“When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things.” – Pope Francis
The quote above from Pope Francis’s introductory remarks to the pilgrims of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, spoke to over 2 million young adults traveling around the globe to worship together. Pope Francis’ words were heard by people already impacted by the message of Christ, many of whom, I would guess were informed of and formed by the love of God thanks to their Catholic educations.
Today we celebrate in the United States the feast of St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia and founder of the first diocesan school system in the United States. Per the request of many families in his diocese, Bishop Neumann established a diocesan school system so that the children of the diocese could receive Catholic instruction and grow in their faith in a classroom setting. When the school system was established, the diocese of Philadelphia was strapped for resources, so Bishop Neumann invited many different religious communities to the fledgling schools to tend to the rapidly growing immigrant population in the city. His efforts both established the school system and increased the education of the city’s Catholic youth by more than twenty-fold. His diocesan system later served as the model for parochial Catholic education for much of the United States.
St. John Neumann understood in the 19th Century - much like Pope Francis does now -that learning about the love of Christ through educational experiences can be an important part of our evangelical mission in this world. If we are all called to share in the evangelizing mission of the Gospel, then we must consider in what ways those gifts and talents can be utilized for the purpose of that mission. For St. John Neumann, Catholic education provided the youth a designated place to come and learn about the Lord and how to live as a Catholic alongside of their other studies.
For many youth, their formal catechesis ends with sacramental preparation. Families often don’t understand the importance of continual catechesis throughout a person’s life. So, what can we do to help the youth and young adults in our parishes and communities become more engaged in the faith outside of Catholic schools? How can we support education in non-traditional ways? The answer is particular to your individual situation and universal to the faith we all believe in. Pope Francis has some advice and good examples of experiences that I cannot better summarize myself:
“Knowing your enthusiasm for mission, I repeat: mercy always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone. A merciful heart can be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; it can build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate; it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion. A merciful heart can share its bread with the hungry and welcome refugees and migrants. To say the word ‘mercy’ along with you is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion and dreams.”
Is your parish environment one of mercy? Does it foster openness and compassion? Is it willing to embrace people where they are with mercy and hospitality? Is your parish one that is moving outside of its parish borders and going to where it’s a bit uncomfortable and meeting people where they are both physically and spiritually?
This is part of the continuing education that we as Catholics must undertake if we are to carry the mission of God to the world. We must constantly learn and relearn the message of Christ as espoused in the Gospels and find ways to practice it in our daily lives. We must learn to love and serve God and to love and serve our neighbor, not just from behind a desk, but in every step we take.
What does it mean to be a human person? Psalm 139:14-15 proclaims, “I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.” Despite physiological or personal obstacles, each member of God’s children deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin. At its core, health and wellness maintains a sense of individuality that spans many shapes, sizes, and functionalities. In every stepping stone of my career as a health and wellness professional, I have lived by this ideal. As an active Catholic, I also believe in the spiritual aspect of health and wellness. However, it is only recently that I have begun to realize the weight of what this means to me as a Catholic professional in today’s society. When the proclamation of this psalm began to speak to my heart and, more importantly, when I began to listen, my interpretation of the philosophy that has been written on my heart for so many years burst forth into a new light.
There are a multitude of outside influences that are attempting to tear down the human person as designed by God. Secular society tends to create boxes to place every person inside. The secular world in which we live wants us to think that they celebrate individuality, while simultaneously expecting us to meet the standards that they are creating. We are placed in a certain box based on our physique, appearance, material goods, professional success, and the list goes on. In turn, we become self-focused. Life either becomes a game of getting ahead and finding the easiest way to receive instant gratification or a retreat into the darkness of, “I’m not good enough”.
Our bodies are truly a temple for the Holy Spirit. Sadly, society not only ignores the responsibility that comes with such a gift, but impresses upon us that “being fit” or rejoicing in the comfort of our God-given skin must conform to the box in which society presents. So, what is the good news? The human person, as designed by God, was not designed to be placed in a box. Pope Benedict proclaimed, “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” I assure you, the greatness Pope Benedict XVI speaks of does not fit in a box.
