There’s a sketch sometimes used in youth ministry that depicts a person in dialogue with God. God removes the sins of the person one by one, hammering a chisel while the person winces as those shortcomings and vices that they’d grown accustomed to are painfully removed. At one point in this sketch, the person cries out the Lord’s name in vain, and when God tells them to stop, they ask why it’s such a big deal, saying that it’s just a name, it’s a saying. God stops and says something to the effect of, “No, it's not just a name, it’s the name above all names.” We know this to be true, as St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians:
“God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)
And we know of the power in the name of Jesus. Ask an exorcist what makes the demons scream in terror, and the name of Jesus will be at the top of any list. Anyone who has been in a moment of distress, terror, or need can likely think back to calling out the name of Jesus, whether with a great shout or a whisper that only they and the Lord could hear. There is great power in the name of Jesus, and on January third, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. We are invited to reflect upon this Scripture as we ponder the power of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Catholics are used to acts of reverence, whether they know them as such or not. The acts of bowing and genuflecting are second nature for most Catholics and are themselves acts of reverence. Historically, it was customary to genuflect to royalty as a sign of reverence. Catholics genuflect as a sign of reverence to Jesus himself in the Eucharist, the King of Kings who is Lord over all our lives. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states, “A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them,” and therefore we bow to the altar, to reverence Jesus’ act of sacrifice. A lesser-known, yet beautiful practice is the bowing of one’s head “when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated” (GIRM, 275). It was Pope Gregory X who, with St. Paul’s words to the Philippians in mind and recognizing the practical difficulty of genuflecting at the name of Jesus, introduced the practice of bowing one’s head at the name of Jesus “in token that interiorly he bends the knee of his heart” (printed in With God: A Book of Prayers and Reflections by Francis Xavier Lasance). Bowing your head at the name of Jesus, especially during the Mass, is a great way to reverence the name of Jesus; we just have to make sure that the act is not a hollow one and is an act that originates in a heart that is seeking God always.
On top of reflecting with Philippians 2:9-11 and taking on the practice of bowing our heads at the name of Jesus, I’d like to offer one final way we can ponder the name of Jesus and its power in our lives. If you ever find yourself in Rome, you can walk into the Chiesa del Gesu, the mother church of the Society of Jesus, where you’ll be met with beautiful Baroque art and architecture. Possibly the greatest piece of art in this magnificent church is on the ceiling, The Triumph of the Name of Jesus, created by Giovanni Battista Gaulli and finished in 1679. This Baroque masterpiece is a fantastic example of the period, with masterful play on light and dark and the use of shadow. The art flows off onto the gold gilding, giving the impression that the art is exploding out of the space that was supposed to contain it. In the middle of this painting, surrounded by the angels and saints, is what looks to be a eucharistic host with the letters IHS beaming with magnificent light. I could stare at this painting for hours; there’s a massive mirror on the floor of the church right underneath it so that pilgrims and visitors can look at it without hurting their necks, and I’d like to invite you to do the same. You don’t have to go to Rome; you can look up the work online. Spend some time with this beautiful painting, and ask yourself how it helps you to understand the power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. May this feast be a time to become more intimately acquainted with the name of Jesus, the name of our Lord, Savior, friend, and brother.
The Catholic Church in the United States finds itself in the midst of a multi-year process of Eucharistic Revival. I’ve written before on the sense of urgency surrounding eucharistic belief, and again, I don’t claim to have the answers, but I think it is worth reflecting on the words of the Anima Christi. This prayer dates back to the fourteenth century, and there are many translations, but I’d like to spend time with this translation:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
At the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy Angels
And Thy Saints
Forever and ever.
It was a priest friend of mine from my time in undergrad who first introduced me to this beautiful prayer. He would lead the congregation in reciting the Anima Christi after Communion at Mass. I was immediately taken by its poetic nature and the depth that exists within its short text.
When we receive the Eucharist, we receive the graces we need to become more like Christ, more holy, and to become more of our true selves—distant from sin and in communion with God. Our reception of the Bread of Angels is meant to sanctify us, to be our viaticum—our bread for the journey—as we strive for that holiness which only He can provide.
In our reception of Christ’s Precious Body, we plead for salvation, to know eternity in His presence.
I find the third line to be beautifully perplexing. While we are called to avoid drunkenness in our daily lives, we turn to the Blood of Christ to inebriate us. We seek for His blood to fill our veins and impact and affect our every thought, word, and action.
When the priest washes his hands after preparing the altar, a ceremony called the lavabo, he recites this prayer, “Lord, wash away my inequities and cleanse me from my sins.” In the same way, upon our reception of Holy Communion, we ask the Lord to wash us, to make us clean as we were in Baptism. Beautifully, our reception of the Eucharist also cleanses us of our venial sins.
