am amazed by the graces we’ve both received by praying the Rosary together.
In his great love for both the Rosary and the family, St. John Paul II called families to pray this prayer together, acknowledging how its graces unite the family:
Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.
Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §41)
From daycare drop-offs to contemplating our family’s deepest sorrows and joys, we too as a family have found this hope and strength of the Rosary to be true and timeless.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of St. John Paul II, I invite you to honor him and our Blessed Mother by taking the time to pray the Rosary, finding twenty minutes of your time to devote to contemplating the face of Jesus. St. John Paul said, “a prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community… I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §43). Know of my unending prayers for you as you begin this rediscovery of the Rosary for yourself, as with Mary, you too ponder these mysteries in your heart and recognize their fruits in your life.
St. John Paul II, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
*This post was originally published on October 22, 2019.
Birthdays and anniversaries are often occasions of great joy! Many of us count down to and look forward to these meaningful celebrations of life. We invite friends and family members to share in our joy. What if we celebrated our Baptism, the day of our “rebirth,” in the same way?
Pope Francis has repeatedly issued a challenge to do just that: “…[I]f we celebrate birthdays, why not celebrate — or at least remember — the day of rebirth?” (General Audience, April 11, 2018). More than a simple invitation to learn the date of our Baptism, Pope Francis urges us to allow this observance to “reawaken the memory of Baptism.” He tells us that, “To know the date of our Baptism is to know a blessed day. The danger of not knowing is that we can lose awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received. Thus, we end up considering it only as an event that took place in the past – and not by our own will but by that of our parents – and that it has no impact on the present… As I know my birthday, I should know my Baptism day, because it is a feast day.” (General Audience, January 8, 2014)
My mother has always made a point of reminding my siblings and me of our sacramental anniversaries. Whether it’s making a special dessert or just telling us stories of the festivities and recounting small details from the ceremony, she makes it feel like a feast day. Now, with my own children, I am trying to imitate her example and make a more concerted effort to mark these events in our family’s life and draw out their significance.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of my son’s Baptism. As we celebrate the occasion, I am hoping to put into practice at least a few of the following ideas:
I hope that my son looks forward to his baptismal anniversary every year with as much excitement as he does his birthday. Even more than that, I pray that he may grow to recognize his Baptism as a formative part of his identity.
I encourage you to learn the story of your Baptism if you don’t already know it. Find out the date on which you were baptized, where you were baptized, and who your godparents are. Mark this day on your calendar and decide how you can commemorate this day each year. It may be as simple as going to Mass, spending extra time in prayer, or gathering with friends for a special meal! No matter what you do, resolve to make it a day of gratitude and celebration for the great gift of God’s grace in your life.
Whether we are marking the occasion of our own Baptism or that of a friend or family member, “Let us, then, ask the Lord from our hearts that we may be able to experience ever more, in everyday life, this grace that we have received at Baptism. That in encountering us, our brothers and sisters may encounter true children of God, true brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, true members of the Church” (Pope Francis, General Audience, January 8, 2014).
This October, as summer turns to fall and the days start getting shorter, we sometimes find ourselves with opportunities to reflect on some of life’s bigger questions. I often find myself this season asking deep questions on a nice walk outside while admiring the beauty of nature. A lot of times, these big life questions usually involve prayer, discernment, and looking to role models. When I sat down to look at the saints whom we celebrate this October, I realized that many of them had to face similarly tough life questions. The popes, young people in the Church, and martyrs we celebrate this October can help us grow in our own faith journey.
