“I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor” are the words of a humble man. And yet, Pope St. Pius X is venerated not only for his piety, but also for the many accomplishments of his papacy. During his 1903-1914 pontificate, Pius X wrote an incredible defense of the Church from modern era heresies like relativism and religious indifferentism; he eliminated foreign vetoes from papal elections; he created the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (i.e., the group that organizes “Sunday school,” or CCD classes, for the entire Church); he established the production of the 1917 Code of Canon Law; he developed a popular and simple catechism for the laity; he provided permission and financial support to establish the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.; and, perhaps most notably, he lowered the age of First Holy Communion from 12 to 7 years of age, citing the sacrament as “the shortest and surest way to Heaven.”
By lowering the reception age of the sacrament, Pope Pius X hoped to instill in the minds of the young communicants a deeper appreciation for the sacred intimacy of Holy Communion. In his 1994 “Letter to Children,” Pope Saint John Paul II built upon this theme, stating that frequent reception of communion is necessary “in order to remain in close friendship with Jesus.” One of the best benefits of Pius X’s invitation to the young is that it renewed a general liturgical emphasis on the Eucharist and encouraged more frequent reception of Christ’s Body and Blood among the faithful of all ages. With people receiving the Eucharist more frequently, there was also a surge of dependence on the Sacrament of Penance so as to receive worthily. Thus, the faithful of all ages were brought more frequently to the Sacraments thanks to Pius X’s pastoral insight.
For me, the spiritual preparation I received for my first Eucharist was unlike any other instruction I was taught in school. Up until the day of my First Holy Communion, my participation at Mass was seemingly limited during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I had questions about everything: Jesus had already died for me, my second-grade self would wonder, so what more is He offering? The answer, I would soon learn, could be summarized in the words of Bishop Barron, “The Cross has saved us, but our participation in that salvation can waver. So, what does the Lord give us? Bread for the journey.” Thinking about the Eucharist as spiritual food was very helpful and comforting, though I would continue to wrestle with the deception of my senses as described by St. Thomas Aquinas (who incidentally was a favorite of Pope St. Pius X) in his Eucharistic hymn, Adore te Devote:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.
The occasion of one’s First Holy Communion is indeed a cause for celebration and thanks to the “Pope of the Eucharist” children are invited to share in the Mystery of the Real Presence. But beyond the photos and party and presents received, the true gift is partaking completely in the sacrifice of the Mass as offered by the priest and then striving to remain worthy to do so again and again at and in between each subsequent Mass. May we – throughout our whole lives - call to mind the significance of this invitation and, in the spirit of St. Pius X’s awe-struck humility, continuously seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord whose Body whose Body we dare to consume. And, as we are strengthened by this awesome spiritual food, let us do what we can to bring others to it. Whether we serve as Eucharistic ministers to the homebound, or volunteer with a First Communion CCD class, or even invite our friends whom we know haven’t been to mass in a while to receive the sacraments with us, let us use Christ’s body in the Eucharist to fuel our spirits as we daily serve as missionary disciples.
A little more than 100 miles south of Berlin, Germany, just north of the Ore Mountain Range, lies the small town of Lomnitz. In the early 20th century when millions of Europeans journeyed to the United States in search of a better life, a small group of immigrants from Lomnitz was processed through Ellis Island. To those immigrants, the United States federal government assigned the last name “Lomnitzer.” Just as those from New York are called New Yorkers, so too were those from Lomnitz to be called Lomnitzers.
Although I am not German by blood, there is a special place in my heart for the small town of Lomnitz and the group of Lomnitzers that settled in America. When my paternal grandfather was born, he was left by his biological mother at the doorstep of a convent. The loving nuns found a home for the baby and he was adopted as an infant. He then became Charles Lomnitzer, a beloved member of the Lomnitzer family. It is through the generosity of the Lomnitzers that I, Tyler Lomnitzer, three generations removed, have a wonderful life and continue to bear the family name with honor and gratitude.
The Lomnitzers recognized the dignity of each and every human person. Charles’s biological mother was unable to care for him, but the Lomnitzers nevertheless saw Charles as a gift and blessing to their family. Just as America provided a beacon of hope and the promise of a better life to the Lomnitzers, so too did the Lomnitzers provide a beacon of hope to my grandfather.
I found the story of my family to be a powerful moment of prayer last Thursday, January 18 during the annual Vigil Mass for Life. The Mass takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. the night before the annual March for Life. Packed into the basilica were thousands of Catholics from all over the country who had gathered to pray for the legal protection of the unborn and for an increase in the recognition of the sanctity of life from conception until natural death. We gathered under the leadership of the bishops—Cardinal Dolan from the Archdiocese of New York was the celebrant and homilist—to come together as a Church in fellowship and prayer. It was the nuns’ prayer and commitment to life that found a home for my grandfather and paved the way for my life in this world; it will be the prayer and commitment to life of all those present at the basilica that will lead to (God-willing) thousands of beautiful lives to come. It was also the prayer and commitment to life of the Lomnitzers that allowed them to find room in their home for a little boy who needed parents. The Lomnitzer lineage is my lineage, not by blood, but by love.