We pray for the Lord’s Passion—His willful suffering and humiliation—to be our strength. The great Christian paradox is that it is humility and suffering which bring strength, not power and might. We ask that same Lord to hear our prayers and supplications.
Christ, be our protection within your wounds, which have been glorified after your Resurrection. In them, we are reminded that our own wounds, if we are granted eternal life with God, will be glorified as well.
To use the words of St. Padre Pio, we implore the Lord, “Stay with me!” By the graces we receive in the Eucharist, let us never depart from you, Jesus, despite our every effort to do just that.
Our reception of the Eucharist as our strength and food for the journey is that which helps to keep us strong against the Devil, the malignant enemy. The Great Tempter desires nothing more than our separation from God, the Infinite Love, and Christ, the Apostle of the Eternal Father, but the Eucharist gives us strength to resist him.
Finally, we implore the Lord to grant us eternity with Him when it is our time. We seek the Heavenly Banquet, to hear the trumpets sounding, to sing songs of praise to God forever and ever. And we are reminded that it is the Eucharist which is our strength and protection in this life, so we may love Him in the next.
As we continue to focus on Jesus in the Eucharist and try to come to know our eucharistic Lord more intimately, may this prayer be a guide for our devotion and love of Him so that we may praise Him with His Angels and Saints forever and ever. Amen.
I came upon St. John of God not because of his story--which has distinct similarities with that of his Spanish counterpart Ignatius Loyola--but because of one of his patronages. I found myself dealing with heart issues about a year and a half ago and began searching for a saint whose intercession I could pray for. The Catholic Church has a saint for just about everything, so I knew I’d likely find someone. I found St. John of God and immediately began praying his novena; he’s remained with me since.
St. John of God’s story is a fascinating one. He left his biological family when he was about eight years old to follow a priest who had interested him with his tales of the new world. John then fell sick and was nursed back to health by the person who would later adopt him. Around the age of thirty, John entered the Spanish army and went to war against France. Like Ignatius, John lived a life of sin and revelry while a soldier. It wasn’t until an accident (he was thrown off a horse instead of shot by a cannon ball like Ignatius) that he decided to reform his life.
After finally leaving the army, John went off to Africa with the goal of aiding Christians and potentially becoming a martyr. He was told that seeking martyrdom was not a good spiritual practice and eventually returned to his native Spain. He later worked at a religious bookstore until he heard a homily from St. John of Avila which led him to sell all of his books and to give the money away. For this uncharacteristic behavior, he was taken to a mental hospital and, after his release to the main hospital, began to help take care of the other patients. This led John to start his own hospital and eventually found the Brothers Hospitallers. He did this, like many things, out of great love for others, the same love which led him to his death after he attempted to save a boy from drowning.
St. John of God’s life can teach us so much. His life of revelry and constant back and forth changes in his spiritual life will seem quite familiar to some. Fascinated by God at an early age, living in revelry and sin in young adulthood before finally returning to God, and dedicating his life to God is a very common story. He lived his later life in a way that led him to follow his heart. These actions led others to ridicule him and even got him thrown into the hospital for mental health concerns, but that didn’t stop him. He allowed his heart, guided by what he discerned to be God’s will, to lead him in his life. St. John of God is truly patron of the heart, not only in its ailments, but for all of those who live life by following God’s promptings in their hearts. May we follow our hearts when they are open to and guided by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” -Matthew 16:18
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. While there is an actual chair of St. Peter, the feast doesn’t commemorate the physical chair which is suspended on the back wall of St. Peter’s Basilica above the Altar of the Chair. That chair is said, by tradition, to have belonged to St. Peter when he was Bishop of Rome. The famous Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini enclosed the original chair in gilded bronze in the mid-17th century and it now sits beneath the famous stained glass of the Holy Spirit in St. Peter’s.
No, today’s feast doesn’t commemorate that specific chair, but the Pontificate itself, that “Christ the Lord… made Peter and his successors His vicars, to exercise for ever in the Church the power which He exercised during His mortal life,” (Statis Cognitum). As we read in the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ has not only built his Church upon Peter, and his successors, but has promised us that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. The pontificate, as Pope Leo XIII says in Satis Cognitum, is a beautiful expression of the Church’s unity. The Successor of St. Peter is not meant to, in any way, supersede our Lord Jesus Christ, but is an expression of his Kingship which is eternal:
The nature of this supreme authority, which all Christians are bound to obey, can be ascertained only by finding out what was the evident and positive will of Christ. Certainly Christ is a King for ever; and though invisible, He continues unto the end of time to govern and guard His church from Heaven. But since He willed that His kingdom should be visible He was obliged, when He ascended into Heaven, to designate a vice-gerent on earth.
It is in the successors of Peter that this authority given to Peter himself continues in the life of the Church. “It is consequently the office of St. Peter to support the Church, and to guard it in all its strength and indestructible unity.”
