It seems that each day we check the news to discover that another politician, producer, actor, or celebrity figure is being exposed for scandal or abuse. Many of those who have for years been hailed as the main influencers of public opinion, policy, and taste have in a stunningly short span of time lost support or credibility. Many of those who were on top of the world have been, we could say, deflated and dethroned.
I have been pondering this lately as the Church prepares to celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Each Sunday in the Nicene Creed, we profess Christ’s ascension, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The ascension is recounted at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-12). Theologically, we do not envision Jesus ascending like a balloon into the sky, but a king ascending a throne. The Feast of the Ascension celebrates the exaltation and enthronement of Jesus as King and Messiah at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.
As many of us may be scientifically literate and democratically-minded citizens of the twenty-first century, we may think all this talk of thrones and kings and heaven may seem like it belongs to a world that has long passed away. But if our recent headlines have proven anything, what has not passed away is the perennial pursuit of power and our tendency to underestimate our willingness to use it in potentially harmful and self-aggrandizing ways.
Power in and of itself is not an evil thing, and watching people fall publicly is not a cause for celebration. I think instead the present reality invites us to pause and reflect on—in light of God’s reality—the pursuit and exercise of power both in society and in our own lives. In truth, power is not something that belongs only to the powerful. Power exists across any human relationship: husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, boss and employee, and the list is endless. We are influenced vertically by our superiors and horizontally by our peers. Ideally, we work together to achieve the common good and common goals by sharing and exercising power in the right doses and ways. But I think if we’re honest, we all have our own way of being out of balance, tipping the scales. So, what does this all have to do with Jesus, who we call the All-Powerful One?
As exalted King and Messiah, Jesus overthrows the love of power with the power of love. The Ascension is not a power grab that Jesus will use to control people and outcomes. Rather, we hear Jesus tell the disciples that once he has taken his seat on God’s throne, “you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As disciples, we are not separated from Christ by a glass ceiling.
Yet as disciples, we have to be careful where and how we exercise this power given to us in the name of Jesus. One of the images in Scripture of the Holy Spirit is fire. It is a great metaphor for power. Our stewardship of God’s power can bring light and warmth, yet it can also burn if used irresponsibly. I suspect today that much of what compromises our evangelizing message of Jesus’s kingship stems from the ways Christians have abused earthly power in the name of God.
The Gospel and St. Paul preach a radically different alternative: the conviction that our human exercise of power more fully manifests Christ when it is surrendered than when it is wielded. So, I propose instead: What happens when we dare to profess Jesus enthroned and exalted, to receive the power of his Holy Spirit, and then lay it down in the service of the Gospel?
Question for Reflection: How is Christ’s example of kingship and power different from what we see in the world?
Have you ever evangelized in the streets? St. Vincent Pallotti did in the Rome of his day. He would go to a piazza and begin preaching. People would gather around. Some priests even judged him for engaging in this type of evangelization because they considered it beneath his dignity as a priest. However, he knew that many people did not come to church. Pallotti believed that the Church needed to go to people and not wait for people to come to church. These truths hold firm today. This is the call of all the baptized. We are sent by Christ into the world to preach his Gospel by word and deed – to be his witness in the world as his apostles or missionary disciples. Pallotti wanted to preach not only to those who did not believe, but also to Catholics in order to revive their faith.
It may seem strange to evangelize in the streets, but in my hometown of Hammonton, New Jersey, Catholics have been doing so for 145 years. Every year, Catholics in the community have participated in an annual procession through the streets of the town in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, whose feast day is today. This is a very public display of faith that spills out from the church building and into the streets—mirroring the work of Pallotti.
We are told “Go” at the end of Mass, but go and do what? Go into the streets, not only the literal ones, but also the ones online. We are moved outward by Christ. Our faith in Jesus Christ and our experience of his infinite love and mercy is not our private matter. Nor is it ours to decide the quality of another’s life of faith. Our mission is to witness Christ to all we encounter and accompany them into an encounter with him, in and through the community of faith, the Church. Through good accompaniment, sincere community, and deeper conversion, all can come to know that they are sent by Christ.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
When I was a senior in high school in the diocese of Joliet, then-Bishop Peter Sartain came to celebrate one of our monthly school Masses. I was asked to assist the Bishop for the day, and throughout the day he and I had many warm conversations. I received a piece of mail a few weeks later from Bishop (now Archbishop) Sartain containing a handwritten note and several prayer cards with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s image on them. Little did I know that the young Blessed would soon become one of my dear patron saints.