Please join me in prayer for all those who need parents, or lack other necessary means of survival.
Question for Reflection: What are some ways that you can touch the life of someone you encounter so that the other might recognize their own life’s gift and sanctity?
The Church celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week this year from November 5-11. According to the USCCB, it is “an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.” In order to learn more about vocations and discernment, the Catholic Apostolate Center reached out to men currently in formation and asked them the following three questions: What were you doing before formation? What are you doing now? And what has this transition been like? Below are their answers about the transition from the collegiate atmosphere into formation for the priesthood and/or Consecrated life.
What were you doing before formation?
Besides delaying the inevitable and drinking too much coffee, I was studying Philosophy and Theology as an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America before entering into formation. I was a Resident Assistant for three years and was involved with the Knights of Columbus Council on campus. I also had a part-time job working in the Liturgy Office at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. This experience strengthened my desire to serve as a parish priest, and ultimately led me from my status as professional discerner to full-time seminarian.
What are you doing now?
I am currently studying for my home Diocese of Rockville Centre at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York (about 30 minutes north of New York City). It is the major seminary for the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre. I am in my first year of Theology studies, which is the beginning of a four-year academic track.
What has this transition been like?
I have had a very smooth transition into my first year of seminary. Having no background in college seminary or pre-theology has had its own set of challenges, but my undergraduate career at Catholic University proved to be very formative. Life in seminary is a structured vocational program, though it is designed for your benefit. It is a consolation knowing that where the formation faculty leads me will result in spiritual progress and preparedness for priestly ministry. There is amazing freedom that comes in submitting to God’s will and allowing him to supply each day with new excitement and joy.
To learn more about Vocational Discernment, please visit our Vocational Discernment Resource Page.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a marvelous performance of the Sistine Chapel Choir in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. This was the first visit of the choir, one of the oldest in the world, to the United States in over thirty years, and was sponsored in part by the National Shrine, The Catholic University of America, and the latter’s new Catholic Arts Council. After I arrived, I noticed that it was not long before the nave of the Basilica was filled to capacity. The time before the performance afforded me the opportunity for private prayer and reflection. As I looked around the church, I was awed by the works of art surrounding me and, despite the growing crowd, could sense the spiritual beauty and ambient serenity characteristic of God’s House.
The concert itself was no less awe-inspiring. While the choir’s reputation and skill preceded it, from the very first note, I found myself enraptured by a beauty like no other. The sacred notes were uplifting yet never overpowering, as if they were directing our focus away to something greater. Listening to the notes being individually pronounced captivated the congregation and invited the audience to be placed in a calming yet spiritually-driven mindset. Each work called our attention to God, His works, and His eternal presence. The Catholic Church recognizes music’s beautiful and historic role in the liturgy as an invitation to participate in the mystery of God Himself. As Pope Francis said in his Address to Participants in the International Conference on Sacred Music, “Sacred music and liturgical chant have the task of giving us a sense of the glory of God, of his beauty, of his holiness which wraps us in a ‘luminous cloud.’”
Think about the psalms prayed at Mass each day. They are ancient prayers the Church has preserved in Her liturgies! In the psalms, the people of God are able to express the full range of their emotions to Him, such as their joys (like Psalms 98 and 100), sorrows (like Psalms 69 and 88), exhaustion (like Psalm 6), uncertainty (like Psalm 23), and even abandonment (like Psalm 22). The psalms are not simply performances; they convey, guide, and evoke an emotional response from the people of God back to Him Who is the focus of the entire liturgy. By extension, the other hymns we sing at Mass should move us to participate more fully in the liturgy rather than passively watch the processions and preparation of the altar—the Mass is not meant to be watched like a secular performance! Pope Francis expands upon this, saying,
[Sacred Music] is therefore firstly a matter of intense participation in the Mystery of God, in the “theophany” that occurs in each Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord manifests himself in the midst of his people... Active and conscious participation consists, therefore, in knowing how to enter profoundly into this mystery, in knowing how to contemplate, adore and welcome it, in grasping its sense, thanks in particular to religious silence and to the ‘musicality of the language with which the Lord speaks to us.’
Hymns have also been recognized by the Church as an effective means of catechizing the faithful, including the youth. Pope Francis continued, “The various key figures in this sphere, musicians, composers, conductors and choristers of the scholae cantorum, with liturgical coordinators, can make a precious contribution to the renewal, especially in qualitative terms, of sacred music and of liturgical chant.” The works that are crafted by their hands can indeed be a beautiful means of engaging those whose ears the notes fall upon. But in order to be truly esteemed as noble and sacred, they must be holy. “In order to foster this development,” Pope Francis said, “an appropriate musical formation must be promoted, even of those who are preparing to become priests, in a dialogue with the musical trends of our time, with the inclusion of different cultural areas and with an ecumenical approach.”
The next time you hear music at Mass, I suggest uniting your voice with the cantor as a prayer to God. The act of doing so invites us to offer to God a part of ourselves that we may regularly try to keep private. Done reverently, it becomes an offering of love to our Lord, as Pope Benedict XVI observed:
The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. “Cantare amantis est”, says St. Augustine, singing is a lover’s thing. In so saying, we come again to the trinitarian interpretation of Church music. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is he who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father.