Next week, we will celebrate two saints who were popes, albeit at vastly different times. On October 14th, we will celebrate the feast of St. Callistus I (also know as Callixtus I). For many, he is probably one of the lesser-known pope saints. He was the 16th pope and had to deal with great division in the Church. He was able to navigate the Church through many doctrinal controversies through these turbulent times and was martyred around the year 222. Similarly, St. John XXIII navigated through many challenging questions in the Church when he opened the Second Vatican Council in 1962. It was through much prayer and discernment that both popes were able to guide the Church out of murky waters. Later this month, we will celebrate Pope St. John Paul II. One of my favorite John Paul II quotes epitomizes the courage he calls all of us to in living out our faith: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Saints who had an impact in their youth
Already this month, we have celebrated two saints who had a major impact on the Church while in their youth: St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi. St. Thérèse, who died at 24, was known for her life of fervent prayer. She was a cloistered Carmelite nun whose prayer was not focused on herself, but on the whole world. She is known as one of the patron saints of missionaries even though she lived as a cloistered nun. St. Francis of Assisi also had a huge impact on the Church while still young. St. Francis was in his 20s when he heard God’s call in the chapel at San Damiano, but it took him time and further prayer to realize God’s true calling for him. St. Francis’ perseverance in the faith and continual discernment of God’s call, even in times of confusion, inspire me. Bl. Carlo Acutis, beatified just last year, also positively impacted the Church in his youth. Bl. Carlo was an amateur computer programmer who died in 2006 at the age of 15. He used his passion for computers to create a website documenting Eucharistic miracles across the world.
Martyrs from all ages
Throughout the rest of the month, we will celebrate the feast days of martyrs from all time periods in the Church. This includes the memorial of two Apostles: Sts. Simon and Jude. While not much is known about the lives of Sts. Simon and Jude, it is known that they both were killed for their faith. Also martyred in the time of the early Church was St. Ignatius of Antioch. He is known for his incredible writings on Christology. St. Denis was also a martyr in the time of the early Church. Many portrayals of St. Denis will show him holding his head in his arms because after his was martyred, legend has it that he held his head and shared Christ with those who killed him. On October 19th we will celebrate Sts. John de Brebuf and Isaac Jogues, the patron saints of North America. They were killed in the 17th century while ministering to the Iroquois. Even though they had previously been captured and knew that they could be killed, they placed all of their trust in God and continued their missionary work.
Throughout the rest of this October, let us pray for the intercession of these saints in helping us be courageous in prayer and discerning God’s continuing will for us.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in October, and each month, click here.
“Serve the Lord with laughter.”
It’s a quote from a favorite and incredibly popular saint that might surprise us, for the man who spoke these words was so deep, profound, and intentional that we might overlook the fact that he laughed. When we think of St. Padre Pio, we often instead focus on the deep wounds in his hands—the stigmata which he bore for 50 years—or his ability to levitate, speak with his guardian angel, read souls, or bilocate.
Laughter seems too ordinary, perhaps, for sanctity.
And yet, as a practical jokester and manager of mischief, I am drawn to this quote deeply—for I feel a personal apostolate of joy and am experiencing that call more starkly in a season in my life marked by exhaustion, stress, and transition.
Some of my favorite saints and quotes from Scripture focus on the theme of joy. When asked to speak to a group at Theology on Tap several years ago, I chose “The Serious Call to Joy” as my topic. I love Psalm 34, which reads, “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy.” And I often meditate on Christ’s words to his disciples: “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). Finally, a patron of our family is St. Philip Neri, who was lovingly nicknamed “Apostle of Joy.” My son John Philip was even born on his feast day and shares his name.
When I think of what I want to be called after my death, I can’t think of anything better than that title given to St. Philip Neri (apart from, perhaps, being known as the Patron Saint of Bacon). To me, joy just seems like the natural fruit of holiness—a sure sign of a deep and profound relationship with Christ.
Pope Francis himself has noted this—dedicating an entire encyclical to the joy of the Gospel. He made waves when publishing the encyclical because he said there was no room in evangelization for “sourpusses”—the first time any such term has appeared in a papal document.
He explains, “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties.”
I think now of joy perhaps because I’m seeing so little of it in general. The world seems bogged down by burdens greater than we think we can bear. And being 8 months pregnant, I find myself a bit bogged down physically and emotionally, too. But, Pope Francis reminds us that the joy of Christ is possible even in the midst of our suffering and hardship. This does not diminish our suffering, nor does it erase or ignore it, but points out that Christian joy can transcend and transfigure suffering.
So, when I came across Padre Pio’s quote on his feast day earlier this month, it was a powerful reminder of my call to laughter—or at least of my commitment to being an apostle of joy.
Pope Francis continues, “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (EG, 6)
The knowledge that I am infinitely loved despite my frailty and littleness, especially in this season of pregnancy, is what beckons me ever onward.
