One of the greatest gifts of Pope Francis’s pontificate is our pope’s willingness to write and speak about the day-to-day realities of many people everywhere. However, there is one experience which Pope Francis writes about that resonates with me most strikingly as a young adult and young professional: anxiety. And, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), I am probably not the only person with whom Pope Francis’s words resonate. In 2020, an estimated 48 million people experienced an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and anxiety disorders exist on a spectrum, ranging from mild interference with professional, relational, and/or other aspects of a person’s life, to causing major difficulties performing basic functions of human life. In other words, anxiety can look like worrying about an upcoming meeting to the extent that it causes racing thoughts and accelerated heartbeat or it can look like a debilitating fear that causes avoidance of daily plans and activities altogether.
So, what does Pope Francis have to say about this wide-ranging experience that shows up in the lives of so many? In his 2018 Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis sees anxiety as something that can cause us to act for the wrong reasons: “Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness. We are challenged to show our commitment in such a way that everything we do has evangelical meaning and identifies us all the more with Jesus Christ.” Here, Pope Francis identifies that the worries, racing thoughts, and fears can thwart our best judgment and right intentions. Experiencing anxiety can cause us to miss the mark in our perceptions of others, ourselves, or certain situations. Rather than coming from a place of a collected and balanced mindset, we may be influenced by anxiety to choose to act out of fear or worry.
In his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis shares a similar sentiment. When describing the patience and time it takes to promote the common good of a society in paragraph 223, our pope encourages, “What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.” Here, Pope Francis follows a similar thought to Gaudete et Exsultate: anxiety clouds our judgment and perceptions—preventing us from taking clear steps forward in difficult situations or relationship challenges.
Perhaps Pope Francis’s punchiest paragraph on anxiety comes from Christus Vivit. In paragraph 142, he cautions young people and the entire church in falling prey to the fear and paralysis that comes from anxiety:
“Keep following your hopes and dreams. But be careful about one temptation that can hold us back. It is anxiety. Anxiety can work against us by making us give up whenever we do not see instant results. Our best dreams are only attained through hope, patience and commitment, and not in haste. At the same time, we should not be hesitant, afraid to take chances or make mistakes. Avoid the paralysis of the living dead, who have no life because they are afraid to take risks, to make mistakes or to persevere in their commitments. Even if you make mistakes, you can always get up and start over, for no one has the right to rob you of hope.”
Here, Pope Francis highlights how anxiety can prevent us from moving forward. How often are we afraid to pick up the phone and call a friend that we haven’t spoken to in a while because we are anxious about what to say? Or how many times have we put off a difficult conversation because we are fearful about how it might change our relationship with the other person with whom we speak? How many times have we passed up applying for that school, a certain job, or taking on a particular project because we are afraid that our abilities wouldn’t measure up? For Pope Francis, many of these situations have anxiety at their root.
So, what can we make of how Pope Francis writes about anxiety? For our pope, anxiety is a difficult and challenging issue. Though Pope Francis mentions anxiety can affect a person’s life negatively, notice that he never mentions anxiety as sinful. Like other health and mental health conditions and experiences, anxiety itself is not a sin and is not a punishment for sin, but rather comes from our imperfect human nature. What Pope Francis does hint at, though, is that learning to live with anxiety contributes to our holiness.
How does learning to live with anxiety contribute to our growth in holiness? Learning to manage our anxiety—whether through a relationship with a licensed therapist, medication, self-care practices, or other means of support—allows us to live out our calling to holiness more freely and generously. Anxiety causes us to make decisions, act, and cope with the situations of life out of worry, nervousness, and fear. Managing our anxiety allows us to learn to live more mindfully and intentionally, gain insight into what is causing our fear and worry, and make choices to act from a place of balance and discernment. In other words, instead of being paralyzed by anxiety, learning to manage it allows us to respond to others and situations in our lives more thoughtfully—seeing them not as threats or reasons to make judgments out of fear, but opportunities for us to be drawn out of ourselves, despite our nervousness or fear.
If holiness means to set apart our lives for God’s action and living out our mission, our experience of anxiety can be a part of our vocation to holiness as we see it as an opportunity to grow, become more generous, place our trust in God, and challenge our fears. As Pope Francis encourages us in paragraph 143 of Christus Vivit, “Take risks, even if it means making mistakes. Don’t go through life anesthetized or approach the world like tourists. Make a ruckus! Cast out the fears that paralyze you, so that you don’t become young mummies.”