Questions for Reflection: How can music impact your experience of the liturgy or of God? Can you remember a time when music helped deepen your faith?
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So begins the first liturgy of Holy Week on Palm Sunday. We hear these words referenced in the first of an unusual two Gospel readings during the procession into the church. We start our celebration of Palm Sunday, appropriately, by proclaiming and then reenacting the story in Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, a moment of great joy and excitement for the inhabitants of the city. Those in the congregation welcome the priest, who enters the church in persona Christi, as we echo the words of the people of Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest!” What a happy occasion! The Messiah, the One whom the prophets foretold, has come!
How fickle this joy seems, though, when we get to the Passion narrative. In a matter of minutes, we go from crying, “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” One minute, we’re giving Jesus a king’s welcome. The next, we’re condemning Him to death. I know I’m not the only one who feels a dagger through his heart every time we say—loudly—that refrain of condemnation. How dare I welcome Christ with such exuberance, knowing what I’m about to do to Him? Quite the emotional roller coaster, with Mass only halfway over!
Holy Week is exhausting. I find it the most taxing part of the liturgical year. Starting with Palm Sunday, I’m attending Masses, praying the Stations of the Cross, and singing with the choir for days on end, practically turning the Triduum into a 3-day long vigil. In recent years, I’ve taken to spending Good Friday on pilgrimage to the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., to place myself in an intentional state of prayer and reflection.
So why do I do this to myself? Why get on this roller coaster and make myself so physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained by the time Easter morning arrives? Quite simply, it’s because I love it. It’s the most rewarding experience of prayer that I have all year.
On Palm Sunday, we’re reminded of what we’ll bear witness to in the days to come. We’re invited to reflect on what’s about to be re-presented in a real-time reenactment of the focal point of Christ’s entire earthly life.
At the Chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday, we bear witness to the consecration of holy oils for use in the upcoming year’s sacraments. We also see the gathering of all our diocesan priests, who renew their vows and participate in probably the largest concelebration of the year. It’s a moving and impressive sight.
Later on Holy Thursday, we see the reenactment of the Last Supper, the very institution of the Eucharist we celebrate to this day. We’re reminded, too, of the great humility we’re called to emulate: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
On Good Friday, we once again take up the cries of, “Crucify him!” as we see the events of Christ’s Passion and death unfold before our eyes. We’re called toward the sanctuary to kiss the gruesome device of our salvation, the ancient instrument of punishment used to redeem all of mankind. And after an unceremonious Communion service, the liturgy suddenly pauses and we just go home. The Church holds its breath as we wait.
And then, finally, the Easter Vigil—the happiest day of the year, of all history! We hear the no longer fickle, but truly joyous words of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation:
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
If I arrive at Easter morning feeling exhausted but strengthened, it means that I've truly entered into Holy Week, walking with Christ as He always walks with me. This Holy Week, may we walk more closely with Christ on His journey towards the cross, knowing that this journey continues with His resurrection. It is Christ's resurrection, His triumph over sin and death, that gives our Lenten journey meaning and enables us to exult with the Church and be glad!
Question for Reflection: How can you enter more deeply into Holy Week in order to better celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday?
For more resources to prepare you for Holy Week and Easter, please click here.
Whenever I go about my day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I am greeted by the faces of hundreds of saints illustrated in dozens of statues, mosaics, and portraits. Certainly, the focus of the Shrine — and indeed, any Catholic church — is on Christ (in this case through the Blessed Mother), but invariably one notices the honoring of God’s holy ones as well in side chapels and oratories. While one can hardly wander into the Great Upper Church of the Basilica without gazing in awe at the dominating mosaic Christ in Majesty — one of the largest images of Jesus in the world — it’s also impossible to miss the mere fraction of the Communion of Saints honored throughout the space; those who were so moved in their encounters with the Lord that they devoted their lives to the pursuit of Him.
Why does this church (and the Universal Church) assign so much importance to these figures? While the act of adoration and worship is solely reserved for God, the saints (including Mary) are, by contrast, venerated. When properly done, veneration does not interfere with the worship due to God, but rather fosters it. As the Second Vatican Council noted: “Our communion with those in heaven, provided that it is understood in the fuller light of faith according to its genuine nature, in no way weakens, but conversely, more thoroughly enriches the latreutic [what is allowed to God alone] worship we give to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 51).
Hailing from all walks of life, the saints represent the fervent love of God as he calls them to participate in and enrich the ministries of the Church, whether through charity, scholarship, prayer, catechesis, or apologetics. The saints rejected the status quo of society. They reformed society to be more like Christ’s ministry — sometimes at the cost of their own lives. They met people wherever they were in life in order to bring about a fruitful encounter with the Lord. If we have ever felt that we could not strive for the holiness God calls each of us to, we surely have countless role models to look to in the saints. We might think: “But I can’t possibly attain those standards — I’m a sinner!” But as the recently canonized Mother Teresa reportedly observed, “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.” Recognizing that their own shortcomings, however frequent, are infinitesimal compared to the love and mercy of God, the saints sought and found comfort in our perfect Lord, rather than wallowing in the imperfect condition of their lives.
