Silence is an old friend—one I don’t often get to spend quality time with. But when I do, we give each other a knowing glance, a subtle nod, a familiar smile. It doesn’t matter how many days, weeks, or months have passed—we can pick up right where we left off without any sheepishness.
Today, I come in through the front door, take off my coat, and settle into the warm embrace of silence, letting it melt any frost that has accumulated in my heart.
Silence knows I’m not able to visit as often these days, but she doesn’t hold a grudge or look at me disapprovingly. She gives me a tender look and welcomes me with open arms – relishing every moment I give her to rejuvenate my soul. And she can work very quickly—a few minutes, hours, (in this case) a day. Any time spent in her company is restorative. She is generous with herself.
I was reminded of that this past weekend when I attended a Silent Day of Reflection at the Catholic Apostolate Center’s headquarters at Green Hill. This little oasis sits on 14 acres just a few miles outside of the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. and offers ample spaces, both indoor and outdoor, for prayer and reflection.
The theme of the day was The Beatitudes. The schedule was sprinkled with powerful moments of prayer: Mass, Adoration, Confession, a reflection on the day’s theme, and Lectio Divina. There was also time for quiet personal prayer. Participants had the opportunity to walk the grounds, enjoy the gardens, pray in the chapel, journal, color, or simply rest.
The home of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers of the Immaculate Conception Province is a treasure, offering a welcome place of retreat, gathering, and prayer. The Pallottines, as well as the staff of the Catholic Apostolate Center, are pleased to invite and welcome those seeking formation, personal enrichment, rejuvenation, or spiritual refreshment to Green Hill and look forward to continuing to provide opportunities to do so.
As a wife, mother, blog editor, homeowner, and budding gardener, I find my days often blur in the hasty movement of time. I frequently long for silence and reflection, but do not have the time or space for it. The Silent Day of Reflection organized by the Catholic Apostolate Center was an answer to a prayer and a gift for my spiritual life.
After spending the day at Green Hill, I got up from silence’s hearth reluctantly, feeling gently lulled, peaceful, held. It was a refreshing day of encounter with God amidst the beautiful backdrop of nature, and I didn’t want it to end.
Not all have the wisdom to seek silence, to receive the gifts she awaits to impart. We often take her for granted, drown her out, or try to replace her—convincing ourselves she is old-fashioned, irrelevant, unnecessary, extinct.
She awaits all the same, ever ancient, ever new—the immortal gift of her Creator, the vehicle of His encounter, the respite of all souls.
Will you seek her?
To learn more about Green Hill and upcoming events, please click here.
Two forces have particularly influenced my life. The first is my Catholic faith – given by my parents and nurtured by others as I grew. The second is my adulthood experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In wrestling with both of these forces (at times feeling like Jacob, who wrestled with God), I accidentally discovered a saint whose experiences reflected my own.
Saint Dymphna lived in Ireland during the seventh century, after the time of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid, and Saint Columba. Christianity was practiced by many – including Dymphna’s mother, who had her daughter secretly baptized. Dymphna’s father was a pagan king named Damon. Dymphna’s mother died when Dymphna was just 15 – throwing her father into a terrible grief.
Damon’s counselors advised him to remarry, and though they searched for another wife, they found none. They then advised Damon to marry his daughter, who reflected her mother’s great beauty. Initially repelled, Damon eventually agreed and proposed to his daughter. Under the guidance of her confessor priest, Saint Gerebran, Dymphna rejected her father’s proposal, and fled Ireland for Belgium. Tradition states that Dymphna then built a hospice in Geel for the sick and the poor, where she remained for some time.
Soon, Damon and his men traced Dymphna’s journey, and ascertained her whereabouts due to Dymphna’s use of foreign currency. Confronted by the mad king, Saint Gerebran rebuked his behavior, and Damon had his men kill the priest. Still hoping to win his daughter, Damon then pleaded kindly, offering wealth, prestige, and honor. Dymphna, steadfast in her vow of chastity, rejected the offer – and by her own father’s sword was beheaded.
Soon after Dymphna’s martyrdom, several “lunatics” spent the night in the countryside where Dymphna died, and woke up in the morning healed. This miraculous place became known throughout Europe: a church was eventually built in the 1300s, with a sanctuary expansion built to accommodate pilgrims seeking mental relief. Townspeople themselves even began taking them into their homes, a tradition that continues to this day.
Saint Dymphna entered my own life in a chance way seven years ago, near the onset of my OCD symptoms – which involved uncontrollable obsessions and time-consuming “checking” behaviors. Around this time, I discovered in my bedroom a prayer coin invoking Saint Dymphna. I do not recall where this coin came from – and I certainly had never heard of Dymphna before. But the prayer on the back captured me: “Oh St. Dymphna, Patroness of nervous and mental illnesses, grant that, through prayer, I may be pure in mind and soul.”
Fascinated by her story and her Irish identity, I began to read, learn, and ask in prayer for her help. This relationship deepened and developed into my own pilgrimage to St. Dymphna’s church in Geel – which was closed when I reached Belgium! Nevertheless, she has continued to inspire my journey from OCD sufferer to OCD advocate, and I am more convinced than ever that she is a great intercessor and resource in our current Age of Anxiety.
Below are some brief meditations on Dymphna’s continued influence on my life:
1. Dymphna kept faith even in grief. We all know how grief challenges our faith. Not only did Dymphna lose her mother, but she also had to tread the impossible tightrope of consoling her father while recognizing that his sickness was warping him. This must have torn at Dymphna’s heart. Yet even amidst suffering, she did not stop hoping in God’s providence. In my own life, losing my brother six years ago in an accident severely challenged my faith in God. During this time, I believe Saint Dymphna’s help guided me back to a place of trust and hope.
2. Dymphna chose the path of unknowing and vulnerability. By fleeing to Geel, Dymphna took a major-league risk and rejected the familiarity of her native land. Yes, she was momentarily safe from the king – but incredibly vulnerable as a foreigner and refugee. In many ways, staying home and appeasing her father would have been the “safe” choice.
OCD constantly tempts me with gaining “safety” at the cost of doing ridiculous compulsions. While it’s terrifying to reject what OCD wants me to do (“Think hard enough and you’ll have peace!”), I have to respond by saying, “I’m willing to be anxious and unknowing, so I can live a real life.” That Dymphna, Patroness of mental illness, was beheaded, indicates to me that I must abandon relying on my brain, and embrace God and that which I cannot see or “figure out.”
3. Dymphna perfected her own authority and freedom to choose. In standing up to Damon, Dymphna inspires all of us who face temptation and all who face oppression from those who misuse their power. Not only did Dymphna preserve her vows of chastity, but she also avoided another, potentially graver misstep – the acceptance of a false crown, that is, her mother’s rightful crown.
The choice to be independent is terrifying. The story of Dymphna, however, shows true independence is possible, through faith in God who desires our freedom from sin and from oppression. With God’s help we may learn to abandon the perceived “safety” of acquiescing to the soul-stealing machinations of tyrants (even the tyrants in your own mind), at which time the opportunity for freedom, originality, generosity, charity, and creativity arises.
Questions for Reflection: What false crowns have you been offered in your life? What powerful proposals have been extended at the cost of your authority and freedom to choose?
As I have gotten older, my favorite part about Lent has become the fact that we have the privilege of willingly walking into the desert - into these 40 days - with our Lord. I think there are a lot of times in our lives when we suddenly find ourselves in the desert - desperate for water, nourishment, or companionship. It is in the desert where we not only grow in intimacy with the Lord, but are also able to be strengthened through real repentance.
What is true for us in the deserts of our lives is the same thing that was true for the Prodigal Son in this Sunday’s Gospel: we receive the promise of a Father who receives our repentance with mercy.
The story of the Prodigal Son is an important one for us to reflect upon as we continue on our Lenten journeys - it is through repentance that the very son who squandered his inheritance is welcomed back with open arms into the mercy of his father. And the story doesn’t end there: not only does the father embrace and welcome his son back, he rejoices and celebrates his return for those around him to see.
It is through our repentance that we experience the mercy of God; it is through our repentance that we receive the promise of the desert of these 40 days. This is so beautifully echoed in all the readings that the Church gives us during this season: God the Father rejoices when we are brought back to life again (Luke 15:32).
We as Catholics have the unique privilege of receiving this mercy every time we hear the words of the priest absolving us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our moments of feeling desperate in the desert can be alleviated by honest repentance. After one particularly frustrating time in my life, I remember feeling like the Prodigal Son: convicted that I needed to repent and return to God, but also feeling shame over all the ways that I had squandered what the Lord had given me. And in that moment a priest reminded me that confession is always a place of victory. Like the prodigal son who acknowledged his failures and was welcomed back with mercy and celebration, we too find an outpouring of mercy and grace when we reconcile ourselves to God.
As we journey towards Calvary, we do so knowing that our repentance leads to an encounter of mercy and ultimately to victory.
Questions for Reflection: What are some moments in your life when you’ve encountered the mercy of God and others? How did these moments affect you?
For more resources to accompany you in your Lenten journey, please click here.
January, as the first month of the new calendar year, is for many people a time to start fresh. And January 2019 in particular seemed to be the month of intense home decluttering. This is probably due to the advent of the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” I have friends and relatives who had never heard of Kondo’s bestselling book before the streaming show debuted, and yet I have watched them become KonMari method adherents, filling my social media feeds with success stories about the household clutter they are donating or dumping.
Amid all this physical decluttering, I find myself wondering how often we take time to do some spiritual decluttering as well. Especially for myself—I strive to maintain a ruthless-but-not-obsessive attitude about household clutter. But do I regularly declutter my soul outside of going to confession every month or two? And when I do attempt spiritual decluttering, do I approach it with the same kind of enthusiasm about ridding my soul of the things that are holding me back from God?
In this new year’s spirit of decluttering and simplifying, we tend to think about the kinds of things in our homes that we no longer need: toys missing essential pieces, gifts we will never use but feel too guilty to donate, soccer participation trophies from third grade. But we should also think about the kinds of things that make up ‘spiritual clutter’: useless smartphone games that waste hours of our time, social media accounts that just fuel jealousy and resentment toward our peers, junk food binges that disrespect our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. What are the things that our minds, our bodies, or our souls cling to that do not bring us closer to God?
In Luke’s Gospel, Simon, James, and John “leave everything” to follow Christ. We also are called to leave everything and follow Christ. But what does everything mean when we live in the twenty-first century with all of its modern conveniences? We are not all called to join a mendicant order, to become cloistered nuns, or to become missionaries in the far-flung corners of the world. We still need shelter, food, clothing, and dignified work. But along with striving to make our homes oases of calm in a chaotic life, so too should we strive to make our souls oases of peace in a fallen world.
If we really stop to think about it, spiritual clutter is as ubiquitous as and more detrimental than physical clutter. Everywhere we turn, there are bad habits and ill-formed attachments that keep us from deepening our relationship with God. And just like physical clutter, spiritual clutter is a deeply personal thing. We can choose to ignore it, but—like its physical counterpart—spiritual clutter will eventually take over our lives until we dread even peeking into those areas that are the messiest and need the most work. But we must look inward in order to grapple with the things that keep us from following Christ—especially if we dread what we will discover about ourselves.
When the metaphorical pile of spiritual clutter seems insurmountable, it is good for us to remember that we are not alone in our endeavors: God is there beside us, calling us to engage with him in the sacrament of Penance, which itself is spiritual decluttering. With its thorough examination of conscience and its outpouring of God’s grace, going to confession not only absolves us of the sins that clutter our hearts, but it also bolsters us to overcome those temptations in the future. And, with God’s grace, the spiritual clutter that accumulates in our hearts will slowly begin to seem more manageable and less insurmountable, until one day we realize that the things that had once seemed to control our lives are no longer more than a passing temptation.