As a human race, we have entered uncharted waters and new territory as we struggle to continue our lives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us have attended to socially distancing ourselves, picking up essential items from the grocery store, and ensuring that our loved ones are safe and supported. As Catholics, we’ve found creative ways to gather to celebrate Mass and pray with others all over the nation and the world. However, in the midst of giving attention to all of these demands, we might forget to take care of one crucial thing in particular: our mental health.
As someone who lives with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, I can confirm that the presence of coronavirus and the changes it has wrought in my daily life are making it particularly challenging to cope. I find myself with racing thoughts: When will this be over? Will my loved ones and I be protected? How much will this affect my finances? Where even is God in this? This is why I am particularly invested in my mental health right now: the challenges of the pandemic have the potential to trap me in an endless state of anxiety, panic, and depression. Although the pandemic presents me with challenging days ahead, I know that I can survive them by taking extra care of my mental health.
To take a step back, why should mental health matter to us so much as Christians, especially now? First, mental health allows us to live in right relationship with ourselves, others, and God. By cultivating mental health, we can strengthen self-esteem, learn how to be a more compassionate friend or partner, or learn how our human experiences have affected our relationship with God. Second, focusing on our mental health allows us to be stewards of God’s creation, specifically good stewards of the body that God has created and given to us. Though we are living in a time of panic and uncertainty, we have agency and the ability to take care of ourselves in a way that allows us to continue the hard work of bringing forth the Kingdom of God, even in a pandemic. Third, focusing our efforts on our mental health is bound up in our pursuit of holiness. As we focus on mental health, we grow in self-awareness, communication, compassion, and moral judgement; in other words, we engage in formation that allows us to be a “bridge and not an obstacle” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 43) to Jesus Christ in our own lives and the lives of others. In other words, intentionally focusing on our mental health during this challenging time is a way in which we can follow the command to “love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
In being intentional about my own mental health at this time, here are some thoughts and practices that I’ve found most helpful in coping with uncertainty, panic, anxiety, and depression:
How can you engage in practices that cultivate your self-awareness this week? What/who are valuable resources of support? How do you feel that you need to show up for yourself this week? Where could you use some extra self-compassion in your life? Finally, how might being intentional about cultivating your mental health bring you into right relationship with yourself, others, and God during this time?
I have always enjoyed social media— so much so that I have the opportunity to do it professionally! By nature of my employment, I spend a lot of time on social media. During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I have found a lot of hope, inspiration, and helpful information online. I must also admit that I have felt overwhelmed at times after constantly seeing COVID-19 related posts. I appreciate the acknowledgement of what’s going on globally and the virus-related posts, but I also appreciate those that are posting their regular content so that we can maintain some semblance of normalcy.
Last week (the first week of COVID-19 self-quarantine in the United States), I spent way too much time on my phone. Between losing the structure of being in the office and just getting caught up in scrolling, I spent a considerable amount of time on social media. By Wednesday, I noticed that it was taking a toll on me. I felt over-stimulated and overwhelmed. I felt like I couldn’t concentrate on anything because my mind was filled with so much noise.
This week, I will be implementing a few things in order to maintain a healthy relationship with social media:
I am hoping that implementing the practices I mentioned above allows me to enjoy social media more than leaving me feeling overwhelmed by it during this time. There are many beautiful aspects of social media that can help me feel connected. I love seeing what my loved ones are up to. I love seeing how my fellow Catholics are building up the Church during this challenging time. I love to see what my favorite organizations are doing to aid COVID-19 efforts. I want to scroll through my social media accounts and remember why I love them rather than feeling overstimulated and too anxious to enjoy them.
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As I write this, there are currently 2,382 people in my home state of New York who have contracted the Coronavirus, with 21 others having lost their lives in the pandemic. With both of those numbers climbing each day, the feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and despair are palpable— not just in New York, but around the world.
Here in New York, I am currently a seminarian on pastoral year (a year-long internship at a parish in my diocese). In an exercise of charity and concern, our diocese like many others has cancelled all Masses, public liturgies, devotions, and meetings through Easter in order to keep our most vulnerable parishioners safe. This has of course posed a certain ministerial crisis since many of the avenues (Mass, confession, one-on-one meetings) that we have been taught to send people down when feeling anxious, despondent, and isolated from God are now closed indefinitely. So, what do we do? This situation is calling us to be creative in how we minister to people. Online resources, social media, live-streaming liturgies, and even just phone calls and video chats can and will keep people feeling connected. I think many of us already know this and have been putting effort into these new ministries and forms of evangelization even before the pandemic. It is true though that without sacraments and personal connection, even this media approach could never be enough.
While creative ministry right now is important, I would like to focus rather on the flip side of that same question—what do we do? Here, I would like to address my brother seminarians and anyone, priest and lay alike, that is struggling due to a lack of fulfilling ministry. I don’t think this is a selfish pursuit, but an essential one if we are to check our own feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and despair.
