Social media has been gaining momentum in the Catholic world since the mid-2010s; however, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, digital evangelization and virtual faith-sharing have become even more important and prevalent. Because in-person liturgies, retreats, and daily interactions were not possible, Church organizations across the U.S. began to increase their digital footprint. Although the Catholic Apostolate Center has used technology and social media as tools for evangelization since its inception in 2011, the COVID-19 pandemic also led the Center to a greater focus on digital evangelization and online formation tools. As an intern with the Catholic Apostolate Center, my time has been punctuated by helping people encounter the Church and faith formation more positively. Specifically, expanding the Center’s courses on Catholic Faith Technologies’ e-learning platform and building an app for the Immaculate Conception Province of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers has allowed me to create new ways for people to encounter Jesus Christ and learn more about Him.
Pope Francis has followed the footsteps of his predecessors by encouraging the Church to continue evangelization over the internet. Our Holy Father has stressed the importance of using the technological means available to us today in order to proclaim the Gospel “to all the nations.” This evangelization can come in many ways and forms, and the Catholic Apostolate Center has embraced this understanding since its foundation. This summer, I have been working on adapting the Center’s “Apostles on Mission” in-person course to be an asynchronous course online with Catholic Faith Technologies’ e-learning platform. As a secondary education major, I was able to hone my skills as an educator by looking at the lesson outlines and plans and advising a break, an activity, or a different method of conveying the content to increase engagement. This project has also helped me look at what intellectual faith formation means and why it is so pertinent to the spiritual life. Formation in the Church calls us to learn more about Jesus, the Church, our Faith, and our own strengths and weaknesses. However, with the advent of the internet, we must cast the net over the right side of the boat, as Jesus calls us, to reach more people and continue to spread the Gospel message. Expanding digital resources for faith formation allows all the faithful to grow closer to our Lord.
Digital evangelization can also allow for a more profound personal encounter with Jesus Christ. As seen throughout the pandemic, prayer resources can help people feel connected to the greater Church community. People want to experience various types of prayer to delve deeper into the spiritual life. The Catholic Apostolate Center has been working tirelessly this summer to create a prayer app for the Immaculate Conception Province of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers. This app—entitled “Revive & Rekindle”—will assist the Pallottine community and the general faithful in growing closer to Christ through the spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti. This project has allowed me to make two important observations about the Catholic faith. First, we must promote various forms of prayer and devotion to help the faithful find the styles of prayer that best suit them. Second, prayer and devotion must be disseminated and promoted in different media to spread the Gospel message to as many people as possible. The “Revive & Rekindle” app will allow people to grow closer to Jesus through reflections and prayers inspired by St. Vincent Pallotti, who urges us all to become Apostles for the Lord. As a strong proponent of the New Evangelization, Pope Francis encourages us to enter the digital landscape to encounter people and bring them closer to Christ. The Church can only do this through intentional formation and by promoting an encounter with Christ online.
As an intern at the Catholic Apostolate Center, I have grown professionally, personally, and, most importantly, spiritually. Working with the Center, I have concretely realized what Pope Francis means when he urges young people not to “wait until tomorrow to contribute your energy, your audacity and your creativity to changing our world. Your youth is not an “in-between time” (Christus Vivit). A vast majority of people in the United States have social media, and since many Catholics are among this number, we have to preach the Gospel on all channels and encounter others and Jesus Himself through means of digital formation and evangelization. We must reach out to all corners of our world and society to be Apostles on mission for Jesus.
2020 was a difficult year for so many people; it is safe to say that we all were impacted in some way. To me it felt like the entire world stopped and everything started moving in slow motion. March 2020 was my senior year of college—what was supposed to be the best semester of my life, the beginning to the end, the start of a new chapter. Yet, there I was, driving back to my family home in Massachusetts to study and then graduate in the home that I grew up in. I felt so crushed, defeated, and overwhelmed.
I remember that Easter, only a few weeks into the pandemic, feeling so overjoyed that some of my friends and parish community decided to come together and celebrate our Risen Lord. We had a drive-by celebration in the parking lot where our pastor blessed each of us and we waved at our friends from the safety of our car. I felt so overjoyed to see their faces and to get a glimpse of normalcy. I remember that Easter morning being filled with joy, possibly the Lord’s way of showing us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Yet, around that same time, we found out that school was cancelled for the rest of the semester and Zoom became our new normal. I remember thinking, “The last time I stepped into a classroom was the day before spring break and all I wanted to do was get out of there, but now, I’ll never be able to go back.” While that may have been a bit dramatic, it truly was a time where my faith was the only thing that was able to guide me.
While I was upset over the loss of my senior year and the loss of long-anticipated memories, I was so thankful and blessed to have my health, my family, and my faith. There were so many people grieving the loss of family members, enduring financial difficulties, and risking their lives on the frontlines of the pandemic. It was hard not to laugh at myself for crying over my difficulties when faced with the reality of what was going on throughout the world.