If I think of my life right now, I don’t know how else to keep going other than by laughing. I look down to find crumbs and stains dotting my bulging belly. My goal most days is not to waddle while walking. I find myself stopping mid-sentence because I forgot my train of thought or walking into a room to get something just to leave puzzled, muttering to myself. Turning over in bed practically requires the use of a crane. And I face my staircase each day with the determination of one climbing Mt. Everest.
Humor aside, if we turn to Scripture, we find a love story saturated with calls and invitations to joy. From the Old Testament to the New, God speaks to us throughout salvation history because he wants to restore his creation to be “man fully alive.” For me, someone who is “fully alive” is a person of joy that radiates love wherever they go.
As our world and society continue to navigate times of hardship, transition, and injustice, and as you personally continue to navigate your own crosses (whether they be staircases or not), I invite you to ask St. Padre Pio and other holy men and women to help teach you the secret of joy that comes from “the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father.”
May we all become apostles and ambassadors of joy to a world thirsting for Christ’s love and may we find creative and nourishing ways to serve the Lord with laughter.
As Pope Francis quotes Paul VI saying,
“Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.’”
It’s that time of year where students set off for college, some for the first time and some going far away from home. These students take on the challenge of continuing towards adulthood and the process of making their faith their own. This can be a difficult road filled with numerous temptations, stresses, and other challenges.
As someone who attended Catholic school for most of my life, I found the transition to college difficult, especially when it came to my faith. I attended a large public university where few practiced Catholicism, and I felt very isolated. The people who I attended Mass with at the beginning of the year began to slowly drift away – going to other churches or becoming too busy with academic commitments. With my class schedule it was hard to make it to the Catholic Student Union events and join the camaraderie. While I adjusted well to college life, I felt alone in my faith.
Everyone has different experiences when it comes to the transition into colleges. Whether you are entering college for the first time, a current student wanting to get more in tune with your faith, or even a parent or relative of a college student(s), I’ve compiled some tips about keeping up with your faith life that can be helpful:
1. Make friends who challenge you to be your best self
Make friends wherever you go on campus, but remain close friends with those who continually challenge you to be your best. Many of my closest friends at college weren’t Catholic, yet they held me to remain true to my faith and myself without peer pressure. Just as a spouse is to help his or her partner grow in faith, so too should your friends.
2. Get Involved
Whether you join the Catholic Student Union or other groups on campus, make sure you are busy. Becoming involved lessens homesickness and other temptations. Enjoy your college experience!
3. Go to Mass every Sunday
Mark it on your agenda. Make sticky notes. Do whatever you need to do so that you attend Mass each week. Experiencing Christ every week in the Eucharist renews us and gives us strength. Fortunately, as Catholics we usually have a variety of Mass times to attend, so take advantage of that!
4. Challenge yourself and set goals
Regularly make short-term and long-term goals, and then try to stick to them. These can be anything from attending adoration regularly, going to daily Mass, setting aside prayer or Bible-reading time, or even studying abroad, trying new foods, and accomplishing a certain academic achievement.
5. Find time every day to pray and appreciate the beauty around you
Doing this helps strengthen your personal relationship with God. Plus, you gain a better appreciation for life and develop practices that will stay with you after college. It’s not easy, but it matters that you try.
6. Call your family and your close friends one or more times a week
These people are important foundations in your life. Keep them updated on your life in college and be honest with them. Your family and friends are a support system when things aren’t easy.
7. Find a Mentor
Your mentor(s) can be an academic, club advisor, older student, or religious. These individuals in your life can help you navigate college, your future, and strengthen your faith. (Plus letters of recommendation and internship/job advice are certainly helpful!)
8. Talk to people at your local church and get involved in the Mass
Become a part of your new parish community at college. Get to know others around you to have that “home away from home.” This will help you make good life-long friends. Plus, getting involved in the Mass helps you become ingrained in the community while deepening your faith.
9. Search for a church you feel most comfortable going to
Feeling at home in your college parish is important. Find a church that makes you want to go to Mass. The nearest church may not be your favorite – so explore! My favorite parish in my college town was about 15 minutes away and felt just like my home parish.
10. Find people to go to church with you
Having someone to go to church with incentivizes you to go to Mass. Plus, it’s always fun having a buddy. Keep each other accountable! Make it a group event and have brunch or dinner after Mass, too!
