In high school we had a religion teacher, named Mr. Matthews, who used to tell us not to worry about memorizing anything from his class but these words: “Love God with your whole mind, heart, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
He would say, “If you come back and see me twenty years from now, I’ll be happy if those words are all you remember.”
Mr. Matthew’s motto was inspired of course by Matthew 22:34-40, which happens to be today’s Gospel reading for the [Optional] Memorial of Saint Louis of France. In this text, Jesus clarifies that love of God and love of neighbor are the two greatest commandments on which everything else depends. To put in another way – without love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians).
The pandemic has shown just how much we need this love in our world. And while it may be challenging to connect with one another right now, there are still ways we can share love with others from wherever we happen to be.
Three Small Ways of Loving God
Three Small Ways of Loving Neighbor
Remember also, we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself.” During this unique and challenging time, are you taking care of your own spiritual, emotional, and physical needs? If you aren’t sure, it may be worth spending some time today writing down a short list of ways you can practice healthy self-care.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out “Living the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy During COVID-19” and “Mental Health and Coronavirus.”
Imagine four graduate students passionate about ministry and ready for new experiences. We pulled up to a ranch house in New Hampshire in August 2012 and unloaded our packed cars. Our next two years were devoted to serving in local parishes while earning our degrees in theology through the Echo Graduate Service Program.
Our first community prayer took place on the Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast day we celebrate on Thursday. The translation for “Clairvaux” is “Valley of Light”; we didn’t know a great deal about Bernard, but the theme of light clicked. We were accumulating candles as welcome gifts from our parishes, so of course, it was a sign! We pieced together his biography and reflected on his dynamic writings. We asked St. Bernard to be the patron of our house and bless our time together.
St. Bernard was a monk who lived in 11th century France and became a Doctor of the Church. From an early age, he was considered devout and well-educated. The third of seven children, Bernard took a particular interest in poetry and had a special devotion to Mary. He notably authored the Memorare prayer. He became a respected abbot of what are now the Cistercians in the Diocese of Langres. Bernard is credited with naming the monastery he began Claire Vallée, in an area originally named Vallée d'Absinthe, or Valley of Bitterness. He was known for his influence among clergy and political leaders. St. Bernard died in 1153 and was canonized in 1174.
Now imagine a young family. My husband, one-year-old son, and I prepared to “hunker down” for quarantine in March 2020 in Indiana. Five months later, we are still amid a global pandemic that can feel overwhelming, oppressive, disheartening, and confusing all at once. The virus has also revealed some of the most beautiful elements of community and compassion.
While I can’t compare the virus to the challenges Bernard faced as a young adult starting a monastery with a “band of monks,” I appreciate how he held fast to the deeper purpose of Benedictine life. He cultivated habits of work, leisure, and rest while counseling his fellow monks, clergy, and politicians. COVID-19 forced me to recognize how I create space to listen and be with God both inside and outside my home, much like Bernard’s contemplative life.
Eight years ago, the patron of candlemakers introduced what it means to practice a type of “spirituality of home” where home is not only a place for living, but also one of brightness, hope, and intentionality. I can see hope daily in our little boy, doing the hokey pokey many times over, reading books, and playing chase. We intentionally set up a prayer table in our living room where we say morning and evening prayers as a family and filled walls with icons and pictures to remember who it is we say thank you to! These habits took time, but they have been a source of security in such a time of uncertainty.
I’m grateful to St. Bernard for bringing light to all the “unknowns” in our little ranch house in New England and my first home in the Midwest. He is a guide who shows us how to cultivate habits that lead to a deeper relationship with God, our true home!
Reflection Questions: How might we practice a “spirituality of home”? Where is the light in our individual “valleys of bitterness,” i.e. isolation, loss, anxiety, or despair?
Inspiration for this article came from the book Theology of Home.
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to read Creating an Inner Monastery During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Recently, my husband and I attended a virtual Catholic Marriage Summit called, “Joyful Ever After.” Several of the speakers mentioned the importance of cultivating the virtue of believing in your spouse’s best intentions rather than assuming ill will when a perceived grievance is committed.
I thought back to a time when my husband and I were dating long-distance. He texted me that he would be arriving late to see me, which was very unlike him. I was a bit sassy in my response. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was late because he ran into traffic while buying me a surprise bouquet of flowers.
A podcast I listen to addressed this same predicament when we interpret our children’s actions before we know their true intentions. The mom on the podcast shared how terribly she felt after becoming upset with one of her children for making a mess of crafting supplies only to find out her child brought out the materials to make her a love note.
Encounters like these provide us with opportunities to choose love. Making up stories in our minds that may not be—and most of the time are not—true does more harm to our relationships than good. Assuming good intentions from our spouses, family, friends and co-workers allows us to foster and strengthen relationships.
