O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. -Psalm 63:1
There are seasons in the spiritual life in which you feel parched, as if you’re wandering the desert without refreshment. Silent reflection is filled with distraction. Prayer seems awkward, difficult, or boring. Your heart feels lifeless.
Lately, despite my attempts to find escape, this sums up my prayer experience. It doesn’t matter that I infuse my days with the Mass readings, a Rosary, Catholic podcasts, or spiritual books. Right now, it seems so much easier to turn on a show or scroll through social media than to pray. Any time I resolve to do the latter, all the things I need to do bombard my mind, or the texts and notifications come in streaming. At Mass, I hear the beautiful words of Scripture and the homily but feel hollow in the pew.
Am I a bad Catholic? Is something wrong?
During times like these, many people of faith get disheartened. They think they have done something wrong in the spiritual life, that God has abandoned them, or that their faith must not be relevant anymore. But all people of faith will experience this to some degree at one point or another! It is often hard to trudge through when warm feelings are absent and prayer requires intentionality and effort, but these times in the spiritual life can be the most fruitful of all.
Our hearts can grow cold and tepid for two reasons: either we’ve slackened in the spiritual life and slowly let the cares of the world take over – like the weeds that choke out the good seed in the parable – or God is calling us to deeper faith and growth. If it’s the latter, this is often a time of spiritual maturation that deepens our faith and love. We choose to cry out to God in prayer not because it makes us feel good or holy or satisfied, but because we trust in God and love him despite how we might feel. We’ve often heard that love is a choice, not a feeling. Therefore, when feelings are absent, God is inviting us to choose him with a love that is selfless and trusting. The feelings that are lukewarm, indifferent, or distracted are part of the spiritual dryness St. Ignatius of Loyola called “desolation.”
According to St. Ignatius, there are moments in the spiritual life of both consolation and desolation. In times of consolation, we feel especially close to God, find prayer easy, fulfilling, and natural, and have peace and joy. I remember one time talking to a priest in spiritual direction who asked how things were going spiritually. I told him I almost felt guilty because all was going smoothly. He chuckled and told me to enjoy this time of consolation because it wouldn’t last forever—advising me to write down my feelings and spiritual observations as something to look back on in times of dryness or sorrow. A quote attributed to St. Philip Neri sums up this ebb and flow: “As a rule, people who aim at a spiritual life begin with the sweet and afterward pass on to the bitter. So now, away with all tepidity, off with that mask of yours, carry your cross, don’t leave it to carry you.”
How can you carry your cross during this time? Below are some tips to reinvigorate your faith and get you through this time of spiritual dryness.
It is important if you feel indifferent to your faith right now not to give up. I encourage you to re-double your efforts in prayer, seek help from your community and the saints, and persevere. Know that this is a completely normal phase of the spiritual life, that even the saints felt arid at times, and that you are not alone.
On August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption of our Blessed Virgin Mother into heaven, we celebrate Mary’s completion of life on Earth and her existence in eternity with Jesus. We can reflect on her sinless life as she was chosen by God to be the mother of Christ and also on her example of motherhood, grace, and virtue.
On this Marian feast, I feel a special closeness to the Blessed Mother because I recently found out that, I too, am preparing to be a mother. I ask for Mary’s intercession for a healthy pregnancy often and I hope to love more each day like she did. From her moment of saying, “Yes!” to God at a young age, to her worried searching for Jesus in the Temple, and even to her urging of her son at the Wedding at Cana to begin his ministry, Mary is a mother we can relate to. Her faith in God kept her focus on Jesus and his growth, safety, and well-being on Earth in order to ensure that he would fulfill his life’s mission to save us all from sin. Mary is the mother we can all imitate.
Mary’s life was probably not an easy one. She faced speculation and ridicule from those in her community when she gave her Fiat and said yes to God’s plan. She lived at a time when a pregnant and unwed woman could be outcast from everyone she knew, but she persisted and trusted. Enduring these hardships could create doubt in someone’s mind and dissuade a person, but Mary stayed true to her grace-filled faith. I like to imagine that her cousin Elizabeth was a kindred spirit for Mary, someone who could support her and was also full of grace and faith. Joseph too, said “Yes!” to God, took Mary as his wife, and raised Jesus with strength and grace. He was a supporter for Mary and loved her, fully knowing his purpose as a protector and provider for the family.
Throughout her life, we know that Mary reflected and pondered on the many blessings she had received. Scripture tells us she held them in her heart. Let us appreciate those special moments in our lives, too! Recently, I’ve been trying to take a moment each day to “hold things in my heart” and reflect on the goodness of God. Sometimes it’s when I see the sunshine for the first time that day. Other times it’s at the end of the day in a more reflective manner, and still other times it is in a crucial or stressful moment as I search for the good in what’s going on around me. There are many times throughout our days in which we could pause, reflect on a blessing, and have a grateful moment of prayer. On this Assumption, I challenge you to imitate Mary and learn from her grateful heart in this way.
Below is a prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, a method of prayer that seminarians, priests, religious sisters, deacons, and lay people participate in all over the world. This particular prayer is prayed on the feast of the Assumption. As we celebrate the Assumption of Mary, let us look to her example of faith and devotion and let us ask her to continue to bring us closer to Christ and help us to live for his glory.