*This post was originally published on September 8, 2014.
“Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You
very much, and always be in Your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is,
I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of love.”
These are words taken from the prayer of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina after Holy Communion. Padre Pio is known for many supernatural things, including the ability to fly, the ability to bilocate, and having the stigmata of Christ. Those who have taken the time to look into the holy life of Padre Pio will acknowledge his piety, his love for the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother, his great ability to heal people, and his devotion to the Sacrament of Confession.
Born in 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, Padre Pio entered the novitiate with the Capuchin Franciscans in 1903. Only five years after his ordination, Padre Pio was called into military service with the Italian Army Medical Corps in 1915. Shortly after, the wounds of Christ, the Stigmata, appeared on Padre Pio’s body. The presence of these wounds drew great intrigue and criticism. In the attempts to discover an answer, “Countless experts and doctors looked at his wounds with no clear explanation.” The stigmata, as well as Padre Pio’s great holiness and renown as a confessor, drew pilgrims from all over to visit with him. It is said that Padre Pio was such a prolific confessor that the waiting time for confession with him could stretch for over a week, and he would spend over fifteen hours in the confessional on any given day.
Padre Pio is not a holy man who should inspire our lives of faith because he could levitate, bilocate, or see people’s guardian angels. No, Padre Pio is venerated and beloved because of how much he loved the Lord. The Lord granted his servant these graces and gave him these charisms to witness more fully to Christ. It is easy for us to get discouraged because our lives of faith do not include these grand displays of God’s favor. We worry because the saints have such remarkable stories and attributes that we read about while our own lives are so ordinary. But if Padre Pio were still on this earth with us, it is most likely that he would draw your attention away from those miraculous actions and towards our Blessed Mother, the mercy of God in the confessional, and our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
When my Dad had a serious accident in December 2018, I immediately prayed for St. Padre Pio’s intercession for a miraculous healing. One of my best friends had told me how great Padre Pio’s healing power was, I’d acquired a relic of his, and my devotion was growing. Almost every day, I would pray Padre Pio’s prayer after receiving Holy Communion in the chapel of the hospital or in my Dad’s room. I was drawn to the beauty of the prayer, how it reads like a great ballad, building in intensity and truth. At the same time, the prayer is so simple at its heart: Stay with me, Jesus. Padre Pio knew of his own weakness, the weakness of the human condition, and simply asked our Lord to remain close to him. May this simple yet beautiful prayer be ours today. May, in every situation we find ourselves in, we turn to Jesus as Padre Pio did and with our whole heart implore him, “Stay with me, Lord.”
Click here to learn more about St. Padre Pio.
As with the Christian concept of love or charity, dialogue in a Christian context is focused on the other rather than oneself. As Pope Francis notes in number 198 of his Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, dialogue is a way of coming to know the other:
“If we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue.”
To truly “encounter and help one another,” we need to deepen our presence more profoundly to the other through dialogue. Careful, patient, attentive, and compassionate listening to both the other person and to the Holy Spirit are needed.
Bishop Séamus Freeman, S.A.C., who did much to further the Pallottine charism, would speak of this type of listening as a “trialogue” of each person involved and God. St. Vincent Pallotti understood this well when he focused great attention on the Upper Room or the Cenacle as the place of this type of listening, encounter, and discernment.
It is worth our asking a few questions to review the quality of our trialogue. How am I engaging in trialogue? Am I simply having a dialogue, with no reference to God in the conversation? Is my dialogue focused on convincing the other of my point of view? Am I am offering my true thought and feeling to the other person or telling them what they want to hear? How open am I to deeper conversion of my understanding to one that is more aligned with what God is asking of me and the other person?
There are no quick and easy answers to these questions. They require reflection in the context of prayer on experiences of dialogue and trialogue that we have. They also require openness to the Holy Spirit and a willingness to cooperate with the grace given by Christ. As we practice trialogue, we begin to see and experience the other person not as “other” but as another in the communal “journeying together” (Cf., Preparatory Document for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 11).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you. Then He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” John 20:21-22.