This feast is not only a beautiful opportunity to celebrate the pontificate as a manifestation of Christ’s kingship in our Church and a supreme example of unity amongst the Christian people, but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate and pray for our current pope! Pope Francis continues his Petrine ministry, nine years after his election in 2013. The Holy Father has provided a refreshing pastoral vision for the Church, from top down, that focuses on mercy, compassion, and radiating the love of Jesus Christ. He has asked all of us, clergy and lay, to reflect upon, discern, and act on our Universal Call to Holiness and our vocation as Missionary Disciples. This word alone, a product of Pope Francis’ cornerstone document of his pontificate, Evangelii Gaudium, calls us out of a purely inward-looking faith that seeks personal growth in holiness devoid of evangelization and leads the baptized to reflect upon our baptismal call to be missionaries commissioned to share the Good News!
On this Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, let us ask those Holy Roman Pontiffs who intercede for us in heaven to pray for the Church and her unity, and let us pray for Pope Francis as well—that his ministry may continue to unite the Church and always reflect the kingship of Christ which is made manifest most clearly in our weakness, vulnerability, and service.
To learn more about Pope Francis and his pontificate, please visit our Pope Francis Portal.
A few weeks ago, I spent 3 days with over ten thousand Catholic youth and their leaders at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pre-pandemic, NCYC would welcome twenty-five thousand Catholic Youth and their leaders for an experience of big-name Catholic speakers, large liturgies, small group time, workshops, and more. Even though the Catholic Apostolate Center attended NCYC in 2013, this was my first. While I could write, for pages and pages, about our booth, stage, and experience, I want to focus on another aspect of my time in Indianapolis that has not left my mind since. That is the joy that was felt.
It’s fitting to reflect a bit about joy in this liturgical season of Advent. St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” We pay special attention to joy and the action of rejoicing in Advent as we await and prepare ourselves for the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas. We have joy in this season because we know that God’s gift to man, the Word being made flesh, is on its way. As the famous hymn says, Rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.
Joy is not an emotion; it is a state of being which transcends one’s individual experience or circumstances. Happiness is often conflated with joy. I’m happy because my favorite song came on the radio or because my favorite pizza was served in the dining hall. Joy, though, remains with the Christian in particular, in both good and bad. Joy remains in illness, in emergency, in suffering. Joy comes from knowing that Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, came among us, lived with us, suffered and died for us, redeemed us, and freed us from the grasp of sin and death. If hope is the rock upon which the Christian life is rooted, then joy is the flower that springs from the roots. As Bishop Arturo Cepeda said in 2019, “the joy of the Gospel begins with a smile.”
So why am I reflecting upon joy in light of my experience of NCYC? Because the joy was palpable, it was unescapable, it was refreshing. In so many parts of our world, including and at times especially in the Church, there is a lack of joy. The pandemic, racial unrest, injustice of all types has led to a world that is less and less joyful. Wherever you turned at NCYC, there was joy. It could be seen in the chants and the hats that groups used and wore as a calling card for their groups. It could be seen in the interactions at the booth as video games were played, radio shows were streamed, karaoke was sung, and conversations were had. It could be seen in the workshops as participants were challenged, were welcomed, and encountered the merciful love of Jesus Christ. This joy was most palpable in the liturgies, in adoration, and in the moments of prayer. Whether it was Christian rapper Lecrae’s concert, Eucharistic Adoration in Lucas Oil Stadium, or daily Mass in one of the conference center’s halls, you could tell that Jesus was present. He wasn’t just present because of the proximity of the Eucharist, or the gathering of his people, no that joy and his presence could be felt so tangibly because of the demeanor of his disciples who had gathered.
Anyone who knows me knows that I caution against these conferences without proper formation and accompaniment. Participants, especially youth, can fall into the trap of seeing the life of faith as being only emotional experiences, massive highs, which can result in the normalcy of the everyday life of the disciple as being unattractive. But at NCYC, I was reminded of the power of thousands of Catholics, especially young Catholics, joining together in worship, praise, and prayer. In these moments, conflicts and disagreement were not at the forefront. Certainly, if we’d polled every person there we would have found thousands of different opinions on liturgy, prayer, spirituality, music, etc., but that wasn’t the focus. No, the focus was the body of Christ and communal prayer and worship of our Lord. Isn’t that a beautiful goal for this Advent season? We know that the disagreements and the conflicts will continue. They’re not always bad in and of themselves. But can we enter into this Advent season with joy? Joy that is rooted in the hope that incarnation gives us. Joy that makes us effective evangelizers. Joy that is the hallmark of a Christian. Joy that comes from Christ alone.
When you ask someone which of Pope Francis’ writings they think of first, you’re likely to hear Evangelii Gaudium, maybe Christus Vivit if you’re talking to someone in youth or young adult ministry, Laudato Si if the person is particularly environmentally conscious, or Amoris Laetitia for those who work in family ministry. The two that, by my estimation, might be least likely to be mentioned are Lumen Fidei (which was Pope Francis’ first papal document and was written by both he and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) and his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate. This is a real tragedy because Gaudete et Exsultate might be one of the most important writings in Pope Francis’ pontificate, though I know that since I’ve said this, he’ll write something even better.
