Through the halfway point in the fall semester, most any college student could testify to the highs and lows of trying to learn in these trying times. From Internet issues, Zoom exams, and burnout, each class that goes smoothly is a little victory, but some days it is just so hard to focus on classes. My inner biochemistry major wishes that learning by osmosis was possible – a passive learning because our attention is drawn to so much distraction. On the other hand, even though it requires a little more active thought, I know there’ve been some highs so far this semester. Even with social distancing, I have made new friendships and renewed others. Since I serve as a Resident Assistant at my university, where we have just freshmen and RAs on campus, I have gotten to see freshmen build friendships, find their niche, and take on leadership positions in the campus community. Through my personal experience and seeing the freshmen on my campus, a word to describe the semester so far would be “perseverance.”
For me, perseverance has been continuing along the path of learning despite the challenges and difficulties. I have worked to develop four actions into habits during this semester to help build perseverance:
Ultimately, I hope to continue building upon these four actions for the rest of the semester to help strengthen my perseverance and to experience more highs than lows from this abnormal time. To help motivate me to keep going day after day in classes, I wrote this quote above my desk:
“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring” – St. Catherina of Siena
For more resources to grow spiritually during the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
What does it mean to be bicultural? It means that a person can represent and identify with more than one country. I have been given the blessing of representing three cultures at the same time: I am Mexican, Salvadorian, and American. Representing these three cultures has given me the opportunity to see God’s beautiful creation from different perspectives and enriched my understanding of the Church. As I have grown, I’ve encountered Christ who has revealed my vocation and his love for me through this tricultural blessing.
As a child, all I knew about my faith was either through my parents or Sunday school at my local parish. I was taught Bible stories, saint stories, and prayers in Spanish. I was happy to be in that bubble away from the math problems at school, my English cartoons, and anything related to the American culture. These were the only times I could actually learn about who I was as a Catholic Latina. My Mexican and Salvadorian traditions were intertwined with my faith. Being Catholic and part of the Latino community meant we professed our love for God through our actions. Our focus wasn’t reading or studying the faith because that was never in our reach to dive into. Instead, the community learned that their actions were their way to live the mission of Christ in their day to day lives. This was something I learned very early on.
I also learned how important it was to my parents for me to learn about our faith and its traditions. One of my favorite memories will always be the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was always full of color, and the church was filled with the smell of red roses. What I remember the most is staying up past my bedtime, but also being able to see the faith and the love many people had towards our Blessed Mother.
After many years of being in my little Spanish bubble, my parents decided to send me to a private Catholic school. This is where I realized there was way more to my faith than I was taught at Sunday school. I realized that I had to burst my bubble to actually learn more about my faith in English. It was not easy to understand the different prayers in English or to take religion classes in English. My experience in private Catholic school also helped me realize that there was more to my faith than just my Spanish world. I decided to become the student that was always asking different theological questions during religion class. I became obsessed with learning about the different doctrines and about the significance of the church’s architecture. All of this opened a new door to my spiritual life. I could experience Christ through Church teaching as well as serve him through my actions. I became aware that there was no need to separate all three cultures for different aspects of my life! Somehow, all my cultures were blending together in ways I would have never imagined. All of them could work together to strengthen my faith.
Over many years, I have learned that being bilingual and tricultural means I can live out my faith in unique ways. I can discover Christ not only through the combination of these cultures, but also within each individual one. Now, I have no need for different bubbles to live out my faith because God created me to praise him and uniquely evangelize about his love. Each culture has helped me deepen my relationship with Christ. As a lector in the Spanish Mass, I am able to read and analyze the Word of God. Later on, these readings help me have meaningful conversations in my Theology classes at The Catholic University of America. By learning about different resources and reading in class, I have also learned more about how I can help my Latino community. Now as a young adult, I have become more aware that my cultures, traditions, and languages have molded my faith and shaped my way of life as a member of the laity of the Church.
For more resources on cultural diversity, please click here.
In high school we had a religion teacher, named Mr. Matthews, who used to tell us not to worry about memorizing anything from his class but these words: “Love God with your whole mind, heart, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
He would say, “If you come back and see me twenty years from now, I’ll be happy if those words are all you remember.”
