Fairly recently, we taught my son to say grace before meals. He contributes by saying, “Amen” and folding his hands. My husband patiently encourages him to keep them folded and he knows we pray before he eats. He even got his Grandma to say “Amen” when they’re together. It’s the sweetest thing and fills my heart with hope. Saying, “Amen” got me thinking though: What a perfect word to carry my family through Lent this year!
Think about it: what do we say to begin and end prayer? Amen. The Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, our spontaneous prayers–every prayer ends with Amen. The faithful participate in the Great Amen in the Eucharistic liturgy at Mass, As the USCCB explains, “The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with the Final Doxology…The people respond with the Great Amen a joyous affirmation of their faith and participation in this great sacrifice of praise.”
What exactly does “Amen” mean though? The Catechism elaborates when discussing the Creed, “In Hebrew, amen comes from the same root as the word ‘believe’...Amen expresses both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him.” (CCC 1062). This seems pretty powerful for a Lenten reflection on God’s love and mercy. God’s faithfulness endures. By responding with Amen, we acknowledge this faithfulness and express our trust in him. The section goes on to say, “To believe is to say ‘Amen’ to God’s words, promises, and commandments; to entrust oneself completely to him who is the ‘Amen’ of infinite love and perfect faithfulness” (CCC 1064). When we say Amen, we are saying “I believe” –a beautiful reiteration of our Baptismal vows. I believe. Amen. I believe.
I’m certain my two-year-old son already sees God in so many things. Already, he has many opportunities to acknowledge God’s faithfulness: After grace when he says Amen, at Mass when he closely watches the priest lift the host in consecration, and at bedtime when he says goodnight to Jesus. And through my son and his budding faith, I also see God. My son’s namesake, St. Vincent Pallotti, spoke about finding God when he said, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.” This is such a practical application of big concepts in our understanding of God, perfect for a child to consider as he grows in faith and as we accompany his journey in life. “Seek God always and you will always find God” is also a great phrase to take to prayer this Lent. I think it will continue to help shape my prayer during this season of reflection.
As we continue throughout Lent, consider these different aspects of our faith. Every time you say Amen, I invite you to reflect on who you are saying it to and what you believe. May you more earnestly seek God, find God, and trust in his faithfulness throughout your life and during this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent can be a powerful season for us, fortifying our hearts with Christ at the center. As Vinny learns more about prayer, I hope that I can continue to teach him about our Faith, the faithfulness of God, and how to “Seek God” in order to find him. Amen, I believe.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2011. http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-webelieve/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Today on the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, affectionately known as the Little Flower, I turn to my sons’ example in accepting everything completely from God. My almost two-year-old is predictable: he loves blueberries, watching the garbage truck pick up trash on Mondays and Fridays, and playing in the backyard. Recently he has taken to playing with a giant cardboard box that my husband engineered into a “cottage” with a window and a workable door. The joy and excitement he exudes each morning playing with his cardboard cottage didn’t strike me at first. But after a few rounds of him serving me imaginary chocolate milk and tea from his little abode, I realized that this joy, the same joy and freedom he has when running ferociously to the front of the house to see the garbage being picked up, is the joy and freedom St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about and emulated in her life.
“To remain a child before God means to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God. It is not to become discouraged over our failings, for our children fall often, but they themselves are too little to hurt themselves very much.” St. Therese of Lisieux
Therese gives us the example of radical abandonment to the Father’s will. When we take a snapshot of her life—where she lived most of her life, whom she met, what accolades she was awarded—we see that her life was not much in worldly standards. And yet, Therese is honored with the title “Doctor of the Church.” Her writings and her example of charity beckon us to take a closer look at this simple and great saint.
While Saint Therese is a heavily pestered saint when it comes to intercession (as her intercession is known to be great) and her quotes are seen often, today let us take after her childlikeness and see the world through her eyes with childlike abandonment to God. I encourage you to find five beautiful things in the mundane of your day that your eye has not yet “truly” seen before. Thank and praise God for the life He has given you, in all its sufferings and joys, and ask for St. Therese’s intercession in seeing the beauty in the mundane.
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Amid a time of challenge and difficulty, joy makes appearances in many ways. Recently, several Catholic Apostolate Center staff members and collaborators deepened their baptismal call through Ordination to the Priesthood and Marriage. We also celebrated the Baptism of the child of one of our staff members. The child is named Vincent for St. Vincent Pallotti. In every case, these celebrations were delayed and greatly reduced in size due to the pandemic, but the joy of these days found in the hope of Christ was evident in every one of them.
Fr. Alex Boucher, a staff member during the first years of the Center and a current collaborator, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Portland (Maine). Hally Moreno, Marketing Coordinator, celebrated her marriage to Benny Morales. Center Collaborator, Fr. Joseph Hubbard was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston. Vincent Scott Pierno, son of Senior Consultant, Chris Pierno, and blog contributor, Krissy Pierno, was baptized. His godfather is Fr. Alex Boucher.
At each of these events, Center team members participated in the liturgies as part of the accompaniment that is our hallmark and rooted in the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti. We had accompanied them in their discernment and joined in the celebration. They all live their lives as apostles of Christ and witness to others not only through their particular vocation in life, but also in their support of one another.
Such spiritual friendship was part of the life of St. Vincent Pallotti and is an aspect of the Catholic Apostolate Center that is intrinsic to our apostolic work. We support one another in prayer and in our lives in Christ. Each will do this in a unique way, but we are all called to accompany one another in life and in faith.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
The month of September is ripe with themes of renewal. Schools begin a new academic year. Some businesses start a new fiscal year. The season of autumn is bright with arboreal colors as some trees begin to turn dormant. Fields and gardens are harvested.
Those of us with yards know now is also the time to prepare and reseed our lawns for new grass to grow. For many, it’s a labor of love to cultivate the land. First the land needs clearing. Rocky soil demands aeration. Soil testing will help with fertilizing. And getting the right seed is critical! Furthermore, once planted, the new seed must be constantly watered, watched, and protected from harsh elements and nefarious agents.
Is there a lesson from all this? Yes, great results require great effort, but we are also reminded of the parables of the sower and the weeds (Matthew 13:1-30). What I always liked about these parables was that our Lord Himself explains them so clearly: the Word of God is given to each of us; how it takes root is up to us. The seeds in the parable represent the deposit of faith we have each been entrusted to grow, nourish, and protect as baptized Christians.
For those of us with children, we are especially aware of the great gift and responsibility of entrusting the Faith to our descendants. So precious and critical is this sharing that the Church urges parents to have their children baptized without delay. During the Rite of Baptism for an infant, the priest or deacon says to the parents:
You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
As is the case with any landscaping, the work of spiritual cultivation cannot be underestimated or haphazard. Raising a child in the Faith begins and is centered on the life at home. The environment of faith is so much more than memorizing Scripture or parts of the Catechism; the Faith must be lived! A family that prays together, goes to Mass regularly, is firm in morality and pursuing virtue, and encourages service and charity takes seriously the charge given at Baptism. The deposit of faith is planted at the immersion and anointing of the child during the rites of the sacrament; the family then works and tends to and cares for the germination and growth of this divine inspiration. As good seed sprouts among weeds, so too will the child: he or she will encounter the ways of the world that are ignorant of God; he or she will be tempted by sin; he or she may wander as a lost sheep, though the identity claimed at Baptism never disappears.
As baptized believers, do we understand and appreciate what has been given to us? Do we help cultivate our spiritual lives in a way that fosters growth and true life? Pope Francis has urged us to remember and celebrate our baptism date:
To forget our baptism means to expose ourselves to the risk of losing our memory of what the Lord has done in us. We risk ending up considering it only as something that happened in the past, and not the Sacrament in which we became new creatures and were clothed with Christ, made part of the relationship of Jesus with God the Father. Thanks to Baptism, we are also able to forgive and love those who offend us and do us harm; we are able to recognize in the last and in the poor the face of the Lord who visits us and is close to us. In short, more than a sociological moment that inscribes our name in the parish register, the day of our baptism constitutes a commitment and the identity card of the believer.
The Sacrament of Baptism continues to sustain us through life: we are children of the Most High God! We may go through periods of spiritual drought or darkness, but we can find refreshment and renewal by attending Holy Mass, washing away sin through repentant confessions, and sustaining lives of prayer, faith, hope, and love. Then, having known the fruits of labor initiated by our parents, we can indeed be drawn up as part of the Lord’s bountiful harvest as He Himself has planted: “It [is] very good.”
As a child, I played a favorite game with my friends called “follow the leader” where everyone did exactly as the name suggests – followed the leader. If you didn’t do what the leader did you would be eliminated from the game. This game correlates to the Christian life: when we follow Jesus and do what He did, we reach our heavenly destination. We are wise to remember and heed Matthew 18:3-4: “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” How important it is as an adult Christian to always have the willing mindset of a child – to follow the leader with joyful expectation and simple trust. This reminds me of a remarkable event in my life that illustrates this concept.
Several years ago, when our four youngest children were still living at home, we embarked on one of our family camping vacations. Having a large family, we had chosen camping as a way to enjoy a vacation together while on a budget. It removed all the distractions of our life of modern conveniences and afforded us time in the great outdoors to relax and build memories. This particular adventure took us to Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain, on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, a glorious place high in the mountains with astounding stargazing at night and amazing hiking trails during the day. One day we chose to traverse the Waterfalls Trail. The sign at the trailhead read “Steep grade ahead, use caution. Stay on marked path.” That should have been my moment of truth, my opportunity to bail and choose to sit on a bench and enjoy the 1780 ft vista and await my family’s return. But I ignored the queasiness in my stomach and forged ahead with them as they vivaciously marched down the canyon on a slim, winding trail. My stomach began to ride higher into my chest, my breathing was becoming fast and bordering on gasping and my feet were becoming heavy and unsure on the many twists and turns. After we passed under an enormous rock overhang, my body halted and I literally could not take another step.
I was paralyzed with fear. Did I forget to mention, I’ve suffered from overwhelming fear of heights ever since I was a teenager? It was alive and acutely crippling on this day. As I watched my children bounding ahead and walking precariously near the rim of the steep trail, the fear gripped me to the point of panic. My husband kept telling me to look ahead, not down, and to follow his footsteps so that I would be safe and secure. The more I thought about moving forward, the stiffer I became. Moving at all in this way was sure to make me more apt to stumble. On my own steam, I could not go any further. I was at an impasse. With wisdom and child-like trust, my husband gathered our children all around me and asked each of them to lay their hands on me and to pray for all fear to cease so that I could be free to walk with joy and confidence. They did not want to leave me behind or to turn around and abandon the hike to the waterfalls. After several minutes of prayer, my breathing slowed to normal, my heart stopped racing, I unclenched my fists, and my legs relaxed. I felt a distinct release of tension in my body and my mind – so much so that I knew that I could resume the hike without fear. It was a healing miracle I claim to this day, as I can now hike steep mountains and enjoy magnificent views from heights that I could not before.
My husband and children were instruments of faith who infused the peace of Jesus into me so that I could follow the leader and enjoy the boundless beauty nature had to offer on that hike. Later that night, my husband commented that Jesus healed me and gave me sure feet to traverse the steep path with assurance. I will never forget that manifestation of God’s love for me and I am willing to continue to follow the leader on all the paths He takes me because I know He will give me strength and guidance every step of the way. I am comforted by the instruction in Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” As humans, we cannot find and walk this path on our own.
We need a leader, but we also need to be aware of all the people God places in our lives who provide guidance and leadership when we need it. It is part of the mystery and beauty of living in community with others in this life. If I had not yielded to the assistance of my family, I would have remained in bondage to crippling fear. I received help to navigate off the wide road of self -doubt and irrational panic that is destructive. With simple child-like trust and prayer, I was able to stay on the narrow path that led to a glorious adventure and freedom! My prayer is that each of us practices the obedience of following the leader so we can navigate the path that leads us to eternal peace. It is certain to be rough, but instruction is always available to us. We have to be humble and have child-like trust to adhere to the direction He provides.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matt. 16:24
“The beginning of all effort is the recognition of what is.” -Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, 1963
Professional athletes do many appearances while playing. We get paid to show up at fundraisers, youth camps, watch parties, and promotional events. Something that is practically a guarantee when attending these appearances is one or more sets of parents coming up to tell us about their child who plays soccer. Often these conversations are quite enjoyable, but almost inevitably, there are a few who want to talk about how their son or daughter was short-changed in their youth soccer experience. There is a lot that these parents say to us, but the consistent element is: my child didn’t succeed because of some external factor.
This may very well be the case for some of them. It is equally true, however, that it is certainly not the case for all of them. Much of the time the boy or girl just wasn’t good enough for a particular team, level of competition, or system of play.
The point of this post is not to drop the heavy hammer that many kids run out of the athletic ability rope and should give up. No, this post is about the absolute necessity of taking an honest stock of where someone actually is--especially for the spiritual life.
Romano Gaurdini says that “the beginning of all effort is the recognition of what is.” The reason for this being that you cannot begin making the effort to improve unless you start with who you already are.
Any professional athlete will tell you that it is far more helpful to be taught how to assess and address weaknesses rather than to pretend they don’t exist. In fact, most professional athletes are fairly obsessive about identifying areas in their game where they can improve. If I determine I’d like to be a better shooter with my right foot, for example, then I must begin with the harsh—but necessary—reality that I can barely complete a pass with my right foot. If I never acknowledge my current ability, I’ll constantly run into problems—poor technique, inadequate fundamentals, and so on. I’ll never become a strong shooter without addressing the plain truth of my current ability. This is a skill that requires disciplined practice and will never simply be acquired because I want it to be so. First comes acknowledgment, then a plan for improvement, all for the hope of becoming a good right-footed shooter.
This same principle can and should be applied to our spiritual lives. Just as improvement can only take place in athletics by beginning with where an athlete currently is, spiritual advancement can only begin by taking an honest assessment of where one currently is in relation to God. This means you’re far better off admitting that you struggle to pray for 5 minutes and taking that to God than wondering when you’ll receive the Stigmata. It is far more helpful to search deep within yourself and locate and name your pride, selfishness, ego, envy, or lust than only present to God your most pious and holy thoughts. He knows your heart already—He’s just waiting for you to know it as well.
One of the most helpful exercises for high-school, collegiate, and professional athletes is to watch film in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. The team watches the most recent game in order to see what needs to be addressed that week in practice. This same concept can migrate into our spiritual lives—we look for points of departure and development in order to draw nearer to God. This practice is not to discourage but to improve. There’s no shame in acknowledging ourselves as we really are. In fact, God can really only begin to heal us once we acknowledge where we are hurt. The Physician cannot tend to our wounds unless we let Him see them.
Several days ago, I was talking to my wife about this concept and she brought up how watching film for athletes is similar to the examination of conscience recommended by the Church. Examining one’s conscience on a regular basis is like looking back over the tape to see the strengths and the weaknesses—the graces and the sins—in order to grow. Then, with this self-knowledge, we can go to God, say thank you, and ask for forgiveness, trusting in His merciful love. God looks down on us and loves us as we are, but He also promises that His love is transformative. He looks down and says, “I love you,” while at the same time calling us higher. He wants us to identify what is so that we may cooperate with His grace and begin the beautiful work of improvement. This we call sanctification.
May we all be willing to look at ourselves honestly—as we really are—so that we enter into the effort that is the fight of faith (cf Jude 3), trust that God’s grace is sufficient (see 2 Cor 12:9), and become the saints Jesus Christ died for us to be.
I watched her curly little head bounce away from me further down the hiking path and around a bend, out of my sight. I knew her older brothers would slow down so she could keep up with them, taking her under their wings. In the midst of a global pandemic, the woods were a safe space, open and free from the danger that seems to lurk everywhere these days. Nonetheless, my heart rate picked up along with my pace. What if a stranger was on the path? What if she fell and got hurt? I couldn’t see the path ahead, and I was afraid.
I hurried along, my anxiety increasing as my steps forward failed to lead me to a view of my children. My thoughts turned dark while the woods around me became bright. Trapped in my own head, I failed to notice the sun breaking through, filtering light through the treetops. Until—there! The sunshine reflecting off of my little girl’s sequin covered sneakers allowed me to catch a glimpse of my babies. “Red light!” I yelled, in our family shorthand for “stop-moving-your-body-immediately.” The birds scattered, startled. My children froze in place as they waited for me to catch up with them. As I knew they would be, the boys were watching closely over their little sister. Taking her by the hand, they coached her through the mud and over the fallen branches.
“See, Mama? Pretty!” my curly little girl exclaimed, joyfully depositing semi-crushed wildflowers into my hands. After rubbing her nose against mine, she joined her brothers on a moss-covered log, not registering my fear for even a moment. Exhaling a sigh of relief, I praised God in joy for great big brothers, my safe little girl, and a Father who is Light, illuminating the way.
In this season of uncertainty, I find myself living that moment on the hiking path time and again: rushing forward, afraid, unable to see what is ahead. My days are filled with research and passionate conversation about schooling, and what the right choice for our family will be this fall. We deliberate over each barbecue invitation and mourn the loss of birthday celebrations that will never come to life. Parenting in a season where change is the only constant is overwhelming.
I’m living that moment on the hiking path again: where I could not see, there was light. Though I was afraid, the Father was before me, protecting my little ones. So now, instead of remaining trapped by my thoughts, I am pursuing His power and protection. I am practicing seeking the light.
In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul reminds us that we can live in joy even in the midst of hardship, and he shows us how: “[We are] strengthened with every power, in accord with His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom[...]”(Colossians 1:11-12).
Joy is a pursuit. By God’s great mercy, we are called out of the darkness and into the light. We are invited to share in the inheritance of the saints, if only we can pursue His power and glorious might instead of depending upon our own. When left to myself, I abandon joy for the hopelessness and despair that seems to permeate the world during this pandemic. However, when I pursue the heart of Christ, I am promised endurance and patience. I am equipped to face the reality of a sick and broken world and to remain unbroken by its weight. In His power alone, joy still abounds.
Joy is a practice. Turning hands full of crushed wildflowers to praise comes with intentionality. So: let us train ourselves to joy. When we feel the dark closing in on us, we are called to joyfully give thanks to the Father and to seek His fingerprints that so graciously mark our lives—to acknowledge His many gifts.
When the trees block our view, let us enjoy the sunshine filtering through their branches. When the path is rocky and unsure, let us acknowledge that He walks alongside us, and before us. When we suffer through sickness, hardship, and isolation, let us hope in God who has overcome suffering once and for all.
This is joy. Grace-filled moments of contentment, happiness, peace, safety, and hope that we open our eyes to experience, even in the midst of the dark. Where happiness is fleeting and circumstantial, joy is ours to keep no matter the circumstance.
Along this path I will stumble and fall. Joy will evade me as I am burdened by fear and uncertainty. But I will allow the Lord to raise me up, seeking the joy He offers me despite my skinned knees.
Like my curly girl, I choose to trust that I am not alone. I choose wildflowers and light. I chase joy.
The principle of God’s Infinite Love is consoling in prayer, encouraging in our personal darkness, and a bright light for preaching and teaching. But when it comes to pastoral care, this Infinite Love can feel overwhelming, idealistic, and impossible. On a more personal level, Infinite Love care can lead to feelings of guilt at not having done enough and shame at not being enough.
Consequently, the idea of accompaniment can quickly appear to be wishful thinking. How am I to walk with people when I am just one person with one sunrise and one sunset each day? There are dozens or hundreds of people who need care in my community, but I can barely finish my homily, or you can barely get the kids to school on time.
The problem is with two false thoughts. First, we are not God. We are not the source of Infinite Love, and we shall never be. Second, accompaniment does not mean that I have to walk with each person all day. This is impossible.
Honestly, many good Catholics have difficulty letting go of control. The worst example of this is the savior complex. We are not the saviors, Jesus is. The reality is that the Lord God is the principal Accompanier, not us! And, out of His goodness, He has chosen myriads of intermediate accompaniers. In other words, and hear me well, WE do not, nay, we cannot try and do it all on our own. And isn’t it ironic that right after we priests preach and teach that to people that they cannot do it on their own, then, as spiritual caretakers we immediately set aside our theological principle of interdependence and try to do it all on our own.
Thoughtful accompaniment lies in deploying a sophisticated network of groups and individuals to care for, to check on, to talk to, to bring communion to those in need. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, just saints. Let the lesson of accompaniment be your lesson today: just do what you can, but don’t go at it alone. Only God is Infinite Love.
My favorite things to eat are sweet treats. Chocolate any-sort-of-way is my snack of choice. I love it! During this quarantined time at home, I’ve found myself baking and eating all kinds of delicious foods and sweet treats. The end result (besides having a belly full of tasty cookies and cakes) has been enjoying these treats together with my family like a little “ritual.” Every night, there is a delicious baked-good in the house that my husband and I look forward to enjoying together. I’ve found comfort in this time together, and it’s something I want to hang onto even after quarantine. My husband and I sit back, unwind with conversation or some TV, and enjoy a yummy treat together on the couch. One might even call it our quarantine tradition!
Baking over these past few weeks has brought another level of joy for me apart from devouring the finished product. Baking in the kitchen brings me joy during this time: I decide what delicious treat to make, assemble all the supplies, read each step closely and carefully, get each ingredient measured just right, and wait patiently for it all to bake. I’m not a very meticulous person when it comes to cooking and baking, but baking with recipes has been a newfound joy that fills my heart. The patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs is St. Honore, whose feast day was just on May 16th. He was a 6th century bishop in France who is normally depicted with a baker’s paddle and wheat; he is celebrated in Paris with a three-day feast and a festival of bread. There is also a special cake in his honor called the “Gateau St. Honore” made of cream puffs, caramelized sugar, and pastry creams. Maybe I’ll honor his feast day (a little late) with a cream puff masterpiece of my own!
Baking brings me joy, and perhaps it can bring you joy during this time as well. Baking with kids, although slightly messier, can be a great source of joy that builds lasting memories. Baking with a spouse or significant other can also bring you closer together.
Here is a list of 9 ideas related to baking that will not only fill your bellies, but also your hearts—adding a little more sweetness to your life during this pandemic and time spent at home:
St. Honore, pray for us!
My wife and I welcomed our first daughter into the world on February 24th, and we brought her home a few days later on Ash Wednesday. As is the typical newborn parent experience, we’ve endured frustrating, sleepless nights and reveled in joy-filled, playful mornings. Because of stay-at-home, work-from-home orders in Texas, my parental leave has been longer than I anticipated, but I believe this is a blessing. Each moment I’ve had with my daughter has been precious, and as I sit on this (squeaky!) rocking chair holding her in my arms, balancing my laptop on my knee, the recent advice of expert parents runs through my mind and evokes in my heart a fresh understanding of God’s divine fatherhood and my pursuit of sainthood.
In the weeks leading up to our daughter’s birth, one mother of 6 said something to me to the effect of: “The nights are long and the days are short, but the years are the fastest of all.” In these first few weeks of parenthood, I’ve found that my wife is more easily roused during the night. When it’s my turn (opportunity, really) to get up mid-REM cycle, the nights really do feel long. Honestly, they drag. But it’s struck me more than once that getting up in the middle of the night is a very practical way that I can pursue holiness in my vocation. To sacrifice sleep to offer comfort to my child and rest for my wife is not in the same league as answering a burning question for the Summa or calling out a witty line while being burned at the stake, but it is a constant formation in the virtues of humility and charity. I’m led to consider St. Therese’s “little way,” which makes more and more sense each day. Those long nights always do turn into days and, I’m sure, the years will speed by soon.
Many people, including our pediatrician, have said, “Always hold your baby in the first few weeks, even when she’s sleeping. You’re not spoiling her, and you won’t get to do that forever.” As a general rule, I’ve always believed babies are cute and, therefore, worthy of spoiling. But no one warned me that when it comes to one’s own child, evolutionary biology and divine motivation combine to make one certain that one’s own baby is the most perfect, most adorable being on all the earth and, therefore, is automatically deserving of every good thing. When I’m holding my daughter in my arms, and I gaze upon her (perfect) little face with its self-inflicted scratches and baby acne, I’m blown away at how much love I have for her. Then, I’m briefly terrified at the thought that something bad could happen to her.
And isn’t that how it is for our relationship with God our Father? He gazes upon us, loving us with all our imperfections, slightly terrified and sorrowful at the thought that sin and death and temporal pursuits could lead us to ruin. As I adjust this baby in my arms right now, I’m wondering whether God pulls us closer to His bosom in those moments of near separation, gazing upon us all the while, reminding us how beloved we are with, as Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved, “all the tenderness and force that love can hold.”
There are many more pieces of advice that have yielded great spiritual reflections for me these last few weeks. Now, I know that I’m not offering any groundbreaking reflections, but maybe the point of this post is not to offer a new thought, but instead to acknowledge that God has spoken these familiar realities of His love and affection for me in a deeper way through the experience of my vocation. I’m encouraged to remind you in these times of distress: God is a loving Father whose sacrificial love turns against all else, even His own justice (Deus Caritas Est, 10) to gaze upon you with all the force that love can hold. Perhaps this is a notion all mothers and fathers before me—spiritual, adoptive, and biological—have come to understand already, but it’s consoling to know that in a time of uncertainty, God still speaks to and affirms His people through personal encounters. Even through a sleeping baby and a squeaky rocking chair.
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Like most of you, my family and I have been in quarantine. When El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele first announced the prospect of a quarantine—before there were any confirmed cases here—our family decided that it would be best to practice physical distancing right away. The public hospital system here in El Salvador is precarious under normal circumstances, and once the virus is at its peak, it won’t matter how much money you have. If you require a hospital bed, you will go where there is one available.
The national convention center in San Salvador is being converted into a 3,000-bed hospital, with 1,000 of those beds designated for intensive-care patients. Our best bet for surviving this pandemic is to stay home and find ways to continue our relationships with the people at our ministries without being physically present—a challenge, but also an opportunity.
My ministry, the women’s cooperative ACOMUJERZA, has come to a screeching halt. We were in the middle of a huge order for the Education Ministry of El Salvador. We are sewing over 3,000 school uniforms as part of a government-funded program. This order is the biggest we have ever been contracted to make, and frankly before this pandemic our members were scrambling to figure out how we were going to sew more than 3,000 pieces in 60 days and how we were going to pay everyone to make all of those uniforms.
ACOMUJERZA applied for a loan from a non-governmental organization that has helped us in the past. We received the preliminary approval for the loan, but with all of the economic uncertainty, the NGO froze all lending for the foreseeable future. ACOMUJERZA members packed up all of the finished uniforms and prepared the building for the beginning of a nationwide mandatory quarantine on Saturday, March 21.
There is so much uncertainty, and yet when I talk to each of our members, they remain positive. The government has promised a government grant of $300 a month to unsalaried workers—those most in need, which applies to some of our members—but that money has not been distributed yet. With 12 days into our quarantine, I worry about how my friends at the cooperative are surviving and if they have enough food to eat.
I spoke with my friend Juanita from the women’s cooperative the other day. She told me that, when she first went home after the president declared quarantine, all she wanted to do was cry. She felt depressed and sad to not be able to go to work and she felt a loss of her freedom. But after a few days, she pulled herself out of her sadness, and she told me about all of the things that she and her daughter decided to do during the mandatory quarantine. They already painted a few rooms in their house, got rid of old clothes, sewed masks and spent time tending to her garden.
“Now the time just seems to be going by quickly, thanks be to God.” she said to me during our last phone call. We chatted a bit longer and before getting off the phone, she reminded me that “we are all called to do our part and, for now, our part is staying at home.”
While checking over my daughter Evey’s daily journal assignment for school, I realized just how I am doing my part. She was assigned to write about what she liked and didn’t like about being homeschooled during the quarantine. She wrote, “I like homeschooling because it is fun and I get to do more fun stuff with my mom.”
Maybe “doing my part” is keeping spirits up among the members of the cooperative, sharing my gifts and talents with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, spending more time with my children and modeling for them how to adjust to an ever-changing reality
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As parents in our early sixties, living in household with our 25, 23 and 19 year old adult children is proving to be an interesting challenge during this pandemic. We have successfully transitioned from training six little ones to launching three and sharing our household with the remaining three. Each of us lives what I consider ‘parallel’ lives under one roof. We all go to our respective jobs, enjoy our own friend groups, and participate in our specific extra-curricular activities, along with sharing family time together. It is a state of life that has forged a certain routine that is pleasantly habitable.
Slam dunk us all into the middle of an unprecedented disease that turns our world upside down overnight – and our happy coexistence becomes challenged. We are forced to adapt to new schedules and new restrictions that we all must willingly cooperate with. Moving from government recommendations to ‘imposed sanctions’ is met with varying reactions from the five in our household. Those of us who are easily contented engaging in solitary activities are not so affected. We find new books to read, projects in the house or the yard, a nature series to watch, extra time to participate in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Rosary and the Mass on tv. Those of us who are energized by hanging out with our peer group, attending public events, or going out to restaurants and pubs find these restrictions close to being imprisoned.
Our foremost responsibility as parents during this uncertain time is to be very intentional in communicating with our young adults about the ‘rules’ and the ‘whys’ and the ‘wherefores’ of cooperating in a Godly manner to all of this. We speak daily of the importance of adhering to social distancing and the extra measures of hygiene and disinfecting while allowing our children to express their frustrations, share new information, and ultimately come to agreement to remain steadfast in cooperation when it is difficult. I can’t stress enough the necessity of speaking daily in a positive manner so that we all help keep each other accountable.
Getting independent, self-sufficient young adults to operate from the same page is most definitely a tight rope act. I’m accompanying them in a way I never have before. It requires lots of talking and more listening. It necessitates creative ways of encouraging. Each family dynamic is different, but in my male-dominated household, what I have found brings us together is food. My plan these days has been to cook, cook, and cook some more! Preparing meals that satisfy and draw us together opens us to sharing our thoughts and feelings and encouraging one another with what we find most difficult. In our discussions, our adult children share their creative ways they have found to connect with friends and to cope with the temporary suspension of activities they regularly participated in. Our pace of life has slowed considerably. My job is on temporary shutdown, but everyone else still goes to their jobs on altered shifts with no work meetings. When they arrive home, I make sure a meal is ready and we talk and pray and relax together.
They are quicker about getting their laundry done, and helping keep common areas of the house disinfected every day.
This altered state of living builds character in each of us. We are being called to willingly forego engaging in activities we love for the greater good of our fellow man. Practicing restraint, perseverance, respectfulness, and kindness allows us to grow in holiness that builds up the kingdom of God. This witness promotes community and joy amidst the pain and devastation that is all around us.
