“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
We have entered the season of Advent and a new liturgical year. Advent offers us an important time for us to watch, wait, and reflect on the coming of Jesus Christ, on our encounter with him. He is encountered in the mystery of the Incarnation, which we represent by Nativity scenes placed in our churches, chapels, and homes. We can stop at the beauty of the artistic scene and not move ourselves into deeper reflection on the fact that God, who is infinite love and mercy, sent his only begotten Son to save us.
Christ is also encountered in the Eucharist, most significantly during the celebration of the Mass. Pope Francis describes this coming of Jesus:
“Mass is prayer; rather, it is prayer par excellence, the loftiest, the most sublime, and at the same time the most ‘concrete’. In fact, it is the loving encounter with God through his Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is an encounter with the Lord.” (General Audience, November 15, 2017).
And Christ will come again in all his glory at the end of time. We need to be prepared for this time not simply through passive waiting, but by active watching for the Lord and encountering him in our brothers and sisters who are most in need, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless (Mt. 25:31-46). As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are co-responsible for the mission that he left us until he comes again – for the salvation of souls – not only focusing on eternal life with God, but also on how we are collaborating with the Most Holy Trinity to build the Kingdom of God on this side of life.
Pope Francis reminds us of the connection of the Immaculate Conception to the salvific plan of God.
“In the Immaculate Conception of Mary we are invited to recognize the dawn of the new world, transformed by the salvific work of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The dawn of the new creation brought about by divine mercy. For this reason, the Virgin Mary, never infected by sin and always full of God, is the mother of a new humanity. She is the mother of the recreated world.” (Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2015)
We have not been conceived without sin, but we have been washed clean of Original Sin at Baptism (and all prior sin, if one was baptized as an adult). While we have all sinned since that time, our Baptism offers us a share in the mission of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King. Though followers or disciples, he also sends us as apostles, or as missionary disciples, out into our challenging world to witness to him by what we say and do. That is why we are told at the end of each Mass to “Go”. We are sent on mission by Christ and the Church as joyful witnesses of God’s love and mercy.
Our best example of how to be a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She followed Jesus as his disciple unfailingly during her life and continues from her heavenly home as Queen of Apostles to invite us to encounter her Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
The Catholic Apostolate Center is a ministry of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). The Pallottines and the Center staff will remember you in special prayer on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
As we celebrate the third World Day of the Poor, prophetically established by Pope Francis, I have just returned from a very unique visitation to Columbia and Venezuela. Let me limit myself here to Venezuela, because of some very touching experiences in this country.
Venezuela, as we all know, is one of the resourcefully rich countries of the world, blessed with Petroleum, gold, and many other precious minerals. In the 1960's, this was one of South America’s wealthiest countries, enjoying the highest standard of living; yet today, how different the situation.
1 US dollar is equal to about 30,000 Venezuelan Bolivar. The monthly earnings of a worker is around $5; a medical doctor told me he gets $20 per month, if he even comes to be paid. Just imagine, then, the situation of ordinary people.
Millions are migrating to all parts of the world. If possible, the able bodied men and women escape the country, leaving behind their parents and grandparents. People die not because they cannot be healed, but for lack of ordinary medicines; medicines which are either unavailable, or people are too poor to purchase them.
One woman I met was suffering from skin cancer and heart problems; she can do nothing. This is a true story. Just imagine her plight.
For lack of money or limited transports, children and teachers are unable to go to school. While there are many more examples to narrate, my intention is not to show this wonderful country in a bad way.
Paradoxically, despite all of these hardships, I found the people very affectionate and joyful. I met with so many pastoral groups working in the parishes, and hardly anyone spoke about their hardships, or asked for any sort of help. The people were so nice, and I was really touched by them.
Through Caritas Poland and local aid, our parishes are organizing soup kitchens and many other charitable activities together with the parishioners. As a small contribution from We Are A Mission, I myself went around distributing food items in one of our parishes. It was a very touching experience.
Pope Francis speaks much about the poor, migrants, and the culture of indifference. At times, people get annoyed; why does the Pope keep harping over the poor?
The question is precisely what he posed to us in his homily: “do I have at least one poor person as a friend in my life?”
Have we come face to face with this poverty in our lives as Christians, or are we merely experts on speaking about it; limiting ourselves to words, and not truly encountering this existentially dark reality? Again as the Holy Father has written, “let us set statistics aside: the poor are not statistics to cite. The poor are persons to be encountered; they are lonely, young and old, to be invited to our homes to share a meal; men, women, and children who look for a friendly word.”
Those who lived through the Second World War in Europe will know what it means to survive during and after, yet their grandchildren may not even like to read about those days anymore. It is one thing to speak about poverty, but it is something altogether greater if one has had a real taste of it.
When Venezuela- a country greatly blessed by God with all the necessary riches for a decent living- is reduced to such a level of inhumanity by fellow human beings, can we remain indifferent as though it is only their problem? It’s as good as saying that the Amazonian issue is something of only a few countries of that area. But devoid of Amazon, the rest of us would be gasping for oxygen!