Doubting someone else is a way of protecting ourselves. God is the one who gives us courage to trust others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Being less defensive makes others more receptive. Opening ourselves up to another allows us to share the hope and joy of the Gospel. We become more likeable, less distracted by imagined problems, focused on the actual issue, and are overall happier. After all, God gives us a second, third, fourth and ultimately infinite chances in response to our shortcomings. As James 2:13 says, “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Training our minds to think of others and the best intentions they have can both help us and improve our relationships. In many occasions, the person we are interacting with may be reacting from a previous interaction that overflows into our relationship with them. By keeping an open mind without judgement, we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts so that we may reach out to the other with empathy and love. This serves as a reminder to us of our own humanity and imperfection.
Believing in another person’s best intentions is an act of faith. To foster this line of thinking in my own marriage, every day I try to share something I’m thankful for about my husband. I try to think about this during prayer as well to help develop gratitude. When I don’t understand something that my husband is doing or has done, I try (very hard!) to ask open-minded questions in order to open dialogue instead of shutting the conversation down or arguing. Some other ways we can seek to see the best intentions in others are: asking for clarification, listening to what’s being said rather than waiting to share our own thoughts, and refraining from editorial comments that could aggravate the situation.
During these unusual times, we could all benefit from more compassion and grace. Let us open our hearts and minds to seeing the best in others.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
For more resources to accompany you through this time of COVID-19, please click here.
The din of breakfast time in a house full of little ones required that I practically yell to my husband to be heard over requests for more milk: “I just feel so sad for our country. I feel sad that so many people are suffering. I’m sad about how devastated God must feel.”
Before he could respond, my sweet, sensitive 5-year-old hugged my legs. “It’s okay to feel sad, Mom. But, why are you sad for our country?”
And so our dialogue began. I gently told him about the injustices being faced by our Black brothers and sisters. I reminded him that God made each of us in His image, and that we are each deeply loved by Jesus. I reminded him that racism is a sin, and that Jesus conquered our sins by His death on the Cross. We love Jesus and honor His sacrifice by turning away from sin. And then I told him that we have work to do: as Catholics, we get to be like Jesus by fighting against racism. As believers, we are called to make the world more loving and just.
So together, we enter this mission of Christ. Our baptism calls us and sends us out, equipping us to live as members of the Body of Christ. The Catechism calls us “members of each other, (CCC no. 1267)” and as such, we have a responsibility to live that way.
Using the life and love of Jesus as the guiding principal of our faith, we are invited to acknowledge the suffering of those around us. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now this is the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is unity as the Body of Christ: a people not positioned as ‘left’ or ‘right,’ for only the unborn or for only Black lives, but positioned at the foot of the Cross. Our Church, informed by the Gospels, calls us together to this work to uphold the dignity of the person, letting Jesus show us the way.
Jesus was moved with compassion.
At the death of Lazarus, he wept. At the woman’s desperation for healing, he allowed himself to be touched by her. He entered into the woman at the well’s loneliness and shame and met her with mercy. Jesus showed up heart first, revealing how we might accompany each other.
As a white woman, I cannot know the suffering of the Black community. I can, however, emulate Jesus by allowing myself to hear and see hurt and be moved deeply by it. Instead of rationalizing, self-aggrandizing, or refusing to acknowledge the pain of another’s story, I open my eyes to see the brokenhearted—even when it challenges me, even when it hurts. Like Jesus, I weep for the loss of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others. I allow myself to feel and enter into the pain. I lean in until it makes me want to do something.
Jesus stood with the vulnerable.
God made flesh dwelled among us and was moved with compassion for his people. Seeing the suffering of Martha and Mary, he raised Lazarus from the dead. At the ailing and fear of the bleeding woman, he extended healing and peace. He saw the shame of the woman at the well and revealed himself as God to her, declaring her worthy of His life-giving water. In these examples and countless others, Jesus reveals himself as unapologetically for and with the least of these. As Catholics, we are called to this mission.
In response to the just anger of our Black brothers and sisters, we stand in solidarity with all who experience the sin and effects of racism . Moved by this pain, we cry out to our Father for healing and peace. Using our voices, votes, and dollars, we stand for and with the Black communities and all affected by the sin of racism, declaring the value of each life and the dignity of each person.
I am tempted to avoid this work. Showing up heart first the way Jesus did requires a vulnerability and humility I often lack. I become disproportionately concerned about being comfortable and being right. I am tempted to keep my head down, refusing to be moved and challenged by new voices and stories. Yet, I am called to look up. When I pridefully insulate myself from the pain of a hurting person or community by my refusal to enter in, openhearted, I deny the dignity of their personhood by not validating their experience. By guarding my hardened heart, I fail my baptismal calling. Jesus concerned himself more with loving the low in spirit than the repercussions of caring. He entered in, listened, and loved each person—especially the marginalized.
