There’s something to be said for silence. In the absence of vocalizations or other sounds, one can focus more intently in his or her surroundings. At first, it may seem uncomfortable, especially if one is usually talkative and used to a noisy environment. At the same time, one might have difficulty focusing his or her thoughts in silence, suddenly having to contend with an onslaught of mental distractions. Especially in today’s society, one is constantly bombarded with external messages, symbols, and other stimuli in a magnitude never encountered previously. In one way or another, we have become numb.
We now find ourselves nearly halfway through Advent, a period of reflection, meditation, and waiting in anticipation of the solemn celebration of the nativity of our Lord. While the rest of the culture may be focused on shopping for gifts and decorating for the holidays, the faithful are called to contemplate the gift of Love made incarnate in a most humble setting over two thousand years ago. Throughout the liturgical year, but especially during this time of Advent, I find that removing myself from the demands of the world and replacing them with the stillness of Bethlehem is not only refreshing, but also an effective catalyst for drawing more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
How can silence help us dwell in this mystery? For one, sacred Scripture contains numerous accounts of how effective silence is for drawing one nearer to God and neighbor. Actually, one of my favorite biblical passages illustrates the friends of the greatly afflicted Job sharing in his miseries through their silent presence: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:11-13). God is not just with us, however, in moments of suffering or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, moments of majestic power and glory. God’s love continuously invites us to draw near to Him in our daily lives as well. Remember that the prophet Elijah experienced God in the sound of a gentle breeze blowing, not in the preceding bursts of wind, earthquake, or fire (1 Kings 19:11-13).
While silence can be beneficial to one’s spiritual life, it itself is not the end of contemplation or meditation. Rather, the focus remains, as it is for all prayer, communication with God. Silence, then, is a medium for encountering God, just as music or the spoken word is employed in liturgy. There are times when words are insufficient or music fails to strike the right chords. In these cases, a silent presence can be the most appropriate expression of closeness, such as in hospice, a cemetery, nursery, hospital, or any other place where the ministry of presence is desired. Similarly, as I prepare myself for a Holy Hour of silent adoration before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I remind myself of the importance of placing myself before God’s presence. Sometimes, a tender gaze of love can be a beautiful prayer in itself.
As we continue to wait and reflect during the beginning of the new liturgical year for Christmas, let us pray to be able to free our minds from the things of this world that may distract us from seeking our “heavenly peace,” that is, union with God, the Word Incarnate, Emmanuel. For it was indeed a silent night, as the carol goes, during which our Savior came into this world and the shepherds and magi adored him. The wonder and awe of the miracle had passed over the scholars and authority figures and was instead “given to the childlike” to experience and behold for themselves (Matthew 11:25). In silence, our joy is not diminished, nor is our love any less potent, but through it we can continue to focus our attention and energy towards adoring the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
Summertime in the United States brings about a lot of great traditions. It brings longer days, shorts, flip-flops, trips to the beach, barbecues, and processions. Processions are large public demonstrations of faith and piety that have been handed down from generation to generation. In Italian American communities, processions are filled with music, color, and, of course, great food—lots and lots of great food. We celebrate in this way because our fathers did before us, and their fathers did before them. This summer I've already been able to attend to two processions and I look forward to a few more. I attended the 107th annual Festa Dei Ceri in Jessup, Pennsylvania, and the 112th feast of St. Anthony Italian Festival in Little Italy Baltimore, Maryland. Each has a long tradition and there are as many differences as there are similarities. At the core, each is a faith that is embedded within its community that is rich and deep.
Festa Dei Ceri, or simply St. Ubaldo’s Day, is a tradition that was brought from Gubbio, Italy by immigrants to Jessup, PA in 1909. Tradition states that in the early 1100s, Ubaldo Baldassini, the Bishop of Gubbio, met with Frederick Barbarossa , the Holy Roman Emperor who was on a military campaign in Italy, and convinced him not to invade and to spare the town from destruction. When the bishop returned with the good news, he was raced through the streets on a platform to reassure the town’s safety. The residence commemorated this event by racing a statue of him, along with statues of St. George and St. Anthony, through the narrow streets of the medieval town. Immigrants brought this tradition with them when they emigrated to Jessup in large numbers in the early 1900s. The Running of the Saints occurred from 1914 to 1952, then from 1976 to 1990, and has consistently been held since 2000 after being revived by local high school students. The day begins with the high school marching band waking the town up and calling them to Mass. After Mass, the statues which are about 30 inches tall are placed in 15 foot wooden structures that are designed to carry the saints and weigh about 400 pounds each. The saint statues are then blessed with holy water, first by the parish pastor or the Bishop of Scranton, then by the team captains and carried through the town by three different teams of men. A relic of St. Ubaldo is also processed and venerated with a significantly larger statue of him throughout the town. In the late afternoon, the three statues are then raced through the town at breakneck speed and over steep terrain. St. Ubaldo always wins, followed by St. George and St. Anthony. After the statues are removed and the platforms are disassembled, they are brought back to the church. The whole weekend is an expression of faith, family, and tradition.