When a family with a couple of small children wake up in the morning with neither food nor money to purchase it, how will the parents control the weeping kids?
When some worry over their health due to overeating, having to count calories after all of the food they consume and walk for hours after they have eaten, it looks so absurd and paradoxical that millions elsewhere starve to death. This is the naked truth that makes us feel uncomfortable.
Many will wash their hands and say that it’s all because of corruption or political anarchy in these countries. That is all true. The sanctions that many countries impose to correct these unjust structures and systems will end up hitting the poorest of the poor, and not those at the top, is another truth. I am not writing these lines with the hope of solving all the world’s problems. Instead, it’s to show that the poor are the blessed.
The poor find their ultimate trust in Yahweh when all other sources of security are vanish. These are the people blessed with a genuine sense of humanity and compassion, as true evangelical joy is found in poverty and simplicity of life. The Lord of the Universe, Master of our History and Destiny, will make the necessary corrections and justice at the end. Until then- like Sunday’s Gospel- patience and perseverance in our trust in HIM, and the goodness in each person, must prevail. The best comes out of us when we are cornered to such a level. The more efforts there are efforts to destroy our humanity and dignity as persons, the greater will be in the interior force to manifest the beauty of freedom and preciousness imprinted upon us as an image and likeness of God.
As we celebrate World Day of the Poor, let us unite ourselves with our Holy Father; kindling a candle of hope for the suffering parts of the world, be it through a smile, prayer, or even a dollar. Who knows, tomorrow we might need them, as this is so much part of our human condition. It is no wonder, then, that the Son of God Himself chose to be born poor to make us rich in divine blessings. “The poor save us, because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.”
“We Christians are called upon to preserve and spread the joy of waiting: we await God Who loves us infinitely and at the same time we are awaited by Him.” – Pope Francis
Over many years, I have been honored to accompany others in their vocation discernment and growth in faith through spiritual direction. Often, as is the case now, it is with young adults – undergraduate and graduate students, seminarians, and those beginning their work careers. In almost every instance, they try to prepare themselves well for the Lenten season, but rarely think about preparing for the Advent season. For many, the end of an academic semester as well as the gatherings, travel, and shopping for Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to leave little time to focus on Advent preparation and living.
May I invite you, as I do them, to enter well into the waiting of Advent? It is meant to be a quiet time of deeper reflection on the coming of the Messiah, not just the first coming (the Incarnation) that we celebrate at Christmas, but the second coming of Christ at the end of time.
The candles of the Advent wreath will be lit one after the other and the time will go by quickly. May we not let it not slip by, but use it well as a time of prayer, reflection, discernment, and deepening our encounter with Christ, through ongoing conversion of heart!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources to accompany you during the Advent season, please click here.
There’s something wonderfully intimate about entering an empty chapel or secluded church and embracing it for personal prayers. Our Lord continuously invites each of us to set aside our daily activities and distractions to spend some time gazing, discerning, and listening to Him who knows each of us better than we could ever understand ourselves. The ancient promise of Christ to “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” assures us of the great love freely offered to us when we recall we are always in God’s holy presence. In doing so, the troubles and challenges we face in the world are trivialized and surrendered to God’s holy will so that our focus can be firmly fixed upon worshipping and honoring the One who calls us to Himself.
Whether it was in a parish church during the day, the school chapel in between classes, or even the private chapel of a religious community, my experiences of being able to utilize the simple intimacy and quiet of the moment offered me peace and sanctuary from the world. Of course, the Almighty is not restricted to the tabernacle of a church; His presence is infinite and forever available to us. There is, however, something affirming about entering into a space conducive to prayer and spirituality. The design and furnishing of a sacred space can draw our senses into an experience to better appreciate God’s presence in our lives. The light from outside may reflect colored light from stained glass windows upon the wall, the smell of candles or incense being burned convey that space is specially oriented to a higher purpose than what you just stepped out of, and the silence and lack of technology, advertising, or electronic distractions enable you to be more aware of your surroundings as you seek to hear God speaking to you. Encounters with the living God are not typically a Burning Bush or Annunciation experience; recall that the prophet Elijah sought to encounter God on Mount Horeb and found Him in the “sheer silence” rather than a strong wind, fire, or earthquake.
We are all aware of the daily bombardment of digital content and of the professional, social, or academic obligations and expectations we face. They compete for our time and attention, can wear us down in routines, and force us to prioritize what is important for us to achieve. In our busy lives, we must actively choose to answer God’s constant and gentle call to “Abide in me as I abide in you.” He pours out His love for us freely, even when we are not always actively seeking Him or discerning His will for us. The Christian journey, then, is one of encounter and service; the love God extends to us is to be shared and offered to our neighbors, the marginalized, and even—especially—enemies. No matter our vocation in this life, our ultimate goal must be Heaven in the next. The saints are excellent role models in embracing the love of Christ and committing their lives to bringing that love to others.
And while there is something beautiful about being the only person before the Lord in prayer and adoration, there is an even greater joy in bringing others to share in the experience and to worship God together. We do not walk the Christian way alone. As a wise friend of mine observed:
"[W]e have to remember that the journey to heaven is not a solo trek. You seek to bring everyone with you. If one person falls, you travel to him or her, and help them get up, and you carry along together towards the destination. This is what God has entrusted us to do, to reveal such love as His love. Within our families, jobs, school, or wherever God calls us to be, we must give everything of ourselves in bringing others on the adventure, and helping them endure. Think of the image of exhaustively falling down on God’s doorstep after the journey is over. You look back, and see no one, because the ones traveling with you have gone inside already."
 Joseph Cuda (lecture, Knights of Columbus Council #9542 business meeting, Washington, DC, November 3, 2013). http://knights.cua.edu/res/docs/Knights-Lecture-5-November-3-2013.pdf
A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released an article titled “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.” Immediately after the study’s release, social media erupted with reactions of disbelief, shock, and anger, as well as theories of how to “fix this,” including greater catechesis and adjustments to our general liturgical practices. Despite the immediate reaction, there is no need for panic, as Christ assures the Church that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, jumping to such dire conclusions after one survey is not necessarily good pastoral or catechetical practice. As the Church examines the status of belief in the Real Presence and how to cultivate a greater understanding of that reality, she is also very aware of the need to deepen our encounter with Christ. As we ponder Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we must ask ourselves if we have truly encountered him. In his encyclical letter Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis suggests that we “look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (Jn 1:41).”
In the end, how we catechize and what our liturgical practices are both require deeper reflection and greater discernment as to how God is calling us to use them as methods of ongoing conversion and evangelization. The doctrines and dogmas that we teach, how we celebrate the Mass, how we best serve our fellow man, are all likely to fall on deaf ears if they are not built on a deep and personal encounter with the Risen Christ. To examine this issue of Eucharistic belief, we should first look to chapter 4 of Christus Vivit, where Pope Francis reminds young people (and all of the people of God) that God is love, he saves us, he gives us life, and he is alive! If these four truths, which are expounded upon in good catechesis and experienced in their fullness in the Mass, are not understood deeply and intimately in the heart of every baptized Catholic, then moving forward will be extremely difficult. If I do not know Christ as the one who saves me, who walks with me through my life, as the one who gives me life, then why does it matter if it is truly his Body and Blood that I receive in its fullness at the Mass? Similarly, if we don’t understand the Kerygma—the mystery of the salvific work of God culminating in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—then how can we begin to understand the mystery of transubstantiation (CCC1376), especially when philosophical distinctions like matter and form aren’t in the everyday vocabulary of most Catholics? Pope Francis reminded pilgrims of this reality during a November 2017 General Audience when he said, “Every celebration of the Eucharist is a ray of light of the unsetting sun that is the Risen Jesus Christ. To participate in Mass, especially on Sunday, means entering in the victory of the Risen, being illuminated by his light, warmed by his warmth.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously wrote in his encyclical letter Deus Charitas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” I certainly don’t have the “easy fix” answer as to how to increase belief in the real presence in the Eucharist, but I heartily believe that it begins with a renewed sense of the encounter Pope Benedict XVI was writing about. We use the word “renewed” because even those of us who profess our faith in the Risen Lord are invited “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I [Pope Francis] ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (Evangelii Gaudium). We must witness to the encounter that has given our lives “a new horizon and a decisive direction,” and share that with those whom we meet. When we accompany our brothers and sisters on their journey to know Christ more fully, we help them to encounter him in the way that the Holy Spirit guides them. If that encounter is through theological and philosophical distinctions, through service, through the liturgy, etc. then praise God, because it is through him that those are effective and not because of their own merits. As we continue to wrestle with this recent study and its implications, may we meditate on this: if we believe that the Eucharist changes us, strengthens us, heals us, then we must show it, we must witness to it authentically and humbly in all circumstances.
“The love of God and our relationship with the living Christ do not hold us back from dreaming; they do not require us to narrow our horizons. On the contrary, that love elevates us, encourages us and inspires us to a better and more beautiful life” (Christus Vivit, 138).
Have you ever experienced the love of Christ in your life? The love of Christ is not something one and done. It is an ongoing experience. Christ is always pouring out his love to us. We are the ones who are challenged to see and believe. The love of Christ comes to us in a particular way through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist—an intimate encounter with Christ who is truly present. Pope Francis describes this encounter:
“Although we are the ones who stand in procession to receive Communion; we approach the altar in a procession to receive communion, in reality it is Christ who comes towards us to assimilate us in him. There is an encounter with Jesus! To nourish oneself of the Eucharist means to allow oneself to be changed by what we receive” (General Audience, March 21, 2018).