In my opinion, anyone who offers their life as an apostle on mission—including lay and ordained ministers, Catholic school employees, catechists, and all spiritual guides—should keep Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as their patron saint and their example to combat despair and to joyfully share the Gospel. Blessed Pier Giorgio shows us the Christ-like demeanor and personality that the Church and her ministers and missionaries should possess as they evangelize the world.
Blessed Pier Giorgio makes an excellent spiritual guide and mentor because he was an ordinary young man with a profound commitment to the poor and to justice. There are countless books and articles that describe how Pier Giorgio spent hours serving the poor and the homeless, often giving away the money he had for bus fare and even his own jacket! His parents misunderstood his great actions of charity, and often scolded him when he returned home late without his coat. He was never distracted from the missionary imperative of the Gospel. Instead, he served those on the margins as Jesus commanded. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington D.C. recently stated in a webinar, “The Church lives in society. The Church does not live behind the four [walls] of the structures where we worship.” Just as Pier Giorgio Frassati befriended the poor and sought justice as a “man of the beatitudes,” we too must go beyond the four walls of our churches, homes, and offices into the margins of our society to serve our brothers and sisters and work for justice.
Blessed Pier Giorgio also accompanied others in their pursuit of God. He maintained unlikely friendships and was neither bound up by cynicism nor weighed down by scandal. Instead, he actively worked against these in his interactions with all. Many stories detail his love for pranks, making bets with his friends over games and making the stakes be attending Mass or Adoration. Like this soon-to-be-saint, we must live in the world while encouraging others to return to Christ in the spirit of friendship. As apostles on mission, we must live, work, and play with a renewed spiritual vision, driven by the practice of spiritual accompaniment.
The quality I most admire in Blessed Pier Giorgio is his ultimate trust in God’s plans. He did not try to take control of his life’s plan nor did he envy God’s authority. Rather, he allowed God to guide him as he discerned his future and his mission in life. Pier Giorgio brought Church doctrine to life through his service and actions. He lived with a gospel-inspired freedom. He spent time in deep prayer, contemplating the mission God had laid before him, discerning to serve the poor as a lay man with expertise in mechanical engineering rather than as a priest. Pier Giorgio trusted God. As Alfonso Nebreda, S.J. wrote, “We must not forget that man cannot nourish his spirituality with orthodoxy alone … there is more to Christianity than this … for faith is life” (Kerygma in Crisis?, Nebreda). Blessed Pier Giorgio embodied the Gospel, and he lived it out according to his mission from God.
As we consider the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, I invite those who serve the Church as lay or ordained ministers, catechists, educators, and spiritual guides to adopt this young saint as a guide for our spiritual lives and our ecclesial missions. Let us invite the same Spirit who lived in Blessed Pier Giorgio and who makes the Church vibrant to renew our hearts, minds, and missionary efforts.
Blessed Pier Giorgio, pray for us!
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“If we are truly animated by the spirit of love, we shall always treat all with love, look on all with love, think of all with love, and speak of all with love.” –St. Vincent Pallotti.
On this Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are offered an opportunity to reflect on the Infinite Love of God poured out to us in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and his continued love and closeness to us as our Risen Lord. Many people are struggling with loneliness, isolation, and anxiety. Others are suffering from illness, prejudice, and oppression. Often, people do not experience in their lives the healing love of Christ. Instead, maybe they have experienced from religious people neglect, apathy, judgment, condemnation, and hate. How can this ever evangelize? In fact, it de-evangelizes.
Our experience of the love of Christ needs to be shared with anyone we encounter. The love or charity of Christ moves us outward, beyond ourselves and those we are comfortable with, to those who might be seen by us as a challenge, a burden, or make us uneasy. As we deepen our encounter with Christ in and through care and love of others, our hearts are opened wide by his Sacred Heart. As our hearts widen, so too do our minds. We can no longer think in narrow ways and categories, but only understand each person in all humanity, as Jesus does as our neighbor. A neighbor we are called to love as we would our very selves (Mark 12:31).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“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!
As I write this, there are currently 2,382 people in my home state of New York who have contracted the Coronavirus, with 21 others having lost their lives in the pandemic. With both of those numbers climbing each day, the feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and despair are palpable— not just in New York, but around the world.