God saw and loved in His Son what He loves in us: humanity. We are a Resurrection people made in the image and likeness of our God, the resurrected Body of Christ. You, a human person, are made in His image and likeness. We truly are the body of Christ. Therefore, it is essential to look after all aspects of our wellness from this perspective. Rejoice and praise Him with song, dance, movement, human interaction, and day to day life. If we can strive to live this realization together, we can experience something extraordinary, life-altering, and full of excitement, motivation, and healing. These are the thoughts and ideals that I strive to live by and share with those that I meet. “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, what is pleasing, and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Elaine Seckar is the Wellness Coordinator at Saint Patrick Church and a Fitness Clinician for United Cerebral Palsy of Central PA in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
What do you do when you are feeling sad, scared, or anxious? Where do you turn for a source of comfort?
The Blessed Mother knows all about sorrow. She is always ready to comfort any one of her children who come to her in prayer. But, have you ever thought about offering comfort to her?
The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is today, September 15, 2015. Perhaps you might be able to find a little bit of time to spend with her. Much less familiar than the Rosary is the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows. The chaplet is made up of seven groups of seven beads. Each group is separated by a single bead. In praying the chaplet, you would meditate on each of the seven sorrows while reciting one Our Father and seven Hail Mary’s. If you would like to pray the chaplet, this webpage can be of help.
The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
The Prophecy of Simeon
The Flight into Egypt
The Child Jesus Lost in the Temple
Mary Meets Jesus Carrying His Cross
Mary at the Foot of the Cross
Mary Receives the Body of Jesus
Mary Witnesses the Burial of Jesus
The seven sorrows span from the earliest days of Jesus’ life to His final hours. All of the Blessed Mother’s sorrows tie back to her Son. For a mother, very few things compare to watching the child she loves hurting. Although the Blessed Mother certainly put her entire trust in God, she still would have known terror when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the threat of King Herod to save their precious newborn Son. Not only was the Holy Family far from home, but they had no idea when it might be safe to return to Nazareth. Any parent can tell you how scary it is when their child is lost. No words would be adequate to describe how scared Mary must have felt as she and Saint Joseph spent three full days searching for Jesus before finding Him teaching the elders in the temple.
The next time you ask the Blessed Mother for her intercession before God, remember that she understands sorrow and anxiety. During her own life, the Blessed Mother understood suffering; just like all of us today understand the experience of suffering in our own lives. She is always there, more than happy to pray for us. Perhaps you might return the favor, and find a bit of time to spend with her.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
We walk amidst the shadows and call them life. We’re so accustomed to the dimness of this world that light is too abrasive. It burns rather than warms, offends rather than illuminates. We stumble around in the fog, thinking we are dancing. It’s like looking in the mirror and confusing the reflection with the person. Many things prevent us from truly seeing ourselves—from knowing who we are, from where we’ve come and where we are going. We’ve convinced ourselves that we are comfortable. “Comfortable” is our best friend. It doesn’t demand much of us, doesn't pry, doesn’t ask us to change. It leaves us quite alone, minds its own business. Comfortable—a makeshift refuge amidst the vast discomfort of the world we face each day. Comfortable—the often elusive goal of our lives. Comfortable—a concession to a fate that is not our true end.
Peter, James and John were comfortable in their lives before a rabbi from Nazareth invited them to drop everything and follow him. Their lives were not inherently sinful; their occupations were worthy. Life seemed good. These men were comfortable until they met the Christ who called them to something more. While the high calling Christ invited these men into was glimpsed throughout Jesus’ entire ministry, it is most fully revealed on earth in an apocalyptic way in the Transfiguration of Christ. As the Gospel tells us, soon after Peter’s profession of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the top of Mt. Tabor. Once there, Jesus is transfigured before them, “his clothes became dazzling white. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus (Mk 9: 3-4). His apostles are terrified. They have seen something almost greater than they could physically behold. Next, they hear the words of God the Father, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (9:7). They have been confronted by light, the Eternal Light of God himself, and are roused out of any makeshift comfort they had created for themselves. The apostles were uncomfortable, puzzled, amazed.