One activity we have purposely not engaged in during this pandemic is watching or reading the news regularly. We do not watch any major news telecasts and keep apprised of current affairs through government messages and the several medical people in our family. We choose not to obsess on what is happening hour by hour. Instead, we focus on praying, eating well, getting extra sleep, playing games, watching movies, reading books, and pursuing our hobbies in our home space. We essentially have created our own little bubble to weather this storm together while continuing to participate in our normal duties to the extent that complies with social distancing.
We are fortunate to live in a digital age where we can access a degree of connectivity through our various devices and remain a safe distance apart. We were created to be relational. We do not want to live this way solely, but we have the privilege of being connected to others like no other time in history. So far, in our semi lockdown mode – no one has blown up at another, no one has a crazed look about them, no one has run away! We are all present and accounted for under one roof amidst significant life changes. Our home remains a sanctuary of harmony and peace. This altered state of living together is a fruit of ‘grace’ that I believe God is showering on us. He is equipping us as we pray with the virtues of prudence and perseverance. He is covering us with His balm of peace to behave respectfully and kindly to one another. I am mindful of my continued dependence on the Holy Spirit’s grace to guide me as a mother. My prayer is for parents everywhere to walk in faith with your children in the will of God and grow in peace and joy together, whatever the circumstances!
To all the parents home with their children, who are looking for creative, easy, or fun ways to spend the day, here are some great options to try for spiritual, mental, and physical health!
Set a routine. It is important to establish consistency and keep kids on a structure like they are during a school day. For older children, have them collaborate with you as you create a schedule to allow for some influence on their day. It allows for predictability in the day, and children knowing what is expected of them is crucial to the well-being and peace of all in the family. Below is a schedule example. This can be used as a starting place for your family. Feel free to move things around or dedicate your time differently. What’s important is maintaining a routine that works for your family!
Focus on gratitude. With many feeling anxious and having to deal with a lot that is so unknown, having a grateful heart can mean a world of difference for your well-being and that of your family. Have your child write thank-you-notes to mail carriers, restaurant workers, grocery store employees, and members of the family. Or, start the day by finding 3 things to be grateful for, then end the day like that too. Talk about this with your child and share your gratitude with them.
Prayer. There is nothing more powerful than prayer, and prayer as a family is crucial during this time at home together. Make time. Take time. Add it to a daily routine. In addition to saying prayers you may know by rote, consider reading the Daily Readings from USCCB to read the Word together in prayer.
Play! For young children, older teens, and everyone in between, play is crucial. For older children that may mean down-time or free time to decompress, but for young children in elementary school this is so important for development. Playing together, but also playing independently helps support their creativity. As a parent, also take some time to think of ways you can “play”—not only with your children, but with your spouse or on your own. Make sure to come up with fun activities that are life-giving for you and your spouse: board games, a puzzle, baking, etc.
Pretend and make believe. “Boredom breeds creativity” I was once told, and I couldn’t agree more! When children are given a chance to imagine and pretend away from distractions and technology they will think up all kinds of incredible things. As a parent, you may need to guide or inspire some pretend or make-believe with prompts or guidelines until your kids seem ready to take-off on their own. Even giving your child a difficult or challenging task and saying, “figure it out” may help for older kids who need to problem-solve. But here are some ways to get started:
Exercise. For children of all ages and adults too, exercise is so important. Although we must consider social distancing, getting outside and even just taking a walk is more crucial than ever as we are in our homes all day long. If you don’t have a yard to play in, try walking to the closest field or park to catch a ball or ride a bike around the neighborhood. If you cannot get outside, there is plenty to do inside. YouTube has workouts for children and adults, and there are workouts on Netflix and other streaming services to get you started.
Write letters. This is a nice thing to do at all ages and levels of writing abilities, young ones can draw pictures and write what they can, while older kids could tell someone all about their latest adventure at home. Write to grandparents, relatives, elderly folks in nursing homes, neighbors, and friends from school who are also at home. It’s amazing how good someone may feel receiving a note or letter, knowing your child was thinking of them.
Call someone, FaceTime, or video chat with someone. We are blessed in this digital age to have technology that can still keep us “together.” Calling friends, family, and loved ones, either on the phone or using a video chat application, maintains and strengthens our relationships with people we may not be able to see or visit right now.
Read a book. Have your child help you create a booklist of 50 or 100 books and see how many they can read, then have a fun prize like baking cookies together or extra down-time be the reward.
Activity pages made by teachers. For kids who are out of school altogether, look for materials online to keep kids up to speed on math skills, reading activities, and everything in between. With schools shut down, there is plenty out there to find!
Make your own studying tools. Don’t forget that anyone (including the student) can make flash cards for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division - as long as you have paper and something to write with! Some drills you could practice:
Fine motor development. Play with Play Doh (or make your own). Squeeze items with tweezers. Count and play with beads or buttons. Bake and roll out dough, ball up cookies, or knead pizza dough.
We are living in unprecedented times which can add to the stress level of family life. We invite you during this pandemic to see this as a blessed time to rekindle relationships within your families and communities through prayer, play, and creativity and hope these resources will prove fruitful for you as we continue to navigate this time.
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Recently, my life has changed a lot. I had my first child, Vincent Scott Pierno, on January 31st, and he is the greatest joy I’ve ever known. I never knew that becoming a mother could fulfill my life in the ways it has, and I thank God each day for the happiness, tears, and everything in between that he has brought into my life. As a family, we’ve also started house-hunting and looking for a place to settle within this busy and chaotic Washington, DC area. My in-laws will be moving in with us, and although they’ve already been an amazing help with the newborn, it’s another change to our lifestyle. Finding joy in these changes has been challenging at times, but not impossible through the grace of God. I invite you to join me in reflecting on change in our lives and ways to find joy during times of trial and tribulation.
One way to work through life’s changes is through Scripture. There are so many examples we can look to that give us strength and remind us of the goodness in change. One is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This passage gives me hope. It can be anxiety-provoking to go through so many changes all at once, but Christ gives us strength and we can do all things with his help.
Another verse from Joshua 1:9 that speaks of courage during a hectic time is: “I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” In Scripture, we look at examples of people who have also found change difficult and needed support from God. This reliance is the definition of faith: trust and dependence on God through all things, even when the end is not in sight.
Another way to work through life’s changes is through prayer. In prayer we can develop a closer relationship with God, and in this dialogue find joy in knowing Christ more deeply. Prayer can be done in many ways: silently, out loud, in reflection, through journaling, and even through participating in the Mass regularly. Since prayer is “both personal and communal,” we can encounter Christ however we feel most comfortable. I’ve found that the most important part of this prayer is not to always ask God for things, but to offer thanksgiving and to listen. The “listening” is the hardest to do. The chaos of a busy and a constantly changing life makes it even more difficult during challenging periods to take time and listen to God. However, it is in those hard times that we can deepen our relationship with Him.
The final way I’d really like to impart is by keeping track of and celebrating joy. In this age of social media and 24/7 news updates, it’s easy to see so much negativity all around us. People gossip about others, worry about things that have nothing to do with them, troll people online for their own enjoyment, and trash talk things that people don’t need to even have an opinion about. This negativity can seep into our daily lives and we can get lost in it. I invite you instead to be a whirl of positivity. As Catholics, we are called to action by being missionaries in the world. St. Vincent Pallotti suggests this in his teachings, and brilliantly states this saying, “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.” I find his words timeless.
The deeds that Pallotti refers to can be simple ones, such as celebrating anything good that comes into our lives by posting it on social media or encouraging joy in the lives of others. We could truly create small havens of joy for people to encounter by simply finding the joy that already exists. Share this joy and gratitude with at least one person, whether in-person or online. Some examples from my life include sharing in my son’s new life and looking for the good in being home with him rather than the stress. Even something as easy as a smile could change someone’s day. I invite you to use these hashtags when you post about your joys as we get through this life together in Christian spirit! #joyinChristianaction #findingjoyineverything #discoverjoyfulmoments
Recently at Mass, our priest explained the love of God as Father in a way that I had never heard before. As a parent and teacher, I resonated with his words deeply.
In the Gospel, Jesus sent out 72 disciples in pairs to share the good news (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20). They came back rejoicing in all that they could do - like cast out demons - because of the name of Jesus. But our priest reminded us that this is because of God’s glory, not ours. In fact, Jesus didn’t even need the 72 if he didn’t want them. As God, he could share the Gospel on his own to the whole world, in an instant. But instead, he finds it more beautiful and meaningful to have them and us share in ministry. Yes, it is also messy, but love shared is so much more fruitful.
Our priest gave many examples of how a parent lets their child help with chores. I experienced the same “I want to help!” one day as I was cutting strawberries. I could have done it in five minutes by myself, or I could let my two-year-old son help—knowing that this would take much longer, that there would be more to clean up, and that I would have to take a lot more precautions. But I sat him on the counter, and he started taking off stems as I washed the strawberries. He took a turn washing some, too. He let me cut the strawberries, but he said he would put them in the container for me. And what a delight it was to remind him how helpful he was, to have him remind me that “we have to be safe” while using a knife, to see him eat a few strawberries along the way and remark on how yummy they were, and to see the joy on his face when he put the lid on our bowl of cut up strawberries and help put them in the fridge. In the same way, God lets us help him prepare strawberries, too. He delights in our imperfect attempts to help and love, to share in his ministry, wherever it is that he has called us to serve.
As I write this, it is the second anniversary of my son’s baptism. It is not lost on me what a gift and responsibility it is to raise our children in the faith: to be nurturing saints for heaven alongside my husband and how grateful I am to our community near and far who support us along the way. But again, I am reminded that God could raise our children much better than us (just ask me about tooth brushing or navigating toddler discipline). But he lets us do so and he gives us love and mercy and grace to accompany us day after day. This grace is found abundantly in the sacraments. I pray that we teach and model to our children that we can always call upon that grace, and that they have a desire to participate in it. I pray that they may say to God, “I want to help!,” knowing that all is for God’s glory—not theirs – and that through Him all things are possible.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus reminds the 72 to “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). My prayer for my children – and for each of us as we celebrate the gift of our baptisms, is that we always know that we are loved, wanted, and called. May we know that by the gift of baptism, our names, too, can be written in heaven.
To my son, I pray that you’ll always want to help prepare strawberries with me and with God. Thank you for teaching me about childlike faith in a whole new light. Thank you for letting me help God – even though imperfectly – by raising and loving you. It is mine and your father’s greatest joy to serve God through the gift of our children’s lives.