Working in parish ministry can be extremely rewarding, however, it can also become consuming and drain you spiritually, physically, and emotionally. We live to serve, love to create and often times find ourselves at the battlefront of spiritual warfare. Take a moment to ask yourself honestly, “Am I taking time to replenish myself?” It can be difficult to take a step back and focus our time and energy on our own revitalization. We get so used to giving of our time and ourselves to the work of the church that we may feel guilty if we turn those energies on ourselves.
We all know the physiological and psychological benefits of exercise. Is it possible to reap a spiritual benefit? 1 Corinthians 6:19 states that our body is not our own. I am a firm believer that degradations of the soul and body affect one another. 1 Corinthians 6:13 teaches us that the body is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body. Although the health of our interior spiritual life should always take precedence over everything, I urge you to keep the health of your corporal life, your bodily life, a close second.
In both the Nicene and Apostle’s Creed, we profess a belief in the resurrection. But do we live out that belief? Our salvation story as the adopted sons and daughters of Christ is not over yet, including the story of our loved ones that have fallen asleep in Christ. We believe in a second coming. We believe that when this earth passes away, we will be united, body and soul, into heaven if we have attained sanctification. We, as the body of Christ and communion of saints, are still in this together. Do we continue to pray for the dead outside of Mass? Do we implore the saints and angels for help and intercession? Do we offer daily mortifications and prayers for the salvation of souls? What about ourselves?
We just recently celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. I would like to present a challenge to you. Regardless of whether you are a disciplined exerciser, just beginning, or struggling to get back into the habit, turn your intention and your purpose to the salvation of souls. Schedule this time into your day just as you would an appointment or your personal prayer time. When you take your walk, follow your workout DVD, lift weights, go swimming, whatever medium you choose for your exercise, mentally offer this sacrifice of your time, energy, and focus for the salvation of souls. When you feel like there are one thousand other things you should be doing with your time, remember why you scheduled it. When you start to get tired during your workout say to yourself, “Lord Jesus have mercy on me and all souls in purgatory.”
Uniting the discipline of our exercise with a prayer intention as powerful as the salvation of souls, strengthens your body and mind so that you can better carry out your calling on this earth. Through this purposeful action, you are also imploring God to grant relief to the poor souls in purgatory. So my fellow ministers, yes, give of yourselves unceasingly but be aware of the ways that we can still give of ourselves while nourishing, strengthening, and reenergizing our body so that we are better focused and able to carry out our calling on this earth so that when our day of judgement comes we can hear the sweetest of phrases uttered from the lips of our Savior, Matthew 25:23 “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
“Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!” “Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen!” This most wonderful news remains at the core of the dogma and Gospel message of Christianity; yet when it was first proclaimed by Mary Magdalene to the apostles, they thought it was utter nonsense. Even nearly two thousand years of evangelization later, there remain those who have doubts, as the apostle Thomas did, about the Resurrection, demanding hard, irrefutable proof that they might begin to believe. Some reject the Church completely, perceiving it as clinging to outdated moral and socioeconomic beliefs. The persecution of the Church in various forms and intensities continues to this day, with some parts of the world undergoing similar brutality suffered by the earliest Christians. Critics continuously point to and decry the scandals and the perceived subsequent reformation failures harming the Church, referencing various statistics on vocation shortages to the priesthood, the instability of parishes, and any and all catechetical dissent from within. In a world where evil appears to be flourishing and truth is increasingly being perceived as relative, the faithful and nonbelievers alike find themselves wondering: how does the Church continue to endure?
“I believe in Jesus Christ” the Creed declares. Our faith is in God— not the clergy, the laity, nor any others who are susceptible to sin. Christ is and remains the “head of the body, the Church… through whom he extends his reign over all things” (CCC 792). Just as Christ chose imperfect men to be His apostles, He commissions us all to “go and make disciples of all nations... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In doing so, we do not call attention to ourselves but to Christ, whose perfection we strive to imitate in our daily lives. As members of the Body of Christ, we are obligated to hold accountable and care for each other as we strive to remain holy (see 1 Corinthians 12:21-31). When one of us falls along the way, we cannot abandon that person— Christ always remains faithful (see 2 Timothy 2:13)! Everyone has shortcomings, yet our Lord never shied away from them because they weren’t perfect. His perfect love sanctifies the Church and gives her life! This same love should drive us to pick ourselves up, seek forgiveness, and continue to complete our mission of evangelization no matter the challenges facing us.