Last summer I had the great experience of attending the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF). In these last few days, one of their spiritual approaches came back to me vividly; they called it Relationship-Identity-Mission—and here the order of the words does matter. IPF posited that many people in ministry may operate backwards. Mission is primary; from there flows Identity (I am a seminarian. I am a youth minister); then, the personal Relationship with Christ gets whatever energy is left. If these last few days without “real ministry” have been a struggle for you, as they have been for me, I think we need to ask ourselves not “what do I do?”—because frankly we cannot do much of anything our Mission truly requires—but rather ask “who am I? I work for Jesus, yes, but is my own, personal relationship with Him primary?”
In discussing Relationship-Identity-Mission, the question was often asked “where do you live?” If you live in your Mission and your Identity is synonymous with what you do, you are going to have a difficult month (or maybe even longer). But if you live in the Relationship and make that your starting point, even during a time when the Mission is unclear or nonexistent, then you are going to rediscover your Identity as a beloved son or daughter of a faithful God. Amidst fear and uncertainty, God is giving us this time to go deeper into a relationship with Him, so that we can live out our missions more fruitfully when this is all over.
So, if you find you are struggling now because you are living Mission-Identity- Relationship, take his time as a Lenten Retreat and don’t feel bad about it! The world needs your prayers now more than ever, and your creative approach to ministry now will then be the fruit of your time alone with Jesus. If you are living Relationship-Identity-Mission, go deeper and speak honestly with Jesus about frustrations with your minimized Mission.
In closing, I would like to offer this consoling quote from Henri Nouwen for your reflection:
“We are not what we do, we are not what we have, we are not what others think of us. Coming home is claiming the truth. I am the beloved child of a loving creator.”
Jesus is calling us to remain in His Love (John 15:9), a request that I imagine was made for times like these. So choose to live in the relationship, take ownership of your identity as the beloved, and watch your ministry take root.
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Recently, my life has changed a lot. I had my first child, Vincent Scott Pierno, on January 31st, and he is the greatest joy I’ve ever known. I never knew that becoming a mother could fulfill my life in the ways it has, and I thank God each day for the happiness, tears, and everything in between that he has brought into my life. As a family, we’ve also started house-hunting and looking for a place to settle within this busy and chaotic Washington, DC area. My in-laws will be moving in with us, and although they’ve already been an amazing help with the newborn, it’s another change to our lifestyle. Finding joy in these changes has been challenging at times, but not impossible through the grace of God. I invite you to join me in reflecting on change in our lives and ways to find joy during times of trial and tribulation.
One way to work through life’s changes is through Scripture. There are so many examples we can look to that give us strength and remind us of the goodness in change. One is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This passage gives me hope. It can be anxiety-provoking to go through so many changes all at once, but Christ gives us strength and we can do all things with his help.
Another verse from Joshua 1:9 that speaks of courage during a hectic time is: “I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” In Scripture, we look at examples of people who have also found change difficult and needed support from God. This reliance is the definition of faith: trust and dependence on God through all things, even when the end is not in sight.
Another way to work through life’s changes is through prayer. In prayer we can develop a closer relationship with God, and in this dialogue find joy in knowing Christ more deeply. Prayer can be done in many ways: silently, out loud, in reflection, through journaling, and even through participating in the Mass regularly. Since prayer is “both personal and communal,” we can encounter Christ however we feel most comfortable. I’ve found that the most important part of this prayer is not to always ask God for things, but to offer thanksgiving and to listen. The “listening” is the hardest to do. The chaos of a busy and a constantly changing life makes it even more difficult during challenging periods to take time and listen to God. However, it is in those hard times that we can deepen our relationship with Him.
The final way I’d really like to impart is by keeping track of and celebrating joy. In this age of social media and 24/7 news updates, it’s easy to see so much negativity all around us. People gossip about others, worry about things that have nothing to do with them, troll people online for their own enjoyment, and trash talk things that people don’t need to even have an opinion about. This negativity can seep into our daily lives and we can get lost in it. I invite you instead to be a whirl of positivity. As Catholics, we are called to action by being missionaries in the world. St. Vincent Pallotti suggests this in his teachings, and brilliantly states this saying, “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.” I find his words timeless.
The deeds that Pallotti refers to can be simple ones, such as celebrating anything good that comes into our lives by posting it on social media or encouraging joy in the lives of others. We could truly create small havens of joy for people to encounter by simply finding the joy that already exists. Share this joy and gratitude with at least one person, whether in-person or online. Some examples from my life include sharing in my son’s new life and looking for the good in being home with him rather than the stress. Even something as easy as a smile could change someone’s day. I invite you to use these hashtags when you post about your joys as we get through this life together in Christian spirit! #joyinChristianaction #findingjoyineverything #discoverjoyfulmoments
Today 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.