A few weeks after that, I was able to attend the St. Anthony Festival in Little Italy in Baltimore, Maryland, which dates back to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. While massive fire raged in parts of the city, parishioners gathered at Saint Leo the Great Church in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore. The parishioners prayed to St. Anthony for the protection of their neighborhood. Luckily, the neighborhood was spared. Many attributed this to the intercession of St. Anthony. The parishioners celebrated his feast day with a Mass, procession, and street fair which has continued ever since. Just five years after the beginning of celebration of the feast, the parish became a ministry of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers. This year, I attended the events along with two Pallottine students in formation. The three of us served Mass and partook in the procession through the streets. Many people came out of their houses and cars to watch us. It was great fanfare with a full band, 4th Degree Knights of Columbus color guard, and a highly decorated statue of St. Anthony. Many people pinned money to strips of cloth tied around the statue as a small offering and prayer to St. Anthony. There was food, music, and an intense bocce ball tournament.
Each of the celebrations has a few core elements that all processions have. Processions are about faith and community. Processions help increase our faith by publically displaying various statues and images. It is a form of evangelization in the streets. At the same time, they help build community by calling all those together for a common cause. They reinforce not only our proud heritage and traditions, but also our faith. They promote our faith being celebrated together. Processions are also about the individuals' participation. Attending a procession invites us to feel that we are a part of the community and reinforces our own faith. When I go to procession, for example, I not only enjoy the fanfare, but am also reminded that my faith is connected to those around me.
I encourage you to seek out processions and bring your friends and family. Pray, eat, and enjoy each other's company. Processions can be beneficial for every group that continues the practice, not just the Italian American community. Ours just happen to have a bit more tomato sauce and wine than most! As the summer goes on, I look forward to many more processions and I invite you to go out and either attend or partake in a procession.
If you attended an Easter Vigil Mass this year, then you participated in what St. Augustine called the “mother of all holy Vigils”(Sermo 219)—the day the Church receives many new Catholics through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.
The newly baptized, or “neophytes,” (a Greek word meaning “new plant”) begin a fourth and final period of formation called mystagogy, which lasts the Easter Season until Pentecost. If you haven’t personally participated in the formal process of becoming Catholic as an adult (called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, in parishes), chances are you haven’t heard this word recently… or maybe ever.
What is Mystagogy?
Our faith needs mystagogy first and foremost because of one simple reason: we celebrate and proclaim a mystery.
As evangelists and catechists, I think it is important to recognize that for some people, the idea of religious “mystery” prima facie, conjures up images of a Da Vinci Code-esque Church shrouded in secrecy, New Age spiritualism, or even a pre-scientific belief in “magic.” But the sacraments do not initiate us into a special club or secret society. Through them, we are made participants in the life of Jesus Christ.
Faith begins and ends in mystery, most especially the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life . . . the source of all other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). In the scriptures, liturgy, and sacraments, we truly encounter and participate in the Triune life of God. But no matter how intelligent or insightful we are, we will never fully wrap our minds around God’s glory or totally experience it with our five senses.
Mystagogy comes from the Greek word meaning, “to lead through the mysteries.” The Catechism describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ” (CCC 1075). Mystagogy leads us from the external signs and rituals of the liturgy to the inner, spiritual meaning of the divine life they signify. Mystagogy is the form of catechesis that helps us unpack and explore the spiritual treasures contained in the sacraments by continuously reflecting on their meaning and significance in our personal lives of faith.
Mystagogy was the way the early Church Fathers embraced and trained new Christians in the practices and beliefs of the faith. Perhaps the most well known teacher of mystagogy was St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 CE), who delivered a famous series of sermons, known as “mystagogic catecheses,” during the time of Lent through the Easter Octave. After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church revitalized this ancient practice, especially in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But mystagogy isn’t just for the newly baptized; it is the way every Catholic can continually deepen their relationship with Christ by daily drawing on the grace of the sacraments.
Significance for our New Evangelization
Just as Catholics are rediscovering the importance of the “kerygma” (Greek for “proclamation”) for evangelization, mystagogy is incredibly important in our approach to catechesis in the New Evangelization. John Paul II wrote, “Through catechesis the Gospel kerygma is gradually deepened . . . . and channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and the world” (Catechesi Tradendae, n. 25), specifically the form of mystagogy. Additionally, mystagogy serves as a trustworthy guide when reflecting on ways to improve our catechetical methods.
Living the Mystery Daily
Ongoing mystagogy is important because our relationship with the sacraments change as we grow and mature as individuals and meet new life challenges and circumstances. In turn, the sacraments really change us. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated” (Sacramentum Caritatis n. 64). By reflecting regularly on the sacraments, we access an incredible strength for our daily tasks.
Developing a practice of Eucharistic mystagogy can combat the routinization that often sets in to our receiving communion. For those who are married, or preparing for marriage, there is a mystagogy of marriage. With ongoing mystagogic reflection, you may discover new fruits of that sacrament in every season of life.
Studying theology and the Bible is often an undervalued way of developing our spiritual life. Learning about someone or something is a sign of love, and we truly become what we behold (cf 2 Cor. 3:18). Reading the great books and sermons of Catholic authors and theologians greatly expands our hearts and minds to experience the truth and depth of our faith.