As we can see in today’s culture, one of the biggest challenges facing the Church is the problem of moral relativism. Like his predecessors, Pope Francis warned how this way of thinking contributed to the “material and spiritual poverties of our time”:
But there is no peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
The slippery slope of moral relativism threatens the stability of society and the integrity of the human person. The Church, to her credit, is set apart from the rest of the world in her pursuit of Truth. The world, like Pilate, retorts, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) to which the Church responds, “[God’s] word is truth” (John 17:17). I take great comfort in the Church’s strong convictions, particularly regarding human dignity, social justice, and the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family— she does not back down because the truth is unpopular or uncomfortable. In spite of persecution, the Church has always and will continue to remain steadfast in calling the world back to God. As the song goes:
Lord, you give the great commission:
“Heal the sick and preach the word.”
Lest the Church neglect its mission
and the Gospel go unheard,
help us witness to your purpose
with renewed integrity;
with the Spirit's gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.
Though evil seems to overshadow the good in the news, evil never has the final word. God can bring good out of evil; after all, Easter Sunday followed Good Friday. We, as Christ’s Body on earth, cannot sit back and wait for it to happen by itself; rather, it is up to us to pray for guidance and grace to aid us in overcoming the challenges that face us in the mission God has specially tasked us to complete. In the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá, “He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed, but he did say you would not be overcome” (see John 16:33, Matthew 16:18, cf. John 15:18-25). We may pray for an increase in faith, that is, “to touch Jesus and to draw from him the grace which saves,” but even the littlest faith is sufficient to do God’s will (see Matthew 17:20-21, Luke 17:5-6)! May the doubting apostle St. Thomas intercede for us as we continue our noble work!
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“He descended into Hell” is probably one of the more powerful parts of the Apostles Creed. And yet the Church has allotted this odd phrase to one of the holiest days of the liturgical year, Holy Saturday (CCC 631-637). On Good Friday we gaze upon the broken body of Christ crucified, but Holy Saturday is the day where God seems absent— He is asleep in the tomb and to the world it seemed He would never rise to preach, heal, correct, bless, perform miracles, or teach again. To Christ’s disciples, the darkness cast over the earth at their Master’s execution continued to overshadow their lives in a gloomy pall as they now hid in fear of the Jews in the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper. Now that Jesus had died, they reasoned, it would only be a matter of time until the world forgot about Him. The question remained to be answered: “Now what?”
Growing up, I echoed this puzzlement every Holy Saturday as I sat at home during the Easter Break. Good Friday had always been an emotionally draining day (and when it was time to fast, a physically rough time as well), and the time spent in between Friday and Sunday was meant to reflect on our Lord’s Passion, if not to nap sometime prior to the six-hour Easter vigil that needed to be prepared for. More often than not, the house remained quiet, and the fact that there was no daily Mass being celebrated anywhere on the planet that day gave a particular feeling of emptiness similar to what the disciples must have experienced. Still, there was something strangely refreshing about the stillness, if not a result of disconnecting from all technology, entertainment, socialization, and the stresses of daily life. That emptiness could and would only be filled with the singing of the Exsultet, the first “Alleluia” uttered on Easter morning, and the knowledge that Christ had forever conquered death.
Between the sadness of the Cross and the joy of Easter, from the bewilderment of the disciples to Mary’s great faith, we now draw courage from the latter’s example to face the future with faithful hope, patience, love, and interior calm. Whereas it was under the cover of darkness that the disciples abandoned the Lord that fateful night in the garden, it is also in darkness that the Church gathers in vigilant expectation to celebrate His triumphant rising from the dead. We are also reminded of those who have been in darkness since the Fall awaiting the opening of Heaven. It wasn’t until Christ descended into the darkness inhabited by those cut off from God that they were restored to their eternal inheritance. We now take part in their rejoicing and endeavor to form our lives to make ourselves worthy to share eternal life.
On Holy Saturday we must not become lost in the preparations for Easter and forget to reflect on the day’s significance. It is necessary that we take the proper time to grieve, reflect on, and contemplate the thoughts and emotions of Mary and the disciples as they pondered the sudden death of the Lord. While we rest in the hope of the Easter Resurrection, let us not neglect to ponder the pain and anguish of those who were standing at the foot of the Cross or hiding in the Upper Room. After all, the descent into Hell precedes the rising from the dead (CCC 638).
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.