What does the Transfiguration tell us? First, that this luminous state is our destiny. As baptized Christians, we are called to be fully transfigured into Christ himself, shedding anything in our being that does not reflect his light and love. This capacity is already within us, though we diminish it with sin. Second, the Transfiguration shows us that comfortable is not enough. It is neither the goal of the Christian life, nor what we were made for. The Transfiguration instead shows us that we were made for greatness and excellence even amidst the discomfort of our world. We were never made to settle, just as we were never made for the fog, darkness or failure many people accept as daily life. Instead, Christ invites us to love. The Transfiguration is a testament to this love, for this transfigured destiny is only made possible because of his sacrifice of love on the cross. The Transfiguration is pure gift and mercy. And we can begin to be transfigured now, today.
To be transfigured, we are called to imitate Christ’s love. This is an uncomfortable love that demands all of who we are. It is love that evaporates our egotism, that hurts, that pushes us out of ourselves and into the lives and well-being of others. Love that we have to practice, and will fail at, again and again. Love that is, and will be, crucified.
But love that is worth it. Love that reminds us who we are and why we’re here. Love that takes us from the shadows and actually calls us to dance. Love that breaks through the fog and never diminishes. Love that is the true light. Love that transfigures.
As today’s reflection from Magnificat says, “The Savior begs: ‘Become what you behold!’”
Kate Flannery is the Social Media Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
As I looked from the trail, I saw a beautiful, soft mist that seemed to be gently kissing my face. There was a purple hue on the vast fields of heather ahead; while the surrounding foliage was the brightest green that I'd ever seen. There was a soft breeze that gently traveled through the glen and seemed to be the words of encouragement I needed to keep climbing; to keep pushing. In the distance there was a long loch that seemed to stretch for miles and miles. In the air if I stopped and listened, I swear that off in the distance a lone bagpiper was playing. In this moment, I finally gained appreciation for the country of my ancestors. I was in Scotland, climbing Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the country. I was on a pilgrimage through land of my ancestors. My grandfather's family hails from the northern most island in the Orkney Islands called North Ronaldsay. The Tulloch's were proud members of Clan Ross, and were happy to wear the family tartan. I thought I had found paradise, and I didn't want to leave.
Many years later, I was walking down a cobblestone street and found another paradise. I could hear bells tolling and I could smell another phenomenal dish being served at a sidewalk restaurant. There was a clear, deep blue sky above, even on New Year's Day. It did not take very long to actually hear a musician playing a familiar country tune. I went from church to church walking with the saints. This was the city of Rome, in all its glory. As I wandered the streets with our pilgrimage group, eating gelato, I thought to myself that this place also was paradise and I didn't want to leave.
In a way that's what pilgrimages do. They transport us to a new location, both physically and spiritually. This Saturday is the feast of Saint James the Apostle. St. James was one of Jesus' first disciples, was present for the transfiguration, and it is believed that he was the first apostle to be martyred. After his death, his remains were transported to Spain and he was buried at Santiago de Compostela. This site has become one of the greatest pilgrimage locations in the world called El Camino, The Way of St. James. Pilgrims since the Middle Ages have been making the trek in northern Spain. It can take a pilgrim several months to complete, depending on which route they take, and the pilgrimage is becoming increasingly popular. In 1985, records show that approximately 700 pilgrims made the trek, but by 2010 there were nearly 273,000 pilgrims that set out to complete the Way of St. James. This popular pilgrimage was documented in the 2010 movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen and written by his son, Emilio Estevez.
Pilgrimages can be anywhere and can take any kind of form. We can travel to distant places, far from home, or we can visit somewhere close to home. Pilgrimages are meant for us to find ourselves and to deepen our relationship with God. When we walk with a friend, we chat and get to know them better, and the same is true when we walk with God. As we move forward in life, we are never done with our journey. When we rejoice, God is there rejoicing, and when we cry, God is there too, comforting us. Pilgrimages remind us of this. If we can seek God in all places then one does not have to be in the Scottish Highlands, in the streets of Rome, or on the Camino to be on pilgrimage. We can go anywhere and we will be on our way to find God.
Patrick Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
To learn more about Martin Sheen and his Catholic Identity, check out this webinar where Sr. Rose Pacette, FSP discusses the faith surrounding this actor and the stories that shaped his Catholic Faith:
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this day, be at my side,
To light, to guard, to rule, and guide.
Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. The prayer above was one my mother taught me when I was a child, and even now I can easily recall it. She taught me to say it as I was going to bed, a reminder that my Guardian Angel would be watching me as I slept. Throughout Scripture, we see the importance of angels and their role as intermediaries between us and God. A prime example of this is the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce to her that she would give birth to the son of God. But, beyond the known archangels, we recognize the role of individual Guardian Angels. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that “from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their [angels'] watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God" (CCC, n. 336).
When I saw that today was the Memorial of the Guardian Angels, it got me thinking about this idea of a Guardian Angel, something I hadn’t thought about a lot as an adult. As children, many of us are taught about our Guardian Angel, who is continually watching over us. It’s a comforting thought, to think that there is a specific angel “assigned” to protect and watch over you…and only you! It’s creates a sense of security and safety, especially in the mind of a young child. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus alludes to these angels, remind us to “not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father”. (MT 18:10)
Now that I’m older, I certainly don’t think of a Guardian Angel in the same way. As a child I imagined an invisible person, following me around constantly to make sure nothing bad happened (which is a daunting task for anyone, but I pity the angel assigned to protect me, with my proclivity for clumsiness!). As comforting as the idea of an invisible protector seems to me now, I recognize the idea of a Guardian Angel as something different. Guardian Angels can be seen as a symbol of God’s enduring love for us. In the huge expanse of the human population it is often easy to feel insignificant. But the symbol of a Guardian Angel serves to remind us that God’s love is individual and complete! We were made in the image and likeness of God, and He truly loves each and every one of us on a personal level. So tonight, say a prayer to your Guardian Angel, remembering that God watches over you through these Angels, a sign of his unending Love!
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, "How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgement and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?"
As Christians, we are tasked with following the teachings of Christ over those of the world. Doing so often puts us at odds with the latter, amid accusations of fostering inequality, forcing our beliefs on others, adhering to obsolete traditions, or getting involved in matters that do not concern the Church. It’s true that there have been many efforts over the centuries to silence Christians—persecution is nothing new to the Church—but Jesus had warned that believing in Him would not make us popular in the eyes of the world (John 15:18, c.f. 1 John 3:13, 2 Timothy 3:12, 2 Corinthians 4:8-11, Revelation 2:10). The most recent evidence of persecution can be seen in the ongoing ISIS attacks in the Middle East, where people who have been living in areas that have been Christian for nearly 2,000 years are suddenly being forced to convert or die. Though this grave situation is happening half a world away, it is critical that we do not remain apathetic during our daily routines. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., in his closing remarks at The Catholic University of America’s Mass of the Holy Spirit, warned that human atrocities can occur if people remain silent about the plight of others.
As Christians, we are all united in the body of Christ through our baptism (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, c.f. Romans 12:15) and as such, we must care about what affects another member. To that end, Saint Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” While it is easy to forget the persecution occurring beyond our borders in our comfortable day-to-day activities, we cannot simply be sorry for the terrible suffering endured by others—these are truly our brothers and sisters in the faith who need our continuous compassion and support! We may not be able to fully imagine the terror they are experiencing but we can at the very least offer prayers and sacrifices (i.e. suffer with them) on their behalf.
Never doubt the value of prayer. It remains a most powerful means of comfort, hope, and strength from and in God. Pope Francis has stressed that “prayer, in the face of a problem, a difficult situation, a calamity…is opening the door to the Lord, so that He can do something. If we close the door, God can do nothing!” When we offer our prayers, we are also expressing our trust that God is more powerful than the problems presented by the world—He can bring good out of evil—as we read of many biblical miracles when God’s people prayed for deliverance and forgiveness. When we pray, we remember the needs and welfare of our brothers and sisters in the faith and become united through our communication with God. With sincerity and reverence, the words spoken aloud or in one’s mind and heart are infinitely more effective than simply pitying the plights of others.
In spite of all the terrors and injustices reported to and/or experienced by us each day, let us never forget to hope! Suffering is indeed a part of life, but by the Passion and death of Christ, salvation for the world has been achieved. We can take comfort and rejoice that our own suffering can be joined with His and offered up as gratitude for His willing Sacrifice: because of His subsequent resurrection, we too can look forward to being raised.
