For the last two years, my parish has hosted a virtual Lourdes pilgrimage led by the Lourdes Volunteers. This prayerful experience went beyond my general understanding of Mary’s 18 apparitions to St. Bernadette in southern France during 1858. By attending this virtual pilgrimage, I felt the Virgin Mary’s call to learn more about her, and through her, to grow closer to God. A few months after attending my first virtual pilgrimage, I completed a Marian consecration with several friends. Thankfully, the team of volunteers with the Lourdes Volunteers is still hosting virtual pilgrimage experiences via broadcast on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11.
We often think of the physical healing miracles at Lourdes, but emotional healing is also an important part of the message of Lourdes. When I attended these virtual pilgrimage sessions, the lessons of sacrifice that Our Lady shared with St. Bernadette stood out to me most. “I do not promise you happiness of this world, but of the next,” Mary said to St. Bernadette. Mary reminds us that uniting our sufferings to Jesus’ sufferings on the cross is where we find true joy.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot easier said than done!
Prayer is transformative and plays a huge part in helping get us through our earthly sufferings. Choosing love helps make sacrifice endurable. St. Bernadette taught us that suffering passes, but having suffered remains eternally. The physical and emotional sacrifices of this world are temporary compared to the glory of everlasting life in heaven with God.
St. Bernadette famously said, “One who loves does not notice their trials, or perhaps more accurately, is able to love them. Love without measure.” At first, this not noticing of trials seems idealistic. But then I realized that our trials are made more bearable because of our love for another. I think of how mothers go through physical pain and exhaustion for their newborn babies, or how a father stays up at night with a sick child. I think of how husbands and wives sacrifice individual wants for the needs of each other. I think of how a friend puts their own struggles aside to help another friend going through a deep, rough patch.
We can look to Mary and Jesus as examples of how to love while enduring sacrifice. “She spoke to me as one person to another,” said St. Bernadette of Mary. This conversational nature of Mary and St. Bernadette’s relationship shows us that we can easily speak to her and ask for her prayerful intercession as our mother.
At Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette, she revealed herself to be the Immaculate Conception. By allowing God to forgive us of our sins and conduct his work inside us, we are becoming more “immaculate” witnesses to God in the world. Mary emphasized the need for penance and prayer, not just for ourselves, but for the healing of all.
While our travel is limited during this Covid-19 pandemic, we can still embody St. Bernadette by imagining the grotto and going there in our hearts to make a pilgrimage.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. St. Bernadette, pray for us.
During our marriage preparation, my husband and I made a mission, vision, and values spreadsheet for our marriage goals (nerdy, we know!). Part of our goals include living an authentic Catholic lifestyle, which we believe integrates the liturgical season into our new family unit. Some of my favorite memories from childhood include cooking and baking with my mom and having meaningful discussions with my parents about our Catholic faith. Traditions like these are important to my husband and me, and we look forward to continuing to build off of our parents’ traditions while adding our own.
To build traditions within our family, we’ve started with the idea of liturgical living. Liturgical living brings the life and breadth of the Church into our own homes and can be accomplished through certain prayers, celebrations, meals, crafts, and other traditions. This can also be described as building up the domestic church – which may be even more important than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic. As newlyweds, we have slowly added liturgical season traditions into our daily lives, such as celebrating saint feast days and preparing our house for Advent and Christmas. A New Year’s resolution we’ve set for ourselves in 2021 is trying to incorporate more of the Church’s liturgical seasons into our home to better appreciate the richness of our Catholic faith.
One of our favorite wedding gifts to help us implement our goal of liturgical living is The Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney. Tierney shares how her family celebrates the Church’s liturgical season 365 days a year. She starts off the book by encouraging families to begin celebrating what makes the Catholic faith most approachable to each family member – saint namesake feast days and Baptism anniversaries. Special meals and desserts, prayer, stories, activities, and conversations are different ways to make the celebrations meaningful.
After noting namesake feast days and baptisms, Tierney recommends starting slowly and gradually, adding in other feast days important to each family and doing things that already fit into existing daily routines. The free calendars given out at church for the new year have these dates with the liturgical year, such as Ordinary Time, Lent, etc. A fabulous Christmas present I also received last month is the Blessed Is She planner that incorporates feast days and the liturgical year. This is all a process that takes time and can be added upon each year or changed. It shouldn’t be meant to overwhelm.
In our annual family planning meeting for 2021, my husband and I went through each month and picked which feasts we’d celebrate after our saint name days and baptisms. Our church even made our first feast day celebration easy by providing us blessed chalk and a prayer to say while marking 20 + C + M + B + 21 above our front door mantle for Epiphany on January 6! We’ve also added making “king cake” cinnamon rolls for dessert as part of the tradition.
How do you plan to incorporate Catholic liturgical living into your family’s routine this year? What are some of your favorite liturgical living traditions? If you practice liturgical living already, how has this helped your family learn about the Catholic faith?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
I must admit – the isolation that comes with social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting me with waves of cabin fever and missing friends and family terribly. I’m incredibly thankful I am able to “quarantine” with my husband and dog, while at the same time I mourn the social engagements of seeing family, friends, and co-workers in person.
My husband and I recently got married in May, and we’ve become parishioners of our local church. With our marriage came a move for me, as we previously had a long-distance relationship. When I’ve moved in the past, I’ve typically sought friendships and activities through my local Catholic church; finding my church family is always my first step in getting accustomed to a new town. Social distancing and canceled or online events make forming those relationships and feeling connected more challenging. It’s hard enough without a pandemic to be the new person!
Many moments throughout the day, I ask myself why I find it so difficult to be away from others. After prayer and reflection, I realized seclusion is hard because God created us for community. God gave Adam a partner and said it wasn’t good for man to be alone (cf Genesis 2:18). We need a support system - the Body of Christ.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When we encounter others, we are assured God is with us. This is especially felt when we have a Bible study, small group, or other faith-sharing activities with our fellow Christians.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” This passage served as a wake-up call to me. I think of how much more I can do to check in on friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, and to find creative ways of showing love.
I want to share a few ideas of some actions that have helped my family and me cope through the isolation that comes with this current pandemic.
1.Call 1-2 People Each Week or Write “Snail Mail” Letters. My mom started calling one to two friends a week from church to check in and see how they were doing. She told me how much she enjoyed catching up with her friends and it meant a lot to her friends as well. I have done the same, and it’s so refreshing to hear my friends’ voices and what they are up to. I’ve also been sending cards for birthdays and ‘thinking about you’ notes or texts as well.
2.Consider Participating in a Virtual Rosary Recitation with Others. Friends of my mom’s invited her to say a daily virtual rosary with them. Together from their individual homes, they pray the Holy Land rosary with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. My mom has shared with me how much she enjoys talking with her friends after the recitations about the holy sites where mysteries of the rosary took place.
3.Make Donations. Many people are still in need of toiletry and food items. Food banks and other charitable organizations are continuing to provide services. Consider calling a local charity to learn about their donation protocols as some are taking items by appointment and need some items more than others.
4.Try Daily Mass. In July I felt very far from God. It had been two months since having the Eucharist at my wedding. I spoke with a friend who encouraged me to try attending daily Mass since fewer people were attending in person compared to weekend Masses. After attending daily Mass, I felt more in communion with God and with my fellow Catholics. My husband and I continue to attend Mass in person on Fridays and now on Sundays. My church, like many, encourages mask-wearing and has employed other precautions, such as seating arrangements, for everyone’s safety. Recently, one of the Brothers of Hope at my church approached us to introduce himself as he hadn’t met many folks, especially young adults like him. By reaching out, this Brother made us feel more connected to our parish and to fellow Catholics.
5.Enjoy Nature or Take a Walk Around Your Neighborhood. My husband and I have been taking our dog for walks in the neighborhood. We see many of our neighbors having socially distanced dates from their driveways, which is encouraging. For a change of scenery, we went to our local botanical gardens and have planned nature trail walks.
6.Aid Elderly Neighbors or Family. Check-in on family members and neighbors who may be elderly or immunocompromised to see if they need help with errands so they don’t have to enter stores. Sometimes, they may just need a friendly voice to chat with on the phone.
7.Have Socially Distanced Friend/Family Dates. If you’re comfortable with the idea, you can still enjoy seeing friends and family in a limited number either at one another’s houses or at a restaurant. Separately, we’ve seen a couple who are close friends with us as well as my husband’s parents about once a month. We keep these interactions socially distanced, wear masks, and use plenty of hand sanitizer.
For more ideas on growing spiritually during COVID-19, please click here.
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.
During our engagement, we were told several times to expect that something would go wrong during our wedding no matter how much we planned. Well, neither my husband nor I expected a pandemic to be that unexpected surprise!
For me, getting married during COVID-19 has been a spiritual journey. I’ve learned a lot throughout the wedding planning process – namely, to embrace flexibility, be open to changes in my expectations, find gratitude in every situation, focus on what’s most important, and trust in God as well as our family and friends. The biggest lesson for me has been to more fully understand that we don’t control our lives as much as we think we do.
My family, friends and colleagues know me as detail-oriented, prepared and a planner (who probably strategizes too far in advance). I’m not a fan of surprises, I’m cautious, and I like to meet or exceed expectations at all times. Growing up, my friends nicknamed me “Mom” because I always made sure to have the extra snacks, hand sanitizer, suntan lotion, an umbrella, etc. for wherever our adventures would take us.
When it came to wedding planning, I wasn’t the type of person who had everything planned out since childhood. But when it became clear that my husband was “The one,” I read Catholic wedding websites and would run ideas by him. The day after his June 30, 2019 proposal, I went to our church to find out about the process and everything we needed to do to select a spring date in 2020 that would then determine all our other vendor options.
As more and more reports popped up in March that the novel coronavirus had made its way to the U.S., my then fiancé (now husband) remarked with a laugh, “I knew things were going too smoothly with our wedding planning!” We hoped and prayed that all would be clear by the time our May 23, 2020 wedding would take place. Initially we prayed that we’d still be able to go on our European honeymoon. Oh, how quickly those naïve prayers turned into “Lord, please let us still be able to get married in the Catholic Church on May 23!”
Our priest assured us that he’d do anything in his power to ensure our sacrament could happen, even if our wedding didn’t necessarily look the way we or the church had planned. For this, we were so grateful. In addition to our desire to be together legally and in the church, a lot was riding on our decision to marry on this particular day – including job offers and job relocations, home sales, moving me to a new location since we were in a long distance relationship, and more. We gave it all to God to handle. As our priest said in a recent homily, “I can’t. God, you must.”
We planned for several different wedding options (a tiring effort!). As one of my bridesmaids put it, we had “Plans A, B, C, and X, Y and Z!” Many times, I found myself reflecting on what Jesus said to Martha in Luke 10:38-42, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” By focusing on our sacrament of marriage and making sure that it could happen above all things, we grew closer to God and one another in handling the first big cross of many crosses that will come with marriage.
When our home state opened for Phase 1 in early May, anything we could do that was originally planned we saw as an extra blessing. I found gratitude in the smallest of things, like getting a manicure for our wedding. Thankfully, we were able to have our nuptial wedding Mass on May 23 with a small celebration of less than 25 people to witness our marriage vows. We had a reception at the restaurant of a fellow parishioner, where we held a Zoom call with our relatives and friends so they could see our first dances and toasts. Our best man and maid of honor were out of the state and not able to attend in-person, so they gave their beautiful speeches virtually.
Our nuptial Mass was the first time since the second week in March that both my husband and I received the Eucharist and attended Mass in person. The amount of gratitude I felt during the Liturgy of the Eucharist and receiving our Lord left me feeling as though love was overflowing. I appreciated every moment of the Mass like I was listening to it for the first time; being fully present and not taking any part of the liturgy for granted.
I had prayed every day for a wedding day and marriage more beautiful than I could ever imagine, and our nuptial Mass and special day were certainly that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re just a few weeks into married life, and we are looking forward to a lifetime to go!
As a communications manager who handles the social media accounts for my day job, I’ve had to work at and learn how to better manage my time spent on social media. While this technology is an exciting and ever-evolving resource for sharing and obtaining news, I’ve found social media can also drain my energy or keep me from my priorities.
Within the last year, I noticed I was spending four or more hours a day on social media and browsing the Internet. I saw my spiritual life was being affected, so during this past Lent, I decided to do something about that imbalance. I knew I still needed social media for work use, and I discovered a solution.
By implementing the screen time and do-not-disturb settings on my phone, I found I could limit my social media consumption to an hour per day. Whatever time was left after work allocations I could spend on personal social media time. Most days I used 45 minutes or the whole hour for work.
I came to appreciate that my time was spent elsewhere in a more productive manner. I used the time for additional prayer, reading, church, conversations with friends, and other enjoyable activities. My brain didn’t feel as fuzzy and scattered with random bits of information that would send me off the paths toward my personal, professional, and spiritual goals.
After Lent, I took off the screen time and do-not-disturb parameters on my phone due to an evening work event. Since then, I’ve turned them back on. This experience of self-reflection and adjustment of my behaviors reminded me of why God provides us with commandments: to set us free from sin in order to allow us to become more perfectly the people he created us to be. By growing in self-awareness and setting self-imposed boundaries, we can better harness social media for the good.
Here are a few questions to consider that I have found help me when evaluating my time spent on social media:
(1)Are you present to those around you?
People using their digital devices when in the company of others is a growing trend – and a sad one at that. Instead, we should put away our devices and give our attention and time to those in front of us. Being fully present to those we are spending time with in-person shows that we are investing in our relationships and affirming their humanity. By being present to those around us, we respect them and uphold their dignity.
(2)Do you let social media distract you from God and others in your life?
Have you formed the habit of checking your phone every couple of minutes or felt the non-existent buzz of a notification? Have you moved to autopilot looking through your social media feeds or gone down the rabbit hole of an internet or video search only to see that one, three, or more hours have gone by? This reliance on our phones provides great distraction in our lives, making us susceptible to temptation. We should work to embrace silence with ourselves and with God. By scheduling solitude with God in prayer or time for ourselves to be constructive, we come to know God’s path for us and how he calls us to give of ourselves to others in love.
(3)Ask yourself, “Do you really need to share this moment?”
With 24/7 access to an inside look at our life’s daily moments through social media, we seem to have lost a sense of privacy and humility. Before posting content to social media, consider the discretion of the moment. Check with family, friends, and significant others if something including them is appropriate to post. Respect their space and yours. Ask yourself why you’re posting the content you want to share and check your motivations.
(4)Do you view social media as an outlet that steals your happiness or as a way to share your joy?
There is much truth to the adage, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparing ourselves, our possessions, our appearance, our jobs, our wealth, and our relationships to those of others prohibits us from feeling gratitude for our blessings and can derail us from our personal goals. Thanking God for at least one thing a day can help cultivate a spirit of joyfulness, allowing us to celebrate, learn from, and be happy for others around us.
(5)Do you feel isolated when spending time on social media?
Social media can be a great way to connect with Catholic communities. Personally, I enjoy the discussions and fellowship that Facebook groups cultivate. However, we must be cautious of the temptations to become a technology hermit, as Pope Francis warns of in his 2019 World Day of Social Communications message, or posting “for the sake of Instagram” or self-interested comments.
(6)How do you treat others on social media?
What we say on social media and Internet comment sections matters. Pope Francis encourages Catholics to live out the faith through social networks as the Body of Christ, welcoming others. As the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ social media guidelines, we as the Church “can use social media to encourage, respect, dialogue, and [cultivate] honest relationships – in other words, ‘true friendship.’” By living out our faith through the example we set in loving others on social media through our posts and comments, we reveal Christ.
This year, the theme for Catechetical Sunday (September 16th) is “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” This day is a reminder that all of the baptized play a role in the mission of sharing Christ with others, whether that be through formal or informal ministry.
This mission seems pressing today. In Bishop Robert Barron’s 2018 message for Catechetical Sunday, he says we are losing baptized Catholics at an alarming rate. In a Pew Research report, we see that Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics make up about 23% of the U.S. adult population.
This group of religiously unaffiliated individuals, or “nones,” is mostly concentrated among young adults, and the median age of unaffiliated adults continues to get younger. Of this population, those who describe themselves as agnostic or “nothing in particular” cite their top reason for not affiliating with a religion is that they question a lot of religious teachings. Having questions is actually an essential part of learning about and understanding the Catholic faith; only when we question can we begin to move beyond a lack of understanding and come to learn the truth of the Gospel. God desires for us to use our intelligence to come to know him before acting upon our faith.
The majority of young adults and “nones” find value in meaningful relationships over institutionalism and in authenticity over authority (Halbach). This shows us that the Church can engage the “nones” by forming relationships in order to accompany them along the journey of life. In the mission to bring Christ to others, we serve as authentic witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel through our lives. The Church needs the active participation of the laity to conduct outreach efforts in the everyday moments of our lives, both inside and outside of the Church. We were created to be social beings who can form relationships with others that will lead them to Christ and to the Church.
Much of this relationship building happens organically in our communities and parishes. For example, a couple of weeks ago, my parish young adult group heard that the grandmother of one of our new members had passed away. After hearing this news, we wrote and signed a sympathy card to mail her. By this small act of love for our fellow sister in Christ, we were able to show our genuine care for her and our desire to welcome her back to church after her travels for the funeral.
As missionary disciples, we know that there is no one “right” path to building these relationships and caring about those around us. This allows us to share our innate gifts creatively with others in order to build authentic relationships. Furthermore, sharing our own faith stories of personal encounters with Christ helps us to accompany others on their faith journeys as well. We must show others that we love them through our actions rather than our words. Christ enlists us as his witnesses. This Catechetical Sunday, how can you respond to his call?
Questions for Reflection: Are we open to questions about our Catholic faith in helping ourselves and others come to know God? Are we preparing ourselves to be able to answer questions from others about the faith in a rational manner? What are some ways you can begin to build authentic relationships with others in your community or parish? How are you building personal relationships with others in context of your faith journey?
To learn more about living as missionary disciples, click here.
Half of America is single. The hook-up culture and age of technology have greatly changed the way people date; the script for traditional dating is often considered unpopular and “outdated.” Despite all of this, people still desire authentic, meaningful relationships. This illustration of the typical modern dating scene is explored in a film called The Dating Project, a new documentary that follows five single men and women, ages 18-40, as they navigate the dating landscape on their search for lasting relationships. (The film’s executive producer is Steve McEveety, who also produced The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart). I found the film to be honest and, at times, humorous. All the main characters are unscripted, and I felt their stories accurately portrayed the frustrations many of us have experienced in today’s confusing dating world.
The Dating Project was inspired by Boston College professor Dr. Kerry Cronin’s infamous “dating assignment,” which Dr. Cronin developed after learning her students didn’t know how to ask someone else out on a date. In the assignment, each student must ask another person on a “Level 1 Date” following a certain set of rules. While some critics call Dr. Cronin’s dating rules old-fashioned, her rules actually encourage getting to know a person for who they are—without sexual expectations. The goal of a Level 1 date is purely for information gathering. Dr. Cronin outlines specific rules for this first date:
These rules emphasize that dating should be about getting to know a person, appreciating his or her qualities and determining whether they are the type of person you would like to eventually explore a long-term romantic partnership with. When we lose sight of this, we are only seeing men and women as commodities – mere sources of pleasure or satisfaction for ourselves in the short term. We are called, instead, to recognize that all people are made in the image and likeness of God—which is difficult to do when you think of only how another person can benefit you. We have to be mindful of not falling into what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture” when it comes to relationships. We aren’t shopping for a product on Amazon, after all.
By the conclusion of the documentary, we see the five individuals who serve as the focus of the film progress in their confidence when it comes to dating and relationships. The college students who participated in the dating assignment remarked that asking someone out on a date in person was a much better feeling than a hookup. They said they would continue this way of dating in the future. I was most impressed with the change in the 40-year-old man. He led a more non-committal lifestyle when it came to relationships and by the end, I could tell the questions the directors asked him, such as, “If the woman of your dreams walked up to you, what would you say?”, had made an impression on him. He thought more deeply about how he viewed women as daughters of God, he could imagine himself in a long-term relationship, and he felt like dating within the parameters of the assignment allowed him to avoid temptations more easily.
As children of God, we are called to a higher standard than what our culture provides. We need to step up as Catholic men and women and change the dating narrative. We must be courageous! As Pope Saint John Paul II says in his letter to families, “Do not be afraid of the risks! God’s strength is always far more powerful than your difficulties!”
We live in a world where social media creates a narrative of perfection and curated happiness. The constant pursuit of success, fulfillment and precision fuel our actions. We confuse modern ideals of self-interest, pleasure and minimalism with happiness. This false sense of happiness leads to a severe sense of discontent with our culture of appearances and deception. This, in turn, gives rise to the importance placed on truth and authenticity. Beneath the discontent we all feel is a shared desire to witness and live authentic lives.
In a new film, “Pope Francis – A Man of His Word,” we watch the story of a man who practices what he preaches. In the movie, we hear from a religious sister who says that God gives us a pope who is a reflection of what we need in the current times. In a global society that is starved for genuineness, sincerity and truth, Pope Francis provides the world with simple, bite-sized snippets of profound wisdom that are easily understood.
In one of those snippets of wisdom, our pope urges us to “Talk little, listen a lot.” As 1 John 3:18 says, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Pope Francis shows us through his actions – washing the feet of inmates, providing a kind touch of prayer to sick children – that tenderness is strength and not weakness. I work in communications and in my profession we have a common phrase that says, “show, don’t tell.” Our culture yearns to see others living out honest, genuine values through action, not words. Pope Francis is an example of someone who shows us how to love and that love is a choice.
Love is at the core of Jesus’ message. His teachings are those of love in action. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” However, in order for us to love like Jesus, we must be free to give of ourselves to another. Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever we want, when we want, where we want; it’s the ability to choose what is noble, true and right.
Sometimes it seems that as a society we have lost our identities as free beings created by God to love and be loved. We forget that God placed the sense of longing for happiness in our hearts so that we may love him, ourselves and others. This yearning is designed to bring us closer to God and ultimately provides our fulfillment.
Questions for Reflection: Who are the people in your life that show you how to freely love others? How can you show love for others in your own way using the gifts bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit? What are some simple steps you can take to live out your life authentically?
This year, I tried something new for Lent. Instead of giving up sweets or the snooze button on my alarm clock, I felt God calling me to spend more time in prayer with a regular reflection routine. I am someone who has to constantly fill my schedule with things to do and places to go—I knew God was asking for silence in my life.
Rather than making an unrealistic commitment during Lent, I selected something I could add to my already established morning and evening routines. I bought a Lenten journal that included a Bible verse and reflection with a corresponding prayer and question for free response. There were a few days I missed an entry and would make it up, but overall I felt I accomplished my Lenten promise and journey. The biggest thing I learned from this Lenten walk with Jesus was the idea of progress and not perfection.
As Matthew Kelley says, “we’re imperfect beings striving for perfection, and we have to learn to celebrate our progress.” Becoming more aware of what went on in my day and noticing where I was or was not being my best self made me more aware of God’s presence in my life. I could more easily notice when something in my day was a gift or where He was visibly working on something in my life.
As Lent progressed, I found myself yearning to know God in my life more and more. I went to Adoration more, sought out additional reflections through Kelley’s Dynamic Catholic resources, and attended my local women’s group more frequently. I think that’s what Lent should be: being on fire for your faith in God. Our Lenten practices shouldn’t just last for 40 days, but should be 365 days a year—though perhaps not to such a high degree as during Lent. Since Easter, I have continued to journal and have started a gratitude list I add to each day.
Here are some thoughts regarding seeking progress and not perfection that I have found helpful to continue working on after Lent:
Question for Reflection: What are some ways your past Lenten journeys have changed your spiritual life after Easter?
Being comfortable with dependence is a struggle for me. I absolutely hate to be a burden on anyone. In fact, my family constantly reminds me that it’s OK to ask for assistance and guidance. Several years ago in college, for example, I began to have car troubles that created a need for help with transportation. My parents reminded me that my friends would be there for me to lean on, reassuring me that they would in fact be glad to help. I was pleasantly surprised when each friend I asked for help gave a resounding, “Of course!”
Self-reliance seems to be a virtue valued by society because we are taught that it is better to give to others than to take. But when taken too far, the negatives of this quality actually erode our trust and relationships with other people, as well as our desire for God. In the Acts of the Apostles, we learn how the members of the early church relied upon one another and became stronger because of this support. We are humbled when we rely on others and on God, but we are also brought closer together as a result.
Recently, I read about Jabez’s prayer in the Bible. Jabez calls out to God asking, “Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! May your hand be with me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!” Jabez turns to God in prayer, showing strength in dependence on God.
Dependence is synonymous with prayer. It requires humility, an acknowledgement that we need God to help us grow and become more like him. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.” God wants us to ask for his blessings in prayer, to strive for big goals and dreams, not settle for mediocrity. But in all we do, we are called to glorify the Father, just as Christ did on earth.
Although not every one of our prayers is answered in the way we ask, God does hear each one and answers them in some way. Sometimes, an answer may come in the form of hardship or suffering. Conversely, an answer may come in the form of silence. Other times, an answer may come as blessings, an “extension of boundaries.” Regardless of the outcome of our prayer, God invites us to depend on him in the midst of any situation we may find ourselves in – whether we are in a position of strength or weakness.
With time, experience, and prayer, God continues to show me how to reach out to others as resources and guides. Over the summer, I began to pray something like Jabez’s prayer. I had asked God for ways to help me become more connected to my parish, and he responded by having a pastoral associate invite me to help form a young adult ministry in the parish.
I reached out to other young adult ministry leaders who offered their suggestions and advice, and they put me in contact with other diocesan leaders who were wonderful resources as well. Several friends also offered their support for the ministry and have helped to form a core planning team. Since the ministry had its first event in September, I encounter someone new looking to join or share the ministry with someone else several times a week. We’ve even had other parish ministries ask how the young adults can help be part of their evangelization missions. Our territory is enlarging, as Jabez would say. God, and other people, want to help us and be a part of our lives – we just have to ask.
Questions for Reflection: Can you think of a time when you had to rely on the generosity or goodwill of others? How did it make you feel?
Preparing for Hurricane Irma has given me a fresh perspective on what matters most. With each alert, evacuation notice, and email telling me that work would be canceled for “x” amount of days, my panic level rose. The uncertainty of the storm’s path falling on my city and then my family’s city kept us all in constant contact reviewing our emergency plans. Social media messages from friend to friend with notes of encouragement and “hurricane hacks” brought us all closer together around the state. Thankfully, I am located in north central Florida, where Hurricane Irma caused less damage than its two landfalls near Naples and The Keys.
Prepping my house and selecting the most important items to protect for survival is very humbling. While packing, I thought of my fellow Floridians who evacuated south Florida not knowing if they will have a home to come back to. I thought of those in the Caribbean who received the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s force. I thought of the victims in Texas who battled Hurricane Harvey and continue to cope with its aftermath. These natural disasters remind us of the sanctity of life, what is most important.
With the hurricane covering the entire state of Florida, I thought of how small I am—especially in comparison to what God can accomplish. During times of natural disasters, reliance and trust in him increases. One of my neighbors reminded me of the story in Matthew 8:23-27, when Jesus calmed the storm at sea. Jesus told his disciples, “‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.” My neighbor told me, “He did it once, and he can do it again!” Her faith was inspiring to me and instantly calmed my nerves.
When someone asks, “Where is God in this storm? Why did he create this?” my answer is that God is in those who help others and respond with service and compassion during times of trial and suffering. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that we are Christ’s body and form individual parts of it. We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. We may not see the ways God is helping at first because these ways may not necessarily be our ways.
I truly believe acts of kindness, such as neighbors checking in on one another and helping one another prepare their homes and families, provide hope during times of fear or suffering. The selfless love of fellow citizens encourages each of us to do what we can for others, in this case, those affected by these recent storms. There are students, faculty, and staff from the University of Florida, where I work, who are ready to jump into action after the storm passes to help others by donating food and clothing, assisting displaced pets, and more. We grieve with those who hurt and find ways to help alleviate their suffering.
Rather than filling my thoughts with why this storm has happened, I instead thank God for the blessings he has provided my family and me. Ultimately, God does not cause the storm (or evil), he simply permits the natural way of the world, just as he does with the free will of human beings. Romans 8:28 tells us that God is always working for our good or working to bring about good and turn even a bad situation into a blessing. I am comforted by this thought. During this time of hardship for many in our country, I pray that we may come together and serve one another in order to bring good out of suffering. May we continue to be the hands and feet of Christ to our brothers and sisters.
When I was at a recent Bible study with friends, we prayed about and discussed the passage from Matthew 14:22-33 – the story of Jesus calling Peter out of the boat to walk to him on water. As Peter sees the wind and waves around him, his trust in Jesus begins to falter and he starts to sink. When he cries out for help, Jesus immediately catches Peter, saying, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” In many ways, we, too, are like Peter: cautiously trusting the Lord, but when tested in the chaos, we learn our trust isn’t as strong as it should be. This is where we can look to St. Bartholomew for guidance.
St. Bartholomew (also known as Nathanael), whose feast day is August 24th, was one of the 12 Apostles mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. While little is known of St. Bartholomew, we see his true personality in John 1:43-51. The apostle Philip was a friend of Bartholomew, an Israelite. As Philip tells Bartholomew that he, Andrew, and Peter found the Son of God, St. Bartholomew responds, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Later, Jesus says of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Jesus also says he saw Bartholomew under a fig tree before Philip called him, leading us to understand Bartholomew was in prayer with the Lord. St. Bartholomew immediately answers, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
This passage reveals St. Bartholomew’s blunt honesty. He is open about his doubts of any good coming from Nazareth, but does not hesitate in his belief when Jesus reveals himself. This is why Jesus calls St. Bartholomew an Israelite with no deceit. Through St. Bartholomew, we see qualities that Jesus praises: honesty, truth seeking, sincerity and thoughtfulness. These good attributes allow Jesus to come into St. Bartholomew’s life and build trust with him. Likewise, St. Bartholomew is able to open up to new perspectives and ruminations on spiritual matters.
In Matthew 5:8, we learn from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” St. Bartholomew is a model to us of this purity of heart. When we seek truth, we can more clearly see God and respond to his call. Living apart from the truth dims our relationship with God and our ability to hear his call. Dishonesty makes life more difficult for us to know the truth, which is built on trust. The Catechism of the Catholic faith says that “placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” enables us to become heirs in hope of eternal life. Ultimately, God is truth itself.
We learn from St. Bartholomew’s example that we can come to know God better in reflection through prayer. To know God through prayer is to know truth and therefore trust. This open line of communication with God unlocks our minds to explore different perspectives and gives us the ability and willingness to overcome critiques, which is necessary for evangelization. Even in the above passage from Matthew 14:22-33, where Peter walks out onto the water, we learn at the very beginning of the story that Jesus found time to pray and reflect in solitude with his Father before meeting with the Apostles in the boat.
St. Bartholomew’s prayer led him to truth. He trusted in God and then shared that truth with others in order to convert them to Christianity. After Jesus’ ascension, St. Bartholomew traveled farther than most of the other Apostles. He visited Syria, Ethiopia, India, and Armenia, preaching the Gospel and God’s word. It is believed St. Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia. May we learn to trust God through St. Bartholomew’s example!
On July 25th, we celebrate the feast day of St. James the Apostle. St. James and his brother John were the sons of Zebedee. Jesus referred to these brothers as the “Sons of Thunder,” most likely due to their penchant for rash, emotional reactions and decisions. St. James teaches us the importance of humility and of promptly responding to God’s call, regardless of the securities we may leave behind in doing so. He was the first apostle to die a martyr’s death. We can look to his zeal for following Christ and his courage in spreading the faith in difficult times as examples for our own spiritual lives.
We remember from Scripture that St. James and St. John initially asked Jesus if they could be placed on either side of him in his heavenly kingdom. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to reiterate to the disciples the importance of servant leadership. Jesus responds, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
From this lesson and Jesus’ previous parable of The Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), we learn that the faithful are invited to receive the ultimate reward of eternal life with our Father in heaven. Jesus reminds us that we shouldn’t get caught up in the earthly understanding of rankings, but can all share in the glory of God in heaven.
We also learn from this example with St. James and St. John that serving others is how we are called to love our neighbors. As 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Jesus asks us to rely on him and not on others’ recognition of our sacrifices.
In the New Testament, we often hear of St. James mentioned with Sts. John and Peter. These three disciples were privileged to be present at many of the significant moments in Jesus’ ministry on earth, including the Transfiguration and Agony in the Garden. The Holy Spirit’s presence within the apostles at Pentecost was a turning point for St. James and the other disciples because it showed them the true nature of Jesus’ mission and the meaning of his sacrifice on the cross (Benedict XVI, General Audience, June 21, 2006). From there, James and the other apostles went out to all the nations, preaching Jesus and his Gospel message.
James’ life after Pentecost symbolizes the pilgrimage of the Christian journey (Benedict XVI, General Audience, June 21, 2006). His journey is one of the reasons he is considered the patron saint of pilgrim travelers and was recognized as a patron saint of World Youth Day 2016. In fact, the path to Santiago de Compostela, where St. James is buried in northwestern Spain, was one of the most traveled pilgrim routes during Medieval times after Rome and Jerusalem. Many people continue to make this pilgrimage today and to seek the guidance of St. James. We can call upon him to protect us during our journeys and to intercede for us for our personal conversions of heart before, during, and after our travels. We are called to follow Jesus as St. James did, knowing that even through life’s difficulties, we are walking along God’s path for us together with Christ.
Through the example of St. James the Apostle, we see that following Jesus can have its difficulties through persecution and other hardships, but that our eternal reward is life in heaven with him. St. James’ story encourages us to leave our comparisons to others behind, fully trust in God, and show enthusiasm for Jesus Christ even when it is difficult.
Questions for Reflection: Have you ever embarked on a pilgrimage? How did it deepen your spirituality? What are some ways we might be called to grow in our humility as we practice servant leadership in following Christ?
A few Sundays ago, our parish priest mentioned a phrase in his homily that stuck with me for several days. He said, “The most important person in the world is the one who is in front of you right now.” I think this is a phrase St. Vincent de Paul would live by if he were among us today.
St. Vincent de Paul is well known for his service to the lowliest members of society. He was a French Catholic priest who dedicated his priestly career to the community outreach and evangelization of the poor by founding the Congregation of the Mission. Through his example, St. Vincent de Paul teaches us to see Christ in the poor and suffering, helping us to live out Jesus’ calling, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
St. Vincent de Paul said, “The poor have much to teach you. You have much to learn from them.” As we speak and listen to the poor, we come to know God better and are humbled by the circumstances of others. By extending a helpful hand or lending an ear to the less fortunate, we show God’s love and acceptance of all. There are many ways we can demonstrate this love and acceptance. Consider one of the following:
This last point is an important one. Although we may not encounter the financially poor every day, we do face people daily who may be poor in their spirituality, relationships, knowledge, and other ways. By making an effort to lend a listening ear or helping hand to coworkers, friends, family, people in the grocery store, those walking to work or traveling on the subway in addition to the homeless begging on the streets, we can help to achieve the work of God on earth a little bit day by day.
I recently came across a picture quote that read, “It’s worth the trouble to become the person you were meant to be.” I was instantly reminded that God has an individual plan for me, just as he does for everyone else. God utilizes us to do his good work in our communities, striving to serve both those who lack financial resources or are poor or dejected in spirit. St. Vincent de Paul said to his priests, “Do the good that presents itself to be done…God lets us know he wants of us. We belong to him and not to ourselves. If he increases our work, he adds to our strength.” We must be open to the good work God wants to accomplish through us. To do this, we must continue our daily prayer, pay attention to opportunities where God is calling us to serve, and keep an optimistic heart.
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!