Mr. Matthew’s motto was inspired of course by Matthew 22:34-40, which happens to be today’s Gospel reading for the [Optional] Memorial of Saint Louis of France. In this text, Jesus clarifies that love of God and love of neighbor are the two greatest commandments on which everything else depends. To put in another way – without love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians).
The pandemic has shown just how much we need this love in our world. And while it may be challenging to connect with one another right now, there are still ways we can share love with others from wherever we happen to be.
Three Small Ways of Loving God
Three Small Ways of Loving Neighbor
Remember also, we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself.” During this unique and challenging time, are you taking care of your own spiritual, emotional, and physical needs? If you aren’t sure, it may be worth spending some time today writing down a short list of ways you can practice healthy self-care.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out “Living the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy During COVID-19” and “Mental Health and Coronavirus.”
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.
This current COVID-19 crisis has shaken up the end of the semester even more than most students could have even imagined. Since my university went online through the rest of the semester, so much has changed: events and programs that were being planned since last school year have been canceled; fun outdoor adventures with the onset of spring are postponed; classes have transitioned to completely online settings. The way I would best sum up this time is unexpected significant change. But this change can lead to many ways of unexpected growth while adjusting to this new normal for the foreseeable future.
These couple of weeks adjusting to the world of online classes has allowed me to take some time and reflect on the past, present, and future. In college, time seems to fly and changes that occur over time sometimes just seem to pop up. Yet in these weeks of change, time hasn’t been flying by, and things aren’t happening as smoothly, but that’s okay – it’s perfectly fine if adjusting to this new normal takes longer than it may have at college. In my reflecting, a few thoughts stuck with me as particularly helpful in this unexpected journey:
From the time this COVID-19 pandemic first began to alter life in February, one particular prayer has been an unending source of peace for me. It is called the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Jonathan Harrison is a Program Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center and a student at The Catholic University of America studying biochemistry and theology with a certificate in pastoral ministry.
Today we celebrate the 83rd birthday of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray for his continued health and leadership in our Church.
Having a birthday near the holidays must be pretty hard to bear as a child, and maybe even sometimes as an adult. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated, and sometimes they can be overshadowed by other holiday celebrations! My sister has a birthday on Christmas Day and she never seemed to be able to celebrate the same ways I could (my birthday is over the summer). I always felt bad and try to still make it special for her - even now that we are adults. Although we know Pope Francis for his humility and selflessness, I’m sure even he has found it hard to celebrate his special day from time to time. We celebrate birthdays as a way to mark our growing one year older, but I’m sure with a birthday so close to Christmas, his focus has often been on Christ. I would imagine, in his ministry, our pope has reflected on the significance of their birthdays being so close and how he can look to the purpose of the season over his own celebrating.
Let’s also reflect on this now. How can we make Jesus’ birthday especially meaningful this year? In what ways can we strive to “celebrate” with Christ? What implications does Christmas have on my upcoming year as I continue to grow in my faith?
“The reason for the season” is a common phrase we hear at this time of the year— a helpful little rhyme to keep us thinking about Jesus’ birth. The purpose of the Son of God coming to Earth was to save us all from our own sins, yet we so often confuse this time with shopping deals and stressful holiday travel plans. Our Lord doesn’t need any of that. He doesn’t need physical gifts—he needs our hearts. He doesn’t need perfection—he yearns for our humble, raw, and disheveled selves. He doesn’t need displays of lights and blow-up snowmen—he needs us to shine his light in the darkness.
In order to celebrate his birth, we must first put aside the distractions and concerns that keep us away from prayer and peace at Christmas. The meaningful celebrating that we should be doing for Christ isn’t wrapped up with bows and shiny paper, but includes finding time to appreciate and pray about our Lord’s coming. The celebration for an ordinary person may be tied to cake, candles, and presents, but as Pope Francis would likely agree, celebrating Christ comes from the heart.