The Lord guides us on a path. Though we may not know where or how it ends, we know He is there. I knew this time in my life would already be difficult—saying goodbye to friends, trying to find a “real” job, and trying to balance new responsibilities. Adding to that the uncertainty of a pandemic only exacerbated the overwhelming anxiety I knew was around the corner. I kept repeating this phrase over and over in my head: “it is all part of God’s plan.” The phrase kept rekindling faith in my heart when things began to feel difficult. It can be seen as a silly, trite phrase. But for me, the impact it had on my life was so important. It helped me to have a conversation with the Lord daily—whenever things felt tough or I felt defeated or just lost. After repeating the simple phrase over and over in my head, I felt the Lord’s presence like a hand on my shoulder continuing to guide me throughout life. I couldn’t help but exhale.
Graduation came and went. I wore my cap and gown in my childhood living room surrounded by my parents trying to figure out how to set up Zoom on the T.V. It was an underwhelming experience compared to the grand festivities I had imagined, yet I was very thankful to be able to celebrate with my parents.
Trying to navigate through “adult life” during the pandemic proved to be difficult within itself. It felt so easy to isolate myself from those around me and to disconnect from everything. Everything seemed big: applying for jobs, getting my first apartment, living in the city. It often felt easier to give up when things got difficult. But that is exactly the opposite of what the Lord calls us to do. The Lord wants us to call upon him during the difficult times and to remember that everything is part of his plan. He is there to walk with us through the ups and downs and invites us to lean upon his strength in times when ours fails.
While the road ahead seems uncertain, there is one thing that we can count on - the love and support of the Lord. Over the past year, what I have found is that everything is part of His plan; every small step we take, every thought that enters our mind, every mundane task—it all will fall into place.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began and so much seemed outside of my control, I turned to prayer as a source of comfort, nourishment, and stability. Favorite Catholic podcasts, powerful homilies, Gospel-inspired music, Scripture reading, and devotions like the Rosary kept me grounded in a higher reality than the confusing, dark, and humbling one I faced.
Perhaps I felt the need to overcompensate in a time when I couldn’t physically receive the Eucharist. The lack of physical Communion meant I searched for spiritual, mental, and emotional communion with the Lord in other ways I found fruitful. In this way, times of trial can bear much fruit—suffering sharpens our eyes to the eternal and true. It is sobering. Surrendered to God, suffering can be the most direct path of conversion and redemption.
As the pandemic continued and I was able to adjust to my new “normal,” my sense of emergency slowly began to fade. I found ways to be comfortable and to continue meeting needs like friendship, worship, and rest. No, everything was not as it had been. Life was still a shadow of its former glory. And yet, I had found ways to cope.
As this trajectory continues with the reopening of society in many ways, I have begrudgingly found that my deep prayer life has slowly faded. Becoming more of a checklist than a time of renewal, my prayer time is filled with distraction and noise.
I’ve come to realize that I would rather fill my time with the noise—albeit good noise—of a Catholic podcast or homily instead of turning everything off and filling my time with God Himself. I’m more comfortable hearing others talk about God and their spiritual insights than talking to God. I’m also more comfortable talking AT God than WITH Him. I have a lot to say, but am not spending time listening or receiving. Finally, once I do settle down to pray, my tasks, chores, and rambling thoughts bombard me. My prayer time is filled with noise and distraction.
Why is it easier for me to scroll through a newsfeed of beautiful images and consumer goods than to thumb through my Rosary meditatively? Why is it easier to respond at all moments to the latest texts in a never-ending group thread than it is to respond at all moments to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Why is my heart more easily captured by the words of the media than by the Word of God?
For perhaps the millionth time, I must face again a thorn in my side that prevents me from greater holiness: noise.
“Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires,” says the demon Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters. He continues, “We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.”
Lately in my life, it seems like Screwtape and his friends are succeeding. I’m having trouble hearing the melodies of Heaven amidst all the noise. And can’t we all admit to knowing this deep down—that much of our lives is an endless stream of noise and distraction threatening to drown out the still small voice inside?
I reflect on these things once again while reading a powerful book and meeting virtually with other women--This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. Elizabeth, through the author Claire Dwyer, is shaking me from my complacency and passing through the distractions to help resurrect my heart. This young French Carmelite nun who lived over a hundred years ago mastered the interior life of prayer and encourages all to do the same—regardless of their vocation in life.
I know I am called to more than what I’m filling myself up with; an hour of scrolling through items on sale or watching a home renovation show will never compare to fifteen minutes of virtual Adoration or a few decades of the Rosary. Any time consecrated to God is not returned unsanctified.
In times of greater stability, comfort, or complacency, I’m also reminded of the Scripture passage about the wise virgins at the gate. We are called to fill our lanterns with oil as we await the Bridegroom so that we will be prepped and ready for His return. I have personally found that my preference for news feeds, shows, or internet browsing fills my lantern with something akin to water rather than oil, and so I am using this season of Ordinary Time to recommit to a quieter, more fruitful prayer life.
Below are a few things I have found helpful for overcoming spiritual distraction and ensuring daily prayer:
As the world continues to reopen in ways that give us hope, I invite you to reflect on your prayer life throughout the pandemic months and set goals for yourself during this season of Ordinary Time. In the end, may we find that the melodies and silences of Heaven triumph over the noise of the world.
As the pandemic eases in the United States and much begins to reopen, we have the opportunity to reflect on where we have been as Church and what we are called to do. Many are still suffering around the world and in the U.S. from the effects of the pandemic. This moment is a unique one to revive faith and rekindle charity as apostles of Christ. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, reminds us:
“The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to his name” (12).
We are co-responsible as the baptized to witness Christ in what we say and do. If we say that we are believers in Jesus Christ, then we need to show our faith by what we do for others. Seems easy. It is not, as we know. We cannot go about it alone. We need the grace provided by Christ, particularly in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. This is why livestreams of Mass are not enough. We need to receive Christ in the midst of the community of faith, the Church, and then strengthened by him and the community, we can go forth in his name, doing his mission.
What an amazing responsibility we have! To live it well, we must be living witnesses of Christ. Pope Francis invites us, in line with the exhortation of many saints, to take it a step further:
“Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, ‘the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint’” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 34).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Over the course of this past year, we have had many opportunities to lose hope. Friends and family became ill, we could not enjoy a common handshake or hug, loved ones died, churches, schools, and recreational activities were shuttered, and we were required to keep distant from each other. In such circumstances, it is easy to feel low, to feel alone, and to feel as though better times are not on the way. Yet, the saints we honor on this day teach us the exact opposite – in the darkest of times, that is when hope is most needed. By clinging to hope, one can get through any hardship.
St. Thomas More (1478-1535) is probably one of the most well-known English Catholic saints. The quote, “I die the King’s good servant, and God’s first,” is attributed to him and typically serves as the basis for many a reflection on faithful citizenship. He was also a prominent humanist and counted the great Erasmus as a friend. More famously refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the Church of England, leading to More’s imprisonment and eventual execution.
While awaiting his trial, More composed his final work, A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. He begins by stating that while some things can ease tribulation, like medicine, the most effective comfort is faith given by God. Because of faith, one can persevere through any trial encountered. He notes that one’s time on earth is fleeting compared to eternal life afterwards. Thus, one should live life striving to attain the rewards of heaven rather than those on earth.
St. John Fisher (1469-1535) is perhaps less well-known to contemporary Catholics. However, in his own time, many considered him not only the greatest preacher but also the greatest theologian in all Europe. He served as the bishop of the Diocese of Rochester and chancellor of the University of Cambridge. Fisher defended Queen Catherine of Aragon when Henry VIII attempted to divorce her. He also refused to acknowledge Henry as head of the Church and paid the price of imprisonment and execution. Just before Fisher’s trial, Pope Paul III named him a cardinal.
Asked to preach at the funeral of King Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, Fisher began by declaring, “Let no man think that my intention is to praise him for any vain transitory things of this life.” The bishop went on to say that great wealth and power do not ensure eternal life. Rather, Fisher said, “The cause of this hope was the true belief he had in God, in his Church, and in the Sacraments thereof.” By holding strong to his faith in the merciful God, Fisher stated that Henry VII left this world in peace hoping to see his heavenly reward.
It is easy to admire the great convictions of the great people of the past. It is much harder to match that same zeal. Pope Francis reminds us that prayer is “a sacred fire in us too, which burns continually and which nothing can extinguish.” Therefore, by working little by little, day by day, we can grow in faith and, thus, grow closer to God. And as we come closer and closer to Him, then no matter what may be going on around us, no matter the discouragement that may afflict others, no matter the tribulation, we can remain anchored in the hope that comes from God alone.
To learn more about the saints, please visit our Catholic Feast Days page.
For more resources on COVID-19, please click here.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning in earnest, there were many questions about what would happen in the Catholic Church if people’s lives were upended in such profound ways. In many respects, we may not truly understand the ramifications of a worldwide change in perspective until we can look back at it. That being said, with “the return to normal,” the opening up of parishes, and the re-starting of activities have come questions about what we have learned from this pandemic experience. I think many of us re-learned that community and connection are important. The question that seems to be challenging folks is: Now that we can start to plan to meet in person, what should our parish activities look like?
For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of doing Master’s work in Church Management at Villanova University. Most of my studies occurred during this pandemic and offered a unique perspective of what effective parishes and communities have done to respond to a sudden shift in the assumptions of what the Church in the United States looks and acts like. Most of the parishes that were able to weather the storm well were able to do so because they were intentional about what community is and should be. They did not assume that a parish had to be only the functions that happen within a city block or a singular location, but rather can have an online presence and remotely meet people where they are. I think of my friends and colleagues with young families or who have long commutes and the complications that our parishes can impose on people who would like to be involved, but cannot be due to the lives that they lead. Are we as church leaders imposing certain restrictions for the members of the parish to be able to build a community?
As active Catholics, our job is to share the joy of the Gospel that we hopefully have experienced with others. The pandemic has proven that there is a desire for community and for Christ in people’s lives despite barriers. However, we as Catholics also need to acknowledge that if we “are now just going back to normal,” we are also going back to the normal of an older and smaller church. We need to see the pandemic not as a temporary event, but rather the opportunity that God has given us to think creatively and reflectively over the past year about what it means to be Catholic in the United States. Similarly, what is our hope for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States? If we do not think about these things, we risk becoming a closed community for only those who are already active members.
There were many challenges during the pandemic, but there were opportunities to grow and learn for our Church as well. My hope is that we take the lessons that we have learned, both positive and negative, about what it means to be in a community and to be community leaders and apply those findings in healthy, creative ways going forward.
