Several weeks ago, I stood in line for what I thought would be a “normal” Confession. The line was long, which was good because I needed time to get my thoughts in order.
I had not been to Confession for some time and my prayer routine had been... anything but routine. The busy-ness of life had gotten in the way. Moving to a new city, buying a new house, starting a new job, raising a young daughter, and anxiously awaiting another baby on the way were just some of the things that had been preoccupying my mind and time. I felt guilty for “ignoring” God, like many other parents who attempt to balance work and family life while trying to manage their spiritual lives as well.
As I moved closer to the Confessional, I became very aware of a familiar guilt creeping into my soul. Memories of un-Christian actions and inactions that have made lasting impacts on my life hit me in mental waves. These are things that I’ve taken to the Confessional before, but I still felt their burden of shame in my mind and heart. I tried to rouse my theological senses to rationalize my worry away, “There is no unforgivable sin.” I tried to encourage myself. Did I really think that my sinfulness was greater than the Divine Goodness? I became uncharacteristically racked with doubt as I neared the Confessional.
Only a few people stood between me and the Confessional door, and I took this chance to look at the tabernacle. “Lord, can You really do this? Can You forgive me, even when I can’t forget what I've done? Even when I can’t forgive myself?” I was surprised at the depth of my anguish. I decided to bring this up to the priest in my Confession, and I eagerly anticipated hearing some good counsel.
After I made my Confession, the priest took a deep breath and remained silent for a time. I was convinced for a moment that I had overburdened him, that I had shocked him with my doubts. After a few moments he said, “For your penance, spend a few minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Let Jesus talk to you.”
I’ll admit, initially I was a bit downcast. I was hoping for some advice! Something that I could do to help myself. I have prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament many times, and I’ve had more mundane experiences than life-changing ones. Slightly disappointed, I made my Act of Contrition and walked off to the Blessed Sacrament chapel. I knelt and fixed my eyes on the tabernacle. I repeated the question I had asked earlier, “Lord, can you really forgive me?”
And then very clearly, very abruptly, and in a voice not my own, I heard:
“Do you think I’m a liar?”
His question was presented in a challenging way, but not an aggressive way. It was presented in a way that gave me space to respond with an answer, a true answer. In God’s loving mercy, He knew how to speak to me so that I would understand that He had forgiven me. He responded to my question with His own question, as a good Rabbi would. The Lord shattered my racing, scrupulous thoughts, and he dared me to call Him a liar, just to get my attention. All in the presence of his sacred Body.
I had to stifle laughter as I knelt in the chapel with the other penitents. I was amazed! His simple question had infused my soul with joy and comfort because I know and believe that God is not a liar. How could I kneel before the Eucharist, gaze upon His sacramental Body, and call him a liar? God is Truth, there is nothing false in Him. And He does what He says He will do.
I gazed at the Eucharistic Body of our Lord and was full of gratitude and awe. The God of the Universe had made Himself present through bread so that I might know His Love.
A week ago, the Church commemorated Blessed Carlo Acutis, a young man who was filled with Eucharistic awe and who knew that it is the act of gazing upon the Eucharistic Body of Jesus—not looking at ourselves—that changes hearts. I think one of his wiser quotes sums up this thought, “Sadness is looking at ourselves. Happiness is looking toward God.” God used the Eucharist, the sacrament of Love, to remind me that I was living incurvatus in se--turned in on myself—which was preventing me from seeing that I was freed from my sins, that I could live anew. Confession and Eucharist together brought me great spiritual consolation that day.
As the Church in the United States dedicates more time and energy to catechesis on the Eucharist, and as we celebrated Carlo Acutis’s life last week, I hope that we can find time to gaze upon God in the Eucharist and to come away awestruck by the great, sacrificial Love residing in the Blessed Sacrament.
This October, as summer turns to fall and the days start getting shorter, we sometimes find ourselves with opportunities to reflect on some of life’s bigger questions. I often find myself this season asking deep questions on a nice walk outside while admiring the beauty of nature. A lot of times, these big life questions usually involve prayer, discernment, and looking to role models. When I sat down to look at the saints whom we celebrate this October, I realized that many of them had to face similarly tough life questions. The popes, young people in the Church, and martyrs we celebrate this October can help us grow in our own faith journey.
Next week, we will celebrate two saints who were popes, albeit at vastly different times. On October 14th, we will celebrate the feast of St. Callistus I (also know as Callixtus I). For many, he is probably one of the lesser-known pope saints. He was the 16th pope and had to deal with great division in the Church. He was able to navigate the Church through many doctrinal controversies through these turbulent times and was martyred around the year 222. Similarly, St. John XXIII navigated through many challenging questions in the Church when he opened the Second Vatican Council in 1962. It was through much prayer and discernment that both popes were able to guide the Church out of murky waters. Later this month, we will celebrate Pope St. John Paul II. One of my favorite John Paul II quotes epitomizes the courage he calls all of us to in living out our faith: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Saints who had an impact in their youth
Already this month, we have celebrated two saints who had a major impact on the Church while in their youth: St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi. St. Thérèse, who died at 24, was known for her life of fervent prayer. She was a cloistered Carmelite nun whose prayer was not focused on herself, but on the whole world. She is known as one of the patron saints of missionaries even though she lived as a cloistered nun. St. Francis of Assisi also had a huge impact on the Church while still young. St. Francis was in his 20s when he heard God’s call in the chapel at San Damiano, but it took him time and further prayer to realize God’s true calling for him. St. Francis’ perseverance in the faith and continual discernment of God’s call, even in times of confusion, inspire me. Bl. Carlo Acutis, beatified just last year, also positively impacted the Church in his youth. Bl. Carlo was an amateur computer programmer who died in 2006 at the age of 15. He used his passion for computers to create a website documenting Eucharistic miracles across the world.