As the new year continues on and we declutter more of our physical homes, let us remember to give equal attention to our spiritual homes.
Question for Reflection: What are some things that are cluttering your spiritual life?
Usually at this point during Lent I am looking forward to the Feast of St. Joseph as a brief respite from my Lenten sacrifices. However, this year his Feast Day is on Palm Sunday weekend. With this early timing, it is easy for us to forget about his Feast Day. While more than a week away, I wanted to take some time to reflect on Joseph and remind ourselves of the example he serves for us each and every day.
Today’s Gospel (Jn 5:1-16) describes one of Jesus’ miracles in which he commands a man to “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Without question the man stands up, picks up his mat, and walks away telling others of the good news. This man had no reason to trust Jesus or even think that he could ever walk again, but he believed and he obeyed. This reminds me of St. Joseph who, without question, listened to God’s call. Without question, Joseph stood by Mary and Jesus as husband, father, and protector. God asks nothing less of us in our own lives and Lent is a perfect time to reflect on whether we are listening to God’s call to “believe and obey.”
We can start by going to confession. An examination of conscience can help us to see where we are not believing and obeying, while confession also gives us that clean slate that we so desperately need in order to hear God’s voice in our lives. Once we have prepared ourselves to receive God’s word, we are able to more fully align our hearts to Christ and follow in his footsteps. But this is not an easy thing to do. We will go to confession many times over the course of our lives so that we can once again learn to “believe and obey.” But this is not something that we have to do alone. Not only do we have Christ and the entire Catholic Church on our side, we also have the saints. In particular, St. Joseph is a beautiful example of living a life of faith and obedience to the will of God, as evidenced by his willingness to follow God’s plan even when he didn’t know the outcome. If we learn to live our lives as he did, then I guarantee we will continue to move closer to Christ.
As I mentioned before, the Feast of St. Joseph is two weekends from now. I encourage you to look to him for guidance and strength during your Lenten journey. His silent faith, his dedication to the Holy Family, and his role in forming and raising the Son of God gives us a wonderful example by which to form ourselves to Christ and to believe and obey without question. As we approach his Feast Day, I also invite you to join me in praying a novena to St. Joseph that we may learn to silence our hearts and listen to the Word of God during this Lenten season. This nine-day series of prayers helps us to focus our minds and hearts on specific intentions and invites St. Joseph in a special way to intercede for us.
Click here to join me in praying the novena to St. Joseph.
“Let us allow ourselves to be filled with St. Joseph’s silence!” -Pope Emeritus Benedict, Angelus, December 2005
Nicholas Shields is a Young Professional in Washington, D.C
Every interaction, every conversation, each and every dive into our relational natures as human beings begins with the willing openness to listen. Listening begins with a simple opening, a knock on the door of our self-focus that lets us know that someone else is here, present before us with a unique existence, one that should be experienced and embraced. Listening happens in almost everything we do in our daily lives, whether we are speaking with others, learning instructions, praying, or even sitting alone in the quiet of an empty house. There is always something to hear, always something to experience. To listen is to see the beauty and worth in another and embrace this by joining another in his or her own life’s journey, wherever they may be, in whatever they are going through.
I often say that listening is an art. We are all great artisans of speech, one way or another. Whether outspoken and personable, or soft-spoken and shy, we all have an inner preacher within us that constantly narrates our thoughts, opinions, and daily lives. To speak is in our nature, and to listen is also a part of who we are. Speaking, however, often seems easier than listening. Children, constantly having to be reminded to give each person his turn to speak, exemplify this. Why is it hard to listen? I think the life of Saint John Marie Vianney, whose feast we celebrate today, can show us some answers. Looking into his life, one can see just how important and powerful the art of listening is for us all.