One way I’ve found to celebrate Christ’s birthday amidst the hustle and bustle of the season is by listening to joyful, instrumental Advent and Christmas music. Something about it makes me feel so peaceful and filled with the joy of Christ that I almost prefer it to lyrical Christmas music on the radio or Spotify! Another practice I’ve found to be helpful is focusing on the giving aspect of Christmas. I feel better giving rather than getting things. My favorite way to celebrate the birth of Jesus is to share the gift of the Christmas story with my young Pre-Kindergarten students. Having been blessed to work in a Catholic school, I’m able to share the incredible birth story of Jesus Christ and to teach those beautiful little minds about God’s promise of love to the world. When I sit back and realize the gravity of my role as a catechist to these children, I feel humbled by it. My heart soars, it prepares my soul for Christmas, and I’m reminded of this holy birthday from so long ago in Bethlehem.
As we look toward a new year, both for Pope Francis and for us Catholics, we are reminded that Christmas is only the beginning of Christ’s work on Earth. His ministry will begin at a wedding as an adult farther down the line, and his death and Resurrection happen even later than that.
We know Christ’s birthday was celebrated by angels sharing the Good News. We know there were shepherds who also heard about Jesus’ birth, and finally three wise men who followed the star to where Jesus was born. This new year has so much faith-filled potential to allow us a chance to listen closely to how the Gospel message tells us to love and to share our love with those we meet. We can show God’s love to all by living out each day as apostles who share the Good News.
So today, on this 83rd birthday of our pope, keep him in your prayers. Pray for continued faithful leadership in our Church at this tumultuous time in our world. Pray for his health, that he may find strength in Christ and remain well.
Feliz cumpleaños, Papa Francisco!
For more resources to accompany you this Advent and Christmas, please click here.
How can we implement the Gospel? Although this is a difficult question, it is a very important one to answer. For us Christians, it is not enough to hear the Gospel. We are called to put it to action in our own life. Sometimes it is difficult to take action. How should one do it? The good news is that we are not alone in answering this question. We have examples of many who have asked it themselves and used their lives to answer it. Every time the Catholic Church declares a person blessed or a saint, she gives us an example of how the Gospel can be lived. Blesseds and saints are role models for our faith journey. Even if every one of us has to find out individually what God is calling us to and how to live the Gospel, the blesseds and saints can help us learn how to answer this call. How can the soon-beatified Pallottine Father Richard Henkes, S.A.C. be an example for our life and for our quest for God? When I read Fr. Henkes’ biography, I learned that he tried to live out the Gospel even when it seemed inconspicuous and less effective. Three situations in his life illustrate this.
The first event took place when Father Henkes was a teacher at a Pallottine school. At this time, Nazi idealism had become stronger in Germany and ultimately reigned the country. Father Henkes saw the faith as a guide for young people who were confronted with the race theory that claimed the superiority of one people over others. Father Henkes knew that even small actions could have a big impact, for better or for worse. As a teacher, he gave the whole class a punishment for laughing at a child who used a Czech word; at this time, the Czech language and the Czech people in general were looked down upon. This might be a small incident, but Father Henkes saw it as his responsibility to intervene for the rights of the child and for the equality of human beings: he used his position as a teacher to go against inhumanity and injustice and brought the Gospel to life.
Furthermore, Father Henkes used his work as a pastor to combat injustice. In his homilies, he spoke clearly against the Nazi ideology and their contemptuous acts, and he even got several warnings from the authorities about his preaching. In 1935, Father Henkes had confrontations with the Gestapo (secret state police) because he said in his sermon that the Nazi image of humanity was wrong. He knew that, if he continued, the government would prosecute and punish him. Though he may have been afraid, he did not stop because he was sure that he had to say and do whatever was possible against the Nazi regime. In his eyes, it was not right to stay indifferent to inhumanity, injustice, and murder, and to believe at the same time in God and God's infinite love for all people. Therefore, he continued to criticize the Nazis in his homilies, to speak publicly, and to encourage the people who agreed that the Nazis were wrong. Because of this, Father Henkes got arrested and deported to the concentration camp in Dachau.
Finally, once in the concentration camp, Father Henkes also cared for the sick. When the war was almost over and the concentration camp was close to being freed, a typhoid epidemic broke out. Father Henkes volunteered to care for the infected people, most of them Czech. He did not have to. He was not forced to do it and he willingly experienced the inhumane conditions because he saw the care of the sick as his duty. It is clear that he lived the Gospel in the concentration camp: he brought a little bit of humanity and compassion into that hellish place.
