“Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only He gives the fullness of life to humanity!” – Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Young People, Apostolic Journey to Cologne on the Occasion of the 20th World Youth Day
Growing up as a cradle Catholic, it was always easy to take the Eucharist for granted. Even though I recognized the true presence, it was tempting to see Holy Communion, adoration, and Jesus being present in the tabernacle as a bonus to the faith and not the foundation of the way I lived my life. Now that I serve in youth ministry, I see that this line of thinking too often becomes the norm for young Catholics.
But what happens when young Catholics live a life centered around the Eucharist, when they allow themselves to be consumed by Christ, finding complete freedom in complete surrender? They begin to live in their identity as beloved sons and daughters.
I got to witness this transformation firsthand this summer serving as a missionary with Catholic Youth Summer Camp. Every week, I watched middle school and high school students meet Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time, experiencing His love and feeling the truth of their identity in a real, tangible way. And every week after these experiences, there was a shift in the way these kids lived their lives. It was as if they were no longer afraid of being judged or not accepted by the teenagers around them; instead, they were confident in the sufficiency of the love they felt from God. When the campers started to recognize and feel the truth of their identity as sons and daughters, when they realized that they can look into Jesus in the Eucharist and physically see that truth, they no longer cared about the opinions of the people around them and would do whatever brought them joy. This often looked like the small but life-changing steps of fully entering into the Mass and worship, taking times of prayer seriously, and having childlike fun and joy throughout the day.
Throughout the summer, I began to realize that the experience that these teenagers had in their first moment of encounter with Jesus, the childlike joy and freedom they experienced, is not an experience for them—or for children—alone. All of us, including You and I, are all seen by the Father as His beloved daughters and sons, and He desires to show us that truth and the love He holds for us in a real, tangible way through the Eucharist. Every time we receive Jesus into our bodies, every time we spend time gazing into His face in adoration, we give Him the opportunity to remind us of how unconditionally loved we are, how we belong with Him and nothing else. These truths give us the freedom to not fear what waits in the world, nor fear the chains of sin or worldliness. They help us recognize that there is no fear in the perfect love we experience living in Jesus Christ, and the only thing we have to worry about is following His will. When the world is not something to fear, we can recognize creation as the gift that it is and receive what the Lord has waiting for us.
The next time you go to Mass or adoration, recognize that Love Incarnate is entering you in order to prove just how far He’ll go to show that you belong with Him. Allow that truth of His unconditional love and your belonging in it to shape the way you live your life, embracing the freedom He has won and given to us.
It was a sunny but cold day in October. Twenty young men in long, dark habits knelt in the big, roomy church. The melody of the old organ, played by an invisible musician, echoed through the building. That melody was unknown to me. On that day, I believed that every corner of that church and my heart were full of the melody of glory.
I was one of the twenty men kneeling near the altar who had received from the hands of a priest the big silver cross. It was attached to a ribbon that was a black as coal. This was the act of my eternal sacrifice to God. In my shaking hands, I held the crucifix of the One to whom I promised to be a member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. I promised chastity, poverty, obedience, perseverance, the sharing of resources, and the spirit of service. I remember noticing that it was like a wedding: the melody of that song had some similarity to a wedding song, although it is possible that it was just the melody of my heart...
After one year in the priesthood, I was completely immersed in pastoral work. Holy Mass, catechesis, and long lines to the confessional before Christmas and Easter filled me with happiness. Often when having conversations with people, I would ask them who Jesus was for them. Once, when I met a classmate from school, she asked what made me decide to become a priest. I tried to explain to her that it was a calling to follow God and to explain the happiness that I had in my heart. However, the more I tried to explain to her, the more I understood the weakness of my arguments to a non-believer. After that conversation, the question that Jesus made to the apostles “Who do you say that I am?” often appeared in my mind. Who is that One to whom I offered my life in the Pallottine community?
I was the assistant to the parish priest near my hometown, and I was also a chaplain in a neuropsychiatric clinic where there were more than 200 men with different mental disabilities. I thought that I was used to the unusual situations that sometimes happened during Holy Mass: interruptions, babies with smiles on their faces, spontaneous and childish simple questions that they asked. However, there were still many things I was not used to, like the young burdened man at the clinic who touched the cross that I sometimes wear and asked me, “Who is that man?” I was a little confused by his question and tried to give him a simple answer—I just said that he was my friend. This answer was enough for the young man, because he understood the concept of friendship. His nurse Anna and caretaker Julia, who suffered with him in his illness, embodied friendship for him. Then I noticed that my answer was not just an answer to his question, but also to my own. “Who do you say that I am?”
Friendship—this is one word with which I can describe my consecrated life. Friendship is not easy because it implies relationship, maturation, and a constant internal struggle with selfishness. I have noticed that in arduous times in my life the voice of my Friend can be heard more strongly. I have heard that voice many times throughout my Pallottine life. Maybe it was the voice of that invisible musician who played the melody in my heart while I first held the big silver cross in my hands during my final vows. I know that this voice has been calling me to bring the words of His Gospel to many different people and areas, which sometimes are very dangerous and unpredictable.
I believe that—like the melody in that church where I was kneeling near the altar with my confreres—my consecrated life gains new notes, changes, and rhythms each day. It is not possible to change the melody. I just try to hear the voice of the Eternal Master, the invisible musician, for whom I have consecrated my life in the melody of His glory.
This year, we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life on February 2. For more resources to guide you through vocational discernment, please click here.
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti and Pallottine spirituality, please click here.
**This post was originally published on 2/5/2019**
Ever struggle with attempting to find God in your daily life? Do you ever feel that you are just so busy that engaging in a personal relationship with the Lord seems out of the question? Do you struggle in attempting to recognize how God is acting in your life, at work, or in the classroom? I promise, you are not alone. Many of us struggle with finding God not only in the ordinary, but also in our busy lives. Different saints, such as St. Francis de Sales, even recognized how at times it can be challenging to find God’s presence in the ordinary. Surprising right?! Sometimes, it seems so difficult to find God in the mundane or in the office. Yet, this is exactly where we can find God’s presence—in the ordinary!
St. Francis De Sales, a Doctor of the Church and inspiration of the ever popular Salesian Spirituality, wrote in his famed Introduction to the Devout Life that “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people… Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to a perfect life.” St. Francis De Sales advocates the notion that everyone is called to be in relationship with God no matter their specific state in life. For St. Francis De Sales, the soldier, the mechanic, the government officials, and the married couple—any lay person—can find God in the ordinary. God meets each of us were we are; his presence is not restricted to a building. Nevertheless, what are some practical ways in which we can find God in the ordinary?
Again, St. Francis de Sales has more wisdom for us from his Introduction to the Devout Life, writing that “occasions do not often present themselves for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity, and great generosity, but meekness, temperance, integrity, and humility are virtues that must mark all our actions in life.” When we refrain from boasting about our accomplishments in the office or when we refrain from lying to our professor regarding a string of absences from class, we are encountering God in the ordinary. When we simply take a minute in the beginning of the morning and offer our day to God, we are encountering God in the ordinary. When we take a moment to recognize a coworker’s kindness to a stranger or a fellow student’s concern for a student falling behind in class, we are encountering God in the ordinary. Encountering God is not solely done on in the pews or on the mountaintop. Instead, we can encounter God in the ordinary, in our everyday life.
To learn more about seeing God in the ordinary, please visit our Prayer Resources page by clicking here.
**This post was originally published on 6/3/2021**
Seeking God. Seems simple. We seek God. But, more significantly, God seeks us. Similar to the lost sheep, we sometimes go astray. We want to live our call, but that can be sometimes a challenge if we try to do it on our own. God is calling us first. God is seeking us first. We are offered the grace of Christ and are called to respond.
Respond to what? St. Vincent Pallotti, whose feast day is January 22nd, tells us. We are called to be apostles of Jesus Christ. We are sent by Christ to help all come to know him in and through the Church.
Pallotti promoted this inspired understanding, his charism, in the mid-1830s in Rome. How do we live it in 2023 where we are? One way is by seeking God as St. Vincent Pallotti suggests:
“Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
When we seek God in this way, then we will move beyond ourselves and go forth as apostles.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
I’ve lost a lot of things in my life, and while sometimes those things eventually are found, other times I never see them again. I often put something aside for safekeeping, and then when I’m looking for it, the item is nowhere to be found. I usually just blame my ADHD, but when it’s really difficult to find something and I just cannot locate it anywhere, I do what others also may do, and I ask St. Anthony to help me find it. Ever since I was little, we were told, “Say a prayer; St. Anthony will help you find it,” and usually the item showed up soon after the search party hit full speed. So as I was preparing for this reflection, I learned a lot about who St. Anthony was, why he’s the patron saint of lost things, and how we can find what’s missing in our lives in this new year.
Anthony was born in 1195, just thirteen years after St. Francis, in Portugal. Anthony was baptized with the name Fernando, and at the age of fifteen, having lived with his wealthy family up to that point, he left home and entered religious life in order to join the order of St. Augustine. Fernando, however, had a hard time adjusting to his new life. His friends visited frequently, and his time there was anything but peaceful and studious. After only two years, he was sent away for nine years to study Augustinian theology and become a priest. Fernando didn’t remain an Augustinian, however. He requested and was given permission to join the Franciscans after witnessing Franciscan martyrs of Portugal give all they had to preaching the Gospel. He received the name Anthony and left for Morocco, but he was blown off course and landed in Sicily. While in Italy, Anthony amazed people with his sermons and preaching, because he spoke in a way that connected with the people. Anthony became a teacher and taught other friars theology, and he was known to the people for going out to larger spaces so more people could hear him preach. He wrote volumes of sermons called Sunday Sermons and Feast Day Sermons that used allegory and simplistic pictorial expression, perfect for relating to the community he served. Just before his death, Anthony left for Padua, a place that was a central player in the study of law, and he was well received there. He died at the age of thirty-six, having been a Franciscan friar for ten years.
Many traditions have been associated with St. Anthony, especially in relation to his ability to help people find missing things. It is said that Anthony’s own book of psalms was stolen by a thief, but Anthony prayed to God that it would be found. The thief’s heart changed, and the psalter was returned to him, still intact with his notes for his students. Word spread of this miracle, and soon, others also began praying to God through Anthony for their missing things. Another tradition is called St. Anthony Bread. After someone’s prayer has been answered, and they’ve found their missing item, they present St. Anthony with a loaf of bread in thanksgiving for the small miracle. In many places, on the feast of St. Anthony, small loaves of bread are still blessed and given to the poor.
St. Anthony of Padua has been characterized as a humble and positive man, a man of incredible penance and zeal, full of courage to preach, and considered a “man of the people.” His preaching was regarded so highly that he was made a Doctor of the Church in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. The Church particularly urges us to imitate Anthony’s “love of the word of God and his prayerful efforts to understand and apply it to the situations of everyday life”, found here. In some ways, his ability to meet his fellow apostles in their own faith journeys reminds me of St. Vincent Pallotti, a priest who was another humble saint who preached and served in the many streets of Rome. Pallotti’s life was dedicated to accompanying the faithful and helping them live out the Gospel in their everyday lives. He once said, “What God demands of you is love, gratitude, and cooperation,” and I think St. Anthony would agree with him on that.
In this new year, let us put on the life of Christ as St. Anthony did. Let us share the Gospel with others simply by being a witness to the love we feel in Christ. Our message and our actions can feel lost in the hustle and bustle. We can lose ourselves in the busyness and in the daily tasks, but in 2023, let’s really take notice of what’s missing in our lives and pray that St. Anthony’s intercession can help us find anything we’ve lost.
Information from this post on Anthony’s life can be found here at: https://www.stanthony.org/who-st-anthony/
Visit our Feast Day Site to find more information about Saint Anthony, too!
There’s a sketch sometimes used in youth ministry that depicts a person in dialogue with God. God removes the sins of the person one by one, hammering a chisel while the person winces as those shortcomings and vices that they’d grown accustomed to are painfully removed. At one point in this sketch, the person cries out the Lord’s name in vain, and when God tells them to stop, they ask why it’s such a big deal, saying that it’s just a name, it’s a saying. God stops and says something to the effect of, “No, it's not just a name, it’s the name above all names.” We know this to be true, as St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians:
“God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)
And we know of the power in the name of Jesus. Ask an exorcist what makes the demons scream in terror, and the name of Jesus will be at the top of any list. Anyone who has been in a moment of distress, terror, or need can likely think back to calling out the name of Jesus, whether with a great shout or a whisper that only they and the Lord could hear. There is great power in the name of Jesus, and on January third, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. We are invited to reflect upon this Scripture as we ponder the power of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Catholics are used to acts of reverence, whether they know them as such or not. The acts of bowing and genuflecting are second nature for most Catholics and are themselves acts of reverence. Historically, it was customary to genuflect to royalty as a sign of reverence. Catholics genuflect as a sign of reverence to Jesus himself in the Eucharist, the King of Kings who is Lord over all our lives. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states, “A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them,” and therefore we bow to the altar, to reverence Jesus’ act of sacrifice. A lesser-known, yet beautiful practice is the bowing of one’s head “when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated” (GIRM, 275). It was Pope Gregory X who, with St. Paul’s words to the Philippians in mind and recognizing the practical difficulty of genuflecting at the name of Jesus, introduced the practice of bowing one’s head at the name of Jesus “in token that interiorly he bends the knee of his heart” (printed in With God: A Book of Prayers and Reflections by Francis Xavier Lasance). Bowing your head at the name of Jesus, especially during the Mass, is a great way to reverence the name of Jesus; we just have to make sure that the act is not a hollow one and is an act that originates in a heart that is seeking God always.