In our own struggles for holiness, if we ever feel alone or without guidance, we have only to look to the saints for inspiration. The trials we face, whether they be doubts, abandonment, threats, or scorn were similarly faced by them. Yet the example of Christ’s experiences with these difficulties drove them forward, and so should also motivates us. We need not be intimidated with what is asked of us or the great witness of the saints. Again, in words attributed to Mother Teresa, we have only to concern ourselves with offering God “small things with great love.”
In the Basilica, the bas-relief of the Universal Call to Holiness rests directly opposite of Christ in Majesty, reflecting the theme of Lumen Gentium discussed above. Illustrated in the huge marble slab are people from all walks of life gazing upon and approaching God, the Holy Spirit. As Lumen Gentium, the bas-relief, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all emphasize: “all are called to holiness” (CCC 2013). The saints have embraced this, and not necessarily early in their lives. St. Augustine, one of the Church’s greatest converts, admitted to God in his autobiography called Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new.” God can turn our failures into moments of grace at any point in our lives (Romans 5:20)! The saints did not go about the great evangelical enterprise for their own sake or glory, but to share the Mystery of God’s unceasing love that so moved them to reject what the world offers in comforts and powers. Just as Christ initiated this work on earth during His ministry and the saints have sustained it throughout the millennia, it is now entrusted to us that the light of God’s truth may forever shine bright and call back to Him those who are lost in the world’s darkness.
If you visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., you may recognize many of the titles of the Virgin Mary marvelously illustrated in nearly 50 chapels and oratories throughout what is the largest Catholic church in North America (and tenth largest church in the world!). To me, one depiction stands out from the rest, an image that causes many a visitor to gasp, stop in his or her tracks, and call to mind a particular event in salvation history. Whereas the National Shrine is filled with beautiful images of the Blessed Mother in splendor furnished by various religious orders or benefactors of a national or ethnic devotion to Mary, the Slovakian chapel’s central work of art is not the characteristic mosaic or even a portrait, but rather a statue of the Sorrowful Mother holding in her arms the lifeless body of Jesus.
The image of the Pietà described above is one of the three common artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary, the other two being Mater Dolorosa (“Mother of Sorrows,” portrayed with seven daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding) and the 13th century hymn, Stabat Mater (which comes from the first line of the hymn “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” meaning “the sorrowful mother stood”). The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated on September 15th, while a feast of Friday of Sorrows is observed in some Catholic countries on the Friday before Palm Sunday. It’s an opportunity to remember that the Blessed Mother’s life was not without sadness or pain in light of her Immaculate Conception. The popular devotion to Mary’s Seven Sorrows recalls seven such instances in her life (likewise the Pietà in the Shrine’s chapel is flanked by the other sorrows on the wall):
While we may tend to think of Mary’s life as being purely one of perfect serenity and union with God, it is important to remember that she was human— she had emotions, doubts, and pains like the rest of us! In a world where violence and suffering are all too frequent headlines in the news, how much more closely can we relate to and depend upon the Mother of God who was no stranger to anguish and distress? However more quickly can we fly in prayer to our Mother’s tender embrace for comfort and peace when we are faced with great tribulation and uncertainty!
Below is a hymn often used for the Stations of the Cross that is composed with the verses from the Stabat Mater. When sung reverently, this hymn solemnly and deeply touches the hearts of the faithful and helps to place each at the foot of Calvary in vigil with the Blessed Mother:
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
In the end, however, like Mary, we must not dwell solely on the pains of our lives, but look ahead with hope and faith in God (as sculptor Ernest Morenon uniquely depicted in the Shrine chapel with Mary looking towards heaven). For Mary, as well as for each of us, Christ did gloriously resurrect on the third day. How much more confidently, then, can we proceed with our lives, even after great turmoil, as we pray:
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.
“Are you junior Knights of Columbus?” This was the question posed to me by an elderly woman during my freshman year of college as I joined my brother knights for 8am Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception adjacent to The Catholic University of America’s (CUA) campus. It was a Friday morning, and of course I loathed getting out of bed. However, I had made a commitment and I wanted to follow through as best I could.
Some of the upperclassmen knights that were with me answered politely back, “No, ma’am, we’re just regular knights.” She smiled and wished us well, clearly happy to see young men going to Church. Back then, our council membership was small, but we had big aspirations. All of the guys that I joined the Knights with had the same idea in mind. Here we were, embarking on a new chapter of our life. We wanted our faith to be enriched and strengthened. We wanted to serve the community and neediest among us. We wanted to find friends who would support us in our endeavors.
The Knights of Columbus are a 1.9 million member Catholic fraternal organization. Founded in 1882 by the Venerable Servant of God Fr. Michael J. McGivney, the order is founded on the principles of charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism. Originally formed to provide financial assistance to members and their families, the order today continues to do so through its insurance program, which funds its charitable works. The Knights of Columbus are organized into local councils, often housed within parishes, and are governed internationally by a supreme council headquartered in New Haven, Connecticut – where the order was founded.