For more resources on navigating COVID-19 as a community, please click here.
This Lent looks a little different than it has in past years for many reasons. With a little boy starting to walk, it feels like things are changing fast at times and very slowly at others. I’m looking towards speeding things up to get to new milestones like running and talking, but also praying time can stand still enough to savor precious moments and little giggles. In Lent now, we are waiting for Easter and likely wanting to speed through this time of personal reflection, penitence, and prayer. Maybe if we try to slow down and take a moment to reflect, we’ll discover some time we can put into our relationship with God in a meaningful and intentional way.
This Sunday marks the Second Sunday of Lent and there are some really poignant readings to note for our hardened selves. I think they all tell of a hope and light at the end of the tunnel for us in this dark and restless time. The second reading especially tells us to not give up because God has already provided:
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us. (Rom 8: 31b-34)
This line, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” tells us so much about our God. He is always on our side, no matter what. If God is for us, we can build up a broken relationship with him. If God is for us, we can consider our sins in the Sacrament of Penance and be reconciled. If God is for us, we can slow down and take a moment to breathe in and out in mindfulness. If God is for us, we can have the strength to carry on through this pandemic, perhaps alone physically, but never truly alone. We are never truly alone or abandoned because at the end of this Lenten tunnel, Christ is there waiting for us with open arms and a tissue to wipe our tears. There is beauty in the waiting, and we’ll probably regret it if we don’t allow ourselves to vulnerably open our hearts and our lives to Christ.
So how can we build our relationship with God? How do we prepare our hearts for Easter, while still savoring this waiting and dark time before Christ comes? When we are fearful, where can we turn? When we feel exhausted and worn out, how do we go on this Lent? Through prayer.
I teach my students about prayer during Lent because it can be the absolute best tool we have as Christians. Saint Vincent Pallotti knew this to be true, saying, “The best method of private prayer is that which the spirit of the person finds easiest and most fruitful.” He totally understands us! In his wisdom, Pallotti sought to humbly serve God through his actions and be an apostle journeying with others and teaching them about God’s eternal Love.
Private prayer is so important. It can be as simple as we want it to be or as complex. We can talk to God out loud, in our hearts, through journaling, or in memorized prayers, but private prayer is essential to our spiritual lives. In the moments in which you want to slow down, try praying to God. Each time you think about the next thing that is coming and how you just need to get through it, pray. Ask God to remove your impatience and replace it with humility. Humbly putting ourselves aside during Lent can be a fruitful way to grow closer to God. Intentionality and a few personal moments are the only things we really need this Lent, for if God is for us, who could be against us?
For more resources to guide you through your Lenten journey, please click here.
For more resources on prayer, please click here.
“Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endure a great contest of suffering. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.
‘For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come, he shall not delay.
But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.’
We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.” -Hebrews 10:32-39
We are living in an extremely tumultuous time. For over a year, a virulent sickness has swept over the world and caused havoc with our health, our economies, and the very way we relate to one another. It has separated us from friends, co-workers, extended family, and our church community, to name a few. In battling its transmission, we have been forced into isolation—severely limiting gatherings, celebrations together, and even sharing hugs. We have been stretched beyond our normal mode of living and the equilibrium of our lives has been disturbed, with no end clearly in sight. On top of all this, we have experienced political and social unrest – polarized groups rising against one another, causing great division instead of building unity. For any individual, these circumstances could easily defeat us and have us succumb to despair. I think of the Marty Haugen song many of us sing every year during Advent: “For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits, truly my hope is in you.” It resounds in my mind and heart as we traverse through such unsettling circumstances.
Amidst all the unknowns and unrest, I have witnessed a beautiful vision that overrides all the devastation of the circumstances we are in. I have seen people sacrifice to care for others and people coming together to celebrate the joy of life in trying situations. I have witnessed God living and walking among us through the selfless individuals choosing to stand tall in faith and do all things in love. As Christians we are taught “God is love.” We were created out of love, for love. We are part of God’s great creation and we belong to Him. He guides, instructs, and protects us always. What a magnificent testament to hope in! We pray in our Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This is part of what we profess at Mass before we enter into the liturgy of the Eucharist – which is the source and summit of our faith. We receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord to nourish us in body and spirit. This profession of faith, this gift of communion, allows us to walk through all the adversities of life as joyful people who understand our hope lies not in this world but in heaven, forever.
This living hope comes from being nurtured by the stories from Scripture, being taught prayers and devotions, receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist frequently, singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and practicing acts of kindness daily. What an ironclad defense we have against any evil that would afflict our body or soul! How beautiful it is that as Christians we can be united together in faith wherever we are. This is how I have remained steadfast in hope and overcome fear during these trials that continue to badger us. Surrounding myself with pictures of the Holy Family, the saints, the crucifix, listening to Christ-centered music, praying novenas and prayers, attending Mass often, and sitting in the quiet and listening for God to speak to me are all ways I actively participate in being a person of hope. Even more simply, just keeping my home clean and neat makes it a peaceful sanctuary where I can experience God’s presence.