So today I seek to live like Jesus. I choose to sit in sorrow for the pain of my Black brothers and sisters. I lift up my voice in prayer, confident that God sees and cares deeply about justice, unity, and life. I choose to look to the mission of Jesus to remember my own. Join me.
As a human race, we have entered uncharted waters and new territory as we struggle to continue our lives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us have attended to socially distancing ourselves, picking up essential items from the grocery store, and ensuring that our loved ones are safe and supported. As Catholics, we’ve found creative ways to gather to celebrate Mass and pray with others all over the nation and the world. However, in the midst of giving attention to all of these demands, we might forget to take care of one crucial thing in particular: our mental health.
As someone who lives with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, I can confirm that the presence of coronavirus and the changes it has wrought in my daily life are making it particularly challenging to cope. I find myself with racing thoughts: When will this be over? Will my loved ones and I be protected? How much will this affect my finances? Where even is God in this? This is why I am particularly invested in my mental health right now: the challenges of the pandemic have the potential to trap me in an endless state of anxiety, panic, and depression. Although the pandemic presents me with challenging days ahead, I know that I can survive them by taking extra care of my mental health.
To take a step back, why should mental health matter to us so much as Christians, especially now? First, mental health allows us to live in right relationship with ourselves, others, and God. By cultivating mental health, we can strengthen self-esteem, learn how to be a more compassionate friend or partner, or learn how our human experiences have affected our relationship with God. Second, focusing on our mental health allows us to be stewards of God’s creation, specifically good stewards of the body that God has created and given to us. Though we are living in a time of panic and uncertainty, we have agency and the ability to take care of ourselves in a way that allows us to continue the hard work of bringing forth the Kingdom of God, even in a pandemic. Third, focusing our efforts on our mental health is bound up in our pursuit of holiness. As we focus on mental health, we grow in self-awareness, communication, compassion, and moral judgement; in other words, we engage in formation that allows us to be a “bridge and not an obstacle” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 43) to Jesus Christ in our own lives and the lives of others. In other words, intentionally focusing on our mental health during this challenging time is a way in which we can follow the command to “love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
In being intentional about my own mental health at this time, here are some thoughts and practices that I’ve found most helpful in coping with uncertainty, panic, anxiety, and depression:
How can you engage in practices that cultivate your self-awareness this week? What/who are valuable resources of support? How do you feel that you need to show up for yourself this week? Where could you use some extra self-compassion in your life? Finally, how might being intentional about cultivating your mental health bring you into right relationship with yourself, others, and God during this time?
When I was younger, I often found myself scandalized by the actions of other people. I grew up with a very legalistic morality which sees rules and laws as black and white imperatives. On the one hand, there is a benefit to seeing the value of rules and laws which—when just—help to guide society in the right direction. On the other hand, a legalistic morality fails to see others with eyes of compassion and mercy, the same eyes through which Christ sees humanity and through which he asks us to see as well.
When we see people as a compilation of their successes and failures, we do not see the whole person and only focus on what they have done or failed to do. This mindset was often exemplified by the Pharisees who clashed with Christ, as demonstrated in the story of the woman caught in adultery. When the Pharisees brought this woman before Jesus, they did not expect him to respond with compassion. In this passage, the Pharisees and scribes remind him that the law of Moses commands her to be stoned. In response, “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger,” and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:1-11). Christ reminds us to see with eyes of compassion, but also provides a mirror with which to examine ourselves and our own sin. This is not the only time that Jesus presents us with this challenge. In the Gospel of Matthew, he says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” In both cases, Jesus invites those listening to a profound self-examination that leads to conversion rather than self-righteous judgment.
In the story of the adulterous woman, we learn that Christ does not allow us to continue wandering aimlessly in our sin but gives us a new directive: “go and sin no more.” The eyes of compassion with which God sees us, and through which we are called to see others, are not blind. Compassion does not mean that we can do whatever we want even if it is detrimental to ourselves, others, or our relationship with God. What God is asking of us is a contrite heart that continually returns to his infinite love. When we sin, we separate ourselves from our neighbor, from God, and from the depths of his infinite love. When Christ says to sin no more, as he did to the woman caught in adultery, he is also telling us to love more fully. To see with eyes of compassion sees this reality and doesn’t mistake our sin as simply breaking a rule. Eyes of compassion allow us to walk with the other person and be walked with ourselves in order to overcome the sins that weigh us down. Today, let’s choose to look with the eyes of compassion and mercy as we strive to follow Christ’s call to “go and sin no more.”
“Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” -Luke 9:32
Twice in the Gospels we hear of the trio of disciples sleeping at pivotal moments in Christ’s life and ministry: at the Transfiguration – in this Sunday’s Gospel – and in the Garden of Gethsemane during Christ’s Agony. Both times, Christ is in deep prayer. And both times, Peter, James, and John are “overcome by sleep.”
I get it. The group of men have just hiked up a mountain. It would have been normal to rest after such a grueling endeavor. Similarly, in the Garden, Jesus took the three disciples to pray after the Feast of the Passover—a long, filling meal complete with wine. I think of all the times I’ve napped after a holiday meal and sympathize with Peter, James, and John.
In these scenes, they are so human. They become tired and rest their eyes. And yet, because of their physical tiredness, they miss out on God’s glory.
In this week’s Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent, Jesus is transfigured and his three beloved disciples are offered a glimpse of the glory to come—not only the glory of the Resurrected Christ, but the glory that awaits all men and women who allow themselves to be transformed by his grace.
This Lent, I find myself asking, “Am I asleep with his disciples? What’s causing me to shut my eyes to God’s glory?” These questions are what have guided my Lenten journey as I discern how to grow in holiness this season.
Each year, the Church in her wisdom asks us to reflect on what is making us spiritually sluggish and helps us prepare for Easter through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. By ramping up in these three Lenten tenets, we can grow in our ability to see God’s will and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
Had the Apostles been awake throughout the entirety of Christ’s Transfiguration, they would have basked longer in this glory—fear and confusion would not have gripped them. Lent calls us to wake up, to be alert, not only for the Easter celebration, but for God’s invitation to greater holiness throughout our lives.
Pope Francis highlights Lent as the continuation of the “journey of conversion.” This journey is a lifelong one. And yet, seasons such as Lent, which focus on an even greater attention to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, often spur us deeper and further on this journey towards Christ.
As Pope Francis encouraged in his 2019 Lenten message:
Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.
The goal of Lent is not only Easter, but Christ Himself. This Lent, may our participation in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us shake off the drowsiness that shuts our eyes to God’s glory.
For more resources to accompany you throughout your Lenten journey, please click here.
Questions for Reflection: Am you asleep with Christ's disciples? What’s causing you to shut your eyes to God’s glory?”
World Youth Day (WYD) is so much more than an international get-together with the pope. Too often, global experiences of faith get overlooked or underestimated; other times, since these gatherings have taken place now for four decades, they are simply taken for granted within the Church. But such oversight would be a missed opportunity for everyone in the Church and around the world.
Why should we care? Three simple words: World. Youth. Day.
Let me explain:
The first reason is that WYD is truly meant for the whole world. While young adults heading to Krakow in July are the primary protagonists of this particular international gathering, the message of WYD applies to everyone – everywhere.
In fact, thanks in part to the growing accessibility of technology and social media, this pilgrimage is not limited to those who have the means to travel overseas. There are millions of young adult Catholics in the United States who can engage in WYD – through local stateside events in their parish, campus, or diocese, as well as through social media and digital communications.
The U.S. bishops and pilgrim leaders in Krakow will be engaging directly with stateside and digital pilgrims this year so that those at home in the United States are as much a part of the pilgrimage as those who boarded a plane bound for Poland.
No one is excluded – and that message is exactly what WYD offers the rest of the world. One of the frustrations many people experience during these international displays of faith is feeling left out, or feeling like they don’t matter. WYD is a chance for pilgrims to share in real time on social media a message of mercy and love that’s available to all. This message is meant not just for Catholics, Christians, or Krakow pilgrims; it is meant for the world.
There are many times when I get asked about “the kids” at WYD, and often, this feels like a dismissal – that this global experience is somehow just a “giant youth rally” not needing to be taken seriously. Such thinking is exactly why Pope St. John Paul II established the practice of WYDs: to remind the world that a gathering of young people is essential to the vibrancy of the Church and the transformation of the entire planet.
Even more, there is a significant misconception about WHO this gathering is intended for. The name alone can be misleading. The “youth” in the WYD title is actually mistranslated in English. The target audiences for these international pilgrimages are “young adults.” That is, those in their late teens, twenties, and into their thirties. In 2016, the majority of U.S. pilgrims range from ages 18 to 30, and most diocesan groups are taking young men and women in their 20s and 30s, single and married. In other words, they aren’t “kids.”