Martyrs from all ages
Throughout the rest of the month, we will celebrate the feast days of martyrs from all time periods in the Church. This includes the memorial of two Apostles: Sts. Simon and Jude. While not much is known about the lives of Sts. Simon and Jude, it is known that they both were killed for their faith. Also martyred in the time of the early Church was St. Ignatius of Antioch. He is known for his incredible writings on Christology. St. Denis was also a martyr in the time of the early Church. Many portrayals of St. Denis will show him holding his head in his arms because after his was martyred, legend has it that he held his head and shared Christ with those who killed him. On October 19th we will celebrate Sts. John de Brebuf and Isaac Jogues, the patron saints of North America. They were killed in the 17th century while ministering to the Iroquois. Even though they had previously been captured and knew that they could be killed, they placed all of their trust in God and continued their missionary work.
Throughout the rest of this October, let us pray for the intercession of these saints in helping us be courageous in prayer and discerning God’s continuing will for us.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in October, and each month, click here.
Pope Francis eloquently writes in his post-synodal exhortation Christus Vivit, “After this brief look at the word of God, we cannot just say that young people are the future of our world. They are its present.” In the last decade, and especially since Christus Vivit was promulgated in 2019, the Church has sought to help the Church’s youth become protagonists in their own right. This is seen in many parish, diocesan, and archdiocesan initiatives to form young Church leaders. Some examples of this include creating new diocesan offices for youth and young adult ministries and the growth of many high school and collegiate campus ministry offices. Nevertheless, young people crave young role models for the Faith. Pope Francis recognized this and listed many examples, including Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Joan of Arc. In this blog, I wish to discuss three saints in particular--Bl. Carlo Acutis, St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, and St. Therese of Lisieux—and how their witnesses are a model for young people (especially youth leaders) who wish to dive deeper into a relationship with Christ and his Church.
Young people everywhere crave to see an aspect of themselves in the people they look up to, and Bl. Carlo Acutis is a soon-to-be saint who allows young people to see commonalities between themselves and the saints. Carlo was a typical Italian teenager who played soccer and video games. Nevertheless, he also made great strides for God in his work, uploading Eucharistic miracles to a website to spread devotion to the Body and Blood of Christ. He was called “an influencer for God” by his mother in an America Magazine article. Bl. Carlo stands as a soon-to-be saint accessible to the Church’s youth because of his young age and his connectedness to 21st-century culture. Bl. Carlo Acutis models for youth leaders how evangelization must occur within the culture and modern media, not from an ivory tower of formal theology and scholarship. The Gospel must be spread in a way that all generations can appreciate, and Bl. Carlo accomplished that with the creation of his website.
Another young person who bore witness to the Faith in the context of his own time was St. José Sánchez del Rio. Saint José was a young man growing up in Mexico during the Cristero Wars. The Cristero Wars were a series of conflicts between the Mexican President Plutarco Calles's secularist government and Cristero fighters (formally known as the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty). The Calles government imposed the 1917 Mexican Constitution, which contained anticlerical policies and sought state atheism. Catholics across the country opposed this and began resisting through liturgical services and military resistance against the Mexican army. Saint José was a young man during the war and wanted to fight to defend his Faith. His mother, however, refused to let him formally join the Cristero Movement. This made St. José contribute to the movement indirectly and attend Mass whenever possible. Nevertheless, when a Cristero General lost his horse in battle, young José offered his, and this led to his imprisonment by the Mexican army. After being tortured to renounce his Faith, José refused and was martyred. St. José Sánchez del Rio’s witness to the Faith is one of the best examples of what a Catholic is called to do by Christ: witness the Faith within your own culture and times while not renouncing our Lord. Despite his young age, St. José believed in Christ’s love and graces, and that gave him the strength to be countercultural and stand with Jesus instead of with the popular culture and the government that stood against Him.
Finally, St. Thérèse of Lisieux remains one of the most commanding forces in the Church’s lexicon for youth witnesses. Becoming a Carmelite at age fifteen, Thérèse began to pray incessantly and pioneered her famous “Little Way” for the spiritual life. St. Thérèse’s “Little Way” seeks to help people encounter Christ in their day-to-day activities and pray to Jesus with childlike dependency. St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s powerful devotion to the Eucharist, prayer, and a joyful attitude allow many to realize that one can be close to Christ no matter what they are doing. St. Thérèse stands as a strong role model for young Catholics since her relationship to Christ reached such profound depths at her young age.
Young people crave role models in the Church, and older generations can find powerful witnesses and wisdom from young Catholics as well. The Church has been and must remain dedicated to telling and promoting the stories of young saints to inspire every generation to become protagonists in the Church and saints for Christ’s kingdom. Young people can be inspired by these saints since they can “…offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to ‘rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments’” (Pope Francis, Christus Vivit).