The older I become, the more my eyes are opened to the lack of control I have over things of life, how easily I can become consumed by the priorities of the world, and how duped I can be by the devil. I realize more how important it is for me to be waiting in expectation for Jesus to direct and guard me. Do you remember that the first greeting Jesus gave to those he encountered after His resurrection was “peace be with you”? I hang onto those words because this peace is where I am to live. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting on the Resurrection during my prayer time. When some of the disciples came and saw the empty tomb, they returned home. Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb, waiting. If you have a minute, spend some time reading John 20. My reflection over these past weeks has focused on Mary Magdalene. Why did she stay? Understanding more of Mary Magdalene’s story, I recognize how profoundly changed she was by her time spent with Jesus. He had, in a sense, loved her back to life! Her salvation was deeply personal and so life-changing that she was willing to seek Him at the tomb and remain there. She wanted to encounter the Risen Lord.
All of this has led me to ponder my own spiritual life. Is my salvation that real, that personal? Am I so completely committed to walking in the will of God that I am always waiting to hear His direction for me? Or am I so distracted by the day-to-day that I have lost that readiness to seek His presence in my life? This introspection awakens my desire to be like Mary – who waited by the empty tomb – wanting to encounter the Lord again whenever He chooses to reveal Himself. I want my relationship with my Lord and Savior to be my paramount priority because my identity, purpose, and vocation are rooted in Him.
As a Christian, I proclaim that I want heaven – and that comes with the steadfast choice of the way of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Matthew reminds us, “The road to perdition is wide and many choose it. But the road to eternal life is narrow and few find it” (Matthew 7:13). My ideas, my desires, and my decisions need to be aligned with God’s will. As a wife, mother, daughter, friend, colleague, and neighbor, I must be attuned to His voice, His promptings, His guidance, and His graces. Every thought I have, every little act I do, must be in total unity with my Savior – Who is pure, unconditional love. Yes, I want to be like Mary Magdalene waiting for my next encounter with Jesus so I can go deeper and further into His Sacred Heart and become more loving to the people in my life.
The question on a very practical level is: how do I achieve this? How do I stay in this disposition of grace, waiting on the Lord? I am bombarded with uncertainty, chaos, division and fear. Satan is prowling to destroy souls. My mind and spirit are attacked from all directions in this troubling world. But one thing remains the same: God is on the throne of heaven, His love for each of us is never-ending, and His promise to be with us is constant. We are told this over and over throughout the Bible. I believe this and I pray for eyes to see the path to walk through the landmines of the day. I ask Him to renew my desire to live and act in joy each day. I recommit daily to looking for goodness in those around me, to refrain from grumbling or criticizing or holding others in judgment. I drink from the well of the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms and the Acts of the Apostles, to keep my focus on His ways. I receive food to strengthen me from the Eucharistic table, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, and singing songs of praise. When God quickens my spirit, I share a compliment, a smile, a hug, an encouraging word, a listening ear, or a prayer. Opportunities present themselves continually and my choices are what keep me in the heart of Jesus! This is what makes my salvation personal and allows me to live in joy and hope when the world screams the opposite. Little acts, one choice at a time, keep me ready for His direction. By myself, I am small and weak. Listening to Christian music, hymns or chants, working through the beads of my Rosary, saying numerous prayers, attending Mass frequently, receiving absolution for my many failings in Reconciliation, and doing an examen before bedtime all help me remain in His presence and live in His will. From these, I can smile more easily, speak encouragingly, think positively and share love unreservedly. My salvation on that Cross in Calvary rejoices in the empty tomb and I stand waiting for my risen Savior to protect me and direct me every step of my journey.
Lord help me to be bold, to proclaim your truth and to love always, no matter the circumstances. Give me ears to hear Your direction and feet to follow in Your footsteps so that Your love will flow out of me to everyone I meet. And may all our souls be a wildfire of LOVE that burns into our eternal home You have prepared for us in glory!
What does it mean to be a spiritual father? For me, the answer is found in the experience of fathers that I have known or know. Some are biological fathers, others are father-figures, such as older relatives and friends, priests, and religious brothers. Each in his own way showed me how to love in a fatherly way. Spiritual fatherhood is loving universally, not particularly. The love of Christ that urges us on is one that loves all, no matter what. That is not easy to do, and I fail more often at it than I succeed. The only way that spiritual fatherhood is possible is through cooperation with the grace of Christ.
