What do we imagine when we think of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps we envision tongues of fire, as the Apostles experienced in the Upper Room during Pentecost. Perhaps we think of a dove, as we read in the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. Maybe we think of wind, a ghostly figure, or even a loud gathering of people speaking in tongues or falling to the ground.
Many within the Catholic Church are unfamiliar with, afraid of, or simply unaware of the Holy Spirit and His role within our Church. This is perhaps because the Holy Spirit is the least “safe,” “personal,” or “containable” person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was not sent to earth in the form of a person who healed, preached, and died for our sins, as Jesus was. The Holy Spirit is not called “Abba, Father,” and was not the primary face of God in the Old Testament. Though the Holy Spirit has existed since the beginning, cited in Scripture at creation as the spirit of God hovering over the waters, and is referenced throughout the Old and New Testaments through Pentecost and beyond, many find it difficult to define, connect to, or have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
My own relationship with the Holy Spirit did not begin until my third year of college. Recent events in my life had left me profoundly grateful, so I began to spend five to ten minutes each morning simply giving thanks to God and invoking the Holy Spirit. It started with thanksgiving for the more obvious things: a roof over my head, food on the table, family. As I continued, I grew in my perception to see the little moments of grace in each day. I would thank God for a chance conversation with a friend, the insightful part of a particular lecture, or the flower that had blossomed in my neighbor’s yard. I invited the Holy Spirit into my life, and spent the morning in thanksgiving and praise rather than petition.
As a result, I started experiencing a profound, unshakeable joy. It was as though I was seeing the world with new eyes—the eyes of gratitude and grace, the eyes of God. I was becoming more Christ-like without really trying, because my heart was filled with the love of God, the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been called the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit reveals the Father to humanity and enables us to become like Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who was beginning to transform me into a disciple and instilling joy in my heart. We often miss the work of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit “does not speak of Himself…[but] makes us hear the Father's Word”—which is Christ (CCC 687). As Christ himself said to the Apostles, the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears” (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is also consubstantial with the Father and the Son—meaning that the three persons of the Trinity are inseparable while being distinct in their roles. The role of the Holy Spirit is the building up of the Church and her people. The Spirit of Truth guides us to truth (cf John 16:13). He is the person of the Trinity sent by Christ to be most present in the world today—our Advocate. Because of the work of the Spirit, Christ can say, “I am with you, even to the end of time” (Mt. 28:20).
How can we come to know the Holy Spirit? In prayer, the liturgy, the sacraments, Scripture, Church teaching, the witness of holy men and women, and in many other ways (cf CCC 688). As we celebrate Pentecost, I invite you to start spending a few minutes each day with the Holy Spirit. Invite the Spirit into your Scripture reading, asking Him to reveal His wisdom and help you apply it to your own life. Call upon the Spirit in prayer and thanksgiving throughout your day. Learn more about the sacraments, which reveal the inner life of the Trinity, and participate more deeply in them. Read the lives of the saints, men and women who are examples of the holiness made possible by the Spirit.
May these practices lead to a Pentecost and renewal of the Spirit in our own lives. Together, let us say, “Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit!” (CCC 2670-72). May His fire purify our hearts, leaving only the love of God, so that we may in turn set the world on fire.
A couple weeks ago, I placed a breakfast order at my neighborhood Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru. When I went to pay and pick up my to-go bag at the window, the cashier said it was already paid for. I must have looked bewildered as the cashier proceeded to explain that a woman in the store had already paid for my meal. I was overcome with such gratitude and happiness. I immediately offered up my thanks to God and prayed for the woman and her intentions. The rest of my day was so bright and joyful because I kept thinking about the woman who showed such generosity to me.