On this Feast of St. John Paull 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 coming Sunday’s readings address the issue of wordliness in the many forms it takes and remind us not to get caught up in the world but instead to focus on God.
The first reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes, includes the oft-repeated words, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” It addresses vanity not only in the prideful sense, but also vanity in the pointless sense: “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” What good is being anxious and sorrowful, never being able to rest because we worry so much about the things of this world and about things we cannot control?
In the second reading, St. Paul admonishes the Colossians thus: “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” These are the flip side of the anxiety coin, namely, a sort of hedonism that fights sadness by seeking immediate and often fleeting pleasures—declaring them the highest human good.
The problem with these two extremes is that neither acknowledges that mankind was created for something more than this world: both the anxious and hedonistic are so caught up in earthly things that they fail to see beyond the scope of their own lives. St. Paul reminds his Colossian readers to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Similarly, in the Gospel reading, Christ tells a member of the crowd to “take care against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
The Scripture readings could just as easily be addressed to modern-day people living in the developed world. Anxiety, greed, and hedonism abound and creep into our souls. Our lives are a series of wants: “I want that new iPhone,” “I want to follow all the fashion trends,” “I want the biggest slice of cake,” “I want a prestigious education for my children.” We are greedy for praise and for the love of our fellow man. We are anxious about bills to be paid and potential promotions at work. We seek to define ourselves through our professions and our possessions, as though the ideal job or the ideal amount of material goods will bring us peace.
In my own struggle against wordliness, I resemble most the anxious man from Ecclesiastes. I worry whether I am setting a good example to my children, how long it will take to afford that home improvement project, whether my family will be misfits, whether anything I do in this life will ever amount to anything. I’ve even had trouble falling asleep because I started envisioning scenarios of the crosses my children will have to bear when they’re grown—which will not be for nearly two decades!
Our Christian faith calls us to something so much greater than getting bogged down in the things of this world. Our faith shows us that there is no true peace on earth except through God. Anxiety, greed, hedonism—each in its own way seeks to fill a hole in our hearts that can only be satisfied by the love and mercy of God. When we think about our daily lives and whether we live too much in the world, we can ask ourselves how we want to be remembered after we die. Will we be remembered because of our insatiable need to have all the latest gadgets and to fill our houses with all the best stuff? Will we be remembered as complainers who spent so much time worrying about nightmare scenarios and wishing we had what other people have, never accepting our lot in life or striving to serve God in all things? Or will we be remembered because we embraced the love of God and it imbued us with the grace to live out exemplary lives of heroic virtue? Embracing this alternate worldview, the one that finds its satisfaction in God and heavenly things, will enable us to live in the world while not being of it. It is in this that we find true peace.
As a PhD student, there are often many moments where I find myself buried under work, exhausted from studying, and wondering if subjecting myself to a five year program of studying, teaching, and writing is worth it. Although I love what I study and find it extremely life-giving, there are plenty of moments when I’ve felt hopeless, isolated, and anxious about a future career in academia. This past year, I found myself struggling in the midst of my third semester in my program. I felt emotionally and mentally exhausted by the demands of being a second-year student and teaching assistant. Frustrated, worried, and tired, I made an appointment with one of my professors, hoping that venting to someone who understands the challenges of academia might at least help somewhat.
As I vented about my anxieties of being an effective teaching assistant, distinguished student, and successful future academic, my professor patiently listened. Even as my concrete worries about grading and lecturing for the first time began to turn into catastrophizing about never being hired at a college or university, my professor sat with me until I finished talking. She never minimized my feelings or invalidated my emotions. Instead, she shared with me her own challenges that she faced as a graduate student. Through stories about her own experiences, she admitted that she had been where I was, too. My professor didn’t let the conversation remain at a place of despair; she instead encouraged me to look at the bigger picture in all of these difficulties: God’s plan for each of us. She challenged me to think about my own vocation to be a graduate student and reminded me that it was God’s will that I was here. My professor helped me to see that despite my anxiety and worry, I was not alone. Not only did I have her support and the support of others at my university, but my present and future rested in the hands of my Creator. She also helped me notice places in my life where I was successful, and suggested places where I could become stronger. After talking about my strengths and areas of improvement, she offered advice, pointed me to other people that might also help, and offered to continue the conversation whenever I needed it. I left encouraged, feeling supported, and with a new perspective on my life as a graduate student.