Recently, the Church has celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls. On All Souls Day, the Church prays for all of the faithful departed, for the souls in Purgatory who will, one day, be welcomed into the Eternal Banquet. The Solemnity of All Saints celebrates all of the Saints in Heaven, both those great saints who are venerated in churches across the world, and those “saints next door”. In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis writes, “very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence… Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which ‘shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, spreading abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity’.” He reminds us that holiness is not just for those who are called to do great things, but by all of those who live a life of faith and who are followers of Jesus.
We often see prominent Catholics telling us to “do great things”. They get this from Pope St. John Paul II who said to young people at World Youth Day in 2000, “It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” And the great Saint has a point: when the world leads us to such mediocrity, a mediocrity which leads us to individualism, relativism, and complacency, the Lord Jesus leads us to greatness. What I think can be lost in translation, at times, is that this greatness is not worldly greatness. This greatness which Pope St. John Paul II spoke of is the greatness that a life of faithful missionary discipleship can bring. Greatness that is marked by hope, by a rich and abounding charity towards our neighbor, by a gentleness that comes from resting in eternal truth, and by a trajectory that always moves, as Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati would say, “verso l’alto”, or “to the heights.”
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis leads the People of God on this journey to greatness which, when properly viewed, is indeed the journey to holiness. He reminds us that the Scriptures give us regular calls to holiness, a theology which was explored and articulated more deeply and precisely at the Second Vatican Council. He reminds us that, “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures,” in a way echoing the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta who said, “not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Maybe this is the greatness which Pope St. John Paul II was speaking about to those young people over two decades ago. Not greatness which is pursued for any individual person’s gain, but great love. Love which seeks to echo the love of Jesus Christ on the Cross, love that wills the good of the other. This love is articulated in the Beatitudes, which Pope Francis calls “the Christian’s identity card.”
Pope Francis gives us a deep and insightful document in Gaudete et Exsultate. He gives us cause to reflect on our lives and on the holiness which the Lord calls us to. He reminds us that we can’t do the Christian life alone and that our living of that life will make us counter cultural. We should find great cause for hope in Gaudete et Exsultate. In the words of Pope Francis, may we, “ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.”
For more resources on Pope Francis, click here for our Pope Francis Portal.
For more resources on Gaudete et Exsultate, click here for our resource page.
“Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You
very much, and always be in Your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is,
I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of love.”
These are words taken from the prayer of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina after Holy Communion. Padre Pio is known for many supernatural things, including the ability to fly, the ability to bilocate, and having the stigmata of Christ. Those who have taken the time to look into the holy life of Padre Pio will acknowledge his piety, his love for the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother, his great ability to heal people, and his devotion to the Sacrament of Confession.
Born in 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, Padre Pio entered the novitiate with the Capuchin Franciscans in 1903. Only five years after his ordination, Padre Pio was called into military service with the Italian Army Medical Corps in 1915. Shortly after, the wounds of Christ, the Stigmata, appeared on Padre Pio’s body. The presence of these wounds drew great intrigue and criticism. In the attempts to discover an answer, “Countless experts and doctors looked at his wounds with no clear explanation.” The stigmata, as well as Padre Pio’s great holiness and renown as a confessor, drew pilgrims from all over to visit with him. It is said that Padre Pio was such a prolific confessor that the waiting time for confession with him could stretch for over a week, and he would spend over fifteen hours in the confessional on any given day.
Padre Pio is not a holy man who should inspire our lives of faith because he could levitate, bilocate, or see people’s guardian angels. No, Padre Pio is venerated and beloved because of how much he loved the Lord. The Lord granted his servant these graces and gave him these charisms to witness more fully to Christ. It is easy for us to get discouraged because our lives of faith do not include these grand displays of God’s favor. We worry because the saints have such remarkable stories and attributes that we read about while our own lives are so ordinary. But if Padre Pio were still on this earth with us, it is most likely that he would draw your attention away from those miraculous actions and towards our Blessed Mother, the mercy of God in the confessional, and our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
When my Dad had a serious accident in December 2018, I immediately prayed for St. Padre Pio’s intercession for a miraculous healing. One of my best friends had told me how great Padre Pio’s healing power was, I’d acquired a relic of his, and my devotion was growing. Almost every day, I would pray Padre Pio’s prayer after receiving Holy Communion in the chapel of the hospital or in my Dad’s room. I was drawn to the beauty of the prayer, how it reads like a great ballad, building in intensity and truth. At the same time, the prayer is so simple at its heart: Stay with me, Jesus. Padre Pio knew of his own weakness, the weakness of the human condition, and simply asked our Lord to remain close to him. May this simple yet beautiful prayer be ours today. May, in every situation we find ourselves in, we turn to Jesus as Padre Pio did and with our whole heart implore him, “Stay with me, Lord.”