The great Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel is attributed as stating, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Mystagogy is the path leading Christians to learn to live the mystery of our faith. I encourage you to follow the path trod by St. Cyril up through popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, in making this incredible tradition and gift called “mystagogy” a part of your life.
To learn more about Catechesis, please consider reading the General Directory for Catechesis or the National Directory for Catechesis.
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
“Keep multiplying your commitment because what Vincent Pallotti prophetically announced, the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, becoming a happy reality, and all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ and the church and in the world!" -St. John Paul II, 1986
Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Vincent Pallotti. He is the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center and his vision guides the Center in all of its works. Today is a special day in which we remember the works, deeds, and vision of St. Vincent Pallotti. I could write to you about his many deeds, his self-sacrificing attitude, or his disdain for honors, but I feel that that is not the proper way to celebrate him. He would be satisfied knowing that we are spending our time recounting his life, and would encourage us to go out into the world doing works of charity and preaching the gospel. St. Vincent Pallotti inspires me. Especially in this Year of Mercy, we need examples of people like him who have led merciful lives.
St. Vincent Pallotti had a very simple question that he asked, that took him a lifetime to answer: "Who is God and who am I before him?" Over the past few years this simple question posed by St. Vincent Pallotti has driven my prayer. Many of us have ‘stock’ answers for the first part of the question such as: God is the Father, He is all powerful and ever loving, He is the creator of the universe, the Unmovable mover, and the very essence of infinite love. But for St. Vincent Pallotti, these ‘stock’ answers are just that, stock. They're not the answers from the heart that St. Vincent Pallotti demands. He wants us to form the answer that only we can answer. He then asks us to find ourselves in this context. Let us ponder how we are to respond to his question because the two are intimately connected. At every stage of our lives, this answer is challenged. I invite you to take it back to prayer every single time you pray.
"Learn from the Lord to be merciful to your brethren. Trust you will receive from Him a loving and compassionate heart." –St. Vincent Pallotti, 1833
St. Vincent Pallotti expressed that we need to show mercy to all and led by example. As a priest, he would minister to anyone in need. He would visit prisoners, revolutionaries, students, popes, and future popes. He gave himself completely to those in need and wanted those around him to do the same. St. Vincent Pallotti’s example invites us to express mercy even when it seems impossible to do so. This is the way to serve all.
The spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti is relevant to us today. His writings on mercy, for example, sound like they could be quotes from Pope Francis and not the writings from over 180 years ago. In my own spiritual life, St. Vincent Pallotti’s vision inspires me to act with the merciful heart that reflects the power of God's infinite love to all, no matter who they are. This manifests itself in my interactions with my family, friends, coworkers, and anyone I meet. I also make sure that I give back to the community by volunteering and serving others. We can also show mercy to anyone with a simple smile. In times when I feel uninspired and defeated by the world, I can turn to St. Vincent for a quote or gesture that gets me through the challenge. He has revived my faith, rekindled my charity, formed me into an apostle, and will continue to do so every day of my life by leading me to Christ.
St. Vincent Pallotti’s vision is as relevant today as it was over 180 years ago. We at the Catholic Apostolate Center and Pallottine apostolates all over the world continue to be inspired by his work. We thank God for this great Saint.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
For more information on St. Vincent Pallotti and his spirituality, please visit our Pallotti Portal.
To learn more about the Union of the Catholic Apostolate, please click here.
You don’t need to spend a dime to understand Christmas is all about presence. The Church sings, “Emmanuel- God is with us!” God’s gift to the world is his presence, Jesus our Savior.
During the holidays, however, life tends to get busy and expensive. Presence yields to presents.
When this happens, as it always seems to, I think of Brother Lawrence. Like the great mystic and reformer, St. John of the Cross, Lawrence (1605-91) was a Carmelite monk. But unlike St. John, Lawrence was a lay brother who spent his “unremarkable” life cooking and cleaning. In fact, all that remains are some recollected conversations and a few scattered letters posthumously compiled by another monk into a short, now classic, spiritual work called The Practice of the Presence of God. His conversion happened one winter after “seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear” (First Conversation)
We need Brother Lawrence to remind us that Christmas is all about presence. For Lawrence, this means having a sense of God’s love in the middle of our busy and distracted lives during the Christmas season, a way of “doing our common business purely for the love of God” (Fourth Conversation). He reminds us to be about God’s business during our busyness.
Three of Brother Lawrence’s key insights can help us practice the presence of God this Christmas.
Give Your Time
Christmas is more about being present than buying presents. The most precious gift we have to give someone is our time. As Christmas gets piled high with shopping, decorating, work, or final exams, the gift of time seems to have the highest price tag. Brother Lawrence reminds us that God is present to us in all times and places:
"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.” (Fourth Conversation)
The Nativity celebrates the presence of God on earth, a God who came as an unexpected, untimely, and therefore unwelcome stranger. I think we all know people like that! Being present to God may mean letting ourselves be interrupted or making time for a family member we’d rather ignore, and letting God speak.
Celebrate Small Things
When we think Christmas, we think miracles. But the great mystery of the Incarnation reveals that God also shows his human face in the smallest, most mundane aspects of life. Brother Lawrence says:
“We can do little things for God. I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him . . . who has given me grace to work . . . It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God" (The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims).