This news is actually incredibly refreshing, considering that young adults are one of the most disconnected groups of people from the Catholic Church and the practice of the faith. Around the United States, studies show that only 17% of millennial Catholics attend church weekly, and over one-third of young millennials have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
To know that thousands of young adults from the U.S. are going to Krakow, and even more are engaging stateside or digitally, is one of the most important things that Catholics can celebrate this month. Let’s work to create local communities open to their enthusiasm so that returning pilgrims can engage in the life of the Church.
It can be easy to dismiss WYD as a “Catholic Woodstock” – a one-time festival over the course of a few days when the pope and millions of young people gather together in a large open field to pray and talk about God. But again, there is so much more.
WYD is not a “day” at all – but a pilgrimage. It includes months or years of spiritual and practical preparation, leading into years of follow-up work: putting into practice the message of WYD and the lessons learned along the way. One could compare this experience to a mountaintop journey. The events in Krakow or stateside are just the peak. And mountains are more than their highest summits.
Too often, especially in the twenty-first century, we jump from one major task to the next, hardly stopping to slow down. Sometimes WYD is reduced to another task or event in a long line of trips, events, or papal visits. Many WYD pilgrims know that the journey is so much more than that. For some, WYD inspired them to their life’s calling: to marriage, to religious life or to the priesthood, to their careers, or to simply being an active adult Catholic. WYD is a catalyst for great things yet to come. This is just one reason why I encourage people to pay attention to WYD and what might emerge from the pilgrims who return home, and who will rise to the occasion.
In a world torn apart by violence, polarization, and fear, let us heed the value of a lifelong pilgrimage: a process of accompaniment that requires time, patience, compassionate listening, and understanding – things often lacking in our world today.
It can be tempting to excuse ourselves from caring about or thinking about WYD, dismissing it for one reason or another. Yet this is a moment of grace for everyone – from the pilgrims to the rest of the world. For one week, the Church turns its attention to this special encounter. Let’s not let this moment pass us by or excuse ourselves from paying attention.
The world, especially in uncertain times and the face of tragedy and unrest, is in need of the graces that can come from WYD. It is meant for the world. It can be a mountaintop of the Catholic young adult experience. Let us pray that the end results can help heal, transform, and bring mercy and compassion into a world torn apart and hurting.
To learn more about World Youth Day, please click here.
*This post was originally published for our World Youth Day series on July 20, 2016
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” - Luke 3:1-6
Isaiah, whose words the evangelist Luke repeats in this week’s Gospel, prophesized a beautifully uncanny world. According to the prophet’s vision, no valley would be too deep, no mountain or hill too high, no road too long or path too rough for God’s salvation to reach. When we understand this word, we recognize that the saving presence of God has no limitation. God’s revelation arrives everywhere and to all life wherever it may be. No one life stands below or above another in that radically horizontal and unfamiliar world. God disregards human hierarchies, borders, and definitions. This season, we celebrate, meditate upon, and commit ourselves to our world’s greatest mystery—God incarnate and among us in Christ. Just like those along the Jordan who were invited by John the Baptist, we are invited to work for the world to which Christ, the salvation of God, arrived. The world in which we recognize God is with us and in each one of us. The world whose mystery we know capable to reveal itself anywhere and at any moment of the day. The world in which each person enters in community without prejudice or judgement but with mutual respect because we know every person to be equally chosen and beloved by God.
FOCUS: Simple Living
When I reflect on what prevents us from treating each other as kin and caring for each other and our common home, indifference appears as our greatest challenge. Today our politicians run campaigns based on hatred, prejudice, and the blatant disrespect of other cultures. Today so many of us deny scientific facts and disregard how our planet is suffering while we choose to continue to live numb and blind. Preoccupied primarily by our economic wellbeing, we tolerate injustice and accept apathy. Simple living this Advent must mean making space for God and others in our hearts by ridding our lives of the material goods which make us apathetic to and complicit in others’ suffering.
Just and compassionate God, whose incarnate word reveals itself to the tender and humble hearted, we pray for healing from the hurtful divisions that human hierarchies, borders, and definitions impose. Send your Spirit to renew a world divided and suffering. May bigotry shake in the path of Your love and prejudice fade in Your understanding presence. You, good guardian, know each one of us to be Your chosen and beloved. Bless and protect us as we work for reconciliation, peace, and justice.
Opening our hearts to the arrival of God begins with an honest reflection on what in our lives encourages our cultural indifference to the suffering of our planet and its most marginalized peoples. This Advent, think of the moral demands of our faith and analyze whether your life habits or practices adequately demonstrate your commitment to God, all God’s people, and all God’s creation. What will you do to reflect more of the light of Christ today?
**This reflection is from the 2018 Advent Reflection Guide, a collaborative effort between the Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network. To see the whole guide, please click here.