Here in New York, I am currently a seminarian on pastoral year (a year-long internship at a parish in my diocese). In an exercise of charity and concern, our diocese like many others has cancelled all Masses, public liturgies, devotions, and meetings through Easter in order to keep our most vulnerable parishioners safe. This has of course posed a certain ministerial crisis since many of the avenues (Mass, confession, one-on-one meetings) that we have been taught to send people down when feeling anxious, despondent, and isolated from God are now closed indefinitely. So, what do we do? This situation is calling us to be creative in how we minister to people. Online resources, social media, live-streaming liturgies, and even just phone calls and video chats can and will keep people feeling connected. I think many of us already know this and have been putting effort into these new ministries and forms of evangelization even before the pandemic. It is true though that without sacraments and personal connection, even this media approach could never be enough.
While creative ministry right now is important, I would like to focus rather on the flip side of that same question—what do we do? Here, I would like to address my brother seminarians and anyone, priest and lay alike, that is struggling due to a lack of fulfilling ministry. I don’t think this is a selfish pursuit, but an essential one if we are to check our own feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and despair.
Last summer I had the great experience of attending the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF). In these last few days, one of their spiritual approaches came back to me vividly; they called it Relationship-Identity-Mission—and here the order of the words does matter. IPF posited that many people in ministry may operate backwards. Mission is primary; from there flows Identity (I am a seminarian. I am a youth minister); then, the personal Relationship with Christ gets whatever energy is left. If these last few days without “real ministry” have been a struggle for you, as they have been for me, I think we need to ask ourselves not “what do I do?”—because frankly we cannot do much of anything our Mission truly requires—but rather ask “who am I? I work for Jesus, yes, but is my own, personal relationship with Him primary?”
In discussing Relationship-Identity-Mission, the question was often asked “where do you live?” If you live in your Mission and your Identity is synonymous with what you do, you are going to have a difficult month (or maybe even longer). But if you live in the Relationship and make that your starting point, even during a time when the Mission is unclear or nonexistent, then you are going to rediscover your Identity as a beloved son or daughter of a faithful God. Amidst fear and uncertainty, God is giving us this time to go deeper into a relationship with Him, so that we can live out our missions more fruitfully when this is all over.
So, if you find you are struggling now because you are living Mission-Identity- Relationship, take his time as a Lenten Retreat and don’t feel bad about it! The world needs your prayers now more than ever, and your creative approach to ministry now will then be the fruit of your time alone with Jesus. If you are living Relationship-Identity-Mission, go deeper and speak honestly with Jesus about frustrations with your minimized Mission.
In closing, I would like to offer this consoling quote from Henri Nouwen for your reflection:
“We are not what we do, we are not what we have, we are not what others think of us. Coming home is claiming the truth. I am the beloved child of a loving creator.”
Jesus is calling us to remain in His Love (John 15:9), a request that I imagine was made for times like these. So choose to live in the relationship, take ownership of your identity as the beloved, and watch your ministry take root.
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"What about you? What are you going to do?"
These are the words of Pope Leo XIII to St. Katharine Drexel, whose feast day we celebrate today, when she spoke to him of the needs of the missions in Wyoming. The Holy Father’s response stopped Sister Katharine in her tracks, but it also made her reconsider how she approached her life of faith. Sister Katharine returned to the United States and went on to found over fifty missions for Native Americans, a system of schools for Black Catholics, and various other mission centers and schools.
Every day, Christ poses to us a question similar to the one Pope Leo XIII posed to St. Katharine Drexel: “What about you? What are you going to do?” Pope Francis spoke of this encounter when he visited Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in 2015. He commented on the fact that St. Katharine was herself young and full of fervor for the Lord and wondered rhetorically how many young people around us have a similar energy and fervor. He asked in his homily at Sts. Peter & Paul Cathedral in Philadelphia “Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part? To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?” The Holy Father touched on the call of all of the baptized to be missionary disciples. This call requires us to be open to all that the Holy Spirit may be guiding us to while still carrying forth the legacy of the past.
The third major point that the Holy Father addressed was the role of the laity. He said, “We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity.” The Holy Father’s point is that to properly answer the question, “What are you going to do?,” there must be collaboration by and co-responsibility of the lay faithful who work together with the ordained to make manifest the redemptive and salvific nature of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Holy Father then reminds us that this collaboration and co-responsibility is not a game of power and position. He says, “This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church.” Each of us have been given different gifts and charisms that build up the Kingdom of God; the Holy Father challenges us to use them.
The questions that Pope Leo XIII asked St. Katharine Drexel are the questions of vocation. In both our universal call to holiness that we receive from our baptism and in our particular vocation, we are faced with these questions: “What about you? What are you going to do?” We are not necessarily called to build up schools and mission centers as did St. Katharine, but to answer these questions we must be willing to be open to where the Spirit is guiding us, to see how our gifts and talents can be best utilized for the Kingdom and to answer our call to be “leaven of the Gospel in our world.”
For more resources on missionary discipleship, please click here.
For more resources on collaboration and co-responsibility, please click here.
In the movie The Farewell, the central plot hinges on the question of an individual vs. communal approach to the burden of end of life care. One of the central characters has cancer, and the issue surrounding the family is whether the person with the disease should know or not. In the US, as the movie acknowledges, such duplicity would not be likely to happen, but in China, where the movie takes place, society often allows for such things because they believe the burden of suffering is to be carried by the family and friends rather than the sick or afflicted. I found that to be a fascinating concept because most of us have experienced the loss of someone due to cancer, and the question of death and mourning is a very present concern to all of us. I would recommend viewing the movie, if for nothing less than to understand the potential hardships of walking with someone who is about to die and with those that love them.
Our faith acknowledges that our time on earth is not all that there is, but rather that we are made for heaven and joining God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares: “The Christian funeral is a liturgical celebration of the Church. The ministry of the Church in this instance aims at expressing efficacious communion with the deceased, at the participation in that communion of the community gathered for the funeral, and at the proclamation of eternal life to the community (CCC 1684).” As Catholics, we believe that there is life after our life on earth. So the funeral and death itself serve as reminders of the Paschal Mystery and our hope for all—and in particular, those who have just died—to have eternal life in heaven with the Lord. The prayer spoken while receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday is a poignant reminder of this: “Remember you are dust and from dust, you shall return.” Time on earth is fleeting, but time in heaven is eternal.
As Catholics, we are part of a community of believers. We must not only accompany the one who is preparing to die, but also those who the deceased is leaving behind. This is not the responsibility solely of the priest or deacon presiding over the funeral rites, but rather a shared responsibility of all the church. The Catechism goes further to explain that funeral ceremonies have the Eucharistic Sacrifice as a critical component because: “It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who ‘has fallen asleep in the Lord,’ by communication in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him” (CCC, 1689).
It is essential as a community of faithful to also accompany those left behind who are grieving the loss of a loved one. This grief is normal and completely human, but it means that we need to accompany those grieving and serve as a living reminder of Christ’s presence in their lives. We are called to serve as witnesses to those we encounter daily, whether we know them well or not. As stated in the book the Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church: “Witnessing can be effective even if a deep, committed relationship is not yet formed…witnessing demonstrates an example of an integrated Christian life within the one who witnesses. … Witnesses are essential to the process of spiritual accompaniment because, ‘modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses (Evangelii Nuntiandi)’ (Art of Accompaniment 16)” Times of suffering and hardship are especially profound moments for evangelization and witness. As a Church, we can offer hope and healing to those who are dying or grieving the loss of a loved one.
For more resources on Accompaniment, please click here.
I’m blessed to be a part of a family which includes three different vocations: marriage, religious life, and the discernment of the priesthood. The annual March for Life, which occurred this year on January 24th, provided my wife and me an opportunity to host not only her sister who joined a religious order, but also several members of the religious community. As they are part of a semi-contemplative order, the sisters made the most of their time in DC touring the city, visiting historic and spiritual sites, and learning in museums—all while sharing a public witness to their vocation.
As their hosts, my wife and I had a unique vantage point which allowed us to see the reactions of passersby, both the bewildered and the curious, who are not accustomed to seeing women religious in public. The sisters are used to it, and more importantly, realize they have an opportunity to evangelize and share with others who they are and what their vocation is. Often a chat or introductions will be made, prayer cards will be given, and some pictures are taken (whether stealthily or outright). I noticed the sisters made the most of these moments, probably because they realize they can bring anyone they meet into an encounter with the Lord. The sisters and their joy witness to God’s fidelity in ways often unknown.
At the Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the sisters were just a few of the many women religious present. Though each order’s habits are different, I noticed many pilgrims came up to the sisters after the Mass to inquire about their order and their distinct purple habits. The same happened at the March for Life the next day: many people simply took photos of or with the sisters, others exchanged pleasantries, memories, and prayer cards, and others ran up to the sisters and thanked them for their vocations or wanted to learn more about the order. Returning home with them across town that afternoon, however, we left the massive crowds who shared our values and encountered the daily commuters of DC. I was amused to watch them look up in surprise from their smartphone screens. The sisters would happily engage with their fellow passengers, chat about religious life, and in one case, ask a practicing Hindu about their bindi, or a vermilion mark.