I have no control over the things of this world that loom large over me, but that is okay. As long as I adjust my spiritual armor and remain grounded in Christ, I have every reason to walk in hope, joyously, no matter the circumstances. My husband I adopted the habit of praying Saint Patrick’s Breastplate each morning before going out into the fray and it has born much good fruit in our lives. I offer it to you as another tool to assist you in the battle against evil.
We are children of light, born of love and destined for heaven. We belong to Him. He made us a community and all around the world, individually and in groups, we profess our faith boldly, we share His message of love constantly, and we support one another in solidarity of His kingdom. It is our job to remain in Him and He will supply all the grace needed to walk tall in hope. As St. Teresa of Avila said: ‘God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.’
For more resources to guide you through the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
For more resources on prayer, please click here.
It’s hard to believe that COVID-19 began to take hold of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States just two weeks after Ash Wednesday 2020. As we approached Holy Week last year, dry jokes abounded as to whether or not we had to continue to give things up during Lent as COVID-19 had already forced us to give up so much. Well, those jokes have returned a year later as Ash Wednesday is just around the corner and the pandemic is still very much a reality in our lives.
Lent is a period of the Catholic Big Three: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This preparatory and penitential season helps to prepare us for the glory of the Resurrection. Most Catholics know the drill: you give something up for Lent (and hopefully take something on as well) as you have Easter Sunday circled on your calendar. But last year threw us all for a loop. Used to giving up chocolate or swearing, we were forced to give up worshiping in Church, seeing loved ones, going to school, and so much more. In the months since, almost every person knows someone who has contracted or even died from the COVID-19 virus. Though Lent ended on Easter in 2020, it feels as though it still hasn’t quite ended. We’ve abstained from holiday gatherings, birthdays, and so much more than we’d ever planned, even during the Lenten season.
Lent, though, is the perfect lens through which to view the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during this penitential season, we don’t forget the glory of the Resurrection. Yes, the “A-word” and the Gloria are omitted from the Mass. Sure, we focus on the preparation and the penance, but we still receive and glorify our Lord. Even though we are without so much now in the Lent-like COVID-19 pandemic, we still praise the Lord. The last line of Psalm 150 reads, “Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord.” Not just during the liturgical seasons of Ordinary Time, or Christmas, or Easter, but at all times, everything with breath should praise the Lord.
This continues even now, with so much going wrong in our world. With so much suffering and pain—from which none of us are immune—there is still reason to praise the Lord. Baptisms and First Communions still occur. Marriages are still celebrated. Four of my closest friends were married this past summer—which brings new context to the promises of commitment in sickness and health. Even when there has been suffering, God has still managed to bring good out of it. When my own grandfather passed away in October, I was able to spend the last few days before his death with him. This was a time whose memory I cherish, and time I’m not sure we would’ve gotten if he hadn’t gone to his eternal rest. As I’ve gone through my own sickness over the last few months, I’ve made Psalm 150 my mantra of sorts. My life hasn’t been perfect, but God has ordained it and he has sustained it. He has given me breath and life, and for that I praise him. As Matt Maher says in his song Alive and Breathing, “Let everything praise the Lord, in the working and the waiting…in the dying and the rising, let us praise the Lord!” With Lent coming up, and COVID still wreaking such havoc in our world, let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
For more Lenten resources, please click here.
For more resources to help you navigate COVID-19, please click here.
As a Catholic of African descent, I am honored and privileged by this unique opportunity to discuss the beautifully diverse Catholic Church throughout the world, the significant contributions that those of every ethnic background have made in building up the Body of Christ, and how we can arrive at racial healing and reconciliation.
The Catholic Church is made up of the faithful of every ethnic background, the young and old, both male and female, and several distinct cultural settings. In other words, we Catholics come from every realm of the human experience, and are united in our baptismal fidelity. As a black Catholic, my religious heritage spans all the way back to biblical times, including when Saint Philip the Apostle brought the Good News of Jesus Christ down into Ethiopia (see Acts:8:26-40). Both African and African-American saints, including those in this extensive list from Catholic Online, have enriched the Church for nearly two millennia. Likewise, the modern era features some black candidates for sainthood, including those appearing in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ webpage titled “On the Path to Sainthood: Leaders of African Descent.” I encourage everyone of good will to read through the biographies of the figures listed in both of those sites, in order to gain a greater appreciation for the manifold ways that they have built up the Body of Christ, per the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:4-5).
The calendar year 2020 brought numerous challenges to those of every faith, both in the United States and around the globe, as the world confronted the COVID-19 pandemic and matters of racial discord were brought to the fore in the United States. I think often of how far we have come as a nation in terms of fostering peace and harmony between people of every ethnic background here in the United States. For instance, my father, Charles McClain, Sr., who was born in Durham, North Carolina, in 1936, and lived under segregation well into his early adulthood, probably did not fathom during his youth that he would one day see three of his sons (my brother Eric, my brother Jaris, and me) go on to marry white women. We can attest that this is, in a way, a fulfillment of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, affirmation from his “I Have a Dream” speech of August 28, 1963, declaring that “I have a dream that that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and that “one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Yet, as with many quests for justice, this is easier said than done. However, since we profess our faith in Jesus Christ, we have inspiration from the Gospel, since Jesus commands (not suggests) to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
To facilitate healing and reconciliation, we must have best intentions and give others the benefit of the doubt when they are striving to learn more about their brethren of other ethnic backgrounds and cultures. As such, every endeavor in this regard should be marked by true charity and prayer prior to the initiation of any sociopolitical engagement, all of which must be informed by the Gospel and its imperatives if we are to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I urge the faithful to read books on racial reconciliation and healing from a Christ-centered perspective. A couple of books that come to mind are Joseph Pearce’s Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love (TAN Books, 2013) and the late Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga’s Forgiveness Makes You Free: A Dramatic Story of Healing and Reconciliation from the Heart of Rwanda (Ave Maria Press, 2019). Of note, Fr. Ubald passed away from complications related to COVID-19 on January 7. You can read more about his life and ministry in this tribute provided by Ave Maria Press.