Christ is the one who is present and he is the one who is changing us in and through our encounter with him in the Eucharist. We can choose not to see his presence, not to enter this experience of encounter, and not to be changed. That is the freedom that we have. It is the freedom to be indifferent to or reject the love of Christ being freely offered to us. When we experience Christ in the Eucharist, the great gift of his love for us, we become more than we are. We are elevated to a greater love of God and neighbor.
How do we enter more fully into this encounter with Christ in the Eucharist? As Pope Francis notes, Christ “comes towards us to assimilate us in him.” He is already moving, acting, and assisting us to cooperate with his grace. We are called to prepare ourselves well for this encounter by being forgiven of our sins through the Sacrament of Penance, by preparing for our encounter through prayer, by entering into the worship of the community of faith, and by witnessing the love of Christ in our daily encounters with others. Over time, we will be transformed by Christ toward living a “better and more beautiful life.”
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
As a PhD student, there are often many moments where I find myself buried under work, exhausted from studying, and wondering if subjecting myself to a five year program of studying, teaching, and writing is worth it. Although I love what I study and find it extremely life-giving, there are plenty of moments when I’ve felt hopeless, isolated, and anxious about a future career in academia. This past year, I found myself struggling in the midst of my third semester in my program. I felt emotionally and mentally exhausted by the demands of being a second-year student and teaching assistant. Frustrated, worried, and tired, I made an appointment with one of my professors, hoping that venting to someone who understands the challenges of academia might at least help somewhat.
As I vented about my anxieties of being an effective teaching assistant, distinguished student, and successful future academic, my professor patiently listened. Even as my concrete worries about grading and lecturing for the first time began to turn into catastrophizing about never being hired at a college or university, my professor sat with me until I finished talking. She never minimized my feelings or invalidated my emotions. Instead, she shared with me her own challenges that she faced as a graduate student. Through stories about her own experiences, she admitted that she had been where I was, too. My professor didn’t let the conversation remain at a place of despair; she instead encouraged me to look at the bigger picture in all of these difficulties: God’s plan for each of us. She challenged me to think about my own vocation to be a graduate student and reminded me that it was God’s will that I was here. My professor helped me to see that despite my anxiety and worry, I was not alone. Not only did I have her support and the support of others at my university, but my present and future rested in the hands of my Creator. She also helped me notice places in my life where I was successful, and suggested places where I could become stronger. After talking about my strengths and areas of improvement, she offered advice, pointed me to other people that might also help, and offered to continue the conversation whenever I needed it. I left encouraged, feeling supported, and with a new perspective on my life as a graduate student.
When I first scheduled my meeting with my professor, I had only expected to give voice to my worries to someone who knew what I was talking about; however, when I left my meeting, I felt that I was no longer walking alone on my path. My professor was walking with me, accompanying me on my journey as a graduate student. Upon later reflection, this moment of accompaniment shared with my professor reminded me of Jesus’ own style of accompaniment on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Like the disciples who were dejected, disillusioned, and confused about the events that had taken place in Jerusalem surrounding Jesus’ death, I too was anxious about my own life as a graduate student. My professor offered a presence of patient listening, even when my worries began spiraling into despair. Instead of invalidating my response to the challenges of my life, my professor, like Jesus, “drew near” (Luke 24:15) to me by sharing with me her own difficulties as a graduate student. My professor also helped me to shift my perspective. She imitated Jesus on the Road to Emmaus by reminding me of God’s role and plan in my life, encouraging me to look beyond the challenges of the present moment. Finally, my professor helped me to remember my own sense of mission and vocation, and move actively towards them. As Jesus interpreted the scriptures with the travelers on the way (Luke: 24:27), my professor assisted me in reading God’s revelation in my own life through my strengths and weaknesses, encouraging me to develop and strengthen my gifts in order to respond to God’s call. As Jesus walked with the disciples towards a definitive direction, my professor was walking with me towards a certain goal: greater trust in God and more freedom from anxiety in order to live out my vocation. After this moment of accompaniment with my professor, I continued on my path as a graduate student with a new sense of support and encouragement. Like the disciples after their own powerful encounter of accompaniment with Christ, I too returned to my own mission as a graduate student, but with renewed hope and enthusiasm.
My experience of being accompanied by my professor made a significant impact on the way I think about my own life and vocation. In that simple meeting, my professor reminded me that no one lives out their vocation and personal mission in isolation. Instead, we need one another on this pilgrimage towards full realization of being the beloved of Christ. Accompaniment allows us to walk together towards Christ; it turns the challenges of the journey into opportunities to discover God’s love with and through one another.
Who might accompany you on your journey towards Christ? How can you accompany others through challenges that you’ve faced?
For more resources on mentorship and accompaniment, please click here.
A little more than three years ago, I was asked to be the coordinator of my parish’s youth group. I had just begun college and taking on such a big responsibility seemed terrifying - it felt like I was trying to climb a very tall mountain and the top seemed impossible to reach. As I started this new position, I noticed that my group lacked organization, teen attendance, and the presence of trust because they did not know me as their leader.
Working to create a semblance of routine and structure to use every Friday afternoon was probably the easiest thing to do, but attendance and building trust would need more work. We had about 4 teens that were committed to attending youth group every Friday. I asked myself, “How am I going to get more teens to attend? Where do I find them?” Another important question I asked was, “What will make them want to come back next Friday?” So, I got to work and created social media accounts under the group’s name to get the word out about our meetings. I spoke to the prayer group for adults that would meet at the same time and asked them to bring their teens to our group instead of leaving them at home. With a lot of prayer and thought, I realized that what these teens were lacking was an encounter with Jesus, so I would focus my talks on God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I also focused on doing group prayers where the teens had the opportunity to speak to God. As stated in Living as Missionary Disciples, “An encounter with the Lord brings about a profound transformation in all who do not close themselves off from him” (LMD 11). I witnessed this firsthand. Many teens started to come and seemed hungry to know more about God.
Then came the third task: building trust. I noticed that these teens desperately needed someone to trust and wanted to be heard. Many times, we think that a young person has the perfect life. Most of these teens’ parents provide everything for them, including shelter, food, and clothing. It’s easy to think that all they do is go to school during the day and help around the house with a few chores. In reality, this isn’t true. I’ve come to learn that many of these teens experience peer pressure at school, have problems at home, and are constantly being bombarded with impossible standards on social media.
The teens needed someone to walk next to them and listen to them. As Living as Missionary Disciples states, “The response to this encounter with Christ needs accompaniment” (LMD 14). The teens needed someone that would not judge them but instead be there for them. They needed to be able to be themselves and feel accepted the way they are despite their past or where they are now. As Living as Missionary Disciples also says, “We are not called to make judgements about others.” (LMD 15) Three years later, I have finished this pastoral ministry journey. I learned so much from the teens, such as the importance of having a personal encounter with God and the importance of accompanying the members of your ministry.
Some tips I have for a pastoral minister include valuing the importance of constant prayer and regularly asking the Holy Spirit to come upon the ministry and give a vision of where to go and where to take the ministry. It’s also important to be able to recognize the needs of your community or within the demographic with which you are working and to be able to address those needs. There should also be a balance of “church work” and a healthy personal life. I personally lacked this balance and burned out, which led me to give so much and not take the time to give back to myself. Taking these measures will prevent the minister from burning out and help him or her be able to give more in the long run.
For more tips on self-care visit our Self-Care for Healthy Ministry resource page.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you everything.” -John 14:26
After two years of dedicated study of theology, I received my Master’s degree. This has always seemed a bit odd to me, because I often feel I still have so much to learn.
This seems like the case for Jesus’ followers as well. After 3 years of discipleship, they didn’t know “everything.” Though they could be considered the “masters” of Christian life–having spent three years walking alongside Jesus—Christ tells them they still need the Holy Spirit in order to learn “everything.” He was explaining to them a fundamental reality of the Christian life: it is a life-long process of learning.
This reality is sometimes daunting, but more often it is comforting. The men that spent three years at the feet of Christ, who witnessed His miracles, heard His parables, and encountered Him after His resurrection, didn’t have it all together. They were not perfect at discipleship and they still needed God, who would now be revealed to them in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Rather than spending physical time with Christ, they would experience something even greater: God dwelling within them.
This intimate and powerful presence of God is something we can experience today. We receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism and physically receive Christ Himself every time we partake of the Eucharist. Furthermore, Christ tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel that He and the Father will dwell within those who keep His word. This comforts me because I have never heard Christ’s voice, seen His face, or shared His food. Though I am generations and millennia removed from Him, He has sent the Holy Spirit to teach me “everything”—what it means to follow Christ and live the Gospel today.
Much like the disciples, I still have much to learn. Though I have grown up knowing about Christ and His teachings, though I have figuratively sat at His feet for more than three years, I still need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind me what it means to be a follower of Christ each day. And in order to cultivate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I must continue to keep Christ’s word.
This is so much more than the study of theology.
As Pope Francis said in a 2015 homily, "We can study the whole history of salvation, we can study the whole of Theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand. It is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or – in the words of Our Lord – it is the Spirit that makes us know the voice of Jesus."
Learning everything, therefore, means knowing and discerning the voice of Jesus. A life of keeping Christ’s word looks different according to your vocation or status in life, but overall, some things that help us recognize Christ’s voice include an active sacramental life, daily prayer, acts of charity, reading Scripture, and living according to Church teaching.
In the nitty gritty of every day, this could mean keeping your cool while driving in rush hour traffic, taking a meal to a family with a newborn, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt, going to Mass each Sunday, or taking a deep breath when your child throws his food on the ground for the third time that day.
It could mean reading the daily readings at the breakfast table, praying evening prayer with your roommates, starting a rosary on your commute, participating in a weekly Bible study. In short, keeping Christ’s word is a lifelong, daily decision to do things that bring you closer to Him and encourage you to hear His voice.
As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost in a few weeks, let us call upon the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate and Teacher. May we have the humility to call upon Him daily as we pursue this lifelong life of discipleship in order to truly hear the voice of Jesus that says, “Come, follow me.”
The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is the familiar passage of the adulterous woman and her accusers. For as long as I can remember, this story has been bittersweet: it involves targeted harassment and shame, but also redemption and conversion. At this point in Lent, I don’t think there is a more needed, or relatable, lesson for us to be reminded of and to work on accepting.
So, we’re five weeks into our Lenten journey. We’ve been skipping meat on Fridays and trying to live without whatever convenience or vice we decided to give up or purge from ourselves. Maybe we’re praying a little more than we normally would or are setting aside a few minutes to read a daily reflection from those little black books left in the back of our churches. But even with all of these intentional and humbling acts and motivations, we often still feel unworthy or like we’re faltering. Because of this, it’s possible to say that we don’t even need the Pharisees to judge us and bring us for judgement before God – we’re doing it enough for ourselves. To overcome this, I want us to reflect on three things: personal attitude, an open heart, and recognizing what’s in front of us.
I think sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves. We allow our own harsh judgements to replace the only one that truly matters: God’s. Our own personal attitude can prevent us from accepting and sharing in the love and grace of God if we constantly feel that we are unworthy or failing. In the Gospel, when the adulterous woman is brought before Jesus, it does not say that she cried or tried to run. In the Gospel account, she lays at the feet of Jesus, lets Him clear her name and, ultimately, lets Him forgive her sins. Here’s a secret I’ve learned that the Gospel has been trying to tell us for a few thousand years now: Man is never worthy on his own, but has been made so by Christ, who offers redemption to all. If man were worthy, Christ would not have needed to redeem us after the Fall. So, we need to stop allowing our own negative perception of our efforts to prevent us from bearing or receiving the fruits of God’s grace and forgiveness.
Why was Jesus’ reaction effective with the woman? Christ did not condone her sin, but met the woman in her sinful situation with love and mercy. Surely, such a transformation is not possible without a profound encounter with God’s mercy, an openness to change, and conversion of heart. The adulterous woman of this week’s Gospel is told by Jesus to “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11). As a result of her encounter with Jesus, her heart was changed, and she spent the rest of her life trying to grow closer to Him. We are called to do the same – during the Lenten season or any other time. If we are open to the love of God, it will fill us and strengthen us in our actions.
With a faithful attitude and a heart that is open to change, all that is left is for us to encounter God. In order to do this, we must recognize what is in front of us. In the challenges, relationships, beauty of nature, art, and moments of prayer, God is entirely present and inviting us to share in it with Him. What a beautiful gift, and how accessible and truly joyful this is for us!
I want to suggest that each of us take a few moments each day this week to reflect on how we’ve gone out of ourselves to be with or grow closer to God. Instead of grumbling about how much we miss Netflix or those amazing chocolate caramels, be proud of yourself for being so committed to your solidarity with Christ and His own suffering. Or, if you tripped up, instead of getting frustrated with yourself, reflect on the three Stations of the Cross in which Jesus falls. Absolute perfection is never what God expects or even desires – He’s just pleased to recognize a desire in us to do better.
For more resources to accompany you along your Lenten journey, please click here.
Question for Reflection: How can you grow closer to God in the final days of the Lenten season?
It might be frightening to look at our culture today. There is the sense that a Catholic worldview is not welcome. Some feel confusion about what it means to be Catholic. A culture of death and darkness seems to oppose God’s love. One wonders how the Holy Spirit will work in the world and through the Church amidst such hostility and division.
This is not the first time the Church has encountered such a moment. The 1500s were also a tumultuous era. At the beginning of the century, in, 1517, the Protestant Reformation started. Then the English Reformation of Henry VIII began in 1534. The Church responded with the Counter-Reformation. A new order, the Jesuits, was founded in 1540 and in 1545, the Council of Trent was initiated. By that time, millions of people had left the Catholic Church. It seemed to be a time of waywardness and chaos. How was the Holy Spirit going to work in such a world?
Simple: By sending the Mother of God not to the Old World—Europe—but to the New World. Specifically, Mary appeared at the Hill of Tepeyac in 1531 to ask a 57-year-old peasant named Juan Diego to speak to Bishop Zumarraga about building a chapel in her honor there. This is where Our Lady, on December 9th, made her first apparition to her “Juanito” or “dear little Juan.” She told him that she was “the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth.” On her last visit on December 12th, Mary arranged roses in Juan Diego’s tilma and sent him to the bishop to ask him again to build a shrine to her on that spot. When he opened his tilma to show the bishop the roses, it revealed her image, which can still be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Mary appeared on a hill that was already sacred to the ancient peoples of Mexico as a shrine to a mother goddess. She was dressed as an Aztec princess, pregnant with the God who made us. She spoke to a humble native of the land and called him her “youngest and dearest son.” Before her apparition, approximately 200,000 Native Americans had been baptized. Between the time of her visit to Juan Diego and her message to Bishop Zumarraga and their deaths in the spring of 1548, over 9 million ancestral peoples had received the gift of faith and baptism.
In a time of great conflict, colonialization, and racial tension, Mary appeared on this continent to tell Juan Diego, “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me.” She is the mother of all the peoples in the land, then and now. She reminds us that what truly defines us is not our status or ancestry, but our membership in the Body of Christ.
It can be a struggle to know and act like a member of Christ’s Body when there are so many opposing forces. What does it mean to act like a Christian, vote like a Christian, shop like a Christian, or even speak like a Christian? It means that we take our fears, our sorrows, our hopes, our hurts, and our weeping not to a political party or an outlet mall; but to our Mother, who in turn presents them to her Son.
Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? -Our Lady to Juan Diego
Question for Reflection: In times of distress, do you turn to Our Lady to bring you closer to Christ?
Before any major event, we need to prepare. A student needs to study for an exam. A runner must practice before running a marathon. A bride and groom plan out the intricate details of a wedding day. A mother and father decorate the nursery before their baby is born. As you anticipate the festivities of World Youth Day (WYD) 2019, you must also prepare yourselves spiritually for the event that is about to take place. You need to get yourself into the right mindset in order to be open and to fully experience all that WYD 2019 will have to offer, whether you are traveling to Panama, attending a stateside event, or participating digitally. We are preparing to: Encounter, Accompany, Live Community, and Send!
There are many ways in which leaders and pilgrims alike will experience the act of encounter when they are participating in a World Youth Day celebration. The most important encounter that leaders or pilgrims will experience is the encounter with Jesus Christ. We are able to encounter Jesus Christ through the Sacraments, through scripture and prayer, through service, and through our relationships with others. The WYD experience provides for ample opportunities for the encounter with Jesus Christ particularly through Masses, catechesis sessions, and through building and developing relationships with your fellow pilgrims and leaders.
As a pilgrim, you will need to accompany your fellow pilgrims during this journey. Be there to support and encourage each other on the road. The act of accompanying furthermore requires a pilgrim leader to maintain a delicate balance of not only providing support and encouragement, but also allowing your pilgrims to encounter Jesus Christ in their own way. You need to be there to support your pilgrims, but you also need to let them figure things out themselves. But you are not doing this alone. As a leader, you are accompanied by your pilgrims, your parish, your diocese, your community, your family, all of those also participating in WYD2019, and the Church as a whole.
For leaders and pilgrims alike, one important thought to keep in mind about the act of accompanying is that you need to meet people where they are. You cannot expect anyone to be exactly where you are on the journey due to everyone’s different life stories and challenges. Pray for an openness to support those around you in the way they need best. Your accompaniment can lead others into deeper life in Christ in and through the community of faith, the Church.
Nothing that we do as Catholics is done simply alone. We are in relationship with God, the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. We are part of the community of faith that we call the Church. The point of common bond with one another no matter where one is from at WYD2019 events is rooted in this community. We move beyond simply ourselves and into deeper communion with the global Church. “Fellowship and communion with one another in the community of faith is also a reflection of the Trinity” (Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization, 16). You as leaders and pilgrims need to live community deeply during the time of WYD2019. It is not simply a trip, but an opportunity to more fully encounter Christ in the community of faith.
While we are always rooted in community, God also sends us forth on mission to a world that needs our witness of the love and mercy of Christ, especially after WYD2019.
World Youth Day 2019 isn’t over on January 27, 2019. It continues on through your experiences and your enthusiasm long after your flight has landed back from Panama or you have returned home from your local stateside event. You must share your stories with your friends and those in your parish to enliven them with the gift of the Holy Spirit that you received at your event. You must continue on the journey as a missionary disciple. As Pope Francis tells us in Evangelii Gaudium, “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ or ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (120). Once we experience the great love of Jesus Christ, we must go forth and share that good news with those around us. We are inspired by the example of Pope Francis as well as the patron saints of World Youth Day to do so.
We invite you to continue to prepare for this journey on which you are about to embark. Take a look at the USCCB’s World Youth Day page and the Catholic Apostolate Center’s World Youth Day Portal. Read through the guides for stateside pilgrimage leaders and for international pilgrimage leaders for more about Encounter, Accompany, Live Community, and Send.
Evangelization is a timeless vocation for all Christians. In our modern world, secularism surrounds us and sometimes it feels as though our Church can barely get in a word. Because of this, the current Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment could not have come at a more needed time.
Isaiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” Isaiah responds, “Here I am…send me!”