When I first scheduled my meeting with my professor, I had only expected to give voice to my worries to someone who knew what I was talking about; however, when I left my meeting, I felt that I was no longer walking alone on my path. My professor was walking with me, accompanying me on my journey as a graduate student. Upon later reflection, this moment of accompaniment shared with my professor reminded me of Jesus’ own style of accompaniment on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Like the disciples who were dejected, disillusioned, and confused about the events that had taken place in Jerusalem surrounding Jesus’ death, I too was anxious about my own life as a graduate student. My professor offered a presence of patient listening, even when my worries began spiraling into despair. Instead of invalidating my response to the challenges of my life, my professor, like Jesus, “drew near” (Luke 24:15) to me by sharing with me her own difficulties as a graduate student. My professor also helped me to shift my perspective. She imitated Jesus on the Road to Emmaus by reminding me of God’s role and plan in my life, encouraging me to look beyond the challenges of the present moment. Finally, my professor helped me to remember my own sense of mission and vocation, and move actively towards them. As Jesus interpreted the scriptures with the travelers on the way (Luke: 24:27), my professor assisted me in reading God’s revelation in my own life through my strengths and weaknesses, encouraging me to develop and strengthen my gifts in order to respond to God’s call. As Jesus walked with the disciples towards a definitive direction, my professor was walking with me towards a certain goal: greater trust in God and more freedom from anxiety in order to live out my vocation. After this moment of accompaniment with my professor, I continued on my path as a graduate student with a new sense of support and encouragement. Like the disciples after their own powerful encounter of accompaniment with Christ, I too returned to my own mission as a graduate student, but with renewed hope and enthusiasm.
My experience of being accompanied by my professor made a significant impact on the way I think about my own life and vocation. In that simple meeting, my professor reminded me that no one lives out their vocation and personal mission in isolation. Instead, we need one another on this pilgrimage towards full realization of being the beloved of Christ. Accompaniment allows us to walk together towards Christ; it turns the challenges of the journey into opportunities to discover God’s love with and through one another.
Who might accompany you on your journey towards Christ? How can you accompany others through challenges that you’ve faced?
For more resources on mentorship and accompaniment, please click here.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 6th, 2018 edition of the Catholic Apostolate Center's eNewsletter.
It is no secret that the Church is facing turbulent times. The Catholic Apostolate Center would like to express deep and heartfelt sorrow to all victims of clergy sexual abuse. Our Director, Fr. Frank, will be offering a Novena of Masses for Victims of Sexual Abuse from September 7 to September 15 (Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows). We invite all to join us in prayer.
It is important to care for those who are suffering and to remember self-care. If you or someone you know needs information, support, or resources regarding stress and trauma, we invite you to our Self-Care for Healthy Ministry Resource Page. There, you can find resources from SLIconnect, the education ministry of Saint Luke Institute. You will be directed to the following resources:
Please use the virtue of prudence to determine if a licensed and/or medical professional should be involved when dealing with stress and trauma.
In these difficult times, the Church will move forward with an increased role of the laity, which will require greater co-responsibility and collaboration among the faithful with clergy. Our Collaboration in Ministry Resources unpack what healthy and fruitful collaboration looks like.
On this resource page, you will find many talks, blogs, articles, websites, podcasts, and more, all aimed at maximizing the resources in the Church in a healthy and productive way for the salvation of souls.
You can listen to our new podcast on co-responsibility by clicking here, and you can view our Collaboration in Ministry Resources by clicking here.
Finally and most importantly, we must remember that our faith life is in Jesus Christ and through his Church. To properly orient ourselves, we invite you to study the message of Pope Francis in his third Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad). Pope Francis seeks “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities (GE 2).”
We encourage you to visit our Gaudete et Exsultate Resource Page to read this timely exhortation, and to find media and other resources to help you distill the Holy Father’s call to holiness. A Facebook Live event with Fr. Frank is particularly helpful and can be viewed by clicking the image, or here.
Visit our Gaudete et Exsultate Resource Page by clicking here.
Yours in the Charity of Christ,
The Catholic Apostolate Center Team
Deep Breath In, Deep Breath Out
Have you had a chance today to think about God’s love? No? Well, do this with me… Deep breath in. Deep breath out. With every breath we take, we know we were made for here, for right now, this time, this century, not by accident, but for a purpose.
The first paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully explains, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, and to love him with all his strength.” (Emphasis added.)
Did you read what the Catechism reminds us? God draws close to man! Can you believe this? No? Hey that’s ok! It’s hard for me to comprehend too, but do this with me…
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
It is unnerving that we, His children, can go day-to-day and not really live out of the understanding that we were made by love, for love, to love.