I love teaching my children and students about being an African-American Catholic, just as I enjoy learning about my wife’s Irish-American Catholic heritage and many other avenues of cultural diversity within the Church. Let us draw each other to embrace the sacramental life and the Church’s timeless moral standards in order to reinforce the Body of Christ. May God bless you.
The family is the environment in which we learn to relate to others, where we are cared for and loved. But it can also be a laboratory for sadness, bruising, and wounding. Moments of grace separate one from the other. Mere humans living together in close proximity in the home, sharing the nitty gritty of life, is full of all kinds of challenges! How many times do we have a misunderstanding and have the sense to apologize? Dealing with people is messy business and hurt happens. It is heroic to operate in the grace of the Holy Spirit to ask forgiveness when we hurt one another. The simple ability to look past our own feelings and see how we impact others – that is life-changing behavior. “I’m sorry that what I did was hurtful to you. Please forgive me”—this is humility, and when we operate at this level within our family, we can change the world. As I see it, the two most important virtues of a holy family are patience and forgiveness. Thank goodness perfection is not required, just steadfastness.
The readings from the Mass for the feast of the Holy Family, which we celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas, are beautiful reminders of how to behave and interact with each other in our families.
“God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. He who
honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard. He who reveres his
father will live a long life; he obeys God who brings comfort to his mother. My son, take care of
your father when he is old; grieve him not long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate
with him; revile him not in the fullness of our strength. For kindness to a father will not be
forgotten, it will serve as a sin offering-it will take lasting root.” Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14
This passage expounds on the fourth commandment because Jesus wanted us to understand the importance of family as the cornerstone of society. In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, Saint Mother Teresa said, “My prayer for you is that truth will bring prayer in our homes..[and] we will begin to love. And we will love naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, [then the] next door neighbor in the country we live, [then] in the whole world.”
In our progressed world, we think of evangelization and mission in terms of global work, but we cannot achieve spreading the faith if we do not practice in our own families.
Colossians 3:12-21 gives us further practical instruction on how to relate to one another.
“As the chosen of God, then, the holy people whom he loves, you are to be clothed in heartfelt compassion, in generosity and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, put on love, the perfect bond. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together in one body. Always be thankful. Let the Word of Christ in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. And whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through Him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be sharp with them. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, do not irritate your children or they will lose heart.”
What makes the family so extraordinary is all the goodness that can come when we learn to love. We die to self in saying we are sorry for our offenses. We grow in virtue when we focus on the needs of others instead of ourselves. A quote often attributed to G.K. Chesterton states, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” God has set an incredible task before us – to love the people in our family through our actions and our attitude. This is the heart of radical evangelization. And it will change the world!
For more resources on marriage and family, please click here.
Baptism is one of my favorite subjects to teach my Pre-K students. Often, it is the first time the boys and girls really get a chance to learn about what Baptism is. Other times, it provides them a chance to share about their own sacramental experience or that of someone they know. Throughout the unit, everyone is given a chance to celebrate being part of God’s family in the Church. Learning about Baptism is a PreK standard in their catechesis, and we begin January by learning about Christ’s Baptism in the River Jordan. We learn that it was John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus and offered a baptism of repentance. John came before Jesus telling the people to, “’Prepare the way for the Lord!’ preaching a baptism of forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:3-4).
Like the people whom John baptized and preached to, we likely are feeling in need of renewal. As we welcome this new year, we can also be renewed and cleansed from such a challenging year spiritually, emotionally, and physically! We can start fresh this year, and hear John, “a voice crying out in the desert.”
For me, 2020 often felt like a desert. At times, I felt as though my thirst for the Eucharist was unbearable since going to Church was unsafe. Other times, it seemed like I was stranded alone with a new baby and deserted by any additional help. This year has taken its toll on so many, in so many ways, and everyone’s desert has been hard. This pandemic has left many of us yearning, thirsting, and begging the Lord for renewal. Let us consider putting on a new self in renewing our own baptismal promises, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and entering 2021 with clean and refreshed hearts!
My son was welcomed into the Church through Baptism in September. We followed the safety restrictions, had an option for virtual participation, and were able to celebrate our little child of God being cleansed of original sin. It was a humbling and beautiful Mass and Baptism. While I was holding my son, Vincent (named after St. Vincent Pallotti), I could feel God's presence and see it unfolding before my eyes. For a moment, my desert had become an oasis. Life, water, joy, gratitude, my little boy’s squeals, and love were present there with us. I knew there and then that my son had been renewed and would in turn bring some renewal into our lives. Just as my son’s baptism brought refreshing hope into my family’s life, the Lord’s Baptism can bring renewal and hope into our lives as Catholics. At the Lord’s Baptism, he received his mission. May we continue to reflect upon our own mission as disciples in this upcoming year.