Click here to learn more about St. Padre Pio.
“It is well done. Turn me over!”
No, that’s not a joke that starts “what did one steak say to the other steak?” Those are some of the final words attributed to St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, whose feast we celebrate today. St. Lawrence was a Deacon during the pontificate of Pope St. Sixtus II and, along with some other clerical companions, was martyred just days after Pope Sixtus II himself was put to death.
St. Lawrence has two great stories attributed to him by tradition. Lawrence, being a deacon, was entrusted with the care of the poor and the material goods of the Church. Knowing that he would likely face a fate similar to Pope Sixtus II, Lawrence began to give away all of the money that he had to the poor. He even went so far as to sell sacred vessels to give the money to the poor. When the prefect of Rome heard of what Lawrence was doing, he ordered him to bring the money and goods that he had to him so that the prefect could be rich. Lawrence heeded the request of the prefect, asking for some time to gather the riches to give over. When he returned, he brought with him the sick, orphaned, widowed, and more, presenting them to the prefect. He famously said to the prefect, “these are the treasure of the Church.”
As you can imagine, this action did not endear Lawrence to the prefect and he ordered Lawrence killed—which leads to the second story. As is the story of many early martyrs, the death that Lawrence was to endure was not a simple one. The prefect, angry as he was, had a massive grill prepared upon which Lawrence’s body was placed. Imagine the pain of searing hot metal and the flames beneath it. Instead of struggling to be free or trying to convince the prefect not to kill him, Lawrence famously said after some time, “It is well done. Turn me over!”
Other than funny anecdotes, what does the life of St. Lawrence have to teach us? It teaches us two very important lessons.
The first lesson is this: the wealth of the Church is not in its gold reliquaries, its beautiful art, or even in the collection basket, but is in the poor, the hungry, the oppressed—the children of God for whom we should care the most. It is easy to get caught up in the societal reaction which looks upon those most in need as those whom we should avoid. St. Lawrence reminds us that these people—the poor, the hungry, the oppressed—are not a body of persons, but are individual people. They are people, not for us to take advantage of or look upon with scorn, but people who are the riches of the Church. St. Lawrence reminds us to always look at the poor, hungry, and oppressed as such and to love them with all of our hearts.
The second lesson is to live with joy overflowing. Imagine the pain and suffering which Lawrence endured in his martyrdom, yet he responded with humor. There is no way that would have been possible without a life of joy which can only come from a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. We will always face hardship, Christ assured us of that, but how do we respond to that hardship? We are not called to be exactly like Lawrence, to respond with humor when we have no humor to muster, but to live with joy which can only come from a deep relationship with Christ.
St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, pray for us!
To learn more about St. Lawrence, please click here.
Faith is a gift. The ability to practice that faith, to worship freely, to share our faith in the public square, is also a gift. Each year, the Church in the US observes Religious Freedom Week. This year, we focus on Solidarity in Freedom. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes, “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community” (Fratelli Tutti, 116). The theme of Solidarity in Freedom forces us out into a global mindset, to one of community and fraternity. I’d like to focus on Religious Freedom Week through the stories of two men 400 years apart, Safa Al Alqoshy and St. John Southworth.
At the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, Safa Al Alqoshy, the only youth delegate from Iraq to the Synod, shared the story of the struggle of Iraqi Christians. While I didn’t meet Safa in my time at the 2018 Synod, I was around him during the 2019 Post-Synod Forum in Rome on Christus Vivit. His stories from the Synod followed him back to Rome where he was met with great admiration. Even though he had to arrive at the Forum late, the community that formed with him was immediate.
Safa said to Crux, “It’s very important to pay attention that there is not only persecution by killing, there is a persecution by psychology, by feelings. You feel that you are alone, that you are not supported” (Crux). Safa expressed the reality of friends and family fleeing from Iraq, likely not to be seen again. He wasn’t just speaking generally about the people of Iraq, but from his own personal experience. He shared about two of his friends who were killed in a car bombing in 2009 and how Safa and his friends shared the common experience of saying, “see you next week” only to never see one another again.
The temptation can be to take Safa’s story, and the story of so many Christians like him across the world, and to use it for our own advantage. To share it as an example, but one devoid of the personal reality which courses through its proverbial veins. When we share Safa’s story as just another example of the terrible persecution that Christians face, even worse as a “look what could happen to us next” story in relation to religious freedom in the US, we fail to show solidarity. We dehumanize those who have died, those who have been separated by the flight for freedom and safety, and we turn our suffering brothers and sisters into objects whose story we use for our perceived gain. No, instead, Pope Francis urges us to be in true solidarity with Safa and his friends and family, to think and act in community. We must pray for them, we must give when we can give, but we cannot use them as pawns in a game of politics that is antithetical to true solidarity.
