It’s that time of year where students set off for college, some for the first time and some going far away from home. These students take on the challenge of continuing towards adulthood and the process of making their faith their own. This can be a difficult road filled with numerous temptations, stresses, and other challenges.
As someone who attended Catholic school for most of my life, I found the transition to college difficult, especially when it came to my faith. I attended a large public university where few practiced Catholicism, and I felt very isolated. The people who I attended Mass with at the beginning of the year began to slowly drift away – going to other churches or becoming too busy with academic commitments. With my class schedule it was hard to make it to the Catholic Student Union events and join the camaraderie. While I adjusted well to college life, I felt alone in my faith.
Everyone has different experiences when it comes to the transition into colleges. Whether you are entering college for the first time, a current student wanting to get more in tune with your faith, or even a parent or relative of a college student(s), I’ve compiled some tips about keeping up with your faith life that can be helpful:
1. Make friends who challenge you to be your best self
Make friends wherever you go on campus, but remain close friends with those who continually challenge you to be your best. Many of my closest friends at college weren’t Catholic, yet they held me to remain true to my faith and myself without peer pressure. Just as a spouse is to help his or her partner grow in faith, so too should your friends.
2. Get Involved
Whether you join the Catholic Student Union or other groups on campus, make sure you are busy. Becoming involved lessens homesickness and other temptations. Enjoy your college experience!
3. Go to Mass every Sunday
Mark it on your agenda. Make sticky notes. Do whatever you need to do so that you attend Mass each week. Experiencing Christ every week in the Eucharist renews us and gives us strength. Fortunately, as Catholics we usually have a variety of Mass times to attend, so take advantage of that!
4. Challenge yourself and set goals
Regularly make short-term and long-term goals, and then try to stick to them. These can be anything from attending adoration regularly, going to daily Mass, setting aside prayer or Bible-reading time, or even studying abroad, trying new foods, and accomplishing a certain academic achievement.
5. Find time every day to pray and appreciate the beauty around you
Doing this helps strengthen your personal relationship with God. Plus, you gain a better appreciation for life and develop practices that will stay with you after college. It’s not easy, but it matters that you try.
6. Call your family and your close friends one or more times a week
These people are important foundations in your life. Keep them updated on your life in college and be honest with them. Your family and friends are a support system when things aren’t easy.
7. Find a Mentor
Your mentor(s) can be an academic, club advisor, older student, or religious. These individuals in your life can help you navigate college, your future, and strengthen your faith. (Plus letters of recommendation and internship/job advice are certainly helpful!)
8. Talk to people at your local church and get involved in the Mass
Become a part of your new parish community at college. Get to know others around you to have that “home away from home.” This will help you make good life-long friends. Plus, getting involved in the Mass helps you become ingrained in the community while deepening your faith.
9. Search for a church you feel most comfortable going to
Feeling at home in your college parish is important. Find a church that makes you want to go to Mass. The nearest church may not be your favorite – so explore! My favorite parish in my college town was about 15 minutes away and felt just like my home parish.
10. Find people to go to church with you
Having someone to go to church with incentivizes you to go to Mass. Plus, it’s always fun having a buddy. Keep each other accountable! Make it a group event and have brunch or dinner after Mass, too!
*This post was originally published on September 8, 2014.
It Will All Fall Into Place: Reflections on Graduating During the COVID-19 PandemicRead Now
2020 was a difficult year for so many people; it is safe to say that we all were impacted in some way. To me it felt like the entire world stopped and everything started moving in slow motion. March 2020 was my senior year of college—what was supposed to be the best semester of my life, the beginning to the end, the start of a new chapter. Yet, there I was, driving back to my family home in Massachusetts to study and then graduate in the home that I grew up in. I felt so crushed, defeated, and overwhelmed.
I remember that Easter, only a few weeks into the pandemic, feeling so overjoyed that some of my friends and parish community decided to come together and celebrate our Risen Lord. We had a drive-by celebration in the parking lot where our pastor blessed each of us and we waved at our friends from the safety of our car. I felt so overjoyed to see their faces and to get a glimpse of normalcy. I remember that Easter morning being filled with joy, possibly the Lord’s way of showing us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Yet, around that same time, we found out that school was cancelled for the rest of the semester and Zoom became our new normal. I remember thinking, “The last time I stepped into a classroom was the day before spring break and all I wanted to do was get out of there, but now, I’ll never be able to go back.” While that may have been a bit dramatic, it truly was a time where my faith was the only thing that was able to guide me.
While I was upset over the loss of my senior year and the loss of long-anticipated memories, I was so thankful and blessed to have my health, my family, and my faith. There were so many people grieving the loss of family members, enduring financial difficulties, and risking their lives on the frontlines of the pandemic. It was hard not to laugh at myself for crying over my difficulties when faced with the reality of what was going on throughout the world.
The Lord guides us on a path. Though we may not know where or how it ends, we know He is there. I knew this time in my life would already be difficult—saying goodbye to friends, trying to find a “real” job, and trying to balance new responsibilities. Adding to that the uncertainty of a pandemic only exacerbated the overwhelming anxiety I knew was around the corner. I kept repeating this phrase over and over in my head: “it is all part of God’s plan.” The phrase kept rekindling faith in my heart when things began to feel difficult. It can be seen as a silly, trite phrase. But for me, the impact it had on my life was so important. It helped me to have a conversation with the Lord daily—whenever things felt tough or I felt defeated or just lost. After repeating the simple phrase over and over in my head, I felt the Lord’s presence like a hand on my shoulder continuing to guide me throughout life. I couldn’t help but exhale.
Graduation came and went. I wore my cap and gown in my childhood living room surrounded by my parents trying to figure out how to set up Zoom on the T.V. It was an underwhelming experience compared to the grand festivities I had imagined, yet I was very thankful to be able to celebrate with my parents.
Trying to navigate through “adult life” during the pandemic proved to be difficult within itself. It felt so easy to isolate myself from those around me and to disconnect from everything. Everything seemed big: applying for jobs, getting my first apartment, living in the city. It often felt easier to give up when things got difficult. But that is exactly the opposite of what the Lord calls us to do. The Lord wants us to call upon him during the difficult times and to remember that everything is part of his plan. He is there to walk with us through the ups and downs and invites us to lean upon his strength in times when ours fails.
While the road ahead seems uncertain, there is one thing that we can count on - the love and support of the Lord. Over the past year, what I have found is that everything is part of His plan; every small step we take, every thought that enters our mind, every mundane task—it all will fall into place.
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.”
Spiritual Friendship: Accompanying College Students During COVID-19 | COVID-19 ResourceRead Now
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.
Still a Student: Being a College Student During Coronavirus | COVID-19 ResourceRead Now
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.
¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Papa Francisco!Read Now
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.
Making Haste Like MaryRead Now
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).
Life-Long LearningRead Now
“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.
Three Keys for our Church: Young People, Vocational Discernment, and The FaithRead Now
“Dear young people, let yourselves be taken over by the light of Christ, and spread that light wherever you are.” Pope St. John Paul II’s words to the participants of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto are as true now as they were over fifteen years ago. As the Church prepares for a Synod of Bishops to discuss Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, Pope St. John Paul II’s words are a great call to prayer.
The Synod of Bishops was established in 1965 by Bl. Pope Pius VI (who will be canonized during this year’s Synod) to meet whenever the current pope deemed it necessary or opportune to gather the world’s bishops to discuss important matters within the Church. Before the October 2018 Synod, the most recent synod will have been the 2014 Extraordinary Synod that was called to discuss the topics of family and evangelization, out of which came Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love.
This Synod has been called by Pope Francis and is the 15th Ordinary Synod of Bishops. The Instrumentum Laboris, or the working document for the Synod (available here) was created after listening to groups of young people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and geographic regions. It discusses important topics, like what it means to be a young person today, accompaniment, vocational discernment, evangelization and our universal call to follow Jesus. Even after the publishing of the Instrumentum Laboris, Church leaders will continue to gather young people across the world to listen to them on these important issues to decide how best the Church can move forward.
These are serious matters facing the Church, especially our Church here in the US, as vocations to the priestly and religious life seem to continue to decline and Church attendance dwindles. As a student at The Catholic University of America (CUA), I feel that there is great hope in this generation. You need not look further than the on-campus Masses and weekly Adorations to see that the Holy Spirit is moving within our youth. Yes, the small student body of CUA is surely not indicative of the entirety of young people in our country—but if you look to other Catholic institutions and talk with high school ministers, youth ministers, and religion teachers, there’s reason for optimism.
This summer, I was a counselor for Light the World, a summer institute organized by CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies. I was blessed to minister to about fifty high schoolers from across the country. While fifty might not seem like that big of a number, it was a sampling of the young people who are looking for Christ in their lives, a sampling that gets bigger and bigger when you add programs like the Steubenville Conferences, Life Teen camps and events, and other independent conferences and events (not to mention World Youth Day!). It is through the witness of young men and women like the ones at Light the World that we can find hope in times so desperately in need of it.
In my experience, I have seen that this is a generation being moved by the Holy Spirit. We are grateful that the Church is inviting young people to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences, and pray that she will use what she learns to create a stronger and more unified Church moving forward. The optimism of our young people is a call to prayer and action, both on the part of our Bishops and clergy and that of the laity. Let us look to our great saints who had devotion to young people, like Pope St. John Paul II and St. Vincent Pallotti, as our guides in order to see the Church grow and flourish in the good works that Christ has called her to. Our youth can also look to young saints such as Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Maria Goretti as inspirations of holiness to help guide them closer to Christ.
This Synod will be a good first step in figuring out how the Church can better accompany and encourage its young people to be saints, but it cannot be the final step. In the coming months, more writings and documents will come out of the Synod, pastoral plans and diocesan initiatives will emerge, and new ways of ministry and accompaniment will come. It is through prayer that the Synod and the resulting actions will bear good fruit; and it is in Christ alone that we will find our hope. During this momentous time in our Church, let us pray for our young people, for an increase in holy vocations, and for the will of God to be done.
For more information on the upcoming Synod, 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.
Catechesis: Forming DisciplesRead Now
When I was in 8th grade, I helped teach for my parish’s religious education program and counted the hours toward my required community service time before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. I was an assistant for the 5th grade, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I could share with the class what I knew about the Church, even teaching them at one point how to pray the Rosary. Looking back, it seems like I was destined to teach in a Catholic school! After college, I began working at my current school in the Archdiocese of Washington (ADW), where I continue to teach and share my faith with the students. To this day, I continue to teach religion. I strive to form my students as disciples according to six elements of Catholic life: Knowledge of the Faith, Liturgy and Sacraments, Morality, Prayer, Education for Living in Christian Community, and Evangelization and Apostolic Life.
For catechists who actively pass on the Word of God to others, teaching the faith can become almost second nature. For instance, at my school, we incorporate core Jesuit principles into the curriculum each day and reflect on our own actions through prayer. In my pre-K classroom, we use these principles to talk about kindness and loving others as St. Ignatius taught. In a special way, my students are learning how to be good friends and love others the way Jesus did.
In the Archdiocese of Washington (ADW), the religious curriculum has standards by which its content is measured and assessed—like any other subject area in school. In fact, ADW is trying to support catechists to do more to collaborate and keep kids engaged and excited about learning their faith. Professional development of catechists is crucial to a school, parish, or community. Learning how to be better witnesses of the faith ensures that our children are receiving the best formation of conscience they can get.
Although there are people certified and educated to teach as catechists, most of us are already fulfilling that duty as faith-filled adults in the Church who witness to and spread the Gospel. Below is a list I have compiled of a description of a catechist. After reading it, do you feel called to become one?
For more information, we invite you to view the following webinar at the bottom of the page:
Question for Reflection: How can you teach the faith to others in your everyday life?
*This post was originally published in May 2017*