At the graduate school I attended, the chaplain for our program would constantly remind us of this fact. On days when my mind was worn down, when I was struggling with anxiety or doubt, I would stumble into his office and explode the complexities of my mind onto him (poor fellow). Ever so gently, he would stop me in my rambling and say, “deep breath in, deep breath out.” He explained to me that the mere fact that we can breathe is a clear sign of the Father’s love, “because if He forgot about you for a millisecond, you would not exist.” He is loving us into existence with every breath we take.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Do we really live as though the creator of the universe, the creator of love, the Father of heaven and earth has made us, loves us here? If I lived in this simple, yet mind-blowing truth, I think the day-to-day would be less burdensome and my exterior circumstances would not define my level of contentment. My life would be colored with purpose because I was made for love, by love.
Are you stressed? Does the state of our world or society bring you fear? Are you looking for fulfillment? Do you desire to be loved? Are you waiting for your vocation? Do this now…
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
You were made for here, you are necessary for now, and you are loved into existence because the Father loves you.
“We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of is necessary.” –Pope Benedict XVI
September 13th is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), one of the most celebrated Fathers of the Early Church. Born in Antioch, John Chrysostom chose a simple life as desert monk, but was kidnapped and forcibly made the Archbishop of Constantinople, where he spent much of his life fighting against corruption— especially on behalf of the poor and widows.
John earned the nickname Chrysostom—Greek for “golden-mouthed”—based on his reputation for eloquent speaking and skills in public preaching, which converted the hearts of many listeners. John Chrysostom exemplifies the value of good communication as an element of effective evangelization.
Whether you’re a ham or have speech anxiety like most, at some point or another, you might be called upon to speak publicly—especially if you work or volunteer in the church. Whether you are preparing to deliver a parish talk, a personal witness, or other public presentation, no matter the size, spending some effort crafting your communication skills can be a great benefit to sharing your faith.
Know your Who, What, and Why
St. Paul, a man who described his call “to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,” (1 Cor 1:17), nevertheless frequently found himself speaking in front of crowds as part of his mission as an Apostle and disciple of Christ. Paul speaks very differently to mature Christians and the pagans of Athens (Acts 17:22-34). The audience (“who”) shapes his main points and examples (“what”) and the purpose for speaking to them (“why). Prepare by creating an outline that clearly and succinctly states your “who, what, and why.” Write it down and refer back to it throughout the composition stage.
A Little Humiliation Goes a Long Way
In seminary homiletics courses, preachers-in-training are frequently subjected to the sometimes humiliating exercise of having their practice homilies recorded. They then watch the playback to evaluate their delivery. In some form or another, that can help anybody. It’s probably going to hurt … but you actually get used to it over time and can learn a great deal throughout this process.
Practice in front of somebody. (If you’re too embarrassed at first, use your dog, cat, or an inanimate object.) Exercises like these are designed to help public speakers become more self-aware, not self-conscious.
Pay close attention to your favorite speakers, teachers, or preachers and try to articulate precisely what makes them engaging and unique—not just their content, but things like timing, rhythm, their order of argument, when and when not to use humor, etc. Pope St. John Paul II and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen were masters at this.
As you reflect on how you speak, name gifts and qualities that others identify about your particular style. Develop those. Remember, we are not all called to be rhetoricians and orators, or even great speakers, but faithful communicators of the Gospel. Not all, St. Paul says, are even called to be preachers or teachers (cf. Ephesians 4:11). To advance his kingdom, God has entrusted each of us with a message and a mission and nevertheless promises to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
St. John Chrysostom, Pray for us!
In high school I had a teacher who kept a cute frog sticker on the ceiling above the doorway to and from the classroom. Her favorite saying was, “FROG it!” F-R-O-G stood for, “Fully Rely On God.” Whenever someone expressed anxiety, sadness, or some other emotion, our teacher would tell us to FROG it. Her ceiling sticker was a reminder for us to place our burdens in God’s hands and trust that he would guide us through our triumphs and tribulations.
Oh how quickly we stumble and forget this trust in God’s plan for us.
The last semester of my senior year of college, I had so much anxiety over finding a job. No matter what my family or friends said to encourage me, I worried 24/7. At one point, I even made myself sick by not getting enough sleep over several days. My mother told me to pray whenever I felt anxious, and to leave my future in God’s control. While I still thought constantly about the vast openness my future held after graduation, reminding myself that God had my back was reassuring. Over spring break, I visited an organization I had interned with previously. They were looking to fill a position fitting my interests and area of study. I was called a few weeks later and offered the position.