As the youth of the Catholic Church, we are the present and future of the Church. We are called to exclaim “Send me!” and to spread the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and always! However, it would be foolish if we thought that every young person innately felt and understood this call.
The secular world has had an impact on my faith, beginning in my own home. Not every member of my family is a practicing Catholic, which has given my mother and me the opportunity to evangelize in our own house. A prime example of this is praying before meals. I was taught to pray before meals in high school and I continue to do so in college. When I came home for the first time during my first year of college, I struggled to pray before meals because I feared someone noticing me or judging me. Eventually, God gave me the strength to begin to share this prayer with my family and now it is a tradition that we have established together.
When he addressed young people at a meeting in the beginning of October (which I attended), Pope Francis said, “Make your way. Be young on the move, looking at the horizons, not the mirror. Always looking forward, on the way, and not sitting on the couch.” Our Holy Father reminds us in these words that our time is now to be consistent in our faith, live the Beatitudes, and serve one another in an effort to help each other grow.
“How can I do this?” you might ask. As Pope Francis said, the Synod Fathers will—and have already begun—to answer you. In the synodal document Instrumentum Laboris under the section titled Beyond Secularization, the Synod Fathers speak about the changing view of religion in the secular world. Quoting a Bishops’ Conference, the document states, “Many young people declare that they are looking for the meaning of life, pursuing ideals, searching for their own personal spirituality and faith, but they rarely turn to the Church.” Recognizing that every young person’s path towards the Church is different, the Synod Fathers propose that we focus on the “changed attitude towards religion,” moving away from a “liquid” form of faith to a more concrete belief.
Pope Francis uses the same metaphor in his response to the young people at the Synod rally I attended. He said, “Every road you make, to be reliable, must be concrete.” He continues, reminding us that “concreteness is the guarantee to move forward.”
Every day, we have concrete encounters with our surrounding world. How can we as Catholics take our faith and make it concrete to those around us? This call from Pope Francis reminded me that my everyday experience of studying in Rome (only a short walk from the Vatican) can be used in my own acts of daily evangelization, especially when I return to the United States. Sharing a concrete experience is “making a gift of oneself and participating in the proclamation of the Good News,” as the Preparatory Document for the Synod states.
We, as young people, are the present and future of the Church. She needs us to go out and make a difference. The salvation offered by Christ enables us to rejoice in this world, and the best way to do that is to spread His glory. Be concrete in your faith and you shall “renew the face of the earth.”
For more resources on the ongoing Synod, please click here.
To learn what it means to be a missionary disciple, please click here.
This year, the theme for Catechetical Sunday (September 16th) is “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” This day is a reminder that all of the baptized play a role in the mission of sharing Christ with others, whether that be through formal or informal ministry.
This mission seems pressing today. In Bishop Robert Barron’s 2018 message for Catechetical Sunday, he says we are losing baptized Catholics at an alarming rate. In a Pew Research report, we see that Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics make up about 23% of the U.S. adult population.
This group of religiously unaffiliated individuals, or “nones,” is mostly concentrated among young adults, and the median age of unaffiliated adults continues to get younger. Of this population, those who describe themselves as agnostic or “nothing in particular” cite their top reason for not affiliating with a religion is that they question a lot of religious teachings. Having questions is actually an essential part of learning about and understanding the Catholic faith; only when we question can we begin to move beyond a lack of understanding and come to learn the truth of the Gospel. God desires for us to use our intelligence to come to know him before acting upon our faith.
The majority of young adults and “nones” find value in meaningful relationships over institutionalism and in authenticity over authority (Halbach). This shows us that the Church can engage the “nones” by forming relationships in order to accompany them along the journey of life. In the mission to bring Christ to others, we serve as authentic witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel through our lives. The Church needs the active participation of the laity to conduct outreach efforts in the everyday moments of our lives, both inside and outside of the Church. We were created to be social beings who can form relationships with others that will lead them to Christ and to the Church.
Much of this relationship building happens organically in our communities and parishes. For example, a couple of weeks ago, my parish young adult group heard that the grandmother of one of our new members had passed away. After hearing this news, we wrote and signed a sympathy card to mail her. By this small act of love for our fellow sister in Christ, we were able to show our genuine care for her and our desire to welcome her back to church after her travels for the funeral.
As missionary disciples, we know that there is no one “right” path to building these relationships and caring about those around us. This allows us to share our innate gifts creatively with others in order to build authentic relationships. Furthermore, sharing our own faith stories of personal encounters with Christ helps us to accompany others on their faith journeys as well. We must show others that we love them through our actions rather than our words. Christ enlists us as his witnesses. This Catechetical Sunday, how can you respond to his call?
Questions for Reflection: Are we open to questions about our Catholic faith in helping ourselves and others come to know God? Are we preparing ourselves to be able to answer questions from others about the faith in a rational manner? What are some ways you can begin to build authentic relationships with others in your community or parish? How are you building personal relationships with others in context of your faith journey?
To learn more about living as missionary disciples, click here.