Our hearts are yearning to be cleansed and renewed amidst our many deserts. Like my students learning about Baptism for the first time, let us engage our hearts and open our ears to the Word anew. Like my son’s Baptism showed me an oasis amidst a desert storm, let us find joy in our own Baptisms this year. Here is a prayer to leave you with as we begin the year anew:
Heavenly Father, as a new calendar year begins, cleanse us with new hope and give us nourishment in your Son, Jesus Christ. Wash away our sadness, pain, and fears and help us to know your love throughout this upcoming year. Help us prepare the way for you to come into our hearts, oh Lord. Turn our own desert into oasis. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Every year I ponder why we put such great importance on December 31st—why we celebrate the close of one year and herald in the new year with such fanfare. I never have really been one to make such a ‘to do’ about celebrating New Year’s. Isn’t it simply another day on the calendar, the turning over of a number? One day rides into the next on the 31st of December no differently than all the other days of the year. But we have made it a big holiday – a day to reminisce over the past 12 months and to celebrate the beginning of a fresh new calendar year – and we believe in all of its possibilities. Many of us recommit to our mission in life or to a specific goal. With the encouragement of others, we resolve to some greater aspirations and get all fired up about them!
In our Christian walk, it is essential that we take stock of where we are and what we have done, as well as how we can make improvements, grow in holiness, love more deeply, and share the Gospel message more intentionally. We do not have to only do this examination and recommitment on New Year’s Eve: we are called to do this daily. A great time to do it is before we lay ourselves down to sleep. And then each morning, we can arise with the zeal to do our best, be our best in the new day we have been given. New Year’s Eve traditions are wonderful, but let us daily recall our actions and thoughts and celebrate the close of another day to be alive, to walk and talk as a joyful, purposeful child of the Savior, and then arise each morning to usher in a fresh new day to live and work and grow in our mission to build God’s kingdom on earth.
About 3 months ago, as we were continuing to navigate life in this pandemic, I committed to participating in daily Mass with my husband in order to become a bolder Christian, a more loving wife, a more compassionate mother, a more diligent worker, and a more available servant to my neighbor. I honestly see great fruit in these areas because of receiving Jesus daily in the Word and in Sacrament. I have experienced added gifts of grace that help me become a better child of the Most High! During this time, I awoke every morning between 3:00 and 3:45am, just wide awake and raring to go! After a week of this happening, I realized that God wanted something of me. So now I read Scripture and have a nice quiet prayer time, while the rest of my household is asleep. I would not have been able to do this five years ago, or 10 or 20 or 30. I was in the trenches raising six kids and working and managing an extremely busy household! But grace abounds at this time in my life and it amazes me how good God is! This personal reflection, prayer, and evaluation are a day-by-day occurrence, not just practices that occur once a year at the turning of the clock to January 1st.
I encourage each of you to enjoy your New Year’s Eve reflection and New Year’s Day celebration while also recognizing and committing to the importance of reflecting on what is past and committing to what is ahead as a daily activity. We are each here for a purpose. Together, with the graces God bestows, we have much to do to build His kingdom. So, one foot in front of the other, one sunrise and one sunset at a time, let us celebrate each day with the zeal of the first disciples – and God’s will most surely will be done on earth as it is in heaven!
Happy New Year, happy new day!
“God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity.” Psalm 139:23-24
It seems a gross understatement to say that 2020 has brought on more than just a horrible virus. Our inability to visit loved ones can bring on a wave of loneliness, sadness, despair, or depression. If you have a family, the loneliness is a bit less oppressive than if you are single, but it is still there. Your children cannot go play with their friends as freely and your couple friends aren’t able to come over for dinner. If you are single, your options are even fewer. Regardless of your state in life, however, loneliness has not discriminated in this grueling year.
With the promised vaccine on its way, there is room for hope. However, I think it is important to reflect on the movement within our souls this past year. With all of our normal routines and plans taken away, we’ve been stripped to just ourselves or our immediate families. We’ve even been stripped of the sacraments, the Mass, and the community that comes along with parish life. Day after day, many of us have faced the walls of our home and not much beyond that. During this time, we have no doubt experienced bouts of loneliness. I know I have. But has there been an invitation to solitude in there as well?
What is the difference between solitude and loneliness? Loneliness is a very human experience of feeling isolated and desiring community. It is not as easily fixed as it used to be, given all of the current restrictions. However, solitude is an invitation from Our Lord to be drawn into a particular relationship with Him--to be focused only on Him without distractions. If courageous enough to accept this invitation (I find myself coming up with excuses to pretend that I don’t hear this invitation), we may find an even deeper restlessness. As St. Augustine famously said in Book 1 of the Confessions: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” This restlessness may seem exhausting, especially this year, but in reality it is a great gift. We are made for rest in Christ, and so this restlessness drives us to find Him. Restlessness, however, cannot be truly recognized if we do not accept this invitation to solitude. We may feel it knocking on our door and choose to ignore it with various activities or try to cure it some other way. But its remedy is only found in relationship with Christ, who waits for us in solitude--in the quietest place of our hearts.