As the Knights of Columbus meet this week in Toronto, Canada for their Supreme Convention – their international convention during which they elect officers, pass resolutions, and report on membership, etc.—I wanted to share my story of the impact this organization has had on my life.
Growing up, I always wanted to get involved in extracurricular activities at school and within my community. I joined the student council, led clubs, and served as a counselor to other students. When I arrived at college, things were no different. The CUA council of the Knights of Columbus was the first group I joined. It soon became apparent to me that I had found just what I needed – what I had been looking for as a new college student. This group would help me realize that my faith should not just be important - but it should be the cornerstone of my being.
As a knight, I have grown in fraternity with my brothers. I have been able to serve my community through charitable fundraisers and service opportunities. I have supported veterans and active-duty military – something that the order encourages no matter which country a council is in. I have been able to instill in others the characteristics of true chivalry. Because of the Knights of Columbus, I have become a better Catholic and a better man.
I would encourage any Catholic male to think about joining this organization. A similar organization for women is the The Catholic Daughters of the Americas. If you are already a knight, I would encourage you to stay involved and help to recruit others. As our chaplain is fond of saying, “What you give to the council, you will get back one hundredfold.” I cannot endorse this statement enough.
Let me leave you with a few lines from a song that we sing at the end of our council meetings:
We have a mission great
True to our Church and State
Onward we move
We dry the mourner's tear
The tired heart we cheer
Faith in our works appear,
Upheld by Love.
These few lines, I think, embody just what it means to be a Knight of Columbus.
Our country’s national anthem hails the United States as the “land of the free” in recognition of the many unique liberties and “inalienable rights” afforded to us, her citizens. One of these great gifts is the freedom of religious expression, that is, to be able to live out one’s faith without fear of persecution. Yet, recent times have seemed to cast a shadow over this right, and events of our time such as legal rulings and portrayals in the media would indicate that such freedoms are being curtailed. Throughout his visit to the U.S., Pope Francis encouraged us to nurture, promote, and defend the precious gift of religious freedom. Likewise, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has continued to encourage Catholics, other Christians, and all people of good will to set aside two weeks to reflect on religious freedom.
By the time this post is published, the Fortnight for Freedom will be concluding, having been started on June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. As Donald Cardinal Wuerl describes it, the Fortnight comprises of “fourteen days of prayer, education, and action. It is also a time for us to count our blessings… The challenge to live out our faith, the challenge simply to be who we are may at times seem daunting. But remember we’re a people of hope, we live in faith and we live in hope.” The theme for this year’s Fortnight is “Witnesses to Freedom.” As Archbishop William Lori noted, the USCCB invites us to look to the examples set in “the stories of fourteen women and men— one for each day— who bore witness to freedom in Christ, such as Bl. Oscar Romero, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Martyrs of Compiègne, and the Coptic Christians who were killed by ISIS last year.”
Each year, dioceses around the country arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. To kick off the fourth annual Fortnight, for example, Archbishop William Lori celebrated the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Each year, the closing Mass takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. with Donald Cardinal Wuerl being the main celebrant and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh serving as homilist. The Fortnight for Freedom reflects an understanding of the People of God that the right of religious expression must be protected against those who would negate it, not just for Catholics, but for people of all faiths.
As the Second Vatican Council noted, although we must respect the just autonomy of the secular, we also remember the truth that there is no aspect of worldly affairs that can be separated from God. On the eve of the first Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, acknowledged that the effort was viewed by many as partisan and exaggerated. He commented:
It is not about parties, candidates or elections, as some others have suggested… In the face of this resistance, it may be tempting to get discouraged, to second-guess the effort, to soft-pedal our message. But instead, these things should prompt us to do exactly the opposite, for they show us how very great is the need for our teaching, both in our culture and even in our own church.
In standing up for our right to religious liberty, let us make prayer a central component of our efforts—prayer not only for ourselves, but for the leaders of our country and its citizens whom we are called to evangelize. These freedoms handed down to us by the Founding Fathers are too important to take for granted. Efforts to scrub any reference to God or the faiths of those who built up this great Nation must be called out and overcome. Finally, throughout it all (and beyond the two weeks), each of us must remember that our strength does not come from ourselves, but that “help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). May these two weeks, by the grace of God, help us to grow in wisdom, courage, and love, that we too might be faithful witnesses to freedom.
To learn more about Faithful Citizenship, please click here.
Invest me, O Lord, as a new man, who was created by God in justice and the holiness of truth. Amen.
With this prayer, I and my fellow altar servers finish vesting for Mass. By no means is everything ready: the candles need to be lit, the Missal has to be set, the vessels have to go out to the credence table, and Father has yet to first arrive and then share his personal preferences for helping him throughout the celebration, among other details and roles. Even as an altar server for eleven years, I remain mindful that to assume I know how everything will play out during the liturgy could prove embarrassing. Yet the Mass will continue, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will still be offered, and our Lord will still be present as the community gathers to pray and give praise to God. The presence of an altar server, then, is by no means critical to the ecclesial prayer, but, as the name suggests, is purposed to serve the presider as well as Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest.