About 400 years before Safa there lived an English priest by the name of John Southworth. John was born around 1592 and was ordained in 1618 at the English College, Douai in France. St. John was arrested and imprisoned multiple times throughout his life, all for being a Catholic priest. Between his imprisonments, St. John would serve the plague victims of Westminster and provide sacraments to the sick and dying. St. John was arrested for the final time in 1654 and was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. His body was returned to France in 1655 and buried after having been, literally, put back together. During the war between the English and French in 1793, St. John’s body was buried in an unmarked grave where it remained until 1927 when the grave was discovered. He was canonized in 1970 by Pope St. Paul VI.
John’s story is one of perseverance and solidarity. He was arrested multiple times and, eventually, killed for his Catholic faith. All throughout that time, he remained in solidarity with the English people, serving them through the sacraments, refusing to allow his own persecution to stand in the way of his Gospel mandate to be Christ to the world around him.
Religious Freedom Week invites us to be, like St. John, fervent in our faith. It reminds us that, even in times of persecution, we carry on in sharing the Gospel. The week also invites us to remember those in our days who are persecuted, such as Safa and our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Solidarity means that we are united with them in prayerful community, but never using them for our own means- detaching their story from their persons. May we pray for all persecuted Christians and reflect upon the meaning of religious freedom this week with the hope of growing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across our Universal Church.
I’m not much of a poetry person. I did what I could to avoid it in middle and high school, as well as college. But there is one poem that I like—in fact, that I love. It goes like this:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
That is “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickenson. I always liked the poem, the way it rhymes and the way it rolls off the tongue. It became even more important to me when my father became ill. I clung to this poem because it reminded me that hope is always with us; that even in the greatest storm, hope remains and remains without ceasing.
As Christians, we cling to hope. This season of Lent which we find ourselves in right now is a period that prepares and leads us to that ultimate instance of hope in the Christian life: the Resurrection. Much like the hope that Dickenson writes of in her poem, the hope of the Resurrection remains with us at all times. It never stops, it remains with us in our souls, and it is, if I may create a word, “unabashable.” The thing is, it can be hard to see this hope in our lives, regardless of its unceasing presence.
Pope Francis dedicates two paragraphs of Fratelli Tutti to the virtue of hope. He writes:
Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile” (Fratelli Tutti, 55).
Hope transcends our ups and our downs, our individual trials and tribulations, not because they are insignificant, but because the Resurrection, in the end, is greater than every one of those. The hope of the Resurrection doesn’t minimize our trials, or even our personal convenience and petty securities, but it is the light which illuminates the darkness and allows us to move past them on our journey with Christ.
The hope of the Resurrection, the hope of Christ perches in our soul and it sings the tune of Alleluia (pardon my use during Lent) without ceasing. This hope, much like the little bird that Dickenson describes, is in fact sweetest in the gale, in the storm, because we are called to recall that Jesus Christ will provide for us in ways that no other person or thing ever can. In the midst of Lent, much like through all of our sufferings, hope can be heard as a melodious tune above the groans of those trials which we face.
May we look to hope, the thing with feathers, the Resurrection, this Lent and always.
For more resources to accompany you during your Lenten journey, please click here.
It’s hard to believe that COVID-19 began to take hold of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States just two weeks after Ash Wednesday 2020. As we approached Holy Week last year, dry jokes abounded as to whether or not we had to continue to give things up during Lent as COVID-19 had already forced us to give up so much. Well, those jokes have returned a year later as Ash Wednesday is just around the corner and the pandemic is still very much a reality in our lives.
Lent is a period of the Catholic Big Three: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This preparatory and penitential season helps to prepare us for the glory of the Resurrection. Most Catholics know the drill: you give something up for Lent (and hopefully take something on as well) as you have Easter Sunday circled on your calendar. But last year threw us all for a loop. Used to giving up chocolate or swearing, we were forced to give up worshiping in Church, seeing loved ones, going to school, and so much more. In the months since, almost every person knows someone who has contracted or even died from the COVID-19 virus. Though Lent ended on Easter in 2020, it feels as though it still hasn’t quite ended. We’ve abstained from holiday gatherings, birthdays, and so much more than we’d ever planned, even during the Lenten season.
Lent, though, is the perfect lens through which to view the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during this penitential season, we don’t forget the glory of the Resurrection. Yes, the “A-word” and the Gloria are omitted from the Mass. Sure, we focus on the preparation and the penance, but we still receive and glorify our Lord. Even though we are without so much now in the Lent-like COVID-19 pandemic, we still praise the Lord. The last line of Psalm 150 reads, “Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord.” Not just during the liturgical seasons of Ordinary Time, or Christmas, or Easter, but at all times, everything with breath should praise the Lord.