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: "For your sake, we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." no, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
"The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death" (Porta Fidei, 13)
Death is often something that we do not like to discuss, especially in the context of the New Evangelization. These two concepts might seem like they don’t mix well, but I hope to show how they are. It is quite natural that we try to deflect the topic of death and dying and why we do not want to face the reality of a difficult situation. But, when death comes into our lives we have no control and it is something that we must handle. After the wake and the funeral are over, and the family goes home, the void is sill there. The sense of loss does not want to go away and it seems like we cannot move on from the loss.
On March 7th, I went though this pain for the fourth time this past year with the passing of my paternal grandfather and namesake. I lost two grandfathers, a cousin, and a close family friend who I consider more like an uncle. Each of these individuals have greatly impacted my life and I would not be who I am without them. Recently I have done a lot of reflecting on what these lives have meant to me. Time and time again I go back to the number of lessons that my grandfathers' have taught me. They taught me some of the classics like fishing, a love for music and art, gardening and the importance of a good cup of British Tea or Italian coffee.
But it was not these lessons that are the most import that matter. These two men also taught me the importance of family, tradition, love, and faith. My maternal grandfather was a great lover of music; he was singer and a violinist. He introduced me to the Masses written by Mozart, Beethoven, and Verdi. Through his love, he showed me how music can represent a love for God and his creation. Music has come to affect my life and how I pray to God. He broadened my horizons and taught me about musical tradition that dated back centuries, and his love for this went far beyond the music itself. It helped one transport oneself to become close with God. My paternal grandfather taught me two different aspects of faith: a devotion to Mary and the importance of service. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease, which caused great pain and eventually an almost complete loss of memory. There were only four things he could remember before he passed away; his brother, his wife (my grandmother), his personal motto, which was “great and grateful no matter what”, and how to pray the Hail Mary. His devotion to the Blessed Mother was a quiet one. His service to others was like his devotion, a quiet one. He was just as happy serving on a board of trustees or picking up trash at the church picnic as long as it helped others.
On the night before my paternal grandfather's funeral, one of our parish priests began the prayer vigil. He offered a short reflection on what this meant and there was a part of it that has stuck with me. This young priest said that our relationship with the dead was not over, but rather was changed. The relationship was now through the eternity of Jesus Christ. Our faith teaches us that Christ connects us regardless of time and that life continues after death. The New Evangelization is a reminder of this hope and comfort. Pope Emeritus Benedict got this right in Porta Fidei, it is the joy of love that conquers death and gives us hope. This hope is found in our faith, and fills the void from the loss. While the sting of death will always be present, it is Christ, who walks with us at every step, who takes away the sting and returns our capacity to love one another.
Pat Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Growing up in a large Catholic family gave me the opportunity to interact with the Catholic Church’s love for Mary and the Saints. However, looking back just recently, it is no surprise that my appreciation of Mary came to being as I grew in a deeper appreciation of my own mother. I tell people that I would be content if I were a fraction of the person that she is. While I could go on forever about how wonderful my mother is, I’ll limit myself to just sharing one characteristic of her that I think is crucial for understanding and appreciating Mary as the Mother of God: when I go to my mom for advice, she will always end the conversation suggesting that I pray about it and ask God for the necessary virtues to make an action or decision. By asking me to pray about it, she helps me direct my attention toward Christ.
You may or may not have this same experience with your own mothers, but Mary is the Mother of God, making her Our Mother as well. We all have the opportunity to approach Mary’s open arms in the hope of receiving her comfort and love. But even more importantly, she is able to point us to Christ, to encourage us to grow our relationship with her Son. Look at scripture and you can see where Mary helps guide people to Christ. In particular, look at the Wedding at Cana, for instance, in John 2. Mary and Jesus were at a wedding, and the hosts ran out of wine. Mary went to Jesus and told him that they were out of wine and were in need of more. Jesus responded to her, "Woman, what is that to me and to you? My hour is not yet come." Mary did not really respond to this. Instead, she went to the waiters and told them, "Do whatever He tells you." Her remark shows that she knew that He was about to perform a miracle. She knew that he would fulfill her request. Jesus instructed the servants to fill some huge jugs with water. Because of Mary's advice they obeyed. Think about this now: Mary told Christ what the servants needed, and she then immediately told the servants to do as Jesus tells him. Does Mary not tell Christ our needs, and then instructs us to do as her Son instructs us to do? By going to our Blessed Mother, Mary can help us follow the path to Christ the way she helped the servants obey Jesus. Like the Wedding at Cana, she will tell her Son our needs and then, pointing to her Son, tell us to do as He instructs us.