Some ways that have been helpful for me in growing more comfortable with entering into solitude are finding 15-20 minutes before I go to bed to reflect with God about my day--an examination of conscience of sorts. I think about the parts of my day where God was calling me into deeper relationship-whether that be in a conversation with a friend, 15 free minutes I had where I could have said a rosary but watched YouTube instead, etc. I will imagine that He and I are having a conversation at my kitchen table (it may sound odd, but try it!) and reflect with Him about what happened that day. Most importantly, though, is spending those few minutes before bed in complete silence. This may look different depending on your state in life, but I have found that the silence is what allows me to enter into that solitude with Christ. Once this becomes a regular habit, the loneliness we experience seems more tolerable, because we know that we can enter into solitude with Christ whenever we want to. He becomes our refuge, and we can talk with Him whenever we like.
As I look back on 2020 and look forward to 2021, I hope to more readily recognize when Christ is calling me into this particular relationship and to respond willingly. If we find ourselves lonely and aching for community, I hope we remember that the key to healing our loneliness and restlessness is found in solitude, and the invitation to rest in this solitude with Christ is a standing one.
Question for Reflection: What are some ways we can grow in our comfortability with solitude or that we can respond to God’s invitation to deepen our relationship with him during this time?
For more resources on self-care during this time, please click here.
A lyric of one of my favorite Advent hymns, “O Holy Night,” shares the simple yet profound posture in which we are called to enter into the Advent and Christmas seasons: on our knees.
Perhaps many of us already find ourselves there—either out of reverence or sheer exhaustion. For many, the year 2020 will forever be overshadowed by confusion, darkness, anxiety, fear or stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps you, like me, have just wanted it all to be over. We may feel tired of the masks, the canceled events, the physical distance from our friends and loved ones, uncertain job security, or the fear for our health and for those around us. Our hands are raw from sanitizer. Our hearts are raw from stress and confusion. Pandemic fatigue is real.
Is this exhaustion, stress, and confusion similar to what the Jewish people felt as they traversed to their hometowns for Caesar Augustus’ census two thousand years ago?
“Where is the Savior foretold by the prophets?” they must have thought. “Where is the king who would overthrow all oppressors and establish God’s kingdom forever? Where is God? And why does he seem silent?”
For God’s Chosen People, continued faith and hope must have been a hard choice.
For God’s chosen people, continued faith and hope is a hard choice.
And it is precisely when we are caught up in our feelings of negativity, sadness, or desolation that we fail to see God at work. Too consumed by looking inward, we forget to look up and see the star. It is precisely for this reason that hardly anyone attended the most important event in all of human history: the birth of the Savior of the World, a child born quietly in the recesses of Bethlehem.
So where do we find ourselves? Are we grumbling that God has not done enough to fix our broken situation? Are we stressed about the logistics to get our family to the census? Are we awaiting our own version of the Messiah, making our own golden calves? Do we look back longingly, preferring the slavery of Egypt to the wilderness? Or have we abandoned our relationship with God altogether?
Finally, are we on our knees?
Mary models this posture with her very life. I cannot help but imagine that she received the news from the Angel Gabriel on her knees. “How can this be?” she asked, greatly troubled at what was said in the midst of the holy and miraculous encounter. Her fiat was only possible because of her posture of humility. This receptivity is what every Christian is called to emulate.
This posture in the presence of God is also important because kneeling is a physical reminder of reality: God is God, and we are not. Put another way, God is Creator, we are created. By kneeling in prayer, we enter into a dialogue with God in a posture of humility that reflects the true order of reality. Kneeling is also a posture of vulnerability that manifests our littleness before a great God.
This littleness is not belittling, but reveals our true dignity. We have the courage to kneel because, in a sense, God knelt first. As St. Paul reminds us, “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself” (Phil 2:7). How can we then fear to approach such a gentle and humble Savior?
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are not in control. Mary experienced this too. She did not anticipate a virgin birth, losing her Son for three days, or watching her Son’s crucifixion. This lack of human control is the truth regardless, but it’s a reality often obscured by our schedules, appointments, bank accounts, occupations, or social events. And when many of these good things have been stripped from our day-to-day lives, we are forced to reckon with our vulnerability. We are reminded that, ultimately, our Good Father holds us and our world in existence. We fall to our knees.
Let us therefore approach Him lovingly this Christmas in this humble posture. Let us honor and reverence Him by offering to the Christ-child all our insecurities, fears, or limitations.
I invite you to offer each sacrifice, hardship, or suffering as a piece of straw to warm the Christ-child this season. To look for the guiding star each day that leads us to Bethlehem. To name throughout the day what you are thankful for rather than succumb to grumbling. To spend some time reading Scripture, attending a Mass virtually or in person, sharing food or gifts with the needy, or singing an Advent hymn. To open our hearts to God’s way of doing things rather than grasping for control on our own. To fall on your knees.
This season, may we join the shepherds, the wise men, and all the angels and saints in this humble posture filled with breathless hope, joy, and excitement to adore Christ the Lord, the newborn King, the answer to each prayer, the fulfillment of all desire.
And may we prepare a full, warm manger for the Christ-child to rest in on Christmas Day.