Almighty God, You gave a humble Virgin the privilege of being mother of your Son, and crowned her with the glory of heaven. May the prayers of the Virgin Mary bring us to the salvation of Christ and raise us up to eternal life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Contemporary Western culture seems to promote nothing but pride these days; it insists that only those who are proud, selfish, and disobedient can effect change or succeed in life. But salvation history and the lives of the saints tell us a different story—namely, that pride is the downfall of mankind, and that humility is what ultimately exalts us.
Humility is a difficult virtue to embrace because it is such a quiet one and is often mistaken for what it is not. In his Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas describes humility thus: “Truly, the virtue of humility consists in this, that one keep himself within his own limits; he does not stretch himself to what is above him, but he subjects himself to his superior.” Being humble does not mean debasing yourself and refusing to acknowledge that you have any gifts or talents whatsoever—and some would argue that in fact, such an attitude is actually hidden pride! The truly humble man understands that he is not the greatest at anything, and that while he is better at something than others might be, his gift ultimately comes from God and is to be used for the glory of God, not for personal accolades. The prime example of this is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was a young woman without wealth or powerful connections, and yet her submission to the will of God altered the course of human history and opened the door for the divine Messiah to enter the world He would one day redeem. She did not attempt to argue that she was utterly unworthy of the grace bestowed on her, but rather submitted with her humble fiat, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”
The truly humble man knows his own limitations—he submits to the authority not only of God and of the Church, but also to the legitimate authority of the government and the workplace. A humble man does not go looking for opportunities to gain power and prestige. He dies to himself for the sake of others—he harbors no resentment when others’ work is extolled while his goes unnoticed, and he uses those moments of humiliation to draw closer to Christ. The humble man continues to use his gifts even if no one but God is going to see or acknowledge them. And when his gifts and accomplishments are acknowledged by the world, the humble man turns that praise back to God instead of focusing it on himself. The humble man does not need to project an Instagram-perfect image of his life to the rest of the world: he accepts that he is a work in progress, can admit when he is wrong, and can accept criticism with grace.
Sometimes true humility seems impossible to achieve. Because we are fallen creatures wrapped up in ourselves, we have to constantly work toward selflessness. One method of doing this is by praying The Litany of Humility. This prayer asks Jesus to deliver us from desires and fears fueled by pride—from the desire of praise, to the fear of being wronged. But the beauty of this litany is that it not only asks that we be freed from our pride, but it also asks for the grace to desire that others may be better than we are, loved more than we are, holier than we are. True humility is not downplaying our own roles, but is setting aside our own desires so that others can rise higher and do more for Christ than we ever could. It’s being the Andrew to someone else’s Peter and the Barnabas to someone else’s Paul—calling forth someone to the good or encouraging their potential, even if means that person becomes greater than ourselves.
Matt Maher has his own take on the Litany of Humility in his song “Every Little Prison.” What I like about Maher’s version is that he adapts the prayer to be more recognizable for the modern Christian. Pride takes many forms in this era of Instagram followers, Facebook “likes,” and the 24-hour news cycle—we spend time “wondering if I am relevant and liked” and “wanting to be seen.” Ultimately, humility requires us to turn to God instead of other things and to trust in him, in his mercy and his wisdom, rather than becoming slaves to our fears of being judged, or of not being loved, or of having to let go. By praying for freedom from the prisons created by pride, may we live more confidently in the love of God and in doing his will.
On May 31st, our Church celebrated the Feast of the Visitation—that hallowed moment when Elizabeth was greeted by her cousin Mary and when Scripture tells us that the infant leaped in her womb. We hear that the very first thing that Mary did after she was visited by the angel Gabriel was go and visit her cousin Elizabeth.
The line that always sticks out to me from this Gospel account of the Visitation is: “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste.” Mary did not just travel to visit her cousin - to celebrate the faithfulness of God and what He had done for her – but she traveled immediately, quickly, and with haste.
Not only did Mary know that the good news of the Incarnation - of God dwelling in her very womb - was too good to keep to herself, but she also knew of the importance of showing up for those whom she loved most. One of the things I believe most firmly about our lives as Christian disciples is that when we encounter the faithfulness of God (either in our lives or in the lives of those around us) we are called to share it with others.
It can be all too easy to think that the stories of Mary and Elizabeth - one conceiving by the power of the Holy Spirit and the other receiving the gift of a child after being called barren - is some far off story that happened 2,000 years ago and not something applicable to us. We must ask ourselves: Where have I experienced the faithfulness of God in my life? Where have I seen it around me? Where am I being called to share it? Am I making haste to get there?
I was lucky enough to attend a school called Visitation High School; as you drove up the main drive to our school building, there was a beautiful statue of Mary and Elizabeth embracing. Every day I was reminded of the great joy that they shared with each other and ultimately the peace that came by believing that what was promised to them would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45).
In our hurting, broken, and messy world, we could use more moments of making haste. Making haste to show up for a friend that we know is suffering. Making haste to share the good news of Jesus with a family member or friend. Making haste to celebrate our loved ones even while we experience sorrow or hardship.
It is the great privilege of the Christian to make haste like Our Lady, to show up and to share the good news that,“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:49).