This continues even now, with so much going wrong in our world. With so much suffering and pain—from which none of us are immune—there is still reason to praise the Lord. Baptisms and First Communions still occur. Marriages are still celebrated. Four of my closest friends were married this past summer—which brings new context to the promises of commitment in sickness and health. Even when there has been suffering, God has still managed to bring good out of it. When my own grandfather passed away in October, I was able to spend the last few days before his death with him. This was a time whose memory I cherish, and time I’m not sure we would’ve gotten if he hadn’t gone to his eternal rest. As I’ve gone through my own sickness over the last few months, I’ve made Psalm 150 my mantra of sorts. My life hasn’t been perfect, but God has ordained it and he has sustained it. He has given me breath and life, and for that I praise him. As Matt Maher says in his song Alive and Breathing, “Let everything praise the Lord, in the working and the waiting…in the dying and the rising, let us praise the Lord!” With Lent coming up, and COVID still wreaking such havoc in our world, let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
For more Lenten resources, please click here.
For more resources to help you navigate COVID-19, please click here.
Jesus gives us one of his greatest challenges in the Gospel for today. He says, “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Lk. 6:27-28) While the last paragraph of this passage is the part that is most often quoted, the first two-thirds are just as challenging. In his words leading up to the well-known “judge not lest ye be judged,” the Lord calls us to be better than just taking the easy way out. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.” The key word is everyone.
He says, “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” He reminds us that the easy way out won’t get us very far in the eyes of God. So you do good to those who do good to you? Even sinners do that. Think, Jesus constantly argued with the Pharisees who were quick to judge others but not themselves: “Why do your disciples pick grain on the sabbath? Why do you dine with sinners and tax collectors?” (emphasis added). Jesus’ response is this, “But rather, love your enemies and do good to them… then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.” To be merciful, to love even those who we find hardest to love, is to participate fully in the life of God who is merciful.
We see Jesus’ command to not judge or condemn taken to extremes on either side. On the one hand, we can take this command to mean that we cannot correct or rebuke someone for their actions, even actions that are harmful to themselves or others. “Jesus said not to judge,” is often used as an excuse for the relativism that permeates our society. We can’t judge what someone else believes. In fact, to even suggest objective truth could be seen as condemnatory or judgmental and, therefore, we can’t do that. On the other hand, some will merely ignore Jesus’ words and condemn others as sinners, which we all are. If we ignore Jesus’ words, we risk putting ourselves on a pedestal, seeing ourselves as the good people and those other sinners as unclean and unworthy of my love and God’s love. In fact, Jesus is calling us to the middle ground. We believe in truth and that people can, in fact, be wrong. With patience and charity, we can judge an action to be right or wrong, but never in condemnation of the person—that judgement is God’s alone. Indeed, it is that understanding that God alone can judge a person’s heart that we must remember at all times, in all of our relationships and interactions. When we love others, friends and enemies, when we save condemnation and judgement of one’s heart for him alone who can do so (the Almighty God), then “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Lord, Jesus Christ son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
To learn more about our call to mercy, please click here.
It was my spiritual director who first introduced me to the phrase new normal which has since become quite common in the days of COVID-19. At the time I learned this phrase, my Dad was sick, the situation was changing by the day, and my spiritual director shared a piece of wisdom with me: clinging to the past with no regard to where we stand in the present, let alone where we will stand in the future, is of little good. This doesn’t mean that we can’t look back fondly on memories and experiences—we should—but sometimes it’s necessary to shift our gaze from what was normal to what is our new normal.
Turn on the news and we’re bound to hear this phrase mentioned. The elimination of handshakes, added temperature screenings before flying or entering large venues, social distancing—these are all changes that are tossed around as potential aspects of our new normal. Inherent to the new normal is grieving the loss of what used to be normal. On a recent podcast, Brené Brown, a research professor and speaker, spoke with David Kessler, an author and expert on death and grief, about how we, as a world, are collectively grieving during COVID-19. Their first premise is that we must name our grief before we can take it on. As we look to a new normal, we will likely find ourselves grieving many of the simple acts we might have taken for granted.
So many of these aspects of our new normal are so far into the future and so uncertain that it might not be fitting for us to focus on them for too long lest we begin to fear for something not even guaranteed for the future. That doesn’t mean that we are not still mourning the loss of our normal and experiencing a new normal every single day. I celebrated my best friend’s birthday last week by sitting 12 feet apart and talking from a distance without even being able to share a hug. For those who have loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes, the difficult and sometimes downright terrifying new normal is not being able to visit them, to comfort them, or to be comforted ourselves. Our new normal might include grieving not being able to go to the store because it’s closed or because we are considered high risk if we contract the virus. In one way or another, we are all facing a new normal, but we must fight the urge to compare whose new normal is worse or more challenging.