Kevin Ruano, Franciscan Mission Service DC Service Corps
"In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!" - Pope Francis (Homily for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, March 19, 2013)
Blessings on this Solemnity of St. Joseph! As we celebrate this feast day of the Patron of the Universal Church, we also celebrate the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis. He chose this day particularly for this event and later inserted an invocation of St. Joseph into all the Eucharistic Prayers, not simply Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon). Pope Francis not only invites us to see St. Joseph as protector of the Universal Church, but also calls us all to be protectors who live with tenderness that shows the love of Christ. What does it mean to be a "protector"? In the same homily quoted above, he offers us an answer, which he witnesses as pope.
"In [St. Joseph], dear friends, we learn how to respond to God's call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation! The vocation of being a "protector", however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God's gifts!"
As one can see from the highlights above which link to an encyclical, two apostolic exhortations, and the bull of indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis outlined in his inaugural homily some of the themes of the teaching of his pontificate. His actions toward those on the peripheries witness as well to how we can both protect and show tenderness, "responding to God's call" as St. Joseph did. For as he said also in his homily, "only those who serve with love are able to protect!"
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
When was the last time you thought about St. Joseph? For many, he is a shadowy figure. And yet, he is recognized as the "protector" of the Church. His feast day is March 19th.
What's your image of Joseph? Is he young or old? Is he working or sleeping? Is he rich or poor? Is he strong or weak? We invite you to clear away all those images in order to see him for the first time. Let's meet Joseph as he is presented to us in the Gospel of Matthew at the birth of Jesus.
Of course, the best thing to do is to pray with Matthew 1:18-25. Here’s the abbreviated version: Mary and Joseph are engaged. She is expecting. He intends to divorce her quietly but learns, in a dream, that she is carrying a son who will "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Joseph is told to accept Mary as his wife and name the child Jesus.
In this passage, we see four qualities in Joseph—compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness—that make him a saintly man and a role model for us today.
Imagine how Joseph felt about Mary's pregnancy. The marriage customs of his day were much different than ours. Were they "in love" or was the engagement arranged? Perhaps Joseph felt more hurt than angry—or perhaps disappointed, given Mary's natural innocence. In any case, he responded with compassion;
He did, however, want to do what is right. While he never says a word in the Gospel narrative, Joseph's actions continually say "yes" to God's will. He takes Mary into his home as his wife. He honors Mary's special relationship with God by not having "relations with her until she bore a son" (Matthew 1:25). He claims Jesus as his son by naming him.
Joseph lived a quiet fidelity expressed in action rather than words. A kind-hearted man who accepted the mystery of salvation entrusted to him, Joseph adopted Jesus and raised him as his own. He protected him, taught him, and loved him. In the Gospels, Jesus is known as "the carpenter's son."
Joseph's love for Mary and Jesus sharpened his awareness of the forces around them. When Herod threatened the life of Jesus, Joseph leapt into action, leaving that night for Egypt. When the threat was gone, he brings Jesus back to his people. When he realized some threat remained, he settled in Nazareth, thus fulfilling a prophecy. His actions were always for the good of Jesus and Mary, and ultimately a part of God's plan for salvation.
As we get closer to Joseph, we meet a kind-hearted man, walking humbly with his God, as he accepts, protects, and raises Jesus so that Jesus can "save his people from their sins." St. Joseph can shed considerable light on what it means to be a missionary disciple in an increasingly secular age—with implications for the economy, family, and mission. He plays a quiet, but essential, role in salvation history.
Perhaps we, too, have a quiet role to play in salvation history. Perhaps Jesus is relying on us just as he relied on Joseph. Compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness can help us live out our role just as they served Joseph.
What does the word adoption mean to you?
Joseph's vocation began with a dream—a message from God. He is commanded to "rise, take the child" as his own. When we engage the world, do we possess it or does the world possess us? Do we adopt friends, jobs, things—even children, seeing them through the eyes of God?
Adoption is a way of being in the world. We are adopted children of the Father in Christ Jesus. We are claimed by God and so we, too, can claim others and make them our own - being possessed in the best sense of the word.
Joseph adopted—Jesus, Mary, and his life as a carpenter in fidelity to God who, with and through Jesus, was saving the world.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.”
Today’s Gospel challenged my understanding of what it means to be compassionate. When Jesus learned that a loved one was ill, He responded in a peculiar manner. He didn’t rush to the sick one’s side or hurry to comfort His beloved’s family. Rather, He waited two days.
Why did He wait two days? I sure wouldn’t have done that. If He knew all along that He would raise Lazarus, why would He prolong the wounded agony of Mary and Martha? How could Jesus desert those He loved in their moment of need? It seems almost like a test, a cruel and unnecessary test.