Holy Week can be the most emotionally intense period of the liturgical year. Beginning with Palm Sunday, we notice some changes to the usual liturgy, namely: the opening reading, the much longer narrated Gospel, the red vestments, and the presence of blessed palms. As the week continues, our anticipation may be building towards an emotional peak, probably the commemoration of Christ’s death on Good Friday or His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. We may be tempted to take it all in stride and grimace at the raw details of Jesus’s sacred Passion while holding on for the joys of the Easter proclamation. We are, after all, the “Easter people and Alleluia is our song,” according to St. John Paul the Great. I have found myself guilty of this detachment sometimes and now propose, as we have already entered Holy Week, that we immerse ourselves into the intense details—that raw, human emotion—of the Triduum in order to accompany Christ more closely during the most significant moments of His earthly ministry and the fulfillment of salvific history.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the entrance of the Savior into Jerusalem, that sacred capital of the Jewish nation then occupied by the Roman Empire. The joys and uproars that Jesus’s entrance brings facilitate the events at the end of the week, when we observe the frenzied crowd turning against the One they now hail as the long-awaited Messiah. Of course, Jesus knows fully what will come to pass in the next days before the Passover.
Do we stand among the crowds welcoming Jesus into our hearts and wanting Him to rule over us as the eternal Heavenly King, or are we like the jealous plotting authorities who resent Jesus over His exposure of our hypocrisy and prideful nature?
The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday are filled with anticipation. An observer of the times could tell something big was about to happen in Jerusalem. The holy city would soon be embroiled in the rancor sowed by the authorities against Jesus rather than preparing to celebrate the annual Passover meal.
Are we spending this time of calm in prayer and preparation in the presence of the Lord, or are we going about our daily routine until we face the ugliness that has been fermenting against Jesus and that forces us to decide if we will stand against the crowds for the sake of the Savior?
Holy Thursday arrives and already the focus may be towards the one evening Mass scheduled at the parish. Many dioceses celebrate the annual Chrism Mass earlier in the day, during which the sacred oils of ministry are blessed by the bishop and distributed among the parishes from the cathedral. In the evening, the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane are commemorated with liturgical richness: the humble washing of feet, solemn processions, chanting, the use of candles, Eucharistic adoration after the tabernacle is emptied, and then… silence. There is so much to unpack. We can ask ourselves:
Am I heeding the Lord’s request to “Keep watch and pray”? Am I remaining vigilant and faithfully at the side of our Lord as he leads the Passover meal, praying with Him in the garden, or not abandoning Him during His arrest?
We, of course, cannot celebrate Easter Sunday without recalling Good Friday. This year, I invite you to place yourself at the foot of the cross and gaze upon Christ crucified. With the Blessed Mother and St. John beside you, behold the sight of the suffering Savior, scourged and dying. Listen to His seven final words and feel their intensity. Here the cruelest injustices have been heaped upon Jesus; He bears them willingly and lovingly. Recall your own failings, which have driven nails and scourged the sacred flesh of our Lord. This can be a true time of repentance and faith.
Do I offer even a fraction of the love being poured out from the cross this day?
The darkness of Good Friday recedes, Holy Saturday arrives and there is…more silence. Our Beloved Lord has died and there is a sudden emptiness as we come to terms with the reality that the departed is gone. We must not gloss over this period before Easter Sunday: take time to mourn for our Lord and the human acts of sin which buried Him in the tomb. It had to occur, but it is not the end. We do not mourn for the dead as if we have no hope— because of the Resurrection, Christians do not fear death or even despise suffering. Jesus bore the worst in humanity with love and died to accomplish salvation for all who seek it.
In the holy silence of Holy Saturday, am I reflecting on the events that have passed, long foretold by the biblical prophets, as Mary and the disciples did in the Upper Room?
On Saturday evening, we experience the Easter Vigil. This extraordinary Mass begins in darkness outside the Church with the Service of Light in which a “blazing fire” is used to light the Paschal candle. This candle processes through the church and is used to light the unlit candles of all present. Nine readings from the Old and New Testament are read, recounting significant moments of salvation history. It is during this Mass that the Church also welcomes new members from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults into the Body of Christ. The congregation joins in the renewal of baptismal promises and recalls their own Sacraments of Initiation.
In the wonder of this Easter Vigil, are we joining wholeheartedly in the joy and celebration of the Resurrection? Do we marvel at the re-telling of the mighty acts of God throughout human history? Do we rejoice in welcoming new members to the Church?
Finally Easter Sunday, the world rejoices with the proclamation, Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands! We proclaim Christ’s great salvific act but do not shy away from what He endured to accomplish that eternal victory. We glorify Christ who has ascended from the depths of death to rescue humanity and deliver them to the throne of God. Nothing like this has happened before. The world celebrates God’s great love!
Do we joyfully proclaim Christ to those who have no hope in their lives, who yearn for meaning and purpose?
By taking the time each day of Holy Week to reflect upon the nuances and details of these great events in Scripture, we can better prepare for the emotional gravitas of the liturgies this week and accompany Christ himself. The graces of standing firm and being witnesses to His Passion can yield the same reward first achieved by the good thief crucified next to Jesus, to whom Christ declared, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
For more resources to accompany you in your Lenten and Easter journeys, please click here.
March 19th marks the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church. These are rather lofty titles. He has many others. I first came to know St. Joseph, not only through the Nativity story, but because he was the patron of my parish church in Hammonton, New Jersey. As a child, I would look at the statue of St. Joseph to the right of the main altar and saw a wise looking, older person holding the child Jesus. His face was kind and tender, yet strong. Only later did I admire the work of the artist who was able to capture the essence of St. Joseph.
Pope Francis, whose sixth anniversary of the inauguration of his ministry as pope is also on March 19th, reflected on these and other aspects of St. Joseph and what they mean for us:
“In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!” (Pope Francis, Homily, March 19, 2013)
Charity or love, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us is “to will the good of the other.” (CCC, 1766). Goodness is not simply about being polite. It is much more than that. It is an opportunity to live love of neighbor in a way that is strong and bold at times. It is a way of showing love of God. Consider what St. Joseph did for Mary in taking her into his home (Mt. 1:24) or in moving the family to Egypt at a moment’s notice (Mt. 2:14). These were in response to God’s invitation to do so – an invitation that came in dreams.
We are called to live bold and tender charity that especially serves the poor and the vulnerable, one that witnesses Christ. This is at the heart of the Lenten practice of almsgiving. It is this type of charity that “urges us on” as St. Paul tell us (2 Cor. 5:14). Pope Francis witnesses it, St. Vincent Pallotti lived it, and we are all called to do the same.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Henri Nouwen said “Being the beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
On December 27, the Church celebrated the feast of St. John the Apostle - referred to in the Gospel of John as the beloved disciple. A few short days ago, we also celebrated the great and holy feast of Christmas: the turning point in history. On that night in Bethlehem, when God became a little baby, He made it possible for us to truly become “the beloved.”
St. John shows us that to truly love and become “the beloved,” we must stick by each other even through suffering. It was John, along with Our Lady and Mary Magdalene, who remained with Our Lord until His final moments at Calvary.
St. John’s Gospel not only gives us one of the most profound recollections of the crucifixion, but it also reminds us that we love others “because He first loved us.” As Christians, everything in our lives must first flow from a lived relationship with Love incarnate, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season. This relationship with Christ enables us to know what St. John knew: Jesus makes all things new, all burdens light.
Before we can believe the truth of being beloved, I have found that we often believe a lot of lies. Our world and culture - not to mention the Evil One - tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we are unworthy of love. But to truly love and be loved is to live in the truth of who God says we are and the truth of who He calls us to be.
The truth of our identity is that we are beloved sons and daughters, called to stay close to the manger AND the cross and commissioned to share the Good News that we are called to love because He first loved us.
Today as we are still reveling in the shadow of Christ’s manger in Bethlehem, let’s ask Our Lord, Our Lady, and St. John to fill us with the greatest truth of our existence: our identity as beloved.
Have you ever wondered why the Church decided to celebrate Mary, as Mother of God, on the first day of each calendar year? After all, we’re still in the midst of Christmas! Isn’t this season already busy and full of Feast Days and devotions? Before she could be revealed as the Immaculate Conception, or celebrated as Our Lady of Fatima, Lourdes, or Guadalupe, or even honored as Lady Poverty by St. Francis, Mary first had to accept God’s will for her in salvation history in order to become the mother of the savior who was born on Christmas Day.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, Mary is first hailed as God’s “favored one!” If this title, bestowed by the Almighty’s messenger, wasn’t honor enough, Mary would later receive the even greater title of “Mother of God.” Her cousin St. Elizabeth would confer this title upon her with the words, “the mother of my Lord.” First, of course, Mary had to agree to what God asked of her! Mary may not have understood just how great the decision was that she made, but, despite her youth, she nevertheless had the great gift of faith in God. Because of her infinite trust in God and her famed fiat, we can definitively venerate Mary, the Mother of God, and ask for her intercession.
Mary fulfills a unique role in the Mystery of Christ and the Church. Hailed as Theotokos (literally, “God Bearer”) by the Church in 431 at the First Council of Ephesus, Mary’s title reflects not only her role in salvation history, but also asserts the divinity of Christ. Just as the moon does not bear its own light but instead reflects the light from the sun, Mary entirely reflects the brilliance and grace of God. While a universal celebration on October 11 of the feast of the “Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary” was not declared by the Church until 1931 by Pope Pius XI, history records similar celebrations as part of the Christmas octave as early as the 13th or 14th century in Rome and Spain. Later celebrations developed in the 18th century in Portugal, Brazil, and Algeria and continued to take root around the world. After this great feast was finally moved to the first day of January by Pope St. John XXIII (in his 1960 revision of the liturgical calendar and rites), the Church would, at the Council Second Vatican, reaffirm Mary’s place in the Church Universal:
Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ... having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head.”… The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.
Even more recently, Pope Francis reflected upon why Mary is thus honored as the Mother of God and not just the Mother of Jesus:
From the moment that our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity. There is no longer God without man; the flesh Jesus took from his Mother is our own, now and for all eternity. To call Mary the Mother of God reminds us of this: God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb.
As we continue our celebration of Christmas, let us consider how, in His mother, God the Son was made Incarnate not only to be with us, but also to be like us! The Blessed Mother, seen in every nativity scene, faithfully watches over the infant in the manger as the Mother of God and also as mother to each of us! She does so with great love, silently in her heart (cf. Luke 2:51). In Mary we find what really matters—not only during the Christmas season, but in the whole of the Christian life. As her children, may we look upon Mary with love and faithfully call upon her intercession with great affection.
It might be frightening to look at our culture today. There is the sense that a Catholic worldview is not welcome. Some feel confusion about what it means to be Catholic. A culture of death and darkness seems to oppose God’s love. One wonders how the Holy Spirit will work in the world and through the Church amidst such hostility and division.
This is not the first time the Church has encountered such a moment. The 1500s were also a tumultuous era. At the beginning of the century, in, 1517, the Protestant Reformation started. Then the English Reformation of Henry VIII began in 1534. The Church responded with the Counter-Reformation. A new order, the Jesuits, was founded in 1540 and in 1545, the Council of Trent was initiated. By that time, millions of people had left the Catholic Church. It seemed to be a time of waywardness and chaos. How was the Holy Spirit going to work in such a world?
Simple: By sending the Mother of God not to the Old World—Europe—but to the New World. Specifically, Mary appeared at the Hill of Tepeyac in 1531 to ask a 57-year-old peasant named Juan Diego to speak to Bishop Zumarraga about building a chapel in her honor there. This is where Our Lady, on December 9th, made her first apparition to her “Juanito” or “dear little Juan.” She told him that she was “the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth.” On her last visit on December 12th, Mary arranged roses in Juan Diego’s tilma and sent him to the bishop to ask him again to build a shrine to her on that spot. When he opened his tilma to show the bishop the roses, it revealed her image, which can still be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Mary appeared on a hill that was already sacred to the ancient peoples of Mexico as a shrine to a mother goddess. She was dressed as an Aztec princess, pregnant with the God who made us. She spoke to a humble native of the land and called him her “youngest and dearest son.” Before her apparition, approximately 200,000 Native Americans had been baptized. Between the time of her visit to Juan Diego and her message to Bishop Zumarraga and their deaths in the spring of 1548, over 9 million ancestral peoples had received the gift of faith and baptism.
In a time of great conflict, colonialization, and racial tension, Mary appeared on this continent to tell Juan Diego, “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me.” She is the mother of all the peoples in the land, then and now. She reminds us that what truly defines us is not our status or ancestry, but our membership in the Body of Christ.
It can be a struggle to know and act like a member of Christ’s Body when there are so many opposing forces. What does it mean to act like a Christian, vote like a Christian, shop like a Christian, or even speak like a Christian? It means that we take our fears, our sorrows, our hopes, our hurts, and our weeping not to a political party or an outlet mall; but to our Mother, who in turn presents them to her Son.
Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? -Our Lady to Juan Diego
Question for Reflection: In times of distress, do you turn to Our Lady to bring you closer to Christ?
Editor's note: This blog was originally published in 2013. We are re-posting it in honor of the two upcoming Marian feast days on September 8 (the Nativity of Mary) and September 12 (the Most Holy Name of Mary). Blessed Mother, pray for us!
Both of my grandmothers had great devotion to the Blessed Mother. I remember going to their homes and seeing statues of Mary and other saints, prayer cards, and crystal and silver rosaries. I learned much from them and my mother about devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Back in 1901, on this day, the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, my grandmother, Millie Donio, was born. During my childhood, though, I did not know that it was a feast day, because with the reform of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the feast was removed. Restored by Blessed John Paul II in 2002 in the revised Roman Missal, it is now an optional memorial. Interestingly, there is only one other feast related to the name of a person, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated on January 3rd. This feast day was restored in 1996.
The name, Mary, could mean “sea of bitterness” or, possibly, “beloved”. Consider for a moment how many situations Mary found herself in that could have resulted in bitterness. When the unwed young Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was pregnant by the “power of holy Spirit,” she did not focus on her own situation, but made herself available to her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-40). When her son, Jesus, went off preaching suddenly at age 30, the scriptures show no evidence of her complaining about it. Instead, she says, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). No bitterness there. When she is at the foot of the cross watching her son die before her eyes, powerless to do anything about it, she accepts being given over the care of the Beloved Disciple, he as her son, she as his mother (John 19:26-27). Sorrow, yes. Bitterness, no. A “sea of bitterness” around her, but she, being the perfect disciple, shows us the way to be. She shows us how to live as beloved by God.
My grandmothers showed me how to live as one beloved by God. They each had their various hardships in life – physical sufferings, emotional difficulties, financial challenges – but each held firm to her faith and it was faith in God that sustained them. They each moved outside of themselves and cared for others, even in the midst of their own struggles. I will never forget going with Grandmom Donio to quietly drop off bags of fruits and vegetables at the back doors of the homes of people she knew were in need of them, but were not able to ask others for help. No words exchanged, we were not even seen, just an action done for good because the other is beloved by God.
Being beloved by God does not mean there will be no suffering or challenge in life. Being beloved by God, called by our name in Baptism, which claimed us for Jesus Christ, we are not left alone to simply move through life. We have the ones we call by name, Mary who intercedes for us with the other person we call by name, Jesus, who is also the Son of God. We call also on the names of the other baptized in the community of faith, the Church. We call out with all of our needs as we live in what can seem at times like a “sea of bitterness.” But, we are not meant to be bitter in life, no matter what we experience. Pope Francis offers us encouragement to move out of ourselves toward others:
“Let us never yield to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day; let us not yield to pessimism or discouragement: let us be quite certain that the Holy Spirit bestows upon the Church, with his powerful breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, so as to bring the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8)” (Audience with the College of Cardinals, March 15, 2013).
What are we to do then? Not live in bitterness, but witness as ones beloved. We are to call others by name and assist them in being good disciples of Jesus Christ, following the pattern of life and asking the intercession of the one called Mary.
Editor's Note: In honor of the second anniversary of WYD Krakow (2016) and in anticipation of WYD Panama (2019), we are reposting this wonderful reflection from WYD 2016 on the role of young people in the Church.
Who was it that claimed the Church is irrelevant to young people? Who was it that claimed young people did not seek or yearn for Christ? My experience of World Youth Day (WYD) has shown me otherwise. WYD is the largest gathering of Catholic young adults in a series of events sponsored by the Church. First initiated by St. John Paul II in 1985, WYD is celebrated at the diocesan level annually and at the international level every two to three years at different locations around the world. People do not attend as tourists, but rather as pilgrims, since the nature of the composite events are religious in character. Typically, pilgrims will arrange lodging in the host city before participating in the opening ceremonies, catechesis, and cultural exhibitions. Taking advantage of all the host city has to offer, pilgrims will usually also spend time exploring the region (especially churches), shopping for religious souvenirs, and tasting the local cuisine… and very rarely alone! As the locals are quick to notice, the host city will be absolutely inundated with pilgrim groups, each identified by various flags, shirts, and chants. In spite of the inconveniences experienced (such as crowds, traffic, and long lines), for the most part, the locals are excited to greet so many peoples; local businesses are especially happy to cater to the pilgrims’ needs.
The focus of WYD events centers around the arrival of the pope: everyone wants to hear what the Holy Father has to say to the young pilgrims at various sites and events. Traditionally, the Holy Father will address crowds from his residence, during Masses, Stations of the Cross, and the overnight vigil during which millions camp out together in prayer. The conclusion of the Vigil Mass the following day signals the end of the official WYD program, though at that time the next host city is formally announced.
I’ve been blessed to have been able to attend two World Youth Days, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013 and in Kraków, Poland this year. So much more than a sightseeing trip, WYD for me has been all about seeing how God’s love for us manifests itself in each culture. Encountering millions of young believers (in addition to curious observers) who are inherently joyful in their witnesses to the Lord, I am especially delighted to see them interact with each other through songs, chants, prayers, and games during scheduled events or out in the streets. For me, some of the most powerful witnesses given happened outside of the official program (though seeing millions kneel before the Blessed Sacrament with lit candles during the vigil was indescribably moving). I remember seeing a group of Italian pilgrims run over to help a local disabled man carry groceries up a number of street stairs; another group immediately rushed to comfort a female pilgrim who had broken down during our 12 kilometer (about 7.5 miles) hike from the site of the overnight vigil. Simple acts of love like that really touched me as being authentically Christian: to love in even the smallest matters and, by doing so, answering the call given at the end of Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Pope Francis gave many beautiful and encouraging addresses to those assembled in Poland, but I was most impacted by an action of his. At the beginning of Mass at the great Shrine of Czestochowa, Pope Francis missed a stair step and fell, thankfully uninjured. He later explained that, "I was watching (an image of) the Madonna, and I forgot the step." He literally fell for Our Lady. When I heard the news, I remembered a similar experience of my tripping on the stairs upon seeing a lovely peer of mine go by. To have that ineffably tender and peaceful focus on the Blessed Mother, to be in awe of the Virgin, reflects the perfect love God has for her and for each of us.
WYD may have ended, but the mission entrusted to the young pilgrims by Pope Francis still burns in our hearts:
Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us, like Mary of Bethany, to listen attentively to those we do not understand, those of other cultures and peoples, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. Make us attentive to our elders, as Mary of Nazareth was to Elizabeth, in order to learn from their wisdom.
May each of us always endeavor to accomplish it!
To learn more about the October 2018 Synod on Young People, visit our Synod Portal.
To learn more about WYD 2019 visit our WYD Panama Portal.
While Christmas is still some time away, the circumstances surrounding the birth of our Lord give reason for us to pause and reflect throughout the year on the great mystery of the Incarnation—the entering of God the eternal Son into time and the human experience. At the Christmas vigil, the Gospel proclamation involves tracing the ancestral lineage of Jesus as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” and the prophetic culmination of divine promises. Those specifications, similar to the grand announcement of The Nativity of the Lord from the Roman Martyrology, draw upon Sacred Scripture to formally declare the birth of Christ and squarely place His entry into time. The USCCB notes: “It begins with creation and relates the birth of the Lord to the major events and personages of sacred and secular history. The particular events contained in the announcement help pastorally to situate the birth of Jesus in the context of salvation history.”
Reflecting on the genealogy of Jesus helps us to remember that he is part of a human family and was raised with particular role models and inherited traditions. It also reminds us that many people helped prepare the way for the coming of the Savior, playing greater or lesser roles for the glory of the Father’s plan. Two people who are part of Jesus’ genealogy, but passed over in Scripture are the parents of the Blessed Mother, Sts. Joachim and Ann.
Factually, nothing about the parents of Mary arises from credible historic sources apart from their existence — not even their names of Joachim and Ann are verified! Although they are passed over in Scripture, Mary’s parents are critical as they represent generations who actively participated in the obligations of family and faith life while anticipating the coming of the Messiah. These saints maintained the spiritual and familial environment that nourished and inspired the Blessed Mother to always trust in God and to famously declare, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
We find evidence of Mary’s strength of character and trust in the Lord in Scripture, especially Luke chapter 1 verses 28-55 and John chapter 2: Mary is steadfast in making decisions, active in prayer, obedient to the laws of her faith, calm through moments of crisis, and devoted to her relatives. It is not hard to see how such models of parenthood would likely have inspired Mary’s own upbringing of Jesus. We can wonder how much of Mary’s unyielding belief through Jesus’ ministry, Passion, and Resurrection — especially after seeing her son publically brutalized and murdered — was instilled in her by the fortitude and strength she saw modeled by her own parents during her childhood.