Brother Lawrence points to the presence of God hidden even among life’s most unpresentable circumstances by faithfully doing unglamorous things for God’s glory.
It’s tempting to scoff at the more trivialized or sanitized secular symbols of “the holidays.” Rather than spending Christmas railing against materialism, we can imitate the example of Brother Lawrence, who presents a more constructive, creative way to counteract the consumer culture without pointing out other’s shortcomings.
Brother Lawrence would turn everyday objects (like pots and pans) into an occasion to praise God. He did this by making them into little actionable reminders. For example, when you see Christmas lights, say, “Christ is my light.” Or pass a snowman and pray for a friend in need. In this way, we “re-symbolize” the world around us. There are a million possibilities. Come up with a few of your own and make it a habit.
Especially at Christmas, the whole world is a reminder of God’s love and presence. All of creation is a conversation starter with God, a conversation called prayer, or as Brother Lawrence would say, “the practice of the presence of God.”
For more ways to prepare for the coming of the Savior this Advent and Christmas, please visit our Advent Resources page.
Luke 21:34 states, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.” As we prepare to kick-off the season of Advent 2015, Christ implores us to be alert to the dangers of a drowsy heart. I was flabbergasted when I walked into a store the week after Halloween to hear Christmas music floating through the air. I absolutely love Christmas music and, when the time comes, will listen to it right up through the celebration of the Epiphany. However, I find it humorous and a bit befuddling that it seems that we begin to hear Christmas music earlier and earlier each year and yet, on December 26th, it becomes a scavenger hunt to find the familiar, heartwarming tunes on the air and in stores. As Catholics, we have not even celebrated the visit of the magi yet and the Christmas airwaves have gone silent.
The holiday season is notorious for its stress, anxiety and drain on our time and energy. Our Advent calendars become filled with shopping excursions, parties, decking the halls and busying ourselves in the kitchen. All of these are wonderful ways to express our love for the season and our love for one another. However, I find that the older I get and the more responsibilities I gain, it becomes harder to latch onto, and maintain, the wide eyed childhood wonder and awe of the Christmas season in its entirety. By the time December 26th rolls around, my heart is drowsy. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, the Word speaks to us again. Proverbs 4:23 states, “With closest custody guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.”
Let us take a moment to reflect on what has arrived for us as Catholics as we begin this season of Advent. Our salvation was made visible with the birth of a child. Isaiah 9:5 proclaims, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” The dancing harmonies of Handel’s Messiah begin to reverberate through my mind. The prophet Isaiah is speaking to each one of us. A child is born to US. The salvation of the world, the salvation of sinners was born to us as a helpless, dependent infant made of flesh and bone, nerves and muscle just as we are. Physiologically speaking, a newborn quickly learns to experience life and receive sustenance through one of the highest density of touch receptors in its wonderfully created body; the lips and tongue. As Catholics we are able to receive life, power, and renewal through the highest concentration of touch receptors in the body each time we receive the Eucharist.
What happens when we make an effort to guard our hearts and offer our bodies as “weapons of righteousness” to open ourselves to fully experience the breadth of receiving the flesh of Christ, the power of Christ? What kind of change would that create in us? What kind of change would it create in our families, our communities and our churches? How would this change affect our experience of the Advent and Christmas season? This power can seem frightening, but Scripture speaks to us through 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” We have arrived. This is our Advent. It is time to prepare our heart, mind, body, and soul to celebrate the arrival of our Wonder-Counselor.
For more resources on this Advent season, please visit our Advent Resources page.
Every interaction, every conversation, each and every dive into our relational natures as human beings begins with the willing openness to listen. Listening begins with a simple opening, a knock on the door of our self-focus that lets us know that someone else is here, present before us with a unique existence, one that should be experienced and embraced. Listening happens in almost everything we do in our daily lives, whether we are speaking with others, learning instructions, praying, or even sitting alone in the quiet of an empty house. There is always something to hear, always something to experience. To listen is to see the beauty and worth in another and embrace this by joining another in his or her own life’s journey, wherever they may be, in whatever they are going through.
I often say that listening is an art. We are all great artisans of speech, one way or another. Whether outspoken and personable, or soft-spoken and shy, we all have an inner preacher within us that constantly narrates our thoughts, opinions, and daily lives. To speak is in our nature, and to listen is also a part of who we are. Speaking, however, often seems easier than listening. Children, constantly having to be reminded to give each person his turn to speak, exemplify this. Why is it hard to listen? I think the life of Saint John Marie Vianney, whose feast we celebrate today, can show us some answers. Looking into his life, one can see just how important and powerful the art of listening is for us all.
Listening is something that can be appreciated in others and within ourselves in an almost artistic way, such as when we read the great sonnets of Shakespeare, or admire Monet’s Water Lilies. Listening has its own beauty within it, as all things do. It is in itself a beautiful thing. Saint John Vianney, I believe, knew the power that listening wields. As a priest in the farmlands of France, traveling around to spiritually devastated towns, he would plop himself down in a confessional and just sit there, waiting. In time, townspeople started coming and speaking to him. He heard confessions for long lengths of time each day, listening to the needs of the people of France. Slowly and surely, each town he visited began beaming with a light and a warmth that didn't exist before. Besides hearing the townspeople’s confessions, John Vianney validated and embraced their lives in his own, welcoming all and listening with an open heart. He embraced fully the priesthood as a way to listen to others, to join into the community of all, to embrace and see the worth in others and to let others know that Christ sees their worth as well. He did this through devout prayer to God and a humble heart to listen to God’s plan for him. It is by this profound listening that John Vianney became the well-known Patron of Priests that he is today.