On top of reflecting with Philippians 2:9-11 and taking on the practice of bowing our heads at the name of Jesus, I’d like to offer one final way we can ponder the name of Jesus and its power in our lives. If you ever find yourself in Rome, you can walk into the Chiesa del Gesu, the mother church of the Society of Jesus, where you’ll be met with beautiful Baroque art and architecture. Possibly the greatest piece of art in this magnificent church is on the ceiling, The Triumph of the Name of Jesus, created by Giovanni Battista Gaulli and finished in 1679. This Baroque masterpiece is a fantastic example of the period, with masterful play on light and dark and the use of shadow. The art flows off onto the gold gilding, giving the impression that the art is exploding out of the space that was supposed to contain it. In the middle of this painting, surrounded by the angels and saints, is what looks to be a eucharistic host with the letters IHS beaming with magnificent light. I could stare at this painting for hours; there’s a massive mirror on the floor of the church right underneath it so that pilgrims and visitors can look at it without hurting their necks, and I’d like to invite you to do the same. You don’t have to go to Rome; you can look up the work online. Spend some time with this beautiful painting, and ask yourself how it helps you to understand the power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. May this feast be a time to become more intimately acquainted with the name of Jesus, the name of our Lord, Savior, friend, and brother.
This is such a rich time for us as Catholic Christians! Within the past month, we’ve begun a new liturgical year, celebrated in praise and thanksgiving the Nativity of our Lord, the Holy Family, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we continue to celebrate as we approach the Epiphany of our Lord. It is quite difficult to wrap our hearts and minds around the richness that has been available to us over these past four weeks in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Among the chaos of planning and celebrating, we have also rung in a new calendar year. 2017— with its successes, failures, struggles and triumphs—has come to a close and we stand at the precipice of 2018. We all know what that means: New Year’s resolutions. Are you hoping for more control over your health, finances, or career? Perhaps you are hoping to find more time to pray and manage stress in your life. What is it that you are hoping to gain control of this year or to do more regularly? As we prepare to choose and implement changes that we would like to make in our lives, let us not forget that we are still in the midst of celebrating the Word made flesh, Emmanuel. The change and possibility of a baby, born in a humble manger, is reflected in the beginning of a new year. Is our gaze still fixed on the babe in swaddling clothes?
What would 2018 bring if instead of resolving to gain control of our lives, we truly allowed the Messiah to be Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is waiting for each and every one of us to echo the “yes” that was uttered by the Holy Family as they welcomed Him into their lives. What if instead of resolving to control everything, we resolved to say yes to that tiny baby born of a Virgin? During one of the Advent homilies at our parish, our pastor challenged us to think about times we have attempted to be the messiah of our own lives by trying to grasp or control various situations or circumstances. During this time of change and resolution, it can be tempting for us to forget that we are not the Messiah as we make plans and goals for the upcoming year.
As I reflect on this, I am reminded of the words of the hymn “These Alone Are Enough” by David Schutte, based on the Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Take my heart oh Lord. Take my hopes and dreams. Take my mind with all its plans and schemes. Give me nothing more than your love and grace. These alone, oh God, are enough for me.” It is good and just to strive to improve our character and to foster good and healthy habits in our lives. However, instead of resolving to do it on our own, by the gift of that blessed Christmas morning, we have the choice to freely give all of these things over to the One who makes all things new. As you stand at the threshold of this New Year and envision your hopes and dreams for 2018, take a moment to reflect on what these possibilities could become if you allowed them to be infused by the abundant grace of God.
It is still the Christmas season. There is still time to approach the manger. Take the leap of faith. Instead of resolving to gain control, approach the manger and resolve to say YES and to be transformed! Resolve to offer the babe in swaddling clothes your mind, your heart, your body, and soul. As you boldly step out into 2018, my prayer for you echoes the words of Saint Paul,
“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
Question for Reflection: What are some resolutions you can hand over to the Lord this New Year?
