The recent news of scandal within the American Church has understandably been the cause of immense frustration, anger, and disappointment in the public and, most especially, among the faithful. I have also seen many who have become disillusioned by the Catholic Church and decided to separate from the rest of the faith community. The danger in this response is that it risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as our faith community is one of the greatest gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit.
Through my travels this summer, I had the opportunity to experience two very different cultures very much tied to our Catholic faith. My experiences in these cultures reminded me of the great blessing of our faith community.
In early July, I set off with a group of teenagers and adults from my parish on a mission trip to visit our sister parish in Dessalines, Haiti. When we landed and traversed the countryside, I came face to face with poverty unlike any I have ever experienced. My concern over a lack of modern amenities quickly dissipated, however, as I was overwhelmed by the warm hospitality of our Haitian hosts. Most especially, the Haitian children and teens we worked with throughout the weeklong summer camp showed us true joy and hope. The pastor told us that our presence meant so much to the community, solidifying our relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ more than any monetary donation could achieve.
In September, I travelled to visit extended family in Ireland. Despite it being only the second time I had met most of them, our conversations continued well into the evening and it felt as though we were picking up right where we left off. Evident among our conversations was a shared concern for the scandals facing the American Church, but there was also a resolute hope that keeping our eyes fixed on Christ would see us through. As we talked about the family history and previous generations, I was reminded of how grateful I am to have had the faith passed down to me and how much I owe to my ancestors.
In these distinct experiences of encounter, the hospitality I was shown and the underlying hope I received from my conversations with my hosts reminded me of the great blessing of our faith community, no matter how far flung it might be. This an especially difficult time to be Catholic, but I firmly believe that with God’s grace our faith community, broken and imperfect as it may be, will also be among our greatest sources of hope. In times of adversity, let us cling to our communities of faith and to Christ Himself. Rather than abandon our parishes and local church communities, let us work to ensure that they are rooted in the love of Christ in order to build a holy Church, a community of hope.
For much of the past year my work as an auditor has had me traversing the country each week by plane, train, and automobile to attend to various client needs. The destinations often change depending on the assignment; one week it might be Philadelphia and the next it might be Los Angeles, one month it could be Denver and the next Minneapolis. While exploring new cities and meeting new people is exciting, I’ve also found incorporating the logistics and time it takes to go from point A to point B each trip adds another layer of exhaustion onto what is usually an already busy schedule.
On a recent Monday morning flight, while praying Morning Prayer, I came across this reading from Isaiah 55:6,8-9;
Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
I looked out my window at the view from 35,000 feet and saw an expanse of plains surrounding small midwestern towns that eventually morphed into suburbs and cities. In each locale there were thousands of people going about their day, unaware of the part they played in this picture I saw. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” I paused and thought about how God’s view of our own lives must look something like this. We, just like the people on the ground, go about our day unaware of the part we play in the bigger picture He sees.
So often I find that I allow the stresses to become my sole focus of the day: a difficult audit assignment, a cancelled flight, maintaining relationships with friends and family while on the road, etc. While these daily stresses need our attention, in the big picture of our lives they are small blips on the radar that we can’t allow to distract us from seeking the Lord. Ultimately it is our continuous pursuit of God that allows us to press through our daily challenges, large or small, trusting in the knowledge that He has the view of our lives from 35,000 feet and will never fail us.
Questions for Reflection: Is there an instance or time in your life when things didn’t go according to your plan? Has God’s way of doing things in your life ever proven more fruitful or beneficial than you could have anticipated?
This Sunday, the Sunday following Easter, the Church recognizes Divine Mercy Sunday, a day that carries an even greater emphasis in this Year of Mercy as announced by Pope Francis. Divine Mercy Sunday is a day that carries a special significance to my family.
In a few weeks, my family will mark the tenth anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, known best to his grandchildren as “Pop-pop.” He was a man of great generosity both to his family and to each of his patients, who he spent his career serving as a cardiologist. He was also a man of great faith, who in his passing left his family with the greatest gift, one of faith in God’s infinite mercy.