Mary not only directs us towards Christ. Our hearts yearn to be like Mary. This is because Mary fulfilled God’s invitation of perfect love, which allows her to become the person she was meant to be. We have that same calling. While we will not achieve this goal in absolute perfection the way Mary did, we can look to Mary as our human role model for true, authentic Christian love towards God and towards our fellow human being. Mary, being the New Eve of Creation, can directly link us to God. Think about this, if Mary directly brought Christ to the world, then would she directly bring us to Christ through prayer? She is our direct route to growing closer in Christ, as she knew Christ better than anyone else. So maybe like some of our own earthly mothers, Mary is our role model and our guide towards holiness.
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
Our Church breathes through the two lungs of Scripture and Tradition, and as members of the Church we are called to do the same to live a flourishing life. The Catechism of our Church explains the importance of Scripture saying, "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life" (CCC 131). In order to inspire a life of apostolic vocation with strength and vigor, we begin today our first installment of the "Scripture to Life" series. Through the intercession and example of Our Lady, Mother of God and Queen of Apostles, we hope that the Word of God may be enfleshed by you.
Throughout my spiritual journey I have always struggled with pinpointing the virtue of humility in my life. I don’t think this is due to any lack of desire for the virtue, (it usually isn’t) but rather a lack of true understanding of the virtue. In the Gospel passage of John 13, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and as he approached, Peter asked, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Whenever I read this passage, I always anticipate what Peter says next: “You will never wash my feet!”
For some reason, I am always drawn to Peter’s stark rejection of Jesus’ perfect example of humility. If you have practiced lectio divina before, you know that when a part of Scripture confuses the heck out of you, that is exactly the point where you must stop reading, close your eyes, and listen.; It is specifically in this moment that God seeks to transform you through the power of his living word.
My meditation on this passage continues with reflecting on exactly what was going through Peter’s mind and heart at the moment of his objection: confusion and feelings of extreme discomfort. It is as if Peter, like many of us who strive for, yet lack the fullness of this most necessary virtue of humility, is saying: WAIT! I don’t understand! Why are you asking me to go this far outside of my “comfort zone” in order to be your disciple?
One of the ways I ask my students to relate to Peter’s level of discomfort is by asking them to consider allowing me to wash their feet in front of their friends. As they all cringe and shout “that’s disgusting”, I simply say, multiply your level of discomfort by ten and that is probably how the apostles felt when Jesus began to wash their feet.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ invitation to his apostles to accept this teaching is vital to their emerging role in the building up the Kingdom of God and one of extreme importance to his mission of salvation. His disciples must go beyond all levels of comfort in order to serve Him and to create His Kingdom on earth. Likewise, this invitation is extended to us, who are called to be apostles of Christ by joining in the Church’s mission of evangelization.
However, like Peter (as well as my students and myself) most Christians in today’s world, cringe when Jesus invites them to serve in ways that take them beyond their comfort zone. Jesus is saying that it is precisely in the moments that lead us beyond ourselves, our fears and our assumptions, that we can do the greatest good in witnessing to the New Evangelization and building up the Kingdom.
The great missionary and witness to the New Evangelization, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Always take the more difficult road.” To me, there is no path more difficult than the path of humility and yet none more fulfilling. I have felt extremely uncomfortable at times when discerning the call of the Holy Spirit! Nevertheless, like Peter, I am immediately reassured with the words of Jesus’ gentle response: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”
Our task then, like Peter’s, is learning to respond with true understanding and true humility; for this is essential to our Christ-filled witness in the New Evangelization. Jesus, in this paradigm, testifies that when we reject the sin of self-absorption and are ready to serve selflessly we pave the way for God’s people to enter into the Kingdom of God: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk 14:11
Bart Zavaletta received a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Houston and a M.A. in Theology from the Oblate School of Theology, and currently teaches Theology at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska.