I think there is something special about a cover—about taking a song, a painting, or a movie and recreating it within the modern frame of mind. Aretha Franklin’s bold and unapologetic “Respect” is a perfect example, as she interprets the song as a Black woman in the 1960’s. As is Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” in which he narrates the song with hauntingly beautiful guitar riffs. In visual art, Andy Warhol recreates the portrait of Mao Zedong with a messy array of bright colors—an unusual depiction of the dictator. Finally, modern movies, headlined by the Cohen Brothers’ True Grit, give life to old characters and stories, recreating them for new audiences.
However, even the Beatles, the most covered band of all time, cannot compete with the millions of interpretations of Jesus Christ. Thousands of artists have painted Christ crucified or the Madonna and Child. Everyone from Van Gogh, Basquiat, or da Vinci have painted Jesus Christ, each in their own manner. It can be mind-numbing to try to flip through them all, viewing each painting, alien to the others, and, oftentimes, to us. There are always two questions to ask when discussing art: “What is this artist trying to say?” and “What do we think he or she is trying to say?”
These questions matter much more when investigating faith. In a special way, how artists of all disciplines—including sculptors, writers, or directors—interpret Jesus will affect us. Every Catholic, no doubt, thinks of Jesus through some piece of art or another, but Jesus is more than just a collection of paints, words, or images. Jesus is alive. It is tempting to trap Him in a Caravaggio, an El Greco, or even in the Passion of the Christ—to prevent Him from challenging us. Jesus as represented in art cannot call us out in our sins; He cannot tell us the hard truths we need to wrestle with. Even further, we should not trap Jesus in the Church or solely in the Mass. Yes, we are oftentimes challenged in specific ways during the Mass, especially when a priest gives a difficult homily. It can be easy, however, to selectively hear the priest, interpreting him and hearing only what we want to hear. We often want a sanitized Jesus, one that affirms us and makes us feel good. But while Jesus resides in the tabernacle and comes to meet us in every celebration of the Eucharist, He cannot be left there. Jesus wants to encounter us personally in order for us to help others encounter Him.
Jesus always challenged His disciples to worship, act, and believe in accordance with truth. Jesus was not “sanitized” or acting in the “proper way” when He overturned the tables of the money changers; He was not “sanitized” when He described the narrow way; and He surely was not clean and tidy when He died on the Cross. Jesus defied our expectations. He was filled with passion for God’s truth. While He is Beauty itself, Jesus often made His listeners look away as they were unable to embrace the unsavory truth that can be hard to swallow.
I enjoy going to Washington’s National Gallery of Art or New York’s MET, but next time I see Christ there, I will be reminded that He is not trapped in the golden walls of the frame. Jesus is alive, living in the Eucharist and in others. While it is beautiful to witness Jesus in the arts, we must remember that Christ lives in the audience, the museum goers. While the beauty of the art itself is mesmerizing, Christ is alive in flesh, both on the altar and in people who remind us that, while beautiful, Christ’s message is a challenge.
One of the things I love about Catholicism is that we celebrate the mysteries of our faith in a physical way.
Going to Mass, kneeling, standing, singing, receiving the Eucharist, hearing and proclaiming the Word of God, experiencing community after Mass or at parish events. Some of our liturgical feast days even emphasize the physical contact between us and the Divine. Think of reverencing the wood of the Cross on Good Friday or participating in a Eucharistic procession on Corpus Christi. Our faith is incarnational, and our bodies are important conduits for worship.
That’s part of the reason the last several months have been so difficult for so many. These physical elements of worship have been—largely—unavailable to us because of COVID-19 and the practice of physical and social distancing. Most of us have also been physically disconnected from our communities of faith, friends, and family. We’ve missed important events like birthdays, retirement parties, and even funerals. The emotional, spiritual, and psychological effects of this separation are very real and very serious.
And it’s been clear from the outset of this pandemic that the Church must take action to alleviate the impact of isolation, despair, and loneliness caused by this pandemic. But who will lead the charge? I find myself asking, what is the Church going to do about it? How will we get through this?
And then I realize, the Spirit is calling me. And, friends, the Spirit is calling you too. We’re not being called to wait around while someone else figures it out. God is calling us to figure this out together.
We must remember that we are the Church on earth, and we are being invited by the Spirit to cooperate with God’s grace to take action and serve others, right now. We can’t simply wait for someone else to help. Those of us who are baptized are called to be missionary disciples and, ultimately, saints. And this call comes with a personal responsibility to recognize that all our lives are interwoven as branches grafted onto the Vine, as various parts of one Body (1 Corinthians 12). We are connected to one another through our baptism into Christ. Paul says, “The body is not a single part, but many.” And because of this interconnectedness, when one part suffers, the whole body suffers. So, we’ve got to do something about that, because we’re called to be “doers”.
We are all suffering in some way during this pandemic. It’s not even possible to downplay that. And we all feel one another’s burdens. We especially feel our personal stresses and anxieties, day in and day out. I believe one of the answers to this anxiety and suffering is the beautiful work of spiritual accompaniment.
The call to spiritual accompaniment is incarnational and based on the love of Christ. Spiritual accompaniment urges us out of our own interior world and presses us to walk with our brother or sister in whatever situation they might find themselves. Pope Benedict XVI says that God’s love for humanity is so strong that “it turns God against himself, his love against his justice” (Deus Caritas Est, 10). How, then, can we demonstrate a reflection of this great, personal love to one another if we can’t be physically present to one another? I believe we must be creative and find ways to communicate our companionship to one another in meaningful ways. We can allow ourselves to be challenged by these questions while we reflect on this topic: Do I have the ability to be present to my suffering neighbor in any way today? Do I have the capacity to do charitable spiritual accompaniment during this pandemic?
I believe one effective way to spiritually accompany others as we remain physically distant is to ask challenging questions of others and engage in honest conversation. Though this may seem simple, “faith sharing” is a powerful way to be witnesses of God’s presence, and we all need to be reminded of God’s presence these days.
I think there are two simple, penetrating questions that can start fantastic spiritual conversations that open our eyes to the great works of God. They are:
The answers to both of these questions reveal our hearts, our spiritual yearnings, our joys, and our sorrows; the answers to both of these questions lead us to recognize God’s presence among us, either by contemplating where we’ve seen God or petitioning His aid through prayer. I want to challenge you to invite a friend or someone you’re close with to consider these questions and then to hear their answers. Perhaps you’ll be surprised at the way the Spirit guides the conversation.
I believe that through this simple practice of spiritual accompaniment, we will grow closer with one another, though distance or politics or ideologies may keep us apart. Loving and holy conversation is one way to begin healing the wounds caused over these last several months, and it is one way to accompany one another on the road as we travel strange, new paths together.
To learn more about spiritual accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to deepen your faith during COVID-19, please click here.
What does it mean to be bicultural? It means that a person can represent and identify with more than one country. I have been given the blessing of representing three cultures at the same time: I am Mexican, Salvadorian, and American. Representing these three cultures has given me the opportunity to see God’s beautiful creation from different perspectives and enriched my understanding of the Church. As I have grown, I’ve encountered Christ who has revealed my vocation and his love for me through this tricultural blessing.
As a child, all I knew about my faith was either through my parents or Sunday school at my local parish. I was taught Bible stories, saint stories, and prayers in Spanish. I was happy to be in that bubble away from the math problems at school, my English cartoons, and anything related to the American culture. These were the only times I could actually learn about who I was as a Catholic Latina. My Mexican and Salvadorian traditions were intertwined with my faith. Being Catholic and part of the Latino community meant we professed our love for God through our actions. Our focus wasn’t reading or studying the faith because that was never in our reach to dive into. Instead, the community learned that their actions were their way to live the mission of Christ in their day to day lives. This was something I learned very early on.
I also learned how important it was to my parents for me to learn about our faith and its traditions. One of my favorite memories will always be the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was always full of color, and the church was filled with the smell of red roses. What I remember the most is staying up past my bedtime, but also being able to see the faith and the love many people had towards our Blessed Mother.
After many years of being in my little Spanish bubble, my parents decided to send me to a private Catholic school. This is where I realized there was way more to my faith than I was taught at Sunday school. I realized that I had to burst my bubble to actually learn more about my faith in English. It was not easy to understand the different prayers in English or to take religion classes in English. My experience in private Catholic school also helped me realize that there was more to my faith than just my Spanish world. I decided to become the student that was always asking different theological questions during religion class. I became obsessed with learning about the different doctrines and about the significance of the church’s architecture. All of this opened a new door to my spiritual life. I could experience Christ through Church teaching as well as serve him through my actions. I became aware that there was no need to separate all three cultures for different aspects of my life! Somehow, all my cultures were blending together in ways I would have never imagined. All of them could work together to strengthen my faith.
Over many years, I have learned that being bilingual and tricultural means I can live out my faith in unique ways. I can discover Christ not only through the combination of these cultures, but also within each individual one. Now, I have no need for different bubbles to live out my faith because God created me to praise him and uniquely evangelize about his love. Each culture has helped me deepen my relationship with Christ. As a lector in the Spanish Mass, I am able to read and analyze the Word of God. Later on, these readings help me have meaningful conversations in my Theology classes at The Catholic University of America. By learning about different resources and reading in class, I have also learned more about how I can help my Latino community. Now as a young adult, I have become more aware that my cultures, traditions, and languages have molded my faith and shaped my way of life as a member of the laity of the Church.
For more resources on cultural diversity, 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.
What image comes to mind when you hear the word conversion? To many, the words of those who encountered Jesus in his earthly ministry may come to mind. Conversion may sound like the cry of the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). Perhaps Caravaggio’s The Conversion on the Way to Damascus rises to the surface, an expression of a dramatic scene illustrated with a few artistic liberties. Still, we may associate conversion with a story like St. Augustine: a turning from a former life of debauchery or sin to a life lived in pursuit of God.
Because of the art that is important to our faith, cultures, and families, we may assume conversion to be a dramatic, “lightning-bolt” moment: brief, intense, supernatural, and immediately transformative. While our tradition does speak of the reality of dramatic conversions, conversion itself is often more gradual and organic. For those of us whose lives have not yet become hagiography, what does conversion look like? More particularly, what does conversion look like for us in this particular moment, in our current context of history and life?
First of all, what is conversion? Conversion, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace” (CCC, #1431). It is “first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him,” and is not “aim[ed] first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion” (CCC #1432 and #1430). In other words, conversion is a movement away from sin, a re-ordering of priorities with Christ re-categorized as the center of our lives. It is something that occurs through supernatural grace and the initiative of the Holy Spirit, first changing our hearts and minds, but through our cooperation, manifests itself in everyday actions or “visible signs” (CCC #1430).
The process of conversion, for most of us, is not instantaneous; rather, it usually a slow, gradual process that involves daily recommitment and practice. In a 2017 audience, Pope Francis reflected on the gradualness of conversion this way: “Avoiding evil and learning to do good: this is the rule of conversion. Because being converted doesn’t come from a fairy who converts us with a magic wand: No! It’s a journey. It’s a journey of avoiding and of learning.” As Pope Francis highlights, conversion can be as simple as learning something new. It involves openness to re-orienting our priorities, changing our opinions, reconsidering our worldview, and engaging with the truth. However, the gradual process of conversion doesn’t start and end with us; it is always oriented towards the building up of humanity and being brought more deeply into right relationship with God and one another. Conversion always has a social and relational impact. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one's brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness” (#1435). Our actions towards our neighbors, God, and the world around us is where our conversion is realized and bears “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Conversion has both vertical and horizontal dimensions to it; it calls us to recognize ourselves as Beloved children of God, and, at the same time, recognize this Belovedness in our neighbors more clearly as a result of the transforming love of God. We are called to learn more, think more deeply, and consider more thoroughly, especially when the common good of our neighbor is at stake: “It follows that Christian conversion demands reviewing especially those areas and aspects of life ‘related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good.’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 182).
When we say that the Christian life is one of on-going conversion, we simply mean this: we are called to learn of our and our neighbors’ Belovedness over and over again and re-commit to it each day. This learning is not merely intellectual, but is also a deep education and formation of the heart and soul that spills over into our concrete lives. In our period of history and social context, conversion may be less dramatic and more gradual for most of us than some of the saints and figures of our faith. However, that does not mean that it is any less exciting! Our personal process of conversion can start as the size of a mustard seed, and grow into a deeply authentic faith that changes the world: “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it” (Evangelii Gaudium, 183).
What is going on in our world and in the lives of our neighbors that is calling us to conversion? What new things or viewpoints are we being called to learn or unlearn to realize our Belovedness and the Belovedness of our neighbor? How can we be more open to living a life of ongoing conversion?
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic eventually allowed for opportunities to leave the home, one of the most meaningful greetings which welcomed my return to Mass were the familiar words, “Peace be with you.” The calming presence of the parish priest eased the troubles of my mind, soothed the restlessness of my heart, and enlivened my soul to sing, “Let us go unto the House of the Lord!” While the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of our Lord in Holy Communion immediately made up for the lost time during the pandemic, there were other reminders that we had been away: new priest assignments, reminders to exchange the weekly offering envelopes, many parishioners enthusiastically greeting each other in happy parking lot reunions, our pastor sporting a new beard, and someone even observing, “You’ve lost some weight, Father!”
The place our parish priests hold in our hearts is a treasured one. We depend on them to teach us through homilies, expose the Blessed Sacrament, listen to our sins and offer absolution, preside over the nuptial Mass, baptize our children, anoint the sick, and console us through times of death. And that’s just the minimum. While the rest of us are busy at work, school, or caring for our households, our parish priests are meeting with the church leadership, making rounds at schools or hospitals, organizing retreats and special services, offering spiritual guidance, and working at the rectory.
But caring for the spiritual needs of hundreds of parishioners does not end at 5 PM. Starting from the sacred occasion of ordination, a priest is always on-call. Who rushes to the side of the dying, cares for those who have lost everything, counsels those in conflict, or ministers through any number of crises? Who faces the mounting expenses and bills of the parish, limited Sunday collections, possible stagnation of new family registrations, and who perhaps lacks as many helpful hands as he would like to keep the place running smoothly? Especially through this pandemic, the parish priest again and again is called to bring us into an encounter with Jesus Christ as best he can with whatever resources are at his disposal. If caring for our household’s needs presents a challenge, just imagine how the parish priest feels overseeing his parish!
As the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, we can see how so many of the priests in our lives emulate the example of the Curé d'Ars, who himself followed the example of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The French Revolution resulted in an increase of the population’s ignorance of and indifference to religion. As a result, St. John Vianney went about his priesthood by spending at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional in the winter; longer still in the summer. The simple piety of this holy priest not only brought about many conversions for the Church, but reinvigorated the faith in areas where secularism had long dominated the culture. Likewise, by immersing themselves into the daily lives of our communities, our parish priests “serve ‘in the trenches,’ bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in [their efforts] to care for and accompany God’s people.”
Pope Francis continued, in his 2019 letter to priests commemorating the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, to express his closeness and solidarity to priests. He also expressed personal gratitude “for your fidelity to the commitments you have made… [and] for the joy with which you have offered your lives.”
The Holy Father concluded his letter by praising the witness of their shared vocation:
For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new.” … May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
Let us strive to show the priests in our lives our gratitude and support. May many men continue to discern and answer the call of our Lord to the sacred work of ordained ministry. As we answer the universal call to holiness in our own lives, may we also support those who have dedicated their lives to answer, “Here I am. I come to do Your will.”
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“Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received.” -Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, 23
Have you ever prayed a novena? Some people might find such a thing out of fashion, but it is making a return among a number of Catholics. For some, the practice never left.
For nine years, as pastoral director of St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland, I led weekly novena prayers on Wednesdays and Sundays during the perpetual novena in honor of St. Jude, patron of hopeless cases. The custom of praying a novena, usually nine days of prayer, arose from the liturgical period of nine days between the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost Sunday. (In recent years, many dioceses have moved the Solemnity of the Ascension from Thursday to the Sunday before Pentecost.) This liturgical time marks for us the period between when Christ ascended to the Father and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the disciples.
The Risen Christ gave his followers a mission. He told them to “Go”. But go and do what? “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). They did not go immediately, but instead were looking at the sky. They were confused. Then they went into the Cenacle or the Upper Room, prayed and discerned together. They were not ready to go forth on mission for Christ. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, they received the boldness to preach and to heal in the name of Jesus Christ. Only then did they accept their being sent by Christ.
As Christ sent them, so he sends us. St. Vincent Pallotti taught, as did the Second Vatican Council, that the baptized are sent into the world as apostles of Christ. In word and deed, our world needs to hear proclaimed that God is love, Christ saves, and Christ is alive (Christus Vivit, chapter 4). This is the initial proclamation of the Good News or the kerygma. When people encounter us, do they encounter Christ? Do we accompany them into greater faith in him? Are they welcomed into the community of faith, the Church? Do they realize that they, too, are sent? (cf. Living as Missionary Disciples, Part I).
We do none of these works alone. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis teaches us, “When you receive the Spirit, he draws you ever more deeply into the heart of Christ, so that you can grow in his love, his life and his power (Christus Vivit, 130). The Holy Spirit will guide us in our discernment and in the mission that we have been given by Christ.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
The opening of today’s reading from the Gospel of John depicts Mary Magdalene on the cusp of an encounter with the Risen Christ. “But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white.”
In this moment of bending down and looking into the tomb she thought was empty, Mary provides an everlasting model for those of us seeking the Risen Christ throughout Easter and throughout our lives. Where Jesus’ tomb had been a place of death, it is now a place of resurrection. Where Mary’s tears had symbolized her grief, they now contain her joy.
This amazing moment came on a morning when Mary was vulnerable and traumatized. I cannot imagine what Mary must have been feeling there, alone – but I can only guess that seeing Jesus alive again would have been the last thing on her mind.
When I feel vulnerable, my world feels very small. In grief and pain, it is difficult to “think outside the box” or to think about the “big picture.” In fact, it is difficult to think at all. Many of us are living now from this place of smallness in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. We are currently facing dangers that have fundamentally altered the patterns of our Church life and our society – along with many other woes that can cause us to despair.
The Good News is that none of the woes of the world can separate us from God’s love. As Jesus told the disciples, “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:22)
I hope that this Easter week brings you such joy.
And if you still have grief, I invite you to trust that it’s okay, and that God can work within that grief. We can take courage from the example of Mary Magdalene, whose own tears opened the portal between life and death. From Mary’s story and from my own story, I have faith that God can work directly within our sorrow – opening new possibilities when we had thought all the doors closed.
I believe this is where God is most fully present in our lives – in the spaces where we feel lost, abandoned, and confused. In this way, I am hopeful that this Easter season will help all of us to encounter Christ in truly new and unimagined ways.
For more Easter resources, please click here.
“According to a 2018 national survey by Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty percent of survey participants also reported they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated.” – American Psychological Association. This is a report from 2019 about the rising levels of social isolation and loneliness experienced in the United States. It is not something new, and as days and years progress, it is likely to get worse if we do not act now. So how does the Catholic Church respond to such increasing levels of isolation?
Fortunately, the Church has discussed accompaniment as a solution for a very long time. Most recently, it has been discussed at great length throughout the papacy of Pope Francis and in the recent synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. As recently as last year, Pope Francis in Christus Vivit talked extensively about the Church’s role in preventing loneliness in young people. Still, as the study above shows, loneliness is not something that only young people experience. Pope Francis talks about the untethering and uprootedness of people in this way:
“We need to make all our institutions better equipped to be more welcoming to young people since so many have a real sense of being orphaned. … To all these orphans – including perhaps ourselves – communities like a parish or school should offer possibilities for experiencing openness and love, affirmation, and growth. Many young people today feel that they have inherited the failed dreams of their parents and grandparents, dreams betrayed by injustice, social violence, selfishness, and lack of concern for others. In a word, they feel uprooted.…The experience of discontinuity, uprootedness, and the collapse of fundamental certainties, fostered by today’s media culture, creates a deep sense of orphanhood to which we must respond by creating an attractive and fraternal environment where others can live with a sense of purpose.” (Christus Vivit 216)
So what does this mean for our parishes or for us as Catholics? Each one of us is called to accompany others on the journey of faith. Christ himself modeled this with his disciples and has charged us to do the same. Accompaniment is fundamental to Christianity. It means building an “intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.” To begin, I would suggest first taking a look at your immediate circle of connections. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. should be your first group to encounter and accompany because they are the people you organically have relationships with each day. These are the people most likely to open up to you if they are experiencing troubles. Even then, it is essential to listen and provide a connection to Christ and the Church community. The role of accompaniment in giving someone a link to the broader Catholic community is vital, and acknowledging every baptized person’s role in this calling is essential. As the Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church discusses, accompaniment can serve as a powerful avenue to welcome and keep someone in the Church in ever uncertain times and events in someone’s life. It can lead to a deeper connection to Christ, a fuller integration into the world at large, and a more authentic sense of their mission to serve Christ and the Church (Art of Accompaniment, 19).
Every day there are more and more people who are experiencing isolation, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. This has only been exacerbated by the current coronavirus pandemic. Current events, personal circumstances such as their health, and many other factors can contribute to feelings of isolation. During this time, I invite you to pray about different ways you can accompany those who are feeling lonely. The Catholic Church can be a refuge in this storm of isolation and meet people where they are. Even if someone is lonely, as one of God’s children, they are never alone, and it is our job as Catholics to remind them of that fact.
For more resources on accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to accompany you during the coronavirus, please click here.
As parents in our early sixties, living in household with our 25, 23 and 19 year old adult children is proving to be an interesting challenge during this pandemic. We have successfully transitioned from training six little ones to launching three and sharing our household with the remaining three. Each of us lives what I consider ‘parallel’ lives under one roof. We all go to our respective jobs, enjoy our own friend groups, and participate in our specific extra-curricular activities, along with sharing family time together. It is a state of life that has forged a certain routine that is pleasantly habitable.
Slam dunk us all into the middle of an unprecedented disease that turns our world upside down overnight – and our happy coexistence becomes challenged. We are forced to adapt to new schedules and new restrictions that we all must willingly cooperate with. Moving from government recommendations to ‘imposed sanctions’ is met with varying reactions from the five in our household. Those of us who are easily contented engaging in solitary activities are not so affected. We find new books to read, projects in the house or the yard, a nature series to watch, extra time to participate in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Rosary and the Mass on tv. Those of us who are energized by hanging out with our peer group, attending public events, or going out to restaurants and pubs find these restrictions close to being imprisoned.
Our foremost responsibility as parents during this uncertain time is to be very intentional in communicating with our young adults about the ‘rules’ and the ‘whys’ and the ‘wherefores’ of cooperating in a Godly manner to all of this. We speak daily of the importance of adhering to social distancing and the extra measures of hygiene and disinfecting while allowing our children to express their frustrations, share new information, and ultimately come to agreement to remain steadfast in cooperation when it is difficult. I can’t stress enough the necessity of speaking daily in a positive manner so that we all help keep each other accountable.
Getting independent, self-sufficient young adults to operate from the same page is most definitely a tight rope act. I’m accompanying them in a way I never have before. It requires lots of talking and more listening. It necessitates creative ways of encouraging. Each family dynamic is different, but in my male-dominated household, what I have found brings us together is food. My plan these days has been to cook, cook, and cook some more! Preparing meals that satisfy and draw us together opens us to sharing our thoughts and feelings and encouraging one another with what we find most difficult. In our discussions, our adult children share their creative ways they have found to connect with friends and to cope with the temporary suspension of activities they regularly participated in. Our pace of life has slowed considerably. My job is on temporary shutdown, but everyone else still goes to their jobs on altered shifts with no work meetings. When they arrive home, I make sure a meal is ready and we talk and pray and relax together.
They are quicker about getting their laundry done, and helping keep common areas of the house disinfected every day.
This altered state of living builds character in each of us. We are being called to willingly forego engaging in activities we love for the greater good of our fellow man. Practicing restraint, perseverance, respectfulness, and kindness allows us to grow in holiness that builds up the kingdom of God. This witness promotes community and joy amidst the pain and devastation that is all around us.
One activity we have purposely not engaged in during this pandemic is watching or reading the news regularly. We do not watch any major news telecasts and keep apprised of current affairs through government messages and the several medical people in our family. We choose not to obsess on what is happening hour by hour. Instead, we focus on praying, eating well, getting extra sleep, playing games, watching movies, reading books, and pursuing our hobbies in our home space. We essentially have created our own little bubble to weather this storm together while continuing to participate in our normal duties to the extent that complies with social distancing.
We are fortunate to live in a digital age where we can access a degree of connectivity through our various devices and remain a safe distance apart. We were created to be relational. We do not want to live this way solely, but we have the privilege of being connected to others like no other time in history. So far, in our semi lockdown mode – no one has blown up at another, no one has a crazed look about them, no one has run away! We are all present and accounted for under one roof amidst significant life changes. Our home remains a sanctuary of harmony and peace. This altered state of living together is a fruit of ‘grace’ that I believe God is showering on us. He is equipping us as we pray with the virtues of prudence and perseverance. He is covering us with His balm of peace to behave respectfully and kindly to one another. I am mindful of my continued dependence on the Holy Spirit’s grace to guide me as a mother. My prayer is for parents everywhere to walk in faith with your children in the will of God and grow in peace and joy together, whatever the circumstances!
Quotes are very popular on social media. People tweet them, dress them up with background color or images, and add them to memes and gifs, usually for comedic effect. A few years ago, after tweeting and also posting on Facebook many quotes of St. Vincent Pallotti, I decided on Ash Wednesday to tweet, “‘Lent is not a diet program.’ -Not St. Vincent Pallotti.” I also posted it on Facebook. To my surprise, it caused a bit of a stir. It did not go viral (nothing I post does), but people I see in real life did notice (even if they did not love or like it on social media). They mentioned it and the meaning of the non-Pallotti quote seemed to resonate.
Now, I could stand to lose some weight, but Lent as a means to this end is not what the season is about. It is a time of penitential preparation that aids us in loving God and loving neighbor more fully. It is not focused on self, even if we “give something up for Lent.” The Lenten season is a time for us to look at where we are and through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, done in cooperation with God’s grace, move to where God wants us to be. Any self-denial that we do must lead to greater selflessness.
As Lent begins, we at the Catholic Apostolate Center hope that our Lenten resources might assist you in this effort. The traditional Catholic means of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not ends in themselves, but help us to deepen our encounter with the Risen One, Jesus Christ, in and through the community of faith and to go forth as his apostles/missionary disciples.
Please know that we will accompany you in special prayer during this Lenten season.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For resources to accompany you this Lenten season, please click here.
Spiritual accompaniment has been discussed greatly today within the Church and is an important theme of Pope Francis’ papacy. While accompaniment is manifested throughout the Old Testament and in Christ’s ministry, it is important for the Church to consider how best to implement it in modern times. What does accompaniment look like today? How do we best accompany others along their spiritual journey in deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ? The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church, a Catholic Apostolate Center resource developed by Colleen Campbell and Thomas Carani, assists in the growth of true accompaniment within the Church today. Below are ten quotes from The Art of Accompaniment that summarize some of the major points of this important resource in order to introduce you to accompaniment and its role for Christians today.
1. “Since the creation of human beings, God has communicated his love through a relationship with humanity…The Old and New Testament reveal the Trinitarian God to be a God who accompanies.”
God models accompaniment for humanity in his self-revelation and relationship with his people throughout salvation history. After the Fall, God revealed himself in his various relationships with important figures such as Abraham and Moses in the Old Testament, culminating in the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world. God Himself is the first model of accompaniment. We look to His example in order to understand and implement accompaniment in the Church today.
2. “Spiritual accompaniment is the apostolate of intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.”
Colleen and Tom define accompaniment succinctly: spiritual accompaniment does not happen by accident, but is the result of an intentional decision made by two people. The goal of spiritual accompaniment is a deepening in one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in personal holiness that transforms both the mentor and the person being accompanied, as well as those they encounter.
3. “To remain committed to this deliberate choice of discipleship, a mentor is an active participant in their own spiritual formation, deliberately choosing the path of discipleship as their everyday way of life.”
A mentor never ceases to pursue holiness, personal development, and spiritual formation. These are life-long endeavors to which the mentor and the person being accompanied dedicate themselves.
4. “Listening is a crucial practice of the mentor because it not only creates space for openness between mentor and the one accompanied, but also makes room for an awareness of the presence and action of God.”
An important part of the spiritual life that Pope Francis has emphasized is the art of listening. We must be silent in order to hear the voice of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The ability to listen well is also incredibly important to the art of accompaniment. When a mentor is adept in the art of listening, he or she affirms the dignity of the person being accompanied and humbly leaves room for the voice of God to be heard and acknowledged.
5. “Discernment is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit and useful in coming to identify the movements and actions of God in daily life.”
Both the mentor and person being accompanied must grow in their ability to discern the work of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit. While there are many resources within the Church that help form a person in their understanding of discernment, it is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit. By praying for clarity, understanding, and wisdom, and by approaching the accompanying relationship in a posture of humility, both the mentor and person being accompanied create an environment in which the actions of God are received and acted upon. Ongoing discernment is crucial to spiritual accompaniment.
6. "Mentors are formed by the community as a result of encountering diverse groups of people, listening to different perspectives, seeking guidance from others, and worshipping and seeking Christ amongst the family of the children of God."
The spiritual life does not and cannot exist in a vacuum; the same is true with accompaniment. Both the mentor and person being accompanied are formed by their parishes and communities. The beauty of our relational existence is that our communities of faith are comprised of all sorts of people. This diversity within our parishes enriches each member of the Body of Christ and deepens compassion, understanding, and a spirit of inclusion that helps the mentor better accompany another person.
7. "As they share the journey of the Christian life with the one accompanied, the mentor evangelizes the accompanied by fostering an encounter with Christ in their daily life, drawing connections between the Gospel message and their everyday experiences, and encouraging them toward ongoing conversion to Christ through the relationship of accompaniment."
An important aspect of accompaniment is that it is a mutual journey towards Christ. Accompaniment does not happen only in Church settings and does not only address topics of faith—it encompasses an entire life. Our faith life also does not occur in a vacuum, but should impact and inform every aspect of our existence. As a result, accompaniment helps both the mentor and the one being accompanied to draw connections between the Gospel and everyday life.
8. "Those accompanied are open to formation and display their willingness to be formed by authentically seeking holiness, collaborating with their mentor, remaining humble in the midst of difficulty, and giving thought and prayer to challenges or new ideas…they must seek faith formation through study, catechetical ministry through parishes or Catholic institutions, and their own personal learning."
Humility is a crucial component of an accompanying relationship—especially for the one being accompanied. The person being accompanied acknowledges the need to walk alongside a mentor and to be formed by them in order to grow in holiness and a relationship with Christ. Therefore, the mentor is an authority figure that respectfully and lovingly informs and collaborates with the one being accompanied, as well as with the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the one accompanied also seeks personal formation in other trusted places.
9. "In the relationship of accompaniment, the marginalized are provided a space in which they can come to deeply know the love of Jesus Christ through friendship, guidance, and authenticity with a mentor."
No one is exempt from an accompanying relationship—it is an important part of the spiritual life that all are invited to. A relationship of accompaniment results in the greatest treasure on earth: friendship with and love of Jesus Christ. A mentor is more than an authority figure. He or she is a friend, helper, and guide who affirms a person’s dignity and walks alongside another to build up the Body of Christ.
10. "The inspiration and model for the apostolate of accompaniment is Mary…In Mary, the Church has a model and intercessor for the apostolate of accompaniment."
We cannot have a vibrant and lasting life of faith and thriving relationship with Christ without looking to and having a relationship with His Mother, Mary. The Blessed Virgin Mary always leads us closer to her Son. By looking to her and seeking her guidance and intercession, we can be sure that our efforts to accompany and be accompanied will bear much fruit.
To learn more about The Art of Accompaniment and order your copy today, please click here.
One of the great gifts of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical renewal of the twentieth century was the emphasis given to the proclamation of the Word of God at all sacraments, primarily at the celebration of Mass. Popes, bishops, and theologians have all sought to highlight the relationship of the life of the Church in every dimension to the Sacred Scriptures. Scripture is the foundation of all that we do as Catholics, ultimately because Scripture is the Word of God. These divinely revealed truths tell us who God is, what He has done throughout history, and what he continues to do, working in our lives each day.
Pope Francis, in continuing this call for a renewed sense of awe and appreciation of the Word of God, has proclaimed the third Sunday of Ordinary Time as “Word of God Sunday.” This past Sunday, January 26, was the first observance of Word of God Sunday, and so this week is a great time to reflect on the role that Scripture has in our lives as we seek to model our lives on Jesus Christ, the Word of God. In reflection, we can ask how do we allow the scriptures to permeate our lives so that God’s word is alive in us? Maybe we have a favorite passage, one that we return to again and again to meditate on at different stages in our lives. Or maybe we haven’t really spent much time with Scripture, aside from hearing it at Mass or other occasions in Church. This week, this Word of God Sunday, serves as a reminder to take the gift of Scripture and to allow the Word of God to seep into the rhythm of our lives so that we more fully and deeply come to know our Lord and ourselves.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is from the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke following the Resurrection of Jesus. We hear of the encounter that two disciples had with our Lord while walking on the road to Emmaus. These two disciples were stunned at what had taken place and were unsure of what to make of the crucifixion and death of the man they believed to be the Messiah. They were sad that their friend and leader, Jesus, had been so cruelly murdered, and were overcome with grief. When they encounter this man, a man they “were kept from recognizing” (Luke 24:16), he asked them to recount these events. Their almost sarcastic response – “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (Luke 24:18) – shows us how human an experience this was for the disciples. They explained everything to this man and were shocked that he had no idea what had happened. Little did they know, they were speaking with Jesus himself!
So often we focus on one problem or another, are so concerned with our own difficulties, or so caught up in our joys that we forget to consider how the Lord is working in our lives. We don’t always welcome him in and we neglect to see that, in reality, he has been there all along, walking with us on the way. Sometimes, like these two disciples, it is not until later that we see God’s work in our lives, only in reflection. It was not Jesus’ explanation about the work that God has done since Moses and the prophets that opened their eyes to the reality before them. St. Luke tells us, instead, that “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35)
Isn’t this our experience today? We come to know about God through study or reading. But it is in and through the sacraments – especially in the Mass – that we come to know God most fully. When we pray with the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, we open our hearts to an encounter with the living God. We may not recognize him right away—it may take time or a change in our life to make it clear—but those moments when we have a real encounter with God can show us how much he has done in our lives, how close he has been all along, teaching us, guiding us, and preparing us for the great things he has in store. May this Word of God Sunday be a new invitation to welcome the Lord into our lives through his Word. May our hearing and reading of Sacred Scripture always be an encounter with God.
As we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas, I find myself grateful that the Church has established the liturgical calendar in such a way as to help shake us out of our spiritual complacency. The high-points of the Church year—and the larger Christian experience— are referenced so much in our Faith that we may sometimes find ourselves on spiritual autopilot. Before we know it, we might find that solemnities are immediately upon us (or past us), and we feel that we could have benefited from more spiritual preparation. This year, I was looking for a clear and direct theme I could really focus on as Christmas approached. I came across some writings of Venerable Servant of God Fulton Sheen that called to mind certain details of Scripture that my eyes (and spiritual life) might typically gloss over. Recalling the helpless innocence of the Christ-child ready to be born of Mary, Sheen related Mary and Joseph’s plight in searching for late-night shelter in Bethlehem to the lack of hearts open to God which can offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords a place to dwell and reign:
[W]hen finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest lines of all will be: ‘There was no room in the inn.’ The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is the place for outcasts, the ignored, and the forgotten… The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God-Made-Man is invited to enter into His own world through a back door.
With all the seasonal emphasis on gifts and personal generosity, I am especially touched by that first line and the reality that there was no room made available for the arrival of the long-awaited Son of God. How often do we hear calls to be watchful and ready for the Second Coming of Christ; that is, to be repentant of sin and committed to pursuing holiness? This preparation is what the first part of the Advent season is all about. When we are called before the Final Judgement seat of the Most High, and God Himself shows us what we did or did not do for Him in our earthly encounters with the people in our lives, will we say that it was too difficult or inconvenient to take up what we knew was expected of us? All of the baptized are called to be missionary disciples—people who spread the joy of the Gospel by their very lives. We can bring others into an encounter with the Living God—or at least instill a sense of hope, dignity, and love in those who are in need—in the workplace, at home, in our neighborhoods, in our parishes, and within our families. In doing so, we make room in the inn of our hearts for the Christ-child.
Without Christ present in our hearts and at the core of our being, we will find ourselves serving a different master—be it vices, worldly pleasures, fleeting successes or honors, or other vanities. Just as the innkeepers of Bethlehem two-thousand years ago declined to open their doors to the Holy Family, so too do each of us have the choice either to be seduced by the empty promises of the world or to pursue a life of holiness and of speaking the Truth among the doubtful, suspicious, hateful, or unrepentant.
This Christmas season, let us allow Christ into our lives in order to bring him to others. Let us preach the Gospel with our lives and seek to always make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Christmas is a time for celebration! We rejoice that the Lord God Himself took on human nature and was born as a helpless Child into the world He created in order to free us from sin and death and invite us to live with Him forever. The occasion of Christmas encourages each of us to be a welcoming soul to the Lord rather than one who closed their doors to the Holy Family that holy night:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And let it begin with me. Amen.
 Sheen, Fulton. “Life of Christ” (1954).
 cf. Matthew 25:40.
“The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal / And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible. / The angels and shepherds praise him / And the magi advance with the star, / For you are born for us, Little Child, God eternal!” (CCC525)
The quote from the Catechism above references three key players I want to reflect upon at the beginning of this Advent season: Our Lady, the magi, and the shepherds. Today, as we think about the meaning of waiting and watching, upon preparing for Christmas and for the return of the Lord, we can look to these three examples to show us how to look up, set out, and give.
First: It’s important to start off with an understanding of Advent as a liturgical time of waiting and preparation.
I’ve often heard that God has three responses to our prayers: yes, no, or wait—wait being our least favorite of the three. “Wait” seems so indefinite. With a yes or no response, you know, for better or worse, one way or another, what your parameters are. But “wait” requires faith, trust, humility. It requires not knowing exactly when, exactly how, or exactly if.
And that’s one lesson this season can impart: waiting well, waiting in hope. During Advent, we recall the waiting of the world for the birth of the Messiah. The greatest gift from God the Father, the gift of his Son, is coming to us. And in this world which has experienced his coming, we also wait for him to come again.
Each of us awaits something. Perhaps we await a promotion. The completion of a degree. Maybe we long for a spouse or a child. Physical or emotional healing. The answer to our vocational discernment.
In this time of waiting, we are like the Israelites wandering in the desert in pursuit of the Promised Land. It’s there--the Promised Land is there. God is faithful and keeps his promises. But sometimes, we have to wait.
Waiting practically forces us to surrender control and hand everything over to God. It’s a daily practice in humility and faith. It acknowledges that we are not in control and challenges us to trust in the goodness of the One who is. Therefore, waiting has a purpose, an end: God Himself.
And, as with the Israelites in the desert sustained by the descent of manna from heaven, we are fed daily by God himself IF we allow ourselves to be. This means speaking and listening to God in prayer. It means collecting the manna from above, his grace, DAILY. And this brings us to our first point about the Advent season: we need to look up and see.
Mary knew what it meant to look up in prayer. She was so receptive to the word of God that she conceived it through the power of the Holy Spirit.
She was looking up in prayer when the Angel Gabriel announced the Good News of the Messiah.
“Let it be done unto me according to your word.”
These were the words of trust, surrender, and peace--followed by action—the second of our themes today. She looked up and set out in order to give. Immediately after the Annunciation, we read about her going out to help her cousin Elizabeth.
As someone who has experienced the first trimester of pregnancy twice now, I can tell you the last thing I’m thinking about during that time is helping or serving others. I’m usually passed out somewhere trying not to drool.
But Mary has looked up, set out, and given. She was so receptive to God’s word that she was able to fully encounter his message through the Angel Gabriel. Her reception of Christ caused her to set out in haste to see Elizabeth. And finally, to give and serve another by bringing Christ into that home and modeling sacrificial love.
Mary is the perfect example of waiting and being guided by God.
In Scripture, she is described as “pondering things in her heart”—waiting for God to reveal his will and meditating on his work throughout her life. But she is not one who sits on the sideline and fails to engage. She is a contemplative in action—one who treasures the word of God within her (even literally) and yet immediately goes out to Elizabeth in her time of need. Mary brings Jesus to others, from the moment of his conception, wherever she goes and instructs us to “do whatever he tells you,” as at the wedding feast in Cana.
We turn to Mary during this season of Advent because she is an expert at faithful waiting that leads to Christ. So I invite you as we continue our Advent journey to start by spending time with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Re-read the account of the Annunciation and Visitation in Scripture. Ask her help in waiting—faithfully, hopefully, humbly. And invite her to accompany, guide, and prepare you to receive Christ. She always leads others to her Son.
In addition to the example of Mary, the magi can also teach us what it means to wait in hopeful anticipation: to look up and see the star, To set out, To give freely.
The magi, though Gentiles, were not complacent, but so observant that they were able to recognize God’s sign: the star. As Pope Francis said, “The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”
What keeps us this Advent from looking up and seeing the star? Are we busy scrolling through our social media feeds, binging on the latest Netflix series, working late hours at the office, or anxious about the future? Are we paralyzed by grief, bitterness, anger or fear?
The magi were vigilant, ready to go when the time came. And their hearts were receptive, disposed to the signs of the times. Like Mary, they too set out on a journey which would lead them to Christ himself. This journey required effort, planning, and sacrifice. They looked up, set out, and finally, they gave: bearing costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They met the generosity of God by reciprocating generosity. As Pope Francis has also noted, “To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus.”
Finally, we can also look to the example of the shepherds. Pope Francis says, “They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks.” The shepherds were looking up. After receiving the good news from the angel of the Lord, they go in haste to encounter Christ. And afterwards, they return glorifying and praising God.
In each of these examples, we encounter people who are looking up, setting out, and giving. Mary sets out and gives her time and energy to serve her cousin Elizabeth. The magi set out and give gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The shepherds set out and give Christ their adoration and praise.
Will we keep watch in the night alongside the shepherds or are we asleep with the rest of crowded Bethlehem, too distracted by our daily lives and concerns to notice the light of the star beaming down on the light of the world? As we await God’s response in our lives, do we grumble in the desert like the Israelites? Do we take things into our own hands and craft a golden calf? Or do we say to the Lord, “Let it be done unto me according to your word?” This season, will we set out in haste to give our hearts to the Lord and our hands to serve those in need?
Perhaps what’s holding us back from entering into the Advent season is something more than distraction, ignorance, or noise. We may hesitate to meet this Christ-child because we feel as the shepherds most likely did, utterly unworthy. We wear the rags of sin, the stench of humanity. Maybe we feel like the little drummer boy in the popular song who says, “I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a king.”
In his humility, the Lord entered into the most vulnerable of human states: infancy. He chose to become little in order to demonstrate that all are able and invited to approach him. As Pope Francis also reminds us, “Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go.”
So let’s get up and go. There is still time to look for the star, to set out, to give.
I invite you to draw close to Mary, look to the example of the magi, spend time with the shepherds. In looking for Christ, encountering him, and serving others, we find Christ born also in our hearts. Only then, as the Catechism says, “when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled” (CCC526).
Let us pray, “I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world. Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:17)." -Pope Francis