John Vianney teaches us that listening can save lives. Regardless of how small a conversation may be, to listen is to embrace another, to shine forth that spirit of community that builds the foundation for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Each and every person has something to say and is worth the time. Vianney also teaches us to listen to God, to listen to the silence we so often get in response to our prayers that the answer is there, in our life. God listens to us always, in everything we do; all we need to do is learn to embrace ourselves the way God embraces us when He listens to our lives.
As we continue on our journeys, I pray that the art of listening may inspire and shine beautifully in our interactions with others each day and in our prayers to the Almighty Father.
William Clemens is a Undergraduate Student of Theology & Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“The month of June is singled out, in a particular way, for the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To celebrate the Heart of Christ means to turn toward the profound center of the Person of the Savior, that center which the Bible identifies precisely as his Heart, seat of the love that has redeemed the world. If the human heart represents an unfathomable mystery that only God knows, how much more sublime is the heart of Jesus, in which the life of the Word itself beats. In it, as suggested by the beautiful Litanies of the Sacred Heart that echo the Scriptures, are found all the treasures of wisdom and science and all the fullness of divinity.”
-St. Pope John Paul II, on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 24, 2002.
Tomorrow, June 12th, is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. There are many pious devotions to the Sacred Heart which are worthy of practice. Since it is impossible to do justice to them all in just five hundred words, just three of the 33 invocations from the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (which St. Pope John Paul II described as “beautiful”) will be the focus here. Don’t limit yourself to the brief snippets here! If you pray the Litany in its entirety, you might find an invocation which best speaks to your own prayer life.
“Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love, have mercy on us.” Can you think of a powerful example of love and goodness? Maybe you think of Mother Teresa and her care for the poorest of the poor. Maybe Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who was willing to die in the place of a stranger at Auschwitz so that the man’s children would still have their father comes to mind. There are many touching, beautiful examples of real love and compassion in the world. The love and goodness of Jesus surpasses them all; His love extends to us all, even when we fail to love Him in return.
“Heart of Jesus, obedient to death, have mercy on us.” Jesus has a very difficult cross to bear. Before He picked up His cross (literally), He knelt praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Although He prayed that the task might be taken away from Him, in the same breath, He reconciled Himself to the Father’s will (Mt 26:39). Jesus followed the Father’s will because He loves each one of us. Each of us have much smaller crosses to carry; relatively few of us in the United States will be asked to give our lives for our faith. It is easy to grumble when difficulties come along; I myself, like most of us, often fall into that trap. Jesus resigned Himself to the Father’s will so that we might be saved. He wants to give us the graces we need to do the Father’s will, just like He did.
“Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.” In your most sorrowful moments, where do you turn to for comfort? A close friend or family member? A beloved pet? Chocolate? In times of sadness, there are few things more comforting than a hug from someone you love. Jesus’ heart is overflowing with love for you and He is there with outstretched arms ready to wipe away your tears. You would be hard pressed to find a better listener or someone who loved you more than Him.
The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. If you have a few extra moments to spare tomorrow, remember to say a prayer for the priests in your parish and any other priests who have touched your life!
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
For more information on Prayer life, please see our Prayer and Catechesis Resource Page!
Have you ever sat behind a family in church who don’t realize their child is tearing out hymnal pages silently? That was me when I was young. My brother would bring a whole container of Cheerios and still end up chewing the wooden pew, and my sister would constantly be passed back and forth to Mom and Dad until she either fell asleep or stopped chattering. Families who bring young children to church are establishing a foundation on which their faith can be encouraged throughout their lives. Interestingly enough, all three of us are now grown-up, moved away from home, and are regular attendees at Mass. Our commitment to faith and the Gospels has never ceased, but only grown into what it is today.
Soon we celebrate an important day in the liturgical year…the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time! Not what you were expecting me to say, right? As we listen to the Gospel at Mass each week, our hearts journey alongside Christ’s teachings and we parallel these teachings to our own day-to-day lives. We often forget that Jesus’ miracles and most famous parables occur during Ordinary Time! Surely, there is no coincidence that during these weeks of Ordinary Time, when Jesus is teaching his disciples, he is also teaching us. As we hear in this week’s Gospel of Mark, “The people were astonished at his teaching” (Mk 1:22). Just as those who heard Christ’s teaching firsthand, so shall we open our hearts and hear him, too! The Catechism teaches us that Sundays are the “principle day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. (CCC 1193). Throughout the liturgical year we come together on Sundays to celebrate the paschal mystery, that is the death and Resurrection of Christ. Ordinary Time is an important part of the celebration of this paschal mystery.