What can we learn from the parents of the Blessed Mother? We may not all be grandparents, but we can still influence our families through our receptiveness to the perspectives, experiences, and lessons of those preceding us. Truly these are treasures of wisdom not to be taken lightly or ignored. Pope Francis has sought to convey this important observation. During his first World Youth Day as Pope, observing that Brazilians were celebrating Grandparents Day on the feast of Sts. Joachim and Ann, he reflected:
"How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith! … How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family … Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives."
The family is often the first community of love, knowledge, and faith that we experience (CCC 2205). It is a great gift to preserve and strengthen that takes our time, talent, and commitment to keep strong. Yet, just as each of our family members are imperfect, so too is our own love despite our best intentions. At times we may lose patience amidst the demands of life. Or, more tragically, we may find ourselves amongst family members who do not know how to love, perhaps products of their own troubled upbringings. When we face difficulties within our families, or see hurt in other intergenerational families, let us remember that regardless of our human relations, we have been born into the spiritual family of the Church. How wonderful it is that despite our earthly circumstances each of us has been entrusted to call God our Father, Mary our Mother, Joachim and Ann our grandparents and Jesus our Brother and Savior.
Sts. Joachim and Ann, pray for us!
Questions for Reflection: Who are the people in my family who have taught me the beauty of the faith? Which members of my family need me to show them the love of Christ?
“It’s 11:11… make a wish!” Have you heard of that phrase before? I roll my eyes every time someone eagerly pauses in that moment, thinking that whatever they wish for will magically appear. Though superstitions like this detract from actual prayer, the idea of praying a daily devotion has a long history in the Church. Prayers like the Angelus, a Marian devotion that commemorates the Incarnation, have been around since at least the Middle Ages. Often prayed at noon, the devotional provides the faithful with an opportunity to re-focus and recommit their days to Christ.
Marian devotions in particular can help us grow closer to Christ because Christ himself dedicated Mary to us after his death. When Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother,” he was providing Mary as an intercessor for us. After Jesus’ death, the Acts of the Apostles records her as being present when the disciples gathered at Jesus’ Ascension and then later in the Upper Room during the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Because of Mary’s continual intercession for the followers of her Son and because of her role serving with the Apostles on earth, she has historically been known as the Queen of Apostles. As tradition goes, it is Mary who bolstered the Apostles in moments of discouragement and fear after the death and Resurrection of Christ.
Prayers to Our Blessed Mother never go unanswered. As a personal devotion to her, I offer up a Hail Mary for my vocation every time I see an 11 on the clock. I like to pray when I see the number in order to turn the superstitious ‘11:11 practice’ into something for the glory of God; you could pray when you first wake up, or at noon like those who pray the Angelus, or during your commute to work or school. Daily devotions are flexible! The important part is to make sure that you are checking in with our Heavenly Father every day. In particular, praying with Mary encourages us to adopt as our own her obedience and love for the Father. And of course, Mary is never outdone in generosity, and her intercession to Jesus is the most powerful of all.
I encourage you to begin a daily devotion of your own. It can be for your vocation, for a personal trial, for someone else – for whatever is on your heart that day. My prayer for my vocation was inspired by a friend who made a daily offering of prayer for her future husband and is now married and has four beautiful babies. She told me her life wasn’t always pointed straight to God’s will, and how she grew up neglecting her Catholic faith. As she grew older, she knew that her soul was yearning for something to grasp, to hold onto, to fill the void in her heart. She decided to go to adoration, and was inspired through prayer to begin a daily devotion to Christ through Mary. That devotion she made fifteen years ago to Our Mother changed her heart and her life. I pray that you also will be inspired to take up a daily devotion to Our Mother, who so graciously hears our intercessions and carries them to her son. As I pray each day this devotion, I will pray for you, and this journey to Heaven that we are taking together.
Question for Reflection: What do my daily devotions look like? What is an easy moment in the day that I can take some time to pray to Our Mother for guidance and intercession?
Kathleen O’Reilly is a senior at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Have you ever made a bargain with God? I have—I do it all too often!
“Listen Lord, I promise to pray every day and spend more time with you if you would just please fix… (fill in tough situation here).”
I have come to the realization that I do this without being so explicit. I expect, subconsciously, that because I strive to be a “good” Christian my life’s outcome will be perfect, without suffering or challenges. I wrongly think that if I finally start walking in my identity as a beloved child of God then all my human sufferings will dissipate and my time on earth will contain a storybook ending. It’s a results-oriented mentality: if I put in good work, then I will get a “good” outcome, almost like a math equation.
This realization was spurred from walking with friends who have been enduring profound suffering: childless friends who want the gift of a child, friends who have lost babies, friends who are waiting ever so patiently for their vocations, and friends who have been persevering faithfully through physical and mental trials. I have been wondering during prayer why these good people are getting such poor results. “This is not how it should work, Lord, they are good people, and they love you,” I tell Him. The problem with a results-oriented Christianity is that it typically results in disappointment—disappointment in yourself, and ultimately even doubt in God’s infinite goodness and love.