Later, I could only think of how to repay the woman’s kindness by doing something generous for another person, an act known as “paying it forward.” Since this event, I’ve been to Dunkin’ Donuts twice and no one has been behind me in the drive-thru line for me to be able to pay it forward (or backward, rather). Each day, I feel as though I have a debt that is yet to be repaid. I was sharing this feeling with a friend when she said how the feeling is similar to when we finally understand Jesus’ immense love for us in his crucifixion.
Our debt to God can never be repaid. Psalm 116:12 says, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” We have the answer in verse 13: “I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” There is nothing we can give to God that he doesn’t already have. However, we can give our thanks to him for the graces he has bestowed upon us and ask for more grace so as to show him our desperate need for his infinite love and resources.
The grace God gives us wouldn’t be grace if we were able to give it back. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me.” Our faith in God is what compels us to act out of goodness for others. These acts of kindness are our ways of being proactive in responding to God’s generosity and love for us.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells the story of a master who entrusted his possessions to three servants. The servants who were given five talents and two talents went off to make more talents. The servant who was given one talent buried it. The master rebukes the servant who buried his talent because he hid it from others. The master says, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29). This parable reminds me that God has entrusted us with gifts, be they monetary, skill-related, or time-related. We are to share these gifts with others, and in return for being good stewards of God’s gifts, he will provide us with more gifts. A friend of mine mentioned to me that even as she gave a little of the earnings she made from her first paycheck to God in the form of tithing and good deeds to others, she noticed that she always had enough for essential needs. Over the course of time after monthly charity budgeting, she earned a raise and could give more to charity while maintaining her needs.
The idea of paying something forward to someone else is most powerful when we share with those whom we do not know or wouldn’t naturally help. We have a responsibility to show God’s love to our fellow human beings by loving them through service, random acts of kindness, sharing God’s word, and in our actions and words. We have learned the importance of this already through the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for opportunities to pay it forward.
Born in 1873 as Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, St. Thérèse of Lisieux was a Carmelite nun with an intense devotion to Christ. She had a simple yet profound understanding of her faith and her relationship with Christ. She provided examples to us of how to be Christ-like to those in our lives through prayer and acts of charity. St. Thérèse died at only 24 years old of tuberculosis, but lived an immense life of faith.
In his homily at the Mass where she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997, now-Saint John Paul II talked about the way in which Thérèse lived: “She counters a rational culture, so often overcome by practical materialism, with the disarming simplicity of the ‘little way’ which, by returning to the essentials, leads to the secret of all life: the Divine Love that surrounds and penetrates every human venture.”
Her example of living your life of faith by practicing little deeds has inspired many Catholics because it is an easy concept to grasp. We are all capable of doing something small to show our love to those around us. In his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis talked about the importance of doing small acts of faith.
“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded’, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.”
The parish in which I grew up is now known as the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, MI. Made famous by the “Radio Priest,” Rev. Charles Coughlin in the 1930s, the building itself became a place of comfort and welcoming for me while in my youth, and the patroness, St. Thérèse, an example and spiritual guide.
As a student in the parish school, I felt a sense of connection with young Thérèse. She made being a saint and apostle of Christ accessible to me in a way that is much more profound in hindsight. Because she was so young and the fact that the Church made such a huge deal about her, through her canonization and being made a Doctor of the Church, was inspiring to me as a child. Maybe I had the ability to follow in her footsteps. Maybe I could live a life worthy of sainthood, even though I was only a kid.
St. Thérèse herself says, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” (From No Greater Love by Mother Teresa)
Her love of Christ and devotion to his Church provides all of us with a path for our lives. As Catholics, we do not need to do great things to show others the face of God. Rather, we need to do what we can and do that in the best way possible with the talents God has given us. For some, that may be serving the Church as a lector at Mass or discerning a religious vocation or something as simple as smiling at a stranger on your commute to work.
To this day, I still follow St. Thérèse’s example of living out my faith in little ways. She continues to inspire me to live a life worthy of sainthood.