Ordinary Time can often be understood as time between the two holiday seasons. This period can be viewed as Christmas is over and Lent has not begun. There are two times during the Liturgical year. First is the time between Christmas and Lent, which begins at the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and lasts until Ash Wednesday. The second instance of Ordinary time begins the Monday following Pentecost and lasts until Advent. Ordinary is taken from the word, ordinal which literally means “counted numbers.” Many Catholics think of Ordinary Time as boring, usual, or “ordinary” Sundays instead of numerically arranged Sundays. Through the efforts of the New Evangelization, it is necessary to demonstrate to others the significance of weekly Mass, especially during Ordinary Time, to enhance our knowledge and message of the Gospels. Ordinary Time is a chance for Catholics to cultivate our understanding of Christ’s mission of love, and try our very best to be more like Him every day.
So this Sunday, on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, focus on the message of the Gospel and the relevance of the Word in your life. Coming to church on a Sunday that is not for Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter is not easy task for some people or families. If you see a family with young children in church this weekend, say a short prayer for those parents. It is not easy to take small children to Mass on a non-school-day, so a short prayer or an understanding smile might make it all worth their while. With your better understanding of the liturgical year, you too can let others know that Ordinary Time is not the boring-bunch-of-green Sundays, but a chance to grow closer to God and your neighbor. Now, if they ask you about the time between Christmas and Easter or Easter and Christmas you can respond with, “There is nothing ordinary about it!”
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
This past summer, I wrote a blog post on the importance of family. Having just returned from a two week Christmas visit home, I’m again reminded of the importance of love in our lives, especially the love of family. I live in Washington D.C., far away from the majority of my extended family. Most of my 40+ cousins live back in Wisconsin and I now only see them a couple of times each year. As we all grow up, we have become more spread out and family holidays often have significant numbers missing. This year, however, almost everyone made it home for some or all of the many traditional Christmas celebrations. We decorated my grandparents’ house for Christmas, had the chaotic frenzy of opening Christmas presents on Christmas Day, tried to find enough tables and chairs in my grandparents’ basement for Christmas dinner, and raced through the “Round Robin” dinner where we travel from house to house for different courses. I was able to connect with cousins I hadn’t seen since last Christmas, meet the fiancés, boyfriends, girlfriends and new babies who are becoming a part of the ever-growing family.
We see a lot of discussions these days on the “true meaning” of Christmas. We are reminded to keep Christ in Christmas and we can often get lost in the frenzy of the season. What struck me, however, was that celebrating the joy of Christ’s birth was magnified by the people who surrounded me: my family. Christmas is a time where we celebrate our Savior becoming human and coming to us on earth. We do this in many ways; we give presents, have special meals, and unique traditions specific to our families. Being with those we love makes tangible the love of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas.
Today’s first reading from the first letter of John says this:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
As this Christmas season draws to a close, I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on your journey this Advent and Christmas. I hope you were able to spend time with loved ones, be they family or friends. How can you carry this love into this New Year? For as today’s reading reminds us, it is through loving one another that God remains in us.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to my hometown in Wisconsin to surprise my mother on her birthday. My father had been cooking up a giant surprise party for her, and I was going to be the first part of that surprise. I spent this whirlwind weekend almost exclusively with my family…both immediate and extended. My mother’s side of the family is what is often described as the “stereotypical Irish Catholic family.” My grandparents met in college, married and had 9 children. I have over 40 first cousins and many of us live within a mile of my grandparents’ house. Growing up in this family was a unique experience and one which I realize now has shaped me more than I can know.
Moving halfway across the country, away from my family, has given me a new appreciation for the role that family plays in forming who we become as adults. I was raised by loving parents who instilled a strong faith background in my siblings and me. Mass was a given every weekend. We were fortunate enough to attend wonderful Catholic schools. Our parents modeled for us the perfect example of a loving, Christian marriage. My extended family too, further encouraged the development of a strong faith formation. From a young age, I can remember Saturday evening Masses in my grandparents’ living room which often preceded our monthly birthday celebrations. (It got too hard to celebrate individual birthdays!). Our grandparents created an environment filled with love, somehow making each of their many grandchildren feel like the center of their world. When I was young and had a day off from school, the biggest excitement was not getting to sleep in, but rather getting to go to daily Mass with my grandparents. The first time I went to Mass with them after my first communion, my grandmother couldn’t stop telling everyone in the tiny church that I had received my First Eucharist.
Family plays a key role in how we develop as people. I recognize now just how fortunate I was to grow up in the environment that I did. I also recognize that many people are not this lucky. As the summer winds down, I know many people will be heading back to school or back from vacations with their families. I challenge you to take time to remember your family. Say a prayer for those you’ve lost, call your mom, call your grandparents, text your sister or brother, or any other way you can think of. During my senior year of college, my dad started writing me a letter every week (and continues to do so!). In today’s world of online everything, getting those letters each week was a physical connection to home and to the family I have there. Our families can be complicated and tricky, and often are the people who can infuriate us the most. They are, though, the people we love the most.
Let me share with you this prayer for a harmonious family:
Lord Jesus, be with my family. Grant us Your peace and harmony, an end to conflict and division. Gift us with compassion to better understand each other, wisdom and love to assist each other, and trust and patience to live peacefully together. Grant that through the intercession of Your Mother, Mary, and St. Joseph, our family may become a holy family accepting each other, working together in unity, selflessly dedicated to one other and to You. Amen.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
“He said to them: ‘… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:7-11).
Forty days ago, we celebrated the miraculous Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and joyful the start of the Easter season. Finally, after millennia of prophecies and expectation, the promise that humanity would be redeemed and restored in its relationship with God was fulfilled. Now Christ had risen in glory and conquered death by His Passion, allowing humanity to once again be united with its loving Creator (c.f. 2 Peter 1:4). This reunification of the disciples and their beloved Teacher was indeed a cause for celebration! What intense feelings of love and wonder must have resounded in the apostles’ hearts after their Master, Teacher, and Savior had been cruelly put to death only a few days ago. They believed that Jesus’ return meant that He would now “restore the kingdom to Israel” to finish His earthly ministry (Acts 1:6).
“Not so, not yet,” Jesus corrects them (c.f. CCC 672). Instead, it was now time for Him to join the Father in Heaven since He had accomplished the Mission of atonement that He had been sent to earth for on the Cross (c.f. John 19:30). With that, Jesus was taken up before His followers into Glory. While they were still watching, whether out of wonder, awe, confusion, or fear as what to do next (perceptibly without Jesus), two heavenly messengers appear and urge the disciples not to stand there, looking up. Jesus would come again, they promised. Meanwhile, there was a mission to undertake; they were to go and wait for the Spirit, Who would help them take the next steps towards completing Jesus’ final instructions, which were, as St. Pope John Paul II put it, “the faithful expression of the Father’s will.”
Before He was taken up, Jesus said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ was planning something bigger than establishing a temporal kingdom on earth, as the Jews commonly thought their awaited Messiah would bring.
The Apostles, moreover, were instructed to teach— to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. And they were to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus, they were to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. The Apostles were to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began. And everybody knew that this missionary era could never end until the same Jesus, who went up to heaven, would come back again. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
We, too, in a sense, can stand with the apostles, looking heavenward to that place where our Lord ascended. We, too, can experience that intense wonder deep within each of us which transforms fear and tragedy, insecurity and tension into a peaceful certainty that floods the heart with loving warmth from God. From this, the same question posed to the disciples nearly two thousand years ago is asked of each of us even today: why do you stand looking up? The Church’s mission has always been that of the Great Commission, to spread the glorious, joyful, and redemptive news of Christ’s rising from the dead (c.f. John 3:16). As Saint Augustine testified, we are the Church and are commanded to accept this mission and not stand idly by in either amazement or apathy!
Certainly, Holy Mother Church’s evangelization has endured obstacles, dogmatic disputes, and other setbacks over the centuries in bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth. No matter the challenge, the Church always pulls through since she has been founded by Christ Himself with the promise that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). As the disciples and the Blessed Mother would experience on Pentecost Sunday, it is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, Who is the source of the Church’s strength. It is He Who guides the Church in the way of Truth in the spreading of the Gospel, doing so through the power of God and not by means of the imperfect wisdom or strength of man.
After having undergone the humiliation of His passion and death, Jesus took His place at the right-hand of God; He took His place with His eternal Father. But He also entered heaven as our Head whereupon, in the expression of Leo the Great, the glory of the Head became the hope of the body… our nature is with God in Christ. And as man, the Lord Jesus lives forever to intercede for us with Father. At the same time, from His throne of glory, Jesus sends out to the whole Church a message of hope and a call to holiness. Because of Christ’s merits, because of His intercession with the Father, we are able to attain justice and holiness of life, in him… The power of the glorified Christ, the beloved Son of the eternal Father, is superabundant, to sustain each of us and all of us in the fidelity of our dedication to God’s Kingdom.
The efficacy of Christ’s Ascension touches all us in the concrete reality of our daily lives. Because of this mystery it is the vocation of the whole Church to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
As part of the “New Evangelization,” we are reminded of this command to reveal the Truth of our resurrected Lord through our words and actions in accordance with how we are called to live as Christians, that is, with love (c.f. John 13:34-35). Like the evangelizers before us, we can expect face challenges when spreading the Gospel message, namely persecution (c.f. John 15:18, Romans 8:35-39, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:16-19). Ah, but what a price to pay for the glory of God!
Remember, too, that Christ promised that He would always be with us in our ministry (c.f. Matthew 28:20, Galatians 2:19-20)! As Pope Francis noted during his fourth general audience, Jesus is no longer “in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension… He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us.” We can always turn to Him in prayer; He, in turn, will sustain us with strength, grace, and Love. Given the difficulty of our task (often requiring great sacrifice on our part), this is indeed a great comfort! In addition, it is Christ as both God and man Who brings our humanity before God to intercede for us. Finally, the Ascension of the Lord is also our Feast because we have ascended with the Lord! The Feast presents an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between our profession of faith and our daily life. It is the start of the evangelization of the world by Christ’s disciples and the call for us to do that same Work, started nearly two millennia ago, in joyful witness to the Redeemer of the world.
The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel”, must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection. His very words, with which the Gospel according to St Matthew ends, accompany and comfort us: “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Homily of His Holiness During the Pastoral Visit to Cassino and Monte Cassino,” May 24, 2009)
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America, currently studying abroad in Rome, Italy.