**This post was originally published on 1/2/2018**
In my prayer life recently, God has been speaking to me a lot about obedience. Obedience to Him, to my family, to my job, to my responsibilities. Perhaps it is because I’m not very good at some of my responsibilities, or maybe it is a call to become more in tune with and to pray for God’s will.
In today’s Gospel (Mark 1:40-45), Jesus heals a man who comes to him asking to be cleaned of his leprosy. Upon healing him completely, Jesus says, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them” (Mark 1:44). Instead, the man “began to publicize the whole manner” where it made it “impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” (Mark 1:45).
How often are we disobedient like this man? How often has Jesus told us something that we missed completely? How often have we placed our desires and actions above what God wills for us? By his choice to disobey Jesus, instead of exalting God, the healed man exalts himself. The Catechism tells us that “sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it” and that sin is “opposed to the obedience of Jesus.” When the healed man ignored Jesus’ directions, it furthered him from fully understanding God’s love and mercy for him. For us, too, when we sin and choose to follow our will over the Lord’s, we distance ourselves from God’s love.
How can we know God’s will for us? It is not always so easily stated to us as it was to the man who was healed of his leprosy. To know God’s will, we must pray with open and patient hearts. Pope Francis recommends that we pray for the desire to follow God’s will, to know his will and to follow it. The saints are also great models of teaching us to pray and love God’s will for us. They are in complete union with Jesus in heaven because they learned to desire, love, and follow God’s will for them throughout their earthly lives. Look to any saint, and they will show you obedience. For example, St. Maximilian Kolbe was martyred, taking the place of a man who was to be killed in Auschwitz. Before that, his writings show that his prayer life was repeatedly focused on knowing the will of God. St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “Obedience is the one and the only way of wisdom and prudence for us to offer glory to God... Let us love our loving Father with all our hearts. Let our obedience increase that love, above all when it requires us to surrender our own will. Jesus Christ crucified is our sublime guide toward growth in God’s love.”
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s words and sacrifice point us towards obedience, and teach us that obedience helps us to grow in God’s love. So perhaps my prayers that are revealing obedience as a theme are leading me to stretch my heart to know and share God’s love. Through obedience, I can know Christ’s peace and mercy—the same love he felt when the man with leprosy came to him; the same love he felt when he died on the cross. It is my prayer that as the desire for obedience touches my heart, you too may know the love and joy that comes from asking God to desire his will, know his will, and follow his will.
Questions for Reflection: What are some ways you can grow in obedience to God’s will this year? Are there any saints who inspire you by their willingness to follow Christ?
**This post was originally published on 1/11/2018**
Christmas approaches. We are nearly through our Advent waiting. What has this time been for us? As we enter the joyful season of celebration of the Incarnation, we have an opportunity to embrace the humble simplicity of the scene. Only the shepherds were made aware on that night and came to adore. As St. Vincent Pallotti notes, it was as God wanted it to be.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the instructions and signs given to the shepherds, allowed himself to be found as a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger” (OOCC, II, 66).
Eventually, those with faith in him came to know him as Emmanuel, God is with us. We know him. We believe in him. We witness him to others. Christ is with us. May we proclaim him as the angels did to the shepherds!
Please know that the prayers of the Catholic Apostolate Center team are with you at Christmas and always.
May you have a blessed Christmas!
In God, the Infinite Love,
My grandfather, my Grandpa Norm, passed away the day after Thanksgiving. He was ninety-three and had been in failing health for a while, and earlier that week, he decided he was ready to bring in hospice, who kept him comfortable and without pain in his final days. While I miss him terribly, I know that he had a long, happy life, and I pray that he is feasting at the eternal banquet in heaven with my grandma, his parents, siblings, and many friends and family members.
Grandpa Norm was my last grandparent to die. I was so fortunate to have had all four grandparents until I was nineteen. All four grandparents were major parts of my childhood (and with two of them, my adulthood), and the death of each of them holds a unique place in my heart. With the death of my last grandparent, those parts of my heart are being tugged a bit harder right now.
The funny thing about grief is that it hits you in ways you cannot anticipate. My family and I drove from Washington, DC to Michigan for the services for my grandpa, and on our nine-hour drive home, I was making a mental to-do list of all of the holiday tasks I needed to accomplish when we returned home. One included working on our Christmas cards, and the grief came flooding as I realized I would have to remove my grandpa from our Christmas card list and that we would not be sending him a gift. It was something so small, but it hit me in a big way.
Grief is hard. There is no way around it. The beauty of our faith, though, is that we know there is more after this life. We know we will be reunited with those loved ones we miss so dearly, and we must cling to that hope when we are deep in grief. We have to go through the darkness and sadness of Good Friday in order to experience the light and joy of Easter Sunday.
In some ways, I am grateful for the timing of my grandfather’s death to have been at the beginning of Advent. The season of Advent is a time for reflection and preparation. During Advent, we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus not only at his birth, but also at his Second Coming. For me this year, I am adding another dimension to my time of reflection: remembering my grandparents, my grandfather especially, and being grateful for the gift they were in my life.
There is something about this time of the year that lends itself to grief: the weather where I am is cold and damp, darkness comes sooner than I want it to, and there is a rush of busyness that often distracts me from the importance of this time leading up to Christmas. But in the sadness and darkness of this time—this year in particular for me—I look forward to the light of Christ entering the world on Christmas day and to his glorious return at the end of time.
The Advent and Christmas seasons are some of the most important times in our Church. We are celebrating the arrival and birth of Jesus, our Savior! As we go through these seasons, families have different traditions that they partake in throughout this special time. These traditions help to bring us into a preparatory state for the birth of Jesus. If you want to implement some additional practices into your family's Christmas preparations and traditions, here are some ideas that can get you started.
These small practices not only highlight the importance of the Advent and Christmas seasons for your family, but they can also create lifelong traditions that can be carried on through your family. Some of my fondest memories of Christmastime are from the Vigil Mass, participating in the Christmas pageant, and making cookies with my family. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Advent and Christmas and find time to joyfully anticipate and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In celebrating this feast, we confess that:
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 491).
That is to say: Mary, in a unique way, was free of original sin, so that, unburdened by the fear, confusion, and selfishness that accompany sin, she could give her “yes” with absolute freedom when asked to bear the Son of God. The Prayer over the Offerings at today’s Mass describes this teaching beautifully by saying, “We profess [Mary], on account of [God’s] prevenient grace, to be untouched by any stain of sin, so, through her intercession, we may be delivered from all our faults.”
While “prevenient grace” is a bit of an unusual term, and not one most of us learn in religious education classes, it gets at the heart of what we celebrate on this our patronal feast day for the United States of America. The “prevenient grace” Mary receives is a grace given in anticipation of the extraordinary role she would play in salvation history as the Mother of God, but it also shows her ordinary human nature. Mary is not divine; like the rest of humanity, she too needs God’s grace and redemption through Christ’s saving actions.
We might consider the following analogy which is often referenced in explanation of this teaching. Suppose a man falls into a deep and muddy pit, and someone reaches down to pull him out. The man has been “saved” from the pit but hasn’t escaped the mud stains he got from falling into it. Now imagine a woman walking along about to tumble into the pit herself, but just as she is about to fall in, someone holds her back and stops her from falling in. She too has been “saved”—not only from falling into the pit, but also from getting stained by the mud in the first place. While we receive God’s grace when we are cleansed of original sin in the waters of Baptism, Mary was kept free from the stain of original sin from the first moment of her existence. We are all saved by the same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; Mary, however, was given this gift at a different point in time.
The Catechism goes on to describe how this gift of grace was necessary for Mary’s unique vocation:
“To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace.’ In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 490).
Just as Mary had to be given the grace she needed to respond to her vocation, we too must rely on the grace of God to answer God’s unique call for us. It is fitting that we celebrate this feast within the season of Advent. We may well take advantage of this holy season and all it offers to open ourselves evermore to the gifts God wishes to bestow on us, so that we too can bring Christ’s presence to a world very much in need of it.
Mary was able to devote herself to God’s will “wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son…by God's grace” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 494). We too can find ourselves more attuned to God’s will after seeking out the forgiveness of our sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is offered more frequently during this season of Advent. We can pause during this season of preparation and reflect on the following: How am I responding to my unique God-given vocation? How can I cooperate more freely with God’s will? How am I being called to make Christ present here and now? How can I cultivate a greater reliance on God’s grace?
As we joyfully await the coming of Christ, may Mary, “full of grace,” loving mother, and model of holiness, intercede for us!
We’re well into the first week of Advent, and if you’re like me, you’re probably sick of all the Christmas displays and music and consumerism that has bombarded our senses since November started. As an American, it’s always been easy for me to get pulled into the secular world’s excitement about Christmas, its eagerness to get started with all the partying, eating, gift swapping, caroling, and general Christmas cheer. But as I’ve deepened my faith as a Catholic, I have found that the more focus I put on Advent as a time of preparation for Christmas, the easier it is to block out the unending secular Christmas noise and ready my heart, my home, and my family for the coming of the Christ child.
For most people, the phrase “preparing for Christmas” probably evokes memories of setting up Christmas trees and hanging lights outside, wrapping gifts, or organizing the ideal Christmas classics playlist. And while those things certainly count as preparation for Christmas, won’t we suffer burnout—or what I have seen referred to as “the holiday hangover”—if we spend all of November and December with our house decked out for Christmas and with Christmas music playing all day long? I know I would.
A few years ago, as I was researching Catholic Advent traditions that I could incorporate into my family’s liturgical life, I decided that I ought to shift our emphasis from when to set up the Christmas décor and instead focus on the spiritual longing and the growing excitement for the arrival of the Messiah. Traditionally and liturgically, Christmastide lasts many days—at the very least until the Epiphany, but usually until the Baptism of the Lord. Why not leave the Christmas celebrations until Christmastide and focus on the preparation during Advent? Israel spent countless years in hopeful anticipation of the savior—is it really so difficult for me and my family to spend four weeks emulating that same sense of joyful expectation?
The Catholic Church has so many symbols and traditions from which we can draw to prepare our hearts and homes for Christ. In our house, we not only light the Advent wreath every night, but we darken the dining room lights in order to emphasize the light that Christ brought when he came into the world. We also recently implemented the Jesse Tree—a tradition I did not grow up with, but one that I have come to love because it condenses salvation history into a timeline that is easy even for my children to follow. We don’t listen to Christmas music during Advent, choosing instead to listen to Advent music. We read children’s books that discuss the animals’ preparing the barn before the Nativity, or the journey that Mary and Joseph took before Jesus was born.
When we experience Advent in this way, the anticipation for Christmas builds with each passing week. As Christmas Day draws closer, we start baking and freezing the Christmas cookies to be eaten during Christmastide and to be given as gifts at Christmas parties. I take time to plan out special activities for us to do during the twelve days of Christmas, or special meals I know everyone will enjoy during that time. We pray the O Antiphons. We make or buy gifts for our loved ones, and we talk about how giving gifts to our loved ones is a reflection of the great gift of Jesus, who was given to us on Christmas Day.
In this way, when we finally decorate the house on Christmas Eve, we are all practically bouncing with excitement—and not just about presents, but about the miracle of Christ’s birth. Our children’s—and our own—sense of wonder is bolstered and preserved by our not celebrating too early. By steeping ourselves in the history of the first Christmas and by maintaining that same sense of watchful hoping and waiting, we can more fully appreciate the wonder of the arrival of the promised Messiah.
**This post was originally published on 12/3/2019**
Underneath where eyes don't go
A sound that keeps the beat that holds
Alive the song I listen close
Do I follow, do I follow, where it goes
This refrain from the song, Where it Goes, by the Gray Havens provides a beautiful canvas of the human longing to live life most deeply. The human heart desires more than what the human flesh can provide on its own, recognizing that persistent longing (like a “beat that holds”) that exists “underneath where eyes don’t go.” This is, in a nutshell, the religious experience of every human person. The religious person recognizes this persistent desire and seeks to pay attention to it.
I share this on the feast of St. Andrew and in the season of Advent, because the account of Andrew and John in the Gospel reflects this very experience--our experience. It is also an experience that the season of Advent invites us to embrace.
What is this experience? It is our longing for the exceptional. Yes, it sounds cliché and hollow, but that is because many common words have lost their true value and power. Fr. Giussani, in his book Generating Traces, helps us recapture the essence of this word by describing the exceptional as that which corresponds to the deepest desires of one’s heart. So this experience (manifested by the song lyrics above and Andrew in the Gospel) is this longing to encounter that which corresponds to the deepest desires of one’s heart—a longing for the exceptional.
The question in the song, “Do I follow?” is answered affirmatively by Andrew. He follows. But he follows a particular man. Why? What makes this one man worth following? What is it about this man that triggered a response to leave everything behind and follow? What is it about this man that allowed the disciples to have this great affection for Him?
Fr. Giussani beautifully asks these questions and offers that one-word answer that again seems so simple—too simple—yet indeed profound. Fr. Giussani writes that this man, Jesus Christ, generated attraction because He was exceptional. And so Christ was exceptional in the eyes of the apostle Andrew because Christ corresponded to the deepest desires of his heart.
Such reflections may lead us to wonder what this desire actually looks like in our life. Yes, we can, as faithful believers, affirm that Jesus is truly exceptional, but what does my desire for the exceptional look like on a daily basis?
This year’s theme for the 2023 New York Encounter beautifully illustrates our current situation. To paraphrase, the theme highlights that the last few years have strengthened within each of us a desire for authentic community, a community that is truly interdependent. The uncertainty of the past few years (and the feeling of our inadequacy to face said uncertainty) have intensified our desire to be seen, accepted, and affirmed by someone in the flesh. We yearn for the presence of someone in our life who is not scandalized or embarrassed by our brokenness and sins. We desire the presence of someone who understands our life with certainty and accompanies us throughout it. We long for a presence that truly sees us and unconditionally loves us.
This is why Andrew followed Jesus along the road. For the first time, Andrew experienced this presence that saw him, a presence that understood his own life better than he did, a presence that filled this need. This is why Andrew was able to respond with such simplicity and certainty—a simplicity and certainty which would seem absurd to any outsider (think about the absurdity of following someone along the road whom you have barely met!). But the exceptional presence of Christ—the fulfillment of his desire to be seen and loved—draws out this unquestionable attraction and clarity in Andrew.
The season of Advent can draw out this unquestionable attraction and clarity within each one of us. This beautiful yet short liturgical season proposes a time to reawaken this desire and see with renewed eyes the exceptionality of Christ. In our longing to be seen, known, and loved, Advent proposes the coming of the only presence that can fill this need.
Advent gives us, if you will, a space “underneath” in which we can listen close to the song of our heart.
And like Andrew, we can follow.
With the new liturgical year beginning this first Sunday of Advent, I am making a resolution to approach each liturgical season and day with more intentionality. In my collaboration with religious communities, I have come to admire the way they commemorate the life of their particular community within the rhythm of liturgical feasts and seasons. Their communal prayer is often guided by an ordo, a list specific to each community and/or diocese that organizes the dates of feasts (particularly those special to the community, such as patronal feasts or local saints), readings, and a necrology (the anniversaries of the deaths of members of the community) for each day. They also celebrate milestones and anniversaries of the profession of final vows and ordinations.
Why not approach the liturgical year in a similar way in our own family, our domestic Church? We too can strive to be more mindful about preparing for and celebrating special days within our Church and our family, taking time beforehand to plan which Mass to attend or finding other creative ways to observe a feast or special occasion. As we approach this new liturgical year, it may be a good time to look ahead and make plans to mark not only the big celebrations, like Christmas and Easter, but also every feast day your family may want to celebrate.
Certainly this includes birthdays and anniversaries, but it also means making note of
To find some of these dates, you may need to refer to sacramental records, such as a Baptismal Certificate, or consult family members. Personal planner templates available online can be customized to mark these dates, and once you’ve compiled a basic list, you can continue to add to it year after year. You may also wish to set aside a few special items for these celebrations, such as a bottle of holy water, a baptismal candle or baptismal garment, pictures from the event observed, holy cards, or images of the saints or family members commemorated. Children may particularly enjoy setting up a prayer space to reflect the occasion.
One helpful resource for planning is the Catholic Apostolate Center’s feast day website, which has information about the saints organized by feast day, region, time period, and more. Another useful resource is a book entitled Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It contains special blessings for birthdays, name days, and baptismal anniversaries as well as short daily prayers; seasonal blessings and prayers; blessings for life events such as graduations, birthdays, engagements, pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and moving into a new home; and prayers for times of sickness and difficulty.
You can even make it a practice to have a special meal on these days, choosing a menu related to the feast being observed or simply enjoying the favorite foods of the person being celebrated. Not only can you take the opportunity to share about your faith, but you can also share a bit of family history and bring the liturgical year to life in a more personal way.
By doing these things, we learn more about the mysteries and people of faith commemorated, even as we strive to emulate them. We also join in the age-old tradition of the “People of God [who] have observed fixed feasts, beginning with Passover, to commemorate the astonishing actions of the Savior God, to give him thanks for them, to perpetuate their remembrance, and to teach new generations to conform their conduct to them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1164).
This approach of gratitude, remembrance, and faithfulness may help us live the liturgical seasons more fruitfully, as we unfold throughout the course of the year the various aspects of “the whole mystery of Christ from his Incarnation and Nativity through his Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102 §2). May this new liturgical year truly be a “year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:19)!