For me, the chance to serve at the altar in this capacity affords me the opportunity to participate more fully in the liturgy and so deepen my faith. Beyond the initial excitement of being able to wear a cassock (Galatians 3:27), this ministry requires that I remain more attentive and alert throughout the Mass than if I were among the congregation. At the same time, being in a place of privilege near the altar and the presider helps me to realize firsthand Jesus’ active presence in every liturgy. In my experiences of serving at my home parish, as part of the University’s Campus Ministry, and in the Basilica of the National Shrine, some of the ways this happens is carrying the wood (or metal) of the Cross during the processions (Matthew 16:24), bringing forth the light of the candles (Matthew 5:14), holding (and reading) the prayers in the Roman Missal for the presider, swinging a thurible (Psalm 141:2) and other simple-yet-significant tasks.
Of course, the altar server is not to be the focus of the Mass; if anything, the server must be a reminder for the congregation, when their eyes wander, to conduct oneself worthily, attentively, and devoutly; by every action and example at the altar, the altar server brings glory to God and souls to the Church. Certainly in my experience, there is the temptation for the altar server to feel smug or prideful of being able to contribute to the liturgical life of the Church in this way.
But then I am also reminded that the role of the altar server is to help keep the order of Mass flowing smoothly: there are tasks to complete and to complete well… and there is great pressure to not degrade what Fr. Frederick Faber called “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven” by haste, carelessness, or inattention! The altar server then uses that faithful completion of the work to reflect upon the service of Christ during ministry, to imitate such Love and give oneself totally to others (Mark 9:35).
With all that the altar server does in the presence of the congregation, there is also that which is done out of their sight both before and after Eucharistic celebrations. There is something beautifully intimate about being the only one in a church while setting or cleaning up. In the silence and the stillness, it’s just Christ (present in the tabernacle) and the altar server, the Lord and His faithful servant. How many times have I been able to find comfort in the prayers I silently offered in those moments! Finally, when the priest arrives, it is like welcoming an old friend as we go over the liturgical details for the day before entering into a casual discussion of our lives. By the time Mass ends, the priest and I have deepened a sort of fraternal bond as we participate in so important a celebration. When we get to the sacristy however, we don’t pat ourselves on the back but immediately bow to the Crucifix, remembering how the Mass transcends our individual piety--it is for the benefit of all and for each: Pro sit. Pro omnibus et singulis!
“Man, I can’t believe I saw the pope today! THE. POPE.” Everywhere I turn, I’m encountering men and women, young and old, believers and nonbelievers who are still in shock, electrified from the day’s events. And what a day it’s been! Months after the initial announcement, after countless preparations, programs, and prayers, Pope Francis was welcomed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the campus of The Catholic University of America. During his homily, Pope Francis called the church to rejoice, to proclaim the Good News to all and to step out of complacency and apathy. "Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable," he said. It’s an experience people following the papal visit won’t soon forget, especially with all the coverage by global news outlets and social media alike. And yet, what will these people take away from the message of the Holy Father? Are they overjoyed to have been in his presence? Will they use the experience as a springboard to launch a new evangelization? Are they simply thrilled to post pope photos on social media in pursuit of as many “likes” and affirmations as possible? Are they annoyed because of the inconveniences brought about from having such a high level of security screen a crowd of tens of thousands of onlookers? What will the world remember from such an event?
“Peace be with you,” the Pope had greeted the crowds, an invitation to set aside any and all of the worries, the disappointments, the troubles, and the restlessness burdening each and every one of those attending the Mass. This may not be one of the famous one-liners of Pope Francis the media picked up on as they ran commentary, but those words have been recorded in Sacred Scripture thousands of years ago and continue to be repeated countlessly each and every day around the world. How necessary is it for us to recognize this great greeting of blessing and to appreciate the call for us to focus on God and His infinite love for us!
While the headlines will tell of Pope Francis’incredible addresses to the United Nations and a joint session of Congress for sure, the Holy Father isn’t as overly impressed by these displays of power. The only power he is awed by is that which radiates from the Cross and which resides perpetually in every tabernacle, which contains our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Most Holy Eucharist. The most incredible action then occurs at every Mass celebrated around the world--
and Pope Francis isn’t the first or only person to perform such a deed!
To those who find the Mass to be boring or unnecessary in their spiritual lives, Pope Francis reminds them that:
“The Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual exercise, it is not a simple commemoration of what Jesus did at the Last Supper…[T]he Eucharist is Jesus himself who gives himself entirely to us. Nourishing ourselves of Him and abiding in Him through Eucharistic Communion, if we do so with faith,transforms our life, transforms it into a gift to God and to our brothers and sisters. Nourishing ourselves of that ‘Bread of Life’means entering into harmony with the heart of Christ, assimilating his choices, his thoughts, his behaviour. It means entering into a dynamism of love and becoming people of peace, people of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of sharing in solidarity. The very things that Jesus did.”
The Eucharist is meant for every person, every nation, and the entire world! Similarly, Jesus is as truly and substantially present on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as on the east portico of the National Shrine here in DC or on the altar in my high school’s chapel in Lincroft, New Jersey.