Listening is something that can be appreciated in others and within ourselves in an almost artistic way, such as when we read the great sonnets of Shakespeare, or admire Monet’s Water Lilies. Listening has its own beauty within it, as all things do. It is in itself a beautiful thing. Saint John Vianney, I believe, knew the power that listening wields. As a priest in the farmlands of France, traveling around to spiritually devastated towns, he would plop himself down in a confessional and just sit there, waiting. In time, townspeople started coming and speaking to him. He heard confessions for long lengths of time each day, listening to the needs of the people of France. Slowly and surely, each town he visited began beaming with a light and a warmth that didn't exist before. Besides hearing the townspeople’s confessions, John Vianney validated and embraced their lives in his own, welcoming all and listening with an open heart. He embraced fully the priesthood as a way to listen to others, to join into the community of all, to embrace and see the worth in others and to let others know that Christ sees their worth as well. He did this through devout prayer to God and a humble heart to listen to God’s plan for him. It is by this profound listening that John Vianney became the well-known Patron of Priests that he is today.
John Vianney teaches us that listening can save lives. Regardless of how small a conversation may be, to listen is to embrace another, to shine forth that spirit of community that builds the foundation for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Each and every person has something to say and is worth the time. Vianney also teaches us to listen to God, to listen to the silence we so often get in response to our prayers that the answer is there, in our life. God listens to us always, in everything we do; all we need to do is learn to embrace ourselves the way God embraces us when He listens to our lives.
As we continue on our journeys, I pray that the art of listening may inspire and shine beautifully in our interactions with others each day and in our prayers to the Almighty Father.
William Clemens is a Undergraduate Student of Theology & Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
St Philip Neri whose feast we celebrate today is known as the Apostle of Joy and as the third Apostle of Rome. Throughout his ministry in Rome, he stressed the importance of joy in the life of a disciple of Christ. His own joy and humility attracted people from every walk of life to him and ultimately Christ.
St. Philip was born in Florence in 1515. Born to an affluent family, he forfeited a promising career in business with his uncle in order to move to Rome in 1535. While in Rome as a layman, Philip would immerse himself in prayer during the night at the catacombs and during the day would care for the sick in the overcrowded hospitals and the pilgrims. Philip developed a following in Rome who wanted to imitate his example and was reluctantly ordained to the priesthood in 1551. Philip and this group that he attracted would “meet informally for prayer, discussion, and recreation together, before going off to minister to the needy.” They became known as the Oratorians and helped to re-evangelize Rome.
While we celebrate St. Philip Neri’s feast today it is helpful to examine a few reasons as to why his charism is as relevant today as it was in the 16th century. Firstly, St. Philip’s ministry was characterized by its relational approach. He evangelized one on one. During the Carnivale in Rome which brought much disgraceful behavior with it, St. Philip went out in the city and organized events to counteract the Carnivale. He was willing to go out and meet people were they were at. He first built relationships with people and then invited them into a deeper relationship with Christ. He was able to achieve this and build so many relationships because his ministry was characterized by joy and humility. For St. Philip, joy and humility were both integral parts of the Christian life and inseparable from one another. He repeatedly said, “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.” People were attracted by his joy and authenticity and wanted to experience it for themselves.
Also, St. Philip who was only ordained later on life, emphasis the role of the laity in the Church. He believed holiness was attainable for the laity and was a proponent of frequent communion and confession, himself spending hours a day in the confessional. The laity were not treated as a third order, but as a first order. The Oratory existed to serve the needs of the laity who were living in Rome.
St. Philip Neri’s example should inspire us to always joyfully seek a deeper relationship with the Lord. He reminds us that we are called to holiness and he is a model for the New Evangelization. St. Philip understood we will not attract people to Catholicism if we do not exhibit the joy that is a result of our relationship with Christ.
Conor Boland is a College Ministerial Intern for One Bread One Cup, at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology and is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America.