Yet I suspect Jesus had a different intention. By waiting two extra days He was not punishing or testing Mary and Martha but inviting them to examine their own brokenness. The idea of resting in brokenness, rather than avoiding it, has been a particularly challenging concept for me. I first encountered it in Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, in which Stevenson says “We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”
It seems that Jesus chose the former. When He finally arrived in Bethany and witnessed the woundedness of those He loved, He “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” Then, “Jesus wept.” Knowing that Jesus wept helps me reclaim my own brokenness and affirms that truly embodying compassion requires entering into the chaos of woundedness, both my own and that of the “other” person.
Prayer: God of grace, help me rest in my woundedness. When I feel most alone and deserted, remind me of Jesus’ constant refrain “Do not be afraid.” Help me remember that Jesus Himself, the almighty Son of God, wept for the pain of His community. Let me never forget that one of Jesus’ greatest miracles of raising Lazarus from the dead was precipitated by His solidarity in suffering with those He loved dearly. Amen.
Focus on: Social Justice
How have you been wounded by the, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. puts it, “sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism?” How can you – and your surrounding communities – enter into this brokenness and encounter healing compassion?
Service Inspiration: My mother, Sue, understands part of my volunteer experience, but struggles with other components. However, I recently babysat for a colleague’s children, a two-and-a-half year old and a six-month old. When I left, I was exhausted. I realized later that I watched two boys the same age difference as my brother and I, but only for a few hours. My mom did it for years, and then became my teacher and homeschooled us. She served as an enormous role model, never asking for thanks or recognition, silently taking on her children’s struggles. She is an inspiration and reminder of Jesus here on Earth.
*This Lenten reflection was originally published on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog and was posted with permission.
Greg Hamilton attended Saint Michael’s College in the grace-filled Green Mountain State of Vermont and is currently serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Washington D.C. at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Most days, Greg finds a way to involve his favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in his routine.
It seems simple enough. If I condescend to offer you understanding and even compassion, then I am being merciful, right? That is pity, not mercy. Mercy provides us with the opportunity to offer love of God through love of neighbor. We also experience mercy from God who calls us to move beyond self and sin and live lives rooted deeply in the experience of the love of God which calls us to always more as St. Vincent Pallotti would say.
Growing in the virtue of mercy takes time and experience. We grow in mercy through not only our experience of mercy from God, but also our living it through the Works of Mercy. The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy give us many opportunities to live mercy in our daily lives.
Over the course of this Jubilee of Mercy, I had the opportunity to pass as a pilgrim through the holy doors at various churches, including the four Papal Basilicas in Vatican City and Rome and the National Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Passing through a door does not make us more merciful, even if we have done all that is required for a plenary indulgence. The door is simply symbolic of crossing the threshold into a way of living as a pilgrim in this world – mercy lived.
Mercy lived does not permit others to be taken for granted, marginalized, or discriminated against from conception to natural death.
Mercy lived moves us into places, spaces, and moments where others may be timid, fearful, or disdainful to tread or do so only out of condescending pity rather than moved by love of God and love of neighbor.
Mercy lived witnesses Christ in everyday life in ways large and small, wherever and with whomever we find ourselves.
No one is exempt from the Mercy of God as Pope Francis just taught again this past Saturday:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters: In this, the last of our special Saturday Audiences for the Holy Year of Mercy, I would like to stress the importance of inclusion. God’s mercy, which excludes no one, challenges us to be merciful and open to the needs of others, especially the poor and all those who are weary and burdened. We, who have experienced that love and mercy, have a part to play in his saving plan, which embraces all of history. In his mercy, God calls all men and women to become members of the body of Christ, which is the Church, and to work together, as one family, in building a world of justice, solidarity and peace. God reconciled mankind to himself by the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. He now sends us, his Church, to extend that merciful embrace to our brothers and sisters throughout the world. The arms of the great colonnade surrounding this Square symbolize that embrace. They remind us not only of the Church’s mission to the human family, but also of our own call to bear faithful witness to God’s inclusive love through the mercy, love and forgiveness we show to others.”
This is Mercy Lived!
When I was young, I thought that strength was something you could only have from going to the gym and building muscle. I used to see people who were physically strong and think to myself, “Wow I want to be strong like they are!” Later, I realized that strength comes in many different forms and physical strength is only one of them. There are three forms of strength I have noticed that I would like to unwrap and reflect on: physical strength intellectual strength, and spiritual strength.
Our society likes the idea of being strong. Many build their bodies to withstand enormous force, pressure, and endurance. There are contests for strong people, strength is applauded in sports, and generally those who are stronger win out and become the victor. Strength to some people is building muscle, but it can also be about the power of thought and intellectual strength. Lifelong academics, philosophers, theologians, and other great minds spend their lives thinking, keeping their brains agile and “in good shape.” These are the ones who can create, invent, and solve the world’s problems because of perseverance in learning.