The mission of the Vicar of Christ, then, is to increase our faith and to bear witness to the love of our Lord and Savior. The Apostolic Visit to our nation is surely a tremendous and needed blessing: the faithful are united in the joy of the visit and are called to share this joy in their everyday lives and encounters with others. The Love realized in the Real Presence is the same which inspires and moves each of us to bring all, no matter their circumstances, to embrace and take part in this Love within the Universal Church.
During the spring of 2008, I was a freshman at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I was nearing the end of my first year of school, preparing to enter into finals, and attempting to figure out what my plans were for the summer. A few months prior, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be visiting the D.C. during his US Papal visit. Furthermore, he would be speaking at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America in subsequent days. To say I was a little excited for my first Papal Visit is a bit of an understatement. I remember vividly watching him ride in the Popemobile in front of the Basilica on the Wednesday of his arrival, the next day participating in the celebration of the Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in Nationals Park, and finally, seeing him drive near the Catholic University Law School lawn before his talk on the importance of Catholic Education. He greeted the crowds that came to see him. The people present were excited simply to be a part of that moment in history.
As I write this on Sept 15th, Pope Francis will be arriving in the United States in less than a week. That same excitement fills the air of our nations’ capital. That same excitement fills my heart as much as it did over seven years ago. Why is it that we should be excited for his arrival? In the age of computers, smartphones, and the 24/7 news media cycle, everyone can be a witness to Pope Francis and his message all the time. The excitement that I feel about his visiting the United States comes from a sense of honor and pride. Of all the countries in which Catholics live (and there are many), the choice of the Pontiff to visit our country brings a sense of pride to be a member of the nation that is experiencing history. As a note, this is not only Pope Francis’ first visit as pontiff to our country, it is also his first time ever visiting our country.
When Pope Francis arrives at Joint Base Andrews, United States Catholics around the country will watch, participate, and attend the events that Pope Francis will be a part of in Washington, D.C., New York City, NY, and Philadelphia, PA. Throughout six days, Catholics around the country have the opportunity to join in welcoming Pope Francis to our country. Whether through attending, participating, watching, or praying, all US Catholics can join in a celebration of the Pope’s visit and (hopefully) pride in understanding the momentous occasion of the event. It will hopefully renew that most perfect love, the love between God and man. In many ways, this visit from September 22-27 will be a great event and moment of potential evangelization.
What will we do on September 28? Will we simply go back to our lives as if this event never happened? This thought leads me back to my spring experience in 2008 because that is exactly what I did after Pope Benedict traveled back to Rome. As important and great as is the visit of a pope to your country, the words and actions of the pope during his visit are what should ultimately serve as a stepping off point in our evangelization journey. It doesn’t have to be something grandiose and over the top. Simple, sustainable acts of charity and prayer are enough to carry on the message of the Pope that was espoused when Francis was here. Fortunately for us, Pope Francis gave us a simple direction in his Apostolic Mission message: Love. Love is our primary mission as Catholics in the United States, and while this can be difficult to do, it is an important mission to carry forth when we watch Pope Francis leave from Philadelphia.
Next Tuesday at approximately 4:00 pm, Pope Francis will touch down at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, Maryland. This Apostolic Journey to the United States of America includes visits to three important American cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia.
I am excited to return next week to the campus of my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, where Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This Mass will make history, as it is the first canonization Mass to take place on U.S. soil and the first papal Mass to take place on a U.S. university campus.
As a seminarian, I will join thousands of my brother seminarians and those in religious formation in the Great Upper Church of the National Shrine for the Mass of Canonization. Although details are sparse, it is expected that Pope Francis will be greeted on the front steps of the National Shrine and then proceed down the center aisle before celebrating Mass on the steps of the National Shrine overlooking Catholic University.
The Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis has been described as an "encounter," not simply a trip. The secular media has focused on his address to Congress, the security concerns related to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and the associated merchandise. (I must admit that I'll be on the lookout for some fun Papal Visit trinkets as souvenirs!) I think there is something to be said, however, about this apostolic journey as an "encounter."
During an audience with seminarians and novices in July 2013, Pope Francis addressed them with these words, which are certainly applicable to us all:
I would like to tell you: come out of yourselves to proclaim the Gospel, but to do this you must come out of yourselves to encounter Jesus. There are two ways out: one towards the encounter with Jesus, towards transcendence; the other towards others in order to proclaim Jesus. These two go hand in hand. If you only take one of them, that is no good!
Encountering the Holy Father is a way to both deepen our faith and evangelize. This has been actualized in the "Walk with Francis" movement, which encourages people to join the Holy Father in prayer and service. The Holy Father has encouraged us to join in prayer not only for his Apostolic Journey to the United States, but also that his message of peace, mercy, discipleship, and love might touch the hearts of both believers and non-believers alike.
The theme of the Apostolic Journey, "Love is Our Mission," seems to indicate what it is that the Holy Father wishes to convey to us during his first visit to the United States. His words on love and mercy are poignant:
May a powerful gust of holiness sweep through all the Americas... We ask the Risen Jesus, Lord of all ages, that the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received; that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God. We pray, too, that this glory may be manifested in the culture of life, brotherhood, solidarity, peace and justice, with a preferential and concrete love for the poor, through the witness of Christians of various confessions and communities, together with believers of other religious traditions, and people of upright conscience and good will. Lord Jesus, we are merely your missionary disciples, your humble co-workers so that your Kingdom may come!
We look forward to welcoming you to the United States, Holy Father, and we join in walking with you in prayer and service that we might become witnesses to love and ministers of God's mercy. Pope Francis told the young people gathered at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro that "evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did." By serving others and witnessing to the love of God, may we be inspired to encounter the Lord in our sisters and brothers. May this encounter with Pope Francis in the United States inspire us all to answer the Holy Father's call to evangelize.
For more information on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to the United States, please visit our Papal Visit Portal.
Last week, I had the honor of attending the funeral of a young man I never had the privilege of meeting. Dominik Liam Pettey, a senior at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., died tragically and suddenly in the early morning of November 1, All Saints Day (click here to read a Washington Post article about the accident). During his funeral liturgy, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and attended by over 3,500 people, Dominik was described as a faith-filled young man who was joyfully committed to his family and friends. We were told that he loved to play hockey, endured suffering with humility and patience during health issues last year, and gave of himself selflessly.
As an alumnus of a Jesuit high school and the brother of hockey players, I felt compelled to attend the funeral liturgy of a young man whose story hit very close to home. I could not help but shed several tears as the funeral progressed. As those in attendance held each other close, both physically and in prayer, I could sense their immense sadness at the loss of a child, a brother, a friend, a classmate, a teammate, a student, a beloved and devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
During the month of November, we remember the souls of all the faithful departed. As we pray for the deceased, we remember that for the Lord’s faithful people, life is changed, not ended. Those who have died in Christ have entered an eternal life that is fuller and more glorious than anything we have ever experienced on earth. We who are left behind feel the emptiness of their going from us, but for them there is no more sadness or suffering or pain. If we live in the light of hope, the sadness of parting will be followed, at the end of our own lives, by a reunion in which God will “wipe away every tear from our eyes” (Revelation 21:4).
We who remain will be brought together with all those who have died and see the Lord face to face. Together in heaven, we shall always be with the Lord. In a particular way, during this month dedicated to praying for the faithful departed, I have been praying for Dominik, that he may be remembered among those who have been raised by God to the fullness of life. Please pray for Dominik, and continue to pray for all the faithful departed. May Jesus Christ, who is goodness and mercy, intercede for all those who mourn the loss of Dominik, and may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Into your hands, Father of mercies,
we commend our brother Dominik
in the sure and certain hope
that, together with all who have died in Christ,
he will rise with him on the last day.
We give you thanks for the blessings
which you have bestowed upon Dominik in this life:
they are signs to us of your goodness
and of our fellowship with the saints in Christ.
turn toward us and listen to our prayers:
open the gates of paradise to your servant
and help us who remain
to comfort one another with assurances of faith,
until we all meet in Christ
and are with you and our brother for ever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
-Prayer of Commendation, Order of Christian Funerals
Alex R. Boucher is Program Consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center and a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Portland, Maine. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.
Being a “cradle Catholic” I never questioned why we had 4 different statues of Mary in our kitchen or why every May we put a crown of flowers on our “Garden Mary” outside. It was common to hear the advice of praying to the rosary if you couldn’t sleep and thus one would be able to find countless glow-in-the-dark rosary beads tucked into my bed. Almost every woman in my family had Marie as their middle name and like myself, if it wasn’t a middle name it was taken as a confirmation name. It wasn’t until college, living under the shadow of “Mary’s House”, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, that I began to understand that it was through Mary that I would come to know her Son.
St. Vincent Pallotti understood this and had a deep connection with Our Lady and entrusted himself to her. He wrote “I resolve, my God, from all eternity and for all eternity . . . to love, honor and glorify my beloved Mother Mary; and to behold her loved, honored and glorified to the same degree that You, O Eternal Father, have showered her as Your Daughter, that You, O Divine Lord, have esteemed her as Your Mother, and that You, O Holy Spirit, have accorded her as Your most pure spouse.” (Soul of a Saint, p. 82)
His devotion went beyond the pious practice of the time and enlightened a burning love within him. He spoke of Our Lady as, “Mother of Divine Love” and “Queen of Apostles.” It is said that he spoke, “I shall not rest until I, if this is possible, have achieved an infinitely tender love for my much beloved and much loving mother, Mary.”
St. Vincent, in his deep love for Mary and a desire to be humble, work a silver reliquary box around his wrist with the image of the Mother of Divine Love painted on ivory mounted on it. He did this so that when people came to kiss his hand, a practice of that time, instead of kissing how own hand they would instead kiss the image of Our Lady.
During this Month dedicated to Mary, let us look to St. Vincent as an example of how a love for our blessed mother can help us in reviving faith, enkindling charity and become an apostle of Christ.
Pam Tremblay is a Collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center
Prayer to Mary Queen of Apostles