In the months before his death, as he gradually grew weaker and his cancer spread, he found a great peace in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He was especially fond of praying the chaplet in song and even when he was too weak to say it himself, family and friends would pray it with him. It was widely known that at 3pm each day the television would be tuned to EWTN so he could recite the chaplet.
Providentially, a local Catholic film producer was filming a new production of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in song, entitled Generations Unite in Prayer and they were looking to film someone elderly with a devotion to this prayer. Despite concerns over my grandfather’s declining health, he was insistent on being a part of this project and doing whatever he could to help spread the message of Divine Mercy. Also known for his sense of humor, on the day of filming,, Pop-pop remarked, “It’s a good thing Jesus is the star of this show, because I don’t look so good” as the crew captured scenes of our family praying the chaplet at his bedside. Following the filming, my grandfather felt a renewed sense of determination: he wanted to live to see one more Divine Mercy Sunday. Although this was still many weeks away, by the grace of God he lived to see that day. In fact, on Divine Mercy Sunday he insisted on getting out of bed and kneeling before the image of Divine Mercy that hung by his bedside to offer a prayer of thanksgiving with the intercession of St. Faustina. He passed away two days later.
I was first introduced to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy when my grandfather was ill and still today I take great comfort in its words, particularly the words to the closing prayer:
Eternal God, in whom Mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your Mercy in us that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is love and mercy itself.
When facing personal trials I’ve found a great sense of hope in this simple prayer. Hope that whatever challenges I may be facing, God will grant me the peace and perseverance to see it through. Hope that despite my imperfections as a sinner, that I too may share in the glory of the resurrection. And the prayerful hope that death did not have the final word on that April day ten years ago, and that one day our family will join Pop-pop in his eternal reward.
Today in the United States, families and friends gather together as they have for centuries around a shared meal to give thanks for their many blessings. A holiday rich with traditions, Thanksgiving brings about memories of eating at the “kid’s table,” cheering on family members in the annual Turkey Trot, late night dashes to the shopping mall and, of course, devouring enough food to last for days. For me, each of my cherished memories of this holiday share a common theme - the joy and love of time spent with my family.
As we celebrate this holiday that brings our families together, I can’t help but recall the message of Pope Francis during his recent Apostolic Visit to the United States for the occasion of the World Meeting of Families. During the Festival of Families on Saturday evening, September 26th, Pope Francis sat and attentively listened as a handful of families came forward and shared the stories that had brought them to that stage on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City, Philadelphia. These families shared their own testimonies, speaking of the great joys in their lives, the suffering and losses they have experienced, the challenges, and the love that has held them together.
I was incredibly moved to hear the stories of these families. Clearly, the Holy Father was as well, as he departed from his prepared remarks in his response. In speaking to the throngs of families present, he said, “The family has a divine identity card…God gave the family an identity card, so that families could be places in our world where his truth, love and beauty could continue to take root and grow.” This above all must be the primary mission of our families in today’s world. Inevitably, in our pursuit of this goal, each of us will encounter difficulties and setbacks that at times seem insurmountable. Pope Francis acknowledged this, saying, “In families, there are difficulties, but those difficulties are resolved by love. Hatred doesn’t resolve any difficulty. Divided hearts do not resolve difficulties. Only love is capable of resolving difficulty. Love is a celebration, love is joy, love is perseverance.”
This Thanksgiving–in between the helpings of mashed potatoes, cheering on our favored football team and scouting out the biggest doorbuster deals–I hope this message from Pope Francis is one we keep close to mind. Our time spent with family, wherever we might be, is an opportunity to be a witness to God’s love. While we might have our disagreements and we might have our trials, with love we can persevere. And with love we can know an everlasting joy.
On behalf of the entire Catholic Apostolate Center team, I wish you all a very blessed Thanksgiving!