The necessity to find a new normal isn’t new in itself. After 9/11, we were also forced into a new normal. The same occurred after World War I, World War II, the Spanish Flu, The French Revolution, and the Great Plague which all forced society to adopt a “new normal”. A new normal, however, doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The printing press, the steam engine, and the discovery of penicillin all created a new normal that we are thankful for.
Of course, the greatest events which created a new normal were the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Think of the Apostles, such as James and John, who were called from a fishing boat to follow Jesus. Their entire conception of normal changed forever in that instance. As our Lord hung from the Cross on Good Friday, the world (especially that of the disciples) faced a new normal. How dejected afterwards were the two on the Road to Emmaus with their new normal, one that seemed to go on without the man they had come to know as the Messiah? Then of course, Jesus rose on the third day; He had defeated sin and death, and an eternal new normal was ushered into the world. That is the new normal which we can turn to in every moment when our lives are forced into a new normal we may not have asked for.
Jesus Christ, God made flesh, He who was and is and is to come, gave all of creation a new normal which rings eternal. Nothing that happens in our world can change what He did for us in His life, death, and Resurrection. We are faced with a constantly changing new normal and we have to name our grief and understand that some of what we once knew is no longer our normal. In doing so, may we always be rooted in Christ who stands above the chaos as the rock of our salvation.
A few of my staff colleagues and all of our interns at the Catholic Apostolate Center are undergraduate students at The Catholic University of America. We, like university students across the country, find ourselves doing remote coursework, dealing with unresolved goodbyes that were meant for a week of break and not months of uncertainty, and the seniors are facing the reality of a delayed, if not completely cancelled commencement. Jonathan Sitko, Assistant Director of Programs for the Catholic Apostolate Center, recently wrote a blog post titled “Accompaniment in Isolation” in which he said, “Each one of us is called to accompany others on the journey of faith. Christ himself modeled this with his disciples and has charged us to do the same. Accompaniment is fundamental to Christianity.” In this time of great uncertainty, I think of my friends, university community members, and all of the college students across the country who are in need of exactly this—of accompaniment.
The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church reminds us that, “Accompaniment is not for a few ordained or specially commissioned lay ministers; it is a call put forth to all the baptized by the Spirit of God.” I hope that our campus ministry programs are finding ways to accompany students in these times through personal communication when feasible, opportunities for virtual community, and streamed prayer opportunities. These are important and stress the nature of community within our campuses and the desire for students to regain a sense of normalcy in a situation that is so abnormal. The efforts of our campus ministries cannot lead us, the baptized- students, friends, and community- to sit passively. The call that we as students receive in this time of crisis is a call to accompaniment, empowered by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, strengthened at Confirmation.
We turn our attention to the dimension of spiritual friendship that the Art of Accompaniment reminds us is, “Like two friends who travel together, this spiritual journey is not undertaken through the sharing of experiences, a character of warmth and tenderness, and involves catching sight of the action of God in the lives of one another.” We are all, in some way, grieving the loss of the life that we once held to be normal; we are all experiencing change, uncertainty, and unrest; and we are called to accompany one another through that. This distinct dimension of accompaniment reminds us that accompaniment is not a hierarchy, that there are not ranks or levels, but that we can accompany in mutuality and reciprocity, as friends, as Jesus calls us to be.
St. Vincent Pallotti believed that in our spiritual weakness, God communicates his infinite mercy to us. But in times of great unease, it can be hard to hear him. Accompaniment allows us to dialogue together so to best hear his voice, to pray together for the greatest needs and hopes that we hold, and to witness hope to one another—hope that springs eternal from Christ himself who is alive, who loves us, and who saves us.
Here are some suggestions for how college students can accompany one another during COVID-19:
For other reflections to accompany you during this time, please click here.
“As chefs, we know that good food provides not only nourishment, but also comfort, especially in times of crisis.”
-Chef Jose Andres
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, there was a great need for food- not just for the necessary nourishment, but also because “good food provides. . .comfort, especially in times of crisis.” Chef Andres and his team at World Central Kitchen provided 3.7 million fresh, never pre-packaged, locally sourced meals for the people of Puerto Rico as they recovered from Hurricane Maria. While our current situation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic likely doesn’t call us to produce millions of meals, Chef Andres’ thesis remains true—food brings comfort, especially in times of crisis.
Chefs like Jose Andres and Andrew Zimmern were a large inspiration for me to pursue a degree in Culinary Arts. They helped me to see that food is not only tasty, a way to earn a living, and a creative outlet, but that it is a way to build community, to learn about culture, and to cultivate human bonds around our tables. Despite changing the scope of my career, food still plays a big part in my life. When I cook for friends and family, we are able to be together at table, just like Jesus invites us to.
I see questions every day on social media from friends asking how best to cook this or bake that, for tips and tricks, so I figured I would provide some of my tips. So here are ten tips for cooking during the pandemic, quarantine, and crisis.