Enter Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who completely destroys this toxic thinking. A few of her titles are: Mother Most Pure, Virgin Most Powerful, Morning Star, Mother Most Chaste, Mother Most Faithful, Mirror of Justice—the titles continue, but the point is that she is the perfection of humanity. She is without sin. She prayed perfectly. She said “yes” to the Lord with total trust and love. In her goodness, Mary teaches us how to be good, how to be more like Her and Her Son.
I used to struggle with Mary. I mean, she’s perfect. She’s called the Morning Star, for crying out loud! It’s a tad intimidating to attempt to imitate Her. Then, I pondered Her life’s “result” and Her humanity seemed more relatable. Though perfect, she experienced emotion, and she experienced deep suffering—from losing Her Son in the Temple, to standing at the foot of the Cross as Her Son gave the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me. I cannot imagine the pain Her Immaculate Heart suffered. The Mother of our Lord shows us that the Christian life is not one that lacks suffering—rather that the Christian life is one of faithfulness during times of joy and hardship.
In her book Cause of Our Joy, Mother Mary Francis, a contemplative Poor Clare nun and spiritual writer, expounds on another Marian title, Mary Inviolate, meaning “being without violation.” One might look at the result of Mary’s life and see many “violations,” but her peace, trust, and humility in the Father’s Goodness surpassed any fear of suffering. Mother Mary Francis says, “With [Mary’s] help, I will not let every little thing that happens to me disturb me, break in on the peace of my heart, make fissures in my prayer, make cracks in my relationship with Jesus … She could suffer without being violated, so that she could go forward in her life inviolate, unassaulted, nonfissured, with no fortifications destroyed ... Only our reactions assault us. Other things can merely invite us to suffer with the Man of Sorrows and Our Lady of Sorrows” (Francis, 30). Suffering is always an invitation to grow closer to the Lord—to realize that we’re never alone. If we pray, trust, and hope through suffering like Mary did, then we start to move away from a results-oriented Christianity, where we treat our relationship with the Lord like a math equation, and toward true discipleship, where we follow wherever the Lord leads us.
When we next encounter suffering—which is inevitable in the Christian Life—may we say “yes” as Mary always did. When we struggle through our suffering, may we go to Her open Heart that has suffered so greatly and there find the understanding, peace and love that only a Mother can tenderly bestow.
Question for Reflection: Do I turn to God and His Mother like I would a beloved friend or family member when I suffer? Do I pray only for an alleviation or my suffering? Or do I “talk through” my struggles like I would with a friend or family member? How can I approach the Lord and His Mother like I would these confidants I have on Earth?
Whenever you think of Christianity, it is next to impossible to overlook the role and importance of love in the story of salvation. God’s love for us is one that is infinitely more enduring than any infatuation or passing attraction. It is one that gives and purifies, sacrifices and yields for the good of another -- again and again and again. God’s love is one that extends through, before, and beyond eternity and is ultimately expressed from Calvary to each and every person, fully, freely, and forever.
The Church has dedicated the month of June to a reminder of the depth of God’s love: the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In His Most Sacred Heart, we see how absolutely consumed with love God is for us — so much so that He was willing to bear those heinous wounds, false accusations and derisions, and even His death in order to grant salvation for all. Artistic depictions of the Sacred Heart remind us of the torment Christ endured on our behalf: the heart is wrapped in a crown of thorns, pierced, bleeding, and aflame with a cross rising from the tongues of fire. The visible wounds of Christ’s heart reveal His invisible love. Thus, devotion to the Sacred Heart is described as “devotion to the love of Jesus Christ in so far as this love is recalled and symbolically represented to us by His Heart of Flesh.” As creatures that have both soul and body, bodily representations of Christ’s love sometimes touch us in ways that words do not. The Sacred Heart teaches us that authentic love incurs great costs, but it also always gives life.
Historically, devotion to the Sacred Heart is believed to have grown from another devotion to Jesus’ body: the Sacred Wounds of Christ from His Passion. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said that the piercing of Christ’s side revealed His goodness and the charity of His heart for us: “How good and pleasant it is to dwell in the Heart of Jesus! Who is there who does not love a Heart so wounded? Who can refuse a return of love to a Heart so loving?” Other religious and saints, such as Francis of Assisi, have themselves exemplified closeness to the love poured out by Christ’s Five Wounds and Sacred Heart.
The devotion as it is most commonly known today is said to have begun with the 1673 appearance of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Over a series of visits, Our Lord revealed to St. Margaret Mary the importance of devotion to His Sacred Heart:
"Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love … But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus. Therefore, I ask of you that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honor My Heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that My Heart shall expand Itself to shed in abundance the influence of Its Divine Love upon those who shall thus honor It, and cause It to be honored."
In 1856, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart was officially added to the liturgical calendar — the day before the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The faithful have several options for honoring the Sacred Heart as requested by our Lord:
The Love that Christ continually showers on us should totally consume us. Christ’s death is an infinitely huge debt that we can never repay—but in His infinitely huge capacity to love and be merciful, all our Lord asks in return is our love. As we are invited to share in His Divine Love, we are called to let that love change us to become better disciples and better witnesses. Most of all, let us strive to become authors of great love stories, never ceasing to wonder at the incredible truth that the God of the Universe loves us!
The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. Please pray for the priests in your parish and any other priests who have touched your life!