Father Richard Henkes is a role model for me because he was moved by God in such a way that the Gospel poured out into his daily life. He did not wait for a big opportunity to preach the Gospel; he did what he could in particular moments of his life. He did not stop hate after he punished the class in the school where he taught. He did not prevent or stop the war by preaching against the Nazis. He did not free those in the concentration camp by caring for the sick. But I really believe that he brought the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to people around him in every one of these incidents. He cut the circle of cruelty for the one pupil in the school, his parishioners, and the sick in the concentration camp. Not all of us are a teacher, priest, or nurse. But all of us are called to do what is needed in the situations we are given, according to our capabilities. In doing so, the Gospel will become reality.
To learn more about the beatification of Father Richard Henkes, S.A.C. please click here.
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).
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you everything.” -John 14:26
After two years of dedicated study of theology, I received my Master’s degree. This has always seemed a bit odd to me, because I often feel I still have so much to learn.
This seems like the case for Jesus’ followers as well. After 3 years of discipleship, they didn’t know “everything.” Though they could be considered the “masters” of Christian life–having spent three years walking alongside Jesus—Christ tells them they still need the Holy Spirit in order to learn “everything.” He was explaining to them a fundamental reality of the Christian life: it is a life-long process of learning.
This reality is sometimes daunting, but more often it is comforting. The men that spent three years at the feet of Christ, who witnessed His miracles, heard His parables, and encountered Him after His resurrection, didn’t have it all together. They were not perfect at discipleship and they still needed God, who would now be revealed to them in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Rather than spending physical time with Christ, they would experience something even greater: God dwelling within them.
This intimate and powerful presence of God is something we can experience today. We receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism and physically receive Christ Himself every time we partake of the Eucharist. Furthermore, Christ tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel that He and the Father will dwell within those who keep His word. This comforts me because I have never heard Christ’s voice, seen His face, or shared His food. Though I am generations and millennia removed from Him, He has sent the Holy Spirit to teach me “everything”—what it means to follow Christ and live the Gospel today.
Much like the disciples, I still have much to learn. Though I have grown up knowing about Christ and His teachings, though I have figuratively sat at His feet for more than three years, I still need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind me what it means to be a follower of Christ each day. And in order to cultivate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I must continue to keep Christ’s word.
This is so much more than the study of theology.
As Pope Francis said in a 2015 homily, "We can study the whole history of salvation, we can study the whole of Theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand. It is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or – in the words of Our Lord – it is the Spirit that makes us know the voice of Jesus."
Learning everything, therefore, means knowing and discerning the voice of Jesus. A life of keeping Christ’s word looks different according to your vocation or status in life, but overall, some things that help us recognize Christ’s voice include an active sacramental life, daily prayer, acts of charity, reading Scripture, and living according to Church teaching.
In the nitty gritty of every day, this could mean keeping your cool while driving in rush hour traffic, taking a meal to a family with a newborn, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt, going to Mass each Sunday, or taking a deep breath when your child throws his food on the ground for the third time that day.
It could mean reading the daily readings at the breakfast table, praying evening prayer with your roommates, starting a rosary on your commute, participating in a weekly Bible study. In short, keeping Christ’s word is a lifelong, daily decision to do things that bring you closer to Him and encourage you to hear His voice.
As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost in a few weeks, let us call upon the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate and Teacher. May we have the humility to call upon Him daily as we pursue this lifelong life of discipleship in order to truly hear the voice of Jesus that says, “Come, follow me.”
After being blessed with the opportunity to study abroad, I realized I had a lot of prep-work before actually stepping foot in Rome. Before I found myself settled and adjusted to life in Italy, there was much discussion amongst my family and friends about the possibility of leaving home for the semester to do something unknown and probably a little challenging. It involved taking inventory of packed luggage and making sure I had all my paperwork in order – over and over and over again. There were goodbyes to be said and nerves to quell – all for the bigger and extremely beautiful pursuit of this adventure abroad.
Being a student in Rome, with a faith life that begs to be fed with inspiration and experience, I have found myself smiling ear-to-ear both in Saint Peter’s Square as Papa Francesco drove by in the Popemobile and also on my knees, alone in a little chapel that has really become my home-away-from-home. Something that is often on my mind and recently discussed in the Synod is vocational discernment. “Vocational Discernment” is one of those phrases that is often more of an unknown idea rather than a reality being lived. In simple terms, I consider vocational discernment to be an alert willingness to hear and accept God’s will. And now that we have a definition, the next question is: How does one even go about this? I believe the answer is very similar to my process of preparing to study abroad or maybe to that of applying to college or even to searching for a job. However, many – myself included – often find these tasks to be obstacles, not opportunities. I’ve come to learn that discernment can be just as exciting as your next adventure.
I was recently able to attend a youth presentation to the pope in Paul VI Hall. After many dance routines, witness talks, and musical performances, Pope Francis delivered a short speech in which he expressed the following: “You won’t find yourself in a mirror or the screen of your phone, so get up and find beauty in nature, family, friends, and the faith.” One of the most important aspects of discernment is communication. Just as I spent many hours talking to my parents, sister, and best friends about the opportunity to go abroad, I spend quite a bit of time in prayer each day. I use prayer as a way to open my heart to God, sharing desires, fears, hopes, and struggles—just as you would recall your day to your parent or friend over dinner or Snapchat—to seek guidance and advice. And who better to seek answers of clarity from than those who know you best? A huge part of my discernment is actively listening – not only in prayer, but to all those around me. Listen to the girl who sits next to you in your English 101 class or the stranger leading your retreat who could be a potential friend and witness of the faith for you. Paraphrasing the words of Pope John Paul II at his pontifical inauguration: Open wide the doors of your heart—for God and all who are around you—and do not be afraid. Do this, and God will put the right people in your life and guide your heart in the direction it needs to go.
It is through a deep prayer life that you are then able to take a thorough inventory of your spiritual and relational life, often being led to questions you haven’t really asked yourself before. Perhaps you may become aware of a quality you admire in someone else, prompting you to work on it in yourself. Or maybe all those doubts you carry and try to file away in the corner of your mind come front and center, but now with a new understanding of how to face them. After you begin to recognize the good in yourself and acknowledge the things that are holding you back, it is then time to start saying goodbyes. Saying goodbye not in a literal sense, but in attempting to break bad habits, dying to self in pursuit of a greater humility, and in effect allowing more room for God’s love and mercy to calm your fears and erase the sins that hold you back. The more you allow God to work in you, the clearer and easier it will be to feel your faith grow, relationships flourish, and your heart rest.
Like anything, the hardest part of the discernment process is letting go of fear and “What Ifs”—but it is through prayer that God will provide the answers you need to move forward and the courage to live out your calling as authentically and faithfully as possible. As mentioned before, this may require leaving some comforts and pleasures behind, but Jesus assures us today, just as he did his disciples in their time, “Everyone who has given [anything] up… for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Part of my vocational discernment led me to take this opportunity – full of unknowns and challenges – to study abroad in the “Eternal City.” I assure you, vocational discernment is necessary and opens so many doors, or in my case ATAC bus rides, to growth and understanding of God and His will for you.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
“GO, GONZAGA, G-O-N-Z-A-G-A!”
In recent memory, the basketball arena at Gonzaga University has been filled with that chant every season. Students and alumni alike gather together to celebrate their team, especially in March. People are excited—as they should be! Gonzaga is a Jesuit University in Spokane, Washington that is very well known for its basketball team. Every time they’ve made it to March Madness, there are always some commentators who ask, “Is it pronounced Gone-ZAY-ga, Gone-ZAH-ga, or gone-ZAG-uh” (it’s the latter, by the way). While Gonzaga is a great university and a great team, something that is often overlooked about the university is the great man for whom it is named. A man who, assuredly, would find it madness how many people are chanting his name every March.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, or “Luigi,” was born in Spain to an aristocratic family. As the first-born son, Luigi was raised to eventually inherit the entirety of his father’s fortune. Everything provided for him already, he was not required to work for a living. Instead, he was sent to the royal court at age ten to prepare for a life in the aristocracy. Yet, while serving the court, he saw the ways of nobility—filled with backstabbing, sex, and so many more things—and they seemed to him disgusting and vile. Exposed to and repulsed by these things, he vowed to God to never sin again.
Little Luigi began to read in the family chapel at court about the lives of the saints. At the age of 11, he read a book about the Jesuits, who brought the Gospel to India. Luigi felt invigorated. He too wanted to bring the Good News to India or Africa with the Jesuits. Even with the aristocracy all attempting to convince him to stay, and his father threatening violence, Luigi left home at 17 to go to Rome and join the Society of Jesus. Six years later, he was dead. Luigi had been sent on mission—but not to India, or Africa, or even anywhere outside of Italy. He died after being sent to help the people, plague-ridden and dying, on the streets of Rome.
While he was never ordained a priest, the epic journey of preaching the Gospel that Aloysius Gonzaga had dreamed about as a child did happen for him on the streets of his adopted home. Although young Luigi dreamed of serving the Lord in faraway, impoverish nations, the Lord showed him that even the people right outside of our windows need the Gospel. When we strive to live the Gospel, we must ask ourselves: have I shown the love of Christ to those around me? To my housemates and family members, to my neighbors a couple doors down? To those in my community? Not all missionary disciples are called to board a plane and serve abroad. Where ever our vocation takes us, we are called to be missionaries of Christ throughout our daily lives.
Aloysius Gonzaga was beatified fourteen years after his death for his heroic virtue, which he demonstrated through his chosen life of simplicity and trust in the Lord. Maybe it is appropriate that we chant his name every year—and maybe we can all imitate the Gonzaga who gave up his servants to be one himself.
Growing up, I experienced the excitement of living in a predominantly male household. My brothers and I would regularly tap into some wellspring of energy within ourselves and cause all sorts of trouble for my poor mother to sort out if we somehow didn’t already exhaust ourselves. Now that we’re older and (hopefully) more mature, I find myself wondering 1) where did that incredible energy go? and 2) how did my mother ever put up with us? It certainly takes a special type of person to remain steadfastly patient and loving in the face of such chaos; mothers are a wonderful example, but what about those who are not parents (and would not be obligated to do so) who look after the young?
St. John Bosco, whose feast we celebrate today, is similarly venerated for dedicating his life to the betterment and education of street urchins, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth. Born in Italy, “Don Bosco” was first the chaplain of a girls’ boarding school in Turin called the Rifugio (“Refuge”). His other ministries included visiting prisoners, teaching catechesis, and assisting at the country parishes. While visiting the prisons, Don Bosco was troubled to see so many adolescent boys and became determined to prevent them from ending up there. Finding traditional methods of parish ministry inefficient due to the urbanization-driven influx of migrants, Don Bosco developed another form of apostolate: meeting the boys wherever they were in life—be it offices, shops, or marketplaces. While society might have looked the other way or written off these little ones, Don Bosco would unceasingly offer help to those he encountered throughout his ministry.
I could focus on the well-documented efforts of the saint’s ministry, such as the establishment of permanent youth centers (which he called oratorio), contracting dignified jobs for the unemployed and obtaining fair conditions for those who held jobs, caring for the boys’ health, or instructing those willing to study after the work day, but I’d like to dwell on the special aspect of his numerous dreams which helped to reveal God’s will for his life. In one particularly, the Blessed Mother led Don Bosco into a beautiful garden, bidding him to pass through a rose arbor after removing his shoes. Shortly after doing so, his feet were cut and bleeding from the thorns of the roses on the path he was taking, yet he refused to turn around. Observers in the dream remarked, “How lucky Don John is! His path is forever strewn with roses! He hasn’t a worry in the world. No troubles at all!” They attempted to follow, but many who had been expecting an easy journey turned back—only some stayed with him. Finally, after successfully enduring the journey, he found another incredible garden where a cool breeze soothed his torn skin and healed his wounds.
I agree with Don Bosco’s interpretation: the path was his mission, the roses were his charity to the boys, and the thorns were the distractions and frustrations that obstructed his efforts. The message of the dream was clear to the saint: keep going, do not lose faith in God or His calling! For Don Bosco, challenges would always remain, such as financing. Don Bosco kept going and did not lose faith in God. His mother, a 59-year old poor peasant, even left her house and sold her jewelry to become a mother (“Mamma Margherita”) to those her son took in, eventually numbering 800! Acts of faith such as these reflect the fact that human works are very limited; it is God who is able to do the impossible. One can see this also evident in the efforts of St. Mother Teresa in the streets of Calcutta, the witness of the shepherd children who saw our Lady at Fatima, or the strength and determination of Mother Angelica in the founding of the Eternal Word Television Network.
In surrendering ourselves to be like “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God,” as Mother Teresa referenced in an interview, and not worrying about human measures of success, we can follow the example of saints like Don Bosco who effected great change in both society and the individual lives of those they served. The saints never worked for their own sake, but simply did the work they were guided to do by Providence. To echo the words of Don Bosco, “I have done nothing by myself. It is the Virgin Mary who has done everything.”
“When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things.” – Pope Francis
The quote above from Pope Francis’s introductory remarks to the pilgrims of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, spoke to over 2 million young adults traveling around the globe to worship together. Pope Francis’ words were heard by people already impacted by the message of Christ, many of whom, I would guess were informed of and formed by the love of God thanks to their Catholic educations.
Today we celebrate in the United States the feast of St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia and founder of the first diocesan school system in the United States. Per the request of many families in his diocese, Bishop Neumann established a diocesan school system so that the children of the diocese could receive Catholic instruction and grow in their faith in a classroom setting. When the school system was established, the diocese of Philadelphia was strapped for resources, so Bishop Neumann invited many different religious communities to the fledgling schools to tend to the rapidly growing immigrant population in the city. His efforts both established the school system and increased the education of the city’s Catholic youth by more than twenty-fold. His diocesan system later served as the model for parochial Catholic education for much of the United States.
St. John Neumann understood in the 19th Century - much like Pope Francis does now -that learning about the love of Christ through educational experiences can be an important part of our evangelical mission in this world. If we are all called to share in the evangelizing mission of the Gospel, then we must consider in what ways those gifts and talents can be utilized for the purpose of that mission. For St. John Neumann, Catholic education provided the youth a designated place to come and learn about the Lord and how to live as a Catholic alongside of their other studies.
For many youth, their formal catechesis ends with sacramental preparation. Families often don’t understand the importance of continual catechesis throughout a person’s life. So, what can we do to help the youth and young adults in our parishes and communities become more engaged in the faith outside of Catholic schools? How can we support education in non-traditional ways? The answer is particular to your individual situation and universal to the faith we all believe in. Pope Francis has some advice and good examples of experiences that I cannot better summarize myself:
“Knowing your enthusiasm for mission, I repeat: mercy always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone. A merciful heart can be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; it can build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate; it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion. A merciful heart can share its bread with the hungry and welcome refugees and migrants. To say the word ‘mercy’ along with you is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion and dreams.”
Is your parish environment one of mercy? Does it foster openness and compassion? Is it willing to embrace people where they are with mercy and hospitality? Is your parish one that is moving outside of its parish borders and going to where it’s a bit uncomfortable and meeting people where they are both physically and spiritually?
This is part of the continuing education that we as Catholics must undertake if we are to carry the mission of God to the world. We must constantly learn and relearn the message of Christ as espoused in the Gospels and find ways to practice it in our daily lives. We must learn to love and serve God and to love and serve our neighbor, not just from behind a desk, but in every step we take.
“The work of teaching is one of the most important in the Church.”
~St. John Baptist De La Salle
Today, we often take for granted Catholic schools. Most likely either you or someone you know attended a Catholic school. A Catholic education is often seen as top quality, and Catholic schools are considered some of our finest places of learning.
The modern concept of education dates back to the late 17th century France and one individual in particular: St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. His work was not only revolutionary in method, but also unique in terms of educating the poor and underprivileged. Some 300 years later, de La Salle’s vision of educating those most in need remains strong in the United States through the Miguel model school.
The Miguel school system was established in 1993 with the sole purpose of educating under-served children, focusing on students in middle school. The system was named after St. Miguel Cordero, a Christian Brother who dedicated his life to the education of poor Ecuadorians. Recent news about families and children fleeing their homes in Central and South American to find better educational and economic opportunities demonstrates that the need for quality education is as great today as in the time of St. Miguel.
Here in Washington D.C., a Miguel school was established in 2002 as an extension of St. John’s College High School with 8 students – San Miguel School of Washington. It rapidly grew, and this past year the school graduated its largest class of 23 students and currently has a total of sixty-three Latino boys in grades six to eight.
All San Miguel students come into sixth-grade from DC public schools and, on average, have reading and math skills of a fourth-grader. By the end of their time at San Miguel as eighth graders, they are 100% proficient in these subjects.  This success results from their own hard work and that of experienced teachers and tutors. Additionally, San Miguel, like most Miguel-style schools, operates on an extended day and year-round school program (200 school days vs. a traditional 160 days).
This hard work pays off - 98% of San Miguel graduates have either completed their high school diploma or are in the process of doing so. The graduation rate for Latino males in DC public schools is 46% . Clearly, San Miguel and its unique style of education is paying off.
In addition to my role at the Catholic Apostolate Center, I work as an intern in the Development Office at San Miguel School. It has been an exciting time and a true blessing to work to make sure that San Miguel students receive the education they deserve. It has helped me to grow in trust for the good work that the Church does as a whole. We as Catholics have the obligation to serve others, as apostles of Christ. We have the responsibility to do our part in the greater effort of Christ’s mission. San Miguel School truly changes the lives of its students. By serving these at risk Latino boys, I know that I am changing the world and trying to do my part.
Patrick Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center and an intern in the Development Office of San Miguel School.
 San Miguel School DC, website, sanmigueldc.org.
 Statistic from the National Center of Education Statistics.
"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
-Blessed Mother Theresa
Growing up attending Catholic schools my entire life, the life and teachings of Mother Theresa were always something that I was familiar with. There is something about an Albanian woman who gives up her life to serve the poor and dying in the slums of Calcutta that makes people stop and evaluate their own lives. It’s incredible to imagine one person completely uprooting their own life and going to try to combat the extremes of poverty in India. Mother Theresa embraced Catholic Social Teaching on the dignity of the human person and went above and beyond in her ministry. In theory, we would all like to have as much of an impact as Mother Theresa. However, the average person today recognizes his or her own inability to make such an extreme lifestyle change. We are comfortable in our lives today and uprooting them like Mother Theresa did is something we are not prepared to do. Making a huge impact, while desirable, is not usually possible for most of us.
Even Mother Theresa recognized that her decisions were extreme, and not something most people are prepared to do. She knew that not everyone could do what she did with her life. Her words remind us that even if we can't make such an extreme life-change, we can still impact the world on a smaller, but still meaningful, scale.
In this last week, these words have taken on a deeper meaning for me. Having just finished over a week of training to be a Resident Assistant at my university. I am exhausted and excited, but mostly, inspired. One of the main points that our supervisors made during our training is that we as RA's have a tremendous impact in the smallest ways possible. Mother Theresa's words are a good reminder to me that being a presence with my residents is the most important thing I can do. Sometimes, all a student needs is someone to listen to them, no matter how insignificant their problems may seem. College students can make poor decisions, and the role of an RA is often to discipline those decisions and enforce rules that many of these students disagree with. We are seen as students with nothing better to do than get our residents in trouble. The reality is, I enforce the rules and document my residents because I care about them. I recognize that very often it will feel like a thankless task, my residents will blame me initially when their decisions result in disciplinary sanctions. But I hope that even when I do have to have these harder conversations and confrontations, they will eventually come to realize that I do my job out of love for them.
In our daily lives, we often forget how even the smallest gestures can make the most meaningful impacts. If we live our lives as Mother Theresa suggests, doing the small things with great love, our lives might have even more of an impact than we realize. In the gospel this past weekend, we heard the “greatest commandments” from Christ himself: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37,39). Love can take many forms, and the smallest gestures can be the biggest examples of love.
Rebecca Ruesch is Blog Editor at the Catholic Apostolate Center.