A spiritual father is one who is aware of the working of grace in his life and assists others in recognizing the movement of grace in their own. Good spiritual fatherhood does not just happen. Yes, for me, after ordination to the priesthood, people started to call me “Father.” It is true that one is configured to Christ in a unique way through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Cooperation with the grace of the Sacrament is over a lifetime, though. One grows into spiritual fatherhood, even as a priest.
In the first few years of priesthood, I tried to be of service to others by being present to them in their sorrow and their joy. The most profound moments were in listening and accompanying others. I learned not to say much, but simply to be with them, to walk with them as they deepened their life in Christ.
Today, my approach to spiritual fatherhood is similar, but with the experience of walking with others sometimes for many years. I have found that they choose to be in such a relationship with me, not simply as a priest, but also as one who is a flawed follower of Christ. A good spiritual father does not claim perfection, but instead is very aware of his faults and failings, as well as the grace of Christ that is working in and through him. Pope Francis offers this consideration in Christus Vivit:
“An especially important quality in mentors is the acknowledgement of their own humanity – the fact that they are human beings who make mistakes: not perfect people but forgiven sinners” (246).
Good spiritual fathers are keenly aware that they are “forgiven sinners.” When that is forgotten by a spiritual father, then the focus becomes on self, not on Christ. He is the one who forgives sin and gives the grace to love unconditionally and universally for he, and he alone, is God, the Infinite Love.
Click here to read more reflections on fatherhood during the Year of St. Joseph.
When you hear the word “vocation” what comes to mind?
In my last year of college, vocation seemed like a puzzle to be solved. I put a lot of pressure on myself to figure out “what should I do with my life.” I met with a spiritual director and weighed several options, agonizing over how I would know which was the right choice. Although my spiritual director and many other people in my life tried to tell me that I didn’t have to figure out the entirety of my life just yet, I wasn’t listening. I had a very narrow view of vocation as something to be discerned once and only once. I thought, if you’ve done it right, you stick with your choice for your whole life. I imagined that God had my life mapped out for me and there was a very definite direction I should take; I just needed to figure out which it was.
Now, 11 years later, I realize just how much God’s grace has been at work in me in so many ways—especially in broadening my understanding of vocation. I’ve come to really appreciate that discerning one’s vocation is not like completing a task at which we can excel or fail. It’s not a question with a single right answer.
In fact, God’s plan for us is none other than to be holy, and to do so in ways specific to us, “to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 19). The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church speaks of this universal and personal call to holiness by saying that “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Each and every one of us has this fundamental vocation, the one that underlies every other particular way in which God calls us to holiness. Holiness isn’t lived out in a single grand way possible for only a select few; “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 14).
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis issues a powerful summons: “You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission” (GE, 23). With this broader view of vocation, I can more readily recognize the multitude of ways in which God has drawn me to himself throughout the course of my life. I can discern how I am being called to holiness in this moment and reflect on how my response in the here and now is part of my greater life’s mission.
Now I understand vocation as more than a single call. It is, rather, living our lives in a constant awareness of and responsiveness to the promptings of the Lord, who draws us to himself. Vocation is not inward looking; it draws us outward to God and neighbor. This redirected gaze allows us to recognize and receive with gratitude the gifts we are given so that we can more freely and truly make a gift of ourselves. Such self-emptying love is what it means to be Christ-like, to be holy. It forces us to reframe our questions. Instead of asking, “What do I want to be?” or “What do I want to do with my life?” (as I kept asking myself in college), we can prayerfully discern “How is God calling me to make a gift of myself?” This certainly applies to my state in life, whether I am called to give of myself in marriage or religious life. But I also respond to this call to self-gift by carrying out my work with integrity and skill in the service of my brothers and sisters, by patiently teaching my little ones how to follow Jesus, by refusing to gossip, and by saying a kind word to the person I encounter on the street (to list a few examples from Gaudete et Exsultate 14- 16).
My life’s journey has taken a lot more turns than I could have anticipated those many years ago. Yet the Lord has made use of each step, big and small, to draw me ever closer to himself.
Click here for more resources on Vocational Discernment.