Six years. That’s at least how long I can think back to decisions and opportunities God placed in my life that laid the foundation for my first job. When I reflect on this incredible plan, I can only be filled with wonder and thankfulness.
Being patient for God’s timing is extraordinarily difficult, but well worth the wait. So often we want what we desire immediately, not later. Sometimes we can be so stubborn and get in the way of God’s timing by choosing the wrong decision, acting too quickly, telling God “no,” and even forgetting God at times.
God uses the time of waiting to stretch our faith in him. We develop patience, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, through practice and under trial (CCC 1832). We can begin to feel satisfied as we practice this virtue. If God followed our timing, we wouldn’t grow and develop in our relationship with God or with others. In the book of Exodus, we learn how long the Israelites had to wait for God to lead them to the Promised Land. God led the Israelites on the longer journey out of Egypt to the Promised Land because they were not yet ready to place their full trust in him or his plan (Exodus 13:17-18). God also knows that if we knew how long or what it takes to reach the end, we may tire or fall from his path for us.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1, we learn there is a time for everything. Seeing others around us experiencing fruitfulness while we are in drought should not cause jealousy. We must remember that these individuals may have already experienced growth or difficult stages that we currently face if we are to receive the bounty. These words from Psalm 37 remind me to place my trust in God and in his desire to fulfill my heart’s desires: “Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act. And make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like noonday. Be still before the Lord; wait for him. Do not be provoked by the prosperous, nor by malicious schemers.” - Psalm 37:4-7
Our jobs are not to decipher when what we seek will come to fruition. Our jobs are to continue praying and seeking the result, trusting in God’s plan and asking him for the strength to participate in it. We mustn’t give up. God works things out in his own perfect timing.
“…we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
A few weeks ago, during our celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, this portion of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans was read to faithful Catholics throughout the world. I had the privilege of attending a bilingual Mass that weekend with my girlfriend, Kara, in a high school gymnasium. The different setting, unfamiliar language, and unusually large number of altar servers hardly crossed my mind as we participated in Mass at Most Holy Trinity Parish, on this, their solemnity. It was a beautiful liturgy to say the least! What struck Kara and me most about our experience, however, were these lines from the second reading:
How many of us know someone who is afflicted? We all have family members, friends or colleagues that are struggling with cancer, unemployment, depression, etc. In the daily news - local, national and international - we hear about gun violence, war, natural disaster, and famine. Even more simplistically, we each have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days.’
St. Paul reminds us that affliction is not something to run from because ultimately, we “boast in hope of the Glory of God” (Romans 5:2). His ‘flow chart of hope’ is a reassuring message of what true faithfulness yields and how God makes His love present to each of us in our struggles.
The alternatives to hope (sin, despair, discouragement, impatience, fear, anxiety, guilt…)_ when left unchecked, are a rejection of God’s invitation to deeper communion with Him. Very basically, this reading offers us a roadmap to understand how affliction does not have the final word; hope does!
Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at Nationals Stadium during his 2008 Apostolic Visit to the United States speaks to this point: “It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross.”
We are able to endure our own afflictions because of the hope promised to us by God. Pain, suffering, and struggle are not pleasant, especially when they are affecting someone we know and love. As people of faith, though, we believe God is with us, united in our affliction and made present to us in the love we experience. This faith, this hope, and this love, offer us momentary comfort and strength as we journey to the ultimate glory of complete communion with God.
We have a common call to share this hope with those around us, especially with those who find it difficult to endure in times of struggle. This simple reminder of the universality of the Church also reminds us that through prayer, “we become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others” (Spe Salvi, 34).
And so, as we are confronted with affliction, our prayer should be one of hope. As others struggle with affliction, our response should be one of hope. And as we begin to question why affliction affects our lives, we must remember that affliction yields hope; hope in the love of God.
“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.”
St. Teresa of Avila, The Exclamations of the Soul to God, 15:3.
Jonathan Jerome is the Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on June 13, 2013
Like most high school students, I had a yearly summer reading list to complete before the start of the next school term. One summer, I was required to read “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom. Reading this book was a “light bulb” moment for me. One line from the book stuck with me: “There are five people you meet in heaven. Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for.”
After reading that line, I knew there had been individuals placed in my life for reasons I came to realize after reflection, as well as for reasons yet to be revealed. This week, I continued my reading of “The Discernment of Spirits”, Saint Ignatius’ teaching further interpreted by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V., and I was reminded again of how God places individuals in our lives for a reason.
In Saint Ignatius’ rule No. 2 of the discernment of spirits, he explains how people seeking God find encouragement, strength, courage, consolation, inspiration, and ease so that they may go forward in doing good. To dissuade us from following the path toward God, the evil spirit gives us anxiety, saddens us, and places obstacles in our way so that we are disquieted with false reasons to fall away from doing God’s will.