In my own prayer this summer, I’ve been using a collection of prayers from the great American Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor. The prayers were part of a journal that was recently found among her papers. They are the prayers of a young struggling writer who wants her faith to inform her writing and her writing to be a work of faith. The collection is called A Prayer Journal.
In one of the journal entries she is writing about the importance of a thread in writing a novel. The thread, she writes is “a view of the world behind it & the most important single item under this view of [the] world is the conception of love—divine, natural, & perverted” (O’Connor 30). She continues to reflect on how many of our great writers, Freud, Proust, Lawrence “have located love in the human & there is no need to question their location; however, there is no need either to define love as they do—only as desire, since this precludes Divine Love, which while it too may be a desire, is a different kind of desire—Divine desire—and is outside of man and capable of lifting him up to itself” (O’Connor 30).
O’Connor saw this way of defining love as primarily an emotion as a real problem for the modern heart, which was becoming increasingly “divorced from faith” (O’Connor 31). She writes “The modern man isolated from faith, from raising his desire for God into a conscious desire, is sunk into the position of seeing physical love as an end in itself” (O’Connor, 31). This, though written more than 50 years ago, is at the heart of the debate today on the definition and meaning of marriage.
Recently, I was asked to be part of a panel at the Catholic Information Center reflecting on the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. I was asked to address the theological and pastoral implications of the decision. One of the pastoral implications is both a challenge and an opportunity to give witness to that which makes a sacramental marriage different. I suggest what makes a sacramental marriage different is the way in which the Church understands love. As Flannery O’Connor writes, the love we are called to share in marriage is a divine love. Married love is a self-sacrificing and self-giving imitation of Jesus’ self-giving love. The married love of man and woman couple is a visible sign for the world of God’s faithful and fruitful love. What made this presentation so interesting was the centrality of defining what love means and what love has to do with marriage. Please follow this link to view the complete presentation which includes President John Garvey of The Catholic University of America and Helen Alvaré, of George Mason University.
Susan Timoney is Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online, and a Catholic Apostolate Center Advisor.
This blog post was first published on August 9th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online.
I remember the first time I felt true repentance. It was not because I got caught making a bad decision; not because I simply felt guilty; not because I thought about what others might think of me—all of which might be gateways to repentance, but not sufficient in and of themselves. I remember the first time I felt true repentance out of love of Christ and sorrow for the rejection of His love through my sin.
I was in a small chapel in the hills of Los Gatos on a five-day Ignatian Silent Retreat. The assignment on this particular afternoon was to spend time praying over and reflecting on your past sin, on how you had rejected God’s love and, in so doing, on how you had contributed to His pain on the Cross. It was a heavy day.
I took a deep breath in the chapel and started remembering and reflecting on past sinful decisions. Some, I knew blatantly. Others seemed inspired by the Holy Spirit. I had not even realized how past decisions might have affected other people more than myself, and I was illuminated in such a way that I saw how my sins spread out like a web contaminating the lives of others. Tears flowed unguarded from my eyes. How could I have done such things? I placed myself within the crucifixion narrative and saw that I had joined the Roman soldiers with their whips, their taunts, their hammers. I had pierced my Lord.
I felt terrible—like the scum on the bottom of a lake in the darkness.
And then I felt Him. I felt His gaze from the tabernacle. He beckoned me, inviting my eyes to meet His own.
“I can’t look back at you, Lord,” my heart said. “I’m too broken, too ashamed, too unworthy.” I kept looking down at my lap, afraid to meet His gaze. But the feeling of being looked at persisted, gently. After a few moments, I could no longer bear it. Anything, even Christ’s condemnation, would be better than avoiding Him.
I looked up. And I met Love.