After considering these two forms of strength, let’s think about one more that I’ve intentionally left for the end: spiritual strength. This one is a big part of my life because I have faith in God’s plan for my life, trust in his mercy, and have learned what I can from the Psalms. One Psalm that rings true for me when things are difficult is Psalm 28: Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.
From this perspective of faith, my own spirituality can blossom. I can find strength in the Lord who answers my prayers, knows my heart’s desires, and will always know what is best for me. In my own life, I have experienced trials and hardships that channeled thoughts and feelings into becoming stronger within. I learned to stay positive and seek God’s help when times were tough. This spiritual strength has also helped me to grow in compassion.
One way I am still growing in strength is through daily reflection. A prayer I use with my class is called an Examen, a prayer that St. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged. The Examen involves looking at things that went well, things that went wrong, analyzing the day on the whole, speaking to God, and asking for his strength to take on the next day and grow. Here’s an Examen that provides three minutes of quiet reflection and is quick for my busy schedule, but meaningful and thought-provoking as well.
Where does my strength come from? A compliment. The Psalms. Quiet reflection. A long run. Peaceful music. Adoration in a quiet chapel. A good night’s sleep. Eating well. A good book. The Eucharist. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and varying degrees of each. Where is this strength found for you? How do you build strength? When we are aware of Christ’s presence in our lives, we are strengthened by knowing we can always improve and be better tomorrow. So I challenge you now, to build your prayer muscles and become spiritually fit.
Start here, with Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
For more resources on prayer, please click here.
“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” With these words, I and students of Lasallian schools around the world would pause before class to contemplate and center ourselves on this truth. This call to prayer tended to have the effect of stilling the room, if only for a few moments of silence, but I especially appreciated turning my focus to God before carrying on with my day. Even after I graduated from high school, I was able to cherish this simple ritual even more as I would go through my busy routine at The Catholic University of America. I found that even the simplest acknowledgement of God— this small act of love— would help me endure the challenges of the day.
The Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Baptist de La Salle on April 7, though his institutions continue to celebrate on May 15, the date of his original feast day until 1969. Students of De La Salle’s schools may be very familiar with his biography, whose life’s works are the very foundation of their education. De La Salle was born to a wealthy family in Reims, France in 1651. At that time, most children had little hope for social or economic advancement. Seeing how the educators in his hometown were struggling, lacking leadership, purpose, and training, De La Salle determined to put his own talents and education at the service of the children “often left to themselves and badly brought up.” Having donated his inheritance to the poor of the famine-afflicted province of Champagne, De La Salle began a new religious institute, a community of consecrated laymen to run free schools “together and by association,” the first with no priests among its members: the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known in the United States as the Christian Brothers. His community would grow to succeed in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that boasted revolutionary educational practices such as instructing in the vernacular, grouping students according to ability and achievement, integrating religious and secular subjects, having well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and involving parents. Today, the Christian Brothers are assisted by more than 73,000 lay colleagues, teaching over 900,000 students in 80 countries.
As a “Brother’s boy,” each of my peers and I would learn to take up our studies as well as our friendships with gusto and dedication, being made ever aware of the gifts God had given each of us. The life of De La Salle was especially studied as part of the freshmen curriculum, but each student was expected to emulate his example of charity and spirituality through and beyond graduation. St. John Baptist de La Salle showed others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, and how to affirm, strengthen, and heal. His advice to his community of educators still rings true for the countless students taught in his name: “to do all [your] actions for the Love of [God] … with all the affection of your heart” and to “hold prayer in high esteem as the foundation of all the virtues, and the source of all grace needed to sanctify [yourselves].” The Brothers I was blessed to have as mentors surely strove to follow this example in all aspects of their lives; they’d encourage us to simply be aware of and open to God’s will.
Returning to prayer, then, was essential to the ministry of St. John Baptist de La Salle. I would and still marvel over how truly beautiful is the sight of seeing students pray before class, meals, games, and trips —not just out of need or a particular want, but out of love, faithful devotion, praise, and thanksgiving. Especially in times of global, local, or personal strife, the small chapel in the corner of my high school would always contain at least one of my peers before the Blessed Sacrament. Of the many gifts our beloved founder gave to the modern education system, I especially cherish the routine of prayer instilled in my life and that of countless others. Not only would we remember our being in God’s holy presence, but also that God Himself faithfully, lovingly, eternally, and supportively lives in each of us.
“Saint John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us!”
“Live, Jesus, in our hearts! Forever!”
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.