Temptation takes many forms. In people who don’t easily succumb to sin, the evil one’s tactic is a gnawing feeling that triggers anxiety and diminishes peace and delight in God’s service. We may also find ourselves sad without knowing why when it comes to prayer, the loss of love for others in God, or any other pursuit of God – it is not a sadness such as that of the loss of a loved one or occupation. Obstacles are placed in our way, questioning how we can continue a life of daily prayer, for example, and live a lonely life. And lastly, false reasons can begin to fill our thoughts. After a Lenten retreat this year, I felt rejuvenated in my faith, but then started to feel like I didn’t make the most of my retreat experience and how I failed in my time with the Lord. I was wrong and needed to see that it was temptation seeking to cloud my judgment and give me a false reason to not attend future retreats.
In contrast to these negative feelings, we know when we are on God’s path when God quiets our hearts from anxiety and we feel encouraged or strengthened by a decision or experience. For example, I have a friend who also blogs for the Catholic Apostolate Center, and his Facebook postings of each new blog popped up on my newsfeed. I was encouraged by this friend and my family to find out if I could blog from a different state. I found out I could, and each time I have a blog due, my faith is re-energized as I’m excited to share a new piece of my faith with others.
God also assists us through inspiration. After my college graduation last year, I told a friend how I was nervous to be in a town without the great friends I had made in the last four years. She invited me to attend a young Catholic adult group in my new town, and now I am good friends with these great individuals. They inspire me each time we talk, and they recommend books and prayers that helped them overcome similar difficulties.
Lastly, God eases or takes away obstacles. During one Mass I attended in college, a guest priest shared his goals for the Parish Mission starting the next day. I had not been to a mission before, but the more he talked, the more I felt compelled to go. For the next 24 hours, the feeling never went away. I even completed my homework early for the first time that semester. On my way to church, I ran into an old friend going to the mission. She was hoping to find a friend so she wouldn’t be alone. We sat together and, afterward, talked all the way home.
Timothy 2:21 says, “If anyone cleanses himself [from what is dishonorable], he will be a vessel for lofty use, dedicated, beneficial to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” It’s quite amazing to look back and see how far I’ve come on my own spiritual journey due to the individuals placed in my life by God, so that I may also do his work.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
To read Dana’s first post about the Discernment of the Spirits, click here!
Today marks one week until a great man comes to visit us, bringing joy to all. Given the nature of this blog, I’m guessing you think I’m talking about the coming of the newborn Jesus Christ. But I’m actually talking about Santa Claus! The jolly old man himself, bringing loads of goodies on his sleigh to the girls and boys on his twice-checked list. Yes, indeed. What else is special about Christmas? It is interesting to see the secular meaning of Christmas intersect with the glorious birth of our Savior to yield a sort-of confused holiday. The world seems to forget that during this season of Advent when Catholics are preparing their hearts to welcome Jesus on the 25th, many are just preparing themselves to welcome elves and anxiety. This year in particular, I have had to take a step back from all the noise and busyness, and enjoy the peace and joy of this Advent season. Can we still find God with us?
The Gospel today helps us anticipate God’s Promise through faith. In Matthew 1:23, Joseph is visited by an angel to fulfill what the prophets had written, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). Joseph had extraordinary faith to believe that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and that he would care for the One who was being sent to save the world. This was no small feat for a simple carpenter, but Joseph understood the importance of Christ’s birth.
This last part of this passage, God with us, caught my ear when I first read it, and reminded me of a Theology class from freshman year in college. We learned that in order to redeem the world from Original Sin, God had to dwell among us on earth. God could only do that by becoming fully Divine and fully Human, and only through a stainless virgin could Jesus be stainless himself. The world has truly been saved because of a small child, born in a stable and laid in manger over 2,000 years ago. Each year we have 4 weeks to ready ourselves for his arrival again. The joy of the season is not packages, ribbons, and bows, it’s realizing that God is here to love us and save us.
In my classroom, we have an elf named Chester who comes to visit during the weeks of Advent. He arrived on the first day back from Thanksgiving break, and we have found him in a new spot every morning. According to the book he brought with him called, Elf on the Shelf, he returns to Santa to relay messages about whether or not the kids in my class were naughty or nice each day. Based on this report, my students will have a visit from Santa on Christmas morning. What if instead of Santa visiting us with things, we visited God with full hearts and open arms? Although Chester the Elf is here throughout Advent and will disappear after Christmas, God is always with us.
Krissy Kirby is a Kindergarten teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
To learn more about Advent, please see our Advent Resources!