I felt Christ’s presence in the tabernacle and saw Him looking at me as a bridegroom looks at his bride on their wedding day: joy, peace and love filling his face, eyes brimming with pride and tears and awe. The gaze with which Christ looked at me turned my blemishes into radiance. I became a spotless bride because of the overflow of His love. I knew, in the midst of my sin and ugliness, perhaps the ugliest I had ever felt, that I was inherently and infinitely loved, that my dignity was in Him. And so the tears flowed evermore—tears of humility, peace and joy. I had been given yet another chance, which I used to further receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I assume the joy and freedom I felt after this experience and after going to Confession is how Mary Magdalene felt when she met the Christ and was freed from seven demons. We know with certainty that Mary Magdalene had been cured of seven demons, that she was a follower of Christ and that she was present at the crucifixion. We also know Mary Magdalene, like all of us, was a sinner. When Christ met her, she might have given up. She had been plagued by seven demons and thought that perhaps she would never be free. Christ offers her another alternative: freedom. As a result of our encounter with Christ's forgiveness--both by encountering His love and by being reconciled to Him--we can live in the joy of the Resurrection.
For this reason, it is fitting that Mary Magdalene is cited as the first witness of the Resurrection. St. Augustine called her the Apostle to the Apostles. We find Mary Magdalene in John's Gospel weeping by the open tomb of Jesus three days after His burial, for she thinks His body has been stolen. When Christ meets her, she mistakes him for the gardener. “Mary!” Jesus exclaims to his forlorn disciple, calling her by name (John 20:16). “Kate!” He exclaimed to me in the chapel. He meets us in our despair, our sorrow. Only then can we join Mary Magdalene in looking at Christ, recognizing Him and meeting His gaze. I imagine she grasped her bridegroom’s feet, kissing them in thanksgiving and bowing before Him. We cannot stay there in gratitude. Christ called me to go out from the chapel and to go out after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as he did Mary Magdalene:
“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers” (John 20:17).
The repentant sinner becomes the Apostle to the Apostles. This can only be so after we have encountered the love of God. Today, I invite you to an examination of your own sin, of any time you have rejected God’s love. Do so in a sacred place: a chapel, a Church, a reverent place in your house. I invite you to this in order to surrender these moments over to Christ and to allow Him to transform them by His love. Allow Him today to gaze at His beautiful creation, which has become broken or tarnished by the Fall and by sin, and allow Him to meet you where you are at, to love you there. Only by knowing how infinitely you are loved will you be able to “go to [His] brothers,” to go out to all the world in love—radiant, joyful and renewed.
Kate Flannery is the Social Media Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Forever and beyond will beauty last upon the fabric of this path we are all on. Life is a journey and a time of change, but the love and beauty that emits from the experience of life will last, will remain, and will persevere. Everything that goes through this life journey we lead as creations of a One, True, Loving Lord adds to the over-abundant beauty that is this light for our feet. From the spectacular of fireworks to the humblest of daily chores, everything holds within it an essence of glory, a glory given by the graces of the awakenings of the Spirit in this life. Such essence of glory protrudes into the days and nights, into our sensual stimulators by one path and one path alone, beauty. Beauty in the form of simple things, grand things, petty things, and profound things. Each passing moment has beauty in it to be recognized. All things bright and beautiful stem directly from our Divine Creator. All beautiful things reflect the love and care of the beautiful Father, abounding in glory and radiant light for all to experience.
Beauty can be seen in everything and everyone, if only we have the courage and wisdom to look hard enough. Such avenues of beauty are the various art forms of life, for example, works of art, music, literature, friendships, emotion, or moments indescribable by words. Art forms are anything that leave an impression on us, for life itself is the grandest of art forms that pours forth in everything it is. It is hard for us all to see the beauty in suffering or in times of darkness, but that doesn't mean it isn’t there, in the wrinkles and the silver linings that radiate beauty in a different light than what we are used to. For life, beauty is there.
The Saints are good examples of the beautiful life, each one leading vastly different lives. Life is beautiful in each human experience, including the suffering and dark stuff. The Saints are good demonstrations of the beautiful human experience, including within it all sides of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast we celebrate today, is quite extraordinary and is a good example of the kind of beauty I am discussing here. Her life, besides her ardent Catholic faith, was normal for a girl in her Native American village. Her life was beautiful in her great faith, in her dealings with her family and those who did and could not understand her reasoning for believing that Christ Jesus was her Savior, and finally in her simple yet profound suffering and eventual martyrdom. She is the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Contemplate the Lily for a moment: the petals, the pollen, the beauty. So simple yet so complex, yet beautiful in its complexity. This is Saint Kateri. She is the lily, the beauty of a life lead in the faith of Christ.
Personally, I have had a special devotion to Saint Kateri ever since fourth grade. My teacher chose then Blessed Kateri to be the one we all prayed for in our daily prayer time. Growing off of that initial, prayerful experience with Kateri, when she was finally canonized, I studied her life and virtues in depth, reflecting and praying intentions through her intercession. For eyes to see the beauty of the world and of everything you experience, pray to Saint Kateri, and like a lily may she blossom in all of us the joy of the beautiful Savior, whose blood painted the most beautiful image of all, our salvation.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
As a catechetical leader in a parish, this is my first experience being involved in a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. I am a cradle Catholic, born and raised in the Church, and have had no personal acquaintances go through the RCIA. This year, I have participated on a leadership team to observe how the RCIA is done catechetically. Now that the Easter Vigil has passed and the candidates have been fully initiated into the life of the Church, they are moving into mystagogy, a time where they will process what they have just gone through.
During this time studying the mystery of Christ and his life within us, I cannot help but see how God has formed me this year. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “You who are soon to be enlightened, already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns” (Catechetical Lectures, Prologue, 1). St. Cyril recognized that those who are initiated into the Church learn of Christ’s life within them through initiation at Easter. The “mystery” that we study during mystagogy is not up to us to be solved or remain unsolved. Rather, it is a mystery that we can continue to grow into throughout our lives. I, a lifelong Catholic, a member of the RCIA team, and graduate student in Theology, am still trying—with the grace of God—to weave my heavenly crown alongside those who have just joined the Church. We can all continue to grow in the mystery of our life in Christ.
Much of St. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures to the neophytes have to do with turning away from sin, and choosing a heart of stone over a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). St. Cyril writes, “If any here is a slave of sin, let him promptly prepare himself through faith for the new birth into freedom and adoption” (Lecture 2). St. Cyril is not just addressing the newly baptized, but everyone in the congregation. Why should God forgive us who continue to sin? Why do we deserve such a freedom? How can we be adopted by God? What kind of love could overpower the sins I have committed? These are the mysteries that we reflect on in mystagogy. While candidates have a new-found life through baptism in Christ, we all renew our baptismal promises at Easter. We are all called to continue to reflect on the answers to those questions.
My experience as a team member with the RCIA has showed me that in bringing others into the Mystery, Christ is also calling me back to remember the Mystery of God’s love in my own life. Easter provides us the time to remember and renew our baptismal promises. In that renewal, we can remember that mystagogy is not just for the newly initiated, but for everyone. We can all grow in knowledge of the Mystery of Christ that we experience in the church at Easter and in our everyday lives.
Thomas Coast currently serves as an Apprentice Catechetical Leader in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on April 24, 2014
Much has been made of the so-called Francis Effect in the public relations game the secular media plays with the Church. At first, it seemed a boon to the Church, though the jury is still out as to its lasting impact. But even Pope Francis himself would agree that it is not the Francis Effect that we want in our lives. It is a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We want the Jesus Effect.
The name Jesus means “God saves”. We hear these phrases often – “Jesus saves” or “You must accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” And these things are true. Jesus does save us from the power of sin, and he is very, very personal. He knows each one of us intimately, and longs for us to know him just as well.
In coming to know Jesus, we come to know our true selves. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We know this God has revealed himself to be nothing other than LOVE itself. God is love – we read it in John’s Gospel. We are made in the image and likeness of LOVE. When you look in the mirror, do you see LOVE looking back at you?
We all try to be loving people. And we know from experience that when we love, we are happier. If we are made in the image of LOVE, then, when we love, we are being our true selves. This is why the more we get to know Jesus, the more we come to know our true selves. We are made to love. We are made to love and to be loved. We are always loved by God – this is what enables us to know how to love others (and to actually do it!). The power of this love is far more powerful than the power of sin. Both powers are more powerful than we are. We easily become “slaves to sin” because, without the power to overcome it, we can only give in to it. But with the power of love – AH. We are no longer slaves – we are free to love, free to be our true selves. You can see why it is so important to be in relationship with Jesus always, to seek him out, and to value every encounter with him.
I struggle to find words that adequately describe the power of this love experienced in an encounter with Jesus. Powerful, yes. Safe and secure. Energizing. Liberating. I think depending on where we are in our lives and what challenges we are facing, this love will have a different effect on us. It is interesting to look at some examples from the Scriptures of people who encountered Christ, and ponder the Jesus Effect in their lives.
John the Baptist first encounters Jesus while both are still in their mothers’ wombs! When Mary arrives for her visit to Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb – he leaps for joy. He recognizes the presence of Jesus, and is happy – so happy he can’t control himself. He wants to come out and play with Jesus. The joy present in that moment is immense.
Can you think of a moment when you encountered Jesus and simply experienced pure and utter joy?
This same boy who recognized Jesus from his first encounter becomes the one who facilitates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the world. John was baptizing people as they acknowledged their sins, but he was always fully aware that he was merely preparing people for their encounter with Jesus – calling them to repentance so that when the One who could forgive sin and conquer it –really take its power away – arrived, they would be ready to hand over their sins and be purified with love. John knows that Jesus does not need to be baptized for the sake of forgiving his sins – Jesus doesn’t have any! But Jesus tells him to do it anyway. The humility of John to do as he is told by Jesus, even without understanding, is rewarded with the voice of God affirming Jesus’ identity. His encounter with Jesus resulted in a trust in his way.
Can you think of a moment when you did something you felt God was calling you to do, even though it didn’t make any sense to you?
In our baptism, we die and rise with Christ – united to his Paschal Mystery. Our original sin is washed away – our lives controlled by sin dies, and a new life – freed by love – rises. Our dying and rising is united to Jesus’ death and resurrection – our lives become witnesses to the power of love over sin. Baptism is first a personal union with God – but in becoming personally united to God, we become joined to all the others who are united to God, and we love who are not yet united to God as God loves them. We desire that they, too, will come to know the love of God that we know. We become a community; we become church.
Now, just because we are baptized does not mean we are all loving and never sin. We know that’s not true! But God’s love for us is so great that he gives us many opportunities to become reunited to him. The most powerful opportunities are those we are given by participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Baptism brings us into the loving embrace of our God – the rest of the sacraments sustain us in that love. They are genuine encounters with Christ, and they have a Jesus Effect on us.
The Jesus Effect is not always one of joy. In Luke’s gospel, we meet someone who encounters Jesus and, instead of leaping for joy, breaks down in tears.
The Pardon of the Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50) is one of my favorite Scripture passages. Imagine what it must have been like to meet Jesus while he walked the earth. This woman’s response to meeting Jesus was one of utter humility and repentance. The two go hand in hand. You can’t really be repentant without being humble first. Humility enables us to acknowledge that we are not perfect. Humility is the greatest form of honesty, I think. We acknowledge who we are in front of God – not in front of anyone else, not compared to anyone else. It is just our true self – and how well we are being that (or not). Her response to Jesus was so beautiful because in it, she is saddened by her own sinfulness, while being completely overwhelmed by the forgiveness offered to her. Her focus is completely on Jesus. She is not distracted by the others present who speak ill of her. The power of the love of Jesus is so strong that it overshadows their sneers. Imagine that!
Can you think of a moment when you encountered the love of God so strongly that it silenced all the negative voices around you, at least in your ears? Now – can you think of a moment when you were that love of God to another?
The sacrament of reconciliation is an intense moment of this kind of love, and the season of Lent of a perfect time to encounter Jesus in this way. We can bring anything to confession, and Jesus will give us graces to overcome these temptations. He judges us only to save us – he judges what it is in our lives that is keeping us apart from him – and he tells us to stop doing these things – AND he gives us the grace to do so. He doesn’t leave us hanging. He wants to be intimately united to us. He gives us all we need to do it. This is the Jesus Effect – and it is everlasting.
Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on February 11th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
In my kindergarten class, there is one little girl who loves to ask questions about faith. After going to Mass in the chapel last week, she asked me, “Who was the almost naked man on the wall in pain?” I smiled and answered, “Jesus, because he loves you very much.” While contemplating this, a few minutes went by until she had another question. She asked, “Why do they give cookies at church and why didn’t I get one?” These and many other inquiries were made that day, so it struck me: how can we as faithful Catholic adults help young children better understand our traditions, history, and faith? We must understand as children do.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Only with the virtue and openness of a child can one truly have eternal life. Similar to my student who was so curious about the Mass, we as adults of faith must remember to love as children love, and to eagerly ask questions as children ask them. Having a burning desire to love and serve God is something that so many adults yearn for, but so few are able to achieve. Often times, children can be an example to adults of unconditional and innocent love for others.
Understanding our faith is difficult at times, and it is often hard to see the good in difficult situations. We get caught up in the stressful details and hardships that come with living our daily lives, and frequently become over-scheduled and sluggish in the practice of our faith. As “grown-ups” we have so many things on our minds, and deepening our understanding of God’s love and mercy is easily forgotten and overlooked. Instead of grumbling about an overdue bill or the laundry list of things to do, stop and think about how lucky we are to have a job or a family that loves us. Children love their parents and caretakers for simple things like good food, a comfortable bed, and new clothes. While we are forgetting that the simplest actions mean the most to children, we also forget that the simplest moments mean the most to God. A quick prayer of gratitude in the morning, for a traffic-less commute or a child’s hug goodbye goes a long way…God notices every grateful moment.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, believes that education and teaching provides knowledge of beauty, truth, and goodness. Inspiring others with a desire to learn about our faith is crucial in the life of a Catholic–whether you are a teacher, parent, or role model. Children are innocent and believe what they see. When they see parents and teachers serving God and the Church, they desire to imitate them and do the same. We must be like children in order for them to understand the Lord, ask questions, make mistakes, get messy…and always know that God loves us.
Krissy Kirby is a Kindergarten teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington D.C.
Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. When we hear the name, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” most of us probably think of a statue that appears in many of our churches.: the image where Jesus stands with his heart, burning with joy and love for us, exposed to all. Many of us probably do not think any deeper about this statue, and yet we are called to more. Pope Francis, in his 2013 homily on the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, said, “It is more difficult to let God love us than to love Him! The best way to love Him in return is to open our hearts and let Him love us.” Every time we see these statues we are reminded to open ourselves to the love of Christ and give ourselves completely to him as he does. He lays his heart open before us as an example of how to live our lives.
The readings for the Solemnity also give us great insight into the importance of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and how we can relate it to our lives. The first reading comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law.” The most striking part of this passage is where Moses says, “It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loves you” (Dt 7:6-11). These words are not just a reminder of the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham, but a foreshadowing and reflection on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ literally lays down his life, sets down his heart for us, the insignificant people that we are. Why? Because he loves us. He gives us his whole self so that we, in some small way or another, might experience the love of God more fully. The heart on statues of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is exposed to show us that he is “sett[ing] his heart” on us, and it burns with his love for us.
John, in his gospel passage 4: 7-16, expounds upon this idea of love and demonstrates for us how the covenant made between God and Abraham has been fulfilled in the Gospel. He explains to us that God is love and it is through our love for each other that we come to know God and serve him. John tells us about the importance of Christ’s sacrifice, “so that we might have life through him,” and while we have not seen God, he calls us to have faith: “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” We are not led blindly into a community of faith, but rather we are given a simple rule, to love others as God loves us. By following this commandment we remain one with God. This is the message of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This feast day reminds us that Jesus gave us the ultimate example of love, laying down one’s life for another, and thus he set his heart upon us.
It is easy to forget the humanity of Christ, after all he is the Son of God, walked on water, and rose from the dead, and yet he bled for us. When the soldier pierced his side with a spear, out flowed blood and water. The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and the significance of his sacrifice. He suffered, he felt pain, he literally laid down his life and set his heart upon us. It is our turn to pick up what God has given us and share it with the world. Let us open our hearts and share Christ’s love.
Nicholas Shields is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and Immediate Past Grand Knight of the CUA Knights of Columbus.
Being a “cradle Catholic” I never questioned why we had 4 different statues of Mary in our kitchen or why every May we put a crown of flowers on our “Garden Mary” outside. It was common to hear the advice of praying to the rosary if you couldn’t sleep and thus one would be able to find countless glow-in-the-dark rosary beads tucked into my bed. Almost every woman in my family had Marie as their middle name and like myself, if it wasn’t a middle name it was taken as a confirmation name. It wasn’t until college, living under the shadow of “Mary’s House”, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, that I began to understand that it was through Mary that I would come to know her Son.
St. Vincent Pallotti understood this and had a deep connection with Our Lady and entrusted himself to her. He wrote “I resolve, my God, from all eternity and for all eternity . . . to love, honor and glorify my beloved Mother Mary; and to behold her loved, honored and glorified to the same degree that You, O Eternal Father, have showered her as Your Daughter, that You, O Divine Lord, have esteemed her as Your Mother, and that You, O Holy Spirit, have accorded her as Your most pure spouse.” (Soul of a Saint, p. 82)
His devotion went beyond the pious practice of the time and enlightened a burning love within him. He spoke of Our Lady as, “Mother of Divine Love” and “Queen of Apostles.” It is said that he spoke, “I shall not rest until I, if this is possible, have achieved an infinitely tender love for my much beloved and much loving mother, Mary.”
St. Vincent, in his deep love for Mary and a desire to be humble, work a silver reliquary box around his wrist with the image of the Mother of Divine Love painted on ivory mounted on it. He did this so that when people came to kiss his hand, a practice of that time, instead of kissing how own hand they would instead kiss the image of Our Lady.
During this Month dedicated to Mary, let us look to St. Vincent as an example of how a love for our blessed mother can help us in reviving faith, enkindling charity and become an apostle of Christ.
Pam Tremblay is a Collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center
Prayer to Mary Queen of Apostles
“The most important concern which the whole world can have is the saving of a single soul.”
-St. Vincent Pallotti
St. Vincent believed that as disciples of Christ we are obliged to help one another get to heaven. We are most Christ-like when we participate in the holy mission of reuniting all of God’s children with their heavenly Father. Through any and all means possible, we support each other in faith so that brick by brick and life by life we are helping God build His holy kingdom.
What an amazing privilege that is to help each other attain eternal salvation. How do we achieve this divine mission? We walk as closely as we can in the footsteps of Jesus, so that others may see His face in ours. We try and forgive each other as He did, with tender mercy, and we care for each other with love and compassion, as Christ taught us to do.
We have the opportunity to be the light of Christ to all we encounter, even to those who don’t yet believe or may have lost their way. Maybe, just maybe, something we say or do ignites the faith in another. What an honor to play a part in the saving of even a single soul.
A cross-post from the Pallottine Renewal Center Blog.