If you haven’t heard by now, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. The very mention of this day solicits cheers and jeers from so many. Our culture reminds us that this is the day to show love to your friends and family. If you walk into any retail store I’m sure you’ll be bombarded with Valentine’s Day sales, candies, cards, flowers, etc. There is no lack of a reminder that love (and several shades of red) is supposed to be celebrated on this particular day.
I’m not here to give you the history of the day or the particular saint (or non-saint) it may be based on. If you want to read more about the Catholic history of the day, feel free to click here. I’m here to remind you of something that I feel very strongly about. Love is meant to be shown every day, to be celebrated every day, not just one day a year.
Often times the “valentines” that are exchanged contain the term “Will you be mine?” We should remember that no one is ever alone on Valentine’s Day. Everyone has a valentine. Jesus Christ is the single most important valentine that we have and I guarantee you, he doesn’t get many cards - but perhaps people just think he’s allergic to chocolate.
We should take comfort in the fact, however, that we are taking time out of our usually hectic lives to acknowledge that we all share love with someone. My only piece of advice is to not let it end when the chocolates are gone, or after the cards are exchanged. We should continue to express the affection we have to the people in our lives who are always there for us, who know us best, and often times feel the same way about us, every day. Let us not also forget that Jesus shows us his love everyday as well, we should follow his example.
All this being said, however, I hope that you do take the time tomorrow to express some love. Call your parents, your grandparents, your husband or wife, friends you haven’t spoken to in a long time - reach out and remind them that you love them today, and every day.
Chris Pierno is the Media and Marketing Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Waiting. Who likes to wait? As far as I can remember, I have never been very patient. I speak too fast, I start projects but often never finish them, and I tap my foot in long lines while sighing loudly so everyone can hear me. I’m very impatient, and recognize that I could always use more humility in my life. Over time and through prayer, I have begun to change my perspective. I realized that waiting can be used as a time for preparation, a chance to reflect. It can be a time to mend, a time to forgive or to be forgiven, and it can also be a time to rid my life of things that encourage an impatient lifestyle. In Advent especially, I have sometimes found it difficult to focus my attention on preparing my heart for Christ.
As Catholics, we do quite a bit of waiting, especially during Advent. It is a time to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ Himself. These four weeks help us remember why we need Jesus in our lives and in our hearts. In the past few weeks of blog posts, we have seen reflections on the journey that is Advent. But, Advent is also a time to remember that the waiting is not over on Christmas morning when we see the baby Jesus in the manger. In fact, we are in a constant state of waiting and preparation. We wait for new iPhones. We wait for a new year. Then we wait again for Christmas a year later through another Advent. But is that all we are waiting for?
When we look at the big picture, we must realize that we are also waiting for Christ’s second coming. This is waiting for something that really matters, something that we need to be entirely ready for. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded that “you know neither the day nor the hour” when Christ will come again. As Matthew reminds us, we need to “stay awake” and prepare for this second coming, not just during Advent but throughout the year. (Matthew 25:13). At the end of time, Jesus will come again, and seek our hearts. He wants us, wholly and fully. This Advent, we will wait for Jesus to come into the world, reminded that in Him we seek goodness. In Him, we put our trust. We leave our impatient lives and tendencies in Advent, and we enter into the celebration of Christ at Christmas. While preparing our hearts at Christmas, we are readying ourselves for the day He comes again. Will you be ready?
Krissy Kirby is a Senior Early Childhood Education Major at The Catholic University of America
This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, my favorite time of year. What I love most about Advent is that it is four weeks long, and the opportunities to celebrate and prepare for Jesus’ birth are abundant. But, many people forget this. Just last Friday, people lined up at midnight outside Wal-Mart and bought everything on their Christmas list in a six hour blur of big screen T.V.s and elbows. Others rushed out to buy a Christmas tree, and decked their house in every last light they could find in the attack. And, by Friday evening, they were “done” preparing for Christmas and back to life as usual.
My own personal version of this would be when my grandma gives me one of those “Christmas Countdown Chocolate Calendars,” the ones with a piece of chocolate behind each day leading up to Christmas—and its gone by December 5th! People no longer spend all of Advent preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ, they do what needs to be done, as fast as possible, and then forget he’s coming until the 23rd.
Advent is four weeks long (and so are a lot of Christmas sales!) and as difficult as it may be, we should try to keep that in mind. Instead of setting up the house or buying all the gifts in one day, spread it out! Enjoy the preparations. Do something small every day in anticipation for the birth of Christ. Make an Advent wreath with your family (or roommates!) and light a candle at dinner; say an extra prayer every evening; pray Vespers before Mass.
The most important things is that we don’t fall asleep in the wait for Jesus, that we remember every day—not just when they light the Advent wreath at Mass on Sunday or when The Grinch is on TV or Wal-Mart has a big sale—that Christ is coming and we must be ready. And keep it to one piece of chocolate a day from the Advent calendar. Your stomach will thank you and you’ll have more candy toward the end of the four weeks!
Eileen Welch is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and is Regent of Catholic Daughters Court Catholic University