Similar scenes occurred over the weekend. but it wasn’t all like a celebrity sighting: on more than one occasion, the sisters would go up to a homeless or mentally-ill person and, after chatting a bit about Jesus and Mary, share a miraculous medal and holy card to remind them about faith and invite them to trust in God. These were people used to being passed by on the sidewalk each day as they begged for food or for someone to listen to and be with them. Imagine the shock they experienced when “strangely dressed” women were suddenly engaging with them and treating them with respect and compassion!
There is no way of knowing just how God may have used the sisters as a means of planting the seeds of faith in various encounters. Certainly the unusualness of the situation might shake someone out of their complacency and eventually cause them to recall a positive memory of faith from youth or simply remember consecrated persons live and act in the world as a beautiful witness to… something. That something may lead to a renewed quest for truth or personal peace. In God’s good time, this yearning may be a motivation to reconnect with God and embrace a life of faith and holiness.
But all of us, especially laypeople, are similarly called to holiness by virtue of our baptism in Christ Jesus. We need not depend on wearing a religious habit to draw others into an encounter with the Lord, but can invite others in our schools, workplaces, social gatherings, and homes to participate in religious practices such as grace before meals, going on a pilgrimage to a holy site, reading books by the saints, or simply starting a meaningful conversation. The options for spiritual accompaniment are endless. Given time, prayer, and trust in the Lord’s will, each of us can instill the smallest seed of faith which can grow into a towering wonder.
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
To learn more about spiritual accompaniment, please click here.
Missionaries around the world were excited on October 22, 2017 when Pope Francis called for an Extraordinary Missionary Month in October 2019. The fruit of that month lacks luster, but the seeds are heavy with promise.
Some of us were grieved by the lack of attention given to mission, hoping that the Church would give it more time and energy. Mission always leads to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The beauty and power of mission is so often seen in the lives of the saints. Missionaries themselves know they need to expand and deepen their own human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation in order to address the hopes and dreams, the griefs and anxieties of every human being. We hoped the people of God would be generous with their spiritual and financial support of mission.
Considerable efforts were made by Mission Directors from around the country to lift-up mission within the local church. There were some wonderful celebrations – remembering the missionary roots of the diocese, sharing the missionary story, promoting all the ways the faithful are engaged in mission. Regrettably, we are not always aware of how our faith stems from the faithful, and often heroic, efforts of missionaries who witness the Gospel in our hometown.
Some learned new things about mission they did not know before, particularly the lives of saints who embodied the missionary spirit. Perhaps the story of Sr. Dorothy Stang, S.N.D de Namur, who taught catechism and justice to the indigenous people of the Amazon, and the stories of many others moved lay people to learn more about these missionaries and the importance of the Amazon for our common home.
There were efforts to deepen and expand the formation of missionaries – a few conferences, some webinars. USCMA focused on reconciliation as an aspect of mission and explored the missionary task of reconciliation among those who suffer from racism in America and the spirituality needed to sustain the mission and ministry of reconciliation.
Roger Schroeder defines mission as “proclaiming, serving, and witnessing to God’s reign of love, salvation and justice.” Sometimes “evangelization” replaces the word mission. Too often, evangelization is understood in very narrow terms – as the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. As Catholics, we know in our bones that words – even very good words expertly crafted and amazingly articulated – are insufficient. Words need integrity that flows from lives lived in service to others purely out of the love of God. As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “preach always and, if necessary, use words.” Mission is evangelization embodied. Pope Francis said in Joy of the Gospel, “I am a mission.”
Mission is rooted in the very heart of God. Anthony Gittins, a leading missiologist, said “Mission is God’s job description, it is what he does and who he is.” Jesus is the preeminent missionary. He was sent by the Father to bring love, salvation, and justice to the world. Jesus continues this mission – everyday – through those of us who are baptized and sent into the world. The missionary goes beyond themselves, steps outside their comfort zone, crosses some type of border, and risks a personal encounter with another human being in the name of God’s inexhaustible love.
There are wonderful signs of hope that the people of God are beginning to move from maintenance to mission. Parishes around the country are creating partnerships to build bridges and relationships of solidarity with people in other cities, states, and countries. Dioceses are forming partnerships with other dioceses. Catholic high school students are cultivating relationships with other students around the world through video technology and social media.
Bishop Barron, at the recent gathering of the US Bishops, stressed the need for the church to reach out to the growing number of the “disaffiliated;” people who do not affiliate with any religion. Two of his three points speak directly to mission – engage people in the work of justice and create parishes to be “missionary societies.”
What if every parish had a mission commission or team that would organize the missionary activities of the parish? Some parishes have a neighborhood mission to the homeless, regular mission trips to the poor in Appalachia, or a long-standing partnership with a parish in another country. Not all parishes can be completely dedicated to mission, but every parish can, in some way, be a missionary society.
All are called to be missionary disciples, but not all can be missionaries. A missionary is a ministry of the Church – just like a catechist. Most of us have had some type of missionary experience where we reached out beyond ourselves, for the good of another, with only their good, their blessing, as our goal. All of us can come together, share our missionary experiences, and discern where Jesus is sending us.
We are the seeds of the Extraordinary Month of Mission. We who heard Jesus say to us personally, “The Father has sent me, now I send you.”
Today is the feast day of St. Josaphat, a monk and bishop who was martyred in modern-day Belarus due to his efforts for Christian unity in the 17th century. He was born John Kuncevic to Orthodox Christian parents in the late 1500s in Lithuania. Despite strong anti-Catholic sentiment in the Eastern Orthodox churches, a number of Eastern Catholic bishops signed the Union of Brest in 1598, which allowed several Eastern churches to maintain their liturgical rites while remaining in full communion with Rome. Following the leaders of his Ruthenian Church, John chose to unify himself with Rome and subsequently entered monastic life, taking on the name Josaphat.
As a priest and later a bishop, St. Josaphat worked tirelessly for reunification between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox tradition; he produced apologetics texts and catechisms, published defenses of ecumenism, and reformed the priesthood in his diocese. He struggled against an influential rival Orthodox bishop and schismatic preachers who slandered Josaphat’s reputation and who denounced his desire for Christian unity. Eventually, in the early 1620s, St. Josaphat was attacked by an anti-unification mob, who shot and beheaded him before dumping his body into a nearby river. After his death, many of his former dissidents converted to union with Rome and even Josaphat’s greatest Orthodox rival eventually returned to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
What struck me when reading about St. Josaphat’s story was the utter breakdown in civil discourse. There were members on either side of the reunification debate who, while they disagreed strongly with one another, were able to do so without coming to blows. But after decades upon decades of increasing tension between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Christian churches, even a peaceful reformer and ardent defender of unity like St. Josaphat came to be seen by some as an enemy who must be taken down. And there were some whose support of maintaining the schism was so strong that they openly murdered the nearest figurehead of the ecumenical movement.
At times like ours, when it feels like there is division and violence all around us, I find it comforting to look at the history of the Church and to see that she has struggled against division almost as long as she has existed. The difficulties that St. Josaphat faced in Eastern Europe were not new to the Church—from the Arian heresy to the Eastern Schism and the Protestant Reformation, Church history is littered with examples of people arguing over the truth, outright rejecting the authority of the magisterium, or spreading misinformation about the Church and her mission.
St. Josaphat’s life reminds us of how we are called to evangelize with respect and charity in turbulent—and sometimes violent—times. We must work tirelessly for unity without compromising on the fundamentals of the Catholic faith and the authority of the magisterium, and study and defend the truth in respectful dialogue with those who disagree with us. And we must also prepare, perhaps, to be martyred for our efforts.
Most of us will not suffer a violent martyrdom as so many saints before us have done, but there are smaller, everyday crosses that we can endure. When pointing out the truth loses us friendships, that is our little martyrdoms. When we have to wake up in the middle of the night to change yet another diaper, that is our little martyrdom. When someone cuts us off on our way home after a long day, that is our little martyrdom. When a family member misunderstands our intentions, that is our little martyrdom.
Like Josaphat, let us rely on God to give us the strength and courage to continue in our everyday mission of evangelization. Every effort matters—even if you never see the fruit it bears—whether you are an archbishop trying to bring Orthodox Christian churches back into unity with Rome or you are a young Catholic trying to demonstrate that an authentic Catholic lifestyle is one of joy and peace.
For more resources on Christian Unity, please click here.
This week is National Vocations Awareness Week. When I tell my vocation story, I usually describe my vocation as a response to the great love that God has shown me throughout my life. I talk about what a joy it has been to fall in love with Christ and to give my whole life to him in a specific way in religious life. And that is absolutely true and beautiful. But if I’m being honest, it’s only part of the story.
I am a novice with the Daughters of St. Paul, a congregation of women religious dedicated to evangelization through the media. Shortly before I entered the convent, I was plagued with a series of doubts regarding my vocation. I had discerned that God was calling me to enter religious life, but suddenly the vocation seemed too big for me.
One time in particular, I went to my spiritual director deeply concerned that I had misrepresented myself to the sisters. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a normal 21-year-old. I’d watched The Office more times than I’d care to admit, had a newly acquired taste for craft beer, and had only kicked my swearing habit a few months before. As I prepared to move to the convent and begin my formation, I was worried that the sisters might be shocked to find out that I was still pretty far from being holy.
“What makes you think that you haven’t been honest with the sisters?” my spiritual director asked me.
“Whenever I visit the convent, I find myself acting like a much better person than I actually am. They’re going to find out the truth once they start living with me,” I explained.
“Well,” he began chuckling, “Your vocation is the very thing that is going to make you into the best person you can be. That means you’re not there yet. But look, it’s already making you holier!”
It can be tempting to think that we need to get our life in order before we respond to God’s call. We want to be perfect before we think that God can work through us. But friends, that day will never come on this side of heaven. And besides, that just isn’t God’s modus operandi.
When we look at who God decides to call, it is never the person whom we would choose. Peter denied Jesus three times. Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out from her. Paul, whom my congregation is named after, literally persecuted Christians. God is not afraid of our weaknesses or our wounds. In fact, it is often the very things that we view as obstacles to his grace that make us into powerful witnesses to his grace!
The truth is, I’m not worthy of being called to be a religious sister. But no one is really worthy of this calling. That’s the beauty of a religious vocation and of the Christian life as a whole: it’s not about us and what we can do for God. It’s about God and what he wants to do in us.
Every sacrifice that I’ve made in these past three years, every mistake, every time I have had to ask forgiveness or forgiven someone has served to make me into the person God wants me to be. So has every hour of Adoration, every Spirit-filled conversation, and every birthday that we’ve celebrated in community. There are these kinds of moments in every vocation where God uses something that seems strangely normal to bring us ever closer to himself.
Vocation is a totally free gift that God has given to us. We could never earn or deserve it. It requires a response, but it begins with the fact that he has first loved us and desires to give us abundant life. That’s the truth about religious vocation— praise God for that.
When people speak about the work of evangelization or accompaniment, they often speak about going out to the margins, “to the highways and the hedgerows” (Luke 14:23,) to bring the “nones” and the unbaptized into the Church. This is, of course, an essential part of Jesus’ final commission to his apostles to baptize and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).
But I have to wonder: what’s the state of spiritual health in our own parishes? Are the lay faithful aware that their sacramental experience is an encounter with Christ, and do they care about their brothers and sisters with whom they share Communion? Are the people in our pews accompanied by anyone in their journey of faith or are they trying to live their faith on their own?
There are many definitions for spiritual accompaniment, but in the book I co-authored with Colleen Campbell as a resource for the Catholic Apostolate Center, we define spiritual accompaniment as “the apostolate of intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.” In general, accompaniment is “a broad term that refers to a relationship between two or more people who share mutuality and reciprocity in the spiritual life” (The Art of Accompaniment). I believe this “apostolate” of accompaniment is essential to a parish’s spiritual health for three main reasons:
First, creating a culture of accompaniment in the parish enables the lay faithful to be who they are called to be by their baptism. In the Rite of Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and we are made members of Christ’s Body. As members of the same Body, we have a responsibility to bring the light and love of Christ to one another. As Paul writes in First Corinthians, the various parts of the body must have concern for one another because we need each other (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). When members of the lay faithful take an interest in one another’s faith journeys, encouraging one another on that journey, they are living their Christian vocation as the Church intends. When members of the lay faithful are not concerned for members of their parish community, they become spiritually stunted and begin to believe that faith does not require community in one Body.
Second, accompaniment helps a parish to become the best ordinary place of encounter with Christ. The parish is the most likely place where an individual begins his faith journey. Churches that sit on familiar street corners appear as safe havens for those who seek the Lord or some other help. The parish must embrace a culture of accompaniment so that when individuals approach it seeking communion, they are met with a warm and welcoming response instead of sacramental hoops or parish boundary restrictions. Accompaniment challenges parish staff and parishioners to “[respect] the dignity of the human person, and [seek] to increase their freedom to respond to the all-encompassing love of God within their life” (The Art of Accompaniment).
Finally, it’s important that we implement a culture of accompaniment in our parishes because one of the goals of accompaniment is liturgical worship, and this can only take place in the parish. Sacramental theology reminds us that the sacraments are how Jesus accompanies and remains with his Church in a physical way (CCC 1088). Accompaniment’s goal is “transformation in the Person of Christ,” and if the lay faithful are serious about accompanying one another, they will encourage one another to seek out liturgical life at the parish, because the sacraments sanctify us, build up the body of Christ, and give worship to the One who Accompanies.
For more resources on Accompaniment, please click here.
To purchase The Art of Accompaniment, please click here.
“The religious commitment to procure the propagation of the Holy Faith throughout the world cannot be separated from that to procure to revive the Faith, and to rekindle Charity among Catholics, and this not only because such is the order of Christian Charity, but also because there is a need to rekindle the Holy Faith and to rekindle Charity among Catholics.” – St. Vincent Pallotti (OOCC III, 16)
As we celebrate today the 8th anniversary of the Catholic Apostolate Center during this Extraordinary Missionary Month declared by Pope Francis, these words of St. Vincent Pallotti offer us a summary of the interconnection of the Church’s missionary efforts, encompassing what we now call Evangelization and New Evangelization. Pallotti understood this in the first half of the nineteenth century. He knew then what the Church is calling for now, co-responsibility of all the baptized for the mission of Christ and his Church. We are all sent forth as apostles, as missionary disciples!
The Center accomplishes its mission of reviving faith, rekindling charity, and forming apostles through intense collaboration, or “holy cooperation” as Pallotti would call it, with God and others. The only way the Center has come to this day is through the great collaboration among staff, collaborators, advisors, Pallottines, consultants, affiliates, and many others who are co-responsible for its mission. The Holy Spirit who came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles and disciples in the Cenacle in Jerusalem has sent us forth and guided us in ways that we could never have imagined back in 2011 when the Center began. We do this always in service of Christ and his Church just as Pallotti did.
Thank you for your support of our efforts and know that our prayers are with you!
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Can you imagine yourself as one of the apostles? Put yourself in their shoes. You were moved by Jesus. His teachings spoke to your heart. When you were with him, you felt incredibly alive, free, loved and full of hope. No one persuaded you; you wanted to follow him.
You were there when Jesus fed the 5,000, gave sight to the blind, and raised a young man from the dead. He received a royal welcome into Jerusalem. You celebrated Passover with him.
You were also there when the soldiers came and dragged Jesus off to be crucified. Scared for your own life, you hid in the shadows abandoning him to death on the cross. You were a puddle of fear, sadness, anger, and despair. You disgust yourself.
Disoriented, you stumble upon the others. You look to Peter but that rock is crushed, broken by grief and disbelief. The Sabbath comes and goes. It’s over—time to pick up the pieces of your life and move on.
But just as you begin to leave, two female disciples arrive with astonishing news. Jesus is alive! Remember the mountain in Galilee? Remember what he said? Go there and you will see him.
Of course, you go. You gather with the other disciples and make arrangements for the journey. It will take four days. Along the way, you cry, confess, and tell stories.
You see the mountain in the distance. A lone person is descending from the top. Before you know it, Jesus is approaching you. You are gaping-mouth-open astonished. Some fall down to worship him. Others cannot believe it. Peter collapses to his knees. And still, Jesus approaches. He embraces you. You are alive again. Jesus reaches out to everyone. He turns to Peter last, lifting him up, restoring his strength.
Jesus calls you together. "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." He pauses here, letting his eyes meet each one of us. Some of us are giddy with joy, others cannot stop the tears.
"Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Suddenly, your heart begins to burn within you. You have a lot to say, a lot to share, a lot to tell. You remember with crystal clarity everything he taught, every moment he was with you, all the experiences you shared. You know now who you are and what you are about. It is time to go. But you hesitate. You want to stay.
Jesus knows your heart. He is speaking again. Amazingly, he is talking to everyone and only you at the same time. "Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
Stay here. Stay with Jesus resting his eyes in yours. You have a lot to offer. You know who you are, what the Lord means to you, what he asks of you, and what he has given you.
The stark truth of mission is hard to believe. God sends you into the world because there is something the world needs that only you can give.
World Mission Sunday reminds us that we are sent to the whole world. As disciples of Jesus, there is no place or people beyond our sphere of concern. Pope Francis reminds us that mission is an "immense work of mercy, both spiritual and material."
Last year, many of us “walked with Francis.” This year, let us be with Pope Francis in the mission of mercy. Let us renew our call to mission - to care about everyone, everywhere.
I offer three suggestions on how to renew the call to mission:
Jesus is sending us out to all nations and he will be with us always. We will be astonished at how the Lord will reveal himself to us through mission. It is time to go.
**This post was originally posted on October 20, 2016.